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Task Stratification and Differentiation Strategies for Partially Sighted and Dyslexic Learners in Textbooks of Russian as a Foreign Language: An Italian Case Study of Non-Inclusive Learning/Teaching

Department of Linguistic and Literary Studies, University of Padua, 35137 Padova, Italy
Languages 2023, 8(1), 77;
Submission received: 29 December 2022 / Revised: 12 February 2023 / Accepted: 28 February 2023 / Published: 8 March 2023


This paper aims to analyze six of the most popular textbooks for Russian as a foreign language (RFL) for adolescent and adult learners used in Italy, namely Reportazh, Russkiy klass, Molodets, Davayte, Poyekhali, and Ura, to see whether and how task stratification and differentiation strategies are put in place for partially sighted (PS) and dyslexic (D) learners. Through a comparative content analysis, it is shown that there is a total lack of educational design aimed at the inclusion of PS and D learners in the Italian context. This may be due to the greater presence in such textbooks of traditional RFL views, which generally do not prioritize inclusion, as well as to carelessness toward the contributions of Italian-based glottodidactics, which, in contrast, is very attentive to inclusion issues, even for languages other than Russian. Finally, some suggestions are given, accompanied by practical examples, for enhancing the inclusivity of these textbooks.

1. Introduction

The textbook for Russian as a foreign language (RFL) is generally conceived by scholars as a basic “teaching tool” (sredstvo obucheniya) that contains samples of spoken and written language, together with linguistic and country-specific material, and performs the function of guiding learners’ work through a specific “learning method” (metod obucheniya) (Azimov and Shchukin 2009, p. 332).
This is an undoubtedly interesting object of study about which much has already been written within RFL textbook theory. RFL textbook theory, consolidated in the USSR since the 1970s (see, among others, Bim 1977; Trushina 1981; Vyatyutnev 1984; Arutyunov 1990), continues to flower today (among others: Shchukin 2018; Dzyuba et al. 2019; Shaklein 2019). In the research on RFL textbooks, content aspects have been investigated from different perspectives, with a high percentage of studies focused on cultural contents (see, on this topic and the problems of its treatment in RFL textbooks, Torresin, Forthcoming), ranging from linguo-country (e.g., Vereshchagin and Kostomarov 1973) to imagology (e.g., Miloslavskaya 2008) and intercultural dimensions (e.g., Berdichevskiy and Golubeva 2015).
However, there remains a shadowy area that has thus far been little studied: the content of RFL textbooks has not yet been analyzed from the point of view of inclusiveness, namely in relation to learners with special educational needs (SENs), that is, “with impairments that are seen as requiring additional support” (UNESCO 2017, p. 7), or specific learning disorders (SLDs), that is, “problems people encounter in learning that affect achievement” (APS n.d.). At present, especially in recent years, there is a growing interest in theoretical aspects related to inclusive education in the RFL field (see, among others, Sokolova and Balakova 2019; Pomarolli 2021), but textbooks remain in the margins of RFL research.
This paper aims to analyze RFL textbooks for adolescent and adult learners commonly used in the Italian educational context to see whether and how task stratification and differentiation strategies (defined further below) are put in place for learners with SENs or SLDs. In particular, we will focus on the following SEN/SLD, falling into the categories of (1) sensory needs and (2) cognition and learning, which are frequent cases in foreign language classes and with regard to which the RFL textbook can easily make its contribution to inclusivity: (1) visual impairment and (2) dyslexia.
Visual impairment refers to “any degree of impairment to a person’s ability to see that affects his or her daily life” (Sapp 2010, p. 880). In other words, this is an umbrella term related to a decreased ability to see that causes problems not fixable by glasses, lenses, or medical procedures and that may thus result in a SEN.
In particular, we will look at partially sighted (PS) learners, that is, learners whose visual acuity is less than 20/40 or 6/12 in at least one eye, a definition in accordance with the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the World Health Organization, and the latest version of the International Classification of Diseases (AAO n.d.; ICD 2022; WHO 2022).
Dyslexia, instead, belongs to the category of SLDs that hinder learners’ ability to read (Eicher et al. 2014) by affecting spelling, writing, and comprehension skills. The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) defines dyslexia in this way:
Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.
As can be inferred from the definition given above, in learning a foreign language, dyslexic (D) learners face a number of difficulties, including (but not limited to) difficulties with reading, writing, spelling and pronunciation, vocabulary acquisition, and application of grammar rules.
Having explained what we mean by visual impairment and dyslexia, we must now specify the definition of task stratification and differentiation and, even earlier, of task.
Here, we understand the concept of task according to Candlin (1987, p. 10), that is, as an activity or a set of activities “that become students’ tools for exploring language based on varied cognitive and communicative procedures” (Caon and Meneghetti 2017, p. 221; translation is ours). In essence, since it “can engage productive or receptive, and oral or written skills and also various cognitive processes” (Ellis 2003, p. 16) within a real context, the task may be defined as a “complete communicative act” (Caon and Meneghetti 2017, p. 223) that is strongly connected to the real use of the foreign language.
In research on the topic, task stratification generally refers to organizing classroom tasks in layers ranging from the simplest to the most complex (cf. D’Annunzio and Della Puppa 2006, pp. 147–48), according to a model of stratified learning units (Troiano 2019), which is based on the adaptation of the same activities to different language levels.
Here, however, we will employ it in a broader sense to refer to a division of the task into multiple levels (consequently, the possible absence of indication of task difficulty will be interpreted as the absence of a task stratification system). In essence, task stratification implies the implementation of procedures that can lead to task facilitation. In the case of D learners, an example is the addition of grammatical-lexical diagrams or tables to perform tasks that are potentially difficult for them, involving morphosyntactic or lexical competence (as we will see).
By task differentiation, we mean all the means of diversification of the educational process, including the differentiation of the type of task (e.g., written production/oral production), the mode of performance (e.g., in pairs/in groups), and other elements, such as the time allotted (e.g., less/more), the materials for carrying out the task, and the medium (e.g., paper/digital) (cf. Caon 2006; Caon and Meneghetti 2017, pp. 227–30). For example, in the case of PS learners, a differentiation procedure may be providing the task in a different format (e.g., with a bigger or more readable font or in a digital version). Here, it is not a matter of making the task easier (as in stratification), but of changing the way the task is presented or carried out, additionally acting on elements external to the task itself to address each learner appropriately and effectively, taking into account his/her individual peculiarities.
The use of differentiation and stratification procedures makes it possible to meet the needs of a wide variety of learners, including those who are PS and D. In other words, task stratification and differentiation (as defined), combined with a personalization-based pedagogy and inclusive classroom strategies, can foster inclusive teaching and learning environments.
As far as the theoretical examination of RFL textbooks used in Italy is concerned, the few existing studies mostly display a descriptive and not an analytical character (see, e.g., Smykunova 2017). Moreover, as in general RFL research (as we have seen), there is a lack of focus on textbooks in relation to inclusive issues in the Italian context.
For the reasons above, this paper opens a new field of interest in research devoted to RFL textbook theory in Italy, with spillovers to the broader European and global context.

