ITAIS Newsletter

ITAIS News, Volume 9:2 (March 2004)

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In This Issue of the ITAIS Newsletter...

Convention Update From the Chair
ITA-IS Steering Committee 2003-2004
From the Editor
Internationalizing UVA and Supporting English Language Learners: Involving the Campus Community--Low Costs, High Returns
Teaching Practica for International Teaching Assistants
About This Member Community

Convention Update From the Chair

TESOL's 2004 Convention is almost here! Please make every effort to attend the ITA-IS Business Meeting on Wednesday, 5-7pm. In order for the Steering Committee to serve you well, they need to hear your voices. One of the agenda items will be to start brainstorming the 2005 convention program. Please plan to come with opinions and ideas on whatever facet of IS business is important to you. If you have particular ideas on what should be on the agenda, please let me know.

The Business Meeting is also where you will receive your ticket if you have made your reservation for the third annual ITA-IS Dinner/Social. This event was created because so many members wanted to continue the conversations begun at the Business Meeting. Please do not skip the Business Meeting and come directly to the Social--we need your voices!

Please remember you must reserve your space ahead of time. Since the room holds only 50 people, you must have a ticket to attend. Write Cara to check availability.

There will be an All Interest Section Networking Reception in the Renaissance Hotel immediately following the Business Meeting. The ITA-IS Dinner/Social will start with a cocktail half-hour in order to allow ITA-IS members who wish to stop by the Networking Reception to do so and still arrive at the Dinner/Social in time for dinner.

Remember the new feature at this year's convention called the Networking Mall. If you would like to request a table for an hour and invite folks to stop by, let me know and I'll check on availability.

If you have not already done so, be sure to visit the Online Program Planner. Go to, click on "Annual Convention," then within the "General Information" section click on "Online Program Planner." It's a fabulous resource for organizing your convention time. There have been someprogram changes, so if you've already been there, check back for an update.

Questions? Comments? Write me anytime!


ITA-IS Steering Committee 2003-2004

Immediate Past Chair
Catherine Ross
University of Connecticut

Diane Cotsonas
University of Utah

Barbara Willenborg
University of Pennsylvania

Allison Petro
University of Rhode Island

Newsletter Editor
Ingrid Arnesen
Cornell University

Newsletter Editor-Elect
Chris Fox
University of Missouri-Columbia

Derina Samuel
Syracuse University

Member at Large
Colleen Meyers
University of Minnesota

Member at Large
Janet Benger
Memorial University of Newfoundland

Webmaster (
John Bro
University of Florida

From the Editor

Ingrid Arnesen

It has been my pleasure to serve as ITA-IS Newsletter editor this year and to work with all of the contributors who generously shared their programmatic and personal experiences with the entire interest section. Their wide array of articles has stimulated discussion on issues important to the interest section. Thanks to all who contributed, and thanks to the chair and chair-elect for their advice and timely information. As Chris Fox takes over as editor, I look forward to reading future issues of the ITA Newsletter as they continue the vital exchange characteristic of the interest section. And as winter very, very slowly gives way to spring here in Ithaca, I look forward to seeing you all in sunny Long Beach, CA!

Internationalizing UVA and Supporting English Language Learners: Involving the Campus Community--Low Costs, High Returns

By Dudley Doane,, and Alyson Kienle

Calls for greater internationalization of higher education in the United States are not new, nor is disappointment about the breadth and depth of internationalization efforts. Much of the discourse on campus internationalization has focused on the mobility of U.S. students and faculty along with reform of undergraduate curricula. While commonly acknowledged to be a primary component of campus internationalization, the integration of international students and scholars at U.S. colleges and universities (Ellingboe, 1998; Hayward, 2000) too often receives little attention and few resources. One can argue that in failing to support their international students and scholars, institutions overlook a tremendous internationalization resource and underserve what for many universities, including the University of Virginia (UVA), are increasingly important constituencies.

In the past decade, the number of international students and scholars has grown dramatically at the UVA. These students and scholars bring a wealth of knowledge and skills to the university; they play a significant role in the production and dissemination of knowledge. As newcomers to the United States, many international students and scholars face a variety of challenges, which often involve language and culture.

