Why Did you Start Using WIDA?
Carol Morgan School (CMS) is a non-profit PreK-12 international school located in sunny Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. We have almost 1,100 students enrolled, representing 34 different nationalities. Most of our population comes from Spanish-speaking countries, and English is their second language. When we discovered that WIDA Model was available online in 2016, our ELL department and Deputy Head of School were excited to see if the WIDA framework would be a good fit for our school. Although we had tools to measure our ELL students' language levels, we did not have effective resources to then support teachers and students in using that data to help students grow as language learners. Enter the WIDA framework.
After two of our teachers attended a WIDA Academy in Madison, Wisconsin in the summer of 2016, CMS began the rollout of the WIDA Model and framework throughout the 2016/2017 school year. Professional learning included hosting a WIDA Academy at our school, with learning support specialists, elementary homeroom, and content area classroom teachers attending. We also hosted a co-teaching workshop with internationally recognized consultant and trainer Anne Beninghof in Spring 2017. As we became familiar with the framework and co-teaching philosophy embraced by WIDA, we realized that our school needed to re-imagine how the elementary school provides services for our ELL students. Our current model was a combination of pull-out and push-in with three ELL specialists for K-5, which spread our resources thin and challenged our teachers in co-planning.
How has WIDA supported learning and program growth?
This year, our team changed how we scheduled our push-in support. In our new model, half of our classroom teachers collaborate for a full learning cycle, pushing in everyday, with the other half collaborating in the following cycle through push-in. We also created and scheduled a co-planning block with each teacher before each cycle of push-ins begin. This co-planning time is important because WIDA helped us realize that one of the most important aspects of the co-teaching cycle is co-planning. During this planning time, we discuss scaffolding ideas for ELL students, as well as ensure that expressive language opportunities are being embraced. The WIDA Can-Do Descriptors and Performance Definitions are useful tools during planning time.
Through analysis of the Model results as well as the writing samples, we also chose to focus on writing, which was our ELL students' most challenging learning area. ELL specialists co-teach as much as possible during writing time helping students develop stronger academic language and sentence fluency.
CMS continues to reflect and grow as a community through the WIDA model. This model aligns with the five learning approaches of our strategic learning plan, the Shark Sphere. These approaches are supported through teacher-led research and design teams for each learning approach. WIDA has become instrumental in the Language Rich Environment (LRE) research and design team's work in defining what a language rich environment is and how teachers can ensure all students are accessing and using rich language. The WIDA Performance Definitions are guiding conversations throughout the entire school, grades PK through 12, on how we can best support our students becoming fluent, expressive academic language users. The WIDA framework has also influenced the need and allocation for staffing in the elementary school and we are excited to be adding another ELL specialist to our department next school year to support this approach. Ultimately, we anticipate that this model will evolve to an ELL specialist per grade level, co-planning, co-teaching, and co-assessing with classroom teachers to best meet the needs of all ELL students.