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Framing Authentic Development in Spanish

Samuel Aguirre introduces a Spanish language development standards framework for bilingual and language-learning programs


As the number of multilingual learners continues to rise in the US, many schools are turning to bilingual education as a means of instruction. A survey by the American Councils Research Center (ARC, 2021) identified over 3,600 dual language bilingual education (DLBE) programs across 44 states.1

The same survey found that over 80% of DLBE programs feature Spanish as a partner language to English, with Chinese and French making up an additional 14% of programs. Increasing the number of DLBE programs is a priority for the US Department of Education (ED). In a recent letter, Secretary Miguel Cardona reiterated the ED’s commitment “to provide every student with a pathway to multilingualism while ensuring equitable access to a high-quality education for students who are English learners” (ED, 2023).2 The department’s efforts are also evident in its focus around world and heritage language programs, since they prepare students for the Seal of Biliteracy awards that have become common across the country.

In response to the growth of bilingual education programs and to advance federal initiatives for multilingual learners, leading organizations are focusing on authentic education products and services that embrace linguistic diversity in America’s classrooms and prepare multilingual learners for college and career success. To address this need, WIDA recently released the Marco de los estándares del desarrollo auténtico del lenguaje español (Marco DALE), a Spanish language development standards framework that seeks to be a game changer in the teaching and learning of Spanish in the US, with implications for bilingual, heritage, and world language programs, regardless of language of instruction.3

Comprising six “Big Ideas” and four components, the Marco DALE has multiple applications. This standards framework lends itself to teachers of Spanish in bilingual, heritage, and world language programs to inform daily classroom instruction and to administrators and policymakers to inform language-learning initiatives. The framework serves as a guide for curriculum, instruction, professional learning, and assessments and can also guide program decisions. While it was developed through an extensive review of standards of Spanish across several countries in Latin America and the US, it also reflects current research on bilingual education and effective language-development practices.

All together, it is a unique and innovative standards framework that serves as a key resource for language educators.

As the foundation of the Marco DALE stand the Big Ideas, which reflect a synthesis of key research-backed practices, theories, and beliefs essential for curriculum and instruction of language-learning programs. Perhaps the greatest driver behind the framework and a key component of any language-learning classroom is the Big Idea of equity of opportunity and access. When a new DLBE program is created or bilingual and language-learning initiatives are instituted, these are mostly driven by equity because they enable students to use their full linguistic skills to learn. The Marco DALE defines equity within multilingual students’ wide array of linguistic, cultural, educational, and socioeconomic contexts, which incentivizes educators to see students as complex individuals who are active contributors in the learning process. Moreover, educators who are creating resources from scratch for the teaching of Spanish and other languages will find the standards framework an equal driver of equity, since the framework elevates the teaching and learning of Spanish and other partner languages of English.

Another Big Idea of the Marco DALE is the integration of language and academic content. To strengthen DLBE and other bilingual education programs, and to further promote the teaching of the content areas in heritage language programs, WIDA proposes using academic content as a context for teaching language. That means that language learning is presented within the content areas of language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science. In prioritizing the teaching and learning of the content areas in English and the partner languages, multilingual learners are able to develop high levels of academic language while not falling behind on the curricular content. Furthermore, language learning takes on a purposeful and meaningful role by being embedded within the existing curriculum. This allows schools and districts to adopt the Big Ideas and utilize the framework by integrating it into the curriculum and language initiatives.

To ensure that multilingual learners are able to receive content instruction in both partner languages, the Marco DALE also promotes the Big Idea of collaboration among all members of the teaching community. In practice, this translates to a shared responsibility for the learning process, whereby all teachers, administrators, school personnel, and even parents, families, and community members take part in the education of multilingual learners. Within the classroom, enacting the Big Idea of collaboration ensures that bilingual and language programs provide meaningful and ample opportunities for content and language teachers to work together. At the school and district levels, collaboration brings opportunities for coordination of student services and engagement opportunities that are extended to the families and communities of multilingual learners.

