Conversations with Tim: Instrucción en Español

September 24, 2021

This month, Conversations with Tim features a discussion between Tim Boals, WIDA founder and director, and Cristina Alfaro, professor of dual language and English learner education at San Diego State University.

Tim and Cristina sat down (virtually) with Merideth Trahan, WIDA chief of staff, to talk about Cristina’s role as an expert who helped review WIDA Español’s new Spanish language arts framework, Marco de referencia de las artes del lenguaje del español de WIDA (Marco ALE), and the importance of instrucción en español.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Merideth: Tim, I know that it's been a goal of yours, and for WIDA, to develop a Spanish language arts framework. Can you talk about the rationale for developing Marco ALE and how this work impacts the WIDA community?

Tim: WIDA has a set of Spanish language arts standards; however, they are quite dated. So, it was time to revisit them. It was important to create Marco ALE because it informs the redevelopment work that we hope to do for our Spanish language development standards – work that is central to the WIDA Español program. It is so important that language arts standards work together with language development standards. Teachers really need both in order to address the linguistic needs of their students. In this case, we mean students in bilingual and dual language programs who are learning language literacy and content development. Through Marco ALE, we are really doubling down on our WIDA Español program because we believe in it, we're passionate about it, and we know the research supports native language instruction for students.

Tim: Speaking of native language instruction, Cristina, why is it important to have school programs that teach Spanish to heritage speakers?

Cristina: It's imperative to have high quality Spanish programs for heritage speakers. We now have a lot of research that tells us that the most efficacious education is one that intentionally considers students’ contextual sociolinguistic, cultural and emotional forms of identity development. I think it's critical for school programs to recognize that we are here in the 21st century, and we are looking at how we can best prepare students linguistically to be globally conscious future leaders. I think it's important to look at this, not only at the pre-K-12 level, but at the university level. It's about preparing bilingual teachers and moving the agenda toward a bilingual or multilingual society. This year, I was able to speak with a lot of Spanish heritage speaking students at San Diego State University, a Hispanic-serving institution. When I interviewed students, they said “you know our linguistic wealth has never been recognized, even though we're a Hispanic serving institution.” So, I instituted the global seal of biliteracy for students who are in different majors but want to be able to have this badge at the end of their degree -- whether it's a master's or bachelor’s degree or a Ph.D. This allows them to have evidence of their biliteracy skills.

Tim: Wow, that’s exciting, Cristina! This is so in line with the WIDA Can Do Philosophy and our belief that we must build on the assets of our multilingual learners. Can you tell us about you and your recent work on WIDA Español’s Marco ALE?

Cristina: I am a Spanish heritage speaker. I was born and raised on the border of California and Mexico. I have 30 years of experience in bilingual language education. I started off as a bilingual teacher, then I was a biliteracy coach, school administrator, professor in the bilingual teacher preparation program and chair of the dual language and English learner program. Today, I am the associate vice president for international affairs at San Diego State University.

I was so happy to work with a group of experts in this field to review, discuss, and bring our experiences and perspectives to Marco ALE. We had so many wonderful discussions! We looked at not only the Spanish of the U.S., but at the Spanish of so many different areas. In the end, all of us who worked on Marco ALE are very, very proud, and excited, to see what it brings to classrooms, universities and our nation.

Tim: I just want to say thank you for being a part of Marco ALE and WIDA Español. We appreciate the time that our outside experts and academic advisors give, because it helps strengthen the project. To echo what you said, I think Marco ALE is going to be so important for teachers. How do you think Marco ALE will impact Spanish language arts teachers?

Cristina: Marco ALE brings the lectura, the escritura, and the lenguaje. Altogether these conceptos basicos are presented in a way that allows for teachers to consider and prioritize Spanish in a way that recognizes the transcultural experiences of bilingual or multilingual students. This is something that is going to be a wealth of information for Spanish language arts teachers. This is where a lot of the professional development and teacher preparation comes in: understanding the different concepts that are critical to the Spanish language that are not transferable to the English language. This is one of the areas that teachers are really going to appreciate.

Tim: What are some of the key takeaways of Marco ALE?

Cristina: It presents clear opportunities, with a very intentional socio-cultural lens for learning language, to look at “How do we integrate knowledge, experiences and skills that are critical for bilingual or multilingual learners?” What I would call teachers’ attention to is that each practica is exemplified by two language arts standards that are cited and that are referenced from six different countries (the countries that we looked at). This is an exciting component that I think students and teachers will find very interesting. You look at the Spanish of Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and the U.S. and look at the similarities and differences, as well as the key components that we find in each of these practicas. Marco ALE has the potential to help teachers select appropriate materials for students and integrate more global perspectives into teaching the Spanish language.

Merideth: What about educators who are already in the field? How might they start to engage in this work?

Cristina: I think they could begin by looking at what material, like textbooks, they're using right now. Then, they can begin to juxtapose them with Marco ALE. I think what they’ll find is that many of those materials do not incorporate Spanish from around the world. If they begin by looking at what they have and then look at the research we have for Marco ALE, plus look at the contextual realities of the students, we can make some headway. I think we can push a lot of the curriculum developers, a lot of the textbook developers, to do things in a way that honors the backgrounds and contextual realities of students.

Tim: As a professor of dual language, what is a piece of advice that you would give to Spanish language arts teachers, as they head back to school?

Cristina: Now is a great time to rethink and identify the gaps and the vulnerabilities that have existed. This is the time for teachers to look at their existing curriculum, texts and materials and use Marco ALE as a guide. My favorite part of Marco ALE is that it presents three ideologies: Discourse, transculturalism and multiliteracies. As you study it, you’ll see that it's a braid. They are intertwined and integrated because they are all under the umbrella of a sociocultural context. When we approach language arts through this sociocultural lens, I think it really changes things. When we look at Discourse, Marco ALE is clear in identifying the big Discourse, which encompasses the ways in which we behave, interact, think, read and write that are particularly valued in certain communities. Transculturalism is key in the experiences of these multilingual students because it helps them to navigate across cultures and languages. Multiliteracies recognize the attitude, ideologies and abilities of individuals to begin to critically analyze, interpret and build on the diversity of identities and modalities. My advice to teachers: View Marco ALE as a pre-K-12 framework that will help us build a bilingual or multilingual society of future leaders.

Merideth: Tim and Cristina, what are you excited about as we move forward with WIDA Español?

Cristina: I am most excited about how Marco ALE has this strong sociocultural lens. It connects learning with the realities of students to maximize their potential. When we start looking at the different modalities and the realities of students, it incorporates a lot of the metacognition students use from their linguistic databases. It also creates this platform for educators, leaders and university professors to really begin to have critical dialogues about translanguaging -- about the terms that we use for our students and how we select materials, textbooks and the practices that we use in the classroom. I think this will open up a space where we can have critical dialogues, with good research behind them, to inform practice.

Tim: We are all very excited about those things, too. And the idea of providing a strong foundation for native language instruction and assessment. Personally, I’m excited because at first glance, people might think of WIDA as an organization that helps teachers teach English. What we want to say is yes, we are that, but we are much more than that. We are about the teaching of native languages and making sure that our students maximize their success within school. And that’s what WIDA Español is all about!

About Conversations with Tim 

Conversations with Tim, WIDA Founder and Director is a WIDA news article series 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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