Valeria Elliott


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About me

Valeria Elliott n.jpg

¡Hola! I am Valeria, a Ph.D. student in the Spanish and Latin American Studies program. I am the founder of Mokovi, a learning platform that offers Spanish heritage students and professionals an engaging way to achieve high levels of Spanish language proficiency in a short period of time. Prior to launching Mokovi, I was the Director of Latin American Initiatives at the University of Denver College of Law. I am originally from Argentina and discovered the fascinating field of foreign language acquisition while working as an international lawyer in the United States. I feel very lucky to have had the privilege to pursue my academic interests at amazing universities. Since now there are so many great options to study online, I enjoy combining work overseas with online teaching. I studied Documentary Studies at Duke University, Foreign Language Acquisition at Universidad de Salamanca, International Affairs at Ohio University and International Law at the University of Denver and Universidad Nacional del Litoral. My research focuses on foreign language acquisition and online education and I have presented on these topics at conferences around the world. Currently, I am very curious about the connection between digital literacy and gender equality. I am teaching myself Python and Scratch which has been a lot of fun. I recently moved to Valencia, Spain to launch an online platform to help high school students learn basic coding skills. My biggest dream is to contribute ideas and solutions to modernize our education system so that every person in the world can reach their full potential.

My Topic/Purpose

The topic of this course is the importance of differentiating instruction of Heritage speakers in mixed Spanish classrooms. The purpose of this course is to teach Spanish instructors how to create a language classroom in which Heritage speakers have the opportunity to learn Spanish with differentiated activities that match their language abilities, cultural background and interests.

Topics that will be covered:

What are Heritage Speakers? Why is it important to create a differentiated curriculum for them? How can teachers assess the language skills of Heritage speakers? In which ways can a teacher create a program that helps students achieve their potential to become completely bilingual and bicultural? How can educators teach Heritage speakers in a way that provides them with various classroom materials, unique instructional methods, and different learning goals?

Learning Outcomes

The goal of this course is to train educators on how to differentiate instruction in the Spanish classroom so that Heritage Speakers can get the type of curriculum and learning goals that will challenge and motivate them to gain a deep understanding of their language and culture.

Participants will be able to:

  • Evaluate students in mixed Spanish classes and identify those students in the classroom who can be classified as Heritage speakers
  • Adopt a differentiated Spanish curriculum that meets the needs of Heritage speakers
  • Implement a variety of differentiated instructional strategies and methods (for example learning stations, journaling, open-ended projects, flexible pace learning, progressive tasks, and digital resources).
  • Reflect on how students learn in the context of multiple intelligence theory
  • Create a learning community in which Heritage speakers contribute to the learning goals of the whole classroom while also advancing at their own pace in a manner guided by their own interests.

Needs Assessment

Instructional problem:

HIgh schools and community colleges in the U.S. teach the same curriculum to Heritage speakers and second language learners. This presents a problem both for teachers and Heritage speakers. Spanish teachers don’t have the time to prepare a separate curriculum for Heritage speakers who are usually more fluent in the language but lack basic literacy and grammar skills. Heritage speakers find the classroom materials too easy and lose motivation to work on Spanish assignments since usually their Spanish is at a different level than what is taught in the class to second language learners.

Intended Setting:

  • High school Spanish classrooms
  • Community college Spanish programs designed specifically for Heritage speakers
  • Undergraduate Spanish programs that don't have a differentiated class for Heritage speakers


Spanish teachers and professors

Intended change you are expecting or desiring:

Teachers will understand how to create a differentiated curriculum for Heritage speakers in the Spanish classroom. Teachers will learn how to encourage Spanish Heritage speakers to develop literacy skills in Spanish that correlate to their abilities and motivate them to achieve full fluency in Spanish.

Supporting details:

Teachers will learn how to use assessment tools to determine the language level of Spanish Heritage speakers and will understand how to create a simple curriculum that can help students feel challenged and motivated in the classroom. Teachers will be introduced to a variety of academic frameworks, professional tools, and online resources.

Analysis of the Learner and Context

The Learners

Learners in this course will be Spanish teachers and professors with different degrees of familiarity with the Spanish language and Heritage speaker theories. Some teachers will be native speakers from Spain and Latin America, and other teachers will probably be second language speakers with different levels of fluency in the Spanish language.

Learner Analysis 

It is assumed that not all teachers will be familiar with new digital technologies and the use of computer-mediated instruction in the classroom. It is presumed that some of the teachers might not currently be using student-centered methodologies such as project-based learning, flipped classroom and learning communities. Depending on nationality and level of specialization, teachers might have their own perceptions about how new technologies and student-centered methodologies aid foreign language learning.

Context for Instruction

Participants will learn the course materials online through videos, handouts and short projects. It is important that learners have a strong internet connection that allows them to stream videos. It will be useful to have access to a printer to print out articles and homework assignments. Students will keep a journal during the course. For the purpose of journaling, students can choose to use an audio recording format, text-based tools or video. Depending on the learner’s choice for submitting assignments, they will need a microphone enabled computer or phone, a video camera or computer/phone camera, and a text-based program such as Word or Pages. Participants will be encouraged to experience the class in the same way that Heritage students would experience differentiated learning in the Spanish classroom. This will give teachers a sense of what technologies and digital tools would be advisable to require of their students.

