Are you an educator looking for a game-changing resource to assess and define your English Language Learners' (ELLs) unique language skills?
Join us in this enlightening episode as we welcome back Courtney Morgan from The All-Access Classroom. Courtney demystifies the role of Proficiency Level Descriptors (PLDs) in evaluating students' language proficiency and crafting improvement strategies. Discover the crucial importance of routinely incorporating PLDs to monitor student progress and tailor support. Gain practical insights into using language proficiency charts and harnessing PLDs for effective monitoring, peer education, and instructional enhancement. At Equipping ELLs, we love to empower educators with tools like these to make a meaningful impact in your ELLs' educational journey!
Hey, courtney. Welcome to the show. I'm so
So good to be here talking with you today.
I missed you. I know. This is your second time on the show, and
I'm going to tell you it's probably not going to be just your
second. I'm sure you're going to come back for third and fourth
because there's always topics that I'm like, I just won't have
corny on. And let's talk about this. Courtney is from the All
Access Classroom, and I am just super excited to have you here
today. Kind of breaking down. Something that I see as a really
powerful helpful tool. But there's a lot of hindrances and
barriers to figuring out how to use it. So today, courtney is
going to be sharing with us about how to use the proficiency level
descriptors from wiener. And I know those who are listening.
They're like, oh, I'm not a weed estate. I don't do a Tweeta.
Don't tune out. This is really helpful and really important to you
because these things you can grab them, they're free. And I think
after today's episode, you're going to see how useful they are. So
courtney, let's dive right in. Why don't you share a little bit
about what are these proficiency level descriptors and give us a
breakdown of what those
are. Yes, I know. It's a mouthful.
So you might hear
me say. I have found this to be an incredibly useful tool and
again it is free on wida's Resource Library website. If you wantt. The plds. It's part of the:
Development Standards that we'd have released, which is an
incredible, well researched, well organized tool. Resource that we
can use, whether we are language specialists, whether we are Gen
Ed content area teachers is just an incredible resource that we
can use to really help us assess. The proficiency levels of our
students. And make goals. To know what their next steps are. And I
think that's where the plds really can be helpful to us. It's an
incredible resource. It can be really complex and kind of
overwhelming upon your first initial introduction to it. But if
you just can learn how to navigate it and kind of understand the
components, it can become a really helpful tool.
I think I heard a hallelujah on what to do with the next steps,
because I know that that's a struggle of so many people of just
like, okay, I have the access scores. But now we're in the middle
of the year. And are these really valid and. Are they really this
level still? Or how do I check in on their language proficiency
level and do it really quick so I can have a good understanding
and I can plan what the next steps are for support. So that's why
I think these are
really helpful. Exactly. I remember when I taught third grade. My
multilingual learner specialist would bring. The wida Access Score
report, which is similar to those States that are not whita
States. I think everyone will receive at some point some sort of
report that indicates where our learners are in their proficiency
in different language
Right. Speaking, reading, writing, and listening. And. I remember
that sheet very quickly would end up at the bottom of some pile.
And I just would never
at again, give
glance and be like, okay, cool. I've got 50. But jillian, other
things to do. Right? So this is the challenge. Is like, how can we
keep. Our students, levels and needs. On every teacher's radar who
works with that student. And enable this data this knowledge, this
understanding to actually.
Have meaning as part of the instructional process, right. That's
the whole goal is that we don't just do things to do them. We're
not just wasting time checking boxes just to say we did a certain
thing, right? The whole point. Of this tool of the proficiency
level descriptors. And really all the elements of the wida
Standards is that there is some kind of implication that we can
take on and recognize for our own teaching, right. And the pld. Is
really wida used to have what's called. Proficiency level
descriptors. I think that's what they call them. No, sorry.
the pld. Yeah.
They can do descriptors, I think right. Or is that something
I might need to pause here. What is it called. There's
so many terms. I get them. I know they had the candos. They had.
The. It was like, oh, performance definitions. Okay. All right.
