UTA faculty aim to improve language education in North Texas

Tuesday, Feb 02, 2021

University of Texas at Arlington faculty Iya Price, Barbara Berthold, and Elizabeth Deifell will train language educators in North Texas to create proficiency-based curriculum, thanks to a STARTALK grant from the National Security Agency and National Foreign Language Center.

The training program will emphasize pedagogy, outlined by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), designed to increase students' speaking, listening, writing, and reading proficiency in their target language.

The goal of the training is to "promote foreign language educators' understanding of proficiency-based teaching, which [will] improve curriculum design and implementation for student success," said Iya Price, assistant professor of instruction in Russian in the Department of Modern Languages and the project's principal investigator.

The $77,074 grant will enable Price's team to teach participants the fundamentals of employing backward-design principles to align learning outcomes, performance assessments, and meaningful learning experiences to improve their students' language proficiency. Participation will be open to secondary and post-secondary language instructors at no cost.

"If teachers build courses with the goal that students should achieve a certain level of proficiency and then demonstrate it through standardized testing, this will improve [students'] chances for employment, internships, and other opportunities where language proficiency matters," said Price.

ACTFL's 2019 report "Making Language Our Business" found that 90 percent of employers in the United States utilize employees with language skills other than English, making language proficiency an important skill for graduates.

"Being proficient in a foreign language and receiving a good grade in a language course can be two different things," said Price.

With proficiency-based instruction, students' language skills will transfer beyond the classroom.

"[Students] will be able to demonstrate to potential stakeholders that they not only took a number of hours in a language, but also reached a certain level of proficiency, which means that they can functionally use the language in the real world," said Price.

Price, Berthold, and Deifell will deliver training to educators in two parts: a three-week, summer intensive to design their proficiency-based curricula; and four follow-up workshops to provide feedback and assistance during implementation in the fall 2021 semester.

In addition to educators from other institutions, fourteen language instructors from UTA's Department of Modern Languages will participate in the program.

This is Price's third consecutive STARTALK grant. In 2019 and 2020, she received grants of $79,193 and $89,980, respectively, to fund free, critical-language intensives for Dallas-Fort Worth high school and undergraduate students. STARTALK 2020: Let's Go To Russia/the Middle East, a program offering free language courses in Russian and Arabic, was postponed due to the pandemic and will be offered July 6-31, 2021.