Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Collaborating to Address the Challenge of Academic Language

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Collaborating to Address the Challenge of Academic Language

Article excerpt

Introduction

Context

As a clinical professor at a public college in New York City, 1 am well positioned to observe how the New York State Common Core Learning Standards and other disciplinary standards shape the teaching lives of both the preservice and inservice teachers with whom I work. I lead the student teaching seminars for teacher candidates seeking certification in a wide range of disciplines in both elementary and secondary contexts. I also teach a literacy methods course for our teacher candidates seeking certification in several disciplines at the secondary level. One of my tasks in both courses is to orient our teacher candidates to their various discipline-specific standards and orienting our teacher candidates to the edTPA, which links to these standards. In addition to my work with teacher candidates, I also facilitate our clinical program, so I am in frequent communication with school personnel working in our local-area partner schools. My interactions with educators in these schools has provided me with an understanding of the curricular challenges that in-service teachers confront when working to achieve standards, particularly the New York State Common Core Learning Standards. As I work across disciplines, age groups, and schools, I have learned that for both preservice teacher candidates and inservice teachers, the topic of academic language, a topic that is essential to meeting the requirements of both the Common Core Learning Standards and the edTPA, has proved especially challenging.

Background

My college has been working with the edTPA since 2014, and the vast majority of candidates who submit one, earn a strong, passing score. Not all of our graduates have submitted an edTPA, however. My college is a minority-serving institution, and we work with many students for whom standard English is not their first language. Some of our candidates struggle with the simultaneously exacting but vague directions and terminology specific to the edTPA (Au, 2013; Greenblatt & O'Hara, 2015), and some have asserted that the cost of the edTPA, especially when combined with the other certification exams in New York State is prohibitive. If one fails the edTPA, he or she must pay to retake it. Therefore, even though they have successfully completed their college and clinical preparations, some candidates have delayed submitting the edTPA because they are not confident that they will pass it. In this way, the edTPA indeed functions as a gatekeeping mechanism (Ledwell & Oyler, 2016).

Because of the edTPA's high stakes and rigorous requirements, I believe it is imperative that in addition to critiquing what is problematic about the exam, we also support our candidate's preparations as best we can, so that they can achieve their professional goals. To accomplish this, we have pragmatically redesigned the curriculum of the student teaching seminar to support candidates in their work with the range of edTPA topics, addressing the exam's central performance expectations for teachers (Sato, 2014). (1) And in the midst of these preparations, candidates have routinely asserted that one particular topic has proved the most challenging aspect of the edTPA for them, and that topic is academic language.

The edTPA defines academic language as oral and written language used for academic purposes. Academic language is the means by which students develop and express content understandings. Academic language represents the language of the discipline that students need to learn and use to participate and engage in the content area in meaningful ways. There are language demands that teachers need to consider as they plan to support student learning of content. These language demands include language functions, vocabulary, discourse, and syntax. (Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity, 2015).

When writing their edTPA commentaries, candidates must address how they plan for, support students to work with, and assess their students' learning of academic language. …

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