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WIDA's Featured Educator is a monthly interview with a classroom, district, or state-level educator on how he or she is making a difference for language learners. You can honor an exceptional colleague by emailing info@wida.us with "Featured Educator Nomination" in the subject line.

Briefly tell us why you think he or she is doing an amazing job. Please include the person's name, what they do, and contact information we can use to set up an interview. Thank you for helping us feature amazing educators of language learners.

Madalena Elshoff: Featured Educator

April 2017

WIDA “Featured Educator” April:Madalena Elshoff teaches at Korea International School Jeju in which she believes all students are lifelong learners and language learners.  She embodies this belief for herself as she continues her own research and department level work to continually improve how she supports her students and colleagues.

photo of Madalena Elshoffe
Madalena Elshoff

Where do you teach? What grade(s)? How long have you been a teacher and how long have you been at your current school?

ME: This is my fourth year at Korea International School Jeju (KISJ), where I teach Grade 9 English and Writing and serve as the English for academic language (EAL) department lead. This is my ninth year of teaching and the fourth international school I’ve worked at. Ironically, I have not yet taught in the United States.

What is your class, school and district like? Can you tell me a little about its location, size and about the composition of the student body?

ME: We are located on a tiny island just south of the Korean peninsula and on this island, at the southwestern point of it, we are one of three (soon to be four) all-English-speaking international schools located in the same neighborhood. We are the GEC, or the “Global Education Center.”

To give a little back-story on the GEC: the Korean education department and Korean government envisioned this area as a way to stymie the Korean “goose family” phenomena, in which many families were sending their children overseas to English-speaking countries in order to learn English and gain alternative higher education prospects. The GEC provides a way for families to send their children to alternate, English-speaking educational systems, without the cross-continental family strain.

Because of this, KISJ has a mostly Korean-first-language student population, with some Chinese-first-language students and a handful of English-first-language faculty kids. We are a dorm school from Grades 4 and up, and have about 900 students.

Why are you an educator? What do you love about your job? What frustrates you?

ME: I read somewhere that teaching is a perfect synthesis between science and art, and this is exactly what I love about my profession. (In addition, of course, to the service aspect of it.) I like being able to manipulate targets and tailor lessons to be accessible and real for students or colleagues. In a way, it’s like constantly working in this paradox of organized chaos?you have to be as organized as possible, but also as flexible as you can be to allow for teachable moments, improvisation, and organic learning to happen. I think this sums up what I love and what frustrates me.  It can also be challenging to switch between thinking within the confines of my classroom and thinking systemically about school alignment. This is what my job constantly requires; to be a core teacher and an EAL coordinator simultaneously.

What is your approach in your classroom/school towards ELLs? What techniques/strategies have you found to be most effective in teaching ELLs?

ME: I believe everyone is a lifelong learner and everyone is a language learner. With that foundational belief, I look for those interstitial opportunities to communicate that we are all at different stages of learning and proficiency and that’s perfectly fine. While I do not teach at a bilingual education school, I promote the use of first languages whenever possible, and draw on the power of multilingualism. I prefer to think of my students as emerging bilinguals rather than only English language learners. For example, at the start of every unit I highlight the unit’s key vocabulary and give students the opportunity to express the equivalent ideas in their first language. They do this by writing it on the classroom’s word wall, in their vocabulary lists, or sharing with peers and the class. By making the student’s first languages visible, I can then acknowledge and activate their background knowledge, while also empowering them to see their first language as a tool for learning in an English setting.

How do you determine/decide what language to focus on in a lesson? Describe your planning process to address the needs of ELLs, if possible.

ME: I always start with the standards and the essential questions that are determined through curriculum planning sessions with colleagues. From there, I can anticipate what parts of the content language will be most necessary for students to get the most practice with. I also distinguish the greatest language need and provide scaffolds for students to practice using that targeted language structure.  One example of a lesson-level language target from class this week is from a lesson on comparing different artistic mediums of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet?the original stage performance, a movie adaptation, and a graphic novel version. As a class, we first used a Venn Diagram to bullet-point similarities and differences among these mediums, then wrote reflections. I modelled sentence stems for comparing and contrasting because I wanted to make sure that students were articulating their points clearly. Throughout the lesson, it was explicitly stated and written that the target is to use comparison language to clearly communicate their points about the impact of different artistic mediums.

What benefits or strengths do English language learners bring to your classroom/school?

ME: I believe that every student brings something special to the classroom regardless of what level of English he or she is at. Whenever a student’s cultural and linguistic background is different from my own, I find an added opportunity to learn from each other to gain empathy, open-mindedness, and inclusion.

How do you encourage ELLs to learn? How do you accelerate their language development and ensure their equitable access to content learning?

ME: I encourage ELLs as I would any student?through empathy and by helping them notice that working hard and facing challenges pay off. In this sense, I am drawing on the overlapping findings between Krashen’s theory on language learners’ affective filter and Dweck’s work on growth mindsets. I also draw significantly on my own background. Coming from a bilingual and multicultural household, I try to see things from my students’ eyes.

You could say there are varying “levels” of how I try to accelerate language development. On a broader school-wide and division-wide level, I provide training and workshops on close reading and SIOP strategies to colleagues, work with the curriculum coordinator to promote oracy and the reading and writing workshop model of teaching, and occasionally get to go into other classrooms. On a smaller level, within my own classroom, I am constantly looking for ways to get all students to practice the language of the content and offer one-on-one feedback as often as possible.

How do you assess your students’ language learning? How do you use the results of formative (ongoing assessments of progress towards instructional goals) and/or summative testing (such as annual tests like ACCESS)? 

ME: Most recently, in terms of reading, I have been investigating the use of leveled-literature and reading workshops in the high school English classroom. Using summative and formative data, as well as understanding of students’ individual interests, I provide a selection of texts for students to read and discuss with their peers, as well as with me. This is actually an action research project that I’ve just begun. In the high school we do not have summative or standardized tests for the other language domains of speaking, writing, and listening, so my assessments are more informal and qualitative.

How has WIDA helped you achieve your goals as an educator?

ME: WIDA has been with me from the start of my teaching career, beginning with my graduate course on assessment, where I was introduced to WIDA’s language proficiency tests. From there, I began following WIDA because it offered dynamic tools that were content-related?something very important that I had not seen elsewhere. At every teaching post, I learned more about WIDA and was able to introduce its philosophies and tools (WIDA MODEL and collaboration tools) within my teaching setting. First in Guangzhou, then in Saigon, and now Jeju. The way WIDA’s tools have been implemented in each setting has been unique to the school’s needs. WIDA not only provided a positive and comprehensive approach to working with ELLs, but also opened up leadership opportunities that have helped me grow immensely in terms of my profession. Along the way, I have also learned from many other great educators and I am continuously inspired by them.