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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 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.

Barbara Noel: Featured Educator

December 2016

WIDA “Featured Educator” December: Barbara Noel works internationally to help language learners in Buenos Aires, Argentina by supporting educators’ professional learning.

photo of Barbara Noele
Barbara Noel

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?

BN: Our school, Asociacion Escuelas Lincoln is a private, international school located in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Lincoln's community is comprised of approximately 700 students ranging in grades Pre-K - 12. Our multilingual student body represents close to 45 nationalities comprising 25 diverse languages. About a third of our community is Argentine, while many of our families are internationally mobile, staying in Argentina for an average of two to three years. All of our students are at minimum bilingual while a significant percentage are multilingual. We develop two languages of instruction which are Spanish and English. We seek to develop both languages through an additive approach by seeking ways one language can inform the other and vice versa.

What is your position?

BN: Along with two other colleagues, I am in charge of teacher professional development in order to create systemic institutional change. We are training teachers Pre-K-12 within professional learning communities, individual coaching cycles, and faculty-wide with a focus on the following aspects: bilingualism for academic language development; differentiated instruction; visible thinking routines; literacy centers and guided inquiry. I support and lead faculty in curriculum development to integrate international curricula with the Argentine national program in both Spanish and English through the Common Ground Collaborative (CGC) ecosystem and the WIDA framework.

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

BN: Helping others reach their potential through their evolving cultural, linguistic, conceptual and social capital is what drives me. In the process, I also grow in understanding how much more there is to learn. I absolutely love when my colleagues share new insights or pride in their growing skills. I’m inspired by seeing teams of Spanish teachers come together to create interdisciplinary units with their English peers. At other times, our language specialist teachers share their insights when co-planning and co-teaching with their content-area peers. We also have a team of professionals who follow their first or second graders between the English and Spanish classrooms to help them build their biliteracy skills. The connections they share about this process usually bubble over with enthusiasm as they see the creativity and deeper learning that ensues. I only wish I had more time to be with each team at each step in the process.

What does collaboration among educators look like in your teaching context? Why do you feel collaboration around supporting language learners is important?

BN: When we collaborate to support our students we often cross cultural, linguistic and conceptual borders in ways that are similar to what our multilingual students do daily. This develops more empathy which forms the basis for affirming student identity. It also signals that each of our students is worth this personal investment. What we all gain in the process is an evolving and more complete understanding of the various gifts, needs, strengths and perspectives each student and teacher brings into our community. Collectively, this diversity provides us with the opportunity to make unexpected connections between ideas that engender creativity in various ways. This then becomes a self-perpetuating, virtuous cycle that opens our minds to new possibilities from the basis of a fundamental respect for a variety of voices that are actually heard rather than silenced.

This is an understanding I have gained as we began emphasizing collaboration throughout the school this year. In elementary, we now have our Spanish and ELL teachers co-planning weekly with their homeroom grade level counterparts at the unit and/or lesson level. Additionally, our ELL teachers co-teach with their homeroom pairs. In middle school, ELL and Science teaching pairs co-plan and have begun co-teaching. We are carefully exploring this process in order to inform our program design for next year. Finally, in high-school our teachers in the Language and Learning Center have devised a wonderful Menu & Recipe Card system for co-planning.

How do you assess your students’ language learning?

BN: For the English side, our team began adopting the MODEL test in high school two years ago. Last year our elementary and middle school team adopted it and as of this year we will assess all ELL students at all grade levels yearly.  The results of these tests help us not only place our students more accurately, but they also provide a way for: teachers to plan together for instruction; help students self-assess and goal-set; and communicate with parents regarding their children’s progress.

For the Spanish component of our program, our faculty began writing the Spanish placement tests at the end of last school year. Since then we have continued to write, pilot and validate these tests from grades 1 - 8.

Both of these tests have served us well beyond the actual function for student assessment. They have helped language specialist teachers collaborate to assess student writing based at all divisions of the school. We hope to include homeroom and content area teachers in this process in the near future.

How has WIDA helped you achieve your goals?

BN: The WIDA Standards Framework has been a superb vehicle for us to develop a bilingual focus in our school when considering that the majority of our students are learning new concepts and skills through a new language. We have been able to derive language and literacy standards and benchmarks from the Argentine National program using WIDA’s SLD standards as a model and then created CAN DO descriptors for differentiation leading up to the standards written for native Spanish speakers.  

WIDA provides a set of objective criteria that has been systematically validated both domestically and internationally. This set of criteria through the Performance Definitions and the Can Do Descriptors is then applied to each division of the school in order to chart the progress of English and Spanish acquisition. They provide a way for teachers to talk about their individual students’ progress, calibrate expectations and plan for ways students can access the curriculum.