We'll edit that part. Yeah. Restart right here. Okay. So we used
to have what's called. Performance definitions. And that was for
K, twelve, grades, K to twelve. And they helped us understand
what. Students language abilities look like. At different levels
of proficiency. Level one through level six. And those were great.
But I think many people recognize that sometimes. Those abilities
can really look different. Depending on what grade the student is
at. So what wida has done in the lovely plds is they've. Broken up
these performance definitions or a look at what students language
looks like at different proficiency levels. They've broken it down
by grade level clusters for us, which is so lovely, because if
you're teaching kindergarten, you have your own grade level
cluster resource to look at and refer to, versus if you're an 8th
grade teacher, yours might. Look different. So I really like that
they have kind of expanded and defined with a bit more clarity.
What students language looks like at different levels. And if you
want, give a little overview of once you're looking at your plds,
how to understand what do
here in front of.
Yes, please, do
we'd love that. And if you're listening to this podcast, I really
encourage you to push pause for a minute and go to Google. And
just put Google Widow Resource library. Proficiency level
descriptors. It will quickly guide you to where you need to go. To
download this for free so you can look at what we're talking about
today. So if you're looking at let's say the grade level two and
three cluster resource for the plds. They have different criteria
of what comprises language, and they've broken it down. Into
discourse. Sentence and word phrase. Kind of modalities or not.
Modalities. But skills. So think about it like they're taking,
what do we need to identify or assess when we're talking about
language? For a given learner, we can break it down into these
three parts. So discourse. What does that mean? We're talking kind
of about how students organize their language. Let me back up.
See, this is
so complex. I'm like, just go, you just go with
you're doing a great
job. You're doing a great job. It's so much like I could do an
on this. So you'll need to cut out what I just
a little bit. To where I first start describing. The descriptors.
I am so sorry.
No. My brain is like in summer
like, what am I doing.
Oh, my gosh. Okay. And I have. All my. All my things I'm like,
what do I want to say? And then what do I not need to really say.
Give me a second. You can go as in depth or as just a brief
as you want. It's. Really? Yeah. I think I don't need to tell
all the things. Yeah. I think if you just go into discourse,
what's discourse? Like
a brief step
like that, I think helps
people. Yes. Okay.
Sorry. No, you're good. You are so good.
So what we have done is for each grade level cluster. There's two
pages that you will find. One is for the expressive modality of
language, which includes speaking, writing, and representing. And
then the other page will be for the interpretive skills of
language, which is listening, reading, and viewing. And these are
really important to distinguish because. Students may be in a
different place as we know as they are on their journey of
learning language. They're not necessarily going to be at the same
exact proficiency level and in the same exact place in every
single language modality. So we need to be able to assess and just
have kind of a way of separating out those skills. So we know
exactly what. To target in our instruction. So let's say that you
are looking at the grade two, three. Page that grade level cluster
page. And you're looking at the expressive Communication mode
page. So if you have this in front of you, you will see that they
have broken it down into different criteria. So we have discourse,
which. Is basically just like thinking about how students are
organizing. The language that they're using so again. We're
looking at they're talking about the expressive. So mainly
speaking and writing. So how students are organizing what they're
saying or what they're writing around a topic. We're thinking also
about how they're using linking or connecting words to provide
some cohesion to that language production. We're also thinking
about how they might be elaborating. The language that they're
using to provide. More detail. And more information. Right. So
that's the discourse. Criteria. We'll also be looking at the
sentence level criteria. And this is really identifying how are
students using sentence structure or varied types of sentences. To
communicate. And then last we have the word or the phrase.
Criteria. And this is mostly just talking about how students are
using vocabulary to give their language more precision. And kind
of describe with more definition what they want to communicate.
Right. So those are our main criteria. And then next to each of
those criteria, we see a column for each of the language levels.
So, for example, if we're looking at the word or phrase criteria
next to level one, I'm looking at it right now. It says few
frequently used words with phrases, words and phrases with
precision. Versus if I scooch over to by the end of level four,
still talking about word or phrase Cr. Criteria. I see a growing
repertoire of words and phrases with growing precision. And they
have some examples next to each one. So this is kind of how it's
organized. It can look like a lot at first, but again, if you just
Zoom right to your grade level cluster that you're working with.
