AEIS Newsletter

AEIS News, Volume 4:1 (February 2005)

by User Not Found | 11/01/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Letter From the Chair
    • Letter From the Coeditors
  • Announcements
    • Announcement
  • Articles
    • Promoting Civic Learning Through a Redesigned Naturalization Test
    • AEIS Response to “Promoting Civic Learning Through a Redesigned Naturalization Test”
    • Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council’s Telephone Conversation Partners Program
    • Connecting Online Learners With Reading and Writing
    • Some Principles of Learner-Centered Instruction
    • ESL Retention Project

Leadership Updates Letter From the Chair

Trudy Lothian,

TESOL 2006 is quickly approaching and we hope you will be joining us in Tampa Bay. We received many excellent proposals (over 300) and, as usual, could accept only a few of those (38). My heartfelt thanks to each of you who reviewed proposals. Your comments were invaluable. If you wish to review proposals for TESOL 2007, whether or not you are able to attend the convention regularly, please send me an e-mail (, with “proposal reader” in the subject line.

Discussion with the membership over the past couple of years has revealed increasing interest in balancing the convention program between practice, research, and administration (especially in the context of standards and citizenship). Many AEIS members identified health, family, and workplace literacies as areas of interest. There is also some movement to hear international perspectives.

I hope you will find your wishes reflected in this year’s program. A variety of hands-on sessions deal with grammar, vocabulary, and fun, learner-centered activities. Federico Salas-Isnardi, our chair-elect (chair in 2008), has compiled a very interesting set of Discussion Groups on topics such as English as a global language, citizenship and standards, and good practices with learners or volunteers. We have a variety of sessions (colloquia, InterSections, and Spotlight Sessions) on family, health, and workplace literacy and a number of sessions that will help teachers and administrations move forward on the issues of standards, assessment, and citizenship.

Standards and assessment are always hot topics for the AEIS. Last year’s announcement that the responsibility of the naturalization examination was being moved from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to the Office of Citizenship resulted in heightened interest and political action in this area. You will find colloquia, demonstrations, and Discussion Groups on these topics. AEIS’s new subcommittee, led by Marilyn Gillespie (past chair) and Mary Ann Florez (assistant chair), will host a Discussion Group on the topic on Wednesday, March 15, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in Room 8 of the Tampa Bay Convention Center. Please join the discussion and read the articles in this newsletter on the issue.

The Academic Session, organized by Mary Ann, also looks at citizenship and immigration issues, and members will have the chance to learn about the impact of immigration policies not only in the United States but also in Australia and Canada. This Thursday morning session promises to be very interesting.

On Friday, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., AEIS will hold its conference planning discussion for TESOL 2007. We will not meet for this purpose on Saturday afternoon. You might already have read that the AEIS will hold its elections online from now on, which frees up more time for discussion at the business meeting (Wednesday, March 15, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., Room 8 in the Convention Center). Also, keep an eye on our website for the updated AEIS Governing Rules.

We are all looking forward to this 40th anniversary TESOL convention. From all of us on the AEIS Steering Committee, we hope to see you and to listen to you, and we hope you will leave the conference energized, with good information, ideas, and friends.

All the best,


Letter From the Coeditors

Susan Finn Miller, , and Irina Khetsouriani,

In our AEIS newsletter, we have the opportunity to hear from colleagues who make the time to share their interesting ideas and important work with us. We want to thank Jack Bailey, Phil Cackley, Allegra Elson, and Gail Weinstein for contributing to this issue. We are grateful and even inspired.

Won’t you consider sharing your insights and experiences with your colleagues?

Here are some ideas for contributions we would be delighted to receive. Many readers are preparing for the upcoming TESOL conference in Tampa. The newsletter makes it possible to share aspects of the conference with the many TESOL AEIS members who are unable to attend. As you plan for the conference, you might consider what you could share with colleagues in this space. For those who are presenting, you could write up a summary of your session. It would be great to receive highlights of poster or Hot Topics sessions. Anyone attending the conference could share a high point of their experience.