2. Materials and Methods

The analysis was conducted on a sample acquired via purposive sampling, that is, a non-probability sampling technique based on the judgment of the researcher, where “the sample is specifically selected intentionally to gather the data necessary for the study” (Willes 2017, p. 1545).
The sample included six of the most popular RFL textbooks for adolescent and adult learners in Italy as judged by public school curricula and programs, as well as private interviews with RFL teachers. These are (in order from oldest to newest): Reportazh (Jouan-Lafont and Kovalenko 2005–2006), Russkiy klass (Vokhmina and Osipova 2008–2011), Molodets (Langran et al. 2011–2014), Davayte (Magnati et al. 2017–2022), Poyekhali (new edition; Chernyshov and Chernyshova 2019–2022), and Ura (Vanin and Zanivan 2020–2021) (see Table 1).
The peculiarity of the chosen textbooks is that, although they are designed for either adults (Molodets; Poyekhali) or adolescents (Reportazh; Russkiy klass; Davayte; Ura), they are often adopted in both contexts—school and college level (Molodets; Davayte; Poyekhali; Ura). This means that these textbooks do, in fact, leave a mark on both school and university RFL teaching.
It should also be noted that four of these textbooks are “nationality-oriented text-books” (natsional’no-oriyentirovannye uchebniki), as they are aimed at learners of a specific nationality/source language (Molodets, Davayte, and Ura at Italian-speaking learners; Reportazh at French-speaking learners). However, it will be seen how this feature, with the exception of one case (Ura), does not result in greater inclusiveness, and indeed, the comparison at the phonetic level with the mother tongue (very useful especially to D learners) is offered either not at all (Molodets) or very little (Davayte). In the case of Reportazh, even the use of the textbook requires the learner to have knowledge of a vehicular language other than the mother tongue, thus making it more difficult to learn Russian.
The methodological approach adopted here is based on content analysis. A general definition of content analysis, given by Holsti (1969, p. 14), is a “technique for making inferences by objectively and systematically identifying specified characteristics of messages.” Krippendorff (2004, p. 18) emphasized the role of the historical and socio-cultural context in the study of textual messages, interpreting content analysis as “a research technique for making replicable and valid inferences from texts (or other meaningful matter) to the contexts of their use.”
In our case, we relied specifically on comparative content analysis (cf., e.g., Rössler 2012), which allows the researcher to employ the content analysis research method described above within a comparative research that “attempts to reach conclusions beyond single cases and explains differences and similarities between objects of analysis and relations between objects against the backdrop of their contextual conditions” (Esser and Vliegenthart 2017, p. 2). In other words, adding a comparative dimension to the content analysis gives us the opportunity to make comparisons between the textbooks under our investigation.
For data collection and interpretation, this study builds on a revised version of the descriptive-evaluative procedure for coursebook assessment by Ur (1996, pp. 185–87), who suggested dividing textbook evaluation into three main stages: “deciding on criteria,” “applying criteria,” and “summary.” Here, we will rename these stages as follows: “establishing an object of observation,” “data collection and analysis,” and “generalizations.”
We started by “establishing an object of observation,” taking as the main descriptive-evaluative criterion our research object, that is, task stratification and differentiation strategies for PS and D learners employed in the selected sample of textbooks used in the Italian context. We then moved on to “data collection and analysis” by applying our criterion through the content analysis research method. Finally, we were able to arrive at some “generalizations,” that is, a general summary achieved by comparing the textbooks through a comparative content analysis.
For the purposes of this investigation, we have also kept in mind the many evaluation models offered by research on teoriya uchebnika in the specific RFL area (among others: Trushina 1981; Vyatyutnev 1984; Arutyunov 1990; Berdichevskiy and Golubeva 2015; Dobrovol’skaya 2017; Kozdra 2019; Pashkovskaya 2019).

