Academic language is one of the more confusing elements of edTPA, because it applies unfamiliar and vague terminology to basic elements of grammar and language instruction.
One way to manage Academic Language in edTPA is to sort it into three elements, and then define each element and show how it can be incorporated into the learning target.
- Language function means the verb used in the learning target, such as identify, analyze, summarize, define, explain, conclude, justify, compare, sort, and so on.
- Language demand means the assignment or product the student makes, such as essay, paragraph, sentence, speech, lab report, reflection, play, poem, comic strip, magazine article. poster, and the like.
- Vocabulary, which includes any words the student should be able to define in order to comprehend the content of the lesson. These words may be specific to the discipline (artifact in social studies) or just general words used in school (list, characteristics, infer, analyze).
Academic language includes two additional parts, discourse and syntax. Discourse means talking. Student teachers completing edTPA don’t conduct class discussions, they conduct class discourse. Syntax is defined as grammar conventions, symbols, tables, and graphs (traditionally, most people define syntax simply as the way words are organized in sentences). Using the word syntax only matters if your students are using symbols or making tables and graphs to represent information (e.g. in science and math).
One of the most efficient ways for including Academic Language elements is to incorporate them into your Learning Targets.
For example, consider the following Learning Target for secondary social studies:
Students define artifact and list three characteristics of an artifact.
The Language Function is to define. The Language Demand is to list (on a piece of paper). Vocabulary includes artifact (social studies specific) and characteristics (general). Adding adjectives such as three enable efficient assessment of whether students have achieved the learning target.
Writing Learning Targets with 1) a verb to show language function, 2) a product to show language demand, and 3) with a few vocabulary words is an efficient way to show inclusion of Academic Language.
EdTPA emphasizes speaking and writing over other forms of communication. This emphasis means that student teachers endorsing in elective disciplines (visual arts, physical education, music) will need lesson activities, assessments, and work samples that include written or spoken elements.