A Vision for Using an Argument-Based Framework for Validity Applied to a Comprehensive System of Assessments for English Learners in Secondary Grades

By Margaret Heritage, Caroline Wylie, Molly Faulkner-Bond, and Aída Walqui

INTRODUCTION   |   PART 1   |   PART 2   |   PART 3    |   PART 4    |   PART 5    |   PART 6    |   PART 7    |   PART 8    |   PART 9   |   REFERENCES    |   APPENDICES

Part 2: Perspective on Language Development


English Learners need opportunities in the classroom to develop situated language competencies during interactions with peers and teachers while simultaneously developing discipline-specific practices (Valdés, Kibler, & Walqui, 2014). This means that learning disciplinary concepts and analytical practices is not distinct from the linguistic means through which the understanding is developed and expressed; the demands of understanding concepts, practices, and relationships are not privileged above the demands of linguistic resources, nor vice versa. Building with their existing language resources English Learners develop and use new language resources as they make meaning of content (Walqui & Heritage, 2011).


This perspective on language development has its roots in Vygotsky’s theory of the relationship between language and thought (e.g., 1978). Vygotsky maintained that thought is not merely expressed in words, it comes “into existence through them” (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 218). In this vein, he argued that the development and functioning of higher mental processes (cognition) are mediated and that language is one of the most important mediating tools that humans have at their disposal (Swain, 2006). Language as a mediating tool is used in interaction with others and with oneself (through inner speech) and results in the creation and use of higher mental processes (van Lier, 2004; Swain & Lapkin, 2011).


The perspective on language development incorporates three additional concepts that are hallmarks of classroom practice for English Learners: apprenticeship, the ZPD, and scaffolding.

Apprenticeship operationalizes Vygotsky’s emphasis on the interrelated roles of the individual and the social world. It refers to the process through which the individual becomes part of the group and develops their ways of doing things. Consequently, apprenticeship can only occur in community activity and involves active individuals participating with others in “culturally organized activity that has as part of its purpose the development of mature participation in the activity by the less experienced people” (Rogoff, 1995, p.143). English Learners are apprenticed into the language and make sense of disciplinary concepts and analytical practices.

The ZPD, a concept that also originates with Vygotsky, is defined as the distance between what the individual can accomplish during independent problem-solving and the level of problem-solving that can be achieved with the assistance of adult or in collaboration with a more expert peer (Vygotsky, 1978). In his discussion of the importance of the ZPD for education, Vygotsky (1978) identified learners’ emerging abilities as the appropriate target for instructional efforts to guide development (Levi & Poehner, 2018). English Learners’ emergent content understanding and practices, including language are both targets for instruction within the students’ ZPD. Creating contexts for academic learning in English in the ZPD occurs in part through the scaffolding of social interaction (Walqui, 2006).

Scaffolding is a process of “setting up” the situation to make the child’s entry easy and successful, then gradually pulling back and handing the role to the child as he becomes skilled enough to manage it. (Bruner, 1983, p. 60). From this definition, we can understand that scaffolding has a more or less constant ritual structure (though flexible) and an interactional process that is jointly constructed from moment to moment and which occurs in the student’s ZPD (Walqui, 2006).


The clear implication for the CAS Framework from this perspective on language is that language and content learning are not treated as separate entities; they develop together and therefore, should be assessed together.



    For a more detailed description of this perspective, see Heritage, Faulkner-Bond, & Walqui, 2021.

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Perspective on Language Development click here.