We have all heard a student, or two, or ten say the dreaded sentence “I can’t do this!”. It is a hard sentence to hear and even harder sentence to process because we as teachers all want to respond with “Yes, you can!” Our minds believe every student will be successful at all standards and skills (eventually). The WIDA Can Do Descriptors are a staple in my ELL classroom and I look back at them every time I am asking myself, What should this student be able to do right now to be successful in reading, writing, etc.?
What are the WIDA Can Do Descriptors?
The WIDA can do descriptors highlight what a student CAN DO (hence the name) at various stages of language learning and across different content areas. Now, these descriptors are NOT standards. They help break down different language skills to show you exactly what a student should be able to do based on their level (more on this below).
What Do You Need To Know About the Can Do Descriptors?
The WIDA can do descriptors allow teachers to work together and discuss the language of learning. Teachers can also use them to discuss students skills and abilities as they move along with their language development. We should also use them to advocate for our ELLs and make sure they have fair access to developmentally appropriate instructional materials. An ELL classroom with 3rd-6th graders should not only have Bob Books or Easy Readers.
The can do descriptors are based on the student’s ACCESS test score. However, if your state does not give the ACCESS score, that is ok! You can still use the descriptors as a guideline. They are there to help you challenge each of your ELL students, make an educated guess about your student and what level you believe they are on. Try it and then change it if you need to!
Teachers can also use the WIDA can do descriptors to help them differentiate their instruction and their classroom assessments, allowing students to once again have fair access to developmentally appropriate materials. The greatest thing about the WIDA descriptors is they are FREE!
How Do The WIDA Can Do Descriptors Work?
Let me give you an example. This way you can see how to use the Can Do chart in your planning process and classroom. This page is for grades 2-3.
Let’s say you are working on recounting a story. If you are looking at the “Reading” row, you’ll see that determining the central message, lessons, or morals of fables, and folktales from diverse cultures is a level 5. However, a student at level 3 is creating timelines using illustrations and identifying temporal words. There is a pretty sizable difference between those levels. But students will work their way through each one as they learn and become stronger with their skills. Students will be at different levels of this WIDA can do descriptor chart when they come to your classroom, even if they are in the same grade level. You want to meet the student at their level.
You should be able to see, based on the WIDA can do descriptors chart, you may not be able to assign all your ELL students the same assignment.
Slice of Pizza Activity
The Slice of Pizza is a great activity that is a WIDA can do descriptor friendly activity. Maybe the “level 5 student” is writing or drawing the central message on their slice, while the “level 3 student” is creating a timeline of the story on their slice and the “level 1 student’ is writing the important words they heard in the story on their slice. Allowing all students to work on the same activity but on their own level.
How Do You Use the Can-Do Descriptors During Lesson/Unit Planning?
First, you want to know that you are always reviewing your curriculum or lesson plan and being strategic with your planning. You always want to offer activities that will reach the students on their can do level.
Colorincolorado.org gives you four questions to ask yourself while you are planning your next lesson.
- What are the essential concepts and questions that this learner should know, ask, or be able to do?
- Is there a way to integrate multi-modal support which might help more of my learners?
- Am I maintaining the purpose of my learning objective or just providing “easier work?”
- What can I do to engage this learner based on the learner’s assets and/or interests?
You want to use your lessons to help your ELL build on what they already can do. Use this as a basis when you are designing your instruction. Decide on some different ways you can engage your learners. Think about their interests, strengths, cultural/linguistic backgrounds. But, also think about how you can challenge them or motivate them to want to learn.
You’ve Got This!
WIDA can do descriptors are a significant starting point when you are looking to develop lessons or units. They make educators really think about their ELLs and what activities and learning experiences will really serve each one individually without making the materials “easier” or “harder”.