Submitted by: Rebecca Unruh
Date: January 2023
Photos courtesy of Rebecca Unruh
Oasis International School - Kuala Lumpur (OIS) is an international community, made up of students, parents and educators from more than 20 countries. Our staff primarily come from the United States with several staff members from Malaysia, Korea, the Philippines, Canada, China, South Africa, Taiwan and Mexico. Thirty percent of our students are from Malaysia, while 70% are international students from more than 15 other countries. The largest groups are from Korea, the U.S., Japan and China. The school is a member of the Oasis International Schools Network, a non-profit organization “committed to establishing and maintaining American-style, English-speaking international schools around the world.” Our membership in the WIDA International School Consortium supports the mission and vision we have for our school.
At OIS, we equip students to succeed academically and socially in an English instruction environment. Our English Language Learning (ELL) program exists to provide English language instruction to nurture linguistic development in students whose home language is a language other than English. The OIS ELL program is designed to equip a learning environment where all students feel physically and psychologically safe and can take intellectual risks.
Why did your school join WIDA?
We identified language learning as a critical need for our school and when we opened in 2018, we selected the WIDA MODEL as our assessment. While we were initially attracted to WIDA due to the MODEL assessment, we also have found considerable value from the professional learning opportunities for our ELL department.
Joining WIDA and using WIDA MODEL allowed everyone (ELL department, teachers, admissions, administrators, parents, students) to be on the same page and involved in the students’ progress. This became especially useful when determining the process and criteria for students’ entry and exit from the ELL program as well as identifying potential English language learners during the admissions process. This was a game-changer for our school; our admissions team and ELL department worked hand in hand to develop procedures and criteria using WIDA levels. In the classroom, we wanted to see students in their strengths and found that WIDA was asset-based, using language like Can Do Descriptors, stating what a student is able to do. We found that WIDA could provide all of our teachers with information for what to expect of students and how to help students move forward, based on their levels.
In October 2019, two of our ELL teachers attended the WIDA International Institute in Bangkok, Thailand. At this workshop we connected with colleagues in other schools, and our learning gave us direction for how we were going to build and structure our program. Our learning continues as we look for ways we can better utilize data and the tools that WIDA provides to assist our students in improving their language abilities.
Membership in WIDA provides OIS with access to tools and training for ELL teachers as they support ELL students, giving information about what the individual student can do. All OIS ELL teachers are trained to deliver WIDA MODEL and are familiar with how WIDA tools inform lesson planning and teaching, with an emphasis on using Can Do Descriptors to scaffold assessments and assignments. OIS uses WIDA Can Do Descriptors in the ELL Program as benchmarks for tracking and reporting growth. This information is used to guide admittance decisions, monitor progress of students enrolled in the program, and determine eligibility for graduation out of the ELL Program.
How has working with WIDA impacted teaching and learning at your school?
All teachers are encouraged to use ELL students’ English proficiency levels and corresponding WIDA Can Do Descriptors to guide their lesson planning, learning activities, and assessment of ELL students. ELL teachers deliver WIDA MODEL and collaborate with homeroom teachers to support scaffolding and differentiation for ELL students.
“I appreciate how WIDA focuses on what a student CAN do, not what they can’t do. That’s such a helpful philosophy to have in the classroom, whether students are multilingual learners or not, because it encourages teachers to approach teaching and learning with what students already know in order to build connections. In my classroom, I use the Can Do Descriptors to help determine what a student is ready for based on what they can already do.” – Alli Gingerich, OIS elementary ELL teacher
“I use the WIDA Can Do Descriptors to help me be more intentional with the way I choose to differentiate. For example, based on the Can Do Descriptors, differentiation might look like adding visuals for one group of students, or simplifying the question for another group. Overall, I think this helps with engagement in my lessons.” – Yoong Shen Law, OIS elementary teacher
Students enrolled in ELL classes are able to develop goals based on their WIDA levels as they can see the things they can be working on in order to get to the next level.
“I think WIDA is good for me because I can see what English I know…” – OIS 10th grader
“I think the most important thing for learning is seeing the ‘little by little’ growth. Since OIS uses WIDA, I could see my kid’s learning was always fun and personal; they really liked it and their English gradually grew little by little even before I became aware of it. We appreciate the love and care of the teachers as they use WIDA scores to support the students.” – OIS parent
"Using WIDA has provided many benefits for our students, teachers, and curriculum. We use WIDA MODEL [as a] screener upon admissions for early identification of students who will need support. The data provided by the test is shared with classroom teachers so they are better able to tailor their instruction to the proficiency level and needs of their students. Our English Language Learning Program is also designed around the Can Do Descriptors and we regularly use WIDA MODEL to benchmark our students. Having positive language to track and communicate growth is essential to how we support English language proficiency at OIS." – Rebecca Unruh, OIS elementary principal