AEIS Newsletter

AEIS News, Volume 4:2 (September 2006)

by User Not Found | 11/01/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Letter From the Chair
    • Letter From the Coeditors
  • Announcements
    • US Naturalization Update
  • Articles
    • CAELA Provides Professional Development
    • Empowering Independent-Learning in the Adult ESL Learner
    • The Challenge of Teaching Non-Literate Adult ESOL Learners
    • How Can We Best Measure Adult ESL Student Progress?
  • About This Member Community
    • ESOL in Adult Education Interest Section (AEIS)

Leadership Updates Letter From the Chair

MaryAnn Florez, AEIS Chair 2006-07,

A day so happy
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.

Those lines are from a poem by Czeslaw Milosz and as we prepare to leave summer behind us and move into the rich colors and cooler days of fall, I can't help but think of them. Whether we've had time off over the summer to relax and pursue other interests, or we've worked diligently through in the classroom as always, fall brings us all back on track to the regular rhythms. Although there may be a rush at first, we quickly settle in and resume our practice, meeting new students, renewing old acquaintances, and becoming stimulated by emerging challenges. As the incoming chair of AEIS, I hope that's where I find you all at this point!

I don't know about all of you, but I find that I have a number of different worlds that I live in, all with their own cycles and rhythms. There's my personal life where no matter how old I get, I am still the student for whom September is a fresh start. There is my work world, where I move in an endless loop of 3-month instructional increments. And there is TESOL and AEIS, which always seems to be either winding down from or moving toward the culminating TESOL convention every spring. Believe it or not, we've completed the wind-up phase and are moving toward TESOL 2007. Are you ready??

By the time you read this, not only will the deadline for submission of proposals for the 2007 convention have passed, but so will the review of those proposals. I'm glad to say that many of you made the submission deadline. We had over 180 submissions this year, more than last year, and there was definitely breadth and quality in the range. I give a warm thank-you to all of you who submitted. I also want to thank all of you who responded to the call for proposal readers for this year. The work that you did and the comments that you offered help to make the options for adult educators at the conference rich and worthwhile. It would all be for naught without the sessions and those who judiciously select the best of them. If you did miss the deadline to submit, there still may be opportunities to participate. Stay tuned to the AEIS electronic mailing list for announcements or updates.

Staying tuned could be considered one of the themes for us this year. AEIS and TESOL are always very interested in keeping members informed, whether through announcements on new publications, upcoming professional development opportunities, or developments in policy that may impact language learning and instruction. Connecting widely diverse and dispersed members is certainly something that AEIS strives to do in the area of adult ESL. There are many ways to stay in touch, and I urge you to take advantage of all of them. One is by using the TESOL and AEIS Web sites. Through the TESOL site, you can set up your login and password so that you can edit your member profile, check your membership status, and access member-only as well as public sections of the TESOL site. While you're there, be sure that you have checked the box in your profile that places you on the AEIS electronic mailing list. It's through the e-list that TESOL and AEIS leaders can let you know about news and information relevant to our field. And don't forget that you can link to the AEIS Web site through the TESOL site. The AEIS site has resources, news, and updates specific to adult ESL, including the latest AEIS newsletter (which comes out twice a year).

One of the hot-button issues right now revolves around immigration in the United States. Many of us are trying to follow the daily developments as U.S. policymakers and lawmakers pursue varied perspectives on how the United States meets the challenges of immigration today. We all want to keep ourselves informed and understand what attitudes and decisions in the United States may have on our own students and work. For those of us in the United States, we also want to make sure that we take appropriate and productive actions to ensure that our voices and our students' voices are heard and valued in this debate.

Another important issue involves the changes in the naturalization test process that began before the immigration debate took center stage nationally. TESOL and AEIS have been working to keep members informed of legislative and policy movements on these issues. You can always visit the Professional Issues section of the TESOL home page for advocacy actions and updates, TESOL position statements on specific issues, and global issues updates. The AEIS Web site, e-list, and newsletter will keep you in the know about AEIS activities, such as the work of the committee that pulled together at the 2005 convention to address the naturalization test revision process and the working group that TESOL put together to advise USCIS on the process.

Before I sign off, I want to extend my heartfelt greetings and thanks to the AEIS leadership, both those who worked at last year's convention and those who are working toward the 2007 convention. I cannot think of a time when I enjoyed working with a group more, personally or professionally. Our past chair, Trudy Lothian, set an engaging and relevant tone for the work that we did for last year's convention and really believed in letting voices be heard in shaping and guiding what AEIS did. Thank you, Trudy, for all your care and attention. Our current assistant chair, Federico Salas Isnardi, brings a creative, focused, and can-do spirit, as well as a great sense of humor, to our efforts. Rounding out the group are talented, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable people who shine in conceptualizing and planning—and don't mind buying the candy for the booth, printing up posters, typing meeting minutes, or putting together an AEIS-specific convention planner:

Chair-Elect, Federico Salas-Isnardi
Assistant Chair, Donna Kinerney
Web Manager, Beth Wallace
E-list Managers Janet Isserlis and Beth Wallace
Newsletter Editor, Susan Finn Miller
Newsletter Coeditor, Irina Khetsouriani
Secretary, Mary Jane Bagwell
Members at Large, Philip Less, Cindy Shermeyer, and Carol Van Duzer

I hope that we'll all have opportunities to connect in the months leading up to the 2007 convention—either through the newsletter, the Web site, the e-list—and then connect at the convention itself. I know that I'm looking forward to working with all of you.