In an effort to help students and scholars address challenges related to language and culture, UVA reconfigured and expanded English language support services through creation of the Center for American English Language and Culture (CAELC). Coordination of several existing and highly successful ESL endeavors was effected under the banner of CAELC, and additional English language courses and services were created; however, CAELC faculty quickly realized that their students needed opportunities both for conversation practice and for interaction with U.S. peers outside of language classes. For this to happen, CAELC would have to call on members of the UVA community.

The faculty also recognized that the capstone course for prospective international teaching assistants, LING 111 Classroom Communication, a class focused on the development of oral language skills and teaching skills, would have to be redesigned in order to accommodate more participants. There was a long waiting list for enrollment in the course, and departments needed to fill teaching assignments.

Elizabeth Wittner, the CAELC faculty member who oversees the training program for international teaching assistants, elected to double the size of LING 111 and to create a second section of the class. In the fall of 2002, 48 individuals enrolled in LING 111, whereas in 2001, 12 people took the course. Resources allowed employment of a second LING 111 instructor, but redesigning the course relied heavily on the involvement of UVA community members.

CAELC faculty cited increased contact between U.S. students and individuals from different cultures as a significant collateral benefit of the new programming. Interacting with international students and scholars on a regular basis could help U.S. students develop intercultural proficiency or global competence, an overriding goal in much of the literature on internationalization (American Council on Education, 1998; Hayward, 2000; Green, 2002). The prospect of developing programs leading to more reflexive and insightful U.S. students as well as to increased English proficiency among international students and scholars provided a powerful incentive to forge ahead.

The challenges faced by CAELC faculty were substantially lessened by two existing models for campus community involvement in English language support services. The first involved classroom assistants and tutors and was developed by Dr. Marion Ross, founder of the original ESL program at the university. Ross recruited U.S. students from linguistics, anthropology, and foreign language departments and from her course on the teaching of English as second language to assist with her popular course on U.S. pronunciation. Many of the volunteers received practicum credit for the work, directed by Ross.

The second model, tied to the training program for international teaching assistants, was developed by Elizabeth Wittner. Wittner recruited volunteers to debrief prospective international teaching assistants on their teaching demos in her LING 111 course and sought volunteers to meet with her students for conversation practice outside of class.

Today, there are five roles UVA community members can play to assist with the delivery of English language support services: peer mentors in the summer English for academic purposes program (10 in 2003), classroom tutors in LING 105 American Pronunciation (17 in 2003-2004), LING 111 classroom volunteers (47 in 2003-2004), LING 111 classroom moderators (18 in 2003--2004), and student language consultants (i.e., conversation group leaders; 152 in 2003-2004). Since September 2003, more than 350 international students and scholars have participated in CAELC courses and extracurricular activities that draw on support from the larger UVA community.

Although the five programs rely on the willingness of native English speakers to give of their time, CAELC has been able to provide modest financial rewards for the summer peer mentors and the LING 111 classroom moderators. This is important because mentors and moderators take on more responsibilities than do assistants in the other programs. Additionally, practicum credit continues to be available for the classroom tutors, which is appropriate given the training in the teaching of pronunciation provided by Marion Ross. The vast majority of the native-speaker assistants, however, are true volunteers. Levels of satisfaction with the experience appear to be high, and the programs have rapidly increased in popularity.

Each type of assistant completes some kind of training at the beginning of the term and is monitored throughout the term. The assistants, who are mostly from the United States, are not only asked to provide feedback on the language skills of English language learners but also encouraged to reflect on their own assumptions and values along with the difficulties of intercultural communication. This is accomplished with biweekly journals.

Organization of the five programs involves recruitment, training and support, and evaluation. The endeavor has required employing a graduate administrative intern to assist faculty with development and administration of the programs. Given the number of assistants and internationals involved in the programs and the value of participation to both groups, the costs of administration seem small.

By building on existing strengths and practices, CAELC faculty have increased interaction between internationals and members of the larger UVA community. This increased interaction has helped English language learners develop their language skills and their knowledge of U.S. culture and helped several hundred U.S. students expand their worldview. In the words of Elizabeth Wittner, we are "internationalizing UVA one conversation at a time."

Information on English language support services at the University of Virginia is available at Questions should be directed to CAELC at or 434/924 3371.


