Here at Selected, we constantly explore new ways to support teachers. Anxious about your upcoming interview? We’ll help you nail it. Overwhelmed with student behavior? We’ve got you. Even the dreaded demo lesson: we have the answers. But when it comes to the edTPA, the teacher assessment more and more states now require teachers to pass for certification, we called in an expert. Meet Michelle Lewis-Mondesir, CEO of L.E.A.R.N Coaching & Consulting, LLC, who has spent over a decade in various leadership and teaching positions in schools. In addition, she is a former edTPA evaluator, and currently provides expert coaching for teachers completing the edTPA.

We asked her the question all edTPA takers want to know: What can teachers do to ensure they achieve a passing score, while making the process as painless as possible? And Michelle broke it down for us. Here, she shares common mistakes teachers make that 1) result in a lower score, 2) waste teaching candidates’ precious time, and 3) make their lives more difficult.  

The Most Common Pitfalls to Avoid

Pitfall #1: Being Vague

When we asked Michelle what mistakes teachers most often make when completing the edTPA, being vague was the first thing she mentioned. You must control your story. The general rule: If you are thinking it, write it.

As educators we tend to fill in the blanks for our students, and when we do this we often give them the benefit of the doubt because we know them. EdTPA graders will not give you the benefit of the doubt. They don’t know you, they only know what is on the page. If you lack details, the evaluator will make their own assumptions about your planning. You do not want this. Remember, there is no opportunity for clarifying questions, and if there is a lack of details, your score will reflect this.

Pitfall #2: Choosing A Lesson Topic You Are Unclear About

You are going to spend a lot of time on the topic you choose for your lesson. You will be asked to explain your thinking and planning in great detail, and you will be expected to know how to scaffold and anticipate student misconceptions. If you aren’t familiar with the lesson content, this can make things very difficult.

For example, a teacher might write their lesson plans on research skills when they are still learning the content, or haven’t taught it before. This teacher will have to grapple with familiarizing themselves with all of the task components of edTPA while simultaneously learning best practices on teaching research skills. This, of course, isn’t ideal.

Michelle recommends choosing a topic you are very comfortable with and have a good deal of interest in. Since you will be spending a significant amount of time with the subject, interest is key!

Pitfall #3: Completing The Tasks And Task Parts Out Of Order

Michelle couldn’t stress this more: Plan your lesson first. Complete this task thoroughly before attempting other tasks.

Most teachers begin with this intention, but when they don’t plan thoughtfully and feel constrained by time, they attempt short cuts. They think they can make a rough lesson plan (not thoroughly as Michelle advises), then film the lesson and complete the instructional commentary on the lesson after the video. Finally, they go back and finish the lesson plan. This creates a number of problems:

  • The quality of the video is only as good as the lesson planning. If you don’t take the time to plan your lesson before you teach it, you will be stuck trying to make the video fit. This creates additional work, and can also lower your score for this task.
  • Making changes to your lesson plan after the fact often results in inconsistencies. Often times, teachers make changes after the fact, and they are not reflected in all of the tasks. For example, a teacher might discuss how they assess using Socratic seminar in Task 1, but then they don’t include it in their lesson plans. Some edTPA graders pay close attention to these details. It’s important that all tasks are aligned and consistent.

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Pitfall #4: Not Managing Time

Task 1 is often the most difficult and time-consuming component, and many teachers get overwhelmed. Allow time for it. Michelle assures us that if you take the time to complete Task 1 properly, Task 2 will be much easier and of higher quality.

Michelle shares tried-and-true strategies for approaching difficult sections,  and overcoming moments you feel stuck on a task and unable to make progress. She recommends tackling the tasks in stages:

  • Begin by setting a timer for 10-15 minutes (or a duration that feels doable) for each question. This can serve as a first draft and a starting point for revisions.
  • Write all of your ideas out in free form, focusing on the content rather than the quality of the writing.
  • Once you have your ideas down, you will likely feel less overwhelmed. At this point, use the timer strategy again, adding details and editing for writing quality.

Pitfall #5: Not Planning The Filming Thoughtfully

You are only required to upload 10-20 minutes of video (depending on your subject area). As a result, some teachers only film 10-20 minutes of content. This is a mistake —you need to account for tech fails, or problems such as inaudibility.

Michelle’s solution is to film at least two entire lessons so you have a selection and can choose the best footage. You are teaching the lessons anyway, you might as well film all of them.

Another video-related error that teachers make is that they either 1) have the camera only on the teacher or 2) only on the students. You will need to show both, and all parties need to be audible. This material will be critical to you when you are writing your commentary, and also to the scorer.

Pitfall #6: Teaching To One Type of Learner

Differentiated instruction is key. Be clear about all of the various ways you will accommodate all learning types. Some examples of this include conferencing, vocabulary cards, graphic organizers, as well as homogeneous or heterogeneous pairings for small group work.

In addition, the struggling learners mentioned in the Context for Learning should be mentioned  in your lesson plans and commentary. There should be a clear plan for these students, and the differentiation should seem very intentional across all tasks, especially in the lesson plan. Most graders will notice if this is incomplete, and it will be reflected in your score.

Final Thoughts

Completing the edTPA is about careful planning and hard work, but it’s also psychological. As difficult as the edTPA can be at times, the requirements are widely considered best teaching practices. Michelle encourages you to form the right mindset. If you approach the assessment from a place of learning and growth for your own development, rather than just an exam, it may help to relieve your anxiety and will likely show in your score. Good luck, teachers!

If you are looking for additional tips while completing the edTPA, check out these passing submissions. And for more support, reach out to Michelle who is happy to provide individual and group coaching, both virtual and in-person, for teachers across the country. For more information about these edTPA services, along with others, visit WWW.LEARNCC.NET.

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