Performance Objectives

Participants will apply the information learned in the course to three real-life scenarios in which they will assess a Heritage speaker’s language skills and cultural background.

As a result of their participation in the course, participants will be able to:

1) analyze the language skills of Spanish Heritage speakers and determine what kind of differentiated language learning activities could be a good fit for the learner’s needs, interests, and background.

2) write a one-page report detailing a differentiated learning plan for the Heritage speaker that will set goals for the short term (first trimester), mid-term (six months point) and long term (rest of the academic year).

3) explain how teachers could evaluate progress made by Heritage students based on a personalized plan set up for them at the beginning of the academic term.

Task Analysis


Participants will acquire a framework to identify heritage language speakers, create a differentiated curriculum that meets their academic needs, and apply their theoretical knowledge to real-life situations.


Become open to experimenting with new ways of teaching Spanish to meet the needs of all students

Discover the power of innovative thinking in foreign language education

Understand how to unlock the untapped language potential of each Spanish heritage speaker


Ability to identify heritage language speakers in the Spanish classroom

Differentiate instruction to create optimal conditions for heritage speakers to make progress in their heritage language acquisition

Understand how to create a project based learning plan and assess progress in heritage language acquisition

Interpersonal Abilities

Develop the confidence to advocate on behalf of heritage language learners to school administrators.

Become skilled at pitching and sharing professional ideas with other educators.

Prepare and give a professional presentation on how to differentiate instruction to serve Spanish heritage speakers.

Prerequisites: Participants should have access to a good internet connection, a computer, and a microphone to record an oral presentation at the end of the course. In addition, students in this training will need to have some previous experience (or theoretical knowledge) in the field of teaching Spanish as a second language to high school students and/or college students.

Curriculum Map

Heritage Speakers Curriculum Map.jpeg

References and Resources

Burgo, Clara (2017). Culture and Instruction in the Spanish Heritage Language Classroom. Philologica Canariensia 23 (2017), pp. 7-17

Burgo, Clara (2013). Spanish in Chicago: Writing an Online Placement Exam for Spanish Heritage Speakers. Borealis: An International Journal of Hispanic Linguistics.

Bustamante, Caroline and Novella, Miguel A. (2018). When a Heritage Speaker Wants to be a Spanish Teacher: Educational Experiences and Challenges. Foreign Language Annals 2018, pp. 184.

Carreira, Maria M (2012). Formative Assessment in HL Teaching: Purposes, Procedures, and Practices. Heritage Language Journal, 9(1).

De Almeida Barbosa, Matheus and Santos Beserra, Larissa (2015). Formative Assessment in the Foreign Language Classroom. Brazilian English Language Teaching Journal.

Dones-Herrera, Vilma (2015). Heritage vs. Non-Heritage Language Learner /Attitudes in a Beginning-Level Mixed Spanish Language Class. Dissertation, Arizona State University.

Grove, Harry. Daily Formative Assessments in Second Language Acquisition. Educator’s Voice, Volume V, Page 60.

He, Agnes Weiyun and Young, Richard (1998). LPIs: A Discourse Approach. John Benjamins Publishing Company

Han Luo, Yu Li and Ming-Ying Li (2018). Heritage Language Education in the United States: A National Survey of College-Level Chines Language Programs. Foreign Language Annals 2019, pp. 101.

Ketabi, Some and Ketabi Saeed (2014).Classroom and Formative Assessment in Second/Foreign Language Teaching and Learning. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 435-440, Academic Publisher.

Krashen, Stephen (1998). Language Shyness and Heritage Language Development. Culver City: Language Education Associates, pp. 41-49.

Fairclough, Marta (2012). A Working Model for Assessing Spanish Heritage Language Learners’ Language Proficiency through a Placement Exam. Heritage Language Journal, 9(1).

OECD/CERI International Conference “Learning in the 21st Century: Research, Innovation and Policy”. Assessment for Learning Formative Assessment.

Potowski, Kim (2012). Developing an online placement exam for Spanish Heritage Speakers and L2 Students. Heritage Language Journal, 9(1).

Theisen, ToniDifferentiated Instruction in the Foreign Language Classroom: Meeting the Diverse Needs of all Learners, Center for Educator Development.

Tolley, Leigh M., "Assessing Formative Assessment: An Examination of Secondary English/Language Arts Teachers' Practices" (2016). Dissertations - ALL. Paper 457.

Torres, K.M. (2011). Heritage language learner's perceptions of taking Spanish language classes: Investigating perceptions of skill-specific anxieties, Self-efficacies, and ethnic identity. Ph.D. dissertation, Florida State University.

University of California, Los Angeles. (2001). Heritage language research priorities conference report. Los Angeles, CA: Author. Available: