ITAIS Newsletter

ITAIS News, Volume 14:1 (March 2009)

by User Not Found | 10/27/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Letter From the Chair
    • Schedule of ITA-Related Sessions at TESOL 2009
  • Articles and Information
    • A Different Angle for a Broader Audience: Expanding the Scope of ITA Training
    • Stressing Out About Math
    • Bridging Campuses: Videoconference Series Explores Intercultural Communication and Campus Diversity
  • Announcements
    • Join Interest Sections for Free
    • Editor’s Note
    • Call for Contributions
  • About This Member Community
    • TESOL International Teaching Assistants Interest Section
    • International Teaching Assistants Interest Section Community Leaders, 2008-2009

Leadership Updates Letter From the Chair

Mary Jetter, University of Minnesota,

Hello Everyone!

TESOL 2009 is rapidly approaching, as is the end of my time as the chair. It’s been a great opportunity to be your chair this year and I’ve enjoyed it tremendously. For those of you going to the conference, the convention schedule is now available online. The newsletter editors have also included a list of ITA-related sessions in this issue. Our Open Meeting will be on Thursday from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m., following the last ITA session of the day. For those of you who aren’t able to attend, I hope that we will be able to post summaries of the ITA sessions as well as have discussions about them on the e-list.

I would like to thank everyone who has helped with TESOL 2009. Special thanks to all of you who submitted proposals, the proposal readers, our chair-elect Cheryl Ernst for putting together what I know will be an outstanding Academic Session, and our members-at-large, Kim Kenyon and Peggy Heidish, for organizing the ITA social. I’d also like to thank Barbara Boockmeier and Elena Stetsenko for working on the booth.

I hope to see many of you in Denver!


Schedule of ITA-Related Sessions at TESOL 2009

Colorado Convention Center         March 26-28, 2009

 Thursday, March 26, 2009

7:00-7:45 AM- Discussion Session      ROOM 705
Designing and Implementing a Course for Chemistry ITAs
Presenter: Jean Czaja

7:00-8:45 AM- Colloquium-       ROOM 304
A Curricular Crossroad: International Teaching Assistant Education
Presenterw: Greta Gorsuch Griffee, Colleen Meyers, Lucy Pickering, Dale Griffee

8:00-8:45 AM- Demonstration      ROOM 406
Connecting Classroom and Campus for International Teaching Assistants
Presenters: Pamela Pollock, Stew Markel

10:00 AM-12:45 PM- Academic Session     ROOM 402
ITAs: Assessment, Pedagogy, Culture
Presenters: Cheryl Ernst, Anne Halbert, Jocelyn Hardman, Barbara Hoekje, Okim Kang, Kimberly Kenyon, Theresa Pettit, Donald Rubin

1:00-1:45 PM- Paper        ROOM 705
Pronunciation Vistas for International Teaching Assistants
Presenter: Laura Hahn

3:00-3:45 PM- Paper        ROOM 503
Increasing ITA Accountability for Communicative Improvement
Presenters: Denise Marceaux, John Stowe

3:00-3:45 PM- Demonstration      ROOM 504
Job Interviewing and the International Teaching Assistant
Presenters: Jody Gabler, Barbara Thompson

5:00-5:45 PM- Demonstration      ROOM 112
Correlating TOEFL iBT Scores to International Teaching Assistant Test Results
Presenters: Peggy Heidish, Jane O’Brien, Theresa Pettit

6:00-7:00 PM- ITA-IS Open Meeting

 Friday, March 27, 2009

7:00-7:45 AM- Discussion Group      ROOM 110
Cross-Cultural Dimensions in ITA Office Hours Training
Presenters: Zeynep Altinsel, Colleen Meyers, Elena Stetsenko

7:00-7:45 AM- Discussion Group      ROOM 507
Teaching at Cross-Purposes: Helping ITAs Navigate Undergraduate Expectations
Presenter: Anne Halbert

