Students in Indiana K-12 schools speak a total of 263 languages. This language diversity requires Indiana educators to adopt techniques and follow standards designed to support their students who are English Language Learners (ELLs).
Over 300 educators, administrators, and IU Southeast School of Education faculty and students attended the first WIDA (formerly World-class Instructional Design and Advancement) Southern Indiana conference on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, to learn strategies to implement new WIDA standards and to teach ELLs. The School of Education held the conference in the Hoosier Room from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The educators and administrators came from four Southern Indiana school districts: New Albany Floyd County, Clarksville, Greater Clark and West Clark. The school districts, the IU Southeast New Neighbors Center and the School of Education partnered to develop the conference.
The conference featured a morning session and an afternoon session. ELL educators and School of Education faculty and students attended the morning session, and administrators attended the afternoon session.
Rachel Davidson and Nathan Williamson, employees in the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) and former ELL educators, were the main speakers during the conference.
The educators, administrators and IU Southeast students engaged in discussions and activities to help them learn more about WIDA and its standards, teaching techniques and ELLs. The conference also included Indiana ELL statistics.
According to data from 2013-14, from the 263 languages spoken in Indiana schools, more than 1,000 students spoke the following eight languages: Spanish, German, Arabic, Mandarin, Chin, Burmese, Vietnamese and Punjabi. About 50,000 students in Indiana were ELLs in the 2013-14 school year.
Williamson said it was important for educators to support all ELL students.
“Every single student matters, and how are you supporting every English Language Learner in your classroom, whether it’s one to 15,” Williamson said.
Davidson said ELL education needs to be research-based, reasonably calculated—in terms of personnel and resources—and evaluated.
“We have to change how we instruct our English Language Learners, and WIDA is the tool to help us do that,” Davidson said.
Before Indiana adopted the WIDA standards, it used standards that only focused on developing English fluency in language arts. The WIDA standards focus on several academic subjects, including language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.
Williamson said the new WIDA standards help ELLs become fluent in English academically, instructionally and socially.
WIDA defines three language fluency levels that apply to all academic and social aspects: the word/phrase level, the sentence level and the discourse level. Students with all levels of English proficiency can develop all three fluency levels at the same time.
Davidson said all educators need to follow WIDA standards and guidelines when teaching ELL students.
“Every teacher is a language teacher,” Davidson said. “We need our ELL teachers to make everyone else language teachers.”
Williamson said ELL educators need to use sensory, graphic and interactive supports when teaching their students. The conference attendees learned about ways to incorporate those supports in classrooms.
Davidson and Williamson work in the Office of English Learning and Migrant Education in IDOE. Davidson is the English Learning and Migrant Education coordinator, and Williamson is an English Learner specialist.
Before Davidson began working in IDOE, she was an English as a New Language teacher at Greenbriar Elementary School in Washington Township, Ind. She is also a former president of Indiana Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Williamson is a board member of the Indiana chapter of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. He was an English Learner teacher for Center Grove Community Schools and Indianapolis Public Schools before he came to IDOE.
WIDA began in 2002, one year after the No Child Left Behind Act was passed. It provides standards and resources that educators use to teach ELLs in preschool through 12th grade.
Indiana officially adopted the WIDA standards in December 2013.
For more information about WIDA, visit the national WIDA website.