Friday, April 12, 2013

Standards Integration for ELLs: An Insider’s View

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Paula Merchant from the Massachusetts Association of Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages (MATSOL).  In the summer of 2012, Paula attended the inaugural institute on standards integration for ELLs called CoCoMo.  Today she has kindly offered to share her thoughts on the training. Take it away, Paula!  

Last June, I had an opportunity to attend the first Common Core and More Institute (CoCoMo) hosted by WIDA and the Illinois Resource Center. This was by far one of the best professional development experiences I have participated in. This weeklong institute focused very practically on how to integrate English Language Development and Common Core/content standards.  For those preparing to attend CoCoMo 2013, in June, you have a great experience in store, with many new things to look forward to as this world of Common Core implementation with ELLs evolves daily! 

I attended CoCoMo as the Director of Professional Development and District Services for MATSOL, in partnership with Kellie Jones, Department Head for ESL /Bilingual Education in the Brockton Public Schools. We attended proudly representing Massachusetts, as the only Massachusetts team, just one week after our state had joined WIDA. Needless to say, we had a lot to learn and it was an intensive learning curve for us!

The best part of the week, as is always the case when you meet passionate and reflective advocates and educators in the field, was interacting with and getting to know and learn from participants who came from each WIDA state, either from district ESL/Bilingual programs, state education agencies or from organizations similar to MATSOL who support districts in their work with English language learners in many ways. We also had the unique opportunity to work with the leadership teams from WIDA and IRC who organized this weeklong institute collaboratively. 

Our Goals for CoCoMo
Kellie and I attended CoCoMo with four goals, knowing we would end our experience having been immersed in a process for standards integration. While we both had some new WIDA training under our belts, we wanted to:
o   Learn more about the cross-disciplinary nature of WIDA ELD standards and how WIDA is inherently intended to integrate with Common Core, Next Generation Science and other content standards

o   Plan approaches to implementation within different program components or types

o   Connect what we learned to Massachusetts’ initiatives already underway with Common Core and the Model Curriculum Unit Development

o   Share what we learned at CoCoMo within our MATSOL community in Massachusetts.

We attended together because we saw that a MATSOL-District partnership could result in a district-level model, piloted in Brockton, that could then be shared with others, connecting directly to our state’s model unit approach. While we weren’t sure how we were going to merge the Model Unit process both with WIDA, and with what we would soon learn in the institute, we knew we would have time and the best resources to tap, for a whole week, a real luxury at a busy time of the school year closure!

Learning the Process and Building Capacity
The most useful and primary focus of CoCoMo was learning a process for standards integration and being expertly guided through this process by Margo Gottlieb, John Hilliard and other IRC and WIDA staff. This thinking and planning process, guided by important considerations for English language learners, was a model we could integrate with local initiatives and share with other teachers.

Another important focus for the week, to support building capacity around standards integration, was the development of an action plan, to be piloted in Brockton that could then be shared and replicated in other districts. To be truly useful, this development process involved reaching out to other administrators, Common Core area curriculum leaders, and stakeholders during the course of the week, in back and forth communications, and to build support and a final curriculum template. This approach ensured support for this initiative from the beginning, which was critical. As Kellie and I thought about planning for integration at multiple levels, WIDA and IRC also worked with those who attended in leadership roles to plan from a leadership perspective around integration of content and language learning, supporting necessary collaborative practices around ELLs.

While the thinking, planning and integration processes themselves were the critical focal points of the week, they were supported by mini-presentations and working sessions on related topics such as formative assessment, developing common assessments for ELLs, Spanish Language Arts Standards, and translanguaging, just to name a few.

This was a week of hard work, but it was not all work and no play.  We also had great fun. In the evenings, as we engaged in some extended professional conversations, meetings with other organizations like Dual Language New Mexico, and visiting the city.  We had several opportunities to explore the sites and also to absorb the culture of beautiful Santa Fe! Given most of the people we meet in our field are committed not just professionally but very personally to the mission we hold for bilingual learners, this opportunity to connect and share nationally made the week even more inspiring.

Special thanks to Paula for sharing her thoughts and experiences!

If you have attended CoCoMo, we would love to hear from you.  Feel free to leave a comment below.

For the latest information on CoCoMo, check out their Facebook page or on the web.

Written by: Tammy King
Images: WIDA Consortium

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