Focus School: The KAUST School

Submitted by: Kristel Solomon-Saleem
Date: March 2021
Photos courtesy of The KAUST School

a group of educators marching, holding international flags and a banner

The KAUST School (TKS) embodies the five core values of adaptability, innovation, diversity, inclusivity and responsibility. To ensure that the learners are living our mission of skillfully and confidently leveraging opportunities to thrive and contribute to our complex world, we create a learning environment that ignites curiosity, inspires creativity and allows students to investigate solutions.

TKS curriculum supports complex, rich, and dynamic learning across a range of language domains. We emphasize the development of literacy skills, including reading, writing, listening, and speaking. TKS offers exposure to a variety of contextual-based learning situations in a safe, challenging, student-centered environment. As an International Baccalaureate World School, our instructional program is designed to help students become critical and analytical thinkers who use language effectively, appropriately and confidently. TKS embraces multilingual learners through a program of support that caters to students from non-English speaking backgrounds that are developing proficiency in the language of instruction.

TKS decided to join the WIDA global network in 2009 in an effort to support its ever-growing, culturally diverse community. At TKS, there are more than 1,600 students from 76 nationalities and 359 teachers representing 52 nationalities. The largest representation amongst students comes from Saudi Arabia, our host country, at 28% of the overall population, followed by the United States, India, the United Kingdom, and Canada. The school is linguistically diverse, with approximately 70% of students speaking languages in addition to English at home.

The KAUST School recognizes that all teachers are responsible for the language development of students. The WIDA system provides a framework for teachers to better understand who their students are and what they are able to do. Through the use of the assessments and Can Do Descriptors across the four domains of English learning (Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing), teachers can better scaffold and differentiate the written, taught and assessed curriculum. One teacher described their experience:

“As a co-teacher in an integrated Grade 8 Language and Literature class I was able to use the WIDA Can Do [Descriptors] to scaffold and differentiate learning tasks appropriate to students’ language proficiency levels. This helped to level the playing field for multilingual learners when being assessed by Middle Years Program (MYP) criteria.”

TKS recognizes the importance of quality language practices and their ability to affirm student identity, promote self-esteem and international mindedness. The WIDA mission to support social justice and acknowledge where discrimination and cultural bias exists, speaks to TKS’s dedication to promoting diversity and embracing the uniqueness in people, cultures, languages and beliefs. One secondary school teacher said, “I think WIDA’s mission speaks beautifully to what we hope to aspire too with all of our learners.” In addition to developing English language acquisition skills in students through instructional practice, we value the importance of cultivating a spirit of inquiry to promote student learning, discovery and agency.

Like many schools, The KAUST School is on its journey to grow and develop greater awareness and a deeper understanding of our multilingual students. We are enthusiastic about how the WIDA system can support this process from Kindergarten through to the Secondary School. As a language developmental framework for English language learners, the Can Do Descriptors support our collective approach to focus on student assets instead of deficits. In the beginning of the school year, and as students are admitted throughout the year, we take the opportunity to use WIDA assessments to help inform a level of support that is appropriate for individual learners. Language is central to knowing, learning and communicating. All teachers in our school are language teachers, and each student is supported in a variety of ways across the curriculum to develop literacy skills. Wherever possible, language is taught through relevant and authentic contexts. The WIDA ELD Standards Statements provide a guide to finding where conceptual learning meets content.

The WIDA English Language Development Framework, 2020 Edition is helping us build our programme from an instructional perspective. This powerful tool has transformed our language as educators to embrace the WIDA Can Do Philosophy which explains how we might best support students linguistically and culturally by focusing on their assets. This system transfers well into our work within our learning support program and school values of inclusivity. We continue to aim to provide equitable access to opportunities and resources. The WIDA system has been a vital tool and framework for TKS and our journey towards supporting all learners in a diverse and inclusive learning community.

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