edTPA as a Common Language: ‘Back Mapping’ and Other Lessons From Minnesota
Minnesota requires all teacher candidates to take edTPA as part of the state’s program review and approval process. At the state’s annual edTPA conference October 7, educators from across the state joined in invigorating conversations about the changes the assessment has spurred and the common language it has given educators to communicate about effective teaching.
During the session I helped moderate on how programs can use edTPA components and candidate performance data to “back map” their course work, the exchange was both lively and informative. Panelists shared stories about how they are getting edTPA performance data to more faculty, identifying needs, and developing instructional resources such as new observation rubrics that adjunct faculty can use to better understand teaching skills that edTPA asks candidates to demonstrate.
Audience members extended the conversation with questions about what materials other campuses had created, how they were getting information to PK-12 cooperating schools, or how they dealt with faculty fatigue at the end of busy grading periods, which often is when edTPA data are reported. One tip shared for encouraging faculty engagement was to celebrate the good work already being done and then identify pieces that are missing—not necessarily big gaps, but areas that colleagues can shore up and “own.”
While edTPA implementation is still a work in progress, it is giving way to a new level of focus on high-priority areas of planning, assessment, instruction, and academic language. As a veteran classroom teacher of 23 years and faculty member for the past 7 years, I believe this shift is good for our programs, candidates, and the schools in which they will teach. It’s refreshing to talk about how we can elicit better conversations with our candidates and deepen their knowledge. I don’t even think of it as being about edTPA, because it’s really about effective teaching.
At my own institution, Concordia College, edTPA is giving us the opportunity to look at our candidates’ performance to identify areas in which we need to provide additional or better support. Academic language is one of those areas where we know we have work to do. Essential for content learning, academic language is a relative newcomer to conversations about education and preparation, so many faculty and candidates are not yet fluent in the concept.
This new focus makes so much sense for candidates, who must think about the way they use language in lessons and be clear about how students are expected to read, write, and speak about various topics and concepts. As teachers, they will have to be successful at this to meet the needs of all students, especially in groups with varying skill and language needs.
How does this look in practice? For starters, I talk about academic language at least a little during every class, and it is embedded in all of my courses. My candidates review lesson plans to identify academic language demands and how they will support them. And while all of our educator preparation faculty members have been trained in academic language, the comfort level and understanding are not the same, so we provide a lot of resources to faculty as well as to candidates.
It’s exciting to see that, like the participants in last month’s state conference, our students and faculty are starting to view the edTPA process as both beneficial and doable. While there is a lot of work to do, there’s also the resolve to get there.