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Pedagogical Content Knowledge, Language Awareness, and edTPA: ISU Language Teacher Candidates’ Feedback Practices

Written by: Susan Hildebrandt, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at Illinois State University

feedbackWhat makes feedback effective for students and encourages their later learning? Few would argue that timely feedback is desirable, and that it should provide students with a path forward. In the language classroom, the language in which the feedback is expressed also matters. My study, supported by a 2017 SoTL Summer Mini Grant, focused on ISU Spanish student teachers’ linguistic choices as they provided feedback to their K-12 Spanish learners during student teaching. Using the world language edTPA assessment task, I compared high-scoring edTPA portfolios to low-scoring portfolios. With an eye to similarities and differences in demonstrations of language awareness, the study investigated whether participants used English and/or Spanish in their feedback, along with the quantity and characteristics of that feedback.

edTPA became consequential in Illinois in September 2015, and all teacher candidates in Illinois who wish to earn a teaching license must pass that high-stakes, standardized assessment. edTPA evaluates teacher candidates’ ability to plan, instruct, and assess K-12 student learning through an extensive portfolio submitted to Pearson for external scoring at a cost of $300. It is a graduation requirement in ISU teacher education programs and is used in a number of states to evaluate effectiveness of teacher education programs.

Pedagogical content knowledge (PCK, Shulman, 1987) develops over the course of a career, beginning during preservice coursework and continuing throughout later in-service teaching and learning experiences (Henze & Van Driel, 2015; Lortie, 1975). It is domain- and discipline-specific (Hashweh, 2013; Shulman, 1987), comprised of content knowledge, or the what of teaching, and pedagogical knowledge, or the how of teaching (Shulman, 1987). Language awareness, as defined by Thornbury (1997), is “the knowledge that teachers have of the underlying systems of the language that enables them to teach effectively” (p. x). Language awareness, a subset of teacher candidates’ PCK, proves critical in language teacher education courses.

Much time is spent in postsecondary world language pedagogy classes to teach future language teachers how to teach in the target language, or the language that is being taught (i.e., Spanish) (Hildebrandt & Swanson, 2016). That training prompts teacher candidates to use the target language in a way that promotes student uptake and develops their language proficiency. It also seeks to avoid teacher candidates reverting back to teaching the way that they were taught (Cruickshank, Metcalf, & Bainer Jenkins, 2009); that is, it seeks to help teacher candidates avoid teaching about languages instead teach in the language itself. Methods classes can help teacher candidates internalize constructivist teaching practices and apply them to their feedback practices (Sigler & Saam, 2006), but previously held dispositions can prevent that application of best practices (Cummins & Asempapa, 2013). The language chosen for student feedback is critical in second language teaching, and scaffolding teacher candidate feedback to students can provide a valuable aid in long-term changes in teaching practices (Hunzicker & Lukowiak, 2015).

Both qualitative and quantitative methodology were used in this study. The initial data set was composed of World Language edTPA scores from a ISU’s seven Spanish teacher education program completers during the 2015-2016 academic year. Analysis of participants’ assessment artifacts (e.g., rubrics, evaluation criteria, etc.) allowed easier comparison of the level of class, type of rubric used, rubric criteria, feedback type, language of the rubric and feedback, among other features. Using qualitative analysis, I also explored ways that the portfolios with high average assessment task subscores manifested language awareness, as compared to the portfolios with low average subscores. Three general categories, based on the portfolios, formed the initial structure for analysis: language awareness, knowledge of L2, and knowledge of learners. Results showed that most participants’ feedback was in English, rather than Spanish. In general, those participants who provided more feedback to students, no matter the language, scored better on the edTPA assessment task.

This project sought to explore ways of preparing ISU teacher candidates of Spanish to complete an edTPA portfolio to align with communicative language teaching practices, including using the target language nearly exclusively. Those practices are explored and put into practice during coursework, but do not seem to generalize to the edTPA portfolio constructed during the student teaching semester (Swanson & Hildebrandt, 2017), as was found in the present study. I will use the information gained to create more opportunities for ISU teacher educators to create effective, Spanish-language feedback to their K-12 students (Hunzicker & Lukowiak, 2015).

The full study can be found in a chapter called “Pedagogical Content Knowledge, Language Awareness, and edTPA” that will appear early next year an edited volume. Researching edTPA Promises and Problems: Perspectives from English to Speakers of Other Languages, English Language Arts, and World Language Teacher Education will be released in early 2018 by Information Age Publishing.

Blog References:

Cruickshank, D. R., Metcalf, K. K., & Bainer Jenkins, D. (2009). The act of teaching (5th ed.).New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Cummins, L., & Asempapa, B. (2013). Fostering teacher candidate dispositions in teacher education programs. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 13(3), 99-119.

Hashweh, M. (2013). Pedagogical content knowledge: Twenty-five years later. In C. J. Craig, P. C. Meijer, & J. Broeckmans (Eds.), From teacher thinking to teachers and teaching: The evolution of a research community (pp. 115-140). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.

Henze, I., & Van Driel, J. H. (2015). Toward a more comprehensive way to capture PCK in its complexity. In A. Berry, P. Friedrichsen, & J. Loughran (Eds.), Re-examining pedagogical content knowledge in science education (pp. 120-134). New York: Routledge.

Hildebrandt, S. A., & Swanson, P. (2016). Understanding the world language edTPA: Research-based policy and practice. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Hunzicker, J., & Lukowiak, T. (2015). Engaging pre-service teachers –and their professor – in learning: A comparison of two literacy methods courses. Journal of Transformative Learning, 3(2), 52-83.

Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Shulman, L. S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57, 1-22.

Sigler, E. A., & Saam, J. (2006). Teacher candidates’ conceptual understanding of conceptual learning: From theory to practice. Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and learning, 6(1), 118-126.

Swanson, P. & Hildebrandt, S. A. (2017). Communicative learning outcomes and world language edTPA:  Characteristics of high-scoring portfolios. Hispania, 100, 331-347.

Thornbury, S. (1997). About language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.