edTPA Perspectives from the Field: Influence of CCSS and Impact on Teachers of ELLs
In last week's blog post, I shared some information on the edTPA for English as an Additional Language (EAL), which is a new licensure assessment for pre-service teachers of English as a Second Language (ESL). I focused on the connection between the edTPA in English as an Additional Language and the Common Core.
This week, I'll share some themes around the implementation of the edTPA that surfaced from three TESOL teacher educators who are using the edTPA with their ESL teacher candidates.
Our three teacher educators are:
- Dr. Laura Baecher, Associate Professor of TESOL, Hunter College, CUNY, New York, NY
- Dr. Cynthia Lundgren, Assistant Professor at The Center for Second Language Teaching and Learning at Hamline University's Graduate School of Education in St. Paul, MN (and also a Colorín Colorado adviser)
- Dr. Luciana C. de Oliveira, Associate Professor of TESOL and Applied Linguistics, Teachers College, Columbia University
Each of these educators sent me detailed comments on their perspective on using the edTPA, and I think it's most helpful to hear their comments directly. In this post I'll focus on common areas they described in terms of how the edTPA has affected their practice for ESL teacher candidates within the Common Core framework. The areas I'll focus on are the edTPA as yet another layer amidst a number of educational changes and initiatives, academic language, lesson planning, and the impact of the edTPA on teacher candidates. For each of these areas, I'll share quotes from Laura, Cynthia, and Luciana. I'll leave you with some final thoughts and the opportunity for you to chime in on this conversation.
edTPA as Another Layer of Change
All three educators commented on how the edTPA fit into the big picture as another layer in the numerous educational sea changes currently happening around the country, although they expressed different opinions on the assessment in general. They saw the rollout of the edTPA as situated within a complex system of instruction and assessment for both ESL teacher candidates as well as the ELLs the candidates serve, and each discussed the impact that edTPA is likely to have beyond her coursework.
Laura, who teaches in New York, says, "It could be considered the perfect storm; teachers in the field and teachers coming into the field alike are under tremendous pressure to catch up on new models, evaluation frameworks, and student assessments. As a designer of the English as an Additional Language edTPA, and as a practicum instructor and supervisor of pre-service TESOL candidates wrestling with edTPA, I try to maintain the belief that although we are currently swept up in the winds of this storm of change, such changes are truly needed."
Cindy, who is based in Minnesota, notes that the edTPA hasn't "changed my course much; I have always had a component in my methods class that required a video and tuning protocol (group analysis of evidence regarding whether or not student objectives were met) so that fits in nicely with what they need to do during student teaching." She goes on to say, "What has changed the most is the 'stick' behind some of my criteria…The edTPA provides a little more clout and motivation to review Second Language Acquisition concepts and be accurate in their connections. That makes me happy as I believe understanding the field is essential to advocating more effectively for ELs, programs, and curricular decisions."
Luciana notes, "As we started to implement edTPA in English as an Additional Language as a requirement in New York State this past fall, we have also been reflecting about the process of assisting our candidates in understanding its requirements and making changes in our MA TESOL program that leads to K-12 certification."
All three educators highlighted the edTPA's focus on academic language, both as it's conceptualized for ESL teachers and also how the edTPA holds all teachers accountable to teach academic language to all students. In the English as an Additional Language handbook, academic language is conceptualized as competencies (e.g., grammatical, pragmatic, discourse, and metalinguistic competence). You'll note how the educators' views differ in terms of how academic language is addressed in this assessment.
- Laura notes, "One of the ways I have seen the edTPA benefitting teachers is the demands it places on them to consider the content of the curriculum deeply and to spend a while thinking through how students will both access this content (through academic language) and express their understanding of this content (with academic language). Being asked to video moments of teaching practice that show students engaged in elaborated talk about the subject matter and using academic language requires teachers to model that language, direct students to the target forms, structure the activities to prompt production of those forms, and include assessments that will measure to what extent those forms and the content were understood. This is the kind of clean, coherent instruction that pushes students to extend their thinking and their language use that both the Common Core and the Danielson Framework for Teaching describe."
- Cindy shares that as a result of the edTPA, "I think it might be possible to create discussions that actually put language at the forefront and confront our national stupidity about languages in general. I think this is particularly true if we can move beyond the vocabulary focus and prescriptive lure of the Common Core and instead keep the focus on the purpose for which language is being used and how semantic and syntactic choices influence meaning." She adds that, "Now, suddenly, our faculty is in demand to provide professional development to our colleagues on academic language for their content methods courses and to do guest lecture spots in general education methods courses."