Other newsletter ideas include writing up a great lesson or a quick review of a resource you have found helpful or book or article you have found inspiring or challenging. Perhaps you could share an innovative project you are involved in. We welcome articles on any topic of relevance to our field.

This newsletter, which is published twice a year, is a great tool to share your thoughts and ideas. We welcome your contributions at any time.

Looking forward to hearing from many of you!

Susan and Irina

Announcements Announcement

The Ontario Literacy Coalition’s Action for Family Literacy (AFLO) recently launched a position paper entitled “Family Literacy in Ontario—Putting it on the MAP!” AFLO is looking to family literacy stakeholders to reflect on and contribute to the development of the positions and actions in this working paper. AFLO will be looking to the government to recognize the needs and benefits of the proactive, preventative approach that family literacy programming provides, and to answer the call to action outlined in the final position paper. To access the paper and other items of interest about family literacy programs in Ontario, visit

Articles Promoting Civic Learning Through a Redesigned Naturalization Test Dr. Michael R. Jones, Office of Citizenship, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service

I read something in the newspaper last month that had absolutely nothing to do with the naturalization test, or immigration for that matter. The article, which addressed business trends, started off with “The devil may be in the details, but it seems like the same details all over the Earth.” This line came back to me as I was traveling back from a 13-nation meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on immigrant integration. Indeed, as each nation gave its report, the same “details” seemed to emerge. Each nation was trying to answer some very difficult questions about a very complex issue. How do we better integrate immigrants into our society? How do we know if someone is ready to become a citizen? What does citizenship mean and what should it mean? How do we create a fair test that adequately assesses an immigrant’s preparedness for citizenship? These questions and many others were discussed over 2 days. What became quite evident was that although each nation was trying to answer the same questions, each of us representatives had a slightly different perspective on what being a citizen of a particular nation means. What does it mean to become French, Spanish, or American? For the nations in attendance that have always been nations of immigrants, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, the question of what it means to become an American, for example, did not pose that much difficulty. Becoming American is the acceptance of an ideal, those rights and responsibilities provided to us by our Constitution. For other nations—many of which still do not confer citizenship to those born in their nation to noncitizen parents—the idea of becoming a citizen will involve rethinking what it means to be Danish, German, Dutch, or British.

One thing that most nations agreed with was the importance of integration. As we watched the tensions unfolding across the border in France, the importance and urgency were made even clearer to all present. But it also became clear that integration does not happen on its own, that integration must involve both immigrants and nonimmigrants, and that integration activities must be systemic in approach. A test alone cannot solve all the challenges of integration. It takes governments working with communities and communities working together with all their residents to achieve integration at the highest levels. What a testing process can do, however, is to provide an educational foundation for new citizens as one component of an immigrant’s integration into American civic life.

The Naturalization Test Redesign Project was transitioned to the Office of Citizenship in April 2005. We are working to redesign an entire testing process that encourages applicants for naturalization to acquire as much civic learning as possible before, during, and after the naturalization test, while at the same time creating a new test that is fair and meaningful. The Office of Citizenship is approaching the project through a series of studies to make an informed decision about how much of the current test to redesign. The first study, the Record Study, examines the current pass rate of the naturalization test. The second study asks adult educators and community-based organizations to discuss the impact that various redesign efforts would have on their programs. The District Office Impact and Due Consideration Study is looking at how a test change will affect the practice of evaluating the applicants’ responses to test questions based on their education, background, age, length of residence in the Unites States, or other factors. We are also soliciting opinions from adjudicators about possible new test components. The contractor facilitating the study is the American Institutes for Research. On the basis of the findings of these studies, we hope to announce the extent of the redesign effort by early January 2006, and more details about components of the new test by March 2006.

