AEIS Newsletter

AEIS News, Volume 7:1 (May 2009)

by User Not Found | 11/01/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Letter From the Editor
    • Letter From the Past Chair
    • Letter From the Chair
  • About This Member Community
    • About This Member Community
  • Announcements
    • U.S.A. Learns Web Site
    • New Resource From TESOL: Standards for ESL/EFL Teachers of Adults
    • Free Online Citizenship Resources
  • Articles
    • Staffing Strategies for Adult Education Programs
    • Assessing Oral Communication in the Workplace
    • Where’s the Grammar in Competency-Based Instruction?
    • Storytelling and Conversation Games for Adults

Leadership Updates Letter From the Editor

Letter From the Editor

Susan Finn Miller

This newsletter concludes my role as editor. I have enjoyed the job for the past 4 years and want to express special appreciation to Irina Khetsouriani, who has provided support from the beginning when we met at the Long Beach convention 4 years ago.

I also want to thank the many TESOL practitioners who have generously shared their work with the field, including those who contributed to this issue of the newsletter. Without these talented and gracious individuals, there would be no newsletter. In this issue, in addition to announcements about new products and services and a great list of online resources for citizenship education put together by Lynne Weintraub, you will enjoy reading Betsy Parrish’s excellent article about ways to effectively integrate grammar instruction in purposeful ways. You can read ESOL program administrator Debby Cargill’s piece about how she and colleague Carolyn Kulisheck approach building and maintaining a high-quality ESL faculty. Also in this issue, Melissa Dayton details the development of a standardized oral skills assessment in workplace settings in Connecticut, and Lorraine Hopping Egan offers a brief synopsis of the highly practical workshop she facilitated at TESOL New York City as well as highlights from her Web site.

I want to encourage you to consider writing about your important work for future AEIS newsletters. This kind of selfless sharing is part of what makes the work in adult ESOL so rich and worthwhile. With this newsletter I am signing off as editor and turning things over to the new editor Philip Anderson, but I look forward to future issues and continued collaboration and networking with my ESOL colleagues around the globe!


Susan Finn Miller

Letter From the Past Chair

Donna Kinerney, Instructional Dean, Adult ESOL & Literacy Programs, Montgomery College, Wheaton, MD,

Greetings all!

I’m Donna Kinerney, your chair for the past year for the Adult Education Interest Section (AEIS) of TESOL. We’ve got a great newsletter put together for you and I hope you’ll take the time to peruse it. Thanks to all of our writers, Betsy Parrish, Debby Cargill, Melissa Dayton, and Lorraine Hopping Egan, and especially to Susan Finn Miller, our editor, who has so skillfully put the newsletter together for the past 4 years. Susan has completed her service, and it’s now time to pass the baton to a new editor. Thanks to Philip Anderson for agreeing to assume the responsibilities of AEIS newsletter editor.

Many things are happening in TESOL right now that could potentially impact our classrooms. If I had to find a common theme among them, I think I might call it “advocacy.” I define advocacy as something very wide ranging. We can advocate for our students, for our classes, for our profession, and yes, for ourselves every day whether we realize it or not.

This year the Workforce Investment Act, the federal legislation that has funded adult education since 1998, will be reauthorized by the U.S. Congress. Where this will go, I certainly don’t know, but obviously changes will happen and we should prepare ourselves by thinking ahead. Some of our programs may see increased opportunities because of the federal stimulus package. Others may be hunkering down to deal with cuts on some level. I’d encourage you to ask more questions about how your program is funded and what future employment opportunities will look like if you haven’t already done so. Understanding this can help you prepare your students and yourself for changes in the availability or types of classes and even help you plan your budget. Does your program run on grant money? Where does the funding come from—federal, state, or local dollars? In what proportions? Some programs depend heavily on federal money and could be affected by changes at the national level. Other programs run primarily on state or local money and might be subject to changes at those levels. Still other programs are nonprofits or for-profits, subject to the will of private donors or the ability of students to pay tuition. Finally, in this era of change, many of our programs may begin to seek out new partnerships to provide vocational ESL and workforce training to adult students. Is your program likely to do this and are you interested? Now is a great time to let your leaders know of your interest in these new opportunities and your needs, if any, for professional development.