Ellingboe, B. J. (1998). Divisional strategies to internationalize a campus portrait: Results, resistance, and recommendations from a case study at a U.S. university. In J. Mestenhauser & B. Ellingboe (Eds.), Reforming the higher education curriculum internationalizing the campus (pp. 198-228). Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press.

American Council on Education. (1998). Educating for global competence. Washington, DC: Author.

Green, M. F. (2002). Joining the world: The challenge of internationalizing undergraduate education. Change, 34(3), 13--21.

Hayward, F. (2000). Internationalization of U.S. higher education preliminary status report. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

Dudley J. Doane serves as director of the University of Virginia's Center for American English Language and Culture (CAELC) and interim director of the Summer Session. Alyson Kienle, CAELC's graduate administrative intern, is a PhD student in the Curry School of Education.

Teaching Practica for International Teaching Assistants

By Greta J. Gorsuch,

Teacher Education, Language Education?

A topic of continued discussion in teaching assistant development circles has been whether international teaching assistant (ITA) education is best done within individual academic departments or within centralized, university-wide programs organized by teaching specialists and/or English as a Second Language (ESL) specialists. If ITA development is construed strictly as teacher education, then it makes sense that individual departments create courses, discussion groups, and so forth to help ITAs learn how to teach in their chosen discipline alongside their native-English-speaking counterparts. "Different disciplines prefer different teaching styles," according to Hoekje and Williams (1994, p. 18), and "most ESL instructors do not have the background to provide . . . [domain specific] information and training" (p. 23). Further, departments "know firsthand the nature of the content and the setting in which instruction will occur" (Weimer, Svinicki, & Bauer, 1989, p. 58). If ITA development is construed as language education, however, then university-wide programs seem appropriate. Indeed, ITA educators with ESL backgrounds are cognizant of the relationship between language and the various contexts in which ITAs operate and ITAs' general language needs in those contexts (Hoekje & Williams, 1994). ESL specialists have maintained active research agendas exploring language use in various academic settings (Byrd & Constantinides, 1992), in classroom communication (Carpenter & Williams, 2000), and in performance assessment (Gorsuch, 2004; Hoekje & Linnell, 1994). This article is about an ITA practicum program at Texas Tech University that potentially combines the best of both approaches to ITA education: academic departments that seek to help ITAs learn how to teach within their disciplines and a university-wide ESL program with the mission of improving the classroom communication skills of ITAs, whatever their discipline.

Practicum Program Background

The practicum program began this past fall with a telephone call from a first-year chemistry lab coordinator, Rebecca Miller, to me, the director of the ITA Training Program. Out of the eight ITA candidates sent to our annual ITA Summer Workshop by the chemistry department, only one had been recommended to teach that fall. The seven who had not been recommended were given assignments as graders and were enrolled in a semester-long ITA language development course I was teaching, called LING 7000. Rebecca was concerned that ITA candidates with poor English skills would see grading as an easy job compared to teaching labs, and would not make the necessary efforts to improve their language ability within the grace year allowed them by the chemistry department. She wondered if there was a way in which chemistry ITA candidates could be required to intensify their efforts through the LING 7000 course and at the same time receive department-specific teacher training.

Rebecca's call came at an opportune time. Frustrated for the past year by some ITA candidates' seemingly slow progress in LING 7000, I had begun asking the ITAs to complete weekly time matrices, which required them to keep track of how they spent their time and in what language. I learned that many ITA candidates in LING 7000 lived, socialized, and did school work in first language (L1) enclaves and spent much of their time using their L1, not English. Having lived overseas for many years, where my L1 was not spoken, I was not willing to suggest the candidates forsake their L1 friendships and support systems, particularly when they did not have much money and needed to share resources. Instead, I felt opportunities for English use should be intensified for ITA candidates during their time within university walls. But how to do that? As a provider of language instruction and assessment services who was dependent on the voluntary cooperation of academic departments, I was not in a position to tell departments what to do. However, Rebecca's request gave me an occasion to create significant English use opportunities for ITAs, coupled with relevant teaching experiences that I, as an ESL specialist, could not provide for ITAs on my own.

