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Understanding Academic Language in edTPA ...

Understanding Academic Language in edTPA: Prompt 4, Rubric 4

Jan 14, 2023

Let's talk about Academic Language.

In edTPA, rubric 4 will evaluate "How does the candidate identify and support language demands in a key learning task?" To evaluate you on this rubric, scorers will primarily be looking at your response to prompt 4 in Task One.

Rubric 4 Guiding Question: "How does the candidate identify and support language demands in a key learning task?"

KEY WORDS: "A key learning task."

  • "A" - That itty bitty word signals that you will only be describing ONE learning task in Prompt 4! This means that when you write Prompt 4, you should describe one language rich activity that you are planning to do during your learning segment. It won't even matter if you end up doing it or not at this point so absolutely go overboard in describing this one language rich learning task. (Remember, your lesson plans are NOT a diary! They are PLANS!)

  • "identify and support language demands" - This means that you need to demonstrate that you can identify the demands correctly. If your response to prompt 4 leads the scorer to believe you do not understand academic language, then you might receive a one on rubric 4. To score above a two on this rubric, you will need to focus the rest of what you write on LANGUAGE SUPPORTS.

For Rubric 4, you need to demonstrate these two things:

  1. You are able to correctly identify academic language demands.

  2. You have planned supports for the academic language demands.

What are language demands?

The language demands that you will be concerned with when writing Prompt 4 are:

  1. function

  2. vocabulary

  3. discourse or syntax

  • What is function? This is a verb that will encapsulate what students are doing with their language during this singular key learning activity. Please make life easier on yourself and choose one of the words in the boxes for Prompt 4. Remember, you are only required to identify ONE LANGUAGE FUNCTION for Prompt 4. To choose a function, think about the purpose of the one language rich learning task that you are describing in prompt 4. To answer prompt 4a, you should write ONE SENTENCE. "My language function for this task is __." Please don't elaborate.

  • Vocabulary: You only need to identify the vocabulary that is important to this ONE KEY LEARNING TASK THAT IS LANGUAGE RICH.

  • Discourse/Syntax - You only have to describe one of these. You get nothing extra by identifying both and you risk identifying it incorrectly, resulting in a one on Rubric 4. The easiest one to choose is discourse. Most likely you are not focusing on syntax in your learning task. Your ONE KEY LEARNING TASK THAT IS LANGUAGE RICH should include EXPRESSIVE language, meaning the students will be writing or speaking. Even if you teach Math, you'll want to include discourse by having students TALK ABOUT the Math - explaining their procedures or JUSTIFYING their answers. One big exception is Physical Education. PE lessons frequently use CUES, which are considered syntax, not discourse.

    A caution about syntax. A lot of folks think that if they have a graphic organizer or a graph then they automatically have syntax to discuss. This is incorrect.

    Syntax is the order of words and the rules of language. Unless you're teaching verb conjugation, grammar, sentence structure, paragraph or essay structure, etc., you are NOT focusing on syntax.

    Syntax is in ALL language activities. For example, to be able to write this sentence, I must utilize rules. Just because syntax is used does not mean that this is a learning objective.

    Most of the time, we have students use academic language to EXPRESS knowledge and that, my friends, is DISCOURSE.

    What does this mean? For example, if you are having students use a graphic organizer to organize ideas prior to discussing or writing, then the purpose of your activity is discourse and the graphic organizer is a support for that discourse.

If you are struggling to understand Academic Language, you aren't alone. This video might help you:


SUPPORTS, SUPPORTS, SUPPORTS! The more and varied they are the better! Remember you are PLANNING which can look a lot like wishing. There are three types of supports mentioned in Rubric 4: General, Targeted, and Individual. Read about the differences between the types below:

In order to perform at a level 3 and above on Rubric 4, you must describe supports for each of these language demands (function, vocabulary, discourse/syntax).

  • How could you support your students in performing the function? Could you use a thinking organizer? Could you model? Could you give them peer support? (Remember what I said earlier about this being a PLAN, not a DIARY.)

  • How could you support your students with their vocabulary? Do you have word walls, glossaries, notes, word banks, dictionaries?

  • How could you support your students with their discourse? Could you provide sentence stems? An exemplar or model? Could you provide them with an outline or a graphic organizer or a template

To Score a Three - You will need to describe general supports for at least 2 of the 3 demands (function, vocabulary, discourse).

To Score a Four - You will need to describe targeted supports for all three language demands.

To Score a Five - If you make a four, you might earn a five if you have included supports for individuals with different levels of language learning.

This resource will give you ideas for supports based on the language function that you choose.

Do my lesson plans have to have the same or different language function?

You are NOT required to have academic language in your lesson plans. Check your handbook on or around page 10. I've included academic language in my template because you might want to include it for the day that you will be doing your ONE LANGUAGE RICH KEY LEARNING TASK. Or your ONE KEY LEARNING TASK might be cumulative and something that your kids are working on a little each day.

If you are teaching LITERACY or ELA, then it might make sense for you to have ONE LANGUAGE FUNCTION that you talk about over and over again. But for the rest of us mere mortals who teach Math, Science, History, Music, Agriculture... it's unlikely that you would have a language function that would work for your whole learning segment. This is because your lessons are building on each other, taking students up through higher levels of thinking.

Many of you will be told by your Ed Prep Program to describe academic language in each lesson plan or to identify one language function for the entire learning segment. However, these steps are not necessary for performing well on the edTPA.


Remember that, and it is easier.

Here is my video on writing Task One, Prompt 4, the academic language prompt.

After you have written prompt 4, check your work with this video:

Don't Let edTPA Stand in Your Way!

Mamaw Yates

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