Whatever your teaching situation, I’d encourage you to ask how your work is funded and what the strategic plan is for the coming year or two. Do a little chasing to find out how stable the funding source is and what you can do to keep it strong. If, for example, you’re interested in the national scene in the United States, go to the TESOL Web site at and read up on the latest legislation and sign up for advocacy alerts. Check out the National Council of State Directors of Adult Education Web site at for more information on what’s happening in Congress and for details on what’s gone on in the past. The American Association for Adult and Continuing Education (AAACE) ( has information as well. As with TESOL, the AAACE has local affiliate groups that provide information and advocacy at the state level.

If you have students who are interested in how government works, lots of these issues and the related language make great lessons that support reading, writing, listening, speaking, and critical thinking skills and encourage students to deepen their understanding of the debate from all sides. Even if you’d rather not write a letter or make a phone call, understanding the big picture for adult education programs, whether it’s federal legislation or the National Reporting System and Workforce Investment Act requirements, is still a vital part of professional development. If you haven’t already, getting that information and planning now can protect you and your students better in the future.

The next piece of news ties into advocacy from a different perspective. The TESOL Standards Committee has recently published the <I>Standards for ESL/EFL Teachers of Adults</I>. (Also, see Toni Borge’s piece on the new standards in the announcement section of this newsletter.)This document presents three core standards that adult ESL/EFL teachers should meet: planning, instruction, and assessment. These are supported by five additional standards: identity and context; language proficiency; learning; content; and commitment and professionalism. This document, in the making since 1998, can serve as a valuable resource for understanding and creating high expectations about what adult ESL/EFL classrooms should look like. In many areas, there is no widely recognized adult ESL/EFL teaching degree or certification, so addressing such standards is a great way to identify and communicate our strengths and areas in need of further development. Following standards can be a clear indicator to those unfamiliar with the field of TESOL and adult ESL that we are truly professionals, and standards allow us to advocate for students and our field in a very different way. The document is available now for $29.95 (member price) at the TESOL Web site (

Finally, I have appreciated the opportunity to serve you this past year as your chair. I hope that we have the opportunity to meet at future TESOL conventions. Please do let the AEIS Steering Committee know if there is anything we can do to support you and please do continue to support us!



Letter From the Chair

Kirsten A. Schaetzel,

Dear AEIS Members,

As your new chairperson, I want to thank Donna Kinerney for all her hard work over the past year. We had a wonderful year and many excellent adult education presentations at the convention last month. Donna did a wonderful job overseeing the selection process and putting together our Academic Session and InterSection. For those of you who were at the convention, you, like me, benefited from all her hard work.

In looking ahead to the coming year, we need to begin thinking about the 2010 TESOL Convention in Boston, in March 2010. You will soon be receiving an e-mail asking you to be a proposal reviewer. Each proposal needs to be reviewed by three people, so we need volunteers! If you have done this in the past, we would appreciate your help again. If you haven’t done this before, it is an interesting process and I invite you to be part of it. You will need to be available via e-mail June 16-29, 2009. During this time, you will be sent a group of proposals (hopefully only 10 to 20, if enough people volunteer!) to review and will be able to log on to the TESOL Web site to record your ratings. It doesn’t take much time, gives you an idea of what people in the field are grappling with and doing, and allows you to have input into the selection of convention presentations. As the largest interest section in TESOL, we have a lot of proposals to review, so the AEIS steering committee and I would appreciate your help.

I look forward to working with all of you in the coming year. It’s an exciting time for our field and we have much to learn from each other.



About This Member Community 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.

Your 2009-2010 Steering Committee

Chair Kirsten A. Schaetzel

Chair-Elect Toni Borge

Associate Chair Philip Less

Past Chair Donna Kinerney

Members at Large Felicitas Coates

Gilda Rubio-Festa

Web Mistress Beth Wallace

Newsletter Editor Phil Anderson

Web site:

Discussion e-list: Visit to subscribe to AEIS-L, the discussion e-list. Subscribers can visit to access the e-list.

Announcements U.S.A. Learns Web Site

U.S.A. Learns was developed with funds from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education. It is a free Web site that immigrants can use to study English. The site was designed to support immigrants who want to learn or improve their English as they become part of American society. While a broad range of adults can use U.S.A. Learns, it was developed primarily for immigrant adults with limited English language skills who cannot attend traditional classroom programs because of difficulty with schedules, transportation, or other barriers. The U.S.A. Learns Web site has two English courses, which target the lowest functioning English language learners. A third section is called Practice English and Reading. It includes a collection of some 40 news stories designed to provide practice in reading. Each news story has companion activities designed to build vocabulary and comprehension skills. In total the site includes more than 400 hours of learning activities. It features extensive use of video, animation and graphics, including an on-screen character that talks to users to help them get started.