And make the selection what information do I need. To be
identifying my students, interpretive or expressive skills and
pick the page you need. Then you're really only looking at one
page. One chart. So if it seems overwhelming, just know that very
quickly. You can identify. The single page that you need. To do
what you're going to do. And we're going to talk about what
do you do with this? Yeah. No. Exactly. Because I think that's
such a good point, courtney, is it looks overwhelming. It can feel
overwhelming. But really, you just Zoom in and I think. It's
really that a vital piece to really decipher and decide of what
are you observing and seeing, if it is a listening and reading
skill or if it is a speaking and writing skill and not intermixing
that because I think when we're not clear on that and when our
students aren't clear out of what we're really assessing or
observing. Then that's when we really get kind of mixed results
because. We're not really defining what are we looking for. I
think if you don't have this pulled up in front of you, it might
sound like, okay, this looks like I'm not a chart person. I don't
know if I can handle it. You can because I think once you realize
you have these parameters and. You have these check in points.
Then you're going to be able to observe your students and assess
your students and see where they fall in that and have clear
expectations. I think that's one of the best things about these is
so often. It is so hard to pinpoint where your students are at in
their language proficiency. And so I think sometimes. We either
set too high of expectations and we don't provide the scaffolds
they need, or we over scaffold, and really, they're ready to keep
moving forward, and we're preventing them from
forward. And so having something like this. I'm even looking right
here. Like for grammatical complexity. Here for level one, it's
saying sentence fragments. For level two, it's saying sentence
fragments and emerging use of simple sentences for level three.
Simple sentences. Now, this has given me such a clear idea. Of
where should these students be at in terms of grammatical
complexity? And now. I can support them with what's expected of
them at that language level. So that's
I think these are so helpful in that
aspect. Absolutely. And just as a ml specialist. Especially the
past few years. I've had this kind of lingering sense of guilt in
the back of my mind that I didn't really actively recognize. But I
think it was there because. I always every year felt like I was.
Giving my colleagues that worked. With our multingol learners. A
sheatha had okay in speaking, they're level two. And. I wasn't
even fully knowledgeable about what that meant to explain it to my
colleague so that they could fully understand it. It was kind of
just like. This. Unfortunately, often these become labels like,
oh, well, she's a level two. But what does that mean? I think it's
the big question that we need to ask. And this resource really
helps. As you said, give that definition that we need. So we know
what we're talking about, and we can actually make productive
steps forward. In our instruction with
these students. Yes. And that is it right there. We don't want to
waste any more precious time. We want to have a good pulse on our
students and see when mid year. They're already showing there at
the end of level three. In speaking. Okay. Let's move them forward
instead of waiting for the access results. So that brings us right
into courtney. Why don't you share some ways that you could see
teachers practically using these as they lesson plan and teach and
provide support for their
multilingual learners. Yeah. So I've been thinking about this
quite a bit. Because. As a coach. As a teacher, I just want things
to be practical. And useful for whoever has this in their hands,
whoever is working directly with these students. I don't want
overwhelm to keep people from using this incredible tool. So I've
been thinking a lot about, okay, how can we put this to use. Day
to day in the classroom. So there's kind of three things that in
my mind, I've kind of broken it down to three uses for the plds.
And those are to help us monitor student growth, to help us to
educate our colleagues and advocate by increasing understanding of
students proficiency levels and also. Of course, to help us
differentiate instruction that's given to our students, helping us
define how much scaffolding, how much support are they needing to
provide both support and rigor? Right. So when we're talking
about, let's say, monitoring student progress, there's lots of
ways it could look. And what's important is that you utili.
