WIDA Voices from the Field: Implementing the WIDA ELD Standards Framework, strategic ideas for district and school leaders

August 4, 2021

The WIDA English Language Development Standards Framework, 2020 Edition, launched in December 2020 amidst a time of great challenge and also of incredible opportunities for innovation. The 2020 Edition straddles this complex world of challenge and possibility by providing concrete resources educators can use to support improved learning experiences and outcomes for multilingual learners. While traditional standards implementation can be a daunting, long-term process, implementing the 2020 Edition does not need to mean starting a new, separate initiative that becomes just another project on educators’ already busy to-do lists. Instead, learning about the 2020 Edition and how to reflect its components in daily practice can be a great opportunity to promote equity and instructional excellence for all learners.

The 2020 Edition makes the essential connection between language development and content area learning more explicit than previous editions. It highlights ways students are expected to use language in school across content areas, as well as how multilingual learners may develop language across proficiency levels by grade level bands or clusters. It also brings to the forefront issues highlighted during the pandemic: that issues of equity are directly connected to the type of learning opportunities students have access to, especially given the diversity of backgrounds and experiences our students bring to school. For multilingual learners, equitable opportunities to learn means providing instruction that simultaneously

  • draws upon and promotes their identity as equal participants in our society,
  • develops their conceptual understanding and mastery of disciplinary practices, and
  • increases their ability to use language for multiple purposes across the social, academic, and personal areas of their lives.

This type of learning experience requires collaboration among teams of educators rather than solo acts of extraordinary teacher practice. Also, it requires intentional, strategic focus on developing students’ social, instructional, and academic language throughout the school day.

Below are a few ideas for how school and district leaders can begin planning for implementing the 2020 Edition in a strategic way that promotes successful cross-team collaboration amongst their educators:

Start small

Spend time perusing the 2020 Edition and participating in introductory webinars and trainings. Involve key members of the district and/or school leadership teams in this early learning to develop a community of thinking partners who can make sense of shifts and expectations. Note ways in which the 2020 Edition connects to what is currently going on at the local level and ways in which implementing it will require shifting current ways of thinking and teaching practices.

Connect to education leadership essentials: envisioning instructional excellence for all

Begin implementation efforts by connecting the framework to the district and/or school’s existing instructional vision – or developing a new vision that directly addresses the needs of multilingual learners if the current one does not. Educators can use the 2020 Edition Big Ideas of collaboration, equity, integration, and a functional approach to language development as lenses to review or adapt your current district or school instructional vision. The Big Ideas can serve as a springboard to discuss what high-quality, standards-based instruction for multilingual learners looks like and the role educators serving multilingual learners (content area/grade level, special education, specialists, language teachers, etc.) play in working towards that vision. Section 1: Big Ideas and Appendix F: Theoretical Foundations of the WIDA ELD Standards Framework, 2020 Edition can be great resources for these conversations.

Leverage standards implementation to support academic language development for all students and structures that support improvement

Professional learning opportunities about the WIDA ELD Standards Framework, 2020 Edition can help build educator capacity for promoting academic language development for all students and for engaging in the type of joint work that is required for instructional improvement (Little, 1990). 

  • Focusing on academic language development can help improve outcomes for all learners, since all students are learning to use the language of the content areas, including language needed to master disciplinary languages and instructional language needed to succeed in school. Educators can use Key Language Uses, Language Expectations and Functions, and Language Features in the 2020 Edition to develop a shared understanding of the language demands students encounter in school. Together, they can develop ways to support students in learning about and using language to successfully meet these expectations. Section 3: Grade-Level Cluster Materials can be helpful for starting this process.
  • Implementing the 2020 Edition can help educators establish and/or provide more specific direction to current educator collaboration structures to support better learning opportunities for all students, including multilingual learners. School leaders can use this opportunity to fine-tune current schedules so educators serving the same group of students have regular collaboration time across the school year. They can also refocus professional learning communities or other collaboration structures on essential activities that support improved teaching and learning such as joint lesson planning, analysis of student work, and evaluation of teaching strategies promoting academic language development. Educators can use the Collaborative Planning for Content and Language Integration: A Jump-Off Point for Curricular Conversations (in Section 4) as an example of how educator collaboration for language development can look like.

Implementing the 2020 Edition does not have to be another project on an already busy to-do list. During times of both uncertainty and great possibility for change, district and school leaders can draw from resources within the WIDA ELD Standards Framework, 2020 Edition to develop new ways to improve experiences and outcomes for multilingual learners.

Little, J. W. (1990). The Persistence of Privacy: Autonomy and Initiative in Teachers’ Professional Relations. Teachers College Record, 91, 509-536.

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

Elisabet (Ely) Sena-Martin collaborates with state policymakers, educators and leaders at the school and district level to develop education guidance and resources that promote equity and support better educational opportunities for multilingual learners. Ely has experience supporting educators and teams from K-16 settings on instructional and strategic planning efforts. She has taught English as a second language in grades K-12, as well as sheltered content area instruction in secondary schools. She also has experience as a higher education administrator focused on academic affairs and in developing institutional initiatives to foster a diverse and inclusive learning environment for all students. Ely holds a master’s in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and an ESL and history education bachelor’s from the University of Evansville.

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