Source material for the learning activities came from the Putting English to Work 1 video series, English For All, and original television news stories. BecauseU.S.A. Learns includes thousands of rich media files orchestrated by a sophisticated database, it is important that the host for U.S.A. Learns have the correct hardware, software, and connectivity to ensure a successful user experience. (Source:

The Web site is located at

For more information about hardware, software, and connectivity, go to

New Resource From TESOL: Standards for ESL/EFL Teachers of Adults

Toni Borge,

In November 2008, TESOL published a new resource, Standards for ESL/EFL Teachers of Adults(

This new book was envisioned to serve as a guide to help instructors of adult learners determine and work toward professional development goals. Rob Jenkins explained that a TESOL taskforce worked together to develop eight standards identifying what the profession should consider good teaching as well as the qualities of an effective teacher (personal communication). The taskforce came up with three core standards—planning, instructing, and assessing—and five additional standards—identity and context, language proficiency, learning, content, and commitment and professionalism—to support the three core standards. These eight standards represent the foundation of what professional teachers of ESL and EFL of adult learners should know and be able to do. The standards are complemented by descriptions and performance indicators, and described in vignettes. There are six vignettes for each standard, covering various contexts for teaching English to adults: adult/community, workplace, college/university, intensive programs, and English as a foreign language.

Free Online Citizenship Resources

Provided by Lynne Weintraub,

· Thinkfinity Literacy Network has a terrific collection of resources for citizenship teachers, tutors, and students. At this site ( you will find

o Three self-paced online professional development courses:

· The Interview

· The Civics Test

· The Literacy Test

(The courses are easy to navigate, and include audio and visual presentations, interactive review sections, a course summary exam, and printable certificate of completion.)

o Two podcasts:

· Citizenship: Engaging Multiple Modalities in the Citizenship Classroom

· Citizenship: Teaching Conversation Strategies in the Citizenship Classroom

(with short PDF handouts to accompany each podcast)

o Four short fact sheets:

· Starting a Citizenship Class

· Becoming a U.S. Citizen Checklist

· Benefits of Becoming a U.S. Citizen

· Things to Consider Before You Apply

o Two reproducible lesson activities

o interactive skills practice for the citizenship test (for students)

(Navigation tip: Look for a green “go” or “link” at the bottom of each resource description. This gets you to the resource you’ve chosen.)

· CitizenshipNews, the Web site of textbook author Lynne Weintraub, offers regular new updates of interest to citizenship educators and advocates (e.g., naturalization policy/advocacy updates, new teaching resources, and other news related to citizenship;

· CLINIC has collected translations of the 100 civic questions into quite a few languages ( The site also offers free downloads of two top-notch technical assistance manuals, Citizenship for Us( and Strategies for Naturalizing the Most Vulnerable Applicants(

· UScitizenpod has audio recordings of the 100 civics questions and answers (but be aware that for those questions that have multiple correct answers, the recording includes all of the possible responses, rather than highlighting one or two of the simplest responses—this can make for tedious listening; The site also includes good sample interview recordings at various levels. But be aware that examples of some of the civics questions are based on the old test, not the new one, and dictation test examples you find here are not authentic—they are not based on the current U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) vocabulary list. This site features a cute little “ABC Slideshow” ( and some other good resources.

· Insight Media offers a great dictation practice test (with audio) at their LibertyBook site (; click on “New Student Section,” then select “Dictation”). The site also offers a multiple-choice quiz consisting of the 100 civics questions (unfortunately, the civics practice test is text only).

· SaberHacer has seven beautifully produced short videos about the citizenship process in both English and Spanish versions:

o United States Citizenship Process (; Pasos para obtener la ciudadanía (

o Benefits of Citizenship (; Beneficios de la Ciudadanía (

o Citizenship Classes (; Clases de Ciudadanía (

o Citizenship Interview and Ceremony (;Entrevista y ceremonia de juramento (

o Citizenship—Common Mistakes (;Ciudadanía—Errores communes (

o What You Need to Know About Voting (;Lo que necesitas saber sobre el voto (

o Citizenship & Immigration Scams (; Fraudes en Ciudadanía e Inmigración (

· The Jones Library offers a series of 10 citizenship lesson guides for volunteer tutors to use as a planning and assessment resource, and as a lesson summary to give to students ( This site also offers a plain language step-by-step guide to becoming a citizen, and information on requesting a fee waiver.