1:00-1:45 PM- Demonstration      ROOM 203
The Flipside of ESL: Teaching Intercultural Communication to Native Speakers
Presenter: Stephanie Hanson

3:00-4:45 PM- Intersection       ROOM 711
Non-Native English Speaking Teachers: Issues and Considerations
Presenters: Mary Jetter, Diana Trebing, Kathleen O’Donovan

6:30- ITA-IS Social

Saturday, March 28, 2009

7:00-7:45- Discussion Session      ROOM 112
Mathematicians and Me: An ITA Department-Based Program
Presenter: Cathy Jacobson

8:00-8:45 AM- Demonstration      ROOM 507
Grammar Monitoring for ITAs
Presenter: Rebecca Oreto

11:00-11:45 AM- Paper       ROOM 505
Effects and Implications of Faculty Involvement in ITA Performance Testing
Presenters: Susan M. Sarwark, Susan Greene

3:00-3:45- Discussion Session      ROOM 707
Scaffolding ITAs’ Spoken Fluency Through Writing Exercises
Presenters: Rebecca Oreto, Cara Constello

5:00-5:45- Discussion Session      ROOM 106
ITAs’ Role in Internationalizing Undergraduate Courses
Presenters: Kathleen O’Donovan, Elena Stetsenko

5:00-5:45- Discussion Session      ROOM 707
Newcomers’ Discussion Group: Design, Curriculum and Assessment in ITA Programs
Presenters: Kathi Cennamo, Susan Sarwark

Compiled by Pamela Pollock


Articles and Information A Different Angle for a Broader Audience: Expanding the Scope of ITA Training

Stephanie Hanson, Cornell University,

ITA professionals have recently been discussing how much communicative burden should be placed on international teaching assistants and how much undergraduates can or should be expected to contribute (see, for example, Pickering, Rubin, Ross, & Tapper, 2007). Indeed, this issue is growing within higher education in general as universities across the country consider the amount of cross-cultural competence U.S. students should possess to fully participate in the global community (NAFSA, 2007; U.S. Department of State, 2006). We as ITA practitioners are in a prime position to use our expertise in language, culture, and communication to address this issue on our campuses by offering training in how to use English as an international language (EIL).

We are accustomed to instructing people in strategies to make themselves better understood. We help ITAs adjust their pronunciation, aid them in choice of vocabulary, and suggest compensation strategies they can use when needed. By adapting lessons and practices we already use with ITAs, we can also reach out to broader audiences and assist native speakers in becoming better intercultural communicators. Toward that end, I have outlined some parallels between work we already do with ITAs and similar training we can offer undergraduates. (For simplicity’s sake, I will refer to training “undergraduates” throughout this article, with the assumption that most of them are native English speakers. However, EIL training can benefit everyone who comes in contact with people from linguistic backgrounds different from their own; thus the following suggestions can certainly be expanded to even broader audiences.)

We work with ITAs on several speaking strategies to make them more effective instructors: adjusting their speed, pausing to highlight important information, building redundancy into their speech, and periodically performing comprehension checks. Undergraduates can benefit from learning about and practicing these same strategies so they too can be more effective communicators, particularly in intercultural settings.

We’ve all spent time helping ITAs with terminology, particularly informal vocabulary such as slang and idioms. Though speakers of American English will not need our assistance in acquiring new vocabulary in the way that ITAs do, undergraduates can benefit from an increased awareness of expressions they use that may be problematic for nonnative speakers. Students can benefit from learning the same compensatory strategies we teach our ITAs to make themselves better understood. Activities in which undergrads need to rephrase themselves would be helpful practice so they start choosing their words more carefully and are better prepared to reword or explain themselves when necessary.

I have lost track of the number of times I have had to prompt my students to ask when they don’t understand something, rather than feigning comprehension. Undergraduates often need this same reminder, and can benefit from tips on how to listen more actively. Just as we teach ITAs to request clarification, ask for repetition, and perform confirmation checks when needed, undergrads also need training in these strategies. Giving them tips on how to do this, along with interactive exercises in which they can practice being more active interlocutors, will help them prepare for listening to varieties of English different from their own. This is also a good time to highlight the usefulness of body language in giving feedback to show understanding (or the lack thereof) as a listener.

