The Assistant Teacher Program
Department of Modern Languages & Literatures
Director: Dr. Joel Goldfield
ATs and the AT/OPS Directors
THE ORIGIN OF THE AT/OPS PROGRAM
Dr. Joel Goldfield established the Assistant Teacher/Oral Practice Session
(AT/OPS) program for French in the Spring of 1998 with the collegial support of
the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures (DMLL), the Administration
Based on the Dartmouth Intensive Language Model (DILM) and the Rassias
Method (RM), the program provides an oral-intensive opportunity to learn in
small classes taught by highly trained peer teachers or "Assistant
Teachers" (ATs) who are usually undergraduates. More information on the
success of the Method can be read in Breakthrough: Essays and Vignettes in Honor of John A.
Rassias (ed. Mel B. Yoken,
Once trained and selected by a team of DMLL faculty, ATs prepare, under the appropriate Language Supervisor's direction, materials to teach in weekly Oral Practice Sessions (OPS) attended by four to eight student learners. These energetic sessions facilitate over 100 responses per student in each OPS and complement the activities of normally larger Master Classes taught by professors. As in many typical college or university classes, professors assume their expected role of teaching the structure and use of the target language in a cultural context. They interweave the pre-communicative and communicative oral exercises and cultural materials rehearsed in the OPS, enabling students to "pull it all together" between oral and written forms of the language and thus bridge the performance gap in oral and written proficiency that frequently occurs without opportunities like the OPS.
PROGRAM GOALS AND RESEARCH RESULTS
Students' collective opinions have been in the great majority highly
positive. Most students who have completed a questionnaire over the past few
years have noted that the OPS have helped them improve their vocabulary,
pronunciation and listening comprehension. For example, approximately 77% of
the 134 students responding in Fall 2005 indicated that their course grades for
speaking had improved thanks to the OPS.
But the benefits of OPS practice can transfer to other areas as well:
30% of two different groups comprised of nearly 200 OPS students each
responding in Spring 2001 and Spring 2002, for example, also indicated on
anonymous written surveys that the OPS helped them improve their grades in
grammar as well, even though ATs do not explain grammar in the OPS. Rather, they demonstrate it through oral
examples, props, sketches and gestures. Instructors have observed that both
student retention of aural (listening) materials and student ability to produce
longer and more intelligible phrases in appropriate contexts have improved.
Very similar results have been tabulated each semester up to the present. These results conform well to our principal
OPS goal: to help students improve their command of the oral language.
The OPS serve as a rehearsal of high-priority areas like vocabulary, culture,
and grammar materials along with pronunciation, intonation and culturally
appropriate gestures. Students can then apply all these to activities in their
professor's class. Anecdotal evidence from ATs, professors and from other
target language speakers at the University strongly suggests that students
participating in the OPS increase their intelligibility as perceived by other
speakers of the language, including native speakers. The Director engages
regularly in research on student and AT evaluations of the program complemented
by computer-adaptive placement examinations and other data. Additional results
gleaned from research on the AT/OPS program were reported by the Director at a session
of the Alpha Mu Gamma foreign language honor society’s national convention held
CONTENTS AND PROCEDURES IN THE OPS
The OPS exercises are usually created by Fairfield University professors, and students are scheduled or volunteer to attend one session per week. These materials are streamlined and acted out to connect words to actions, similar to the Direct Method. The nature of the materials and the theatrical approach afford students the maximum amount of time to rehearse their speaking ability for both achievement and proficiency goals. To help learners focus on items relevant to expressing themselves to other speakers of the language, an increasing number of personalized questions and role-playing situations are practiced in the OPS as the course progresses. Guided conversation on specific themes or topics previously presented in the Master Class with the professor also gradually increases over time. The ATs do their utmost to help their fellow students understand at least the core concepts of the materials they are practicing, according to certain linguistic principles deemed helpful to their progress. A certain amount of preparation is, of course, expected on the students' part. A sample letter informing students of expectations and guidelines for the OPS is available at this OPS student letter link.
Wherever possible and appropriate, ATs use gestures and props to help learners associate words with actions and objects. However, as is the case even in the learners' native language, the students are not expected to understand everything at all times. Some amount of guesswork and good will on their part is often necessary for learning a foreign language. In keeping with the can-do philosophy of the OPS, the ATs try their best to be clear, effective, consistent, energetic, friendly and humorous. Important to the conducting of an OPS is that learners are discouraged from interrupting it to ask a grammar question. ATs are not permitted to explain grammar points in the OPS, only to demonstrate them by example as the purpose of the OPS is oral practice. Learners are encouraged, however, to look quizzical or to ask in the target language during an appropriate pause for the AT to repeat the item, in which case the AT can supply a clarifying gesture or an additional example. ATs also frequently select other learners in the class to provide such clarification.
In keeping with the hierarchical differences among professor, AT and language learner, ATs do not grade, although they do take attendance. We also encourage ATs to speak with their students in the target language even outside of class. DMLL faculty observe all OPS several times per semester. Opportunities also exist for ATs to earn credit in lieu of salary for some of the OPS they conduct. Additional work and meetings with a faculty member are required.
Since the OP sessions generally consist of rehearsed items, we ask learners to think of their AT as an assistant "language coach" helping them prepare for their class "performance." Each semester, at least a few of the ATs are also students in other Core language courses requiring OPS. The camaraderie and insight into the techniques and philosophy of the program only reinforce students' impressions that the OPS "really work"!
Dedicated faculty members participate in the training workshop and/or supervise the several Assistant Teachers who teach our students in the Oral Practice Sessions. These faculty members include: Profs. Adrada Rafael and Arango-Martin (Spanish), Avery (Japanese), Douda (Arabic), Erotopoulos (French), Farrell (Brazilian Portuguese), Goldfield (French), Syssoeva (Russian), Wilkinson (German), and Xiao (Chinese).
Click on the link in this sentence for information on a typical AT/OPS Workshop.
REPORTS AND NEWS ARTICLES ON THE AT/OPS PROGRAM
To read about grants, assistantships and other honors received by AT/OPS
alumni click on any links provided here:
Fulbrights in Germany; French grants,
including James Costa ’06 (Italy), David Gorman ’03
(Teaching Assistantship, Germany), Kelly Comiskey
’03 and Laura Beauregard ’03 (French
Government Teaching Assistantships).
For more information on the AT/OPS Program, please contact Dr. Joel Goldfield at: firstname.lastname@example.org.