Challenges and Opportunities: Multilinguals in the context of the CCSS.

Last November, all language learners were formally assessed using the standardized language proficiency assessment WIDA Model. The collected data, WIDA results, in addition to other data sources, allowed EAL teachers to create ELPs, student learner profiles, including learning goals aligned to the ELD (English Language Development) WIDA standards. As I reflect on this process, it’s more evident to me that supporting all multilinguals to reach their language goals goes beyond daily instruction in the students’ homeroom or in small group settings. To address the need for embedded language supports that will create opportunities to practice language in meaningful ways to reach grade level standards, pre-planning and co-planning will be key.

Based on language proficiency abilities, all ELLs can be challenged according to their current levels of performance. Language matters in the context of demanding grade level standards, CCSS, as per the Standards Based Learning Environment adopted by ISB. As a language specialist, there are collaboration structures in place that will allow me to be an active participant in the pre-planning and co-planning process to embed language supports in the different content areas.

Within the ISB Language Acquisition Framework, SIOP & C6 elements, it’s common practice to analyze the language and content demands to inform our instruction. All teachers’ main goal is to support all learners to access challenging grade level standards in all content areas. Content standards raise the bar for learning, these ensure consistency and promote viable opportunities for all students. In addition to content objectives, guided by the CCSS, we set language objectives to promote equity for access to content areas through language functions.

The fact that ELLs span across a wide continuum of language abilities, from emerging to advanced levels, could pose some access challenges for the students and for the teachers supporting them to access grade level standards. Our instructional frameworks such as the workshop model, and specific content area practices, allow us to formatively assess ELLs as instruction unfolds. At this time of the year, we have learned a lot about our ELLs as learners so we can be responsive and adaptive to provide supports and scaffolds as needed. We can respond to language and content needs in real time. ELLs benefit from appropriate levels of challenge that will allow them to practice academic language features to grow their language abilities while accessing grade level standards. In order to foster appropriate levels of challenge, in my role as a language specialist, I will focus on pre-planning and co-planning to embed language standards and language expectations in content area units. I want to analyze content and language demands to include scaffolds focusing on different language domains, language forms, and language functions, as per the content areas standards.

This is how I plan to approach this professional goal.

WIDA has released the latest version of the language development standards. I am spending time becoming familiar with the 4 big ideas embedded in the framework:

-Equity of opportunities and Access.

-Integration of content and Language.

-Collaboration among stakeholders.

-Functional approach to language development.

These big ideas align perfectly with my professional goal. I will be participating in the WIDA virtual institute to learn more about how these standards can be implemented and applied to my current context.

It’s important to note that these standards are one of the elements in the WIDA Standards Framework. Key language uses, language expectations, and proficiency level descriptors are important elements within the framework. These elements are like a helpful map to set goals for curriculum, instruction, and assessment for multilingual learners.

Furthermore, it will be necessary for me to actively participate in the collaboration cycles with my grade level team in order to align this goal within the context of current units of study. Collaboration allows us all to share the responsibility to provide the just right challenges and the necessary supports for our ELLs in a Standards Based context.

Within the 6 Cs Tripod goals, I am focusing on the “Challenge” aspect of teaching and learning. These are two guiding questions that I am considering as I work toward my goal:

-How do I set challenges that are at the appropriate level for each student’s growth?

-How do I scaffold instruction to support students in rising to the challenges facing them?

Differentiation is the instructional strategy that I will focus on to start this process. I believe that all students can be challenged so that they can grow, and I also believe that ELLs possess funds of knowledge and abilities in their home language which allow them to be active learners and participants within a standards-based context.

Excited to see where this professional exploration process will take me. Most importantly, looking forward to learning from others and further enhance my craft and knowledge.


English Learners Success Forum. EL SF Guideline. Analyzing Content and Language Demands.

International School of Beijing. Our Curriculum

Koelsch, N. & Rodriguez, G. (2014). Supporting English Language Learners to Meet the Challenges of New Standards. TESOL Quarterly. doi: 10.1002/esq.181

Stanford University. April 2012. Challenges and Opportunities for Language Learning in the Context of Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards. Conference Overview Paper.

WIDA Focus Bulletin. 2019. Collaboration: Working Together to Serve Multilingual Learners.

WIDA ELD Standards Framework, 2020 Edition.






EAL Specialists Adapt: Rethinking, Reframing and Amplifying ELs’ Support

In my current role, there are a few things about teaching and learning that will look different given the current circumstances. Normally, a language specialist spends the beginning of the year observing and informally assessing students’ language levels of performance. Since there is no recent WIDA language proficiency data due to the fact that were unable to administer the Model language proficiency assessment as usual, at the end of the previous school year, it is going to be imperative to spend time getting to know our students. Time will be spent at the beginning of this year conducting formative assessments and gathering data to have a better picture of all students on my caseload. I plan to meet, hopefully, with all of my students in person enabling me to know them as individuals and developing multilinguals.

