WIDA Voices from the Field: Creating a culture of shared responsibility in teacher education

January 3, 2022

“I’m so glad I was finally able to take a class that discussed English learners - I have so many in my practicum site and I don’t know what to do! My math professor told me I’d learn so much from you about this - and I did!” I’ve read variations of this statement from both elementary general education and mainstream middle and secondary content teachers in my end-of-semester course evaluations and it always makes me question the role and responsibility among teacher educators in preparing future generations of teachers to meet the needs of multilingual learners.

As a teacher educator, I have the privilege of working with undergraduate and graduate teacher candidates during the first stage of their teaching career and it is a profession that I love. I am a proud teacher educator who is committed to educating the next generation of teachers. Throughout my higher education career, I’ve encountered two systemic challenges in teacher preparation. Both relate to teaching multilingual learners; I see the WIDA ELD Standards Framework as a tool for addressing them.

Challenge 1: “One off” courses on teaching multilingual learners

As a previous instructor of Massachusetts’ mandated Sheltered English Immersion endorsement course (a course that is required for all teacher candidates seeking licensure) it is disheartening to reflect on the fact that for many teacher candidates this course is one of the few spaces, if at all, in their teacher preparation program that focuses specifically on the education of multilingual learners. If the education of multilingual learners is the responsibility of all teachers, then teacher preparation courses should reflect this. Teacher training should include both specialized coursework in working with multilingual learners and meaningful integration of the unique needs of multilingual learners throughout general education coursework. I often ask myself, “How can I work better with my teacher education peers so that my course isn’t the only space where considerations for multilingual learners are addressed?”

Challenge 2: Not all institutes of higher education have a full time “ELD expert”

Out of more than 1,000 teacher preparation institutions (including institutions of higher education and alternative routes to teaching) in the United States, very few have one person, if any, with deep understanding of the educational needs of multilingual learners. For example, in my home state of Massachusetts, in many instances, the SEI Endorsement course is often taught by adjunct faculty, which begs the question of how teacher preparation programs prioritize the needs of multilingual learners in their teacher training. And Massachusetts mandates the SEI Endorsement course as part of teacher preparation, so for states where requirements are not as rigid, it falls to the general education teacher educators to integrate content focused on multilingual learners in their courses. I often wonder, “How do other states or institutions do this work without a full-time ELD expert?”

Opportunities with the WIDA English Language Development Standards Framework, 2020 Edition

To all teacher educators: As we consider how to work together within specialized multilingual learner courses and across all courses, the robustness of examples in the 2020 Edition of the WIDA Standards Framework provide a much needed shared language and repertoire of concrete examples that provide a framework for all teacher educators, including those preparing special educators and interventionists. For example, with the more specific attention to interpretive and expressive language, teacher educators from various areas of expertise can use the new edition of the Standards Framework to better align teacher preparation programs in their efforts for preparing the next generation of teachers to work with multilingual learners. Examples of how we can use the Standards Framework include better co-designing of coursework where ELD teacher candidates and mainstream teacher candidates can learn how to use the framework to collaborate, co-teach, and support multilingual learners throughout their academic careers. This is crucial, as teacher preparation should build up and mirror the shared responsibility, expertise, and accountability that is now expected in schools and programs to equitably meet the needs of multilingual learners.

To teacher educators who work with generalist kindergarten and elementary teacher candidates and middle and secondary mainstream content teacher candidates: The 2020 Edition provides several concrete tools for teacher educators to begin to infuse more language-focused instruction into their coursework. The “commonly associated Language Functions and Language Features,” for example, offer several content-specific language features to draw on as resources for providing instructional considerations specific to multilingual learners, such as writing language objectives. Even if you don’t have a full ELD specialist in your teacher education department, the 2020 Edition can be a useful tool to start this conversation and begin this work as a department. This is especially important given the present-day expectation in schools to integrate language and content standards, implement multi-tiered systems of support, and provide programs for multilingual learners that mandate equity through simultaneous language development and content achievement.

To fellow teacher educator colleagues who teach bilingual, ELD and SEI methods coursework: As teacher educators dedicated to enhancing the educational experiences and opportunities of multilingual learners, let’s recognize our responsibility in better working with teacher educators outside of the bilingual education and TESOL world - the ELD Standards Framework, 2020 Edition can be a tool for doing this work. One concrete way to begin this work might be to ask content area teacher educators to bring an exemplar unit or lesson that they use in their methods courses and then go through the collaborative planning process outlined in the standards; this can serve as an organic way to simultaneously build upon existing pedagogy, learning more about the ELD Standards Framework, and reframing ideas of content and language integration.

Looking to the Future

Education has increasingly called for the need for intentional and systematic collaboration and co-teaching between ELD teachers, special education teachers, interventionists, and mainstream teachers. The range of collaborative practices in schools necessitates new collaborations within teacher preparation departments and programs and our teacher candidates need the opportunity and support of our programs to develop the mindset and skills to share responsibility and expertise.

Likewise, the preparation of educators as school and district leaders requires a broad understanding of daily long-term support for and professional growth of educators around collaborative practice. These are considerations that must extend into teacher education and the WIDA ELD Standards Framework offers a framework for shared language and efforts to do this work. As teacher educators dedicated to equitable education for multilingual learners we must ask ourselves: How can we move toward this collaborative context of standards and vision in teacher education?

About the series: Voices from the Field

Fernanda Marinho Kray, WIDA ELD Standards Framework project lead, and Margo Gottlieb, WIDA co-founder and consultant, have been hearing from a variety of educators about how they are making sense of the 2020 Edition. In response, the WIDA ELD Standards Framework team established this “Voices from the Field" series to present ideas, practices and tools for educators as they explore various avenues for standards framework implementation.

About the Author

Christine Montecillo Leider, PhD, is an assistant professor of applied linguistics at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her work focuses on teacher beliefs on language diversity, antiracist and culturally/linguistically responsive pedagogical practices, and policy and civil rights issues regarding teacher training and multilingual learners’ access to education. Her experiences growing up as a Filipina American and second-generation immigrant in southeast Alaska, as well as her professional experiences teaching English and Spanish in the United States and Argentina have shaped her research agenda and approach to teacher education. 

teacher posing in hallway

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