Focus school: Western International School of Shanghai

Submitted by: Nigel Pritchard
Date: February 2023
Photos courtesy of Nigel Pritchard

The Western International School of Shanghai (WISS) is the only full continuum IB World School in mainland China delivering all four programmes of the International Baccalaureate (IB): the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP), the Diploma Programme (DP), and the Career-related Programme (CP).

WISS, as a community of learners, is committed to pedagogies based on current research and practices in education. From its inaugural year in 2006, WISS has been an environment where the importance of students’ first language as being vital to developing English skills and deepening conceptual understandings has been central to classroom practices. Previously, whilst much hard work went in to creating ‘in-house’ English language assessments, there was a desire to move towards a systematic form of assessment that would provide specific data in the four language domains. This aspiration to improve upon our practices and systems led us to WIDA.

three teachers working on a project at a table

Our introduction to WIDA started with the EAL team attending a WIDA Symposium in Bangkok, in 2016, that focused on an introduction to the WIDA English Language Development Standards Framework and WIDA MODEL assessment for EAL students. We did an introduction to WIDA via a whole PYP session soon after attending the Symposium. The head of EAL introduces all new PYP staff members to WIDA Performance Definitions and Can Do Descriptors at the start of each academic school year during orientation. Our initial use of the WIDA MODEL assessment was to ascertain which students would attend our English for Beginners classes and which students would be in receipt of push-in support within their homeroom classes. The EAL team tested all students, from kindergarten to grade 5, who had English as a second or other language. This enabled us to have data for all language domains and to see the range of English proficiency levels.

Within the EAL team, we proceeded to familiarise ourselves with the WIDA data and the use of the Can Do Descriptors. Once we started collecting data, this enabled us to “build upon best practices and we soon realised that WIDA is so much more than a tool for assessment – it provides foundations to build a systematic approach to supporting multilingual learners,” said Lisa Ellery, primary principal.

Aside from identifying students for the English for Beginner classes we also used WIDA data and resources to target specific support for other multilingual learners, such as students who may have plateaued with their English language development.

The process of bringing all teachers on board with WIDA has been somewhat interrupted due to COVID-related school closures over last three years. However, the work has begun. Some grade levels and class teachers set professional goals for using WIDA. They worked with students at different levels of language capabilities, and then considered the assessment data and Can Do Descriptors. It has helped them to self-reflect on what they are already doing well and how they can improve upon differentiated and targeted content language support in the class for multilingual learners. In early years, “teachers have commented that WIDA has provided them with meaningful figures to help them plan more suitable curriculum for our multilingual children across different language levels,” said Charlotte Chan, early years English language development specialist.

The EAL team also participated in the WIDA Global Community of Practice, a year-long forum for innovation and reciprocal learning, focused on improving school-wide systems for multilingual learners. This involved reflecting on school-wide systems and then choosing an area of focus for taking action. For our multilingual learners, this led us to ‘Developing Language Profiles for Whole School Use.’ The EAL team developed an example of a unified process for collecting and tracking all forms of data as students move through different grades, in order to monitor progress over time and create a comprehensive language profile for each student.

two students working together at the classroom board

At present, there are more than 40 languages spoken at WISS. The commitment to embedding WIDA as part of our pedagogical practice and approaches has continued with EAL teachers and grade level leaders, from kindergarten to grade 5, taking part in the WIDA professional development workshop, Planning with English Language Development Standards. This has furthered our headway with ensuring that planning for language development is central to the curriculum, classroom instruction and forms of assessment.

At WISS, we are proud and committed to being part of the WIDA international community. A combination of professional development and use of WIDA resources has enabled us to better support our multilingual learners. We have made much progress but are always reflecting on how we can improve further. The work continues.

two students in classroom reading

Become a WIDA Member School

Join the WIDA International School Consortium, a global network of schools using WIDA resources and assessments to support multilingual learners.