3. Results and Discussion

3.1. General Observations

The comparative content analysis carried out on the above-mentioned RFL textbooks shows that there is a total lack of perspective and learning/teaching design aimed at the inclusion of learners with SENs/SLDs in the Italian context.
In general, as will be discussed below, the analyzed textbooks do not present themselves as inclusive, since they do not take into account the educational guidelines and recommendations for the creation of materials for foreign language learning appropriate to PS and D learners (see, e.g., Schneider and Crombie 2003; Salisbury 2007, pp. 95–97; IncluTech 2015–2017a, 2015–2017b) in various respects, from size and type(s) of font(s) employed to the density of the pages, from typologies of exercises and activities offered (or, on the contrary, missing) to the way grammar and vocabulary are presented, and so on.
For example, as concerns PS learners, the recommended font size should be at least 16 and italic printed characters should be avoided (IncluTech 2015–2017a, p. 15). However, these guidelines are generally not implemented by our textbooks. Moreover, two textbooks (Reportazh and Davayte) actually include the mixing of different fonts, which (as is easy to imagine) negatively affects readability.
Additionally not conducive to readability for PS learners may be pictures that are too small (such as those that will be noted in Reportazh). While this problem, along with that of font size, may be solved by having a digital version of the textbook (which can be enlarged as desired), it remains for textbooks available only in hard copy (such as Reportazh, Russkiy klass, and Molodets).
A third point to consider concerns page density: pages should not contain an excessive number of items, lest PS learners become confused (IncluTech 2015–2017a, pp. 15–16). We will observe how even this principle is often disregarded by RFL textbooks.
With respect to D learners, a weak point of RFL textbooks is found in phonetic exercises and activities. As is known, D learners have difficulties in developing phonetic competence (IncluTech 2015–2017b, pp. 10–11). Almost none of the analyzed textbooks present practical exercises and activities targeted at enhancing learners’ phonetic competence from a comparative-linguistic perspective (e.g., involving comparisons between the sounds of Russian and those of the native language); this would be particularly suitable for D learners (see Ibid., p. 10), because it would allow learners to distinguish similarities and differences between the sounds and phonetic systems of the two languages (foreign and native).
A second problem is related to the reading texts offered, which (a) may be too long (e.g., in Russkiy klass) or (b) may not contain accent marks (e.g., in Russkiy klass, Vol. III of Molodets, and Vols. III–IV of Davayte). Such texts are demanding for D students, who have problems with reading comprehension (see also Ibid.), to understand. A parallel problem concerns written production activities, which may be missing or insufficient (e.g., in Russkiy klass).
A third critical aspect relates to the way grammar and vocabulary are presented in RFL textbooks. D learners, on the one hand, struggle in applying grammar rules (see Ibid.) and, on the other hand, encounter considerable problems in memorizing and acquiring vocabulary (see Ibid., pp. 10, 12). In the textbooks we have analyzed (with the exception of Ura), these learners are penalized due to the lack of tables, diagrams, and glossaries to systematize grammatical and lexical knowledge.
Moreover, all the textbooks share a lack of multisensory (i.e., engaging more than one sense at a time) activities, which would be very helpful to learners with SENs/SLDs.
The usefulness of a multisensory approach to foreign language learning for both PS and D learners is well known: through the use of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic pathways (e.g., activities engaging sight, hearing, touch, smell, and body movements), learners’ memory and ability to learn may be greatly enhanced (IncluTech 2015–2017a, pp. 8–9; 2015–2017b, pp. 10, 16). However, it should be pointed out that this inclusive strategy is not only suitable for learners with SENs/SLDs (e.g., PS and D learners) but “is recommended for all students” (IncluTech 2015–2017a, p. 9).
In essence, for the reasons stated above and explained further below, from a general point of view, none of the textbooks examined is truly inclusive of PS and D learners.
In more detail, regarding the tasks, there are three basic cases:
  • Case n. 1: Reportazh and Poyekhali seem not to make use of any task stratification or differentiation strategies to include PS and D learners;
  • Case n. 2: The other textbooks (Russkiy klass, Molodets, and Ura) instead adopt mainly task differentiation strategies;
  • Case n. 3: Davayte adopts both stratification and differentiation strategies, but they are not inscribed in a structured inclusion plan.
In what follows, we will describe in detail the examined textbooks and then draw conclusions about their inclusiveness (a) in general and (b) in relation to task structure.

