Your future teaching career has the potential to take you to many different places and put you in many different situations. Try to picture some possible situations right now. What would it be like to stand at the front of a classroom full of preschoolers from racially and culturally diverse backgrounds? Or suppose a tenth grader met with you to tell you that he or she felt completely overwhelmed by a term paper assignment, and had no idea where to start? What would you say, and how could you help?
Now try to imagine something in even more vivid detail: imagine you are in a classroom teaching a specific subject, overseeing a specific activity, and using specific materials. How might you teach a middle school history unit on the Reconstruction era of the American South? How would you approach an elementary school science lesson about metamorphosis?
These kinds of scenarios—both simple ones and ones with complex detail—are the subject of many questions on the Praxis PLT exams. The scenarios you’ll be presented with are widely varied, covering different academic subjects and work with students at different ages. The wealth of scenarios found on a PLT exam are unlikely to all happen in the career of just one teacher, and they may involve subjects and age groups you aren’t getting licensed to work with. Fortunately, you won’t need content knowledge of the specific subject in any PLT scenario.
What you will need is a keen knowledge of how learning and teaching works, and an ability to apply that knowledge to the teaching situations presented on the PLT. Let’s take a look at a sample PLT scenario question to see what specific pedagogy knowledge in requires:
From page 19 of the PLT Grades K-6 Study Companion:
Dan is one of two students in Ms. Kane’s fifth grade class under the “least restrictive environment” provision. Dan has a very limited attention span and says he usually cannot follow what is going on in class. One of the IEP objectives for Dan is “Given a 10–12 minute lecture/oral lesson, Dan will take appropriate notes as judged by the teacher.”
Which of the following strategies has the best potential to help Dan meet this goal by the end of the year?
(A) Ms. Kane grades Dan’s notes on lecture/oral lesson material and incorporates the grade into Dan’s overall class grade
(B) Ms. Kane allows Dan to tape-record the lecture/oral lesson, rather than taking notes, and then listen to the tape at home to learn the material
(C) Ms. Kane provides Dan with a graphic organizer, or a skeleton outline, of the lecture so Dan can fill in the missing information as it is provided
(D) Ms. Kane seats Dan with a student he says he likes and allows Dan to ask that student questions as the lecture/oral lesson proceeds
To understand this question and answer it correctly, you don’t need to have worked with a fifth grader like Dan. You don’t even need experience or training in teaching note-taking. (Although understanding note-taking pedagogy can certainly help make you more comfortable with the question.)
But you do need to know the concept of “least restrictive environment” as it pertains to education. This is the idea that students with learning or behavioral issues should be given only the minimum amount of extra supervision and control that they need for effective learning. “Least restrictive environment” policies are in place at many schools to prevent teachers and administrators from putting students with special needs under too much control, in a way that may needlessly stigmatize the student or limit the student’s ability to learn.
You also need to know what an IEP is. IEP stands for Individualized Education Program, which means a written statement of learning needs and learning objectives created for students who have disabilities or special learning challenges. IEPs are used in all government-accredited K-12 schools, in accordance with federal regulations. (You can read the U.S. Department of Education’s IEP definitions and standards here.)
By knowing that learning goals are central to IEPs, you immediately know that you should focus on the goal—learning to take good notes—as you read the scenario. And if you understand “least restrictive environment,” you know that this approach will avoid putting extra constraints on Dan and will also avoid embarrassing him in front of his classmates.
This knowledge eliminates choice (A), because grading Dan on his notes at the end of term doesn’t actually help him meet the goal of improving notes during the term. (B) is also out, because it provides a substitute activity for the one that is the focus of the learning goal—Dan learns to review audio of a lesson instead of learning to take better notes. (D) can be eliminated because pairing Dan with a classmate he says he likes makes his learning routine more restrictive and could potentially cause his classmates to look down on him. So the answer must be (C)—giving Dan a graphic organizer to support his note-taking activities is a step toward the IEP goal of effective, independent note-taking and is minimally restrictive.
Most scenarios on the PLT are like the one above—a brief description of a situation is provided, followed by a single question that requires knowledge of educational policy or learning theory (<LINK TO DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY AND LEANRIGN THEORY ON THE PRAXIS PLT).
Some scenarios will be a bit longer, describing the student or students in greater detail and providing more information on the learning/teaching situation. In some cases, a limited sample of actual lesson materials may appear on the test. Longer scenarios may also come with multiple questions instead of just one. For a longer scenario example, see page 21 of the PLT Grades 7-12 Study Companion. And check out the practice questions in all four PLT Study Companions to get a good feel for PLT scenarios.