Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Assessing Academic Language in an Elementary Mathematics Teacher Licensure Exam

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Assessing Academic Language in an Elementary Mathematics Teacher Licensure Exam

Article excerpt

With the adoption by most states of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English language arts and literacy and for mathematics (CCSS Initiative, 2010a, 2010b) comes major changes in public education that will affect instructional practice, curriculum, and assessment across the nation. Heritage, Walqui, and Linquanti (2015) argued that the success of these policy changes will depend, in part, on several important shifts in educators' perspective on language use and language learning, such as from an individual to a socially engaged activity, from a linear process aimed at correctness and fluency to a developmental process on comprehension and communication, and from a separate area of instruction to an embedded component of subject-area activities.

Lee, Quinn, and Valdes (2013) discussed the language learning challenges and opportunities in the new science, math, and language arts standards. They noted that teachers will have to adopt new ways of thinking about teaching and learning for all students, particularly English language learners (ELLs), arguing for

   a parallel redefinition of what it means to support learning
   language in the science classroom by moving away from the
   traditional emphasis on language structure (phonology, morphology,
   vocabulary, and syntax) to an emphasis on language use for
   communication and learning.... We propose that when students,
   especially ELLs, are adequately supported to "do" specific things
   with language, both science learning and language learning are
   promoted ... Furthermore, [our] conceptualization could be
   applicable to other subjects, especially CCSS for English language
   arts and literacy and for mathematics. (pp. 1-2)

Teacher preparation programs play a critical role in the adoption and sustainability of CCSS reforms. In many instances, such programs have anticipated these calls for change by developing the mathematical knowledge base and pedagogical skill set of new elementary school mathematics teachers in their courses and curricula. Building on a firm knowledge base, teacher educators have drawn from key writings by Pimm (1987) and others (e.g., Morgan, 1998; Spanos, Rhodes, Dale, & Crandall, 1988) who have dispelled the view that mathematics is a language-free discipline. Research by MacGregor and Price (1999) found that a general knowledge of syntax in language is associated with mastering the syntax of algebra. Furthermore, Danesi (2003) has demonstrated that knowledge of metaphor is key to understanding and solving "story problems." Yet many elementary school teachers, especially credential candidates themselves, may lack an understanding of the complex relationship between language and mathematics learning. Moreover, programmatic changes are needed in collaborative relationships between English as a second language (ESL) and content teachers regarding disciplinary language use and academic language (Valdes, Kibler, & Walqui, 2014).

This relationship between language and any discipline is generally referred to as academic language (AL). Definitions of AL are varied, but a general consensus has emerged (Snow, 2010; Snow & Uccelli, 2009). In Snow's view, AL refers "to the form of language expected in contexts such as the exposition of topics in the school curriculum, making arguments, defending propositions, and synthesizing information" (p. 450), but she has admitted that the boundaries of this definition remain fuzzy. Others have defined AL by pointing out what it is not: AL is "language that stands in contrast to the everyday informal speech that students use outside the classroom environment" (Bailey & Butler, 2003, p. 9). Still others have suggested that it is defined by its use: AL is needed for "tasks that language users must be able to perform in the content areas" (Chamot & O'Malley, 1994, p. 40). Bunch (2006) similarly characterized AL as how students use language to perform academic tasks and addressed the unique challenges facing teacher preparation for mainstream teachers in the era of new standards (Bunch, 2013). …

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