Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Innovations in Teaching Assistant Development: An Apprenticeship Model

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Innovations in Teaching Assistant Development: An Apprenticeship Model

Article excerpt


This article describes an apprenticeship model that was developed and implemented across several language areas within one department at a large Canadian university. The apprenticeship provides two semesters of training for graduate foreign language teaching assistants before they are put in charge of their own classes. The purpose of this study was to investigate the benefits of the program and point out areas for improvement. Based on questionnaires distributed to apprentices and mentoring instructors who participated in this program from 2003 to 2006, results indicate that the apprenticeship program is very successful in training incoming graduate students to become competent foreign language instructors. Mentoring instructors also benefited from working with apprentices.

Key words: foreign language teaching assistants, language program coordination, preservice teacher education, professional development, training

Language: Relevant to all languages


Elementary and intermediate foreign language instruction at many postsecondary institutions in North America is conducted mainly by graduate students pursuing MA or PhD degrees. Training these graduate students should be a vital concern of any department for several reasons. First, departments owe high-quality instruction to their undergraduate students who are enrolled in these courses. second, the graduate students who are teaching the basic language courses are the first (and often only) contact the undergraduate students make with representatives of another language and culture, and thus have the potential to positively affect undergraduates' choices of majors and minors. Third, thorough and systematic training will prepare graduate students well for their future careers in academia.

The need for special training for college- and university-level foreign language instruction was identified as early as the mid-1950s. Nerenz, Herron, and Knop (1979) state in their review article that "the foreign language teaching profession had first officially recognized-in 1955-the necessity of giving special training to college instructors to teach a language, as well as a literature, course" (p. 875). During the following two decades, sound training and supervision of teaching assistants was advocated at various conferences, but only a few articles appeared in scholarly journals or books outlining specific procedures of existing teaching assistant training programs (Freed, 1975; Hagiwara, 1969, 1970, 1976). Most of the published literature focused on the description of successful programs, certain elements of teaching assistant training such as microteaching, or the description of methods courses (Nerenz et al., 1979).

Scholarly journals published more articles about specific training programs or proposals for teacher education in the 1980s, as Bernhardt and Hammadou's (1987) review shows. The results of that review show an overreliance on an experiential approach (the notion that what worked for me might also work for you) and the absence of more data-driven investigations. Only eight of the 78 reviewed studies were based on empirical research done within the area of foreign language teacher education.

The 1980s also witnessed the inception of the American Association of University Supervisors, Coordinators, and Directors of Foreign Language Programs (AAUSC), whose goal is to promote foreign language instruction, strengthen development programs for teaching assistants, and provide a support network for language program coordinators (AAUSC, 2007). With the publication beginning in 1990 of its annual volume, "AAUSC Issues in Language Program Direction," the AAUSC has contributed extensively to the scholarly discussion about a wide range of issues concerning language program direction, such as research on second language acquisition, particularly with regard to programs with multisection courses, preparation and supervision of teaching assistants, and the role of the language program coordinator. …

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