We probably won’t teach undergrads to change their pronunciation. However, they can benefit from an explanation of aspects of their pronunciation that may be difficult for nonnative speakers to understand. One way to do this is to raise awareness of natural speech phenomena (e.g., trimming, blending, and elision) that can lead to comprehension problems for nonnative speakers. Show students just how much these reductions affect our speech. Many native speakers don’t notice the vast difference between an utterance such as “jeetjet?” and “Did you eat yet?” until it is explicitly pointed out to them. Activities that show undergrads how common reduction is in natural speech can help them to anticipate some potential communication problems. They may then better understand the importance of enunciating clearly, and be more willing and able to do so.

You may also identify varieties of English that undergraduates on your campus are likely to encounter, and develop materials to help them become more accustomed to that accent. For example, if your school has a large population of South Koreans, develop resources to teach native English speakers about some of the common features of Korean English they can expect to hear.

Getting to Know Their “Audience”
We’ve all used resources and activities to help ITAs better understand American undergraduates, with the hope that getting to know their audience will help ITAs relate to their students and be more effective instructors. Similarly, helping undergraduates get to know about nonnative speakers can help them become more compassionate in intercultural settings. Exercises in which undergrads are placed in the position of not being the most proficient speaker can help them be more patient and understanding when interacting with someone who speaks a different variety of English.

One of the most effective ways I have found to do this is to put native speakers in the role of a nonnative speaker. You may ask an ITA to help you give a mini-lesson in a foreign language so that undergrads experience what it is like to communicate in a different language. For example, asking a Thai TA to demonstrate the difference between aspirated and nonaspirated /p/ can give native speakers a feel for how difficult it is to distinguish two allophones that don’t exist in English. Such an exercise puts undergrads in the shoes of a nonnative speaker, can help them better understand why ITAs conflate English sounds, and can lead them to be more empathetic communicators as a result.

Another way to get undergrads out of the role of “most proficient speaker” is to develop activities using British English or another variety of inner-circle English. I suggest using an inner-circle variety because it prevents undergrads from using the excuse that “this person can’t speak English” if communication difficulties arise. Using a less familiar variety of English does, however, give undergraduates a true experience in using English as an international language, and a sense of possible challenges in international settings, even when speaking the “same” language. For example, use an audio sample of fast-paced British speech (particularly one riddled with British vocabulary and slang) to help undergraduates appreciate the extent to which speed and vocabulary affect comprehensibility.

By making undergraduates aware of how they use English and challenges they may encounter with people who speak a different variety of English, they can benefit from training in becoming more effective international communicators. As illustrated above, ITA professionals already have the background and expertise to help undergraduates (and broader audiences) more effectively use English as an international language.

In light of the emphasis that universities are placing on internationalization, this may be a growing branch within the field of ITA training. In addition, the current economic situation has many universities looking for ways to use limited resources more effectively. ITA programs can use existing staff, materials, and expertise to actually expand their services and reach a greater audience, even in this time of fiscal strain. (One free resource available to help with intercultural communication training is an online self-study room produced by Cornell University’s CyberTower program. This room, entitled “Watch Your Language: Improving Communication with Non-Native Speakers,” is accessible through Enter CyberTower, then click on “Study Rooms” and scroll through the titles to find the series of online video lectures.)

Consider internationalization needs on your own campus and how your program may meet that need. Does your institution have globalization initiatives to which you can contribute? What programs can you collaborate with? How can you reach broader audiences on your campus? By looking at our profession from a slightly different angle, we can play a crucial role in contributing to cross-cultural competence needs in higher education.


NAFSA: Association of International Educators. (2007, October). An international education policy for U.S. leadership, competitiveness, and security. Retrieved January 15, 2009, from

Pickering, L., Rubin, D., Ross, C., & Tapper, G. (2007, March). World Englishes and ITA training? Academic session presented at the 41st Annual TESOL Convention, Seattle, WA.

