ITA Language Screenings
Language screenings are a way to assure that International Teaching Assistants (ITAs) have the needed English language abilities to present information and interact successfully with undergraduate students at the University of Kentucky. They do not screen for teaching ability.
Screenings are required of all TAs whose primary language is not English. Using English as the language of instruction or coming from a country in which English is an official language does not equate to primary language for the purposes of TA Language Screenings. Speakers using other varieties of English (e.g., students from India, Nigeria, Ghana, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc.) need a language screening.
Language screenings protect:
- ITAs from the stresses and frustrations of being in inappropriate teaching situations, as well as from students who might blame the ITAs' language skills for their difficulties in class.
- Departments by decreasing student complaints about instruction and documenting ITA language proficiency, by providing a neutral evaluation of language skills not subject to departmental issues and pressures, and by sending the message to ITAs and undergraduates that ITA language skills and undergraduate instruction are important.
- Undergraduate students by assuring an appropriate level of English language skills in instruction/grading, and by providing ITAs with resources and support for improving their language skills as well as developing their pedagogy skills to account for any language difficulties.
Language assessment scores determine the types of duties ITAs can perform (teaching, recitation or laboratory instructor, grader, or non-instructional roles).
The Screening Committee
- An undergraduate student representative
- A departmental representative (often the Director of Graduate Studies or department head)
- An ESL specialist
The Screening Process (Note: All screenings are video-recorded)
For Spring 2021, all language screenings will occur remotely via Zoom. Participants will need to have access to a computer with a reliable internet connection.
- A 3-5 minute interview between the ESL specialist and ITA will begin each screening.
- The ESL specialist will ask general interest questions rather than specific questions about content in the ITA’s field of study.
- A 5-7 minute, planned lesson that simulates a discipline-specific, classroom teaching situation.
- ITAs should teach introductory-level, discipline-appropriate content that they might teach early in the semester.
- Departments may provide advice on topics, but the topic is essentially the ITA's choice, as long as it is introductory and discipline appropriate.
- A maximum of 3 static PPT slides will be permitted as aides for the teaching simulation. These slides should not include any audio or video clips.
- ITAs are evaluated on comprehensibility of communication in English, not on the quality of their slides.
- During and/or following the teaching simulation, committee members will ask questions related to the material the student is teaching.
- Questions will be basic ones such as, "Can you explain or clarify a particular term used?"
- ITAs are evaluated on listening comprehension and the comprehensibility of their answers to the questions asked.
- The role play is an opportunity for the ITA to act out a typical instruction-related interaction similar to office hours. The undergraduate representative will serve as the ITA's hypothetical student.
- ITAs are evaluated on the comprehensibility of communication with the student.
Each committee member rates ITA communication skills separately for the four activities (interview, teaching simulation, question/answer, and role play)
- 4 - completely comprehensible, NO impediments to communication
- 3 - generally comprehensible, MINOR impediments to communication
- 2 - partially comprehensible, MAJOR impediments to communication
- 1 - not comprehensible
Weightings of the screening components
- Interview - 20%
- Teaching Simulation - 30%
- Question/Answer - 20%
- Role Play - 30%
After the screening is complete, members combine their ratings to calculate an overall score.
Approval (two levels):
- Category I, or a rating of 3.5 or above -- any assignment, including having primary responsibility for teaching a course
- Category II, or a rating between 3.0 - 3.49 -- recitation or laboratory instructor who interacts with students or a grader who makes subjective decisions about written work. The ITA may NOT teach a course independently (i.e. may not serve in primary-instructor role).
- A rating of 1.5-2.99 -- With conditional approval, ITAs may serve during the first semester of appointment as a “Non-Interactive” lab assistants with minimal student contact or graders for objective tests only.
- ITAs may work under the "conditional approval" category for a maximum of two semesters and must be re-screened at the end of their first semester. They may not circumvent these requirements by switching departments.
- A rating of < 1.5. Only non-teaching duties, to be funded by departments.
- With a non-approval rating, to be eligible for Teaching Assistantship funding through The Graduate School, students must be re-screened at the end of their first semester and earn at least a "conditional approval."
Official scores will be available from departments in 1-2 business days following the screening. Departments are asked not to provide ITAs with unofficial scores prior to this as these scores must be verified for mathematical accuracy.
If ITAs want to move to a different teaching assignment, they must be re-screened if the new assignment requires a higher ranking than the one received during the initial screening.
Language screenings fall under:
Resources for improving scores
- ESL 090 and ENG 098 -- speaking courses for international TAs
- ESL 093—speaking/listening course for international graduate students (not specifically TAs)
- ESL Courses through UK's Center for English as a Second Language
- Lexington Public Library
- Bluegrass Community & Technical College (BCTC) ESL Offerings
- Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning periodically offers ESL classes