WIDA supports bilingual language and academic development

In this article, Samuel Aguirre, WIDA Español director, and Jon Nordmeyer, WIDA International Programs director, discuss three language development frameworks, and how they can support bilingualism in Spanish and English. This article is adapted from one written for the AMISA Newsletter.

La pluma es la lengua de la mente. The pen is the tongue of the mind. – Miguel de Cervantes

Cervantes’ “tongue of the mind” becomes a twice powerful tool when English and Spanish teachers collaborate to help students to develop bilingualism and biliteracy skills. WIDA asked a group of educators at an international school in Guatemala what would make the most difference for their bilingual instruction. Their request was simple: a comprehensive, corresponding system that supports students’ language development and academic success across Spanish and English. We were happy to share that WIDA resources can do just that! 

WIDA is a nonprofit research center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. WIDA offers three frameworks for English Language Development (ELD), Spanish Language Development (SLD), and the forthcoming Marco de las artes del lenguaje del español (Marco ALE). These three tools are grounded in the WIDA mission, vision and values, as well as similar foundational theoretical components. At the same time, each of these tools is unique, as each one serves a different purpose.

WIDA recently released the WIDA ELD Standards Framework, 2020 Edition. This powerful toolkit provides a foundation for curriculum, instruction and assessment for multilingual learners in kindergarten through grade 12. The WIDA ELD Standards Framework is centered on equity and fosters the assets, contributions and potential of multilingual learners. Four Big Ideas anchor the 2020 Edition and are interwoven throughout the framework:

  • Equity of opportunity and access: This is essential for multilingual learners' preparation for college, career and civic lives. 
  • Integration of content and language: Academic content is the context for language learning, and language is the means for learning academic content. 
  • Collaboration among stakeholders: Stakeholders share responsibility for educating multilingual learners. 
  • Functional approach to language development: This approach helps educators focus on the purposeful use of language. 

These Big Ideas support the design of standards-based educational experiences that are student-centered, culturally and linguistically sustaining, and responsive to multilingual learners' strengths and needs. 

The WIDA ELD Standards Framework helps connect testing to teaching by providing a linguistic roadmap for the content areas. Teachers can interpret WIDA language proficiency data to understand and build on what their multilingual learners can do. Educators can collaborate to plan equitable, accessible and challenging units and lessons across all content areas. By using the WIDA ELD Standards Framework, teachers and students can navigate the intersection of language and content.

The WIDA SLD Standards were developed independently from the WIDA ELD Standards Framework, but serve a similar purpose for Spanish. At their core, the WIDA SLD Standards support the development of language for students to communicate for social and instructional purposes, and for academic content in language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. These standards inform the trajectory of students’ language gains in Spanish across six levels (e.g, entrada, emergente, desarrollo, extensión, transformación, and transcendencia). Teachers can use the SLD Standards to gain an understanding of students’ level of Spanish development. Once they know this, they can teach Spanish language development skills that will move the students to the next level.

In contrast to the WIDA SLD and ELD standards frameworks, WIDA developed the Marco ALE to inform Spanish language arts (SLA), which grows beyond WIDA’s other work on language development. The Marco ALE is made up of the main components for the instruction of SLA and was drawn from an analysis of SLA and related documents from across Spanish-speaking contexts in the Americas. Furthermore, the authors wrote the framework in a way that can inform multiple applications. This fall, the WIDA Español team will be publishing two documents on the Marco ALE, its application for standards design, enhancement, and alignment, and its application for teaching and learning. Educators will notice that the document that explores the Marco ALE para la enseñanza includes a variety of lesson ideas and tools that can be built into existing SLA curriculum.

The WIDA ELD Standards Framework, SLD Standards, and Marco ALE were all designed by researchers at WIDA in collaboration with educators across the global WIDA network, resulting in a strong correspondence across the three frameworks. Each of these tools builds on the WIDA Can Do Philosophy or La filosofía de valorización. Deeply rooted in a belief that all educators should build on the assets of multilingual learners, WIDA tools focus on what students can do, rather than what they can’t do. All three resources draw from a similar research basis and set of beliefs about language development. The WIDA Guiding Principles of Language Development and the Principios orientadores de WIDA para el desarrollo del lenguaje outline ten foundational ideas for teaching multilingual learners.

Educators working with WIDA English and Spanish language development standards will realize that even though each set of standards is designed for a unique language (English and Spanish, respectively), the tools are designed in a similar manner. Therefore, educators can learn how to use a single system and then be able to readily apply it to both sets of Standards with their bilingual English-Spanish learners. Additionally, as students reach the higher levels of the SLD Standards (la transcendencia), they begin to engage with SLA, which is supported by the Marco ALE. Therefore, the SLD Standards and the Marco ALE inform the spectrum of Spanish literacy from language development to language arts. By way of the SLD Standards, there are opportunities for connecting the Marco ALE with the ELD Standards Framework. One such manner is that all three tools maintain a sociocultural approach to learning language and academic skills.

Educators in a variety of bilingual contexts across Latin America will appreciate the coherence and correspondence within the three resources. Utilizing both WIDA SLD and ELD standards frameworks provides an opportunity for a more holistic picture of language development across both languages. Furthermore, the implementation of the SLD Standards alongside the elements of the Marco ALE can lead to appropriate supports that can inform the trajectory of student growth from Spanish language development to Spanish language arts.

If you are an educator who wants to learn more about how WIDA can help you build on what your multilingual learners can do, we invite you to explore our resources. To learn more, please contact international@wida.us.