Have a wonderful year and let's stay connected through AEIS!


Letter From the Coeditors

Susan Finn Miller,, and
Irina Khetsouriani,

We want to express our appreciation to those who have shared their work with the Adult Education Interest Section by contributing to this newsletter. Kirsten Schaetzel's article highlights the many services and resources available through the Center for Adult English Language Acquisition. If you have not visited the CAELA website, you will certainly want to do so after learning about the wonderful materials that are available with a click of a mouse. Planaria Price shares a wealth of innovative ideas for helping students continue their learning outside of the classroom, and Jill Kramer highlights the key points from her Tampa TESOL presentation on teaching literacy level learners. Martha Young-Scholten and Colleen Ijuin teamed up to explore a creative process for more effectively assessing adult learners. Each of these articles, along with an update on the US naturalization test and an inspiring letter from our new chair, MaryAnn Florez, make this newsletter well worth reading.

Writing for the AEIS newsletter is a wonderful professional development opportunity in and of itself, especially for anyone who has not previously published. We invite you to consider what you might be able to share with your colleagues. The AEIS welcomes articles on any topic of interest to those in our field. Please consider sharing your thoughts, posing questions for discussion, sharing opinion pieces on issues of relevance, writing up an effective teaching idea, or reviewing a favorite book or resource.

We would love for you to contact us right away to let us know of your interest in contributing. We will gladly provide support every step of the way!

Your Co-Editors,

Susan Finn Miller
Irina Khetsouriani

Announcements US Naturalization Update

What's happening with AEIS and the naturalization test redesign effort?

It has been over a year since members of AEIS and others learned that the naturalization test redesign process that began in early 2001would take yet another turn. To be precise, we found it out smack dab in the middle of the TESOL 2006 convention in San Antonio. We were flabbergasted. What would happen now? Would the turn be a left turn? A right turn? A U-turn? Speculations ran the gamut. At the time, no one could be sure, as it was all so new. But the good thing is that it did happen during the conference. As a result, a significant number of AEIS members were together and able to meet to talk about what we might do from that point to ensure that we stayed informed and that let our voices, on behalf of ourselves and our students, be heard.

Since coming together at the 2005 TESOL convention, members of AEIS, including the ad hoc citizenship committee that gathered at the convention, have been monitoring the process, attending meetings and focus groups, and sharing information. TESOL staff, led by John Segota, have not only coordinated with AEIS leadership to craft responses to the process, but have been in contact with USCIS staff directing the process. One of the results of this were a number of information sessions and presentations at TESOL 2006 on aspects of the process and related topics, by USCIS staff, AEIS members, and organizations such as the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. (CLINIC). People were and are seizing opportunities to discuss everything around this issue. The effort to convene such discussions and sessions will continue for the 2007 convention, so stay tuned for information on those offerings, as we move closer to the convention.

Another result of AEIS' and TESOL's proactive monitoring of the redesign effort has been the appointment of a 12-member panel of adult English language professionals from around the nation to advise on aspects of the naturalization test redesign. The group was pulled together by TESOL at the request of USCIS and has been tasked with suggesting changes to the test process that will make it more meaningful to the naturalization applicant without significantly impacting the current success rate of applicants. The panel has met twice in Washington, DC in May, 2006 and will continue to advise USCIS as requested. The target for initiation of the new test is January 2007, with full implementation to be accomplished by January 2008.

AEIS will continue to do its best to keep members informed of any new developments or information on the test redesign. For complete background on what's happened so far, and AEIS' and TESOL's responses to it, you can check the AEIS web site at TESOL also posts legislative and policy updates, as well as responses, on its website at (hit the blue "Professional Issues" tab at the top of the page).

Articles CAELA Provides Professional Development

Kirsten Schaetzel,

The Center for Adult English Language Acquisition (CAELA), established in October 2004, is housed at the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, D.C. CAELA's purpose is to build the capacity of states with emerging adult ESL populations to effectively and systematically provide assistance to practitioners in adult English language acquisition programs. This article discusses why CAELA was established and the services and resources it provides to adult ESL practitioners.

U.S. Census Bureau data from 2000 show that many states have experienced an increase of over 90% in their immigrant population since 1990. Many of these states are not those traditionally thought of as high-immigrant states, such as New York and California. Instead they are states such as Arkansas, which has seen 337% growth in its Hispanic population since 1990 largely because of employment opportunities in its poultry, construction, and service industries, and Georgia, which has seen a 198% increase in its English language program enrollment since 1995, partly because of the employment opportunities afforded by its hosting of the 1996 Olympic games. CAELA was established to assist these "new" immigrant states in providing professional development to their practitioners of adult ESL as well as offering technical assistance to practitioners and programs throughout the country. Through a Request for Proposals process, 24 states were selected to participate in CAELA (see list of states at the end of this article). CAELA is funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Vocational and Adult Education. World Education and Abt Associates are CAELA partners.