Utilize it in a way that fits you. In your school context and your
colleagues needs and the way that your program runs. Right. So,
for example. If you are at the table. As part of the mts, or the
tier process. In supporting students. And one of them is a student
who is a multilingual learner oftentimes I think we sit at these
tables and have and I'm speaking for myself here somewhat vague
information to bring to the table. We don't have a lot of hard
data. And what this pld resource is giving us is a means to
data, right. So. We can help clearly demonstrate this student is
growing in language, and here are the areas in which they're
growing. It can help us to evaluate student work. We can use this
as a tool if we gather student. Work in a portfolio. We can use
this to help assess where they are in their growth. Maybe we have
even. As eld teachers or ml teachers if we want to ourselves have.
Some goals. That are specific to our learners. We can use this as
a tool to help us understand what those goals need to be. Instead
she'll get better
at speaking. It will help give us some actual meat to our
instruction that is relevant and applies specifically to
individual students. Right. And something cool, too, is we can use
it depending on the age and readiness of our students to help
participate. In that process and understand their own growth goals
and self monitor. As they progress. So. That's kind of like how we
can use it to help them monitor.
I think that's a really great point, courtney, especially with
older students, of bringing them in on this because I think that.
It's so often felt, whether it's said or not, that. It's either
you're new to learning English, and then you're proficient. And we
don't really show our students all the steps it takes to continue
on the language journey. And I think when they can see okay, I'm
right here. I'm using fragments. I'm working towards using simple
sentences. Giving them modeling simple sentences, showing them
here's your expectation. Let's work on this. I'm going to support
you in this, especially those older students. It really helps them
have that next stepping stone. Instead of feeling like. I'm never
going to get there. I'm just not going to become fluent because
that's so far away from where
I am. Yeah. And something I think I would love to do in the future
if I have time is make kind of. A student
version of this.
That. Kind of pares it down to exemplars that we can show them.
Here's what a bit of language looks like when you're at this level
or here's what a sentence looks like when you're at this
proficiency level. Here's what your next step is. We want to start
writing sentences that look like this. Right. Or that include this
kind of phrase. Oh, guess what? We're going to learn about that
kind of phrase today. So we can elaborate your sentences even
more. It's hard to make the learning more
visible for them, right?
I love it. And then, of course. Using this to help build teacher
understanding around. Language acquisition. For a lot of teachers.
It's kind of this foggy, vague thing. And we're not all trained in
language acquisition. This is a way that. You can give people an
inside look at what that looks like, how language actually grows
across these proficiency levels. It could be used also to
communicate that to parents who are interested in being part
of that process.
And then, of course, differentiation of our instruction for our
learners. This is probably the one that could be the most
impactful. As I work with Gen. Ed teachers a lot of times. They
want more understanding of what scaffolding needs to look like,
rather than just saying. Use sentence stems or more visuals. These
are great things. But what if we could empower them. To be part of
that language acquisition process for their own students to know.
Okay, I am going to provide this or that scaffold, but I know this
about my learner, and so the scaffold needs to
a little bit. It needs to be leveled up a little bit or pared back
a little bit. So that that rigor can be maintained and we can
continue to help nudge our learners forward. Rather than as you
said like maintaining kind of this fallback. Easy level. Of
instruction that isn't challenging them to move forward in their
Yeah. I love all of that. That's why we wanted to have this
episode. Because. These are really some incredible free tools.
That if you just take a little bit of time relisten this episode,
well, having it in front of you on your computer and then just get
creative and start to see how you can incorporate these in your
lesson planning, in your teaching, in your coaching. With your
students. And I think you'll really see a dramatic difference in I
think just as a teacher, I think so many of us when we don't know
exactly what they need. That's where the overwhelm comes in.
That's where we spend hours on the lesson plans because we're kind
of like, Well, wait, do they need this or this? There's so many
needs, right. When you're teaching students language and content
at the same time, there's a lot to cover. So this really helps to
clarify. And have a good pulse on what your students need, and it
gives you that opportunity. I think as a teacher. To again going
back to the same point, but just checking in on student progress.
