“Crossing the Academic Border” Q and A With Jennifer Musgrove, WLC Spanish Teaching Assistant
November 2, 2015
Jennifer Musgrove just completed her first year in the Iowa State University’s TESL/Applied Linguistics M.A. Program with a specialization in Teaching English to L1 Spanish Learners. In addition to her master’s coursework, Jennifer also enjoys her work as a Spanish teaching assistant within the Department of World Languages and Cultures. Jennifer taught two sections of Spanish 101 and two sections of Spanish 102 in 2015-16. Jennifer’s long-term goals include teaching university level Spanish and co-directing a study abroad program. During the course of her undergraduate career at ISU, Jennifer enjoyed several undergraduate assistantships through the WLC Department including collaborating with Dr. Kathy Leonard in Spanish 351 (Introduction to Spanish-English Translation) and Spanish 352 (Introduction to Spanish Phonology), assisting Dr. Chad Gasta in Spanish 323 (Spain Today), and writing a series of criminal justice topic related articles for Spanish 300 level coursework with Dr. Cristina Pardo. Jennifer was also selected her senior year for a special teaching assistantship position through the ISU on the Mediterranean-Summer in Valencia, Spain Program. Due to her unique experience of completing undergraduate coursework within the WLC Department to now teaching Spanish, we asked Jennifer what it was like to “cross the academic border” from Spanish student to Spanish instructor.
Q: How did you become interested in teaching Spanish to undergraduates? How did your undergraduate academic experience prepare you for your current position?
A: While an undergraduate majoring in Spanish, I quickly realized that there were fabulous opportunities available to language students through the WLC Department each step of the way. My sophomore year, I was able to study abroad and attend the University of Valencia, Spain. I spent the summer attending classes and living my daily life immersed in the language and culture. I was thrilled to return my senior year as a teaching assistant through the same program, ISU on the Mediterranean-Summer in Valencia, Spain that included an internship experience with an English language academy located in Valencia. These immersion experiences came at crucial points in the development of my Spanish language skills. I realize today when I step into the classroom to teach that my advanced Spanish language skills are a product in large part due to my study abroad experiences. Additionally, the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Leonard, Dr. Pardo, and Dr. Gasta provided me with an up-close and practical perspective of foreign language instruction. I came away inspired and prepared to confidently “cross the academic border” from language student to language instructor.
Q: What classes are you currently teaching? How does your current master’s coursework in TESL/Applied Linguistics help you in the classroom? What challenges and most rewarding experiences have you had so far?
A: I taught two sections of Spanish 101 while taking six credits of master’s coursework in fall 2015—English 512 (Second Language Acquisition) led by Dr. Carol Chapelle, and English 518 (TESL Language Methods and Materials), led by Dr. Karina Silva. I find it fascinating to be able to apply what I experience as a language instructor towards my coursework and conversely incorporate my knowledge gleaned from my coursework into the classroom. For example, I’ve recently been researching the topic of language learner errors in Dr. Chapelle’s class. Second language acquisition (SLA) researchers are particularly interested in studying “interlanguage”, a second language learner’s oral or written communication in the target language including the learner’s lexical and grammatical errors. Recently after class one day, a student expressed how embarrassed she was by her “stupid mistakes” in Spanish. I was delighted to tell her that these “stupid mistakes” are not only extremely interesting to SLA researchers but an integral part of the language learning experience. I encouraged her to relax and enjoy the language learning process, errors and all.
For me, the most challenging and rewarding part of teaching Spanish is creating a connection with each of my students individually. When a student connects with and trusts their instructor they are motivated to learn and inspired to continue forward, perhaps beyond what they imagined possible for themselves.
Q: A great deal of time and effort is necessary to plan a lesson that will engage the language learner and encourage them to participate. What are some creative activities you’ve come up with so far that motivates your students to participate?
A: When introducing verb conjugation, one activity students seem to enjoy is when we have an “explosión de verbos”, or “verb explosion” all over the classroom. At the beginning of class a few volunteers write numerous verbs in the infinitive form all over the whiteboards around the classroom using multi-colored pens. Each verb is paired with the form it needs to conjugate to, for example “to dance (he/she)”. Students then quickly move around the classroom, writing the conjugated form next to their selected verbs. Afterwards, we check ourselves with thumbs up or down. If the conjugation earns a “thumbs down”, they as a group must tell me how to correct it. Another activity I used the first week of class is perhaps the quirkiest of my ideas so far. The goal was to conduct “phone conversations” among themselves in order to practice how to introduce oneself and visit about likes/dislikes in Spanish. Students broke into small groups and each group created their own dialogs in Spanish. In order to practice their dialogs with one another, I pulled out two bananas and explained how each group would “pasa la banana” and call one another, introducing themselves and chatting via banana phone. The students were great sports and it was so incredibly silly that it helped to “break the ice” and set the tone for a comfortable language learning environment.