CAELA provides technical assistance to new immigrant states through a variety of materials and services, including the following:

  • producing easily accessible materials that synthesize research and make applications to practice;
  • developing an easy-to-use repository of resources (e.g., research studies, instructional curricula, information on language acquisition) that are accessible through the CAELA Web site;
  • leading an initiative to build state capacity for improving the skills of teachers and administrators in adult ESL programs;
  • developing a toolkit of training materials for professional developers; and
  • providing technical assistance to adult ESL teachers, programs, and states.

Each of these is important in delivering comprehensive professional development.

The CAELA Web site contains easily accessible materials that synthesize research and make applications to practice. These online publications cover a wide range of topics integral to the teaching of adult English language learners such as assessment, EL/Civics, second language acquisition, teaching reading, workplace ESL, learning disabilities and adult ESL, using technology, and designing professional development. Information on these topics can be found in different forms, such as bibliographies, books and reports, briefs, collections, digests, and FAQs. Bibliographies are annotated and provide resources on a specific topic. (e.g., An Annotated Bibliography of Reading and Adult English Language Learning Collections provide an overview of the resources that are currently available online and in print on specific topics in adult ESL. Current collections are Assessment and Evaluation in Adult ESL, Civics Education for Adult English Language Learners, Learning Disabilities and Adult ESL, Second Language Acquisition, and What Beginning Teachers and Tutors of Adult English Language Learners Need to Know.

Books, reports, and briefs contain longer, more in-depth examinations of topics. Recent publications include the following:

Digests are shorter pieces written on a particular topic and many contain resource lists. Briefs and digests make excellent background readings for trainings and discussion readings for study circles. The FAQs provide an easy reference for general information about teaching ESL to adult learners, the immigrant population in the United States today, types of ESL programs available, and different instructional practices. All answers on the FAQ list have resource links to more information on each topic. All these resources can be found at

Another ongoing CAELA task is developing an easy-to-use repository of adult ESL resources (e.g., research studies, instructional curricula, information on language acquisition). The repository is accessible through the CAELA Web site at With this repository, CAELA is able to disseminate research-based information on and resources for effective English language instruction for adults. The repository of resources currently contains 110 research studies and research-based resources and is frequently updated. It can be found on the CAELA Web site

The CAELA state capacity-building initiative uses data analysis and a professional development planning process to help states build capacity for improving the skills of teachers and administrators. State teams of three to five ESL professionals at the state and program level analyze their National Reporting System (NRS) data and teacher background surveys and needs analysis to set goals for professional development. They then write professional development plans to meet those goals. Because "sustained and intensive professional development is more likely to have an impact, as reported by teachers, than is shorter professional development" (Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, & Yoon, 2001, p. 935), states design plans that incorporate follow-up. Follow-up includes more workshops on a topic, mentoring, peer observation, and other activities to ensure that professional development is not a one-day workshop, soon forgotten, but is sustained and systematic, helping teachers incorporate new ideas and practices into their teaching.

CAELA state teams meet yearly in three areas of the country. During the first meetings, in spring 2005, states concentrated on analyzing their NRS data and teacher background and needs assessment data to prioritize their professional development activities and make a plan for the coming year. In the second set of meetings, in spring 2006, states reported on the implementation of their plan, were introduced to new training resources from The CAELA Guide for Adult ESL Trainers, and began to plan for the coming year.

States are offering professional development in many different areas and are working at different levels, from building statewide systems to supporting professional development to implementing a training-of-trainers model, to offering new types of professional development, such as study circles and professional learning communities. For example, Arizona is helping ESL program directors set up professional learning communities; Alabama is implementing a training-of-trainers model to deliver workshops and follow-up on teaching multilevel classes; Nebraska is giving teachers training on working with literacy-level students with a follow-up meeting three months later; and South Dakota is designing the structure of a statewide comprehensive professional development system for ESL teachers, teacher trainers, and researchers. Other examples of what states are doing can be found at

Finally, CAELA delivers technical assistance to the states that it is working with and to the general public. Through its Web site CAELA provides resources and information about working with adult ESL learners. The Web site also features "Ask CAELA" ( through which users can submit specific questions on a topic. Questions are answered individually and a monthly question is featured with an answer and resource list.

CAELA also provides technical assistance through e-mail and telephone and in person: Adult ESL administrators and practitioners can e-mail or call CAELA staff for technical assistance on a specific topic or about a problem related to adult ESL. CAELA staff also provide training and videoconferencing for states that are part of the project.

"Now many national policy-makers and experts believe that professional development . . . is . . . an important tool for improving student learning" (Viadero, 2005, p. 1). Through CAELA's varied endeavors, it hopes to help states, programs, and practitioners provide systematic, effective, and quality professional development for adult ESL professionals.