- Luciana agrees with Laura and Cindy that "language, and academic language in particular, should be at the forefront for TESOL candidates" and sees this area "as a crucial part of any teacher's practice, but it is especially essential for ESOL teachers." She further contends, "The EAL handbook is the only handbook that requires candidates to address 'competencies'... All other handbooks define academic language at the levels of vocabulary, syntax, and discourse levels (which) correspond to the levels of academic language identified in current work in TESOL that describes the demands of academic language for ELLs (e.g. Freeman & Freeman, 2008; Gotlieb & Ernst-Slavit, 2014; WIDA Standards, p. 7). Academic language demands have been described at the word/phrase, sentence, and discourse levels, which would correspond with the vocabulary, syntax, and discourse levels of edTPA, respectively. I would urge the designers of edTPA TESOL/EAL to reconsider the addition of these competencies and consider changing these to more closely associate with the academic language requirements that are present in the other handbooks and the academic language literature within the TESOL field."
Cindy and Luciana acknowledged that the edTPA has impacted how they design lesson plan templates for their ESL teacher candidates and, in Cindy's case, for general education teacher candidates. Luciana has added additional Common Core standards and language demands for ELLs into Columbia's Teachers College lesson plan format that go beyond what the EAL handbook demands.
- Cindy says, "Lesson plan templates have been developed for several key courses in the licensure program. As a result of the edTPA, they include sections on not only differentiation for various populations, but also explicitly addressing academic language needs. The reality is this is far from where we need to be with our general education teachers, but it does represent a beginning of the conversation. We are still struggling to get our colleagues to look more deeply at academic language beyond a simple fix of language stems and look more closely at the linguistic structures that are specific to their particular disciplines." She continues, "I've also seen improvement in the depth and breadth of lesson plans from my students. I don't believe this is due to the edTPA, rather a combination of things - the backward design for planning that we use; I'm teaching more systemic functional linguistics as a way to integrate teaching language through the content. These changes have really made a difference, but the structure of the edTPA does help keep students and me focused on elements that can easily be lost (e.g., multiple modalities, differentiation of several levels, explicit connections to theory and best practice, reflection on teaching and a plan moving forward based on the reflection)."
- Luciana reports, "There are key conceptual understandings and skills that TESOL teacher candidates need to develop that are not currently represented in the TESOL/EAL handbook. We have incorporated them into our edTPA lesson plan format." She goes on to note, "We have incorporated the CCSS as the main content standards that our teacher candidates have to use in their edTPA lesson plans. We have also developed a separate assignment that our teacher candidates have to complete in groups in which they:
- provide specific suggested activities for ELLs that apply the strategy.
- choose a specific pedagogical strategy that would work to address these demands while addressing the needs of ELLs
- identify the specific content and language demands of these standards
- select specific standards to focus on
- closely examine the CCSS."
Impact on Teacher Candidates
In discussing the impact of the edTPA on candidates, two of our teacher educators note that the introduction of the edTPA has caused different types of stress due to its potential for high stakes and its use in addition to other assessments, and that the logistics of rolling out the edTPA can't be overlooked.
- High stakes: Laura writes, "The amount of emotional, physical, and financial stress teachers are under to complete the edTPA mirrors the stress many ELLs are under this spring--almost non-stop testing. Teachers in New York City public schools report that their ELLs will have received less than four days of instruction over the course of 4 weeks between April-May."
- Stress: Cindy shares, "It's important to note that Minnesota, while requiring the edTPA, hasn't set any criteria regarding it and neither has my university. The stakes may come, but at this point they do not exist. Teacher candidates are concerned; any large formal assessment is 'scary,' but there really aren't high stakes. Their scores on the Minnesota Teacher Licensure Evaluation assessment are much more high stakes, as that score is directly tied to their ability to get a teaching license."
- Logistics: Luciana notes some logistical challenges of filming lessons, including the permission forms that students whose classrooms are being videotaped need to fill out. "Some permission forms are not readily available in most of the languages that our ELLs speak." Also, she says, "Some schools have inadequate spaces to provide the venue for video recording a pull-out or push-in TESOL group. Some schools conduct TESOL instruction in hallways or in closets or in the corner of a classroom with other activities. This would greatly impact our candidates in terms of filming."
The three educators' perspectives reflect different realities of implementing the edTPA on the ground for ESL teacher candidates. While the implementation of the edTPA is certainly not occurring without debate, it does offer another way to assess teacher candidates in terms of their abilities to effectively teach ELLs within a Common Core framework. Laura, Cindy, and Luciana have obviously worked hard at adapting the edTPA to fit their own teacher candidates' needs so that they are best prepared to teach ELLs within the reality of their K-12 settings.
In closing, I'll leave you with some great food for thought from Laura. She asks, "How can teachers experiment with, reflect upon, and 'own' these new ways of approaching their practice when doing so in such high-stakes environments? At the same time, will these important changes occur without high pressure to do so?" Please let us know what you think!
Freeman, Y. and Freeman, D. (2008). Academic Language for English Language Learners and Struggling Readers: How to Help Students Succeed Across Content Areas. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Gottlieb, M. and Ernst-Slavit, G. (2012). Academic Language in Diverse Classrooms: Definitions and Contexts. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.