Conversations with Tim: Explore the WIDA ELD Standards Framework, 2020 Edition

January 7, 2021

This month, Conversations with Tim features a discussion between Tim Boals, WIDA founder and director, and Fernanda Kray, WIDA state relations specialist and English language development (ELD) standards researcher. These two WIDA experts sat down (virtually, in their home offices) with Merideth Trahan, WIDA chief of staff, to talk about the WIDA ELD Standards Framework, 2020 Edition. This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

With Merideth moderating, Tim and Fernanda, who is the content lead of the 2020 Edition, unpack the new edition and walk through how this new version of the WIDA ELD Standards Framework came to be, how to use it and, most importantly, how to order a copy.

Merideth: Let’s start out with the basics. Can you walk me through the role of the WIDA ELD Standards Framework within WIDA’s comprehensive system? 

Fernanda: I have come to think about the WIDA system as a tree, with the root of the tree being the WIDA mission, vision, values that include the Can Do Philosophy and social justice. The strong trunk that holds the tree together, I see as standards and assessment. Then I consider that everything's informed by research. So, where is research in this metaphor? Maybe it’s the nutrients in the soil, because our roots are feeding on and growing on research all the time. We also want to help educators stretch and grow towards the sun, helping to support multilingual learners to have that success in school. So, I thought about all these resources that WIDA offers – resources like professional development, focus bulletins, essential actions – being like branches and leaves growing out of this central tree trunk.

Tim: I really like that analogy. It’s both very complex and deep, but one that is easy to relate to. I'll just add a note from a historical perspective. English language development standards were the first thing that WIDA drafted when we came together in 2003 with eight states and Margo Gottlieb at the development helm. Your image of our ELD standards being the trunk of the WIDA system is spot on. The first commitment we made all those years ago was to make sure the language development standards were connected to content standards in meaningful ways, and that they illustrated the language that we wanted to see unfold within classrooms. From the beginning, the standards were at the heart of the system.

Merideth: Both of you have seen the standards evolve over the years. I'm wondering what each of you is most excited about with this new edition.

Fernanda: One thing I'm really excited about is how the framework has solidified. There are bridges and enhancements from earlier concepts. I see the 2020 Edition providing a very clear and coherent structure to guide the development of curriculum, instruction and assessment. Of course, as Tim mentioned, this is within the context of academic content learning. I love the new language expectations, functions, and features because they make language so visible and are tied so tightly with the academic content standards in a way that both language and content specialists will be able to see.

I love that it's organized into grade level clusters and that there are annotated language samples that actually show what this framework looks like with authentic grade-level texts. I love the sample process for collaborative planning because I think that will help teachers look at this and say, “here's a way that I can start to think about this and try this out.”

I love the strengthened, repositioned Standard 1, Language for Social and Instructional Purposes. It is a reminder of multilingual learners’ own positioning in the world and how that relates to the learning process. Standard 1 reminds us to bridge the personal, the social, and the emotional to the academic, which of course is central to the educational experience. And I love that the 2020 Edition is emphasizing language for thinking, for doing and for acting in the world.

Tim: For me, the most exciting part is that this edition puts a premium on linguistic engagement within classroom environments. The other editions have tried to, but this one moves us further in showing teachers how to create those engaging spaces for learning and for language growth. The resources that will flow out of these standards will further illustrate what the research supports: that kids’ language matures over time through real engagement with a challenging curriculum.

Merideth: When I hear both of you talk it feels like the standards are taking on another dimension. One that is more action-oriented and more engaging, and better at adapting to the lived experiences of children. Now I’m getting more excited!

Merideth: Much research went into developing the ELD Standards Framework. Being housed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we work with some amazing linguists, educators and researchers. What are some examples of the research that went into informing this new edition?

Fernanda: The standards team went to great lengths to make sure that this edition was built on very solid empirical and theoretical underpinnings, which included a thorough and continuous literature review. On the academic content side, we engaged in a very deep and comprehensive analysis of various sets of academic content standards and literature from the language lens, because the 2020 Edition takes a functional theoretical approach to language development and applies a genre-based lens.

Tim: It’s important to add that with each edition of our standards, we listen to the field ahead of time and continue to listen after an edition is published. We want to know where educators feel we got it right, and where we haven't quite gotten it right yet. In addition to what Fernanda just said about reviewing current research and exploring where the scholars are taking us, we placed a premium on hearing from practitioners.

Merideth: What exactly was the role of educators in the development process this time?

Tim: I think there's been more educator involvement this time around than ever before.

