Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Effective Foreign Language Teaching: Broadening the Concept of Content Knowledge

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Effective Foreign Language Teaching: Broadening the Concept of Content Knowledge

Article excerpt

Attempts to improve educational outcomes for students in K-12 classrooms across the United States have led to an increased focus on teacher accountability: Teachers are frequently asked to provide evidence that their instruction has made a positive impact on student learning (Noel, 2014). Postsecondary programs that prepare future teachers are also increasingly focusing on program quality and outcomes (Sato, 2014). Cochran-Smith, Piazza, and Power (2013, p. 12) stated that teachertraining programs have experienced "a major programmatic shift from inputs and processes to outcomes." Good grades in teacher-training programs no longer constitute sufficient evidence that teacher candidates are adequately prepared for the classroom. As part of this paradigm shift, teacher preparation programs have adopted performance-based assessments that provide data-based evidence that their candidates are ready to teach upon program completion (Darling-Hammond, 2012).

This transformation is equally apparent in the field of foreign language instruction. Foreign language teacher preparation programs across the country are imposing rigorous and high-stakes requirements on their candidates to provide evidence that the candidates have appropriate levels of content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and skills. While state-required content assessments may vary, foreign language teacher training programs that seek national recognition must demonstrate that their teacher candidates possess a high level of proficiency in the target languages that they will teach by obtaining a minimum score of Advanced Low on the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) for commonly taught languages and Intermediate High for lesscommonly taught languages (ACTFL, 2014). States may also set the passing level on the OPI; may require other nationally recognized measures of content knowledge, such as the Praxis Subject Assessment1 in the intended language(s) of instruction; or require state-specific subject matter assessments.

Multiple studies have investigated teacher candidate performance on assessments of content knowledge, like the OPI (Ball, 2010; Glisan, Swender, & Surface, 2013; Kissau, 2014a). While these studies have provided valuable information on candidate strengths and weaknesses and offered recommendations for improvement, they have focused on the importance of just one skill (i.e., oral proficiency). While teacher educators are certainly interested in the extent to which their candidates have developed the language skills that are necessary to be an effective teacher, they are tasked with helping candidates to develop all ofthe other skills that are also needed to be successful in the classroom. Not surprisingly, some research has found that candidate performance on measures of content knowledge, like the OPI, is not an accurate predictor of performance on measures of teaching effectiveness (Waggoner & Carroll, 2014). Previous literature in the field, however, has not provided a comprehensive and in-depth analysis of why this may be the case. Why, for example, do many native-speaking foreign language teachers struggle in the classroom, despite having advanced oral communication skills? Conversely, why may candidates with lessadvanced language skills perform well in the classroom?

In a seminal study by Russell and Davidson Devall (2016) that reported negative correlations between measures of content knowledge and the edTPA, the authors argued that some heritage and native speakers may be lacking in the critical reflective writing skills that are required to complete the edTPA.2 While the lengthy edTPA commentaries do present an undeniable challenge to nonnative speakers of English, it must also be acknowledged that Pearson edTPA scorers3 are trained to look past poor writing quality and to focus on content. Further, while weak writing skills may negatively impact the performance of heritage and native speakers on the edTPA, this cannot fully explain why many have been reported to struggle in American K-12 classrooms (Haley & Ferro, 2011; Kissau, 2014b; Kissau, Yon, & Algozzine, 2011). …

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