Intensive second language instruction for international teaching assistants: How much and what kind is effective?

Dale T. Griffee, Greta Gorsuch

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

Second language instructional programs in academic settings take many forms in terms of length and intensity. Whether a program is intensive (four or more hours per day, five days per week) or conventional (one hour three or four days per week) may be determined by programmatic needs. Instructional formats may also be shaped by assumptions about the nature of the content being learned. A second language, for example, may be seen as a body of content to be mastered, rather than something requiring extensive opportunities for input, practice, and use. Learners may be seen as needing only to learn about language with the result that contact hours set aside for instruction are seen as reducible. Time on task needed for input, practice, and use of these features of language may be given short shrift. Empirical investigations are needed to learn how much instruction in terms of length and intensity is effective in developing second language learning. The current study explores this issue in the context of a threeweek intensive English as a second language program for newly arrived international teaching assistants (ITAs) at a research university in the southwest U.S. The current sixhour- per-day, five-days-per-week late-summer program was intended to improve ITAs' pronunciation (word stress) and intelligibility (discourse competence), and classroom communication skills (compensation of communicative code using visuals, repetitions, etc.). Using a sample of N = 18 ITAs, a statistical model was developed to test whether a third week of intensive instruction in word stress, discourse competence, compensation skills, and an overall rating significantly and meaningfully improved ITAs' skills in those areas in a teaching simulation task. Results suggested that a third week of intensive instruction contributed to significantly and meaningfully higher scores in the four areas of ITAs' classroom communication. Second language instructional programs in academic settings take many forms in terms of length and intensity (Kaufman and Brownworth, 2006). Whether a program is intensive (five or more hours of language instruction per day) or more conventional (one hour five times a week or ninety minutes twice a week) may be determined by programmatic needs (availability of classroom space or funding, or length of time allowed by a given academic semester or term). Instructional formats may also be shaped by commonly held, perhaps undiscussed, assumptions about the nature of the content (language) being learned, and the place of that content in perception of student needs. A second language, for example, may be seen as a body of content to be mastered, rather than something requiring extensive opportunities for input, practice, and use. Learners with specialized needs, such as upper intermediate and advanced learners who must improve their pronunciation (word stress) and intelligibility (discourse competence) for professional purposes, may be seen as needing only to learn about pronunciation and intelligibility for future use, with the result that contact hours set aside for instruction are seen as reducible. Time on task needed for input, practice, and use of these features of language may be given short shrift. Empirical investigations are needed on how much instruction (with attendant practice and use opportunities) in terms of length and intensity is effective in developing second language learning as measured by current assessments of language use. The current study explores this issue in the context of a three week intensive English as a second language program for newly arrived international teaching assistants (ITAs) at a U.S. university. ITAs are Chinese, Korean, Indian, etc. graduate students who will be supported as instructors in undergraduate physics, math, chemistry, etc. classes in their subject area, in their second language (English). The current six-hours-per-day, fivedays- per-week late-summer program portrayed in this report is intended to improve ITAs' pronunciation (word stress) and intelligibility (discourse competence), and classroom communication skills (compensation of communicative code using visuals, repetitions, etc.) prior to the start of the fall academic semester. For programmatic reasons, a shorter, one- or two-week intensive program was suggested, which raised concern as to whether ITAs would improve as much as needed in the shorter suggested time frame. Fortunately, assessments of ITAs' performance were done throughout the workshop, which allowed investigation of their improvement at various points. The purpose of this report is to demonstrate the use of a statistical model which estimated 18 ITAs' improvement on a similar measure at two different points in the workshop (the 8th and the 16th days), and to discuss the results in light of the duration, intensity, and type of instruction and learner practice known to have taken place prior to each measurement. An additional purpose was to help those who run such intensive programs make reasoned efforts to maintain or increase the number of contact hours needed for second language improvement. Applied linguistics is in many respects an interdisciplinary field, drawing from research traditions in psychology and education (in additional to theoretical linguistics). Thus the following literature review explores relevant research from these fields, particularly to forge connections between current (if unexamined) models of intensive ITA preparation programs and key related psychological and educational concepts such as duration (length) and intensity (frequency of instruction or practice). We see two other concepts, time on task and practice, as related to duration and intensity, in that time on task and practice refer to what happens in classrooms for particular amounts of time within a program (duration) and in spaced or massed conditions on a given day of classes (intensity).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTeachers and Teaching Strategies
Subtitle of host publicationInnovations and Problem Solving
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
Pages187-206
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9781604569056
StatePublished - 2008

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    Griffee, D. T., & Gorsuch, G. (2008). Intensive second language instruction for international teaching assistants: How much and what kind is effective? In Teachers and Teaching Strategies: Innovations and Problem Solving (pp. 187-206). Nova Science Publishers, Inc..