Conversations with Tim: Supporting bilingual Spanish-English educators through WIDA Español

Sam Aguirre and Tim Boals aboard the Merrimac Ferry in 2018
Sam Aguirre and Tim Boals aboard the Merrimac Ferry in 2018
October 2, 2020

By Tim Boals and Samuel Aguirre

From its inception, WIDA has been driven by its mission to advance academic language development and academic achievement for children and youth who are culturally and linguistically diverse. We view assessment as just one of the tools that drive our mission. To that point, WIDA Español came about as a program that supports multilingual learners’ achievement.

In this month’s Conversations with Tim, I visit with Samuel Aguirre, director of WIDA Español and assistant director of Consortium Relations, to discuss the WIDA Español program and opportunities for supporting bilingual Spanish-English educators.

Tim: Sam, I started my career many years ago as a Spanish teacher. My first master’s degree was in Spanish language and literature from the University of Virginia. I’ve had a passion for Spanish and Latin American cultures and literatures ever since and have been a strong proponent of developing students’ native languages where that is possible. Spanish instruction and bilingual education have grown tremendously since my time in the classroom. Sam, tell us about the major projects in the WIDA Español pipeline and in what ways those meet current needs in the field.

Sam: The current main project at WIDA Español is a Spanish language arts framework, which we are calling Marco de las artes del lenguaje del español (Marco ALE). A review of states’ needs on Spanish instruction in the U.S. pointed to the absence of standards for Spanish language arts specifically developed from and for Spanish. To support that need, we are developing the Marco ALE with state administrators in mind, as it will be a framework that policy makers use to enhance existing Spanish language arts standards or to develop new standards in states that have yet to adopt any. For example, states using Common Core en Español may use the Marco ALE to enhance their standards.

The Marco ALE is specifically designed for students learning Spanish in bilingual programs in the U.S., with opportunities for application in other settings. We are currently refining the Marco ALE with input from experts in the field. The current plan is to make the Marco ALE accessible to educators and other policy makers by late spring of 2021.

Given the WIDA expertise in language development, I should mention that the Marco ALE will connect with the WIDA Spanish Language Development Standards. We have plans for an enhanced revision of those Standards upon the completion of the Marco ALE.

Sam: WIDA Español has had a busy summer, as we’ve recently written a series of articles and a WIDA Focus Bulletin that were published in both Spanish and English to support bilingual educators with decisions on instruction this fall.

In July, we published an article on elevating linguistic diversity via the application of funds of knowledge and translanguaging practices in the virtual and face-to-face classroom. Another article provides recommendations to support educators’ communication with students and families. An ¡Inténtalo! section in this article provides suggestions for teachers as they plan and execute lessons through distance learning.

At the end of August, we published a WIDA Focus Bulletin: Educación en el mundo actual: Equity in bilingual settings, along with a Spanish edition. This bulletin offers strategies for advancing equity in bilingual settings during the mundo actual of COVID-19. It emphasizes the importance of valuing multilingual learners’ linguistic and cultural diversity, using translanguaging and leveraging technological resources for equity.

I am hopeful that these articles and the Focus Bulletin will be part of every bilingual educator’s toolbox of resources to inform their instruction in Spanish-English bilingual education settings.

Tim: Wow, what a productive summer for WIDA Español! Articles and focus bulletins can serve as key resources for educators. Is WIDA Español also providing opportunities for professional learning?

Sam: Professional learning has been a central component to the WIDA Español program, and that is not changing. Our peers at WCEPS offer a 2-hour eFacilitated webinar that introduces the Spanish language development (SLD) framework. In addition, the WIDA professional learning team is hard at work developing a self-paced webinar on the SLD framework which will be available to educators this November. We will share additional details for accessing this offering via WIDA News. While the content of the eFacilitated offering at WCEPS and the self-paced webinar at WIDA is similar, the learning experience of participants is substantially different depending on the medium of presentation.

Additionally, our professional learning team is working on a facilitated eWorkshop, Attending to Equity through Bilingual Instruction, which will be available to WIDA Consortium members in January 2021. Our member states can request this workshop through our existing channels for professional learning.

For our readers looking to stay informed about WIDA Español resources, tools and services, they can use the news sign up form to receive an email that will allow them to manage their preferences and select WIDA Español as an interest area.

Tim: That is great to hear, Sam! To close us out, why don’t you share a bit about your role in Consortium Relations and what that means for educators in WIDA states?

Sam: In my role as assistant director of Consortium Relations, I have opportunities to engage directly with representatives of our member states through the WIDA executive committee and sub committees. I am looking forward to enhancing the collaborative opportunities of our Consortium members, as their voice is key to the decisions we make at WIDA. As a large consortium with great diversity amongst its members, these lines of communication are essential. We will be looking to strengthen those opportunities for input to ensure our members continue to be active contributors in guiding the development and implementation of educator tools and services produced at WIDA.

This position also provides opportunities for WIDA to support bilingual educators across the consortium by bridging the Spanish and English work happening at WIDA.

Tim: Well, Sam, thanks so much for speaking with me for my Conversations with Tim series. I have to say that I’m so excited about the future of WIDA Español and thrilled that you have joined us at WIDA. It’s been a long-time dream for me and my colleague, Margo, that we would provide more robust support for Spanish language development and assessment at WIDA. It’s taken longer than I would have preferred, but I’m optimistic that with you here now we will do this. ¡Adelante!

About Conversations with Tim

Conversations with Tim, WIDA Founder and Director is a monthly WIDA news column. In each column, WIDA Founder and Director Tim Boals discusses the important innovation, research and collaboration taking place in the field of multilingual learner education. At times, Conversations with Tim may spotlight a colleague in the field and give voice to their work and perspective.