Supporting Bi/Multilingual learners this school year

August 13, 2021

Lea este artículo en español

As preparations take shape for the 2021-2022 school year, it is important to keep bi/multilingual students at the top of our minds. The WIDA Can Do Philosophy and values for social justice and innovation can help educators in supporting bi/multilingual learners this school year.

WIDA is widely recognized for its unique Can Do Philosophy, which focuses on recognizing and building upon the assets and contributions of bi/multilingual students so they may reach their full potential. The Can Do Philosophy can bring many benefits to teaching and learning as educators and students return to the classroom this fall. Educators are encouraged to adopt and advocate for the Can Do Philosophy so that bi/multilingual learners are able to feel the light in which they are viewed and recognized.

A way by which educators can implement the Can Do Philosophy is by explicitly acknowledging all of what makes up bi/multilingual students. This includes the students’ relationship to their culture, their individual experiences, the unique ways in which they perceive the world and how they express themselves. For example, educators may adopt a student-centered, can do approach by intentionally learning from students’ varied identities, cultures and experiences to inform the everyday classroom or school discourse. This centers students in a holistic approach that elevates their voices to inform their learning and school community.

As educators reflect on the Can Do Philosophy while they prepare to return to their classrooms this fall, they must think of their bi/multilingual students. Whether they interact with bi/multilingual students in the classroom as language or general content teachers, meet with them for academic counseling, or serve as administrators designing curriculum, educators should consider asking these three questions:

  • In what ways can I support bi/multilingual students to embed their cultural and linguistic assets in their educational experience?
  • In my role as an educator, in what ways am I supporting and uplifting student voices?
  • What can I do to ensure that students' languages help in their empowerment inside and outside the classroom?

To learn more, the WIDA Español team spoke with Nallely Gonzalez, a 17-year-old senior at La Follette High School in Madison, Wisconsin and WIDA intern who exemplifies the Can Do Philosophy. Below, Nallely shares her thoughts on student voices in the context of social justice:

"As a Mexican-American who was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, social justice is very important to me and to many people of color whom I know. In school, I learned that social justice means many things, such as treating all students equitably. I know that this does not happen in all schools. As a high school student, I want to know that my teachers and other school grown-ups are there to support me, especially when it comes to uplifting student voices. This is something that many school personnel can try to do as we return to school this fall.

One question that many high school bi/multilingual students like myself have is how can our school and teachers help uplift our voices as part of social justice? To me, uplifting student voices means empowering students to say what we feel and believe. Schools should have a strong understanding of successful ways of engaging bi/multilingual students, so that we don't feel scared to speak against racial injustice and propose ways to address it. Often times, some students feel that they may get in trouble for speaking on certain issues, like the Black Lives Matter movement.

To support students in the context of social justice, all teachers and school leaders need to be actively involved with bi/multilingual students. Some examples for doing this in the fall when we go back to school can include showing students that teachers and administrators care about what we have to say and by letting us have encouraging debates as part of our learning."

Here are some questions Nallely suggests for teachers and school personnel to reflect on regarding social justice as they start the next school year:

  • In what ways do I demonstrate to bi/multilingual students that I care about what they have to say?
  • If I know of ways to incorporate social justice into school and/or the classroom, how am I sharing this knowledge with others in the building?
  • If I am in need of ideas for social justice, how do I collaborate with other teachers and administrators to incorporate social justice into my school and/or classroom?

Promoting conversations around the Can Do Philosophy and social justice in the classroom often calls for innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Over the last year, teachers adapted to the use of many innovative tools to reach students during distance learning. Educators also develop innovative techniques to ensure that students were heard and supported, facilitating the reach toward their full potential. As we plan the return to teaching and learning this fall, it is important for educators to consider ways in which they can leverage innovative technology and strategies to continue supporting bi/multilingual learners.

Administrators and teachers should consider the following questions to leverage innovation in their return to the building:

  • What tools and resources has my team used during distance learning that can continue to enhance our work and student experiences as we return to in-person delivery of services? 
  • What innovative practices have I developed that I can continue to apply to build strong connections with my bi/multilingual students inside and outside of the school setting?
  • How are school, district or state policies supporting innovation and what is my role in promoting innovation to further enhance the education of bi/multilingual students, especially as it connects to the Can Do Philosophy and social justice?

Drawing on the Can Do Philosophy and the social justice and innovation values presented here, educators can prepare for their return to school this fall. Administrators and teachers can find many ways to fully leverage these pieces to inform their practice. All educators should keep in mind that these considerations are only part of the larger picture for supporting bi/multilingual learners. We also suggest that the questions presented here be used for individual and group reflection, so that bi/multilingual students receive the fruits of the collective efforts.

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About the Authors

Nallely Gonzalez is WIDA’s social justice intern. Her assignment is through the Escalera Summer Internship Program, which is hosted by Centro Hispano of Dane County. Nallely is a 17-year-old senior at La Follette High School in Madison, Wisconsin. She is Mexican-American and was born and raised in Madison. Her first language is Spanish, since her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico 21 years ago. Nallely has three siblings.

Erika Rosales is a human resources coordinator at WIDA. She supports the HR team in the recruitment, hiring, onboarding process and employee relations with a focus on equity, diversity and inclusion. Erika also co-leads the WIDA Social Justice Change team.

Samuel Aguirre is the director of WIDA Español and oversees all products and services developed for the program. He manages the research, development and delivery of WIDA resources focused on Spanish language instruction in the United States and abroad. His work oversees major areas, including those of standards for Spanish language development and for Spanish language arts, professional learning opportunities for educators working with Spanish and Spanish-English bilingual education programs and Spanish language assessment.


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