3.2. Detailed Textbook Analysis

3.2.1. Reportazh

Generally, Reportazh (Jouan-Lafont and Kovalenko 2005–2006) seems not to be inclusive for PS learners for at least four reasons:
  • The font size generally used is far smaller than 16 (i.e., the minimum recommended for PS learners). Moreover, italic printed characters are not avoided, but used throughout for instructions in French, which is the textbook’s vehicular language;
  • Different fonts are mixed, resulting in decreased readability for PS learners (see, e.g., Ibid.: II: p. 56);
  • Pages are too crowded with an excessive number of items (see, e.g., Ibid.: I: p. 73), which may result in confusion for PS learners;
  • Some specific activities include pictures or texts (also incorporating italics) that are too small to the point of being illegible, the decoding of which, however, is essential for the performance of the given activities (see, e.g., ex. 1 in Ibid.: p. 89).
Reportazh does not prove to be very inclusive with respect to D learners, either. The fact that the textbook uses French as its vehicular language means that the use of the textbook in an Italian context with D Italian-speaking learners adds a double preliminary difficulty, as learners must learn Russian through French, essentially coming to terms with as many as two foreign languages at once.
In more detail, there is at least one feature that makes this textbook unsuitable for D learners, namely regarding pronunciation skills. Although Reportazh contains theoretical explanations about RFL phonetics, it does not present practical exercises and activities targeted at developing phonetic competence preferably from a comparative-linguistic perspective (e.g., involving comparisons between the sounds of Russian and those of French), which would allow D learners to improve their own phonetic awareness.
Moreover, regarding activity types, there are no fully multisensory activities, which would be very helpful to both D and PS learners (for the reasons already mentioned).
Having made these general considerations, let us now examine the tasks.
As a preliminary consideration, in Reportazh, more common than tasks are pattern drills (i.e., structural exercises based on repetition of a given model), especially with regard to oral production (see, e.g., Ibid.: II: p. 47).
The actual tasks are rarer and are devoted especially (once again) to the development of oral production (with some exceptions in Volume II, such as the letter writing task in Ibid.: 36). They are mainly single activities consisting of classic communicative dramatization techniques, such as the role-making activities in Figure 1 (Ibid.: I: p. 37) and Figure 2 (Ibid.: p. 61).
As these examples show, these are basically tasks built around a single activity without following the principles of task stratification or differentiation; in fact, neither the level of difficulty nor the mode of performance is indicated. Moreover, there is no differentiation by type, either: the tasks turn out to be largely homogeneous in type, being tasks focused only on oral production, with a preference for dramatization activities.
As for PS and D learners, there are no further differentiation or stratification procedures present that would benefit them (e.g., additional variants and/or activities).
In tasks such as those highlighted, the greatest difficulty for PS learners would certainly be the poor legibility of the instructions due to the use of a small, poorly readable font and the use of italics. The tasks could possibly be adapted with larger (greater than 16) instructions in a readable, standard, non-italic font.
As far as D learners are concerned, the biggest problem is the absence of lexical and morphosyntactic support for carrying out tasks as complex and potentially dispersive as dramatizations. The tasks could have been easily layered by adding a vocabulary list or glossary (even better if visual) or, possibly, by simplifying them further, for example, by turning them into more guided roleplays (with precise instructions on what to say).
It certainly could have helped both PS and D learners to add, within both tasks, a second, multisensory activity, for example, involving the kinesthetic component, with the final dialogues being recited in pairs or small groups moving around the classroom.
In short, Reportazh does not present a task structure inclusive of PS and D learners. As we have seen, in this textbook, there is no record of stratified (by level of difficulty) or differentiated (by mode of performance, type, etc.) tasks. Similarly, Reportazh does not employ any task stratification or differentiation strategies that meet the needs of PS and D learners.

3.2.2. Russkiy klass

As in the case of Reportazh, the general structure of Russkiy klass (Vokhmina and Osipova 2008–2011) proves not to be inclusive of PS learners for two reasons:
  • The font size generally used, especially for instructions, is smaller than 16;
  • As in Reportazh, Russkiy klass contains pages too crowded with an excessive number of items (see, e.g., Ibid.: p. 187).
With regard to D learners, it certainly does not help this type of learner that the textbook is entirely in Russian and that an intermediary language is not used instead, for example, in grammar explanations.
Additionally testifying to the fact that Russkiy klass is not inclusive of D learners are these elements:
  • The reading texts offered by the textbook are generally very long and potentially difficult for D learners due to the fact that Cyrillic accents are not marked (see, e.g., Ibid.: pp. 275–79);
  • The end-of-lesson vocabulary (see, e.g., Ibid.: pp. 134–36) is monolingual, and therefore does not facilitate vocabulary acquisition;
  • There are not enough exercises and activities on phonetic and written production (which could help the D learner overcome his or her difficulties through targeted exercises and activities of distinguishing and reproducing difficult sounds).
Moreover, we cannot find in the textbook any multisensory activities (which are very useful for working with both D and PS learners).
But let us now consider, specifically, the tasks proposed by Russkiy klass.
In contrast to Reportazh, Russkiy klass contains numerous tasks of two different types—scenario and project work (see, e.g., Ibid.: pp. 21, 33 in Figure 3 and Figure 4)—which enable work on oral and written production, respectively, and satisfy, albeit partially, the principle of task differentiation by type.
However, as can be seen from the examples above, in Russkiy klass, tasks are generally designed for group performance (i.e., on a single mode of performance). To be fair, the textbook also presents tasks intended for individual and pairwise performance (see, e.g., ex. 25 and ex. 26 in Ibid.: p. 249), but these are a much smaller percentage, leading us to infer that there is no clear design in the sense of task differentiation by mode of performance.
If partial task differentiation can be identified in Russkiy klass, we cannot say the same about task stratification: not only, as the given examples show, are tasks not stratified according to various degrees of difficulty, but the level of difficulty is not even indicated.
With reference to PS and D learners, the absence of systematic attention to task differentiation and stratification results in the absence of inclusiveness.
For PS learners, the tasks already mentioned may create a common difficulty: the small and unreadable font of the instructions. Creating a second version with larger and more readable instructions is a simple task differentiation procedure that would meet the needs of these learners.
As far as D learners are concerned, tasks such as those described could be very difficult regarding both deciphering the tasks themselves (the instructions are very long and entirely in Russian) and carrying them out (no lexical or morphological-syntactic aids of any kind are offered). A possible solution to make these tasks more inclusive is to stratify them by providing them with instructions in English as well (perhaps shorter and more concise) and to transform the tasks from semi-free to guided (i.e., indicating precisely what students should say or write).
To summarize, Russkiy klass generally implements a partial differentiation of tasks (by type and mode of performance), to which, however, no stratification procedure corresponds, and which does not fit into an inclusive design for PS and D learners.