For more information, please contact Kirsten Schaetzel, program associate, at Other CAELA staff are Joy Kreeft Peyton, director; Miriam Burt, associate director; Lynda Terrill, technical assistance and Web coordinator; Craig Packard, research coordinator; Sarah Young, research assistant; and Dawn Flanagan, program secretary.

States Working With CAELA

Alabama Arkansas Arizona
Colorado Georgia Hawaii
Indiana Kansas Kentucky
Maryland Nebraska Nevada
New Mexico Oklahoma Rhode Island
South Carolina South Dakota Tennessee
Texas Utah Virginia
Washington West Virginia Wisconsin

Garet, M., Porter, A., Desimone, L., Birman, B., & Yoon, K. (2001). What makes professional development effective? Results from a national sample of teachers. American Educational Research Journal, 38(4), 915-945.
Viadero, D. (2005). Pressure builds for effective staff training. Education Week, 24(43), 1 & 18.

Kirsten Schaetzel has a PhD in Applied Linguistics. She has over 20 years of teaching experience and has worked in teacher training in Singapore, Macao, Bangladesh, and the United States.

Empowering Independent-Learning in the Adult ESL Learner

Planaria Price,

Teaching in the average adult ESL classroom with open-enrollment, various levels, and myriad state and district tests is stimulating, exciting, and incredibly challenging-and frustrating. Each day I have 40 to 50 students (often different ones each day), and it is sometimes hard to feel that much real English learning is getting accomplished. Besides my daily teaching objectives and textbook use, I have tried to help my students become independent learners. I see our job as ESL teachers as showing the students the road to English; they have to do the walking with their own two feet. My mantra is, "If you give a man a fish he can live for a day, if you teach him to fish he can eat fish all his life, but if you teach him to think, he won't have to eat fish every day."

With this in mind, I have developed several out-of-class projects to help students learn how to learn. I hope to raise their awareness of all the English surrounding them and imbue them with enthusiasm for learning by themselves. I hope that these activities will keep them learning English for the rest of their lives. From what I've seen so far, it really does!

Here are some examples of a few of the projects the students do. Currently I am using all of these in my advanced classes, but I have successfully used these ideas in lower levels as well.


a. Students hunt for a word (or it could be a new grammar form, etc.) they have just learned in the class and didn't know before. They can find the word in various places: newspaper, magazine, cartoons, catalog, billboard, etc. They may see it on television or in a movie, or hear it in a conversation or song, or on the radio.

b. They cut out the word (or quote it) and put it on a piece of paper. In one or two sentences, they explain where they learned the word in the class (page number and chapter, context, etc.) and then, in their own words, define the word.

c. They hand in the paper, and then they give themselves one point (for each word) on a word-hunting chart that I post in the classroom. When students have 10 points, they earn a prize.
Note: It is really amazing to me how prevalent the vocabulary we learn in class is in everyday media.


Because I teach folk tales and myths in my reading class and nursery rhymes in my pronunciation class, this lesson is magic. The students are constantly finding allusions to the Wizard of Oz, Cinderella, Pinocchio, Humpty Dumpty, Jack and Jill, and so on. I explain allusions this way:

An allusion is a reference to something experienced in the past. Instead of retelling the whole story, the speaker (or writer) needs to say just one or two words. If the listener (or reader) has also had the same experience, he or she understands completely what the speaker is trying to communicate. Allusions are like family "in-jokes." Think about your own family and all the special, private experiences you share. The only thing your mother or father or brother or sister has to do is to say just one word or phrase to you, and that one word will remind everyone in your family of something that happened in the past. Just one word, and the whole family experiences the same emotions and memories. One word communicates so much. You all laugh (or cry). And yet, the people outside of your family can only say, "Huh??!" Language works the same way. Just one word or phrase can remind all the language speakers of a shared experience. That experience is usually from their childhood but adults may allude to it in everyday conversation.

a. Students find an allusion from, for instance, children's rhymes, folktales or Greek myths, that they have just learned in the class and didn't know before. They can find the allusion in various places: newspaper, magazine, cartoons, catalog, billboard, etc. They may see it on television, or in a movie, or hear it in a conversation or a song on the radio. For example, on the TV news one might hear, "After Katrina, I kept clicking my heels and saying, 'Oh, Auntie Em, I want to go home." After a lesson on Greek myths, a student might read in the newspaper or hear on the radio, "We've opened a Pandora's box with the war on terrorism."

b. They cut out the allusion (or quote it) and put it on a piece of paper. In one or two sentences, they explain what it alludes to, and when they learned it in the class (page number and chapter, context, etc.).

c. They hand in the paper and then they give themselves one point (for each allusion) on an allusion-hunting chart that I post in the classroom. When students have two points, they earn a prize.


