Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Preparing Teaching Assistants to Work with All Learners: The Impact of Accessibility Training

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Preparing Teaching Assistants to Work with All Learners: The Impact of Accessibility Training

Article excerpt

Introduction

Incoming teaching assistants (TAs) are nearly always required to participate in professional training programs, usually in the form of preservice orientations and regularly scheduled seminars designed to prepare them for their immediate responsibilities, which are many, and perhaps geared toward increasing their employment options as members of the future professoriate. Such courses customarily address TAs' specific responsibilities, university and departmental regulations, lesson design, teaching methods, and assessment.1 Given what is often the very limited scope and duration of TAs' professional pedagogical training, a substantial amount of a new TA's professional development happens fortuitously (Boyd & Boyd, 2005; Weimer, Svinicki, & Bauer, 1989), including, for example, questions about how to support diverse learners within the student body, approaches to differentiating instruction, or compliance with legal mandates determined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (PL 101-336) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (PL 93-112). American institutions of higher education make accessibility training available, primarily for full- or part-time faculty and instructors (Cook, Rumrill, & Tankersley, 2009; Gallego & Busch, 2014, 2015; Salzberg et al., 2002; Snyder & Dillow, 2012). However, the effectiveness of the training is often limited and rarely directed toward TAs (Gallego & Busch, 2014, 2015; Houck, Asselin, Troutman, & Arrington, 1992; Rao & Gartin, 2003; Scott & Shaw, 2004; Sparks, 2009). This study explored incoming TAs' understanding of and level of readiness to implement accommodations both before and after participating in a specifically designed training program facilitated jointly by staff from Student Accessibility Services and the Language Program Director (LPD) at a public 4-year university in the Midwest.

Literature Review

TA Professional Development

Language departments have customarily offered TAs a variety of training and professional development opportunities (Angus, 2016; Brandl, 2000; Enkin, 2015; Lord, 2014), the most common of which combines a preservice orientation with a methodology course (Allen, 2009; Angus, 2016; Lord, 2014; inter alia). Albeit offered less frequently, other professional preparation experiences include mentoring systems (Höbusch & Worley, 2012); training that focuses on self-assessment, metacognition, and reflective practices (Allwright, 2003, 2005; Boyd & Boyd, 2005; Crane, Sadler, Ha, & Ojiambo, 2011; Gallego, 2014); courses or seminars designed to prepare TAs for their future work as LPDs (Enkin, 2015); courses in applied linguistics (Schechtman & Koser, 2008) or multiple literacies (Allen, 2009); and courses that teach TAs to use technology in second language settings (Höbusch & Worley, 2012).

In spite of the general consensus regarding the need for professional development opportunities, few studies have explored these issues (Allen & Negueruela-Azarola, 2010). Evaluations of professional development opportunities have suggested that TAs continue to face the same challenges that were discussed in the 1990s or early 2000s (Allen & NegueruelaAzarola, 2010; Angus, 2016; Brandl, 2000; Enkin, 2015) and have been unclear about the extent to which language departments and postsecondary institutions value and also fund professional development initiatives for TAs. Furthermore, data from 94 foreign language TAs who were teaching in institutions across the country (Angus, 2016) revealed that many did not take advantage of or seek additional professional development opportunities other than the ones that were mandatory and indicated that the majority of TAs considered knowledge of the language to be the most important aspect of their preparation. Similarly, Brandl (2000) found that TAs favored conversation with supervisors over peer mentoring and also highlighted the limited involvement of TAs in professional development opportunities. …

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