Although we will not know any specifics of the redesign until the results of the final study are analyzed, we can share some givens with you. The new test will be no more difficult to pass than the current test. It will be standardized so that an applicant walking into an interview in New York City can expect the same process and the same level of test difficulty as an applicant who takes the test in Los Angeles. The concept of “due consideration” will be maintained; however, it will be implemented in a more standardized way. Trivial and redundant questions will be replaced with questions that are more relevant to the concept of attachment to the Constitution and civic values. The new test will continue to include history, government, and the three English functional areas: speaking, writing, and reading. A greater emphasis will be placed on the development of study and classroom materials, as well as the creation of professional development opportunities for adult civics and citizenship teachers and immigrant-serving professionals. In addition, the Office of Citizenship is looking at ways to infuse greater civic learning opportunities for immigrants while they are at the federal buildings, when they become lawful permanent residents, and perhaps even before they enter the United States. To do this, we are in discussions with other federal and state agencies, community and faith-based organizations, libraries, educators, and the private sector as well.

The revised naturalization test will enhance America’s civic integration process through greater emphasis on civic learning, standardization to achieve fairness, and revised, more meaningful content. As we move toward completion of the redesigned test, the Office of Citizenship will continue to involve stakeholders as well as content and technical experts throughout the design process. We will also share study findings and major decisions as they become available. If you have any comments or questions concerning the redesign effort, please direct them to the Office of Citizenship at

AEIS Response to “Promoting Civic Learning Through a Redesigned Naturalization Test”

The questions that Michael Jones echoes in the initial paragraph of his article are of immense importance. What does citizenship mean and what should it mean? What does it mean to integrate into a society and what can aid that integration? What is a fair assessment of citizenship readiness, given all the variables that individuals bring to the table? They are questions with which we as adult ESL educators have struggled for decades, in order to provide the instruction and guidance that can support our students’ success in this society. It is imperative that everyone grow clearer on how we answer those questions, where we might differ in our opinions, and how we can bring those differences together to a degree acceptable to all. These questions cannot and should not be ignored, for they are important to the whole concept of naturalization. However, many other questions should be raised, questions that relate to the naturalization test redesign specifically.

Dr. Jones’ article lays out the current plan for redesigning the entire naturalization testing process. The goal, as he states it, is to establish a testing process that “encourages applicants for naturalization to acquire as much civic learning as possible before, during, and after the naturalization test, while at the same time creating a new test that is fair and meaningful.” Currently, several studies are being conducted to determine how much of the test should be redesigned, and on the basis of those findings, plans will move from there. For many of us in the field, this may feel like déjà vu. For some time, we have been attending conferences and focus group meetings at which we have shared our perspectives and the perspectives of our students on the naturalization process. We have offered opinions on due consideration, testing formats, content, standardization options, and materials and communication processes that might better support us as we support our students. We have shared examples of how we approach the broader issue of civic education in our programs and how we try to balance support of true civic engagement with helping students meet the immediate hurdles of the naturalization process. As ongoing opportunities to express these opinions emerge, we need to continue to take advantage of them. We need to continue formulating our feedback and suggestions and attending meetings and focus groups where we can present these ideas. We need to continue to encourage a wide variety of colleagues to attend such meetings, so that multiple viewpoints and experiences inform the process. We should try to speak with a common voice and highlight the issues we think deserve priority, such as ensuring that the test is fair and equitable and that the emphasis on creating a “meaningful” test does not result in privileging those with higher levels of education and higher levels of English proficiency and disadvantaging those who are less educated and less skilled at learning in traditional ways. We also need to continue to ask questions about the test redesign process as it progresses.

Members of the AEIS working group on citizenship have raised several questions in response to Dr. Jones’s article and recent developments. We encourage you to look over these questions in hopes that you will generate your own questions and pose them the next time you have the opportunity to respond to the test redesign process.

1. Do you know yet how you will determine that the new test will be no more difficult to pass than the current test?

2. We are pleased to see that you plan to maintain the concept of due consideration in the new test or new test process and that it will be done in a more standardized way. How do you intend to do this? Will it be in terms of age, previous education, learning difficulties, visual impairment, other factors, or a combination of variables? How will you ensure that the most vulnerable populations (e.g., those with limited education in the home country, the elderly, and those with low levels of native language literacy) will have an equal chance of passing the test? As you know, current practice allows the examiner to give due consideration to those who have worked hard to improve their skills but still struggle. How exactly will you ensure that the new design will not unfairly privilege those who come from English-speaking countries and/or have high levels of education? Will you provide for research with selected vulnerable populations (e.g., low-educated, low-literate, or elderly adults) to examine how they interact with the new test design?