U.S. Department of State. (2006, January). U.S. university presidents summit on international education. Retrieved February 10, 2009 from


Stressing Out About Math Doris Yaffe Shiffman, Language Teaching Center, Johns Hopkins University,

I have struggled for years to give my students the names in English of high-frequency math symbols and the accompanying sound files. Mary Jetter’s Mathematics Handbook, which names the mathematics terms and operations, has given us a valuable contribution, and I know in my case that the handbook has been well-received by students.

What I felt I still needed was some strategies to help the students say these terms and phrases with a rhythm that would aid in getting the meaning of the complete statements across. From my observations of my own oral reading of mathematics and of others who are native speakers, I have come up with three suggestions for rhythm that, if followed, should make the teaching assistants’ sentences more comprehensible.

Below are three guidelines that work with the more elementary materials in mathematics as well as in the sciences and engineering.

In the equations offered here, some of which are adapted from the Mathematics Handbook, I’ve used bold to highlight a term that should get the focus in a phrase and a forward slash to show where a pause would be helpful. Some pauses are optional, such as before the words to or of because they may cause too many breaks in a statement. Also, it is helpful to point out to your students that they should not pause after verbs and that this holds true as well for verbs followed by prepositions, such as in the phrase divided by.


1. When reading a math equation, pause before any operation. (Some words that direct the student to perform an operation are plus, equals, minus, times, divided by, multiplied by.) It is usually best not to pause after the terms that suggest an operation.

2. Pause before prepositions. (Prepositions often signal an operation; e.g., over means divided by.)

3. In each mathematical phrase, usually the last symbol receives the most stress. (This rule has its parallel in the general rules for emphasis/focus, which also instruct the speaker to stress the last content word in a phrase.)

In the examples below, I’ve first supplied a phrase or equation and then shown it again with the stress and rhythm marked.

These rules also work for saying science and engineering phrases.

p = mv (Vector momentum/ equals mass/ times velocity
where p / is momentum, / m / is mass / in kilograms, / and v / is velocity
/ in meters / per second).

Molarity = moles Na2SO4/ liters soln

Molarity / equals the number of moles / of sodium sulfate / divided by the number of liters / in a solution.

I’d be happy to receive any feedback about what I have written here and would especially welcome any tweaking that would make the rules broader and easier for our students to acquire.

Bridging Campuses: Videoconference Series Explores Intercultural Communication and Campus Diversity

Krystyna Golkowska, Cornell University,, and Stew Markel, Cornell University,

One goal of ITA programs is motivating students to see themselves as active members of their campus community. Some ITAs may stay in labs or dorms, restricting their social contacts to speakers of their first language, instead of seeking opportunities to get involved on campus. A lack of confidence or personal identification with the school may play an important role in keeping students from reaching out. The problem is somewhat similar in the case of ESL undergraduate students on English-speaking campuses and students on branch campuses abroad. One way of addressing this issue can be organizing a meeting in cyberspace that can bring representatives of different groups together.

In March 2007 and November 2008, Cornell University’s Center for Teaching Excellence and the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q) held a series of videoconferences exploring issues of intercultural communication and campus diversity. Participants on the Ithaca, NY, campus were ITAs, faculty, and undergraduates from the International Teaching Assistant Development Program (ITADP) and the director of the Cornell University Summer College. The participants in Doha, Qatar, were students and faculty from WCMC-Q’s Foundation Program, which prepares students for WCMC-Q Pre-Medical Education.

Both informal exchanges were considered successful and seen as beneficial to all participants. For many of the Cornell ITAs, Qatar is a country they did not hear much about, and they enjoyed the opportunity to get to know the WCMC-Q students and ask questions about the Doha campus and Qatari culture. The videoconferences also gave them an opportunity to talk about being an international graduate student and their life in Ithaca. For the ITADP teaching staff, the videoconferences were an outstanding way for ITAs to practice their English. By asking and answering questions, giving descriptions of events and locations, and talking about their personal experiences, the ITAs practiced some of the skills they had been working on in the classroom.

