AEIS Newsletter

AEIS News, Volume 5:2 (August 2007)

by User Not Found | 11/01/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Letter From the Chair
    • Letter From the Editor
  • Articles
    • Promising Practices for Adult ESL: A Study of Five Community Colleges
    • Passing the Torch: Yakima Valley Community College Profile
    • Highline Community College’s Successful Transition Program
    • TESOL 2007
    • Vocabulary Instruction for High-Level ELL Adults
    • Teaching Literacy to Preliterate Adults: The Top and the Bottom
    • TESOL Partnerships in Health Literacy
    • Providing Leadership in Adult ESOL Programs
    • Center for Adult English Language Acquisition State Capacity Building: Building Professional Development Infrastructure in South Dakota
  • About This Member Community
    • ESOL in Adult Education Interest Section (AEIS)

Leadership Updates Letter From the Chair

Federico Salas-Isnardi, AEIS Chair, 2007-08,

Dear Adult Education Colleagues:

The dust has settled after just over 7,000 TESOLers from around the world met in Seattle. The conference had a great number of offerings for adult education professionals, starting with the symposium on immigration and naturalization hosted by TESOL and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS) on Tuesday evening. The Academic Session and the InterSection were well attended as was our annual business meeting where I had the privilege of starting my yearlong term as your chair.

The year promises to be interesting for adult education students and professionals. We are going to monitor the political winds to see if the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) gets reauthorized. To that end, TESOL has appointed a WIA Reauthorization Advisory Group that will closely monitor any development affecting the laws that govern adult education. I have volunteered to work on that group and commit to sharing with you any information relevant to our field.

A bill that deserves our attention is the Adults Achieving the American Dream Act (AAADA), sponsored by Representative Ruben Hinojosa. This bill would, if it becomes law, significantly increase the funding for adult education to $1.3 billion over the next 5 years. In addition, the AAADA would reauthorize the set-aside for EL civics, increase Even Start funding to $500 million, and offer tax incentives to employers who offer adult education and ESL classes to their employees.

Details on the proposed bill, including a form to send a message to your member of Congress, are available at

At least two other developments this year promise to affect adult education: immigration reform and the new naturalization test. Immigration reform is a contentious issue but many of the proposals, including the bipartisan agreement achieved in the Senate in May, put a premium on immigrants learning English in order to come to this country—or stay in it—legally. The emphasis on education varies from proposal to proposal, but most would require immigrants to learn English. If the new immigration rules in any way include provisions for applicants to learn English, as the law did during the last amnesty, adult education programs can expect an influx of new students. Those of you who were in adult education nearly 20 years ago when the old amnesty under the Immigration Reform and Control Act brought thousands to our classrooms will remember how our programs had to adapt curriculum to the civics content required, expand staff and facilities, and establish new processes to accommodate thousands of students. I don't have a crystal ball, but I fully expect that we will soon witness something similar; what remains to be seen is the scope of the phenomenon we will be facing.

If, as expected, CIS adopts the new naturalization test, there is talk of Congress allocating money to the states to help candidates take classes and prepare for the test. The number of people taking naturalization classes is never very significant but the change in the test may increase the influx of applicants coming to class to better prepare. I would like to encourage all of you to stay involved and remain alert as some of these proposals (including Representative Hinojosa's) will benefit from grassroots advocacy and contact with U.S. representatives and senators.

Looking forward to New York, 2008, I hope many of you have already submitted your proposals to present at TESOL; remember that, from our perspective, a good conference depends on the quality (and number) of proposals of interest to adult educators. Thank you to all who submitted your Prospective Proposal Reader Forms. In a few days you will be reading and adjudicating proposals for the conference.

Later in the year I am going to contact you to ask for volunteers to run for election for officers of our AEIS. As with all volunteer professional organizations, our success representing the interests of the field to TESOL's Central Office and the board, the impact of our voice as advocates for our students, and the quality of the adult education track at the annual conference all depend on the involvement and commitment of members who volunteer to spend a few hours every month helping make a difference in our organization. I encourage you to consider offering your expertise, your perspective, and your time to helping the AEIS.

TESOL has recently launched the TESOL Resource Center (TRC), an online platform for TESOL members to find and share a variety of resources with peers in the profession. The TRC is still being developed, but a number of valuable resources are already available. TESOL is seeking contributions by members who want to add to the TRC by sharing a resource with their peers and/or by applying to become a reviewer. Submitters may qualify to win a free stay in New York for the 2008 convention. I encourage you to visit the TRC and as much as possible contribute to it.

I wish all of you a great year, look forward to seeing you online during the year, and hope to see you in New York, April 2-5, 2008.

Letter From the Editor

Susan Finn Miller,

Those of us who were fortunate enough to attend this year's conference in Seattle had a wonderful experience. What a great city! However, many of our members were not able to attend the conference. Moreover, even those who did attend could not participate in every session of interest. Accordingly, in this issue of the AEIS Newsletter, we are pleased to share ideas from several of the sessions offered at the Seattle conference. We are grateful that so many presenters were willing to summarize highlights from their sessions to share with a wider audience. In fact, the response to my request for articles was tremendous! We include several contributions in this issue of the newsletter and will feature several more in the next issue. Thank you to all the contributors for their willingness to share their work in this way.

In this issue, you will enjoy reading several articles about transitioning adult English language learners to postsecondary education. Forrest Chisman and Jodi Crandall summarize findings from their 2-year research study at five community colleges, and Pam Ferguson provides further details about her experience at one of those institutions, Yakima Valley Community College. In addition, Lijun Shen describes the transition work she's been doing at Highline Community College.

Cindy Shermeyer offers highlights of this year's conference from a teacher's perspective. Laurie Bercovitz and Laurie Martin outline the steps they used in teaching vocabulary explicitly to intermediate to advanced English language learners. Ellen Knell, Barbara Fish, and Hannah Buchanan share their experience teaching literacy to a group of preliterate Somali Bantu refugee women who recently settled in the Salt Lake Valley in Utah. Jill Kramer summarizes the discussion she led at TESOL on leadership issues, and Missy Slaathaug describes how South Dakota's partnership with the Center for Adult English Language Acquisition led to important changes for teachers and learners in her state.

In addition, Gail Weinstein, Daryl Gordon, Judy King, and Maricel Santos share highlights from their preconference workshop, which focused on TESOL Partnerships in Health Literacy through a learner-centered approach. These authors invite all of us in the field of adult ESL to enter this vital conversation.

Once again, I want to thank our generous contributors for making this issue of our newsletter so chock full of relevant and thought provoking ideas. I also want to thank Irina Khetsouriani, who has faithfully assisted me with formatting the newsletter for the past 3 years.

In service,


Articles Promising Practices for Adult ESL: A Study of Five Community Colleges

Forrest P. Chisman,, and JoAnn Crandall,


Adult ESL programs face a number of challenges in helping to promote language learning to their students. How can programs provide enough instructional time to enable learners to make real progress? How can they help learners to transition from ESL to other education (ABE/GED, vocational/career training, or academic programs)? How can they promote continued professional development among their faculty?

These were among the questions that we sought to answer in our study of a selected group of community colleges for the Council for the Advancement of Adult Literacy (CAAL) from January 2005 to December 2006. A full report on its findings (Passing the Torch: Strategies for Innovation in Community College ESL) can be found at the CAAL Web site (¹ .

The study examined the ESL programs of five community colleges, selected not only because they had been identified as having outstanding adult ESL/ESOL programs, but also because they were representative of geographic diversity, rural/urban/suburban location, program size, ethnicity and education levels of students served, and differences in program design. The five colleges examined in depth were

  • Bunker Hill Community College - Charlestown, Massachusetts
  • The City College of San Francisco (CCSF) - San Francisco, California
  • The College of Lake County - Grayslake, Illinois
  • Seminole Community College - Sanford, Florida
  • Yakima Valley Community College (YVCC) - Yakima, Washington (to learn more about YVCC's transition project, see article in this newsletter)

The discussion below identifies strategies adopted by these colleges to improve

  • learning gains
  • transitions
  • faculty quality

The full report on the CAAL study also discusses strategies for improving program management and public policy.

Learning Gains

The colleges examined have adopted at least three highly effective strategies for increasing learning gains of adult education ESL students:

  • High-intensity programs with managed enrollment
  • Extending learning outside the classroom
  • Adapting curricula to learner needs.

High-intensity instruction. Though many adult ESL/ESOL programs meet for 3 to 6 hours per week and are "open entry/open exit" programs, all five of the colleges in this study have implemented at least some programs that meet 12 to 24 hours per week (high intensity), most with some type of managed enrollment. That is, students may enter only at the beginning of each semester, and they are dropped from the program unless they attend on a regular basis. Contrary to the concerns of many educators that adult students cannot make such a large commitment to learning English, all of these programs are filled, many have waiting lists, and most of the colleges are extending them. Not surprisingly, programs of this sort invariably show greatly increased learning gains, both compared with national norms and compared with comparable low-intensity programs at the colleges where they are offered.

