Module 3: Creating Individualized Curriculum

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Go to Course Introduction Adapting Curriculum to Heritage Speakers

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Module Overview

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During this week, you will learn how to create an individualized curriculum for Heritage speakers

After you complete all the readings and assignments for this module, you will be able to:

  • Understand how to differentiate curriculum using a project-based approach
  • Modify existing curriculum taught to second language speakers in the class
  • Create an independent study plan for each Heritage Speaker


Introduction to Project Based Learning - PDF (Summary of key ideas for this module)

Principles and Strategies for Teaching HL learners, Maria M.Carreira,Ph.D.


ACTFL Mentoring Project from PBL to PBLL

Project Based Learning in the Spanish Class


Write journal entry # 6

Case Study: Evelyn


Evelyn was born in Antigua, Guatemala and she immigrated with her parents to the United States when she was six months old. Her family was politically persecuted in Guatemala and came to the United States as political refugees.

They settled in Durham, North Carolina and have been living there for the last fifteen years. Evelyn is an outgoing teenager and enjoys being involved in sports and after-school activities.

From the first day of class, Evelyn has shown a lot of pride to call herself Guatemalan and she is always excited to talk to you in Spanish even if the other kids in the class can’t understand anything she is saying.

In fact, you have a difficult time understanding what she says since she uses certain slang you have never heard before when you lived in Spain as a study abroad student.

Imagine that Evelyn is one of the students in your Spanish class. Let's assume that you have already assessed Evelyn and determined that she is a Heritage Speaker.

Now you looking for ideas on how to create a differentiated curriculum for her. In this module, we will examine how to approach this challenge and what tools are available to solve it.

Mixed Classrooms

Challenges of Mixed Classrooms

Only a small portion of Spanish language programs in the U.S. offer a specialized HLLs track. According to Burgo (2017) even when a school offers a differentiated track, HLLs are still regularly grouped together with second language learners in advanced level classes. The problem with this approach is that if teachers are not trained to deal with mixed classrooms then the learning experience will not be as effective for all the students in the class.

Students and Teachers Attitudes towards Mixed Classrooms

In a study conducted by Torres (2011) on HLL and second language learners in connection to their language learning anxieties regarding listening, speaking, reading and writing showed that the two groups reported different reasons for their anxieties. Generally, Torres' research showed that HLLs showed lower anxiety related to speaking and listening. In contrast, second language learners showed lower anxiety levels in connection to writing, an area in which HLLs displayed high anxiety.

Since HLLs and second language students have different attitudes towards learning the language, it is important that instruction is differentiated to accommodate the different needs.

Collaborations between Heritage Speakers and Second Language Learners in the classroom

When teaching in mixed classrooms, one of the approaches available to teachers is to pair up or group students with similar levels of language abilities. According to Burgo (2017) Instructors can reduce the feelings of intimidation among second language learners and HLLs by organizing activities that encourage the development of meaningful relationships among the students. Teachers could create tutoring opportunities, group projects, and discussions that engage learners from both groups of language abilities.

For more details on addressing issues of participation in mixed classes, you can read the full article by Prof. Clara Burgo below.

File:Meeting Student Needs Integrating Spanish Heritage Language Lear.pdf

Creating an Individualized Learning Plan

There are currently not that many textbooks that focus on teaching Spanish to HLLs. Qualified teachers are needed to develop new pedagogical materials that address the academic needs of this type of learners (Carreira and Kagan, 2017, p. 162). Until teachers have a variety of specialized HLLs' textbooks available to them, one way to meet the academic needs of these students is to develop an individualized curriculum. This approach is likely to keep HLLs more engaged and motivated than if we ask them to work with the same Spanish textbook that we use for our second language learners.

Ideally, you can set up a personalized learning plan for HLLs at the beginning of the term. It is important to assess what language skills the students already possess and then create a collaborative environment to set up learning goals and projects for the academic year.

One thing to keep in mind before working on the learning plan is to understand how the plan you are going to create fits in with the rest of the academic curriculum. For example, if you are teaching a first-year high school Spanish class and your HLL is expected to enroll in Spanish 2 the following year, then you will need to make sure that the curriculum you are designing gets the student ready for that level. Otherwise, your student will probably grow in some important areas of language development but not the right ones to do well in the next level class. If your school allows you to create a series of foreign language classes and projects for HLLs that carries the student to the last year at your institution, then you would have more freedom to teach in non-traditional ways.

The difficult question to answer once you have decided to offer a differentiated Spanish curriculum is: What is the best approach to create an individualized curriculum for HLLs?

Read: Linguist Maria Carreira research focuses on heritage languages with a concentration on Spanish. Below, you will find a summary from one of her lectures in which she explains how to scaffold grammar and vocabulary to create individualized learning plans for HLLs. She emphasizes the adoption of project-based learning when possible and shows us how to incorporate key elements of this approach in our planning.

Principles to teach HL students

Project Based Learning


Review the powerpoint presentation below to get an overview of the main features of PBL as a tool to create an individualized learning plan. This will be a good introduction to this topic before you read the assigned article and video.

File:PBL Heritage Speakers Mod 3.pdf


In the next video, you will be introduced to a Spanish teacher in Hawaii who started using PBL to teaching his Spanish classes. He explains that this approach has helped him bring an immersion experience to his class which has been particularly helpful since there are not that many Spanish native speakers in the island. He also talks about how enjoyable this new approach has been both for him as a teacher and for his students.

Why is PBL an effective approach to teaching Heritage Speakers?

Now that you had a chance to hear from a Spanish teacher already using PBL in the Spanish classroom, it is time to start thinking about ways in which you could implement this approach at your school. Since this way of teaching requires a considerable amount of time devoted to planning, implementing and assessing the work of the students, some educators can feel doubtful about switching from a traditional textbook to this new way of teaching.

Journal Entry 6

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Write a journal entry discussing the following points:

1. In this module's case, you were introduced to Evelyn. What kind of project-based learning plan do you think could be appealing to her?

2. What kind of adjustments in your teaching schedule do you consider would be required for you to create individualized learning plans for HLLs?

3. How do you think you could manage your Spanish class so that your second language learners can follow the main textbook and your HLLs can follow an individual curriculum?

Get Started Planning


In the following video, you will be introduced to how to apply the principles of project-based learning (PBL) to teaching foreign languages (or what is known as PBLL). As you will hear, there are many challenges to designing language acquisition programs using PBL. However, it is important to find ways to get over the challenges since this methodology is a great tool for teaching foreign languages to HLLs.

As it was mentioned in the video, according to the Buck Institute for project-based learning, PBL programs share the following characteristics:

  • Significant content
  • A need to know
  • A driving question
  • Student voice and choice
  • 21st-century skills
  • Inquiry and innovation
  • Feedback and revision
  • Publicly presented content

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Extended Learning

If you would like to deepen your understanding of PBL principles, you can explore the website PBLWorks below which offers a variety of articles and tools to educators interested in this methodology.

PBLWorks Website

For a detailed list of articles and textbooks currently available to teach Spanish to HLLs, please check out the article compiled by Maria Parra.

Resources for Teaching Spanish as a Heritage Language

Next Steps

To continue to the last section of your training go to: Module 4: Measuring Heritage Speakers' Progress

To go back to the previous section of your training go to: Module 2: In-Class Assessment of Heritage Speakers