· USCIS provides a number of educational resources such as flashcards and translations for the 100 civics questions, and two short videos: A Promise of Freedom: An Introduction to U.S. History and Civics for Immigrants and Becoming a U.S. Citizen: An Overview of the Naturalization Process( USCIS has also produced a 48-page guide, Expanding ESL, Civics, and Citizenship Education in Your Community: A Start-Up Guide( You can also find the official Guide to Naturalization here (

· The Minnesota Literacy Council’s online training resources include a self-paced course for citizenship tutors and another for citizenship students (

· JFVS has posted a series of You Tube videos ( that explain the naturalization process, tell how to fill out the application, and demonstrate a normal interview and also an interview involving a medical disability waiver. These videos use complex, rapidly spoken English, so they are not suitable for most ESL students, but the information is detailed and accurate (except that the demo interview has not been updated for the new test).

· ALRC offers several downloads for citizenship educators, including a “Citizenship Educator Orientation Packet” and “Dictation Techniques for the New Test” (

· EL/Civics Online offers a teacher-training unit on the naturalization process (; however, you must first register and complete the prerequisite ESL Foundation Course.

· The U.S. Government Printing Office put together Ben’s Guide ( to help children learn about the three branches of government. But it can also be useful for adults studying for the citizenship test. For starters, try the easy picture-matching game ( or the vocabulary puzzle (

  • NewCitizen.US presents information forstudents about steps they may want to take after becoming a citizen (such as registering to vote, getting a passport, or sponsoring family members;

Articles Staffing Strategies for Adult Education Programs

Marginality is a condition adult education programs around the United States are very familiar with, and marginality in adult education takes many forms. Programs often must plan around many marginal issues such as working with space constraints for holding classes, working within a program structure where the focus is not on adult education (i.e., public school settings), or working with a student population able to attend class on a limited schedule. One of the key marginality issues that affects adult education programs at its core of program planning, however, is staffing. Hiring teachers who are highly qualified to teach; hiring teachers who are able to commit to part-time work, which is pervasive in adult education; and hiring teachers whose motivation for working in adult education is based in professional commitment is what most program coordinators are striving to do. Carolyn Kulisheck, ESOL specialist with Fairfax County Public Schools (VA), Adult and Community Education (ACE), and I—Debby Cargill, ESOL lead/program developer for Prince William County Schools (PWCS) (VA) Adult Education ESOL—are program administrators who have worked to professionalize the hiring practices of our programs and who often share with each other resources and ideas in hiring strategies. At TESOL 2008, Carolyn and I presented our hiring strategies in a demonstration presentation; our insights are highlighted in this article.

The Need

More so than with other areas of ESOL instruction, such as in higher education or K-12, adult education programs repeat the cycle of hiring for adult education programs throughout the year and, with low retention of staff in adult education programs, must also repeat the cycle of professional development of those newly hired staff. To keep pace with turnover and to enhance retention of staff as well as to place professionalism at the front of hiring practices (see the TESOL Standards for Adult Education ESL Programs: Standard for Employment Conditions and Staffing), program managers who are expected to hire teaching staff need to be experts in the human resources (HR) field. However, many ESOL administrators do not have a background in HR. Recruiting, training, and retaining teacher expertise are key events in the cycle of employment conditions and staffing.So, in this article I present the strategies we have developed over the years to help you achieve success without an HR degree.