Learning outside the classroom. All of the colleges examined have devised strategies to increase learning time and encourage students to practice their English with native speakers outside the classroom. All of them make extensive use of instructional technology for these purposes. Lake County, Seminole, and Yakima have devised instructional modules that require students to interview native speakers in conjunction with class projects. Many of the colleges also make extensive use of informal conversation groups, homework, and individual tutoring.

Adapting curricula to learner needs. All of the colleges examined have taken special measures to accommodate the major differences in English proficiency and prior education levels of ESL students. Perhaps the most striking strategy is Yakima's "learner-centered thematic" curriculum. Because virtually all of Yakima's students have very low levels of English proficiency and prior education when they enter the program, the college has adopted a Freirian approach to instruction. The college structures classes at each level around projects that are selected by students, engaging the students and enabling them to be "active learners" both in the classroom and outside. Yakima's approach has been successful, with the learning gains and transition rates of the college's ESL students exceeding those of comparable students in the state.

Increasing Transitions

The CAAL study concluded that transition rates from adult ESL to continued adult, vocational, or academic postsecondary education are so low because (a) the overwhelming majority of ESL students are at the lowest levels of English language proficiency and have limited prior education in their native countries, and (b) as a result, the educational pathways to academic or vocational programs are often longer than these working adults with various other responsibilities can pursue. It takes too much time, a precious commodity that adult learners have in limited supply.

To address these problems, the colleges examined by the CAAL study have adopted a number of strategies that have significantly increased transition rates. Among these are the strategies to increase learning gains just discussed. The faster students can master the basic ESL "life skills" taught in most adult education ESL programs, the faster they can move on to further education. In addition, colleges have adopted several other strategies. Among them are

  • Curricular integration with college preparation
  • Co-enrollment
  • Vocational ESL programs
  • Enhanced guidance and counseling systems

Curricular integration. Most of the colleges examined in this report have developed programs—usually for students at the intermediate level or above—that integrate both academic skills and language into the adult ESL course, the types of skills that would be taught in academic or credit ESL. Programs of this sort usually provide high-intensity instruction, and they are usually designed to help students understand and meet the expectations of academic programs by using special college preparation modules and by establishing expectations that are similar to those of academic courses. Most programs of this sort have transition rates that greatly exceed those of other programs for students at comparable levels at the same colleges.

Co-enrollment. Because adult ESL students who are placed in the same ESL class may differ in their English language abilities and their prior education, many colleges allow students in these noncredit ESL classes to "co-enroll" in certain academic or vocational courses taught in English. This practice not only allows students to gain valuable skills, but also allows them to practice their English in authentic situations and to see that there is more than "just English" in their future. Longitudinal research prepared for the CAAL study indicates that co-enrolled students are more likely than other noncredit students to make the transition to credit ESL and other types of further education.

Vocational ESL (VESL). VESL programs offer a shortcut to vocational certification in areas of employment for which there is a significant workforce demand—in various areas of allied health, construction and maintenance, and hospitality. Typically these programs enroll students who are at the intermediate levels of ESL, some with no more than a sixth-grade education. Effective VESL programs allow these students to obtain postsecondary vocational certifications without having to pursue the time-consuming pathways of noncredit and credit ESL programs and/or ABE/ASE instruction.

The VESL programs examined by the CAAL study have three elements: (a) a high-intensity course that teaches students English language skills that are needed in a particular vocation and that increases their general educational levels in math and other subjects the vocation requires, (b) enrollment in a preexisting vocational program taught in English, and (c) an ESL support course that meets concurrently with the vocational course to help students with language or basic skills problems they encounter in that course. The success rates of well-designed VESL programs are high in terms of course completion and obtaining vocational certifications.

Enhanced guidance and counseling. Because the pathways from noncredit ESL to academic and vocational studies can be long and complex, a strong program of guidance and counseling can help students make transitions. Most colleges make some efforts along these lines, but they are often unsystematic. A few colleges have developed systematic programs that include mandatory workshops and seminars, with special focus groups and individualized support by program specialists and faculty who are devoted entirely to supporting noncredit ESL students.

Faculty Quality

Even the best designed programs will not succeed without skilled teachers to implement them. Effective ESL instruction requires specialized professional knowledge, teaching skills, experience, and personal qualities. To develop and sustain a high-quality faculty, the colleges examined have adopted four major strategies:

  • Establishing high standards for the hiring of faculty
  • Treating all faculty members like highly qualified professionals by providing them with appropriate status within the college—offering full-time employment opportunities, adequate reimbursement, benefits, and professional opportunities
  • Providing robust programs of continuing professional development
  • Establishing faculty resource centers and Web sites

Standards for employment. Most of the programs examined in this study require a master's degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) or a special certification in TESOL or a related field for their full-time faculty members, and an increasing number expect equivalent standards for their new part-time instructors. These programs demonstrate that high professional standards can be both required and met.

Status. Most of the colleges in the study, as with most adult ESL programs, have few full-time ESL instructors. Full-time faculty provide an anchor of professional expertise to programs, and they can undertake a variety of essential tasks such as program administration, curriculum development, training, testing, advising students, evaluating program performance, and developing improved strategies for instruction that part-time faculty should not be expected to undertake, at least not without additional pay. CCSF, however, has shown that colleges can increase the ratio of full-time to part-time faculty if they have the will to do so: roughly half of CCSF's ESL faculty are employed full time.

Professional development. All five of the colleges provide faculty members with opportunities for continuing professional development through stipends and/or release time to attend professional conferences, workshops, special training sessions, and courses toward advanced degrees. They also provide reimbursement for work on curriculum development and other program improvement activities. In addition, individual colleges have developed distinctive strategies for professional development. Among these are

  • Peer mentoring at Yakima. New faculty are paired with experienced full-time adult ESL instructors in a program to learn how to teach with a participatory, transformative, Freirian instructional approach.
  • TESOL Certification Program at Lake County. The college has developed its own TESOL certification program that provides 30 credit hours of courses that are in many ways equivalent to the instruction provided by master's degree programs in TESOL. The program is offered at a nominal cost to Lake County faculty and largely supported by tuition from K-12 teachers who can gain ESL teaching endorsements by taking some of the courses. To some extent, the college is thus able to train its own teachers.
  • Reflective teaching at CCSF. This strategy consists of highly structured faculty discussion groups that address major problems that arise in the classroom and explore possible solutions. Faculty members believe that this form of professional development greatly increases their teaching skills.
  • Program specialists at Seminole. Seminole employs three staff members whose sole duty is to support faculty in performing their duties. This support includes counseling and troubleshooting with students, assessment, curriculum development, managing instructional technology, and a wide range of administrative functions that relieve faculty of noninstructional duties and allow them to concentrate more fully on teaching.

Resource centers and Web sites. All of the colleges examined maintain extensive resource centers that include information about curricular frameworks, assessment, textbooks and other instructional materials, lesson plans, course syllabi, and other tools of instruction. Most of the colleges also have extensive faculty Web sites that provide this information online and also serve as a means of communication among faculty members about issues of both general and specialized interest.


The instructional and staff development strategies adopted by the colleges examined in the CAAL study demonstrate that there are a great many means by which colleges and other adult ESL providers can improve their program outcomes. Undoubtedly other colleges, as well as ESL programs managed by school systems, workforce boards, or community-based organizations have developed additional strategies. Regrettably, there is no single mechanism for colleges and other adult ESL providers to share information about strategies of these kinds. The TESOL Adult Education Interest Section and this newsletter are one means of sharing this kind of information.

¹ Detailed profiles of each of the ESL programs on which the CAAL study focused are available on the CAAL Web site, and other research data from the study will be published later in the year.

Forrest P. Chisman (BA Harvard, DPhil Oxford) is vice president of the Council for the Advancement of Adult Literacy. Previously he was president of the Southport Institute, director of The Project on the Federal Social Role, policy director for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and senior project officer for the Markle Foundation.

JoAnn Crandall (Jodi) is a professor of education at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County where she directs the PhD program in language literacy and culture and coordinates the Peace Corps Master's International Program in ESOL/bilingual education.

Passing the Torch: Yakima Valley Community College Profile

Pamela Ferguson,

Yakima Valley Community College (YVCC), where I am an adult ESL instructor, is in the dry, high desert, eastern side of Washington State. The Cascade Mountains, which divide the state into east and west sides, provide snowmelt for irrigation of the rich, volcanic soil of the east side. The water, hot summer days, and cool nights result in a perfect growing-climate for fruit trees. Fruit growing is a very labor-intensive industry. Each tree, each piece of fruit is handled many, many times: Trees are pruned, blossoms are thinned, pesticides and fertilizers are sprayed, fruit is thinned, fruit-heavy branches are propped, and the fruit is picked, sorted, and packed by hand. For the past 20 years, the hands touching those trees and fruit have been mostly those of immigrants from Mexico. Because of low wages and part-time, seasonal employment in the agricultural industry, all of the indicators of poverty (median family income, percentage of families living below the poverty level, percentage of births paid by Medicaid, percentage of adults over 25 years of age without a high school diploma, percentage of families not speaking English at home, percentage of high school dropouts, and percentage of unemployed) in Yakima County are at least twice that of state levels.