I tell the students that sometimes they might be watching television or listening to the radio, and they will hear an allusion used in a commercial, movie, or program. But by the time they find a blank VHS tape and turn on their VCR, it's too late. The "fish" has swum away. So, just in case they might catch something, when they are watching TV (or listening to the radio) they put a blank cassette in the recorder and press "record." If they don't catch anything, they just rewind the tape and try again the next time. Each time they find an allusion and catch it, they bring it to the class and we share. I then copy it onto another tape and return the original to them. For each "fish" they catch, they get a prize. (The fishing activity can also be used to illustrate examples for the American Culture Scrapbook that follows.)


I feel strongly that one cannot separate a language from its culture, and the students need (and very much want) to learn to understand American culture. I also want them to learn how to question, to not trust what others tell them until they can prove it for themselves. Seeing is believing!

This project teaches students about English and culture plus teaches them how to learn through observation. I list "facts" about mainstream American culture that have all come from students' observations and questions through the years I have been teaching ESL. The following are statements about what is considered "normal" in average American culture.

The students need to prove or disprove the following "facts" about American culture by what they observe through television, movies, radio, books, newspapers, cartoons, advice columns, personal experience, and so on. They are instructed to cut out or describe the examples and put them in a "scrapbook" with their explanations. Each student completes one scrapbook with a minimum of ten "facts." They may include many examples for one fact. Usually, I ask for only 15 examples, and they end up bringing me 30 to 50! When they feel they are finished, they hand in the scrapbook, and I give them a prize.

Here are some of the statements I use. I also provide a disclaimer that "These statements always depend on the situation and are never true 100% of the time." Students get extra credit if they find more than 15 examples of differences between their culture and American culture.

1. American children have very messy rooms.
2. Americans express anger by folding their arms against their chests.
3. Americans express relaxation by putting their hands on their hips.
4. Americans shake hands with their fingers bent up against the back of the other person's hand.
5. Americans use the first name of the other person constantly.
6. Americans smile often and always look the other person in the eyes.
7. American men help their wives in the kitchen.
8. Americans discuss problems as a family/negotiate with all members.
9. American children do not live at home after the age of 18 or 21, and if they do, there is usually something wrong.
10. Parents do not live with their grown children, and they don't want to!
11. American children make mistakes with the language, especially with idioms.
12. The average American man is tall and bald with bad posture, a beer belly, large nose, large ears, big feet, and a big mouth.
13. When polite Americans eat, they keep one hand on their lap under the table.
14. A good teacher sits on the desk.
15. It's O.K. to make mistakes.
16. It's O.K. to ask questions.
17. One out of every two marriages end in divorce, and there are a lot of single parents in the United States.
18. The word stupid is not a BAD or STRONG word, and it is used lightly in common conversation.
19. Americans are extremely organized.
20. Americans love animals, sometimes more than they love people!
21. Children often sleep over at a friend's house; children have slumber (sleepover) parties.
22. There are toll-free hotlines so you can get advice and help (for suicide, drugs, domestic violence, etc.).
23. Time is money!
24. Domestic violence is against the law. No human has the right to hit or hurt any other human, whether a wife, husband, child, or anyone else.
25. Voting is very important, but a lot of Americans don't do it.
26. Americans clip coupons and use them to save money at the stores.
27. Americans eat TV dinners and a lot of frozen, prepared food. Americans use credit cards and checks to pay bills and do not carry a lot of cash with them.
28. Parents often leave their children with babysitters who are not part of the family.
29. Teenagers don't care how they look; in fact, they try to look as bad as they can.
30. Americans write thank-you notes when they get gifts.


The purpose of this project is to hone learners' observational and critical thinking abilities. I ask students to write their observations in a small journal that they hand in each Friday. Time permitting, I have them meet in groups of two to four to share their reading project, then the group chooses someone to write one of the observations on the board and share it with the class.

Directions to students: As you walk around the city, ride the bus, shop at the store, or go to work, read some signs. Try to find at least three signs. Write what you see in a small notebook and "translate" the words or signs into English you can understand. For example, if you see a sign that says "ped x-ing," explain what information that sign is trying to communicate to you. If you see a sign that says "Tow-Away Zone," explain exactly what it means. You must always be conscious of the context (the whole situation).


What follows are suggestions for reading projects. They can do the project for the week, or all the projects, or choose their own. In other words, students have a lot of choice and can do as many projects as they want each week.

SECOND WEEK: Read three signs that you see on the streets...not signs that name things but signs that give information.
THIRD WEEK: Read an advertisement in the paper, in a magazine, or on a billboard.
FOURTH WEEK: Go to the supermarket and read labels on the food.
FIFTH WEEK: Read a headline in the newspaper.
SIXTH WEEK: Read an article in the newspaper.
SEVENTH WEEK: Read a magazine article.
EIGHTH WEEK: Read some advertisements in the classified section of the newspaper and try to figure out the abbreviations.
NINTH WEEK: Read some "vanity" license plates and try to figure out the meanings.
TENTH WEEK: Read a children's book.

