Academic Language in the edTPA and Classroom

There is a clear emphasis in academic language in the edTPA (Teacher Performance Assessment), asking teacher candidates to share examples of students using academic language that were taught and written on their lesson plan. This means that their portfolio should include examples of student use of specialized vocabulary identified by the teacher candidate, language-related activities that are useful for classrooms (like expressing disagreement, discussing an issue, or asking for clarification), and for older students, field essays or lab reports (CWU, 2014). Rather than just students repeating definitions, these examples should show how the students understand the vocabulary and their ability to use key language function, which should be identified in the lesson plans (Stanford, 2014). In the video we watched and chapter we read this week, we learn about several strategies used in bilingual education, and why they are important in multicultural education. In the Coral Way Bilingual School, students are given many opportunities to improve their language ability in both English and Spanish. One of the teachers in the video claimed that “teaching ELL takes second language strategies that are just good teaching practice” (Checkley, 2004), and I agree. The teachers used visuals to help reinforce language aquisition, buddies to make their students more comfortable, lots of repetition (in the video, especially with regards to homophones and idioms, two concepts of the English language that can make it very difficult to learn as a second language), and used contextualized language to make the differences in the words more clear. For example, one teacher used a duster to dust her students’ heads as well as dusting powder to dust her students’ heads (Checkley, 2004). In this way, she acted out two different meanings for “dusting” (as exemplified in the Amelia Bedelia book they were reading) while also engaging her students in a humorous way. This would be useful to use as an example of teaching for the edTPA. It shows student understanding of the language, and also their ability to recognize the difference in the use of “dusting” based on context clues. Since the language we are familiar with and use “affects [our] perceptions of the world and of others” (Ovando and Gourd, 1996), it is especially important that students be able to effectively use and understand the language of both their community and the country. Teachers need to be able to show examples of student progress in this manner, and I think that many of the strategies shown in the video are helpful.

Other strategies the teachers used at Coral Way Bilingual School were to incorporate music into the classroom. One teacher started her day with a positive “we can” rap, with the lyrics printed out so the children could read and sing along. She also recorded her own voice reading Amelia Bedelia so that she could walk around and help students with her hands and eyes free. I liked this idea, and I think that it can be really beneficial to have the sound of their teacher’s voice reading them the story, but also have her able to move around and help as needed. It is something I think I would like to implement in my own classroom. I also think that anxiety reduction is important, especially in a classroom of all English-speakers with one or two ELL students. It can be really difficult for students to be singled out as different, so I want to reduce that as much as possible. In a different class, a girl told a story about her teacher who works with ELL students. She works with a class of them, so the application is a little different, but what she told them at the beginning of the class was that they do not have to speak until they are ready. This helped eliminate some of the discomfort and stress of being in an unfamiliar environment with an unfamiliar language, and by the time the class was half over, they were all talking. Maybe not well, but they were at least trying, and were more comfortable with it. In a classroom of mostly English-speakers, I think this could be useful, giving the student time to orient themselves and maybe gather their courage. In my own experience, I’ve found that it is also useful to learn a couple words in the child’s own language. I’ve had several students who spoke languages I knew nothing about (such as Tamil, Russian, Arabic, and Swiss-German), and in every case, the student responded more positively toward my class and to me when I knew at least how to say “hello” or “good morning”. Even better if I knew some silly words to make them feel more at ease.

Checkley, J. (Executive Producer), & Steinhorn, P. & Creed, B. (Producers). (2004). A visit to classrooms of English language learners [Motion picture]. United States. Retrieved from: http://www.schooltube.com/video/acaca0e86f20635ba97e/A%20Visit%20to%20Classrooms%20of%20English%20Language%20Learners

Ovando, C. J., and Gourd, K. (1996). Knowledge construction, language maintenance, revitalization, and empowerment. Banks, J., Multicultural education: Transformative knowledge & action (297-322). New York and London: Teachers College, Columbia University.

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