3. What types of support materials, including self-study materials, might be provided to teachers and/or students? What support will be provided for programs to train teachers to use these materials? Will any support be provided for programs to offer citizenship preparation classes, particularly for those programs that are currently working at capacity to meet the demands for classes?

4. Are you considering options other than a standardized test, such as allowing students to participate in and pass an accredited class? If not, why?

5. How will the reliability and validity of the test design be assured? What processes will be put in place to ensure that the test is administered fairly and reliably across sites?

6. How will you ensure that the input of experts in English as a second language (linguists, testing specialists, adult educators) is taken into consideration seriously and in a timely manner? We strongly advise that our input be included in the decision-making process to ensure that the final result is appropriate to immigrant second language learners, and that it meets with professional standards in the field of adult education.

AEIS will hold a Discussion Group focusing on the naturalization test redesign project at the TESOL convention in Tampa. We will meet on Wednesday, March 15, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in Room 8 of the Tampa Bay Convention Center. Please come and exchange information and concerns with your fellow adult ESL educators on this topic.

To review previous statements from TESOL and AEIS on the naturalization test redesign process, visit the Advocacy and Hot Topics page of the AEIS website at There you will find links to TESOL’s position statement on the redesign effort, background on the history of the redesign process, and the response from AEIS emerging from developments during and after the 2005 TESOL Convention in San Antonio.

Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council’s Telephone Conversation Partners Program

Allegra B. Elson,

At the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council (GPLC), a community-based program located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, we are constantly looking to provide more authentic language opportunities to our foreign-born students. After starting a successful conversation partner program in which native English speaking volunteers came into the adult English language learner classroom to talk and work with students, we set our sights on addressing the more challenging skill of talking on the telephone. Though many of our students were getting adequate practice speaking English in face-to-face situations, many, even at the advanced level, were still struggling when speaking on the telephone. When interviewed, many of our students listed telephone skills as one of their top priorities. We also knew of an available pool of volunteers who were unable to meet our regular tutoring commitment. Alex Dow, an area coordinator, came up with the innovative idea of Telephone Conversation Partners. Based on the idea of conversation partners, students and volunteers would, instead of meeting in person, talk on the telephone. In February 2004, a small group of GPLC staff and Literacy Americorps members convened, and we set about the task of creating GPLC’s Telephone Conversation Partners Program.

In a typical year, GPLC serves over 2,000 students, 60-65% of whom are adult English language learners. We rely heavily on volunteer tutors to work with these students. These volunteers work in one-on-one or small-group tutoring situations, meeting twice a week for a total of 4 hours a week. There are also full-time instructors who teach in larger classroom settings. Many prospective volunteers find the 4 hours per week plus lesson planning somewhat overwhelming, and these requirements can sometimes discourage them from participating at all. We wanted to offer extra intensity of instruction to our existing student population without overburdening our existing volunteer pool. The program needed to be attractive to both current and prospective volunteers and students, offer high-quality, prepared scripts that the participants could work from, and have a strong coordinator to manage everyone involved.

The Format for Telephone Conversation Partners

The program we developed has an easy-to-follow format; we ask our telephone volunteers to dedicate 1 to 2 hours per month to working with at least one student on telephone conversation skills. We provide scripts and suggested conversation topics for volunteers and students to use during their phone calls. Scripts range from emergency situations such as calling 911 or reporting a gas leak to everyday situations such as making reservations at a restaurant. There are a total of 20 scripts in all.

