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Building a third space: How academic language knowledge helps pre-service teachers develop content literacy practices

Erik J Sussbauer, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Though attention to academic language is a key component of the Teacher Performance Assessment and the new Common Core Standards, little has been researched regarding how pre-service teachers build academic language knowledge and integrate it into their practice teaching experience. This study focuses on the construction and delivery of academic language knowledge to pre-service teachers in a one year immersion teacher preparation program. It studies the pre-service teachers' use of academic language knowledge in their planning, teaching, and assessment throughout a practicum and clinical experience, as well as their use of academic language knowledge as part of reflective practice. Through analysis of classroom observation notes, interviews, and artifacts, the data show that after receiving instruction on academic language concepts in the areas of content-area terminology and language use, reading, and writing, pre-service teachers consciously integrated an attention to the terminology and language use of their content area into their practicum experience. However, faced with understanding themselves as teachers while navigating their mentor teacher's expectations, learning the curriculum they are teaching, and developing classroom management skills, etc., attention to academic language instruction in reading and writing was limited. Recognition that content-area terminology and language use is key to accessing content, though, influenced reflection on how content knowledge is accessed. This conscious understanding of the role terminology and language use plays in accessing content knowledge opened the door for a deeper reflection on the role academic language plays in the classroom. And, during their post-practicum clinical experience, these pre-service teachers were able to more knowledgeably reflect on how to integrate specific content-area reading and writing instruction into curriculum. These conclusions suggest that an introduction to academic language concepts and practices can reveal "blind spots" that enable pre-service teachers to better address content-area literacy in their future practice. They also suggest that more focus in academic language instruction in teacher education programs could help pre-service teachers more efficiently learn the complexities of their new role.

Subject Area

Language arts|Teacher education|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Sussbauer, Erik J, "Building a third space: How academic language knowledge helps pre-service teachers develop content literacy practices" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3589188.