3.2.3. Molodets

Molodets (Langran et al. 2011–2014), similar to the two textbooks examined above, is generally not inclusive of PS learners, since the font size is not always large enough to ensure total readability. For example, some activities, such as that in Ibid. (II: p. 97), rely on decodification of pictures and/or writing that are too small. Moreover, in Volume II, in the part of the textbook devoted to exercises, instructions are given in italics, which are less readable than block characters (see, e.g., ex. 17 in Ibid.: p. 149). However, it should be pointed out that, fortunately, in the other two volumes, italics are avoided in favor of instructions in block characters entirely in Italian (Volume I) or in a mixture of both Italian and Russian (Volume III).
In general, Molodets does not prove inclusive for D learners, either, for the following reasons:
  • While in the first two volumes the Cyrillic accent is always marked in reading comprehension tasks, in Volume III, the accent (except for the vowel “ë”) is no longer indicated. This is intended to help the learner, who needs to reach B1 level, become accustomed to reading authentic texts, in which the accent usually is not marked. However, reading, already difficult for the D learner, becomes even more problematic in this case.
  • The discursive explanation of grammar in special sections (see, e.g., Ibid.: I: pp. 102–3) is not accompanied by tables or diagrams, which would enable the D learner to better systematize the content. It is true that in Volumes I and II there is at least an overall grammar summary that closes the textbook part and precedes the exercises part (see, e.g., Ibid.: II: pp. 134–37), but perhaps the inclusion of visual aids, such as tables or diagrams, within each lesson would help.
  • The presence of numerous exercises and activities based on listening comprehension of small texts in Volume III (see, e.g., Ibid.: III: pp. 189–91) can be disruptive and pose difficulties for D learners. Additionally, specific exercises and activities on phonetics (e.g., distinguishing between difficult Russian sounds or comparing the Russian and Italian phonetic systems) are lacking in all three volumes.
Finally, the textbook does not contain multisensory activities for D and PS learners.
Coming now to tasks, as with Russkiy klass, here too the proposed tasks are focused on the development of oral and written production. For oral production, the most frequent are single role-play activities, such as the one in Figure 5 (Ibid.: II: p. 117), whereas for written production, the textbook offers composition activities (see Ibid.: III: p. 168, in Figure 6).
As these examples show, similar to Russkiy klass, Molodets also features differentiation of the task on the basis of its type.
Compared to Russkiy klass, the textbook additionally pays more attention to the differentiation of the task by mode of performance: there are tasks to be done individually, in pairs, and in groups.
However, tasks are not organized in layers ranging from the simplest to the most complex (i.e., no task stratification); indeed, the level of difficulty is not marked.
Regarding PS and D learners, no specific differentiation or stratification strategies are put in place to foster their learning.
Going back to the examples in Figure 5 and Figure 6, the likely critical point for a PS learner is poor font readability (font too small, use of italics). To make these tasks accessible, a second, diversified version with larger font and block characters should be provided.
Coming now to the D learner, the tasks present difficulty with regard to morphosyntactic, lexical, and argumentative aspects. One solution could be to implement task stratification (e.g., by adding Russian accents where they are missing, by proposing more guided and/or facilitated activities, or by dividing the tasks into stages) or a differentiation of time and mode of performance (e.g., by providing a second version of the tasks with more time allotted or giving the opportunity to do the written production in pairs).
In a nutshell, Molodets does use some task differentiation procedures (by type and mode of performance), but these do not combine with task stratification procedures to ensure the inclusion of both PS and D learners.

