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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.

Nadra Shami: Featured Educator

February 2017

WIDA “Featured Educator” February: Nadra Shami currently serves as a Language and Literacy SIOP Trainer in Dearborn, MI. She truly embraces the WIDA Can Do Philosophy in her support to educators, language learners, and their families.

photo of Nadra Shamie
Nadra Shami

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

NS: I have been an educator for seventeen years. I started my career in Dearborn Public Schools as a classroom teacher. Later, in my role as an ELD Specialist, I provided direct service to newcomers and pushed into classrooms to support teachers of English Learners. I am currently one of the district’s Language and Literacy SIOP Trainers and have been in this role for about eight years now. One of my responsibilities is to provide professional development and guidance to administrators, ELD Specialists, and classroom teachers centered on culturally responsive instruction, developing academic language, planning with standards in mind and other topics pertinent to English Learners.

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

NS: The district currently has the highest number of English learners in the state of Michigan. The EL population is increasing due to steady immigration and the relocation of families from other districts. Our students come from thirty-two language minority backgrounds, the majority of which are Arabic, Urdu, and Spanish. DPS has over 20,000 students in 22 elementary schools, 7 middle Schools, 3 high schools and a number of other technical programs and centers.  English Learners comprise about 50% of the student population. The percentage of ELs varies in each school across the district and becomes significantly higher in lower socioeconomic areas of the city.

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

NS: When I was in college, I explored a few fields and eventually found my calling in the field of education. Teaching others through creativity became my niche.  I started teaching in a school with a student body that was predominately English learners. It was also the same school I attended as a child of immigrants. It opened my eyes to the importance of developing students’ English skills while simultaneously providing opportunities for them to demonstrate conceptual understandings. One thing I love about my job is serving as an advocate for English learners and seeing the great successes they attain. Their accomplishments are a testimony that speaking a second language is an asset rather than a deficit. Another thing I love about my job is the reciprocity of learning. Working with a variety of staff and students allows me to gain new insight and reach different levels of understanding about the varying strengths and needs of English learners as well as the best practices to help them achieve.

What is your approach towards meeting the needs of ELLs? What techniques/strategies have you found to be most effective in teaching ELLs?

NS: When working with staff, the consistent message has been that planning effective instruction begins with the standards in mind. It’s imperative to have a clear understanding of what the standard expects students to know and be able to do. This includes the consideration and integration of the WIDA ELD standards when working with English learners. This means that academic content and language tasks are directly aligned to the standard’s expectations. From there, equitable access for all students is considered. This may entail providing scaffolds and supports through a variety of strategies and structured tasks in reading, writing, listening, and speaking to meet the various needs of English learners.

How do you help teachers determine what language to focus on in a lesson?

NS: Leading with the standards in mind puts a focus on working through the Common Core State Standards and breaking them down to truly have a better understanding of the expectations.  This also includes careful consideration of the WIDA ELD Standards. In order to address the language necessary for academic success, teachers examine the academic language associated with the concepts and skills embedded in the content standards. This includes both content-specific language and general academic language. Teachers use this information to plan intentional language tasks that support and extend students’ conceptual understandings. The efforts have led to a more focused approach on teaching the standards effectively and planning measurable academic and language tasks to maximize student learning.

Describe your planning process to address the needs of ELLs. How do you accelerate their language development and ensure their equitable access to content learning?

NS: To reiterate, planning begins with the standards. Teachers make good decisions about the skills they want to teach considering where students are in their learning. Teachers design a measurable academic task to assess content learning. Teachers also consider the embedded academic language they would like students to practice and use. This lesson planning process is synthesized and communicated to students through content and language objectives. The objectives may be the same for all students, however, how students are taught may be differentiated for equitable access. WIDA English Language Proficiency levels are considered when determining the appropriate scaffolds and supports needed to help all students reach their potential.

What benefits or strengths do English language learners bring to your district?

NS: Every English learner has a story. As educators, we need to be willing to listen to their “where I came from” stories, their “what’s important to me” stories, and to all the other stories that make up who they are. When we truly get to know our English learners and their families, it is easy to acknowledge the social and cultural capital they bring, such as resilience, collectivism and courage. It’s our job as educators to get to know students’ strengths and to use what we learn about them to implement culturally responsive approaches aimed at improving their educational experiences.

How do you assess students’ language learning? How do you use the results of formative and/or summative assessments?

NS: One of the things we stress in our district is the importance of writing measurable content and language objectives. Determining how well students met those objectives by the end of the lesson gives teachers information needed for planning subsequent lessons. The academic and language tasks embedded in the objectives are concrete examples of what success looks like in a lesson. Most importantly, because the academic tasks must be observable and measurable, they serve as an opportunity for formative assessment of learning. The teacher is able to do a “check” at the end of each lesson to monitor the progress of content learning and English Language development.

We also use the assessment results from the WIDA ACCESS assessment to get to know our English learners’ strengths and areas of improvement in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. The WIDA ACCESS results guide placement and service decisions. All assessment results are also shared with teachers and interpreted using the Can Do Descriptors and other district resources. Since our students take WIDA ACCESS for ELLs in the spring and results are not distributed to schools until the fall, teachers are encouraged to use the results in conjunction with other formative assessment data when planning for daily instruction

Do you and your colleagues have the resources you need to train teachers of ELs adequately? How has WIDA helped you achieve your goals?

NS: When the WIDA Standards Framework was adopted by Michigan a few years ago, we were really excited about the shared resources available to us, so we made good use of them. We quickly utilized the Can Do Descriptors to help guide teachers in the interpretation of their students’ WIDA ELP levels. In addition, my colleagues and I also compiled Teacher Can Do Descriptors to answer the question: “Now that I know what my ELs can do, what can I do as a teacher?”  These linguistic accommodations are categorized by WIDA ELP levels and provide suggestions for scaffolds and supports that decrease the language barrier experienced by ELs as they process and produce content knowledge and skills in English.

We have also been successful in developing and facilitating professional development using effective instructional strategies that actively engage all students and address the language development needs of English learners. These essential strategies for English learners have been shared with educators in workshops and presentations across the local, state, and national level. In Dearborn Public Schools, we are very fortunate to have highly qualified, passionate staff. We are very proud of the work we do yet are always excited about learning and trying out new ideas.