Getting Started

After some discussion, Rebecca offered to assign the 7 chemistry ITA candidates in my LING 7000 class to seven experienced chemistry ITAs teaching freshman labs. I agreed to make participation in the practicum a course requirement for the chemistry ITA candidates in my LING 7000 class. I also agreed to monitor attendance of ITA candidates in the labs and to remain in contact with the experienced mentor ITAs throughout the semester to offer support. I had 10 other nonchemistry ITAs enrolled in LING 7000 at the time and simply decided that I would work with their respective departments to pair them up with experienced mentor ITAs or native-English-speaking TAs. My goal was to arrange for the ITA candidates to observe and participate in undergraduate labs, classes, or discussion sections within their disciplines for at least 2 hours per week for a full semester. In some cases, ITA candidates also attended office hours of mentors if the mentors were comfortable with the idea. I did not try to persuade departmental administrators to adopt the practicum idea, but merely made the suggestion and offered to do some of the legwork to set up the practica, and only one department out of six rejected it. Interestingly, the ITA candidate from that department had friends and a teacher in a related department and so arranged an abbreviated practicum for himself in the related department.

I was concerned that the mentors would feel burdened by having responsibility for the ITAs assigned to them, so I promised the mentors that I would help with any information or action that was needed. During the first weeks of the semester, I fielded many of their questions by e-mail and phone on what role the ITA mentee was to play in the classes they observed. I replied that the ITAs were to observe and learn how teaching was done in their discipline and how language was used in the classroom. I also stated it was my expectation that ITAs would be active in labs by circulating and interacting with students. I suggested that if, and only if, the mentor felt comfortable, the ITAs could give prelab talks or portions of lectures later in the semester. I was careful to copy all communications with mentors to their departmental supervisors to give the supervisors the option of offering input or altering or even terminating the practica.

The practica were time-consuming to set up and maintain. Working alone, I phoned and e-mailed department chairs, graduate advisors, lab supervisors, and mentors in six departments. I created attendance logs for mentors to sign on a weekly basis, and end-of-semester questionnaires for ITA candidates and mentors. I wrote individualized thank you letters to mentors with copies to department chairs. There were only two serious problems: One mentor e-mailed me to say that the ITA candidate assigned to his discussion section had fallen asleep in full view of the students; and another mentor mentioned that the ITA candidate was not proactive in getting in touch with the mentor. In both cases I was able to address the problem by speaking with the candidates.

A Success?

Following Ellis' retrospective task micro-evaluation model (1995), I gathered information for a student-based evaluation focusing on "how interesting and useful learners perceive a task to be" (Ellis, 1995, p. 221). I used questionnaires to query the ITAs on their impressions of their practica and their utility. Space does not permit a detailed report of their responses, but ITAs commented that the practica had helped them learn "the way to interact with undergraduates," "the teaching style, the teaching words . . . and how to make the class more active," and "how to handle the class and learn more about how to teach certain topics." Some ITA candidates showed evidence of heightened metacognition: "I know what I should do to improve myself further." The candidates strongly agreed that the practicum program should be continued and replied that the practica had not been a burden to them. They indicated that they had frequently observed classes, answered students' questions, and interacted with students during. A few had been asked to actually teach and did so.

Mentors also responded to a questionnaire. They generally agreed that they had not been burdened by working with the ITA candidates. They felt the candidates had learned over the semester and that they had behaved professionally. The mentors also requested more specific descriptions of what the ITA candidates' roles should be. I had been unwilling to provide such information during the first semester because I was not sure whether any of the departments would agree to the practica, and did not know how the various departments defined the duties of their teaching assistants. By following up with the mentors in the months to come, however, I may be able to specify ITA candidates' roles in the practica more clearly, department by department.

In keeping with Ellis' micro-evaluation model, I also conducted a response-based evaluation, which focused on whether or not a task elicited the intended behavior from task participants (Ellis, 1995, p. 222). In this case, I wanted to know whether ITAs did in fact interact with U.S. undergraduates and whether these interactions afforded them language acquisition opportunities. I also wanted to know what the ITAs noticed and internalized in terms of mentor teaching practices and language used. The questionnaire results already suggested that candidates interacted with U.S. undergraduates and likely engaged in pushed output. But response-based evaluations are more informative when they are based on direct observations as opposed to self-reports. With permission from the mentors and supervisors, I observed two ITAs in their practicum settings, twice each. I took observation notes, keeping track of what mentors did and said in class. I e-mailed the two ITAs the next day with 5-10 questions on specific aspects of mentors' teaching practices and about the language they used to accomplish pedagogical functions in class, such as "How did the teacher get the students to ask questions?" and "How did the teacher begin the class? Do you remember what she said?"

