Monday, June 24, 2024

Woodland Middle School's ML team helped a record number of students pass their WIDA examWoodland Middle School's ML team helped a record number of students pass their WIDA exam


This year, Woodland Middle School’s dedicated multi language learner (ML) team helped a record number of ML students demonstrate their English fluency by passing the WIDA exam than in any prior year. WIDA, the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment, is known for its rigorous standards in assessing English language proficiency and has become a formidable challenge for students across several states which use the model.

At Woodland Middle School, Pamela Dietrich, ML teacher, and Amy Booker, her paraeducator, led their students to unprecedented success on the WIDA exam. This year, more students at Woodland Middle passed the WIDA than ever before, a testament to the duo's innovative approach and relentless dedication.

To ensure each of the team’s 90 students receives the proper attention, Dietrich meets with the ML teachers from both of Woodland’s elementary schools at the start of the year to review each student’s status. “There are several different levels of proficiency for new students,” explained Dietrich. “Some might not know any English at all while others may be bilingual but still struggle with certain words.”

Analyzing past WIDA scores allows Dietrich to tailor her teaching strategies to meet the diverse needs of her students, categorized as newcomers, mid-level bilinguals, or advanced learners. “Woodland’s ML teachers are passionate and amazing which is important because teamwork between all four of us across the district is critical for our students’ success,” said Dietrich. “The strong collaboration with three other multilingual teachers helps create a unified front to ensure we elevate language learning for our Spanish-speakers in every grade.”

In addition to classroom lessons, the entire staff schoolwide works as a team to demonstrate inclusivity shone through various initiatives. “I work with my students’ other teachers so we can create the necessary accommodations for areas where there might be language barriers,” said Dietrich. “For example, some students’ families cannot speak English, so our teachers make sure the homework they assign isn’t teaching a new lesson where our ML students cannot have parental assistance; instead, the assignment will focus on reinforcing a lesson taught in class.”

Woodland’s schools also ensure all documents are provided in both English and Spanish. The middle school has a bilingual secretary who has made a huge difference for Spanish-speaking families, “Spanish-speaking families now have someone who they can talk to in their natural language,” said Dietrich. “Maria has been amazing to help enhance the inclusive environment the school fosters.”

During the 2022-23 school year, Woodland Public Schools adopted a messaging application called Talking Points which allows teachers and families to directly message each other.  “The application’s auto-translation feature became a game-changer, bridging the communication gap between school and home,” said Dietrich. “Talking Points enabled Spanish-speaking families to stay informed about homework and school events, and the app even reads messages aloud for family members who might not be literate.”

Having helped her children’s father earn his American citizenship, Dietrich’s personal connection to the immigrant experience enriched her teaching and makes her a relatable and trusted figure for her students. “I openly discuss the challenges navigating the immigration process with my students so they know they can talk to me whenever their family may encounter difficulty with the process,” she said. “I’m an open book with my students so I can be a safe person for them to talk about whatever they’re going through.”

The school's innovative use of technology, such as iPads with translation capabilities, and Amy's multilingual support in classrooms, further empowered newcomers to acclimate and thrive. “The iPads will translate what an English-speaking teacher is saying in real-time which allows ML students who aren’t fluent, yet, to attend their classes,” said Dietrich. “Amy will also join ML students in their classes and team-teach wherever necessary, so our students receive the support they need throughout the day.”

Dietrich started teaching in Woodland over 20 years ago as a long-term elementary substitute teacher, but her dream job had always been to become a multilingual teacher. After teaching kindergarten, sixth grade and fourth grade, Dietrich earned her master’s degree in multilingual teaching. “That was my ultimate goal so I could be prepared to take on a multilingual teaching position if one became available,” she said. That time finally arrived seven years ago when the ML teacher at Woodland Middle School left and Dietrich took over the position.

In addition to earning higher degrees, Dietrich has traveled to many Spanish-speaking countries to participate in Spanish Immersion programs. “So far, I have visited Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico and will be visiting Honduras this summer,” she said. “I plan to study Spanish in as many Spanish-speaking countries as possible!”

When Dietrich takes part in the programs, she stays with a local host family so she can learn more about the country and its culture including norms, food, and family dynamics. “I specifically target countries where my students are from,” she explained. “I incorporate my students into helping with my trip-planning, too!”

Dietrich’s journey from a long-term substitute to achieving her dream job as a multilingual teacher is a story of passion and perseverance. Her vision for an inclusive model that supports students within the general education classroom while still providing intense WIDA preparation is set to continue next year.

Booker grew up in Brazil and decided to try working as a paraeducator when her husband urged her. “My husband tries to help me get out of my comfort zone and he really wanted me to find my passion,” she said. “I remember when I attended school in Brazil, I spent the first two years not talking to anyone – commonly known as the ‘Silent Phase.’ I’m able to incorporate my experience to help our newcomers adapt more quickly.”

Booker soon discovered she shared Dietrich’s love of ML teaching. “I want our students to feel safe, comfortable, and excited to learn,” she said. “I’ve discovered my passion is helping students connect, learn, and thrive.”

The success story of Woodland's multilingual program is not just about passing assessments; it's about building a community that values and leverages linguistic diversity. Dietrich, Booker, and the rest of Woodland’s ML team have created a nurturing environment where being "linguistically gifted" is celebrated, and where every student is given the opportunity to excel.