Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Utilizing Undergraduate Peer Teaching Assistants in a Speaking Program in Spanish as a Foreign Language

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Utilizing Undergraduate Peer Teaching Assistants in a Speaking Program in Spanish as a Foreign Language

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Peer teaching instruction has not received much attention in college second language (L2) learning. In this article, an L2 peer teaching program at the College of Charleston is discussed including the role, training, and supervision of undergraduate peer teaching assistants (PTAs). The article also explores the hinds of self-reported benefits students enrolled in the program and their PTAs receive. Data from 183 students and 12 PTAs were collected in the form of an anonymous questionnaire using a Likert scale and open-ended questions. Results show that a high percentage of students reported an improvement in speaking, pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. PTAs reported practicing Spanish and reviewing the basics as the main benefit from the peer teaching experience.

Key words: foreign language instruction, peer teaching, second language instruction, Spanish supervision

Language: Spanish

Introduction

Enrollment statistics (Welles, 2004) have demonstrated that an increasing number of students study a foreign language in colleges and universities across the United States, with Spanish being the most common choice. In many of these colleges and universities, graduate teaching assistants often teach elementary and intermediate courses. For this reason, graduate teaching assistants in foreign language programs have received much attention from faculty, researchers, and administrators (Amores, 1999; Burkart, 1998; Prieto & Meyers, 2001, among others). However, more attention needs to be paid to a lesser-known but equally important aspect of foreign language programs: the role, training, and supervision of undergraduate peer teaching assistants (PTAs).

Peer Teaching

Peer teaching is "an approach in which one child instructs another child in material on which the first is an expert and the second a novice" (Damond & Phelps, 1989, p. 11). In the context of college-level Spanish, PTAs are advanced undergraduate students in a second language (L2) that teach fellow L2 students in lower level courses. Specifically, PTAs lead small classes to provide fellow students with additional opportunities to communicate in the L2. Although employing undergraduate PTAs is not as common as the employment of graduate teaching assistants in the L2 classroom, the use of undergraduate PTAs is starting to attract interest in higher education because PTAs are not very far removed from the novice students in knowledge, age, and status. As such, they can create an atmosphere where students feel free to ask questions and where learning becomes a creative process of trial and error with less anxiety.

PTAs have been used successfully in a variety of disciplines such as science (Crouch & Mazur, 2001; Tessier, 2004), psychology (Osborne, Norman, & Basford, 1997), English as a second language (ESL) (Davies & Omberg, 1987; Statman, 1980), writing (Youngs & Green, 2001), Spanish (Rodriguez, 2003; Wright, Cavanaugh, & Sainato, 1995), and college-level German (Semke, 1975). These studies have shown that peer teaching instruction is effective because it increases the students' mastery of conceptual understanding and problem solving, and provides additional practice, especially when large classes may not offer enough personal attention to the students. For instance, Rodriguez (2003) found that in an L2 peer teaching program, students have ample opportunities to speak and practice the L2 because they feel comfortable in a small class atmosphere (thus lowering their affective filter), they reinforce older material, and they have the impression that they have improved their Spanish speaking skills. In fact, Hedin (1987) stated that the main factor of success in a peer teaching program is the pleasant classroom atmosphere.

Not only can peer teaching instruction benefit students, it can also benefit PTAs (Clifford, Jorstad, & Eange, 1977; Osborne et al., 1997; Rodriguez, 2003; Semke, 1975; Statman, 1980; Walz, 1986; Whitman & Fife, 1988; Wright et al,1995) and institutions. …

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