I have been using these projects with great success for over 20 years.
If you have any questions or comments, please contact me at

Planaria Price has taught adult ESL for 33 years at Evans Community Adult program in Los Angeles. She is the author of four texts: Open Sesame, Eureka!, Achieving Competency and Realistically Speaking.

The Challenge of Teaching Non-Literate Adult ESOL Learners

Jill Kramer,

Teaching students who are not literate in another language poses a challenge. Students who are literate in another language (even one that uses a non-Roman alphabet) can transfer many of those skills to reading in English. Ideally students should first learn to read and write in their native language. But in many cases this is not possible. So what is a teacher to do?

Ideally, a separate class for non-literate students is the best option since their needs are so different from other learners. But in reality many of us teach in large multilevel classes. In this case, teachers can create a group within the class and use carefully chosen volunteers or aides to assist. Teachers should plan with care for this group and use a slow pace, lots of review and plenty of realia. Lessons will need to be concrete and relevant and focus on topics such as family, food and health.

Direct instruction works best with non-literate students. It is important to first develop oral skills then introduce reading and writing. Teachers should ensure that students know how to hold a pencil, and that they understand left to right and top to bottom progression. Attention should be given to explaining how to form upper and lower case letters and numbers. In addition, teaching sound symbol correspondence and important sight words is vital. It is helpful to use a combination of whole language and phonics to teach literacy skills.

Textbooks, even those for the literacy level, move too quickly. A teacher will need to develop her own materials targeted to her class. It is important to pay attention to the size of print and the layout of all handouts. Using a large font on an uncluttered page when presenting written materials is best. Teachers should also help students learn how to organize their materials. Two great resources for teaching ESL literacy are "The ESOL Practitioner's Toolkit" available at and The Tacoma Community House Training Project "Making it Real" available at

Jill Kramer is an ESOL instructor and Coordinator at the Columbus Literacy Council in Ohio, where she teaches all levels. She has presented at TESOL and Ohio TESOL and has been in the ESOL field for over 20 years.

How Can We Best Measure Adult ESL Student Progress?

Martha Young-Scholten,, and Colleen Ijuin,

Unlike standardized testing (e.g., TOEFL), program-level assessment of second language (L2) learners' progress often involves use of relative terms such as very limited or simple vs. limited, or basic vs. moderate, or good vs. well (examples from Brown, 1998). A teacher assessing student progress who can elaborate on what is meant by these terms has a great advantage, particularly when presented with groups of students whose profiles are uneven and backgrounds diverse, which is common in adult ESL programs. What alternatives exist for the assessor who understands that errors can reflect development rather than simply the learner's failure to reach target language (L2) norms?

Development and Assessment
Since Bailey, Madden, and Krashen's (1974) large-scale study of L2 adults' accuracy on eight grammatical morphemes in English, additional studies have led to general agreement that L2 learners follow a predictable route of development largely independent of age at initial exposure, native language, type of exposure, or educational background (Hawkins, 2001). There have been surprisingly few attempts to translate this predictable route into an ESL assessment tool. However, ideas similar to those we present below date back to the 1970s (Crystal, Fletcher & Garman, 1976), with more recent proposals offered by Scarborough (1990). Under such assessment, development is seen as the growth of grammatical complexity rather than just the disappearance of children's forms that are not part of the grammar of the community.

In the spirit of Bailey et al.'s common developmental route, we considered and applied Vainikka's and Young-Scholten's (2005) ideas on the parallel development of morphology and syntax, as shown in Table 1 and illustrated by the examples below. Under the proposal now known as Organic Grammar (henceforth OG), the L2 learner begins with basic native-language syntax and with nonfinite verbal morphology. Such forms include the infinitive eat and the participle eating, as shown below in the examples from Yamada-Yamamoto (1993). This initial stage sees development of basic L2 word order (1b) from transferred first-language word order (1a), but at both these basic stages functional elements such as copula is, auxiliary is, modals, past tense -ed, and agreement -s are all missing, along with pronominal subjects and subordinate clauses.

Stage 1a: L1 Japanese object-verb order
bread eat
bananas eating

Stage 1b: L2 English verb-object order
eating banana
wash your hand

An earlier L2 stage is noted in Myles (2005); much like the one-word stage of children learning their first language, it is characterized by utterances such as this (from Young-Scholten & Strom, 2004).

Stage 0: Bicycle.
One boy.

Particularly for adult classroom learners, there are also longer memorized/unanalyzed chunks such as My name is X (Myles, 2004). After the learner's initial reliance on native language syntax, the syntax and the inflectional morphology of the L2 begin to develop, following a common order for all learners of a given L2. Development is driven by internal linguistic mechanisms, in response to the linguistic input the learner receives. The following examples from our data illustrate developmental Stages 3, 4, and 5.

Stage 3: Little morphological range; coordination.
Boat hit the bridge and fall down and people looked that boat.

Stage 4: Some morphology; simple subordination
First we saw the white ship goes to hit the bridge.
I see a ship which was down to the river and pass the bridge and come out to other side river.

Stage 5: Wider morphological range; complex subordination
I was in the river contoured with beautiful green trees.