YVCC is in the middle of this agricultural area. Almost to a person, when we ask students coming to the college why they want to learn English, they say, "For a better job! For a better life!" Our responsibility, as teachers, to meet the students' needs is enormous. So how do we do this? ESL students at YVCC are mostly from Mexico and from poor, rural areas of that country. They generally have about 3 to 6 years of elementary school education in Mexico. So our student population is low income and has limited academic and literacy skills.

From ESL Students to ABE Students—Why and How?
So, why and how do we transition these ESL students into adult basic education (ABE) classes? We know that ABE is not a designed extension of ESL. At YVCC, ESL is deliberately unstructured in that the curriculum is largely determined by the students in each class. Students decide which topics they want to study, and the instructor develops activities for language skills practice within that theme. ABE classes are more traditionally linear and content-driven. However, 15 years ago, as the ESL program grew, there was a problem. There was no place for ESL students to go after finishing ESL. Clearly, completion of ESL classes alone was not sufficient for these students to be able to effectively meet their goals of better jobs and better lives. They needed further educational opportunities. There was no transition to credit-level ESL, as was the case at many other community colleges. However, the fact that the ESL classrooms and offices were co-located with those of the ABE program presented an opportunity. In fact, I shared an office with an ABE instructor. She listened to me bemoaning the situation and one day said, "Well, they could come into my class." She was teaching family literacy at the time. The next quarter she had this to say about the ESL students: "They did fantastic! They can come into my math class too." Quarter by quarter, we started to break down the barriers between the ESL and ABE programs.

Other ABE instructors, at that point, were very wary of ESL students. So we took our time. But the enthusiasm of one teacher talking to another about these "great students, who are so dedicated and doing so well in class" did the PR for us. One by one, other ABE instructors said ESL students could also join their classes. After about 5 years of experimenting with schedules and class sequences, we had effected a complete integration of the ESL and ABE programs. This was an instructor-driven process; we had no and needed no administrative buy-in at that point. Because both programs' offices and classrooms shared space, there was ongoing talk between instructors about shared students, instructional practices, and dilemmas. Out of this dialogue came an understanding of the others' program and trust in the others' instructional intent.

Making Transitions Happen
Now, many years later, the transition model at YVCC is fully implemented in the day- and night-time classes on the two main campuses. Day classes are also paired with high-intensity classes: on the main Yakima Campus, National Reporting System (NRS) level 1, 2, and 3 students have 12 hours a week of classes; level 4 students have 16 hours a week; level 5 students have 22 to 24 hours a week; and level 6 students have 24 to 26 hours a week.

For the ESL and ABE scheduling to work, classroom space and instructors need to be available concurrently. Also, classes need to be scheduled when students are able to attend. Most of our students are seasonally employed or do shift work in fruit warehouses or in restaurants. Many day students are mothers who attend classes after their children go to school. Most students attend the entire block of classes available. Instructors encourage this when advising and registering students for classes. Students form a cohort when they spend extended time together. The social and personal support they receive and extend to each other increases retention and learning gains.

To keep track of student work, each student has a Personal Learning Plan filed with his or her registration materials. Each instructor is responsible for adding information to each student's plan. Classes are generally 50 minutes long. Each ESL level has multiple instructors, so students change classrooms during breaks between classes. Most classes are 4 days a week, Monday through Thursday. We found that when we had regular classes on Fridays, attendance dropped on that day. We theorized that family members needed a day for personal chores and errands. So we offer only self-contained classes (now career development and citizenship) on Fridays.

All ESL and ABE classes begin at 8:30 a.m. When we started classes earlier, many students still came in around 8:30. When we asked why, we found out that was the soonest parents could get to the campus after getting their children to school. We schedule all math classes at 8:30, all reading classes at 9:30, and all writing classes at 10:30. That way we can place students in the appropriate classes, depending on their skill levels. So, a level 6 ESL student may, for example, take the level 4 ESL math (whole numbers) class if his or her skills in math are very low or the level 4 ABE math class if his or her skills in math are very high. Computer basics classes are available in the afternoons for ESL levels 5 and 6, as well as for ABE students. Even though many students cannot stay this late, the computer classes are always full because they draw from a large number of students in the two programs. Community volunteer tutors are also available to meet with students in the afternoons.

Thus, class hours expand as the ESL student progresses through the levels. Level 4 ESL students have a whole-number math class focusing on addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to learn the language of basic math in English, in addition to other ESL classes. In addition to ESL classes, level 5 ESL students take ABE level 3 math and ABE Computer Basics 1-2. Level 6 ESL students take only one block of ESL reading and writing. Their other classes are ABE Math 4, ABE Reading 3 (which is a corrective reading program), ABE Computer Basics 3-4, and ABE Career Development. After completing level 6 ESL, with the addition of ABE Writing 3, ESL students fully become ABE students.

As ABE instructors had more and more ESL students in class, they wanted to know more about ESL methodologies and teaching strategies. The administration also saw the tide turn as ESL students became 60 percent of the Basic Skills student population. So three of the five full-time ABE instructors were given release time for one quarter each to observe ESL classes. Two of these ABE instructors subsequently also taught ESL classes.

Some of the Results of Deliberate Transitions
So, what has happened and what are the results? Now the numbers of ESL students in ABE classes are about equal to the numbers of native English speakers. In some ABE classes, ESL students are the majority. Changes in the class demographics have influenced how classes are delivered. ABE instructors say they are doing more work now on vocabulary development; they give more practice time; they use more visual aids and demonstrations; and the class lessons are more interactive. However, ABE instructors also say "good teaching for ESL students is good teaching for all students." ABE students are also benefiting from these teaching strategies. ABE instructors say it is sometimes difficult to balance the different needs of the ESL students and the ABE students. But they also express great satisfaction in having ESL students in their classes.

Before we extended the transition model of ESL and ABE classes to night classes offered on the Yakima campus, we compared the transition rates between the day and night classes. We tracked students over a 5-year period, from 2001 to 2006. Of the day students who enrolled in ESL levels 5 and 6 during those years, 73 percent of them became solely ABE students. Of the night students who enrolled in ESL levels 5 and 6, only 24 percent became solely ABE students. From additional data collected in one quarter, it was apparent that ESL and former ESL students completed the ABE class levels at higher rates, in most classes, than did native English speaking ABE students. Instructors noted that this quarter was not, in their experience, atypical of ESL student success in ABE classes.

So, it became obvious to us that our day model of deliberate articulation between the ESL and ABE programs was successful in the goal of transitioning ESL students and that the model needed to be replicated in the night classes. That replication has been effected. Now, it is the ESL program policy to offer only ESL levels 1 to 4 off-campus, day or night. We encourage levels 5 and 6 students to come to campus for the wider class- and program-transition offerings. Instructors often facilitate this move of students to on-campus classes and reduce barriers to the transfer by bringing students to campus for field trips and class observations, as well as to meet instructors and register for classes.

Now YVCC instructors, supported by the administration, are working to replicate the model of program transition between ABE and credit developmental and college-level classes. We are currently offering combined ABE/developmental education classes (in writing), integrated instruction of ABE skills and vocational training (in allied health and education), and academic-support classes (in math and biology) taught by ABE instructors.

In summary, based on the experience at YVCC, key points to developing transitions between programs are co-locating instructors and classrooms of each program to develop and sustain familiarity, trust, and a shared instructional philosophy; developing a shared vision for students; and fostering a willingness to make changes. Further, implementation of effective changes in class scheduling and sequencing takes time, experimentation, and analysis of what works for the student population. After a determination of what works, effective transitional practices need to be replicated throughout a program and beyond to other programs to create a logical, intentional flow of classes for the neediest of students. But, to begin, it takes only two of you!

To read a summary highlighting the key findings of the research on five community college adult ESL transition programs, including YVCC, see the article by Forrest Chisman and JoAnn Crandall in this newsletter. For complete reports about this and other adult ESL practices in five selected community colleges in the United States, see Passing the Torch: Strategies for Innovation in Community College ESL and Executive Summary by Forrest Chisman & JoAnn Crandall (available at

Pamela Ferguson instructs community college adult ESL. She also is currently department chair and provides teacher training, but she believes her true calling is in the classroom with students.

Highline Community College’s Successful Transition Program

Dr. Lijun Shen,

The issue of how to transition ESL learners from the noncredit ESL program to a credit-bearing college program is one that many instructors and administrators of adult literacy programs face. How can instructors and administrators successfully transition their ESL learners into college programs? At the 2007 TESOL Convention, I introduced some of the effective strategies, both programmatic and instructional, that Highline Community College has adopted to successfully transition ESL students into credit-bearing college programs.