I will take advantage of all opportunities for common assessments to analyze ELs’ language performance through a language lens, using the WIDA language descriptors and WIDA language rubrics. Seesaw posts and small group meetings will allow me to further observe students’ language abilities and needs so that I can pro-actively plan and structure learning opportunities to target ELs’ language needs. Based on what I learn about my ELs’ language needs, I will be able to set language goals in order to monitor their performance and language growth. It will be important to collect evidence, share my observations and data of ELs’ performance with the HR teachers so that we can successfully collaborate to address important needs of all ELs by adapting and readjusting plans and instructional frameworks. In regard to assessment practices, according to The Regents of the University of California (2020):

the formative assessment process is a deliberate process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides              actionable feedback that is used to adjust ongoing teaching and learning strategies to improve students’ attainment of                    curricular learning targets/goals.”

For this reason, it will be important to establish clear learning goals and clear success criteria as I participate in the co-planning process as the team plans the different units.

Following the WIDA Guiding Principles of Language Development, I will be able to address the 5Cs of online learning according to the ISB model. Principle 4 is the most salient: “Multilingual learners’ language, social-emotional, and cognitive development are inter-related processes that contribute to their success in school and beyond.” After a prolonged time of online learning, it’s imperative to focus on ELs’ SEL needs so that they develop a sense of belonging and community as they start a new school year. The SEL training session we had has given me several tools to address SEL needs. “Multilingual learners use and develop language to interpret and present different perspectives, build awareness of relationships, and affirm their identities.” states guiding principle 10. It is important to connect learning with my students’ unique experiences and cultural identities, in partnership with ELs’ families. Guiding principle 6 encapsulates 3Cs, collaborate, clarify, and captivate. “Multilingual learners use and develop language through activities which intentionally integrate multiple modalities, including oral, written, visual and kinesthetic modes of communication.” As we collaborate on co-planning and co-delivering instruction for ELs we will be able to connect content and language development, embedding supports and leveraging technology / structures to differentiate as needed.

As per the EAL online learning guidelines, my main goal will be to provide targeted language support to small groups to cater students’ language needs so they can access grade level content and have more opportunities to practice with guidance. In the case of new students and emergent ELs, I will spend more one-to-one time focusing on specific language development goals as per their language proficiency needs.

Building partnerships with parents will be important so I will start the year by introducing myself via SeeSaw announcement/video and email communication. Following, I will check-in with parents every two weeks to summarize growth, language development goals, and ways to support their developing ELs at home. Most importantly, I will encourage parents to continue developing their child’s home language to develop language skills in various ways such as reading and having conversations.

This is how I have been preparing for online learning during offline learning. I have been involved in virtual PLNs via social media and zoom meets with different ESL EAL and teaching and learning focused organizations. I have focused on a variety of areas, ELA through recorded workshops with TCRWP and EKC consulting book clubs. WIDA has published relevant information and has connected ESL teachers supporting multilinguals around the world. Corwin published The Distance Learning Playbook, Grades K-12, which summarizes up to date research by J. Hattie and best practices to impact learning in the current setting. I was able to make meaningful connections and to transfer some of my recent learning as I completed the DX online learning modules. I will spend time refreshing my SeeSaw skills, exploring more features on ScreenCast-O-matic and interactive tools on Zoom.

Given the partnership model, the EAL specialist’s role will vary a bit when compared to our prior service delivery model. Partner teachers will play the role of co-teachers so EAL specialists will be focusing on co-planning with the grade level team. It will be necessary to familiarize myself with the units of study for the beginning of the year so that I have a good understanding of priority standards, which ELs must have access to. The English Learners Success Forum published some guidelines for distance learning and ELs. “Making Lemonade from Lemons.” focuses on access in ELA. It’s recommending to refocus, reformat, and adapt lessons to research-based practices to online environments, and re-imagine systems where all ELs demonstrate success. In addition to curriculum and standards, ELSF highlights the importance of building relationships and connections with our ELs, and avoid biased assumptions. Start with what our ELs know and can do while maintaining high expectations, allowing us to design adapted lessons incorporating SIOP/C6 elements.

ISB’s online learning guidelines align well with research-based guidelines developed by ELSF, such as the need for explicit instruction, clarity, leveraging technology, ongoing formative assessment, embedding necessary just-in time scaffolds. Also, explicitly teach language and provide multiple practice opportunities using culturally responsive and engaging ways.