Table 1. Organic Grammar criteria for stages in L2 English

Stage Word order in declaratives Verb type Verbal inflection Pronouns Complex syntax
1 Resembles L1, then L2 Main verbs only None Absent None
2 Resembles L2 Main verbs; copula is appears Little Begin to emerge Formulaic or intonation- based Qs
3 Resembles L2 Main verbs, modals; copula forms beyond is No agreement; some tense and aspect forms More forms, but can still be missing Conjoined clauses; Qs formulaic or w/o inversion
4 Resembles L2 Main verbs, modals, and copula forms beyond is; range of auxilaries Productive tense, aspect; agreement w/be forms Obligatory; thereand existential itemerge Simple subordination; Qs, but may be uninverted
5 Resembles L2 Complex tense, aspect forms; passives Extension to new forms New uses thereand it Complex subordination; Qs inverted

Note. L1 = the learner's first/native language; L2 = the second language/target language; Q = questions, both yes/no and Wh questions

The use of a new morphological form does not mean it is productive: The researcher (or assessor) needs to look for a learner's use of a form in more than one context or with more than one verb (as in the case of an inflectional suffix such as past tense -ed or third person singular -s). Continued nontarget use of some forms at later stages can be due to their absence in the learner's first language. For example, Hawkins (2001) claimed that the English article system is not acquirable by adult L2 learners whose native languages lack this system.

The Study
We applied OG criteria to writing samples produced by students in a typical adult ESL program at a U.S. community college. The nonnative-English-speaking student body is composed of approximately 58% permanent residents, 18% student/F-1 visa holders, 15% naturalized citizens, 8% visitor/nonimmigrant visa holders, and 2% refugees from a wide range of language and learning backgrounds. The students in our sample had TOEFL scores below 460 or SAT verbal scores below 480, which required them to take the in-house placement test. Test score results place students into intermediate, high intermediate, or advanced ESL. If a student's placement test score is high enough, the student is exempt from the ESL program. Data for this study were collected in Applied Grammar, a course required at every level of the ESL program. Whereas student writing at program placement and program exit is evaluated by three readers, program internal promotion is determined by the individual instructor based on both an objective exam and an exit writing exam. For the student to pass the course, the writing must meet level requirements. Premature student promotion both increases the failure rate at subsequent levels and broadens the linguistic range within a level. Conversely, some students whose linguistic progress is not recognized are held back when they should move to a higher level. The variations in interpretation of what constitutes competency in student writing prompted this study. The need for a framework to identify linguistic development as a complement to holistic assessment was evident.

Our aim was to determine whether the OG criteria given in Table 1 could be applied to student writing to determine if students should move to the next level. If the OG criteria were accurate, syntactic-level descriptors could be used throughout the program.

The study took place during the fall quarter and involved 44 intermediate- and high-intermediate-level students who were in class with the same instructor. Disguised as a memory task, the testing protocol involved students viewing a slide show of related and unrelated photographs. We showed a series of 18 slides; the first 12 progressively revealed a boat coming down a river and a drawbridge failing to open. As a result, the river current pulled the boat down and under a bridge; the boat then reappeared on the other side of the bridge and continued on its way. The next six slides were unrelated snapshots of familiar settings with some unusual points that students were likely to notice, such as ducks standing inside a china shop, and two boys fishing. Students were instructed to write a list of sentences describing what they could recall from the photographs. They were told that grammar would not be graded. The writing was timed; students had 3 minutes to complete the writing task. We felt the 3-minute time limit would keep students focused on recall and writing and that they would not have extra time to monitor grammar as they wrote, or to go back to edit what they had written. In fact, most students were still writing when the time was up.

The resulting writing samples ranged in length from 48 to 195 words. Each sample was analyzed using our established criteria (see appendix), and students were placed into OG stages based on the presence and type of subordination used in their writing (Table 1, rightmost column). The OG stages were aligned with a program at the community college level. Within each OG stage, students were ranked in terms of morphological range (Table 1, middle three columns), where the terms none, little, and productive refer to OG criteria for Stages 1 through 5. Table 2 shows that this ranking resulted in a division of OG Stage 4 into two substages that capture the idea of emergence (4i) and consolidation (4ii) expressed, for example, in the U.K. adult ESL curriculum.

When students' fall-quarter placement was compared with their actual progression 4 months later during winter quarter, we found that our OG criteria had accurately predicted their progression. The OG criteria provides more accurate information than do the impressionistic assessments that are being used in the ESL program; therefore, we can now qualify the terms being used such as basic, moderate, and good.

As a result of using OG as a guide to assess students' writing, it became easier to note what sentence structures indicated their level. In fact, there were four students that OG criteria identified as being below the CC program level based on the assumption that OG Stage 4 aligns to CC Intermediate Level. Of these four, one had been placed at the high intermediate level and the other three at the intermediate level. The instructor's overall observation confirmed that all were struggling. We conclude that the OG criteria have the potential to place students more accurately.