For the Doha students the videoconferences were an excellent opportunity for getting a better picture of the main campus, especially in terms of diversity. Each June, the WCMC-Q Foundation Program (FP) class goes to Ithaca to take part in Cornell University Summer College programs. During the videoconferences the students appreciated the opportunity to learn how their religious and cultural norms might be reconciled with the reality of everyday life in the United States. In preparation for the event, FP students visited Cornell Web sites, learned about different aspects of life in the region, and explored the issues of diversity, multiculturalism, and cross-cultural communication. A debriefing session after the event demonstrated that they had gained confidence in their oral skills and felt reassured they would be welcome on the main campus. In addition, they also began to identify themselves as members of the Cornell community, not just Doha WCMC-Q Foundation Program students. That feeling, shared by Ithaca ITAs, is the best testimony to the success of the project.

In the opinion of the organizers of the videoconferences, Stew Markel, associate director of the ITADP, and Krystyna Golkowska, ESL course director at WCMC-Q, lessons learned from the events made it a worthwhile effort. It is hoped that both programs will continue their collaboration in the future.


Ismail, S. (2008). Doha calling Ithaca: Video chat focuses on Ithaca’s diversity, life and perhaps, most important, the city’s best ice cream. Cornell Chronicle, p. 11.

Announcements Join Interest Sections for Free

Available as a benefit since June 2007, unlimited selection of interest sections (ISs) requires no additional fees. As a member of an IS, you automatically receive all e-newsletters and e-lists.  Most important, you determine the level of involvement you want in each IS, and you may vote in your primary IS. 

It’s easy to join an IS!  Log on to the TESOL Web site (  Enter your username (your TESOL ID number) and password (in most cases, your last name). Click on “My Communities” to make your selections.  Last, remember to click “Save” once you have identified the ISs you want to join.  Take advantage of this opportunity now to connect with colleagues who share your professional interests!

Editor’s Note Pamela Pollock and Krystyna Golkowska have enjoyed serving as your editors this year. Please join us in thanking all of the contributors and those who work hard to make our interest section wonderful. We appreciated the opportunity to serve the ITAIS; we are so grateful to be part of such a rich and dynamic community. We welcome Kate Martin as the next editor. Submissions for the fall newsletter are due by August 15, 2009. Thank you!
Call for Contributions Please send your contributions for the next issue to Kate Martin at by August 15, 2009.

About This Member Community TESOL International Teaching Assistants Interest Section

The International Teaching Assistants Interest Section (ITAIS) serves TESOL members who work with nonnative English-speaking teaching assistants as researchers, teachers, and program administrators.

ITAIS seeks to encourage the sharing of expertise and specialized knowledge among ITA practitioners, to promote research into the spoken discourse of ITAs and the nature of classroom communication, and to foster communication between researchers and practitioners.

International Teaching Assistants Interest Section Community Leaders, 2008-2009

Chair: Mary Jetter, University of Minnesota,
Chair-Elect: Cheryl Ernst, Southern Illinois University,
Past Chair: Gordon Tapper, University of Florida,
Secretary: Marilyn Seid-Rabinow, UC Berkeley,
Members-at-Large: Kimberly Kenyon, Cornell University,
          Peggy Heidish, Carnegie Mellon University,
Historians: Theresa Pettit, Cornell University,
        Susy Sarwark, Ohio State University,
Webmaster: Diane Cotsonas, University of Utah,
Editor-Elect: Kate Martin, University of Minnesota,
Editors: Krystyna Golkowska, Cornell University,
   Pamela Pollock, Cornell University,
Discussion e-list: Visit to subscribe to ITAIS-L, the discussion list for the community, or visit if already subscribed.
Web sites: and

Next year’s leaders will be announced soon!