February 22, 2012

Differentiated Reading Instruction for Multilevel Adult ESL Classrooms – Webinar Q&A

Tags: Education Research, Reading Horizons News

Dr. Robin Lovrien Schwarz recently presented a wonderful webinar for Reading Horizons titled: “Using Learning Centers to Meet Needs in Multilevel ESL Classrooms.” The webinar discussed three different approaches for differentiating an adult ESL classroom to meet the needs of multilevel students.


During the presentation, Dr. Lovrien Schwarz referenced a discussion from the LINCS (Literacy Information and Communication System) website. There was a lot of interest in following this discussion and it can be found here:

LINCS Discussion on Non-Literate Adult Students ›

Here are some of the questions and answers from the Q&A session of the webinar:

Q: How do you split up students who are at different levels but that speak the same language and don’t like to be split up?

A: It’s a difficult situation. Everybody has a comfort zone in their own language and you have to pick your battles. Especially since many cultures are very objectionable and have strong opinions and don’t want to be split up. For reading activities, they are probably at about the same level and I would let them be their own group. It might be good to start off by just adding a few students to their group, rather than trying to change it. Then, when you do activities where they need to pair off in twos, you can try and get them to pair off with someone that isn’t from their “group.”

Q: Strategies on modeling/introducing activities for learning centers to students?

A: I always model the activities and then walk around and make sure everyone knows what to do. Also, if you have a student(s) that already knows what to do then let them explain to the rest of the group what to do. It gives them a level of importance that they don’t often get to feel. And, what I’ve found, is that sometimes the students understand it better when it comes from a peer rather than a teacher.

Q: How do you deal with students that speak in their native language while you are instructing a class?

A: This is hard because I typically have a strict no talking while I’m instructing policy. But in ESL classes this usually happens because someone is translating for another student who doesn’t understand. It drives us ESL teachers crazy. If it’s during instruction you have to be strong about saying I can’t have people talking while I’m teaching. You may need to separate people to prevent this from happening. That’s what’s great about using a learning center approach—it forces the students to use the English language to complete the activities, so even if there are people talking in their native language it doesn’t matter because eventually, they have to grapple with the English to complete the task. If you get away from a teacher-led class than you get away from the problem of people talking while you are teaching.

Q: Should the learning center approach be used for the entire class time, or just for a portion of the class?

A: If you are only using learning centers for reading than take the entire reading time using learning centers. However, if you are using learning centers to teach every aspect of ESL learning than it should be used for the entire time—because it answers this problem of how to teach a multilevel class.

Q: What to do if adult ESL students are resistant to using games?

A: Introduce activities and games very carefully and very slowly and let students see for themselves that they are learning effectively. Every adult student from every culture will be resistant to this—until they see that it is working. Also, try using games that aren’t obviously games. E.g. having students test each other using index cards. Initially, you may want to start with just paper and pencil activities in the learning centers. Be very gradual in moving students into activities that are less and less formal. What my research has found is that when students know they are learning from activities—than they are happy to do them.

Q: How does the learning center approach work with high school students and other age groups?

A: It works at every level. I’ve never seen a level where it didn’t work. The key is to show the students that it is useful and that it’s not just a social hour. You have to take it seriously in order to make it successful. For high school students, it may be effective to use activities that involve a lot of self-discovery learning. Make it so each center has tasks that need to be mastered.

Key Points about the Importance of Differentiated Instruction:

  • A single lesson, no matter how well designed, led by one teacher in front of a diverse set of students cannot possibly meet the needs of all the students.
  • It’s just not good enough to teach to the middle and hope for the best.
  • The only way to meet the needs of every student in a classroom is to differentiate instruction.
  • If you get away from a teacher-led class than you get away from the problem of people talking while you are teaching.

View the full webinar: “Using Learning Centers to Meet Needs in Multilevel ESL Classrooms”

To differentiate instruction to each student's needs, Reading Horizons reading curriculum includes individualized software instruction in both its elementary reading program and reading intervention program for older ESL students. 


Generic placeholder image
Joseph Figliolia said

Although one single lesson--no matter how well designed--may not meet the needs of all students in an adult ELL classroom, it has become increasingly easy to differentiate instruction with technology, especially through the use of "leveled" texts. In an adult classroom, where students are cognitively sophisticated, leveled texts are particularly appealing because they allow students to read simplified versions of highly complex texts. For any interested ELL teachers, check out one such free differentiated reading platform at www.booksthatgrow.com The website offers a large library of classic fiction(among others) pieces that are perfect for adult ELL students

Leave Comment

Authors: No content items.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Fill out this form to sign-up for our monthly newsletter.