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Going A Step Further in SLL with WIDA Can DO Descriptors: Students’ Self-assessment  

By:  Leticia Daza, MS SLL Teacher; Asociación Escuelas Lincoln – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Anyone who has been teaching and/or learning a new language knows that this process develops over an extended period of time. Students learning a new language, according to the Natural Approach, move through five predictable stages before reaching the Language Acquisition in the new language: Preproduction, Early Production, Speech Emergence, Intermediate Fluency, and Advanced Fluency (Krashen & Terrell, 1983). However, the length of time each student spends at a particular stage may vary greatly depending on many factors including exposure, family background, motivation, etc. Therefore, as a Spanish Language Learner teacher (SLL), one of my main objectives is to analyze my students’ communicative competencies’ different needs during each stage of the Language Acquisition process. Undoubtedly, I need to help them achieve a proficient level of Spanish that permits them to function independently in every context in the four domains of language competency: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. That’s the reason that I use the WIDA Can DO Descriptors in Spanish (Descriptores PODEMOS).

The Descriptores PODEMOS provide a clear overview of our SLL’s performance at six different levels of each domain of the language proficiency (being level 6 the reached stage of language development). Each level is accompanied with rubrics that stress what our SLL students can do at the end of the different levels of the language development. Consequently, it is absolutely important to link instruction for each student at his or her particular stage of Language Acquisition in each of the different domains of language competency.

With my SLL colleagues in MS, we use the Descriptores PODEMOS with our students to make placements for our newcomers; to make new placements by moving our students through the different Language Acquisition levels, and to adjust and differentiate instruction during the whole school year. The Descriptores PODEMOS has helped us enormously in reaching a mediation across all our different points of views with a student writing sample, audio, reading, etc.

On the other hand, the Descriptores PODEMOS, also helped me to show my students individually where they are according to the different levels and domains of language development that the rubrics provide us. I am a strongly believer on the power of involving my students during their learning process, because if they know that they are part of it, they become more conscious, engaged, curious, and can lead their own learning. But, why not go a step further? So, I decided not only to share the rubrics with my students, but also I showed them how to use them to make a self-assessment and to reflect and set their own learning goals to advance to the next level. The following is my experience.

This school year, at the end of the first trimester, I gave my students placement tests to analyze their progress and find out where we needed to put more effort in. As always, when they finished them, they started asking me: “Which one is my level?” This time, I decided to show them with examples what the statements of the rubrics aimed at each level. I was really surprised on how they reacted; they were ready to make their own evaluation on their Language Acquisition! They all started placing themselves on the appropriate proficiency level for each language domain. I could hear my students say: “I am high in writing and reading!” or “ I need to work on oral” or “I feel ready for the next level!”  Thru this, they had a clear understanding of where they are linguistically and also where they needed to work on to make improvements during this process. Later, they all started writing their own language proficiency goals to reach the next level.

I am very excited with the results of showing my students how to make their own self-assessment and setting their goals by using the Descriptores PODEMOS. It took us time, a couple of hours, but it was totally worth it. I honestly didn’t expect such a high level of commitment from them. I used to think that the most immeasurable reward that I could get as an SLL teacher was seeing my students learn and progress during the Language Acquisition process, but it wasn’t the only one. Another important reward that I can receive from them, is seeing how they become conscious, engaged and in charge of their own learning. Finally, all the information gathered with their self-assessments and goals, allowed me to work within my students’ zone of proximal development in order to scaffold their learning.

The pictures below were taken during the self-assessment process.


Krashen, S.D. & Terrell, T.D. (1983). The natural approach: Language acquisition in the

classroom. London: Prentice Hall Europe.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

WIDA:Can DO Descriptors / Descriptores PODEMOS


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