We need to be doing more of that because our time is precious with
our students. And so we want. To be shifting our lessons with what
they need, and not just. Labeling them like you said of. Okay,
well, the student's a level three. But what does that mean? I
mean, that does nothing to have this label on the student if it's
not giving us some concrete things of how we can support them at
that language level.
Exactly. I love that. And I would say. Just if you're looking at
it and you're like, Overwhelmed, where do we even start. This
could potentially take a lot of time. I hear you,
my friend on
that. What I would recommend doing. If you're just dipping your
toes in this. Is start by maybe gathering a written
sample. Let's say from your learner, maybe make a plan. I'm going
to do this beginning of the year, middle of the year. End of the
year. Give them a prompt. Unguided unsupported. Just a raw sample
of what they can produce in writing. Then use the expressive
Communication Mode Chart in the plds. To kind of assess where they
are in the different criteria of writing. And pinpoint what some
specific goals might be for that student. Right then revisit. Mid
year. How are they doing? What are the implications for
instruction? And how can. We spread understanding of those
implications amongst all the teachers that work with the student
so that everybody's on the same page. This is a goal. These are
the needs. Here are practical ways we can support the student. In
this one particular area. And friends if it's too much to do with
every single one of the mls in your school. Start really small.
Start with what's possible and doable for you. I recommended to a
colleague. A couple of months ago is at a conference. And I said,
hey, how about this? Start with maybe those students who, you
know, are going to be part of the mtss process and coming to tier
meetings in discussion of some significant learning needs that
they have. And you're going to be at that table. You're going to
be problem solving. What value would it have to bring this data to
that table and say, hey, here's what we're noticing on the
language end of things. Maybe just start with those students who
you know are going to be discussed. Among several colleagues.
Because those are students that you're going to need that
information as part of those conversations. Right. So if it's too
much to start with every single student that you work with, which
would be great. But.
We got to be realistic too. Yeah, very minimal. A few is
better than none. Right. So just start with a few and then you can
build from there. But I think what's important is that. We don't
become so overwhelmed that there's kind of a shutdown. Or
significant resistance to utilizing what really is such a valuable
tool. So that would be my
encouragement. No, that's really helpful. Just some next steps to
take, I think. It's so good. Narrow in on your grade level. Narrow
in on. One expressive would be easier to do a writing or a
speaking sample. And start there. So I love that. Thank you so
much, courtney, for sharing this with us. Tell my listeners where
they can find out more about
you. So I am at the all accessclassroom.com, no dashes or
anything. I'm also on Instagram and Facebook at the All Access
classroom. I have an online course that I love to invite teachers
into that kind of equips them to know how to provide accessible
instruction to our MLS. I would love to share if I may. Beth. A
couple of tools that I made specifically to help us understand the
plds a little bit better, kind of like a cheat sheet, if you will
little chart that I made and also. A form for tracking progress
across the four quarters of the school year. So maybe we can put
some links to that in the show notes. And. I might share this as
well. It's a Language Objectives guide. I think the pld resource
really can help to inform the language
that we utilize that align with our content objectives in the Gen.
Ed classroom. And I want to help equip my colleagues listening as
much as possible, so I'd like to share that as well. Yeah. So
me. Come hang out.
We have fun. Courtney is just an incredible at breaking things
down, making super complicated things. Like plds something really
manageable. And Action steps forward. So thank you so much for
your time. And we will post all those links in the show notes
below. So go and check her out. Follow her. Send her a message on
Instagram. And learn more from courtney. Thank you so much for
today, courtney. Thank you, beth.
It's been fun. We will hopefully see you again.
All right, bye. For now. Oh, you did great. That was
My gosh. I put you
on a challenging one. I was
like, oh, I do not know
how to explain
this without. Reading like here is the interpretive.
Here we go. Across. So many of the words that
to. This topic are like. Saying them all and putting them
together. What was it rhetoric or something? I was like, oh, no,
what was the word that you said
that I was like, oh,
Wow. Something that was like, I haven't used that word
in a long
time. But here's the thing. This is why I think you have. A gift
because. It's like all of these policymakers.