Every student is matched with a volunteer. Both the student and the volunteer are provided with a booklet that contains a letter that describes how the program works, and conversation topics and scripts. The volunteer guides the student through an agreed-upon script with the volunteer acting the role of the operator, sales clerk, or whatever the script requires. The program booklet also includes prescript conversation questions, vocabulary words for study, and follow-up conversation questions. Students are free to practice a script until they feel ready to move on to the next one. Volunteers are asked to keep a log of phone calls indicating the length of their calls and the script(s) used. These logs are then given to the program coordinator to track volunteer and student hours and evaluate students’ progress.

Things to Keep in Mind When Getting Started

Setting up a program like this one requires some key components. It’s important to have volunteers willing to spend 1 to 2 hours a month talking on the phone with adult English language learners. It is important to have a prepared booklet that contains the introduction letter, scripts, and conversation activities. This program also needs a committed coordinator to match volunteers with students, train the volunteers, pass out booklets, manage established pairs, and continue to match new students and volunteers.

There are also some foreseeable challenges with the Telephone Conversation Partners program. Though the idea is simple enough, the program requires access to a wide pool of volunteers who like to talk on the telephone. As we are trying to take the stress off of our regular volunteer pool and tap into new volunteers, it is important to find new places to look for volunteers. We are working on recruiting people with disabilities and homebound seniors or seniors living in retirement homes and/or assisted living facilities. These individuals are willing to volunteer but are frequently unable to travel to a meeting place outside the home. Data collection can also be problematic. Many volunteers don’t turn in phone logs because they either forget to keep track or just do not take “talking on the phone” as seriously as they would a face-to-face lesson. Data collection is essential as it enables us to track student hours and gives us important information on how to improve the program. Any or all of these issues can keep the strongest program coordinator on his or her toes.

Benefits of Telephone Conversation Partners

The benefits of using the Telephone Conversation Partners program are numerous and exciting to consider. Telephone Conversation Partners is popular; volunteers and students alike report a high level of satisfaction. It is easy for participants to use as all lessons are prepared in advance and are found in one booklet. Participants can work from the comfort of their own homes, which is convenient for volunteers who are homebound. The program is exciting because it provides opportunities for cross-cultural learning. It is also practical; the scripts are designed to provide practice in real-world situations, giving students a chance to hear and use authentic language.

Our Future Plans

GPLC’s Telephone Conversation Partners program officially began in April 2004, and it continues to be a popular program with both students and volunteers. The booklet underwent its first revision in July 2004, and thanks to feedback from volunteers and students, we will revise the booklet again. We will update current scripts, add new scripts, and add a more detailed volunteer training component. We are also planning to work on an assessment piece so that we can begin to see what telephone skills students are acquiring.

If you’re looking for something new that will engage students and attract new volunteers to your program, the Telephone Conversation Partners program is a dynamic way to help students gain telephone skills while simultaneously increasing satisfaction among volunteers.

Allegra B. Elson is a full-time ESL instructor with the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council. For more information on this program or to purchase a Telephone Conversation Partner program booklet, please contact Allegra.

Connecting Online Learners With Reading and Writing

Phil Cackley,

The Internet provides a particularly rich source of materials for adult ESL, but with certain drawbacks: Learners must be acquainted with computer technology, and the reading level of materials found online often is too high for many adult learners. Some teachers may ask, “Why bother?” Especially for reading and writing practice, what advantage does the Internet hold over conventional software or just regular old paper-and-ink text such as books, newspapers, or worksheets?

Internet Advantages

The answer is that well-structured websites give teachers many reasons to have students practice literacy skills online:

  • Learners can look up key vocabulary words with the click of a mouse.
  • Students can move at their own pace: A teacher doesn’t have to tell everyone to “read to the bottom of page six and STOP.” Quicker readers should be able to move ahead and cover more lessons, while learners who need more time can take the time they need to untangle the meaning of a single lesson.
  • Online writing, especially in the form of e-mail, gives learners the opportunity to practice important typing skills while they communicate directly with the teacher or with other students.
  • Online reading reinforces the importance of reading as a language skill used in many different arenas; it isn’t just something that happens with books in school.
  • Finally, the best reason is that online practice puts the development of literacy skills in tandem with basic computer skills. Just as a beginning English literacy student must learn to track print from left to right and develop fine motor skills to turn pages of a book, many ESL learners need to develop basic technology skills , such as scrolling down a page, clicking on links, scanning text for important content, or differentiating content from navigational text, such as menus or toolbars. We do these things automatically, but many learners are still developing these skills.