Highline Community College is located in Des Moines, Washington. Its community has one of the highest immigration rates in the county, state, and nation. Over 100 languages are spoken among limited English proficiency students in local schools and 90.2% (56,810) of the LEP population are between 18 and 65 years of age. Most of them are unemployed and are at the low literacy level. Those who manage to come to school oftentimes drop out of school because of some common barriers such as lack of financial aid support, childcare support, and language and study skills. Between 2003 and 2006, out of 5,760 ESL students who attended ESL classes, only 100 (1.7%) students moved on to college-level courses. Among the 100 students, only four of them earned associate degrees and only one earned a 1-year certificate.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor (2002), the majority of jobs will require postsecondary education. In order to help our ESL students, a task force made up of administrators, instructors, college support services, and community partners was formed with the vision to create a sustainable, innovative, and effective set of services to help ESL learners succeed in pursuing the educational and training options of their choice. The task force took up the following initiatives:

  • Research: Determine who our populations are, where they live, what they need, and the degree to which they are successful in our current programs; use this information to inform program planning and decision making.
  • Recruiting materials: Develop culturally appropriate outreach materials and activities that reach ESL audiences and respond to their needs, interests, and questions.
  • Student services: Create a flexible menu of support services that can reach out to ESL populations, assisting them with
    • Admissions
    • Advising
    • College cost information and financial aid
    • Transcript evaluation and credit transfer
  • Financial aid support: Search for financial aid options, develop seamless referral mechanisms that match students with those sources, and develop new funding sources.
  • Professional development: Provide ongoing training and updating to ESL faculty about Highline's educational opportunities so that they can be effective in informing their students and answering student inquiries.
  • Curriculum and instruction: Develop and offer transition courses that integrate career development, college preparation, and basic skills.

In spring 2006, our first Transition to College class was offered to ESL students. Twenty students who completed ESL level 4 (intermediate level) were enrolled in the class and all of them had the goal of attending college credit programs. The class covered topics such as

  • surviving college: things you need to know
  • planning your education
  • getting help financially for college expenses
  • getting help from career and employment services
  • developing time management strategies
  • setting goals and priorities
  • determining learning styles and identifying learning strategies
  • developing important academic study skills and reading and writing skills
  • using a computer as an aid to becoming a better student

At the end of the spring 2006 quarter, all 20 students (100%) earned scores on the Computer-adaptive Placement and Support Services (COMPASS) that qualified them to be admitted into college credit courses. Among the 20 students, 13 (65%) students enrolled in the credit-bearing college programs immediately after the transition class. Today, most of these students are still in college, pursuing their dreams.


U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2002). Tomorrow's Jobs. Bulletin 2540-1.

Dr. Lijun Shen, professor of TESOL at Highline Community College and adjunct faculty member, TESOL department, at Seattle University, has over 20 years of experience teaching adult ESL and EFL learners.

TESOL 2007

Cindy Shermeyer,

Cindy Shermeyer shares some personal highlights from sessions she attended at TESOL in Seattle.

Each year since attending my first TESOL in Salt Lake City, Utah, I have never been disappointed in the new ideas and techniques I bring home to use with my class. Discovering best practices to turn research into reality for my students is of paramount importance for me at this stage. TESOL 2007 did not fail to meet those expectations, and I'd like to share what I learned from some of the sessions.

The new citizenship/naturalization test is being piloted as we speak, and so I was driven to attend as many sessions as possible pertaining to this change. Gloria Gillette from the Ohio Northeast ABLE Resource Center and Michael Jones from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offered the first in a series of presentations. I found their presentation to be an interesting and helpful overview and took away a CD full of resources. I left feeling a bit calmer than when the flurry of activity regarding a new test began a few years ago.

Karen Hilgeman from the Illinois Adult Learning Resource Center (ALRC) and her colleague Carol Garcia presented two interactive sessions on the new American history and American government sections and the revised U.S. naturalization test. Participants learned helpful activities to teach the content students need to learn to successfully answer the questions they may encounter with the revised test.

Karen Hilgeman and Lynne Weintraub demonstrated how mock interviews are integral in preparing students for the naturalization process. Their step-by-step instructions will help guide me in doing a better job with my students.

The sessions related to the new citizenship test were videotaped, and I am hopeful that TESOL and/or USCIS will make these available for all teachers regardless of their attendance at the conference.

There are two last sessions I wish to comment on before closing. I have already put into practice what I learned at both of these outstanding sessions and am thrilled with the learning that has taken place. Both sessions addressed higher level students, who I find need to be constantly challenged with more vocabulary, reading, and writing. Laurie Bercovitz and Laurie Martin, both from the Illinois ALRC, did a session on vocabulary instruction for higher level ESOL adults. (See the article by Bercovitz and Martin detailing their workshop in this newsletter.) I came away with an understanding of why it is important to teach vocabulary explicitly, how to select words to teach, and how to teach those words using explicit instruction. I am so pleased with the interest and progress of my students since I've tried out these ideas.

Finally, Kathy Olson (consultant/trainer) did a session on multiple activities using one reading selection. I have had great success using the before, during, and after ideas with a reading passage in my higher level class. Encouraged by that success, I then tried the same ideas with an appropriate text for my lower level class. This too met with success.

Perhaps the best judge of the success of these new ideas and techniques is my students. In their weekly journals, all of my students wrote about what they had learned in vocabulary or through the reading passage. One student was so excited about what we had done that she can't wait until I go again next year and get more ideas!

Cindy Shermeyer has been working in the field of adult education/ESL for over 10 years. She is currently working as the lead teacher for the Christiana Adult Programs, ESL Program, as well as teaching E L Civics for Literacy Volunteers Serving Adults in Newark, Delaware. She also works as an adult ESL consultant and is a BEST Plus Trainer for the Center for Applied Linguistics.

Vocabulary Instruction for High-Level ELL Adults

Laurie Bercovitz,, and Laurie Martin,

We were fortunate to be part of the developmental team on the national Project STAR (Student Achievement in Reading). Through STAR we learned about evidence-based reading instruction for intermediate-level adult basic education (ABE) students, which includes

  • basing instruction on students' strengths and needs as identified by diagnostic assessments in the four reading components of alphabetics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension
  • using the direct and explicit instructional approach

We took what we learned about evidence-based reading instruction and applied it in an ABE class that was offered through a community college in a Chicago suburb. The class met twice weekly for 2 1/2 hours each night over 10 weeks. The class was composed of English language learners who had a TABE (Test of Adult Basic Education) score between 5.0 and 8.9 (grade-level equivalency).

We conducted diagnostic reading assessments on all the students and found that they had strengths in alphabetics and fluency but a high need in vocabulary. Their reading vocabulary was not as developed as their oral vocabulary, often being two to three grade levels below their comprehension levels. They needed to learn academic vocabulary, that is, the abstract word meanings that are used across content areas and are found primarily in written language. Without an increase in their knowledge of academic word meanings, their comprehension would not improve. In other words, a limited academic vocabulary was the cause of their intermediate-level comprehension scores.

To address the vocabulary needs of the students, we decided that half of class time would be devoted to learning academic word meanings. We shared this rationale for emphasizing vocabulary with the class. To see if the students were still comfortable with the amount of class time spent teaching academic vocabulary, the idea of intense vocabulary instruction was revisited after the first few weeks of class. All the students were very supportive and pleased to be learning relevant word meanings.

We established an instructional routine within the framework of direct and explicit instruction. The source for words was Groundwork for a Better Vocabularyfrom Townsend Press. We were fortunate that the program provided a workbook to each student to use and keep.

Each chapter in Groundwork had 10 academic words that fell within the grade-level range of 5.0 to 8.0. Although this grade-level range was higher than some students' assessed vocabulary levels, we provided the additional teacher support that was needed via direct and explicit instruction.

In our respective classes, we used the following instructional routine for each word list taught.

We explained each of the 10 words individually. We pronounced the target word and provided the part of speech and a single meaning, giving just the meaning that was to be learned. Students took notes on each word by copying a quadrant chart that we were completing on the board while introducing each word. If the word had synonyms or antonyms, they were shared after the definition was given.

For example, the students copied the following:

Transform - verb


to change completely in form,
appearance, or nature




Stay the same

In modeling through direct instruction, we gave examples of the words used in different contexts that illustrate the meaning. Different forms of the word can be used as long as the meaning is not altered.

For example:

  • Every year my daughter plans to transform herself from a messy person into a tidy person.
  • The magician transformed the rolled newspaper into a flaming sword.
  • My sister transformed her small home into a spacious house when she added on three rooms.

Then we led the students in a discussion to elicit their personal contexts that illustrated the target meaning of the words. After students shared their sentences, we returned to the quadrant chart to have students write down their personal associations. Often personal associations came from the sentences both we and the students shared.

For example:


to change completely in form,
appearance or nature


make over

(Teacher's) Personal Association



stay the same

After we introduced the words through modeling, instruction moved into guided practice with corrective feedback. Research indicates that to learn a word, a person should have 10 to 12 encounters with the word meaning over a period of time. We used activities from Groundwork and many of the activities we found in an online article by M. E. Curtis and A. M. Longo, "Teaching Vocabulary to Adolescents to Improve Comprehension" ( The teacher-supported practice moved from easier to more complex activities. Groundwork provided multiple choice, matching, fill-ins, and cloze exercises. Exercises from Groundwork were interspersed with activities we developed. The Groundwork exercises were used as homework assignments, whereas the teacher-developed activities were used to encourage discussions about the word meanings.