Fernanda: Absolutely. Thousands of educators inspired, supported and contributed to the work in this edition. We held a large-scale public input process that resulted in more than 1,200 survey respondents from 43 states and 10 countries. And we also collected more detailed qualitative data by sitting down and having in-depth conversations with people. We had more than 40 focus groups with participants from 19 states, and we talked about everything from standards alignment to the developmental appropriateness of the proficiency level descriptors.

Merideth: How will the new ELD Standards Framework affect our key stakeholders? What’s going to be different for our State Education Agencies (SEAs)?

Fernanda: At the state level, they need to go through a federal peer review process, and the 2020 Edition was designed to comply with [that process]. Additionally, SEAs have received implementation supports, such as a social media kit and a sample rollout guide with specific steps and resources. In the new edition, because we’ve made language and content so much more visible and concrete, it could make it easier for content and language departments within state education departments to collaborate and find the coherence and the alignment amongst state initiatives. This aspect of collaboration is true at all levels, from state offices to the classroom. Stakeholders have different areas of expertise and are often responsible for different aspects of educational planning and delivery; however, collectively they are responsible for the success of multilingual learners. I think it's going to make their jobs easier.

Tim: I agree with you that this makes the SEA job easier because of the specificity that's involved in this edition. I think it's something they've been telling us they wanted to see.

Merideth: I want to dig in a little more into the idea that the new edition allows state agency staff who are focused on language development to more easily collaborate with their peers who lead the content areas. What would that look like?

Fernanda: It depends on what each state is trying to do. In my former role as an SEA, I was always trying to build bridges. We talked about the necessity for collaboration in the classroom, which is also true at the state level. When you're coming from different areas of expertise, everyone has their own language, and this version addresses the connections with the inclusion of the correspondence tables between the language and content. Ultimately, it removes some of that initial work of having to figure out how these two areas fit together.

Merideth: What about our educators? How will their lives be different?

Fernanda: Collaboration is one of the big ideas and we have a sample process for content and language integration. If you are a language specialist and you teach language development classes, you are going to have an enhanced grade-level academic focus that is more explicit than before.

And for content teachers there's this light shining on the language that's already there. We're certainly hoping that more and more content teachers will see ways to systematically integrate language development in their classes. And students’ growth toward independence, agency, and academic success is predicated on appropriate scaffolding. From their areas of expertise and in their shared responsibility for the success of students, all educators serving multilingual learners can collaborate and scaffold the expansion of what students can do with language over time in ways that are culturally and linguistically sustaining.

Merideth: Once the standards are adopted and fully implemented by educators, do you think students will experience anything different in the classroom?

Fernanda: There are a couple of themes that the 2020 Edition brings to the forefront that I hope will affect students’ experiences. The first is the repositioning of Standard 1 that underscores the connection of the personal to the academic. The second is the expansion of the notion of academic language. We encourage students to use their full linguistic repertoires, including translanguaging and all their meaning-making resources, in the process of learning. We highlight multimodality; students make meaning and communicate in different ways and those modalities should be visible. They should be honored and encouraged. And we also enhanced the four domains of listening, speaking, reading and writing into broader communication modes (interpretive and expressive) that are more inclusive and enhance accessibility options.

Tim: I would go further in saying that we have really redefined academic language in this edition, which is keeping with where the field has gone. What I mean by that is, we're no longer seeing academic language as something that is static. Instead, we’re pushing the understanding that language unfolds within academic classes. As Fernanda said, we want students to use their entire language repertoire. By encouraging the use and validation of all the ways students’ make sense of language, which may include going to their own native language or using whatever tools they have at their disposal, this edition gives space for the reality that language learning is messy. I think that the prior conceptualization of academic language was getting in the way of allowing students to fully use their ranges of expression and ways of learning language.

Merideth: The question everyone really wants to know is: when do they get their copy of the book and access to professional learning and other resources?

Fernanda: The 2020 Edition is out and available to view on the WIDA website. And people have already been pre-ordering books. You can order one today in the WIDA Store. We are doing a standards Q&A webinar series that kicks off on January 26. Folks will be able to ask questions and members of the standards development team will answer those questions live. The first webinar is a high-level overview of the 2020 Edition. Beginning in February 2021, there will be new learning opportunities. Professional Learning is starting to roll out offerings on February 1 with a facilitated eWorkshop. On February 15, we are launching a self-paced eWorkshop. Please continue to check the ELD Standards Framework webpage because we are continually adding new resources, like for example the updated Guiding Principles of Language Development (available in 13 languages and as an illustrated booklet).

About Conversations with Tim

Conversations with Tim, WIDA Founder and Director is a monthly WIDA news article that features a conversation between WIDA Founder and Director Tim Boals and a colleague or two in the field of multilingual learner education. Together, they discuss the important innovation, research and collaboration taking place today.

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