In the “No Less Than, but Equal or Greater than: Remote math instruction for ELs.” guide, ELSF reminds us to facilitate cognitively demanding math instruction for ELs by giving ample opportunities for rigorous content learning and productive struggle. The following are some identified common themes in this guide. Design lessons that encourage ELs to practice all 4 language domains and encourage use of their home language. Collaborate with EAL specialist and coordinate supports and needed scaffolds by analyzing the language required to complete tasks and assessments. Use formative assessment data to adapt instruction and target specific language function needs in small group setting to maximize ELs’ opportunities to use language for academic purposes. Most importantly, “give students feedback on language content and language skills that are specific, actionable and connected to meaning (not grammatical accuracy).” The above practices are in addition to peer feedback and self-assessment.

Quality Teaching for English Learners, WestEd, summarizes support for ELs in distance learning by focusing on the instructional methods such as blended learning practices rather than the specific tools and platforms.

Live time instruction boosts learning time. Provide opportunities for ELs to engage with each other. Create opportunities to talk in depth. Incorporate reading and writing.

The Instructional Playbook for Online Learning encapsulates the last months of teaching virtually for the last few months succinctly.

“We learned more about what works by at times experiencing what didn’t work in virtual settings. It heightened our sense                 of what we already knew in face-to-face classroom (Hattie, 2018):

-Fostering student self-regulation is crucial for moving learning to deep and transfer levels.

-Learning accelerates when the student, not the teacher, is taught to be in control of learning.

-There needs to be a diversity of instructional approaches (not just some direct instruction and the some off-line

independent work).

-Well designed peer learning impacts understanding.

-Feedback in high-trust environment must be integrated into the learning cycle.”

We need to acknowledge the potential differential impact of distance learning on students, teachers and families.

Last but not least, a thought on collaboration elements in the current environment. Despite the fact we will not be co-teaching until we all return to campus, we have shared responsibilities to engage all ELs in the core curriculum and support to develop essential language skills. Some elements in the collaboration cycle align to ISB’s framework for partnered teaching: co-planning, co-assessing, and co-reflecting. We have the structures to support a collaborative effort so I plan to make the most of the opportunities I have to contribute in the planning process in a responsive way to address language and literacy development needs of our multilingual learners.

WIDA’s July  2020 focus bulletin: Collaboration: Working Together to Serve Multilingual Learners reminds us of the need to capitalize on each other’s talents and amplify our impact on students by fostering professional relationships and reflecting on instructional practice. It’s going to be a very busy beginning of the school year and I hope to have opportunities for conversations with my peers to reflect on our instruction and to celebrate our successes. We shall remain flexible and willing to adapt and make the most out of all opportunities to collaborate so that we leverage collective expertise to support all ELs and every student that can benefit from our support.


English Learners Success Forum (2020). Do’s and Dont’s of EL Instruction. Distance Learning and English Learners: Making Lemonade from Lemons.

English Learners Success Forum (2020). Do’s and Dont’s of EL Instruction. No Less Than, but Equal or Greater Than: Remote Math Instruction for English Learners.

Fisher, D., Frey, N. & Hattie, J. (2020). Teaching for Engagement & Impact in Any Setting. The Distance Learning Playbook Grades K-12.

McDaniel, K. (2020). Scaffolding Instruction for English Learners in a Remote Environment.

Understanding Language, Stanford Webinar (2020). Framing and Supporting Formative Assessment Practices in Remote Learning.

WIDA Focus Bulletin. July 2020. Collaboration: Working Together to Serve Multilingual Learners.

WIDA Guiding Principles of Language Development (2019).

WIDA Tools: Descriptors and Rubrics.

Below is my weekly planner. As stated at the beginning of my reflection, a lot of my time will be devoted to get to know all ELs on my caseload and to formally assess their language abilities and needs.

EAL, Grade 2




Linguistic Supports to Maintain Challenging Cognitive Demand and to Consolidate Learning

Thinking about ways to support multilinguals to communicate their understanding while learning, reminds me of the fact that multilinguals can actually understand more than what they can communicate, especially orally. (Harper and de Jong 2004). When it comes to consolidating learning, language proficiency and multilinguals’ cognition seem to have a complex relationship. The fact that some emergent multilinguals are not yet asking clarifying questions, or ready to express themselves to share their understanding/learning, may cause teachers to resort to low level recall or knowledge questions to check their understanding. To prevent this from happening, Bautista (2014), proposes a variety of tasks, catering different proficiency levels, while maintaining a challenging cognitive demand.