One ITA in a lecture class practicum seemed to notice quite a bit about the teachers' actions but could not recall many expressions or phrases used. I noted in my observation notes that the mentor had covered much content in the lecture and did so quickly. The situation may have represented a linguistic overload for the ITA candidate. It made me wonder how much of the academic lectures ITAs actually comprehended as students. In this particular class, there was little opportunity for the ITA candidate to interact with students, and on the one occasion the candidate was to give part of the lecture, he claimed illness and backed out at the last minute.

Another ITA in a lab practicum setting noticed more and could recall specific expressions used by the mentor. She also began commenting on the mentor's teaching, saying that the mentor had a "lively style," and that she (the ITA candidate) wanted to emulate this. I observed the candidate interacting with the students and engaging in numerous extended exchanges. In order to discern more directly whether acquisition opportunities were available to the ITA candidate, I asked her to wear a lapel tape recorder. The recording revealed several instances of the candidate repeating to herself field-specific words the mentor teacher used in speaking to the students as they worked. The next day, the candidate could not recall a specific word but could approximate the term semantically. She could not recall another word but knew that it collocated with caliper and started with an R. She said she did not recall saying the words to herself in class and that she believed she had not heard or read the words before that day.

The evidence of success presented here is spotty and does not conclusively support definite and positive outcomes for the practicum program. Clearly, some practica settings were better than others. Lecture settings did not lend themselves to ITA-student interaction as much as labs did. Further, some ITA candidates and mentors were more willing than others to maintain high levels of ITA candidate involvement in the classes. The results of the student-based and response-based micro-evaluations were intriguing, however, and have given me enough encouragement to continue the practicum this semester in the interests of both teacher and language education. It has been a great deal of administrative work, but I am finding more effective ways to gather information on positive and negative outcomes. If you are interested in practica, or already do practica and have suggestions, I hope you will contact me at


Byrd, P., & Constantinides, J. (1992). The language of teaching mathematics: Implications for training ITAs. TESOL Quarterly, 26(1), 163-176.

Carpenter, M., & Williams, N. (2000, March). Strategies for pragmatic competence in ITA exchanges. Paper presented at the meeting of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Ellis, R. (1995). SLA research and language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gorsuch, G. J. (2004). Classic challenges in ITA assessment: Old but good. Unpublished manuscript.

Hoekje, B., & Linnell, K. (1994). "Authenticity" of language testing: Evaluating spoken language tests for international teaching assistants. TESOL Quarterly, 28(1), 103-126.

Hoekje, B., & Williams, J. (1994). Communicative competence as a theoretical framework for ITA education. In C. G. Madden & C. L. Myers (Eds.). Discourse and performance of international teaching assistants (pp. 11-26). Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc.

Weimer, M., Svinicki, M., & Bauer, G. (1989). Designing programs to prepare TAs to teach. In J. Nyquist, R. Abbott, & D. Wulff (Eds.). Teaching assistant training in the 1990s (pp. 57-70). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Greta Gorsuch is director of the International Teaching Assistant Training Program at Texas Tech University and is interested in performance assessment, computerized testing, educational cultures, and reading in a foreign language.

About This Member Community International Teaching Assistants Interest Section (ITAIS)

The International Teaching Assistants interest section (ITA IS) serves TESOL members who work with nonnative-English-speaking teaching assistants as researchers, teachers, and program administrators.

ITAIS Leaders, 2003-2004

Chair: Diane Cotsonas,
Chair-Elect: Barbara Willenborg,
Newsletter Editor: Ingrid Arnesen,

Discussion E-List: Visit if you are already subscribed to ITAIS-L, or visit to subscribe.

Web Site:

More Resources:
  • ITAIS Newsletter Volume 8 Issue 2: September 2003
  • Issues and Implications of English Dialects for Teaching English as a Second Language (part 1 of 3)
  • Issues and Implications of English Dialects for Teaching English as a Second Language (part 3 of 3)
  • Issues and Implications of English Dialects for Teaching English as a Second Language (part 2 of 3)
  • No Child Left Behind: Title I Overview