Focus school: Korea International School

Submitted by: Molly Wellner and Anita Pusztay, EAL Specialists, Korea International School and “Community Gardeners” in the WIDA Global Community of Practice
Date: February 2022
Photos courtesy of Korea International School

Korea International School building with trees in foreground

Korea International School (KIS) serves more than 1,400 students at its two campuses in culturally-rich and vibrant Seoul Republic of Korea. While the majority of KIS students are bilingual speakers of Korean and English, our school community represents more than 25 nationalities and 15 languages. KIS has been learning and growing as an innovator in education since welcoming its first students in 2000. At KIS, our students apply what they learn, transferring their knowledge and skills across subject areas as they work to solve real-world problems. Today, more than ever, KIS’ core values of global citizenship, integrity, adaptability, balance in life, and empowerment add value to a superior educational experience as students design their future.

KIS embraces diversity through safe, inclusive and equitable learning opportunities for all students. Our growing English as an Additional Language (EAL) program is driven by an asset-based philosophy and evidence-based instructional practices to support multilingual learners (MLs). We share a commitment to the following principles:

  • Multilingualism and multiculturalism are valuable assets that strengthen our school and community.
  • English language acquisition adds to multilinguals’ existing complex and unique linguistic repertoires.
  • Language acquisition occurs simultaneously with content learning; therefore, all teachers at KIS are language teachers.

Such principles resonate with EAL teacher Anita Pusztay. “As a ‘Third Culture Kid,’ I know first-hand the importance of honoring a student’s language and culture as the foundation of their identity and a source of self-efficacy,” she said.

In 2016, KIS decided to leap forward in our mission to support MLs and joined the WIDA International School Consortium.

“WIDA's Can Do Philosophy aligns with our community's core values. We are committed to nurturing confidence and a strong sense of belonging by personalizing learning and celebrating our cross-cultural identities,” said Michelle Quirin, school director

WIDA provides myriad resources that our EAL specialists use to measure English language proficiency, strengthen our professional toolboxes, and design language instruction. We use both WIDA Screener and WIDA MODEL to identify MLs’ language proficiency and monitor English language acquisition growth in K-12. WIDA’s speaking and writing rubrics provide valuable, asset-based information on linguistic abilities to our colleagues for continued student development. Our co-teaching teams use such data points in combination with Can Do Descriptors, capitalizing on MLs' strengths – the focus is on what MLs can do versus what they do not yet have the capacity to do at a particular moment. Our teachers are realizing that together, through collaboration, we can leverage our knowledge and experience to promote MLs' emotional, social and academic well-being.

Professional development never stops. Our EAL team members have participated in the WIDA International Symposium and Virtual Institute. We are members of the 2021-2022 WIDA Global Community of Practice (CoP) forum which has inspired us to explore existing schoolwide systems to ensure that they are relevant, equitable and accessible. The CoP has helped our team solidify our sphere of influence to build teacher capacity across various roles (content teachers, department heads, instructional coaches) and refine co-teaching partnerships. Such collaborations are the vehicle we use to spark discussions about improving our intentional use of language in contextual learning.

We seek opportunities to implement the WIDA English Language Development (ELD) Standards Framework, 2020 Edition to design and inform our instructional practices. This framework helps our EAL team align diverse perspectives to identify the language within multiple content areas. Such collaboration among KIS stakeholders like Clayton Boren, a 5th grade teacher, prioritizes authentic and purposeful language use in curricula. Recognizing the alignment between the C3 Social Studies standards and the WIDA ELD Standards Framework, Clayton said, “I am positively impacting student learning when I teach them how to write claims using declarative statements with evaluative language.” Grade 4 teacher Josh Durey facilitated another successful design of standards-based educational experiences. Reflecting on the benefits of explicitly teaching language during a social studies unit on exploration, Josh said, “I teach students to use signal words for chronological order, when talking about the explorer’s life and referencing a timeline.” As EAL specialists, such moments inspire us to continue to advocate for equitable learning opportunities for our multilingual learners.

Our MLs are at the heart and Seoul of our EAL program at KIS. Molly Wellner, EAL department lead, concludes that “Adopting asset-based, student-centered guiding principles and practices will always lead to doing what is right for your multilingual learners.”

two students in classroom reading

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