3.2.4. Davayte

Davayte (Magnati et al. 2017–2022), especially in Volumes III and IV, has two critical aspects relevant to PS learners:
  • The font used for tasks in some places is too small (see, e.g., ex. 1 in Ibid.: III: p. 174) and sometimes also poorly readable (see, e.g., the text in Ibid.: IV: p. 55), although this problem is partially solved by the digital version of the textbook.
  • Mixed fonts are present (see, e.g., Ibid.: IV: p.101), which may become an obstacle to the correct visual decoding of the textbook as a whole.
As for D learners, there are three critical issues:
  • Unlike grammar learning, which is helped by visual aids, such as tables (see, e.g., Ibid.: I: p. 118), vocabulary learning is only partially reinforced by glossaries of texts (e.g., in Ibid.: p. 193). Bilingual Russian–Italian vocabularies are given only in Volumes I and II;
  • Although accents are marked in the first two volumes, starting with Volume III, they are no longer indicated;
  • Specific phonetic exercises are present only in Volume I (see, e.g., ex. 3 and ex. 4 in Ibid.: p. 64), with the only exception being the exercises on intonation in Volume IV (see, e.g., Ibid.: IV: pp. 27–29).
Moreover, no multisensory activities are offered to D or PS learners.
Nevertheless, despite the weaknesses mentioned above, as concerns task structure, Davayte possesses complete task differentiation (by type and by mode of performance).
The tasks offered by this textbook, as shown in Figure 7a–c (Ibid.: pp. 36–38), and Figure 8 (Ibid.: III: p. 178), are in fact varied and well structured, since they include several activities (from scenario to project work, for example) that are connected by the theme of the lesson (in this case, reading and cultural tourism, on the one hand, and music, on the other), allowing for work primarily on written and oral production.
One small deficiency of the textbook, though, is the absence of multisensory activities, which would have added an additional dimension of differentiation to the benefit of all learners.
The mode of performance in tasks, even if not marked by an appropriate icon and not always inferable from the instructions (see, e.g., Figure 7 and Figure 8), is differentiated as well: learners are involved in individual together with pair and group work (see, e.g., ex. 13 in Ibid.: I: p. 127; ex. 25 in Ibid.: II: p. 99; ex. 21 in Ibid.: III: p. 80).
In addition, regarding task stratification, Davayte (in common with Ura, which will be analyzed in the next section) turns out to be more inclusive than the previous textbooks:
  • In Volumes III and IV, the level of difficulty of the activities (from one to three) is marked by an appropriate symbol.
  • Up to Volume III, the instructions are given in Italian or in Russian and Italian.
Surely, these elements can benefit all learners (even those without SENs/SLDs). However, regarding D learners in particular, the presence of instructions in Italian alleviates difficulties related to the reading and decoding of Russian.
However, the tasks in Figure 7 and Figure 8 present another challenge for D learners due to the absence of accents (starting with Volume III). Further, in Volume IV, the instructions are only in Russian, which makes their reading more difficult. Possible stratification strategies could be to create a second version of the tasks with the accents marked and with instructions in Italian.
Difficulties for PS learners, on the other hand, include the too-small and sometimes illegible font, the mixing of different fonts, and the sometimes too-dense and colorful pages (which can be distracting or confusing, as well as not being easily decodable).
Tasks could be made more inclusive of PS learners by improving these aspects, that is, by creating alternative versions with a single, larger, and more readable font (or by suggesting learners use the digital version of the textbook) and reorganizing pages to contain fewer items and less coloring.
An additional element that would enhance inclusivity regarding both PS and D learners (and all others) would be the inclusion of multisensory activities (e.g., watching/listening to short videos or songs related to the topics covered or suggesting walking tours with the teacher).
In essence, although Davayte does take a first step toward inclusiveness with a developed system of task differentiation strategies and some task stratification strategies (indication of level of difficulty, instructions given also in Italian), the absence of a precise inclusive teaching policy—whether explicit (e.g., in the Teacher’s Guide or in the Introduction section of each volume) or implicit (in the design of the teaching materials)—emerges from the configuration of the tasks and makes this textbook not totally inclusive of PS and D learners.

3.2.5. Poyekhali

In common with the previously analyzed textbooks, the new edition of Poyekhali (Chernyshov and Chernyshova 2019–2022) is not fully inclusive of PS learners for the following reasons:
  • The font size is not always appropriate (see, e.g., ex. 9 in Ibid.: 1.1: p. 123), although it can be enlarged while using the digital version of the textbook.
  • Generally, the density of the pages is functional for the proposed activities (see, e.g., Ibid.: 1.1: p. 111), but in some cases, there are too many pictures (see, e.g., Ibid.: 1.2: p. 142), which might confuse students.
  • Some exercises involve decoding colors and pictures (see, e.g., text 4 in Ibid.: 1.1.: p. 149 and ex. 2 in Ibid.: p. 157) and thus may be difficult for PS learners to complete.
As for D learners, many positive aspects may be noted:
  • Accents (except in instructions) are always marked.
  • The acquisition of grammar is enabled by the presence of numerous grammar diagrams and tables, both within (see, e.g., Ibid.: 2.1: pp. 41–42; 1:2: p. 74) and at the end (see, e.g., Ibid.: 2.1: pp. 175–77) of the volumes.
  • Although there are no glossaries at the end of each lesson or volume, there are plenty of lexico-grammatical diagrams (see, e.g., Ibid.: 1.1: pp. 113, 116) that, together with the spidergrams (see, e.g., Ibid.: p. 143) and visual vocabularies (see, e.g., Ibid.: 1.2: p. 109) included within the volumes, facilitate D learners in developing their lexical and morphological skills.
However, Poyekhali also has a downside that may hinder the D learner (which it shares with all the previous textbooks), namely the lack of phonetic exercises and activities aimed at working on the more difficult sounds. In fact, this type of exercise/activity is present only in the first volume (see, e.g., Ibid.: 1.1: p. 50), while the other volumes prove deficient in this regard.
We may also find in Poyekhali, as in Reportazh, Russkiy klass, Molodets, and Davayte, a total absence of multisensory activities, which would have helped both PS and D learners.
Now let us turn to the specific tasks offered by Poyekhali.
First, we can see how the tasks proposed in the textbook generally consist in one (such as the museum trip task in Figure 9; see Ibid.: 2.2: p. 66) or more activities (such as the restaurant order task, which is divided into two phases; see Ibid.: 2.1: p. 109 in Figure 10).
In both cases, tasks are not conceived according to stratification and differentiation procedures, since (a) there is a lack of any indication of level and, consequently, of level stratification and (b) the mode of performance is differentiated only in Volumes 1.1 and 1.2 (see also, in this regard, the explanation provided by the authors in Ibid.: pp. 6–7).
Although a differentiation by type can be found in the task in Figure 10, which presents two different types of activities, one focused on a receptive skill (text comprehension) and one on a productive skill (monologue writing), this is not always the case. This leads to the inference that Poyekhali generally does not observe task differentiation procedures.
With particular reference to PS and D learners, there is no differentiation or stratification of the given tasks.
It is clear that the performance of these tasks, as they are configured, would be difficult for PS and D learners—on the one hand, because of the size of the font, the presence of images that are not easily decoded, and excessive page density (PS learners), and on the other hand, because of the focus on the morphosyntactic and lexical aspects of the language (D learners).
Differentiated and stratified tasks suitable for the needs of PS and D learners could have been obtained by proposing versions with (a) enlarged font, better decodability of images (or, to cope with these specific problems, by encouraging learners to use the digital version of Poyekhali), and pages with fewer items (PS learners) and (b) glossaries, diagrams, or morphosyntactic tables (D learners). Moreover, a further stratification procedure for D learners could consist of adding the accents in the instructions given in Russian and/or also providing a translation in a known language (e.g., English) to speed up the comprehension process.
In addition, both types of learners would have benefited from the inclusion of multisensory versions of the tasks (e.g., an audio vocabulary or creative, taste-based activities that involve learners in a concrete food experience, such as tasting Russian dishes).
In summary, Poyekhali does not contain an identifiable task structure serving the inclusion of PS and D learners. In fact, the tasks in this textbook consist of activities that are neither stratified nor differentiated and that are not conceived according to the needs of PS and D learners. Since its tasks imply a homologous, non-stratified, and non-differentiated learning process, they cannot qualify Poyekhali as inclusive of PS and D learners.