We developed the following activities. Once the activity was learned, it was completed as a homework assignment and then shared through discussions during the next class session. During the discussion, if students could provide the rationale for an answer, it was counted as correct. Students soon learned that the "why" was an essential part of the conversation.

  • Sentence completions
    For example:
    - An experience that transformed me was when ____________________________.
    - The principal reason I came to America was _____________________________.
  • True - False / Why?
    For example:
    - If a man said that his vacation in India transformed him, he found the trip to be quite boring.
    - If the governor is the principal leader of a state, then Illinois' governor, Rod Blagojevich, is an important and powerful person in Illinois.
  • Yes - No / Why?
    For example:
    - Does a nation's principal leader have to transform himself/herself because the people are upset by how things are going?
  • Read and Respond
    We created questions about reading passages using selected vocabulary words. Passages were not selected because the vocabulary words were in the text, but because concepts or ideas in the text connected with the vocabulary students were studying.
    For example:
    "I had no schooling whatever while I was a slave, though I remember on several
    occasions I went as far as the schoolhouse door with one of my young mistresses to
    carry her books. The picture of several dozen boys and girls in a schoolroom engaged in study made a deep impression upon me, and I had the feeling that to get into a schoolhouse and study in this way would be about the same as getting into paradise. . . ."
    (Excerpt from the novel Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington)

The read-and-respond question posed to students was How did he think education would transform his world?

We established a routine for practice so that students became comfortable doing the various activities. Using the same activities, but changing the word lists, allowed students to put their energies into using the word meanings, not learning how to do new activities.

Discussions were a time for students to expand their understandings of the word meanings and experiment with using the words in new contexts. Many times students asked, "Is this how an English speaker would use the word?" The discussion provided many opportunities for the teachers to monitor how well students understood word meanings and make any needed corrections. These discussions were also a time to share the subtle nuances regarding some word meanings. For example, when a student used the word adequate to describe the qualities of a hard-working character in a story, the teacher was able to explain why adequate was not the best descriptor of the character's work ethic.

We also continually recycled words. Each chapter meant we added 10 words to the portable word wall we posted during each class. Students were encouraged to find these words outside of class, as well as to use them in class. Students were rewarded with "points" when they used vocabulary words in conversations, in writing assignments, and during discussions about other words. To encourage continual use of vocabulary words from prior chapters, we also integrated previously studied words into read-and-respond questions as well as other practice activities.

Over a 10-week session, the class learned 60 academic words. We gave pre- and posttests on each chapter. The following is a representative example of the students' learning gains.

Groundwork Chapter 5 Pre- and Posttest Responses from "Jessica" (a pseudonym)

Vocabulary Words Pretest (9-27-06) Posttest (10-16-07)
aggravate no answer given make worst
cease no answer given to stop
coincide no answer given two or more things on the same time or place
considerable worth another thought large amount; a lot
humane no answer given carry for people or animals; take care of somebody or something
intentional meaning to do something on purpose; you do it because you want to do it
obnoxious no answer given discusting; no good
interference reacting with something; meets something interrup
unstable changing a lot no stable; changing all the time; no regular
utilize no answer given use

Laurie Bercovitz is the manager of the Adult Learning Resource Center in Illinois. She conducts training in reading, ESL parental involvement, and family literacy. She's worked in adult education for 20 years.

Laurie Martin is a professional development specialist with the Adult Learning Resource Center. She conducts training in ESL, reading, and learning disabilities. She's worked in adult education for 16 years.

Teaching Literacy to Preliterate Adults: The Top and the Bottom

Barbara Fish,, Ellen Knell,, and Hannah Buchanan

Recently, many dozens of Somali Bantu families settled in the Salt Lake Valley after living for more than a decade in refugee camps in Kenya. Many of the women in this group received ESL services during the day shortly after their arrival. These women spoke almost no English and had never attended school. They were considered preliterate because they never had the opportunity to learn to read or write in their native language Maay-Maay (which has only recently been standardized in alphabetic form). Another challenge was that they had never experienced everyday conventions that are the norm in the United States, such as electricity, doors that lock, toilets with running water, and shopping at supermarkets.

Our ESL classes at the Hartland Center were offered through the University Neighborhood Partners (UNP), a group that coordinates various departments of the University of Utah and community-based organizations to address the needs of low-income residents on the west side of the city. UNP created a center for their various programs in an apartment at the complex where these Somali Bantu women and other refugees had been resettled. Many programs were offered at the center, including healthcare, financial literacy, and social services. The ESL component was a collaboration between university students and tutors from the English Skills Learning Center, an organization that trains volunteers to teach English to adult immigrants and refugees. During the ESL classes, childcare was made available to the women because many of them had small children. The location of the classes at the apartment complex and the provision of childcare eliminated two of the most common barriers to education for adult learners.

The Reading Process
Reading is a multifaceted procedure in which a variety of cognitive mechanisms interact simultaneously to produce meaning. This procedure has been characterized in various ways, and many reading models have been developed to capture these interactions. One of the most influential reading models distinguishes between top-down and bottom-up processing (Birch, 2007; Burt, Peyton, & Adams, 2003).

A top-down model of reading requires readers to be actively involved in constructing meaning by relating previous experiences to the text. Activating background knowledge and contextualizing meaning through the use of realia and pictures are common top-down methods. Previously learned oral language and repetitive formulaic phrases provide "hooks" to facilitate the understanding of written language and can, therefore, also be considered top-down mechanisms.

Preliterate students are beginning readers, but they are not beginning problem solvers; therefore, it's important to utilize materials and methods that can connect to students' immediate needs. Teaching authentic, meaningful language and texts is crucial because students want to learn language that can be immediately helpful to them in their daily lives (Brod, 1999). This type of meaningful instruction engages the processes at the top because the students' past experiences and future needs will interact with the information to be learned, leading to increased comprehension.

Bottom-up processes of reading are best exemplified by the mapping of letters to sounds to extract information from the page. Whereas top-down processing involves the use of familiar vocabulary and background knowledge, bottom-up processing utilizes the small units of our writing system—that is, letters, sounds, and syllables—and combines them into larger chunks comprising, words, phrases, and sentences.

Knowing how to break the sound/symbol code and doing it automatically is crucial to reading success, but this process has traditionally been deemphasized in second language reading (Birch, 2007; Eskey, 1988). This deemphasis may have occurred in the past because many adult English learners were already literate in their native languages and could, therefore, transfer much of their knowledge about the reading process from their first language (L1). They were already familiar with the cognitive mechanisms that enable readers to construct meaning from symbols on a page. Preliterate learners, however, are unaware of the ways that letters and sounds work together. Direct instruction and systematic experience with the alphabetic system is necessary in order for preliterates to process and retain written words.

During the past two decades, researchers have focused on many bottom-up processes for beginning L1 readers. There is now a large body of research that supports the notion that automatic word recognition and phonological awareness (i.e., awareness of subsyllabic sound units in spoken language) are skills that are imperative for reading success in the first language (see Adams, 1990; Kruidenier, 2002). Recent research shows that these skills are equally important for second language (L2) readers (August & Shanahan, 2006). Moreover, the limited research that has been done in second language reading suggests that bottom-up skills are also extremely important for L2 adults with limited educational experiences (Hilferty, 1996; Mullady-DelliCarpini, 2004).

The remainder of this article describes some of the methods and materials we have found helpful from both the top and the bottom when teaching reading to preliterate students. It summarizes the development of our own instructional and reading materials that we created because we were unable to find appropriate sources elsewhere.

The Hartland Experience
We began instruction with the intention of combining top-down and bottom-up methods, as well as emphasizing listening and speaking skills in every lesson. We soon found that we had to make some serious adjustments to our initial teaching plans.

One key factor emerged at our first class: The women came with pencil and paper. Clearly, they were expecting to write in this first and each subsequent class. We learned that their concept of school was that of a teacher who wrote on the board and students who copied diligently into their notebooks. Most were already able to write their first names in capital letters, but it was clear that they had had no instruction in how to form the letters, and much of their writing was difficult to decipher. We were encouraged by their positive attitude but dismayed by their lack of skills.

The second key factor was that our group of Somali-Bantu women had no experience in the everyday situations in which they now found themselves. We began teaching them by focusing on standard survival skill topics such as personal information, family, numbers, time, money, health, and shopping. We soon found, however, that their lack of experience with industrialized society made it impossible for us to teach these in the traditional way. We had to provide our students with basic concepts and background knowledge in addition to the vocabulary.

Our initial approach to building background knowledge was through traditional top-down methods of TPR (Total Physical Response), use of realia, role play using realia, and simple dialogue. But because of the students' expectations and needs, we also spent a portion of each lesson on forming letters and numbers. Learning lowercase letters presented a particular challenge, as many lowercase letters do not resemble their uppercase correspondent. Phonological awareness was included from the beginning by stressing the sounds of the letters as well as the blending and segmenting of sound units.

