Have you heard about PIE? While the Department of Global Languages and Cultures does not offer courses in English as a foreign language, NAU does offer the opportunity for international students to improve their English. The Program in Intensive English is a program offered by Northern Arizona University for non-native English speakers. The program was created in 1987 by Dr. Fredricka Stoller, a professor of Applied Linguistics at NAU. This program prepares international students for classes at the university by improving their academic English language skills. The PIE also allows for graduate students pursuing an MA-TESL or PhD in Applied Linguistics to train as teachers or conduct research on the acquisition of English as a second language.
In my last blog post, I talked about all of the ways in which students can get an international edge for their future job search. In this post, I’m talking all about PIE and international education opportunities beyond the undergraduate level. As an intern at PIE, I am learning how integral research and teaching methods are to learning a language. In talking with Jacqueline Church, the Assistant Director of Assessment with PIE, I learned more about the background of PIE and what opportunities are available to students involved with the program.
What is your role at the Program in Intensive English (PIE)?
I am the Assistant Director of Assessment at the PIE. In this role, I oversee the development, administration, scoring, and analysis of all programmatic testing, which includes proficiency tests and classroom achievement tests. [Proficiency tests are used to place students into a level within the PIE. An example of this is the iBT TOEFL exam for international students, or the SAT or ACT for domestic students. A midterm or final exam in your class is the same concept as an achievement test].
There are a few PhD graduate teaching assistants who work with me, and as a team we meet with all teachers to help them design and create the tests that they use in class.
I provide training for teachers on assessment-related issues. I conduct research on tests, student achievement, and the impact of programmatic changes.
I also am involved with a number of administrative tasks, including programmatic and curricular planning and implementation.
How does a PIE course differ from a typical language course at NAU's Department of Global Languages and Cultures?
The PIE is an immersive experience for our students. All PIE courses are taught completely in English, the language that the students are learning, even the low level classes. Full-time PIE students are enrolled in classes for 20 hours a week. In the Global Language courses students will work on all skills (reading, listening, writing, and speaking) within the same class. Our classes focus on specific skills.
How does PIE improve students' English skills? Can students take classes at PIE concurrently with classes at NAU?
The only students who can take NAU classes as well as PIE classes are our advanced students in PIE levels 5 and 6. There is an English 105 section for advanced PIE students. Students in Level 6 may also be able to take an introductory course in their major, but this is at the approval of their PIE advisor and an advisor from their major.
Every NAU student enrolled in classes learns new information; at the most basic level, this same principle applies to PIE. Our content is English for Academic Purposes rather than a history or math course. As mentioned in my response to the last question, the PIE curriculum is intensive. This type of focused instruction gives the students significant opportunities to practice using English in a variety of ways – spoken, written, receptive understanding, etc. Our faculty all have degrees in TESL and so are all well-equipped to help students acquire English.
For students pursuing NAU's MA-TESL or PhD in Applied Linguistics, how does teacher training at PIE work? What kinds of classes might MA/PhD students be teaching?
There are many teacher training opportunities for graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) at PIE. They are required to participate in a 2 week orientation session before the beginning of the fall semester and a 1 week orientation prior to the spring semester. We hold frequent professional development workshops for them. New GTAs are assigned a mentor, someone who is a full-time faculty and works with them throughout the semester. All GTAs have classroom observations done a few times each semester by our Coordinator of Faculty and Curriculum. I conduct several sessions with GTAs to go over best practices for assessment, including item writing, proctoring tests, etc.
What kinds of research opportunities are available at PIE for graduate students?
Graduate students conduct research at PIE to fulfill a requirement for a class, to collect data for their qualifying exam paper (a requirement of PhD students), or their own dissertation. We also get requests from faculty members at NAU, as well as graduate students or faculty members from other universities. Anyone can submit an application to conduct research at the PIE. There is a procedure on the website that outlines the process.
Every research project has to be approved by the PIE research coordinator (a member of the AL faculty) and me, the PIE research coordinator. When we review the projects we look to make sure that there is no negative effect for participants, that the project is well-formulated, and that the procedure will not interfere with the PIE teaching. Some researchers want to conduct research in class, but our focus is on serving the students and ensuring that they get the instruction that they need. If the research project does not “fit” within our curriculum, then the researcher will come to our classes to recruit students and then conduct their research outside of PIE classes.
The PIE also puts out a list of research priorities every year – this list is also on the PIE website. Of course, we approve research projects that do not pertain to these priorities.
Thank you to Jacqueline Church for taking the time to answer these questions. NAU's PIE program is multi-faceted in both its approach to teaching English and its opportunities for post-graduate research. PIE not only benefits students from overseas, but also the NAU community as a whole by providing the language skills to international students so that they may better integrate into university life in the United States. Programs such as PIE are vital to NAU's growth by fostering a more understanding global community.