Keeping in mind that consolidation is defined as a stage in learning where a topic or new information is reinforced or reviewed, lessons should be created with opportunities and scaffolds to advance multilinguals from basic recalling skills to more complex thinking. The article Level Up: addressing ELLs’ language proficiencies and cognitive abilities in science classrooms (Bautista, 2014), reminds us of the different considerations given the students’ proficiency levels. Also, she stresses on the importance of supports such as visuals, word banks, background knowledge and vocabulary building, as well as embedding scaffolds.

On page 34, Bautista, shows a very useful chart that shows how Bloom’s taxonomy can be used while providing the necessary supports for multilinguals along a proficiency continuum.

Here are some supports and scaffolds that I have created and embedded in the planners to support access to content and consolidation of learning.

Question Grid (based on Kath Murdoch’s book Power of Inquiry)

Discussion / conversation mat (NGSS and WIDA aligned-Doing and Talking Math/Science)

Connectives, sentence frames, cause and effect (in addition to graphic organizer)

Vocabulary cards, an example of visuals for the current unit of study

Linguistic Supports K-2, Science (Foss: NGSS and WIDA Aligned)

The above research summary led me to explore more information about the role of discourse in developing conceptual understanding within science inquiry. I read the article The effects of scientific representations on primary students’ development of scientific discourse and conceptual understandings during cooperative contemporary inquiry-science. (2014) (M.Gillies, Nichols & Khan). The authors suggest that multimodal representation of the concepts, cooperative discussions and teacher feedback are important for learners to develop understanding. Active learning includes opportunities to ask questions, solve problems, develop explanations, and reflect on thinking. In addition, it is important for learners to be scientifically literate, meaning that they need to practice and acquire the language to reason and process and interpret scientific information. Turns out, reading, writing and speaking are foundational to do science, therefore, these literacy practices are essential to develop understanding and consolidate learning.

As in the previous article summarized, multimodal representations, visual and verbal representations help learners retain learning for longer. Students need opportunities to do visual representations to express understanding, in addition to opportunities to interact/exchange ideas with peers. Engaging in scientific discussions, acting, reading, and writing cooperatively optimize learning. Last but not least, children need to be trained to ask cognitively challenging questions during cooperative guided inquiry.

Concept mapping also proved to be helpful for young learners to organize and represent their thoughts, uncovering their metacognitive thinking. The students in the experimental group showed gains in conceptual understanding, problem solving and reasoning skills.

ELL friendly strategies to promote cooperative learning and reflection are listed below:

Cooperative learning summarized tasks (based in Kagan’s cooperative learning)

Reflection stems (based on Kath Murdoch’s Power of Inquiry)

*the different resources linked have been embedded in different units of study so that they can be incorporated as fitting*



Student Survey, Reflection

Goal setting becomes meaningful when there is feedback, more meaningful when the feedback comes from our students. In the past, I have had opportunities to develop surveys for my students. I created questions aligned to the standards of my profession and my role at that time. Tripod is concise in the sense that its elements are aligned to teaching practices in general. I can process this information through the lens of my area of expertise, second language acquisition.

My first goal at the beginning of this process was to focus on clarifying strategies to incorporate an array of ways to explain ideas and concepts. I started creating universal supports for the content areas hoping to reach a wider community of learners with EAL friendly tools to provide an entry point for multilinguals. Despite, my survey indicated that clarify is not an area of growth to focus on at the moment, I will continue refining my skills and practices to improve how I support learners to check for understanding and assisting them to break down complex tasks in the content areas. In my role, it’s always important to be an advocate of all multilinguals by anticipating areas of difficulty and building scaffolds and tools to support their access to important concepts.

The survey also indicated that learners feel that I value their ideas by listening to them and conferring with them to provide feedback and support. This is pleasing to see. I want to continue striving to be learner focused and to value children’s voice by coaching them to become independent learners that make choices based on their reflection about their learning process. There is certainly more I can do regarding conferring with students. It is important for me to go over the data I collect through conferences so that I can plan support in a more strategic way.

There are two areas that I can focus on, based on the results. I will be focusing on consolidate. This is actually very pertinent to what I do. Reviewing and summarizing learning will help me keep focused on targeted objectives. Also, it will be important that I plan small group work in a way that all learning is connected and builds on previously practiced skills. It will be beneficial to practicing summarizing and verbalizing important information. Consolidate is closely related to reflecting, in my opinion. I plan to use some of Kath Murdoch ideas from “The Power of Inquiry” to start using some ideas about learners’ agency and ownership of their learning.

In regard to working with small groups and the goal of consolidating learning, I wish to come up with a system that can help me and all my students to keep track of learning. This will require consistency and follow up.



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