ESL Internet Sites

What is on the Internet for ESL learners? The possibilities are nearly endless (which may be part of the problem!). However, I suspect that many ESL teachers use the Web primarily for listening and grammar practice. A recent survey of the 40-plus teachers at my program outside Washington, D.C., showed that most of the respondents preferred to use online listening and grammar activities. The most popular websites for listening were Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab ( and English for All (; the quizzes and drills available at or were also popular.

Less widely used, but possibly more valuable, are ESL reading and writing opportunities in the online world. Internet technology is used to best advantage at websites with interactive multimedia lessons that combine reading, listening, and writing in one package while enabling student-to-student communication through e-mail and online postings.

My Experience With Project Connect

Is this ideal application impossible to find? Not at all. The site I’ve had the privilege of using over the past 18 months, as it was under construction, is Project Connect ( Project Connect, which was created over the past 5 years by a team headed by the Public Broadcasting Service, is aimed at adult ESL learners at intermediate levels and above.

Project Connect was designed specifically for adult learners in the United States who need to practice reading and writing skills. It features three “learning units” that focus on life-skills-oriented lessons, such as finding a job, improving on-the-job communication skills, deciding whether to attend community college, and accessing community resources through the public library. It also has a simplified internal e-mail system, an online discussion board for students to post responses to prompts in the readings, and a student management page for teachers. You can check out the website and see sample lessons at

The Benefits of Project Connect

I’ve used the Project Connect website on a weekly basis since September 2003 to supplement classroom instruction with my low-intermediate students and have found it to be a strong tool for improving students’ language and computer skills. At my program, the Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP), affiliated with Arlington Public Schools in Virginia, we typically have classes of 25 to 30 learners for closed-entry terms of 12 weeks. We have access to a well-equipped computer lab 1 or 2 hours every week. My class of low-intermediate students needs extra help with reading and writing. I’ve often struggled in the past to find reading lessons that dovetailed with REEP’s life-skills-oriented curriculum. It seemed very difficult, especially in the computer lab, to find appropriately leveled reading material that had any kind of content or relevance to the unit I was covering. Most of what was available online had a ridiculously high reading level or demanded too much background knowledge for new immigrants to understand. What I’ve found in using Project Connect with my class, pretty much exclusively for our weekly lab time, is that it has good content with a life-skills orientation and gives learners a chance to write in a meaningful context.

The reading units follow all or most of the steps in a typical reading lesson. There are prereading exercises to activate background knowledge, a very extensive vocabulary preview, extended sections of text broken into chunks, interactive comprehension questions, and an opportunity for readers to reflect on what they have read, often by posting to the online discussion board. The website is carefully designed so that even technology novices can find their way through a sequence of activities that boost comprehension and improve reading skills. The website has controlled grammatical structures in the text, which are not too difficult for intermediate to advanced ESL learners.

More important, Project Connect has schema, or levels of background knowledge, that match adult immigrant experiences well. For example, I recently used a reading lesson on the American education system that gives readers the option to select from among three different stories: one about a Somali woman trying to decide where to send her three children to school; one about a Latino electrician who needs to find a job training program so he can get a license and work at his own profession in the United States; and one about a Polish immigrant who needs community college courses so he can get back to a white-collar job instead of cleaning offices.

The readings in Project Connect are a good length for an ESL class—about 1,100 words per lesson, or the equivalent of four typed pages. In comparison, the news stories used on another ESL reading website run about 300 words, and texts in the intermediate-level reading textbook that I’m currently using run about 300 to 400 words. Furthermore, the reading content in Project Connect is well organized. As noted in SRI’s formal evaluation, “Efforts were also made [in Project Connect] to make the materials more comprehensible to learners by reducing the amount of information or ‘cognitive load’ presented on each screen, including photographs and other visual aids.” The units are well organized, so that learners who read faster than the average student can clearly see where to move on instead of losing time waiting for all in the class to catch up.