Within all aspects of the classroom practice, including the planning of units and lessons, the teaching and learning process, and the assessment for language, the framework highlights the Big Ideas of interaction with others and multiliteracies present in education. Interaction draws on the practice of providing ample opportunities for students to engage with others in the language-learning process. That is, students learn best when they meaningfully interact with each other, with their teachers, and with their learning tools (like printed and digital texts).

Furthermore, through a multiliteracies approach, analysis, interpretation, and development of meaning and identities are prioritized through the use of multimodal artifacts across a diversity of contexts.

In the bilingual and language-learning classroom, multiliteracies enable students to align their identities as learners to the creation of meaning as they acquire language and content.

Perhaps the most prominent Big Idea in any bilingual or language program is elevating the transculturalism demonstrated by multilingual learners. The Marco DALE defines transculturalism as the dynamic and fluid movement and navigation across cultures and communities. Within transculturalism, students also navigate across cultures when they engage in translanguaging practices. In elevating the presence of transculturalism within the bilingual or language-learning classroom, educators will find themselves enriching the teaching and learning practice and empowering their students to learn in and across languages. As students are emboldened to negotiate their linguistic repertoires, they will also acquire and apply their learning across languages.

Drawing on the Big Ideas, the Marco DALE presents language expectations with language functions and sample language features that are specific to Spanish across the following grade-level clusters: kindergarten, first grade, grades 2–3, grades 4–5, grades 6–8, and grades 9–12. The language expectations are organized by the academic content areas, which are reflective of the standards statements and the four ley language uses (narrate (relatar in Spanish), inform, explain, and argue). The grade-level clusters also include proficiency-level descriptors that guide what students can do with language across six levels of language proficiency. Additionally, WIDA will be publishing separate grade-level cluster booklets with authentic student-annotated samples and annotated mentor texts to support educators.

Through its Big Ideas and its components, the Marco DALE looks to respond to the educator needs for instructional tools and guidance that can strengthen bilingual, DLBE, heritage, and world language programs across the country. Its Big Ideas can also inform language policy and program-level decisions in languages other than English and Spanish. Given its practical design, it can be used alongside existing curriculum and program initiatives, including those for English language development, heritage and world languages, and academic content in English and other languages.

Resources
WIDA (2020a). “Translanguaging: Teaching at the intersection of language and social justice.” WIDA Focus Bulletin. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. https://wida.wisc.edu/sites/default/files/resource/Focus-Bulletin-Translanguaging.pdf

WIDA (2020b). “Collaboration: Working together to serve multilingual learners.” WIDA Focus Bulletin. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. https://wida.wisc.edu/sites/default/files/resource/FocusBulletin-Collaboration.pdf

WIDA (2021). “Multiliteracies: A glimpse into the language arts bilingual classrooms.” WIDA Focus Bulletin. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. https://wida.wisc.edu/sites/default/files/resource/FocusBulletin-Multiliteracies-ENGLISH.pdf

WIDA (2024). “Follow the conversation: Interaction in language development.” WIDA Focus Bulletin. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. [link forthcoming]

References
American Councils Research Center (2021). “ARC Completes National Canvass of Dual Language Immersion Programs in US Public Schools.” American Councils for International Education. www.americancouncils.org/news/announcements-featured-content/arc-completes-national-canvass-dual-language-immersion-programs

US Department of Education (2023). Letter from secretary on students who are English learners and parents who are limited English proficient. www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/raise-the-bar/SecretaryELLEPLetter-11-16-2023-508version.pdf

WIDA (2023). Marco de los estándares del desarrollo auténtico del lenguaje español de WIDA: Kínder al 12º grado. Junta de Regentes del Sistema de la Universidad de Wisconsin. https://wida.wisc.edu/teach/spanish/marco-dale

Samuel Aguirre (saaguirre@wisc.edu) is the director of WIDA Español at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, which is housed at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In his role, he oversees the research, development, and delivery of WIDA products and services in Spanish and English and works with national experts to support and promote bilingual education and language learning across the country. For more information, visit https://wida.wisc.edu/teach/spanish/marco-dale.

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