How to Use the WIDA Standards

Instructor: Carla Dash

Carla Dash has a BA in English and a MA in teaching. She has taught middle-school ESL and science as well as college-level sociology.

What's WIDA? How does it mesh with Common Core and state standards? How do you use it? In this lesson, you will learn the basics of WIDA standards and how to use them to help English Language Learners in the classroom.

The WIDA Standards

Ms. Taylor is a new teacher. She's super psyched to meet her sixth graders and teach her first unit about Earth's place in the Universe. But on the first day of school, Ms. Taylor realizes there are some kids in her classes who do not understand anything she's saying to them. Others understand, but they don't respond. These are students who are learning English as a second or third or fourth language. Ms. Taylor is worried. Will these kids be able to keep up with the content? How can she help them?

A bunch of departments of education around the United States came together to create standards to foster the academic English acquisition of ELLs. This group is called WIDA, and its standards focus on the language students of various English levels (1-6) and grade levels (k-12) are able to use to meet academic targets in five areas: social/instructional language, English Language Arts, mathematics, science, and social studies.


OK. So there are some standards in place to help Ms. Taylor reach her ELLs. But how is she supposed to use this WIDA thing?

She can use the standards to create MPIs (Model Performance Indicators). MPIs describe how ELLs at a particular level can meet the demands of a content task. Essentially, they are content objectives that are differentiated for ELLs. An MPI has three parts: the language function, the topic, and supports.

Language Function: This is the part of the objective that shows how Ms. Taylor's ELLs will practice the content or demonstrate their knowledge. There are four language function domains: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. These functions can be broken down into more specific tasks according to the language abilities of Ms. Taylor's students. For example, her level one students might draw or label as a writing task, but her level three students might write a paragraph.

Topic: This is the content Ms. Taylor wants to teach. She can use WIDA standards as a jumping off point to come up with ideas, but WIDA's focus is language, not content. Ms. Taylor should get her topic from the Common Core or State Frameworks. WIDA is a way for ELLs to meet state and national content standards, not replace them. Topics are content-area specific and include things like mathematical equations, dramatic irony, scale, structure of atoms, and parts of the government.

Supports: These are the resources Ms. Taylor should provide to help ELLs access content and demonstrate knowledge. Like language function, supports vary by language proficiency level and grade level. Supports can be sensory (such as models or word walls), graphic (such as Venn diagrams or timelines), or interactive (such as speaking with a partner or using a first language).

MPIs in Action

For her science class, Ms. Taylor is currently basing her teaching on the Next Generation Science Standard MS-ESS1-1, which is 'Develop and use a model of the Earth-sun-moon system to describe the cyclic patterns of lunar phases, eclipses of the sun and moon, and seasons.' Determined to do what's best for her ELLs, Ms. Taylor picks up her pencil and writes her first MPI:

Answer yes/no questions about Earth's seasons from diagrams.

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