Student Engagement

4 Ways to Support High-Performing World Language Learners

Differentiated tasks can help ensure that all learners in the classroom are engaged, including those who are ready for more challenges.

March 7, 2022
Michael Austin / The iSpot

Have you encountered students who consistently put their best foot forward, no matter what they’re doing? Students who are resourceful, take charge of their own learning, and have the ability to use their critical thinking skills in learning another language? They’re probably high-performing.

My Tagalog classroom is no exception. Throughout my career as a world language teacher, I have been impressed by how high-performing students would ace every spoken or written assessment that I gave. However, along with the joy of witnessing these students excelling, I worry about not being able to match my teaching with what they really need to continue growing.

I apply these four practices in my classroom to better accommodate and engage high-performing students, without compromising other learners:

Provide Differentiated Tasks to Nurture Creativity and Critical Thinking

Instructional planning involves informed decision-making and is further strengthened by the way we respond to learners’ needs.

In one activity, I asked the class to craft a word cloud (using a free word cloud generator) featuring their favorite Tagalog word. Students explored the online tool and presented their outputs in whatever format they chose. High-performing learners specifically were able to use interesting shapes as well as connect those shapes to the meanings of their chosen Tagalog word. One learner chose the word oras (time) and created a word cloud in the shape of a clock that included related Tagalog phrases and words, such as the three aspects of verbs—perpektibo (past), imperpektibo (present), and kontemplatibo (future).

When it comes to nurturing high-performing learners’ critical thinking skills, however, try to entertain their questions and provide resources that will satisfy their curiosity. Exposing them to additional new content as they learn the target language or culture is a good way to develop their critical thinking skills. My students are better able to explore other points of view and expand their horizons on the topics they are most invested in. This can also be done with other advanced learners who are interested in either learning more about an aspect of the target language or better understanding some cultural notes about a country where the language is spoken.

After discussing the concept of pakikipagtawaran (haggling) in the Filipino culture, one student shared a story about her father, who was a “good haggler” himself. To feed her curiosity, I sent a copy of a research study on the haggling behavior of Filipinos for her to peruse.

Group High-Performing Learners With Their Classmates: Homogeneously or Heterogeneously

Collaboration ushers in a more meaningful and interactive world language learning experience. I always consider variety and the nature of the tasks given when determining which type of grouping to use. Similar-ability groupings help high-performing students enjoy activities within their levels of understanding, while also giving teachers the opportunity to introduce tasks that are a little more complex or challenging than usual.

A group of high-performing students from my class chose to produce a video of beautiful places in their area—the West Coast of the United States—as part of a lesson on locating places and events in Tagalog using the Nasa (where a place is) and Sa (where an event is) sentences. I especially enjoyed how they extended their discourse by going beyond the sentence patterns I taught them, and the way they enunciated words made it feel like there were native Tagalog speakers in the room.

At the same time, when world language learners are in mixed-ability groups, they can gain knowledge and understanding from diverse perspectives. This enriches the world language learning experience because students get to negotiate meaning and build trust with one another when accomplishing their tasks as a group. On top of that, high-performing learners can serve as mentors or facilitators for their group. I call it a “bayanihan” moment, when members of the group help one another to reach a goal. This is a nod to the Filipino spirit of community that highlights people’s unity and camaraderie in times of crisis.

I asked students to negotiate with an assigned tindero/tindera (vendor) to practice their haggling skills in Tagalog. The goal was to persuade the vendor to grant the tawad (discount) that they wanted. The high-performing learners made sure that they were there to help their group members if a peer forgot what to say or how to respond to a question in the target language. Some students even translated difficult phrases to make meaning more comprehensible and interpretable for others.

Acknowledge Learners’ Contributions With Positive Feedback

Whether written or verbal, the right amount of positive feedback provides encouragement to all learners. This is especially true for high-performing students, who we can motivate by acknowledging their accomplishments and excellent work in class. But balance is key.

When every single contribution is praised, student confidence may turn to arrogance, translating to inappropriate comparisons between themselves and the rest of the group or license to reduce their effort and engagement in class. Additionally, other students may feel that high-performing learners are highly favored or, worse, receiving special treatment.

I ask myself three questions to help me identify if I am giving the right amount and type of positive feedback to high-performing learners:

  1. What is the purpose of this positive feedback? Am I, for example, giving positive feedback to encourage good behavior and strengthen good study habits in class?
  2. Am I giving learners the opportunity to reflect on their performance when given constructive positive feedback?
  3. Am I overdoing positive feedback to the point that negative comparisons or competitions among learners are already forming?

In addition to these questions, this article on maximizing feedback in the classroom has been helpful for me.

Offer Relevant Choices in Terms of Extended Work or Assignments

Choice is everything in my classroom. Aside from accommodating learner differences, choices allow high-performing students to showcase the knowledge and skills they have acquired in a different context.

I usually present three options to choose from—easy, average, and difficult—for their extended work, explaining my expectations for each. Each assignment type has a corresponding number of points, though I do not explicitly tell them that the points they earn depend on the complexity of the assignment; learners notice this themselves.

In my beginning Tagalog class, I ask learners to choose among three extended works to be presented in class the next day. I have them apply what they learned about Baybayin, an ancient Filipino script:

  • For the first option, the learners were to write just their names using Baybayin.
  • The second, slightly harder, option was to write theirs and another person’s name.
  • The last and most challenging option was to write all the names of their family members.

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Filed Under

  • Student Engagement
  • Differentiated Instruction
  • World Languages
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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