Each lesson would begin with individual work copying/writing with direction because students arrived at varying time intervals. The lesson proper began with a review of previously learned material. In order to build an oral base, we adapted traditional songs and chants to fit the particular topic, because music and rhythm assist retention. A word sort review activity could be included at this point or could follow a language experience activity (LEA). The main focus of the lesson was one of the survival topics broken down into very basic elements. For example, we spent several lessons on My name is..., teaching the formulaic phrases for introductions using only first names through oral repetition and chaining activities; listening for the beginning sound of a person's name; connecting the sound with the beginning letter; picking out one's own name from the name cards in the center of the table; picking out a classmate's name; learning to write the first name with lowercase letters; and ultimately reading and completing the sentence My name is _________. Breaking this topic into these very basic steps, which we repeated as many times as necessary -and then some-provided the students with the elaborative rehearsal required to move the information from working memory into long-term memory (Baddeley, 1986; Wolfe & Nevills, 2004).

This shared group experience became the first page of their first book, which was personalized for each student with a photograph. Although this first book had only four pages, it was an introduction into the world of books: how to manipulate the book, turn pages, recognize page numbers, and follow the directionality of print. Each page of this and the many homemade books that followed represented lessons of shared top-down activities that created the background knowledge that the students needed. Because the classes took place in the UNP apartment, we were able to utilize the realia around us and provide hands-on activities to create sense and meaning. Photographs and illustrations frequently used in traditional ESL classes to introduce topics were confusing and often meaningless to our students because of their lack of exposure to this medium. After experiencing the shared activities, we could use illustrations and/or photographs of group members and their apartments in our classroom activities and in the books we created.

The individual and group bottom-up exercises prepared students to relate sounds of the spoken language (phonemes) to the symbols of the written language (graphemes). Once students learned to recognize and write the alphabet, both upper- and lowercase, we began to teach letter sounds by having the students sort realia and then pictures of these familiar words according to their initial sound. This word study technique is often referred to asword sort. Our adaptation of word sort actually became a vocabulary activity as the words were all high frequency and the students learned to associate words with pictures as they sorted sounds.

Our initial sort began with two letters: b and m. Each letter was associated with a key picture: b/book; m/man. Following this, we put other pictures that began with these sounds on index cards and the students sorted them. To begin with, only two or three pictures were sorted into a column for each letter sound, but three or four columns were used: for example, b,m,s with three or four pictures for each letter (boy, bread, baby, banana / money, mother, man, milk / sink, sandwich, socks). The teacher modeled the word sort procedure, and then students practiced with partners.

Word sort usually begins with sorting initial and final letter sounds and then extends into sorting rhyming word families: man, can, fan, ran/hat, rat, sat. The next step requires students to blend and segment phonemes. Alphabet letter tiles or cards can be used at this stage to help students learn to blend sounds to form words. Students benefit from the manipulation of the cards as well as the reading instruction. Word cards can also be used to play concentration, matching words that have similar sound patterns.

After our students became familiar with the words, they were ready for dictation. This provided students with practice in decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling) sounds. Teaching these two together was mutually reinforcing. We also practiced the rehearsed words in formulaic phrases (e.g., I have a can. I have a fan. This is a hat. This is a map.).

We found that incorporating word sort activities during each lesson increased our students' awareness of letter/sound correspondences. Students also became aware of how to blend and segment sounds, which contributed to their phonological awareness. They also sorted words from the text of language experience activities and in preparation for the class-created books.

Examining the reading process from the top and the bottom has informed and guided our instruction. Both the top and the bottom need to be considered together when teaching L2 reading to a preliterate population. Through a balanced approach targeting the bottom as well as the top, preliterate adults can learn tools that will help them gain enough English literacy skills to function in their new environment.

Adams, M. J. (1990). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

August, D., & Shanahan, T. (2006). Developing literacy in second-language learners. Report of the National Literacy Panel on language-minority children and youth. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Baddeley, A. D. (1986). Working memory. Oxford, England : Oxford University Press.

Birch, B. M. (2007). English L2 reading: Getting to the bottom. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Brod, S. (1999). What non-readers or beginning readers need to know: Performance-based ESL adult literacy. Denver, CO: Spring Institute for International Studies.

Burt, M., Peyton, J. K., & Adams, R. (2003). Reading and adult English language learners. A review of the research. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Eskey, D. (1988). Holding in the bottom: An interactive approach to the language problems of second language readers. In P. Carrell, J. Devine, & D. Eskey (Eds.), Interactive approaches to second language reading (pp. 93-100). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Hilferty, A. G. (1996). Coding decoding: Predicting the reading comprehension of Latino adults learning English. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Kruidenier, J. (2002). Research-based principles for adult basic education reading instruction. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy. Retrieved February 8, 2005, from

Mullady-DelliCarpini, M. E. (2004). Phonological awareness and adult second language literacy development. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY.

Wolfe, P., & Nevills, P. (2004). Building the reading brain. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

At the time that this instruction took place, Ellen Knell and Hannah Buchanan were PhD students at the University of Utah and Barbara Fish was the director of the English Language Skills Center.

TESOL Partnerships in Health Literacy

Gail Weinstein,, Daryl Gordon,, Judy King,, and Maricel G. Santos,

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 1999. I did not want to tell anyone because some Chinese believe that cancer is a punishment for doing something wrong. . . . I am slowly coming out of my sadness. I have learned to appreciate things in life; I am ready for a new start.

This poignant narrative, collected from one Chinese immigrant by another, raises the issue of illness and shame, one invisible to many practitioners. By discussing this story, English language learners examine their own attitudes toward illness and identify resources and options for getting and staying well, all while learning English.

It is well documented that immigrants and refugees face many obstacles to adequate health care. Those with limited English are particularly vulnerable in terms of accessing resources, navigating bureaucracies, and negotiating appropriate care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2001) contends that "community partnerships, particularly when they reach out to nontraditional partners, can be among the most effective tools for improving health in communities." How can TESOL and health professionals partner in community settings to address immigrant health issues?

This article briefly describes some exciting projects and partnerships showcased at the 2007 TESOL Convention in Seattle.

I. CIRCLE, the Center for Immigrant and Refugee Community Literacy Education

CIRCLE, based at San Francisco State University, is an effort to foster just such collaborations to address immigrant health literacy issues. CIRCLE's mission is to strengthen immigrant families and communities; support practitioners who serve them; and engage students deeply in the fabric of these communities with experiences that build their professional and leadership skills in professionally transforming ways. CIRCLE engages in three sets of related activities, all of which have direct applications to building partnerships for immigrant health literacy:

a. Community service learning: CIRCLE aims to offer innovative, multidisciplinary opportunities for students to combine academic study with community service so that each is enhanced by the other. Currently we are creating placements for TESOL students and health education students to work together in health settings, as well as to create health literacy materials to disseminate through traditional ESL settings. Another initiative is Project SHINE (Students Helping in the Naturalization of Elders), which was created in partnership with Temple University and is discussed below.

b. Professional development and leadership training: CIRCLE also seeks to offer a range of professional development and training opportunities that are designed to inspire collaborative explorations and community action in response to the language and literacy needs of immigrant communities. Three initiatives are highlighted here:

  • A major thrust of CIRCLE's professional development activity is a Certificate in Immigrant Literacies currently under development at San Francisco State. The certificate represents an innovative graduate-level program targeting preservice and inservice professionals who wish to combine interdisciplinary study of language, literacies, and the immigrant experience (such as in health care) with community service learning. The program aims to foster the commitment, knowledge, and skills that are fundamental to proactive civic engagement. In summer 2007, our first crop of interested students (including TESOL and nursing) is taking the certificate's orientation course; the students will explore the role of language and literacies in everyday contexts in which immigrants participate and will also receive training in community partnership building and community-based research principles.
  • Another initiative within the domain of CIRCLE's professional development activities is Project PILOT (Partners in Immigrant Leadership, Outreach, and Training). PILOT seeks to address health disparities affecting immigrant communities by ensuring that adult ESL learners are better prepared to advocate for themselves and their communities, and to create a mechanism by which adult ESL learners are able to participate in the design of health education and research activities. In spring 2007, Maricel Santos and David Olsher, in collaboration with Lourdes Muguerza and Divier Wallace of Nuestra Casa in East Palo Alto, CA, launched Project PILOT with a classroom-based needs analysis in which they explored learners' views on community health issues and their perspectives on learner leadership for social change. We also sought to identify classroom practices (e.g., teacher questions) that facilitated learners' ability to express opinions about social change.
  • Community Literacy Forums: On June 1, 2007, San Francisco State hosted its first CIRCLE forum entitled Language, Literacy, and Immigrant Health Care: Opportunities for Partnership ( The Forum provided a rare opportunity for adult ESL, health and public health services, and community-based organizations, including ethnic media, to sit down and engage in meaningful conversations about common interests and collaborative potential. We had planned for 45 participants, and frenetically but happily scrambled to accommodate the more than 140 people who registered (we even had to turn folks away because of space limitations!). As one participant from the health field remarked at the end of an energizing day, "It is so clear that we're all hungry to talk to one another, and that talking to language professionals enables us to understand how to better serve immigrant patients."

c. Materials development: CIRCLE's third set of activities is to bring together health and language partners to develop ESL materials that address health issues in ways that will speak to immigrants' most pressing concerns, and that will invite them to learn language while gaining strategies to pursue their own wellness. The model for this work, "Learners' Lives as Curriculum" (Weinstein, 1996), is based on learner stories, combining systematic language development with exploration of learner-generated issues and concerns. As CIRCLE's director Gail Weinstein remarked, "One of the problems in many areas of practice is the absence of the immigrant story, but it is stories that help us understand barriers and solutions from the inside out."