3.2.6. Ura

Of the textbooks analyzed, Ura (Vanin and Zanivan 2020–2021) is the most inclusive of PS learners because, apart from the use of a font size that is not optimal (but that may be enlarged in the digital version of the textbook), it does not have critical issues (e.g., the excessive page density of Reportazh and Russkiy klass). Besides, the textbook file is also made available by the publishing house to PS learners for reading via text-to-speech.
For D learners as well, this textbook proves to be more inclusive than others for a number of reasons:
  • Vocabulary learning is aided by the presence of a glossary at the end of each volume (see, e.g., Ibid.: I: Π10–Π15), as well as by the map builder in the digital version.
  • Grammar learning is aided by a special section within each volume (see, e.g., Ibid.: II: pp. 27–29) and at the end, with extensive use of diagrams and tables (see, e.g., Ibid.: Π1–Π14).
  • Exercise and activity instructions are always in Italian.
  • Cyrillic accents are always indicated in all volumes.
  • The textbook provides specific phonetic exercises and activities on individual difficult sounds for Italian learners (see, e.g., ex. 9 and ex. 10 in Ibid.: I: p. 7 and ex. 18 in Ibid.: p. 125).
The only identifiable flaw is that Ura does not have multisensory activities.
Specifically regarding the tasks offered, they do not present forms of stratification by level of difficulty.
However, Ura, in common with Davayte, implements a well-organized system of task differentiation by type, as it contains within the same task differentiated activities for the development of grammar competence, written production, and oral production, all of which contribute to the achievement of the purpose of the task itself. If we look, for example, at Figure 11 (Ibid.: pp. 23–24), we notice that, for the task of introducing oneself and others, different activities are offered, ranging from introducing people from their business cards to completing mini-dialogues, answering closed questions, and a final cloze.
The same is true for the restaurant order task in Figure 12 (Ibid.: II: p. 101), which contains related and interdependent activities (correcting mistakes and creating a dialogue in pairs).
As can be seen from the examples, within the tasks, only the activities to be carried out in pairs are marked with the appropriate wording, while the others merely imply that the work is intended to be individual (this is not explicitly indicated). The tasks offered by Ura also contain activities planned for groups and marked by the appropriate label (see, e.g., ex. 10 in Ibid.: III: p. 46), which confirms the conscious implementation of a differentiation approach towards the mode of performance of tasks.
However, task differentiation is not sufficient to make a task inclusive of PS learners. In fact, going back to the examples above, the tasks of Ura present critical issues related to font size for PS learners. An inclusive differentiated task could have offered larger lettering (even though, alternatively, PS learners may see it enlarged in the digital version).
Of course, the addition of multisensory activities would have also benefited both PS and D learners. For example, the restaurant order task in Figure 12 could include activities related to the use of touch and taste (e.g., touching or tasting food).
On the other hand, the textbook’s lack of attention to task stratification additionally has consequences for the inclusion of D learners, whose difficulties, in the examples above, are due to morpho-syntactic, lexical, and phonetic elements. While the task in Figure 11 does contain partial stratification (grammar table), the other one (Figure 12) could have been facilitated by simply adding a dialogue transcript (ex. 10), reducing the number of sentences provided by the role-play (ex. 11), and/or accompanying it with lexical aids, as well as by allowing more time for D learners to perform the activities.
For the reasons outlined so far, Ura, together with Davayte, emerges as one of the most inclusive among the textbooks analyzed because of the presence of a structured system of task differentiation. However, the lack of any form of stratification, as well as the lack of a complete inclusive task design for the inclusion of PS and D learners, ultimately makes this textbook—like the others—not inclusive of these two types of learners.

