Written by: Esther Bettney
Submitted by: WIDA
In 2006, I moved to Honduras to begin my career as an international teacher. I was quickly captivated by my enthusiastic high school students, by the kind welcome of their families, and the sunny weather! My initial two-year contract turned into a decade of life in the country during which I learned a great deal about teaching — from my students and from my fellow colleagues. All of my students were from Spanish-speaking homes and I was amazed to watch them move between English and Spanish in their interactions and in daily lives. While I did not yet have the theoretical background to understand their fluid languaging practices, I did wonder — again and — again why did our bilingual school have separate English-only and Spanish-only classes when our students clearly existed in a much more flexible in-between space as bilinguals?
Now, 15 some years later, through my work with the WIDA International Programs team and my Ph.D. research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, I have come to realize that many international schools are asking this same question: How can we create multilingual school spaces in which students can draw on all of their linguistic repertoires to learn? In my dissertation, I focus on this question within the context of Spanish-English international schools in Latin America. International schools in this region often provide instruction in both English and Spanish — typically divided by subject area. For example, the majority of subjects are taught in English, with Spanish language arts and social studies or civics taught in Spanish. While this instructional model is common, the separation often leads to two distinct language programs within one school, with disconnected staff, curriculum and pedagogical approaches (Hamel, 2008; de Mejía, 2005). This separation also creates “one-language only” classrooms that limit students and teachers from developing holistic multilingual repertoires. Like I noticed as a new teacher in Honduras, this separation of languages does not match the fluid language practices and identities of multilingual students.
Yet, many schools are beginning to question this approach of separating languages. For example, through my Ph.D. program I conducted a case study with one international school as they explored significant shifts toward a more integrated approach to language instruction. However, many other schools are still struggling with how to integrate their Spanish and English programs into one holistic approach to language development.
For schools interested in exploring how to bring their Spanish and English language programs together, we recommend WIDA Español’s new and exciting development resource —Marco de referencia de las artes del lenguaje del español de WIDA (Marco ALE). Marco ALE is a Spanish language arts framework that provides the key elements for developing standards, aligning standards to instruction and teaching Spanish language arts in grades K–12. Marco ALE was developed through an analysis of Spanish language arts standards in five different Latin American countries. Marco ALE is grounded in current theory and practice, with considerations for the diversity of the Spanish language and the context within which it is taught and is particularly well-suited for schools with bilingual instruction.
Marco ALE contains two key documents. First, Marco ALE: Aplicación para la actualización y desarrollo de estándares was designed for administrators and school leaders wishing to understand the components of Marco ALE and would be a helpful first step for schools to begin a conversation about how to align their Spanish and English language arts standards. Second, Marco ALE: Aplicación para la enseñanza, was designed for classroom educators and curriculum leaders to guide classroom instruction of the main elements of Spanish language arts found across Spanish-speaking countries. Marco ALE was not designed to replace national standards, but instead as a guide to support educators in the key elements of instruction in this academic discipline.
Marco ALE is a new resource which is well suited to support international schools with the teaching of Spanish language arts. For example, Marco ALE presents three ideologías orientadoras — el Discurso, el transculturalismo and las multiliteracidades. Inside the context of an international school, el transculturalismo provides an explicit opportunity to draw attention to the experiences of multilingual students as they live and navigate within and across cultures. Las multiliteracidades bring attention to how students make meaning across various modalities and the important role multilingual texts play in this process. While some international schools may allow for translated books within their classes, las multiliteracidades point to the need for the inclusion of multilingual and non-print texts.
Marco ALE also includes seven prácticas de la disciplina that integrate the knowledge, experiences and skills that are critical for multilingual learners to participate in language arts. Many of these
identified practices provide an opportunity to build bridges between Spanish and English instruction. For example, the “language resources” practice draws attention to the role of translanguaging as a tool for multilingual students to express their ideas in a specific sociocultural context. In an international school environment, translanguaging allows students to draw on all of their linguistic resources to learn and communicate — yet many schools have been hesitant to allow for translanguaging within the context of Spanish language arts.
The intention of Marco ALE is not to prescribe a particular set of standards for Spanish language arts but to bring light to key topics and themes which are common across many contexts. Inside the unique context of international schools with Spanish-English instruction, Marco ALE provides a new opportunity to bring language programs together through collaborative conversations about language arts across Spanish and English. Marco ALE can further support schools as they develop a shared understanding about an asset-based approach across all language programs, since Marco ALE reflects WIDA’s overarching foundational beliefs and Can Do Philosophy. WIDA Español continues to develop new resources to serve the needs of Spanish-speaking students across the globe and Marco ALE is an excellent first step for international schools looking to unite their Spanish and English programs together through these conversations.
Note: The Marco ALE does not address Spanish language development; however, WIDA Español has also developed the WIDA Standards for Spanish Language Development (DLE). For educators already familiar with the WIDA Standards for English Language Development (ELD), you will find many similarities across the two resources. It is important to note the WIDA DLE standards are not a direct translation of the ELD standards but instead were developed by multilingual educators to focus on the authentic use of Spanish by students.