II. Project SHINE at Temple University: Focus on Improving Health Care for the Immigrant Elders

Above we mentioned a national project called SHINE (Students Helping in the Naturalization of Elders) that links college students with older immigrants and refugees seeking to learn English and navigate the complex path to U.S. citizenship. The project is coordinated through the Center for Intergenerational Learning at Temple University ( and is currently replicated at 18 institutions of higher education in 14 cities across the United States. From 1997 to 2000, over 3,000 college students have provided more than 60,000 hours of service to 9,000 older immigrants and refugees across the country.
The SHINE-MetLife Foundation Health Literacy Initiative of Temple University's Center for Intergenerational Learning began in 2003 and aimed to help older immigrants and refugees communicate with healthcare providers and access health care. Older immigrants in the United States, particularly those who are not native speakers of English, confront many challenges in navigating the U.S. healthcare system. To facilitate learning about the nature of these challenges and developing approaches to address the problem, the initiative began with a needs assessment to hear directly from immigrants about their experiences with the healthcare system.

The needs assessment involved over 100 immigrants and refugees from seven ethnolinguistic groups in two cities (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and San Jose, California). Participants were asked to discuss their experiences accessing health care in the United States and their interest in learning about topics related to health problems and communication in healthcare settings. The immigrants who participated in the focus groups and interviews told poignant stories illustrating their struggles related to health literacy and communication. Some waited to seek medical care until health problems developed into emergencies because they were unable to read or understand insurance information to ascertain if they had coverage. Many could not understand what a doctor said to them during an office visit, had no access to competent bilingual interpreters, and were not able to ask for clarification. Breakdowns in communication were the source of many healthcare-related mishaps reported by the participants.

One older Chinese immigrant voiced the concerns of many participants when she articulated the sense of defeat she experienced simply trying to make an appointment to see her doctor:

I tried to call but it is all automated. Nobody is there. "If you want . . . press 1 . . . press 2." I do not understand and get frustrated. I'm sorry. I should go back to my country. It is very difficult to live here even with the amount of English I understand. What about those who do not understand at all?

On the basis of the findings of the needs assessment, a health literacy curriculum was designed to help immigrants communicate with healthcare providers, take charge of their health, manage illnesses, and promote healthy aging. Though specifically developed to meet the needs of older immigrants and refugees, the materials are appropriate for adult ESL learners of any age. The units were developed through a curriculum development process that draws on learner healthcare experiences and utilizes the framework of communicative competence (Canale & Swain, 1980) to help learners obtain the skills necessary to successfully navigate healthcare encounters. The ESL Health Units and the report detailing the results of the needs assessment are available at

The initiative has engaged health profession students from disciplines such as nursing, occupational therapy, and medical interpreting in service-learning activities. College students have offered services to immigrant elders by tutoring in ESL classrooms utilizing the project's ESL Health Units, conducting health workshops, and providing health screenings and exercise classes. The program has helped adult ESL learners communicate more easily with healthcare providers, understand the U.S. healthcare system, and become more proactive healthcare consumers. Older immigrants who participated in a health education workshop on medications commented, "Now when I go to my doctor, I ask more questions. I make sure that all of my questions are answered."

III. Advancing a New Model for Understanding Immigrant Wellness

Health literacy has been defined as the degree to which people are able to access, understand, appraise, and communicate information to engage with the demands of different health contexts in order to promote and maintain good health across the life-course (Rootman & Ronson, 2005). One of the authors of this article, Judy King, is a physiotherapist who has worked for 20 years with a variety of patients in hospitals and rehabilitation centers. Her research has focused on how adults with limited literacy, including immigrants, make sense of their chronic illness and their perspectives on being a patient. This "emic" or insider's perspective enables us to look beyond broad definitions of health literacy and account for the individual experience.

Themes that have emerged from interviews of participants include the different sources of barriers to receiving health information that they encounter when interacting with healthcare providers including mismatched expectations, feelings of powerlessness, and living between worlds. As a woman from Iraq explained, it is difficult going to the hospital when you do not speak English because she felt that it is "their problem; it is not public it is personal, it's personal. I don't understand it is not your fault. I am the wrong one here."

Through their adult basic education and literacy classroom, their community of practice, participants were able to overcome some of the barriers or at least to lessen the barriers and to take control of their lives, so that they could manage their chronic illnesses better. As the participants' literacy abilities improved so did their self-efficacy, which resulted in the participants feeling more confident and comfortable in healthcare encounters. For example, the participants' improved ability to read resulted in participants being able to find health information on their own. As a woman from Ghana stated,

when you go to grocery let's say something you don't have to eat or something. But if you can read, you'll be able to see what is in there. Like now I'll be able to read like labels, everything it help a lot.

Participants' perspective shifted from one of powerlessness, dependence, isolation, not having expectations met, and not understanding the language to one of having some power, some independence, some fellowship, some ability to have expectations met, and some ability to learn and understand the language of health care. None of the barriers completely disappeared for the participants because these barriers are part of, or reinforced by, the present healthcare system.

The initiatives described above are examples of beginnings—that is, beginnings of important conversations among health practitioners, adult ESL practitioners, and immigrants themselves who can guide our work. We invite colleagues from within the TESOL profession as well as our allies in health professions to join the dialogue so that together, we can maximize the efficacy of our work, addressing health disparities among underserved immigrant populations with limited English and literacy skills.

Canale, M., & Swain, M. (1980). Theoretical bases of communicative approaches to second-language teaching and testing. Applied Linguistics, 1(1), 1-47.

Rootman, I., & Ronson, B. (2005). Literacy and health research in Canada: Where have we been and where should we go? Canadian Journal of Public Health, 96, 62-77.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2001). Healthy people 2010: Understanding and improving health. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved June 8, 2006, from

Weinstein, G. (1996). Learners' lives as curriculum: Six journeys to immigrant literacy. McHenry, IL: Delta Books.

Gail Weinstein, professor of English at San Francisco State University's MATESOL program, is also the director of CIRCLE, Center for Immigrant and Refugee Community Literacy Education.

Daryl Gordon is an assistant professor in the Bilingual Education/TESOL Program at Adelphi University. She has taught adult ESL learners in the United States and abroad since 1988.

Judy King, physiotherapist and part-time professor, University of Ottawa, Canada, researched literacy and health and chronic disease management for her PhD in education.

Maricel Santos, assistant professor of English/TESOL, San Francisco State University, currently works with community partners on Project PILOT (Partners in Immigrant Leadership, Outreach, and Training), which supports ESL learners as agents of change in health care.

For more references about health literacy, please contact Judy King at

Providing Leadership in Adult ESOL Programs

Jill Kramer,

A small but hardy group met at 7:30 a.m. on a cool Seattle morning to discuss the challenge of providing leadership in adult TESOL programs when there is a largely part-time and scattered teaching staff in addition to a limited budget. We discussed issues such as how to find and keep qualified teachers, how to provide orientation and training and ongoing professional development, how to communicate with teachers and help them feel connected to the organization, and how to help teachers provide appropriate instruction.

Tips for finding qualified teachers included networking with other ESOL programs in the area, connecting with MA TESOL programs or linguistics departments at universities, looking for seasoned volunteers and retired teachers, and ensuring that the pay scale is competitive with similar programs. It was suggested to look for candidates with energy and enthusiasm as well as a desire to learn.

Regarding training teachers, a standardized training manual will ensure that all new teachers receive the same information. Be sure that part-time teachers are given copies of policy and procedure manuals and update the manual as policies and procedures change.

Once teachers are hired, it is important to communicate effectively. But keep the quantity of e-mail manageable. It may work well to send out a weekly e-mail with main points. To help teachers who teach in off-site locations to feel part of the organization, make a desk and computer available in the office for their use. Weekly, monthly, or quarterly teacher meetings are important, and teachers should be paid to participate. Use these meetings for sharing, providing professional development, and even celebrating birthdays and other life events. If teachers feel that they are an important part of the organization, they will be more likely to stay.

Time spent encouraging and nurturing teachers is well spent. Good teachers provide interesting lessons, which result in better student achievement and retention. A formal mentoring program between experienced and new teachers was recommended. Having a peer mentor who can share ideas or provide sample lesson plans and possibly help to organize field trips and guest speakers is a great resource for less experienced teachers. It is also critical to ensure that teachers have the materials that they need.