The interesting stories and useful content hold learners’ attention. SRI reports, “The students found the online learning units to be of great interest and relevant to their needs and individual life situations. They identified with the characters portrayed in the units and liked Project Connect’s multimedia approach.”

It is significant that learners can practice useful technology skills while reading. It has always struck me that in that way Project Connect is “two for the price of one” learning. To read the passages, students must scroll down a page. They also need to click on buttons to get more text or links to hear an audio version of the text. Students type answers in text boxes, and click on buttons to answer comprehension questions. All of these are highly useful technology skills, which at least half of the students in my adult ESL class need to work on.

Finally, the writing opportunities are both embedded in the reading units and available as stand-alone lessons. Learners who have never used an e-mail account have little difficulty writing and sending messages on the simplified internal e-mail system. The address book is automatically set up when students register on the website. Students genuinely appreciate the opportunity to communicate directly in writing with the teacher and enjoy getting responses. In one way, e-mail can function similarly to pencil and paper dialogue journals. Students also enjoy e-mailing short messages to each other in class, as well as the challenge of writing more accurately in order to communicate. One student wrote me, “I’m very happy when write any note because this is practice for me and . . . force [me] . . . writing and understand. Maybe my write is no perfect but in the future is better.”

Some Challenges

Does the website have challenges? Certainly. For starters, it is available only on a subscription basis. (KET, the PBS affiliate in Louisville, Kentucky, has licenses that are only available for purchase. The lowest cost subscriptions are on a statewide basis. Project Connect also requires teachers to invest a significant amount of time learning how to use the website before taking students online. A teacher’s manual, as well as other resources including the pricing information, is available online at

Other problems arise because the multimedia presentation results in some students skipping through pages as though flipping through channels without reading for comprehension. They come back after 10 minutes, saying, “I’m done.” Handing out worksheets with extra questions gives such readers one more purpose to their reading and focuses their attention. Worksheets also give students an opportunity to practice speaking, by checking the answers in small groups either in the computer lab or back in class after lab time is finished.

Consistent use of the site over a period of weeks works much better than intermittent use, and, therefore, some teachers might feel that Project Connect takes too much time when they would rather be doing a mix of pronunciation or grammar lessons. And certainly, a teacher using the website needs to have reliable access to well-equipped computers, which I recognize is not always a given in our underresourced profession. But the benefits of Project Connect clearly outweigh the problems, in my opinion.

Summing Up

In summary, Project Connect is worth the effort in the struggle to get ESL learners more reading and writing practice in a meaningful context, while at the same time giving them the opportunity to practice important computer skills. It’s a well designed website that teachers can use on a consistent basis (1 hour a week or more) to supplement classroom work and that offers flexibility with a group of learners. Finally, the content is very effective and students respond well to it.

I will give the last word to my students:

“Project Connect is good for all students because it teaches us reading, writing and listening.”

“I think that practice is really good because [it] make you think and make you write. And you can check if you are wrong or not.”

“Project Connect is a really good idea. . . . I learned many things.”


Daniels, M. (2004). Project Connect Final Evaluation Report . Washington, DC: SRI International.

Project Connect Website.

Phil Cackley has taught ESL to adult learners in Arlington, Virginia, at REEP, the Arlington Education and Employment Program, for the past 14 years.

Some Principles of Learner-Centered Instruction

Gail Weinstein,

A learner-centered approach to instruction is reflected in the following six basic principles. Listed under each principle are some concrete examples of what this principle might look like in practice, i.e., what a teacher might do.

