Thursday, June 13, 2013

Collaboration Among All Teachers of Second Language Learners

Recently I participated in the three-day professional development workshop series to support teachers and administrators that are working toward full use of the World Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) structure. This is the structure that Massachusetts has adopted to strengthen second language learner instruction across the state, align instruction of second language learners with the 2011 Curriculum Framework in ELA and Literacy, as well as Math, Science, Social Studies, and provide a strong basis for collaboration among teachers who shelter content (commonly referred to as ELL teachers) and regular education/content-area teachers.

Many district administrators have been asking for guidance on ways to integrate the WIDA Standards into their curriculum maps. This is a very reasonable request and the workshop series was a way of providing that guidance. The WIDA booklet called, 2012 Amplification of The English Language Development Standards, Kindergarten - Grade 12, (available for free download or spiral-bound purchase at was a strong reference point for our work. In addition, there are supports for introducing, understanding, and using the book with educators, at the site.  Integration of the WIDA standards, features of academic language, and understanding and use of performance indicators (models of these are provided in the book for all content areas and in all grades levels) occurs at the unit and lesson planning/implementation levels. However, in the same way that reading standards 1 and 10 are expected to support and be part of all units and lessons, WIDA Standard 2, the Language of Language Arts, would support and be part of every literacy unit and lesson. Thus, the global reference to standard 2 would appear across the year-long timeline of a curriculum map and specific features of language development and assessment would appear as part of unit and lesson development.

Much of the work we are currently implementing challenges us to collaborate on many levels. Integration of WIDA standards/structures is another exciting opportunity for collaboration among education professionals at the local level. Throughout the 2012-2013 school year, we met with Urban Literacy Leaders from across the state each month. Three of the meetings were built around ELL-ELA collaborative work. At our last meeting, several districts showed the work that they were doing to incorporate WIDA structures into unit development and lesson instruction.

One of the hardest ideas to understand well and incorporate into daily work with students is, that although a student may have little language, particularly productive language in English, that student may be very knowledgeable, have ample background, and be capable of creative problem-solving in certain content. All students are entitled to work with content at high levels of engagement. How we provide supports and what we require for demonstration of learning outcomes will change based on language proficiency. In the past we may have confused lack of language with lack of knowledge or understanding. These are areas that are difficult but not impossible to reconcile and they are a big piece of the regular educator's work with English learners. The performance indicators are a huge help in supporting our thinking about providing choices and supports for students as they develop language capacities. However, among the important ideas presented, the idea of ELL teachers and regular education teachers collaborating in support of all students learning at optimal levels is the most important. Our second language students are the responsibility of all of their teachers. All of our work contributes to every student's successes.

In addition to the Amplification Booklet mentioned earlier, there are two publications that have informed my thinking:
  • Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Rothenberg, C. (2008). Content-area conversations: How to plan discussion-based lessons for diverse language learners. Alexandria, VA. ASCD.
  • Zwiers, J., & Crawford, M. (2011). Academic conversations:Classroom talk that fosters critical thinking and content understandings. Portland, ME. Stenhouse Publishers.