Table 2. OG criteria applied to written samples

OG Stage

CC level at testing

Level next quarter


Morphology range

Articles target-like

simple complex
I/HI Same 0 0 Some–good 4%–50%
4i n=10 I/HI Same 1–13 tokens 0 None–good 0%–68%
I/HI Those at I up to HI 2–10 tokens 0–3 tokens All very good (aux expansion) 0%–58%
I/HI Those at I up to HI 0–8
1–3 tokens Limited–very good 0%–44%

Note: OG = Organic Grammar; CC = Community College; I = Intermediate; HI = High Intermediate

When it came to the article system, development was found to lag behind that of verbal morphology. This finding supports Hawkins' (2001) claim that articles are an area of persistent weakness for second language learners whose first language lacks an indefinite/definite article system.

We chose to collect written rather than oral data in our study; however, this is in contrast to a method of L2 assessment similar to ours—Pienemann's Rapid Profile (Pienemann, Johnston, & Brindley, 1988), which involves the analysis of oral production and requires assessor training and special equipment. If written and oral data are equally valid for assessment purposes, written data should be preferred as data collection and analysis are considerably less time-consuming. Equally important is the fundamental role of written expression in students' success. But to what extent is it justified to infer a learner's interlanguage competence from a sample of writing? When writing, the student usually has more time to plan production and to monitor than when speaking, and might, therefore, use more advanced constructions. But even though the route of development proposed under OG is based on oral production data, there is no a priori reason why OG criteria should not apply to written production, and an OG-based sample analysis using multiple criteria and the idea of productivity can override the effect of monitoring. The results from our study suggest that short samples written under time pressure indeed reflect learners' current stage of morpho-syntactic development and their ESL program level.

OG criteria allow us to ground in second language acquisition research the intuitive, holistic-driven assessment represented by program-specific measurement of student progress and teacher observation of student performance. In objectively describing a student's inflectional morphology and syntax to colleagues and to the student, the teacher can feel confident that students are placed at and progress to program levels at which they can cope and at which they are sufficiently challenged.

Bailey, N., Madden, C., & Krashen, S. (1974) Is there a 'natural sequence' in adult second language learning? Language Learning, 24, 235-243.
Brown, J. D. (Ed.) (1998). New ways of classroom assessment. Alexandria, VA: TESOL.
Crystal, D., Fletcher, P., & Garman, M. (1976) The grammatical analysis of language disability: A procedure for assessment and remediation. London: Arnold.
Hawkins, R. (2001). Second language syntax. A generative introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Myles, F. (2004). From data to theory: The over-representation of linguistic knowledge in SLA. Transactions of the Philological Society, 102, 139-168.
Myles, F. (2005). The emergence of morphosyntax in French L2. In J.-M. Dewaele (Ed.), Focus on French as a foreign language: Multidisciplinary approaches(pp. 88-113). Buffalo, NY: Multilingual Matters.
Pienemann, M., Johnston, M., & Brindley, G. (1988). Constructing an acquisition-based procedure for second language assessment. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 10, 217-243.
Scarborough, H. S. (1990). Index of productive syntax. Applied Psycholinguistics, 11, 1-22.
Vainikka, A., & Young-Scholten, M. (2005). The roots of syntax and how they grow: Organic Grammar, the Basic Variety and Processability Theory. In S.Unsworth, T. Parodi, A. Sorace, & M. Young-Scholten (Eds.), Paths of development (pp. 77-106). Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Yamada-Yamamoto, A. (1993). The acquisition of English syntax by a Japanese-speaking child: With special emphasis on the VO-sequence acquisition. In J. Clibbens & B. Pendleton (Eds.), Proceedings of the Child Language Seminar (pp. 109-120). Plymouth, England: University of Plymouth.
Young-Scholten, M., & Strom, N. (2004, March 31). Factors determining adult non-literates' reading progress. Paper delivered at the annual TESOL convention, Long Beach, California.

Appendix: Steps for applying OG criteria to written samples

Step 1: Isolate the elements to which you will apply the criteria, marking each of these in some way:
1. Sentence boundaries
2. Thematic/main verbs
3. Copula be
4. Auxiliary be, have, get, etc. and modals
5. Articles; also mark contexts in which they are absent
6. Coordinators
7. Subordinators (also note where these are omitted; e.g., that)
8. Declarative clauses beginning with something that is not a subject (e.g., a prepositional phrase)
9. Expletive subject pronouns it and there
10. Count the above, furthering categorization (7), or comparing to target performance (5)

Step 2: Answer the following questions:
1. Does the learner use only coordinators, or does the learner use subordinators as well? If so, are they simple or complex?
2. If the learner uses auxiliaries, is there evidence of productivity? Are passives attempted?
3. Is tense marking on thematic verbs target-like for irregular and regular verbs?
4. Is article use target-like?

Martha Young-Scholten studies adult second language acquisition in naturalistic contexts. She teaches at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the United Kingdom.

Colleen Ijuin teaches ESL at Georgia Perimeter College, a community college in the United States, where she is working on better placement and promotion criteria for English language learners.

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