Lerner-Centered Instruction

1. requires ongoing inquiry (listening to/learning about learners)

  • identify learners’ interests and needs
  • identify learning styles and preferences
  • learn about learners’ contexts: issues and challenges
  • learn about learners’ contexts: resources and possibilities

2. builds on what learners know

  • identify learners’ current knowledge and skills
  • honor and celebrate language and culture
  • provide opportunities to integrate the past with the present
  • [for family literacy] nurture intergenerational transmission of culture and values

3. balances skills and structures with meaning making and knowledge creation

  • provide information about how the language works
  • develop skills for addressing learners’ purposes
  • provide opportunities to address those purposes
  • provide learners with opportunities to create and transmit knowledge

4. strives for authenticity

  • provide access to authentic texts, authentic tasks
  • move beyond “rehearsal” to authentic interactions in pursuit of real purposes
  • employ project-based learning
  • aim for measurable linguistic and nonlinguistic outcomes

5. entails shared responsibility for learning among students and teachers

  • build in learner choice over what to learn and how
  • create mentoring opportunities in which more proficient learners help less proficient learners
  • foster learner initiative in setting goals and monitoring progress
  • provide opportunities to apply new knowledge outside the classroom and to report/document results

6. builds communities of learners and practitioners

  • create opportunities for sharing stories and experiences
  • provide support for analysis of situations
  • create opportunities to collectively develop strategies for action
  • provide opportunities for reflection and planning for further action
  • engage teachers as learners in ongoing discovery


Weinstein, G. (2004). Learner-centered teaching in the age of accountability. CATESOL Journal . 16(1) pp 97-110.

Gail Weinstein is a professor in the English department of San Francisco State University.

ESL Retention Project

Jack Bailey ,

As with many adult education programs that have open entry/open exit enrollment, student retention is an ongoing concern in our classes at Santa Barbara Adult Education. It is not uncommon for 50% of students enrolling in the initial weeks of a class to have dropped out before the end of the term 10 weeks later.

To better understand the problem and begin to address possible solutions, our ESL program participated in a Study Circle on Learner Persistence (Retention) sponsored by the California Adult Literacy Professional Development Project (CALPRO) and the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL). The study circle consisted of nine instructors meeting a total of 9 hours to read the most current research on adult student retention and discuss its implications for our program. When we finished the review of the research, we decided that we wanted to produce something concrete to share with all other instructors in our program, and thus the ESL Retention Project was born.

The project had two primary components. The first was compiling a list of the 12 practices that, according to our study of the research, are most likely to positively affect student retention. These practices are listed below.

The second part of our Retention Project was the Retention Packet, an expanding collection of support materials to assist in the implementation of the 12 identified practices. Some of these resources include lesson plans, articles, games, graphics, writing prompts, readings, pretests/posttests, vocabulary lists, sample needs assessments, and syllabi—anything that would make it easier for our instructors to carry out the positive practices of the Retention Project.

Instructors involved in the Retention Project classrooms committed to use at least 10 of the 12 positive practices. There is an ongoing interest in conducting action research to compare retention rates before and after implementation of some of the recommended practices. In addition, participating instructors have shared resources and are learning from one another.

Our retention project is still very much a work in progress, but those who have been involved have greatly increased their knowledge of the variety of factors that influence student retention. Classroom practices for these teachers now reflect an increased awareness of the issues.

A complete description of the project and resources can be found at

The ESL Retention Project

A 12-Step Program by Santa Barbara Adult Education

1. Do a needs assessment with all students.

2. Establish individual student goals.

3. Focus lessons to address specific needs.

4. Orient all students within 2 days of registering.

5. Identify student sponsor(s).

6. Survey students regularly.

7. Assess learner’s force fields and address primary positive and negative forces (i.e., supports and barriers in learner’s life that help or hinder in the achievement of learning goals).

8. Tell students what to expect from class when they enter.

9. Provide students with regular opportunities to recognize progress toward reaching goals.

10. Build strong class community.

11. Build self-efficacy in students.

12. Contact missing students.

Jack Bailey taught adult ESL for 8 years at Santa Barbara Adult Education where he is currently the ESL program director. Jack holds an MATESOL from the School for International Training .