4. Conclusions

In summary, in the textbooks analyzed, we generally do not observe an educational design related to task structuring. Tasks in these textbooks are not conceived in a stratified and differentiated manner, either in general or in relation to PS and D learners.
In fact, there are textbooks (Reportazh and Poyekhali) that do not present any stratification or differentiation strategies. Other textbooks, instead, implement only task differentiation (Russkiy klass, Molodets, and Ura). The only textbook to combine task differentiation with task stratification is Davayte, but even this lacks a view toward integrated inclusion.
In general, the inclusive procedures observed in these textbooks are, on the one hand, not specifically adapted to PS and D learners and, on the other, generally not embedded in organic and structured inclusion perspectives. The consequence is that, for this reason and the other aspects highlighted for each textbook, we cannot speak of true inclusiveness (in relation to PS and D learners).
This situation may be attributed to the greater presence in such textbooks of traditional RFL views and approaches, which generally do not prioritize inclusion (Torresin 2022, p. 266), as well as—for textbooks of Italian origin (Davayte and Ura) or adapted for the Italian context (Molodets)—to carelessness toward current contributions of Italian-based glottodidactics, which, in contrast, is very attentive to inclusion issues, even for languages other than Russian (see, e.g., Daloiso 2020).
We hope that this situation will change and that instances of inclusiveness will become increasingly important to the creators of future RFL textbooks.
To this end, based on the above, we can give some general indications of the minimum requirements of an inclusive RFL textbook for PS and D learners, which may be divided into “features of RFL textbooks” and “compensatory tools.”
Features of an RFL textbook that may be useful for PS and D learners, as well as for learners with other SENs and SLDs (and, more generally, to all learners), include:
  • Large, readable font, with care taken to avoid italics and mixing different fonts;
  • Large, easily decodable images;
  • Pages not too dense with items;
  • The marking of accents (or the provision of a version of the textbook with marked accents);
  • Instructions, in addition to Russian, in the learner’s first language for nationality-oriented textbooks, or in English for others (or the provision of a version of the textbook with instructions not only in Russian);
  • The avoidance of excessively long reading texts (or the provision of a version of the textbook with shorter reading texts);
  • Glossaries, diagrams, and tables for the development of lexical and grammatical competence;
  • Activities and tasks that are differentiated (at least, in type and mode of performance) and stratified (divided into multiple difficulty levels);
  • Specific phonetics exercises to help the learner compare the target language with the source language;
  • Multisensory activities.
Among the compensatory tools which, if combined with the RFL paper textbook (equipped with the above features), can make the difference in the learning of PS and D learners (and indeed of all learners), are:
  • The e-book version of the textbook (following the example of Davayte, Poyekhali, and Ura), which allows learners to enlarge fonts and images for better readability and to interact with the content by highlighting the text, taking notes, and inserting hyperlinks;
  • The audio files of the textbook, compatible with text-to-speech software (as in the case of Ura), which allow the learner to listen to the contents of the textbook;
  • A digital map builder (such as the one offered by Ura), with which learners can build their own personalized schemes for more effective study.
An RFL textbook with these elements will enhance its inclusiveness, with clear benefits for all learners.


This study was conducted at Vilnius University with the financial support of the University of Padova. Funding programme: “Seal of Excellence @UNIPD”. Project: “RETEACH” (, accessed on 30 November 2022). Project code: TORR_MSCASOE21_01.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. Example 1 of a task in Reportazh.
Figure 1. Example 1 of a task in Reportazh.
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Figure 2. Example 2 of a task in Reportazh.
Figure 2. Example 2 of a task in Reportazh.
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Figure 3. Example 1 of a task in Russkiy klass.
Figure 3. Example 1 of a task in Russkiy klass.
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Figure 4. Example 2 of a task in Russkiy klass.
Figure 4. Example 2 of a task in Russkiy klass.
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Figure 5. Example 1 of a task in Molodets.
Figure 5. Example 1 of a task in Molodets.
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Figure 6. Example 2 of a task in Molodets.
Figure 6. Example 2 of a task in Molodets.
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Figure 7. (ac) Example 1 of a task in Davayte.
Figure 7. (ac) Example 1 of a task in Davayte.
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Figure 8. Example 2 of a task in Davayte.
Figure 8. Example 2 of a task in Davayte.
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Figure 9. Example 1 of a task in Poyekhali.
Figure 9. Example 1 of a task in Poyekhali.
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Figure 10. Example 2 of a task in Poyekhali.
Figure 10. Example 2 of a task in Poyekhali.
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Figure 11. Example 1 of a task in Ura.
Figure 11. Example 1 of a task in Ura.
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Figure 12. Example 2 of a task in Ura.
Figure 12. Example 2 of a task in Ura.
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Table 1. Analyzed RFL textbooks for adolescent and adult learners in Italy.
Table 1. Analyzed RFL textbooks for adolescent and adult learners in Italy.
Textbook 1Textbook 2Textbook 3
(Jouan-Lafont and Kovalenko 2005–2006)
Russkiy klass
(Vokhmina and Osipova 2008–2011)
(Langran et al. 2011–2014)
Textbook 4Textbook 5Textbook 6
(Magnati et al. 2017–2022)
(Chernyshov and Chernyshova 2019–2022)
(Vanin and Zanivan 2020–2021)
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Torresin, L. Task Stratification and Differentiation Strategies for Partially Sighted and Dyslexic Learners in Textbooks of Russian as a Foreign Language: An Italian Case Study of Non-Inclusive Learning/Teaching. Languages 2023, 8, 77.

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Torresin L. Task Stratification and Differentiation Strategies for Partially Sighted and Dyslexic Learners in Textbooks of Russian as a Foreign Language: An Italian Case Study of Non-Inclusive Learning/Teaching. Languages. 2023; 8(1):77.

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Torresin, Linda. 2023. "Task Stratification and Differentiation Strategies for Partially Sighted and Dyslexic Learners in Textbooks of Russian as a Foreign Language: An Italian Case Study of Non-Inclusive Learning/Teaching" Languages 8, no. 1: 77.

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