August 10, 2011

Russian language instruction and teaching aided this summer by new grant

News and Information

A collaboration between the UW and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is just about to finish its first-year pilot of programs that expand teaching and instruction in Russian.

The grant officially was awarded to the UW, with Paul Aoki, director of the Language Learning Center, as the principal investigator.

Aleksey Pavlov, a professional theater director from Tashkent, directs high school students in an original play titled 'Love, Russian Style.' The play was performed Thursday, Aug.11, in Kane Hall.

Mary Levin

Aleksey Pavlov, a professional theater director from Tashkent, directs high school students in an original play titled "Love, Russian Style." The play was performed Thursday, Aug.11, in Kane Hall.

Under the grant from STARTALK, a summer language program funded by the National Security Agency, the UW offered nine teachers of Russian an Education, Curriculum and Instruction 495 class through the College of Education this summer that would prepare them to be certified for teaching the language in the states K-12 system. The student-teachers had the opportunity to work with the Slavic Departments regular class in Russian 150, observing and participating in some language instruction, as well as teach in the STARTALK-funded student program. Three of the student-teachers are also completing the Russian 499 teacher practicum offered by Slavic Languages and Literatures.

The STARTALK student program is providing language instruction to 22 students, most of whom are “heritage speakers” — students who have been exposed to Russian at home. Typically, these students have not had a great deal of formal training, says Michele Anciaux Aoki, program supervisor for world languages in the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and program director of the UW STARTALK grant. “Weve provided these students with an intensive, immersive four-week language experience, with the goal of increasing their proficiency in a variety of modes of communication — speaking, reading and writing.  The goal with heritage learners is to support the intuitive knowledge that they already have and expose them to a broader range of topics.” The heritage learners are enrolled in Russian 499 for students and can earn 5 UW credits, paid for by the STARTALK grant.

The course used two themes to expand language use — drama and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). A professional director from Tashkent has helped the students put together an original play titled “Love, Russian Style,” which draws on the heritage of Russian culture, as well as engaging them with the local Russian community, which has been invited to attend Thursday evenings performance (at 7 pm in Kane 130).

For its STEM component, the program arranged a visit to the Museum of Flight, where students participated in a “Voyage to Mars” simulation, with students playing various roles involved in extended spaceflight – mostly in Russian, of course.  “We want students to be aware of how Russian can be used in other settings, and how the language plays an important role in the world in the 21st century,” Michele Aoki says. The students also will stage a mock news conference with Bonnie Dunbar, former astronaut, who lived in Russia for 13 months as she underwent training as a backup crew member for a flight on the Russian space station Mir. During the summer, students also interviewed a variety of Russian speakers in the area, including a software specialist at Microsoft, a Boeing engineer, assistant professor of mathematics Julia Pevtsova, , and  Galya Diment, chair of Slavic Languages and Literatures.

The curriculum also makes extensive use of language learning technology, under the auspices of the UWs Language Learning Center.

At the end of the four-week intensive course, students took the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages oral and writing proficiency exams, and if they score well, will be recommended for high school credit based on the states model policy and procedure for awarding competency-based credits. In addition, the students were able to complete the Slavic Department Russian placement test. Many of them could receive placements in 2nd or 3rd year Russian if they decide to attend the UW in the future

Although the STARTALK grant is for one year, it is likely that the collaborators will apply for renewed funding based on the success of this years program.

Some of the STARTALK techniques used locally have drawn from four years of experience nationally in developing a variety of best practices. But some innovations, such as focusing on heritage learners and the STEM collaboration with the Museum of Flight, are entirely local initiatives.