What can be done about ineffective teachers? Provide as much support as possible, document any incidents or problems, make positive suggestions for improvement, and, as a last resort, don't renew their contract.

Everyone present at the discussion session agreed that it was very time consuming to provide effective leadership, but worthwhile and necessary.

Jill Kramer teaches ESL for the Columbus Literacy Council.

Center for Adult English Language Acquisition State Capacity Building: Building Professional Development Infrastructure in South Dakota

Missy Slaathaug,

ESL in South Dakota. Do they even have ESL in South Dakota? What kind of ESL learners do they have? What kinds of programs? Where is South Dakota, anyway? Isn't it out by Kansas? Or up by Canada? Or somewhere near Montana?

No, we are not next to Kansas (get out your maps!), and yes, we have adult ESL learners. For the past 3 years, South Dakota has been participating in the CAELA State Capacity Building Project, which helped states increase their capacity to serve ESL learners by training and supporting teachers. Our four-member CAELA team attended yearly regional meetings to work with the experts, analyzing our programs, our data, and our professional development (PD) offerings and planning for the coming years.

Adult ed in Sough Dakota shares many of the same challenges that adult education faces everywhere, but we also have some features that make us unique. In a nutshell:

  • The South Dakota Department of Labor administers adult education and literacy (AEL) though eight Career Learning Centers, one prison adult education program with three sites, two local education agencies, two tribal colleges, one technical institute, and one faith-based agency for immigrants and refugees. We serve only those who are here legally and can show required documentation.
  • The one large urban area of Sioux Falls has several larger sites, and the remaining small to middle-size centers are spread across the state.
  • South Dakota is a sparsely populated state (754,000), with great distances between towns. What Dave Barry said about North Dakota applies to us as well: We're just a small town with really long blocks. So most PD events involve travel time and overnight stays, which can be difficult.
  • Programs employ about 33 part-time instructors and 13 full-time instructors. Many of our teachers are also AEL teachers at their sites, and though most have teaching experience or degrees, few have any sort of ESL background.
  • In 2006, South Dakota served 450 ESL students in adult education, or 13 percent of the total adult education population of 3,432. The breakdown of ESL students by level is as follows: beginning literacy level: 29 percent; low and high beginning level: 25 percent; low intermediate level: 18 percent; high intermediate level: 20 percent; low advanced ESL: >1 percent.
  • There is a great deal of variety in the ESL population. Different areas of the state may serve visiting scholars, workers for the large meat processing plants, spouses of military personnel, and food service workers for ethnic restaurants. Teachers in urban Sioux Falls may also work with refugees of all sorts, including nonliterate learners. Teachers may request and benefit from different kinds of PD, depending on their teaching situation.
  • Our middle-sized and smaller programs operate on a one-room schoolhouse approach. They must use their small staff and limited funding to provide quality services of all kinds to their clients, including what may be a small number of ESL students. When one to three teachers provide all the services, from literacy to reading to math to pre-GED to ESL, it can be difficult for these teachers to keep up with data entry, ESL training, and new trends and teaching strategies. Also, teachers in isolated settings cannot access the benefits that daily or weekly contact with colleagues brings.

South Dakota's CAELA Work

We conducted a teacher survey in the fall of 2005, collecting information about teacher background, previous ESL experience, preferences for mode of delivery of PD, teaching settings, stated need for PD topics, and so on. With only 46 teachers to survey, we were able to get all the surveys back. (Here's where it's handy to be small: I simply called up the teachers who had not yet returned their surveys.) Though the survey results showed that many teachers have advanced degrees, education degrees, and/or experience in education, for the most part, they had little or no background in ESL. We also looked at our NRS (National Reporting System) data, which showed needs in every single ESL level. The information collected was useful, but we were not sure that programs, especially the smaller ones, were properly administering assessments, entering data, and teaching to the South Dakota competencies (our content standards). We basically needed to work on everything-where to start?

We began by looking hard at what we already had in place, which was the AEL New Teacher Training and Summer Institute. All new teachers are required to attend 2 full days of AEL New Teacher Training within 6 months of their hire date. It is offered three or four times a year, as needed. Summer Institute is held for 2 1/2 days each summer and programs are required to send 80 percent of their teachers. Teachers can earn renewal credits at these PD events as well. We began our work within this framework, and over the course of the 3 years, here is what we accomplished.

  • We developed an ESL New Teacher Training Module, tailored to our unique South Dakota setting. We offer it concurrently with the AEL New Teacher Training, and it runs for 2 full days: 1 day for BEST Plus training and 1 for ESL teacher training. We have offered it six times, revising as we went along, and so far, teachers have been very positive about it. (It borrows heavily from Pennsylvania's excellent Communicative ESL training module—thank you, Pennsylvania, for sharing.)
  • We created an ESL track at Summer Institute, which we have offered twice so far; each time it becomes a little better organized and coherent. Teachers have welcomed it and are happy to have workshops addressing their needs and interests. Among other things, we have covered project-based learning in multilevel classes, various policy/administrative issues, and a BEST Plus refresher. We chose these topics based on teacher surveys, analysis by our CAELA team, and input from our state director.
  • Our earliest attempt to organize and formalize ESL in our state was through an ESL Start-up Kit, which contained the South Dakota ESL competencies. We realized that few programs were using this excellent resource, so we updated the sections on policy and assessment (on colored pages), named it the South Dakota ESL Manual, and re-introduced it at Summer Institute in August 2006. We also worked it into our ESL New Teacher Training, where we have teachers reference it and look through it together. We are hoping to incorporate the South Dakota ESL Manual into the Summer Institute ESL track on an ongoing basis.
  • With programs spread out all over the state, we needed a method of disseminating information to and fostering communication among ESL teachers. Many teach in isolation from their colleagues and do not have the benefit of sharing ideas and teaching tips in the teacher's prep room or the lounge. We tried a blog first, but it died a slow and lingering death. Anything requiring an extra step from teachers, like creating an account and signing in to post, was not going to fly. Teachers are just too busy. So we created a simple group e-mail list on Google, which we use for all sorts of purposes, from sending out information about upcoming trainings to sharing interesting Web sites and teaching strategies.
  • We built in a day-long spring training, geared specifically for ESL teachers. We have offered it twice, covering EL civics the first year, and the citizenship/naturalization process the second year.


We know we now have better trained teachers, because they had no training at all before. Teachers have given this training overwhelmingly positive evaluations. We definitely have a stronger sense of community among teachers, as evidenced by the conversations that occur at New Teacher Training and Summer Institute and the comments we receive on evaluations after these events. We have clear and useful state ESL resources, as evidenced in the updated South Dakota ESL Manual and the ESL New Teacher Training materials. Now, hopefully all this will lead to stronger programs that turn in more reliable ESL program data, meet more performance goals, and reach and teach their ESL learners more effectively. Time will tell.

Lessons Learned

Get basic: We needed to address basic program issues and training first. We found that we needed to go even deeper than we thought. Our state cannot show a strong ESL program with reliable data if individual programs and teachers are still struggling with assessment, for example. One unreliable test administrator can throw the whole program and even the whole state off. ESL is young in our state, and programs/ teachers need lots of guidance. Higher level training would not have been useful; we were right to start with the basics.

Once is not enough: It just isn't. Especially for teachers who don't have many ESL students. It's not enough for BEST Plus, for program issues, for New Teacher Training, and so on. Follow-up and support are critical. In order to avoid the one-shot workshop trap, build in lots more follow-up and support than you think you need. There is also the problem of the Black Hole of Binders. Training binders and manuals can disappear into this black hole, never to be seen again, and all our hard work is lost unless we incorporate these materials into ongoing trainings and support.

Teachers are busy: They will not blog, but they might read and appreciate the messages from the Google e-mail group that come into their mailboxes. Some will take the time to read the articles we send out, some will not, but at least they have the opportunity to deepen knowledge of their craft. At least they become aware of the fact that it is a craft, with a depth of theoretical and practical knowledge, and the fact not everyone who speaks English and who taught social studies in middle school can automatically teach ESL.

Teachers wear many hats: At Summer Institute, teachers may be pulled in several directions at once. It's important to plan for multiple methods of delivering critical program information.

Given the constraints of limited funding, small numbers, and great geographical distances, the South Dakota CAELA team is proud of what we have accomplished so far. We were happy to have been a part of the CAELA State Capacity Program, and we feel it offered us invaluable help and support and resources as we work to build the PD infrastructure we need to strengthen our ESL programs here in South Dakota.

Missy Slaathaug has taught in ESL for 25 years, in academic prep and adult education. She currently works in South Dakota as ESL state specialist, offering teacher training and assistance.

About This Member Community ESOL in Adult Education Interest Section (AEIS)

The ESOL in Adult Education Interest Section serves the interest of adult students in ESL programs, their teachers, and administrators. It brings together the knowledge, concepts, and skills of both English as a second language and adult learning and instruction.

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