Learning about English Learning – The WIDA Institute

Pardon the interruption, but I am going to talk about something that veers down a different path. For those of you who read the usual travel posts, or various poems, or review of board games, this post might not be for you. Many of you might not know this, but I spend a lot of time as an educator. For those of you have your educator license in the United States know that one of the requirements to keep that license is professional development. As an international teacher, this means some time during the summer I have to travel to various parts of the world to take a course that I might find useful in my craft as an educator.

I picked the word ‘might’ for a specific reason. There are many educators out there that will know the meaning of that word choice. Professional development, a lot of the time, is just a moment in your career where you try to develop your ability to remain professional. A lot of the time, it is a rehashing of what you already do, or a way for some retiree to make some extra side money by selling some program that they developed during their teaching career. You have to sit in this program, and nod your head as you try not to get mad that you paid money for this checking of the box that you need in order to renew your license. Rather, you would like to get that professional development that you can bring back to your classroom and use to fill in those gaps within your own instruction.

This brings me to this year’s summertime professional development. I took off to Wisconsin for a week so I could learn everything I could about WIDA, World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment. For those teachers out there, this is probably a program that they are familiar with, and may even implement in their own schools. For everybody else, WIDA is a program used for English language learners to help them in that struggle while they still try to be successful in their content classes. It is usually used for those teachers who run the English language learning programs in their schools, and their purpose is to guide the other teachers as to what they can do in their classrooms to help these students.

I know what you are asking now?

What is an English teacher doing getting trained on how to support English language learners?

Well, the short answer is that in the state of Colorado where my license is, I need to have a a certain amount of hours of English language learning in order to renew my license. There are many Colorado teachers are annoyed by having to jump through this hoop in order to renew their license. I get that feeling, but I like to go into these trainings with the idea that there is something that I can get out of it that I can take back to this classroom. It is this positive attitude that makes these professional development moments worth it.

It was pretty easy to go into this training with this attitude though. The conference covered an area that all international teachers should be aware of when working with their students. There are a variety of languages that are brought to my classroom though I can easily forget this fact because everybody is expected to speak English. Though they speak, read, write, and listen to this language in my classroom, they may still struggle with processing and expressing themselves using this language, and might need those extra structures in place to be successful. What I discovered in this training was that the structures that I could implement for my language users could also be used for my regular students, helping to reach those higher level of expression as well.

I am also starting to see why the state of Colorado requires this training as well. Whether you like it or not, the United States is becoming more multilingual every year, and in ways that would surprise many people. I was talking to a person from North Carolina who is working with many students that use Arabic as their first language. I know that Denver has a huge population of Russian immigrants where certain parts of town, that is the major language spoken. Los Angeles has the second largest population of Korean speakers over any other city in the world, except for Seoul. There are Chinese, Hmong, and Ukrainian speakers coming in all the time, and it is the role of the teacher to help these students learn the material. Even walking around Madison where I was getting the training, I heard a variety of languages spoken from the students that were getting some extra credits during the summer. It is no longer the need to know Spanish in order to help the students coming from Latin America, but a variety of tools that can be used to help all students.

I am really glad that I took some time this summer to go to this institute and learn what they had to teach me. It will definitely help my practice when I arrive in Jordan for my second year there, and it introduced me to other conferences that I will want to take in the future. My only regret was that I was the only content teacher in the training, and I wish that there were more of us there rather than just the English Language Learning teachers that I got to work with. I would hope that more content teachers take that leap and take this class. It will not only help their craft, but it will help to bridge that important gap between them and the English Language Learning teachers in their schools. It will create a classroom that everybody can learn in, and not just the ones who are already comfortable with the language.

Campus During the Summer – Madison, Wisconsin

When I was in college, I would drive up 1-25 in early September every year with a carload full of my stuff to get ready for the upcoming school year. I would spend the next couple of months in Fort Collins, making the trip back to Littleton around Thanksgiving, the holidays, and Spring Break. When I finished the school year up in May, I would pack all of that stuff up again to head back down I-25 for a summertime job, leaving behind the college campus. This is the story of many college students, but what story is not told is that of the college campus that we all travel to. During the school year, it is a crazy place of activity and stories are being written around every corner, but what happens to that campus during the summer months when the population drops because of the mass exodus of college students?

I was lucky enough to have stayed behind one summer to be able to answer this question. It is a strange experience to be on a college campus without all of the students. It is calm, and relaxed. The insane parties and rallies to support the college lifestyle are also gone. It is instead populated by people who are considering on attending the school some time in the future, the students taking summer classes because they are really interested in learning, and people coming out for professional development in their fields. I am having a similar experience I had during that summer on the University of Wisconsin campus right now.

Let me start off by saying that the campus of the University of Wisconsin is absolutely beautiful. It sits on a lake, and there are amazing old buildings and some really cool statues usually centered around Bucky the Badger. It also is not far from the state’s capital building on State Street where there are plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops, so not only does it make for a cool place where the students can hang out, but it also presents a place that attracts tourists that seem to always wandering about. I never knew that Madison was such a destination place, and I was surprised about the amount of tourists that I saw as I wandered around the campus.

The experience that I had though was a completely different one than the ones that happen as soon as the school year starts up. There was a little bit of the hustle and bustle that I saw with the tourists, but they did not have an agenda, and could leisurely make their way around town. As soon as classes start, the students will need to be at certain places at certain times, so there will always be this constant flow of people moving from one place to another. State street will also have a different feel to it every night. Instead of easily getting into restaurants or bars, I am sure there will be places packed with people inside, and even more waiting to get in. I could also imagine more of a party atmosphere as people hop from one bar to another. I was not getting that kind of flow while I was out here.

There is also the aspect of the weather. I was here during the summer months and was lucky enough to experience that time during a mild spell during the summer, so the days just begged for me to come outside and enjoy walking around. I have been told that this not always the case during the summer, that sometimes it gets really hot and humid. The winter months can be even more brutal with the winds and snow that sometime blow in from the lake. So this made this moment in time even more special. I got to be out here during the slower summer months with the weather that people hope to find when they go traveling to any place in the world.

All of this probably helped in the way that I fell in love with this city and campus. I have to keep on telling myself that this is not the way that it looks most of the year, and it makes me want to come back again some other time to see it in its other iterations. I do hope that I get to do that some day, and for those of you who consider yourself badgers, thank you for sharing your school with me during this week.