Finding Good Teachers

Recruiting teachers for adult education programs can happen on many fronts but access is foremost in helping ESOL teacher candidates to reach you and, for most prospective candidates, access through a program’s Web site is the first stop. A Web site that outlines job opportunities, qualifications for prospective applicants, the application process, and contact information is critical, and is the first impression of your program for prospective applicants. Actively seeking out qualified teachers can be an easier process if your program is attached to a formal institution such as a school system or community college. Within larger educational institutions, resources such as an HR department and a personnel database are often accessible, but adult education hiring agents may need to advocate to gain access to these resources. For me, understanding how HR works in my school system, gaining access to the system, and taking advantage of HR training has been critical for ensuring that prospective applicants are highly qualified for positions within her program. The PWCS online application process gives easy access to the files of applicant who may be interested in working in adult education. The system even sends out cold-call e-mails to prospective applicants who may not have considered applying before. Full-time teachers who may be on a leave of absence (e.g., maternity leave), part-time substitutes, and Visiting International Faculty (see are applicant pools that may not have been considered by adult education programs before but these teachers have experience, education, and time to work in adult education.

Another valuable approach is networking with current teachers, retirement communities, other literacy agencies, and local colleges that can provide access to qualified individuals who want to work part-time. This kind of networking will broaden the applicant choices programs have to choose from. Recruiting at job fairs, through local media (county school channel, newspapers and newsletters, online listings), and at professional development events/courses and conferences are other ways of broadening your base of prospective applicants who may be fully qualified.

The Application Process

Both Carolyn and I have similar processes for receiving and reviewing applications from prospective applicants. I use an automated approach by taking advantage of the database system, WinOcular (, used in my school system, and by using e-mail as the communication tool for keeping track of the application process, answering questions applicants have, and scheduling interviews. With a database system, progress on the application process, including a review of references, transcripts, and background checks, is easily accomplished. Carolyn reviews applications as her HR department forwards them to her, and is able to make personal calls to check on references and background information.

The Interview

The interchange one has with the applicant during the interview process is the most important aspect of a program’s ability to meet the needs of adult learners. The interview allows you to assess the candidate’s ability to teach and to function successfully within the program. Carolyn’s and my approaches to the interview are very similar and are designed to discover the applicant’s (a) ability and experience in working with the adult learner and all of the multiple backgrounds that adult learners bring to the classroom, (b) adaptability to working in marginal teaching settings (e.g., borrowed space), and (c) educational expertise as language teachers. My interview is primarily set up to discover talent and to bring out motivation for working with adult learners. I ask questions that relate to teaching adults and effective instructional strategies, past experiences in adult learning, and successful behavior and thought (talent). Carolyn has much the same approach to interviewing with an emphasis on conflict resolution and teamwork. Questions include the following: How have your past experiences prepared you for working with adult learners? If I were to talk to people who knew you best, how might they describe you? For a complete set of questions, e-mail either me or Carolyn.

Reference Checking
Reference checking is an important aspect of hiring applicants, and both Carolyn and I check references before scheduling interviews. Reference checking can be online (as in my case) or by phone (as in Carolyn’s case). Whichever format is used, one should strive to create a historical picture of the applicant and should ask questions about the individual’s relationship to the applicant, an employment history, strengths and areas for improvement, reliability, interpersonal skills, and whether or not the person would be hired again by the previous employer. An unknown author says it best: “Great organizations are not made of bricks and mortar or advanced technology; they are made of great people. People make the difference.” Adult education programs are about working with and teaching people, and standards for hiring relate to a strong hiring sequence (recruiting, communication with applicants, interviewing, and background checks).
New Teacher Orientation

Both Carolyn and I conduct 3-hour new teacher orientations and cover similar critical information. Both programs provide new teachers with staff information notebooks that outline various job responsibilities from both the administrative and teaching perspectives. Administrative duties include important program dates (i.e., registration, staff meetings, course schedule), timesheets, monthly reports, and program parameters. Teaching information includes curriculum, lesson planning, professional development, and teacher resources.

Professional Development

Program planning should include a standard approach to professional development. By utilizing the TESOL Standards for Adult Education ESL Programs, both programs have thought out how to offer highly structured professional development opportunities for both new and seasoned teachers. Carolyn’s program, FCPS ACE, has a 10-week instructor training program for new and prospective teachers. (Carolyn often recruits new teachers from this course.) I utilize the ESOL Basics Course offered by the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center ( and in-house curriculum training. In addition to new teacher training, both programs require new teachers to attend highly structured staff meetings, participate in assessment training, be available for teacher observations and peer support programs, and attend ongoing professional development events.


By raising the bar on hiring practices and by expecting applicants to meet rigorous standards in experience and character, both programs are able to choose from highly qualified applicants who seek out employment opportunities with their organizations. In these two programs retention and turnover among teachers is kept to a minimum because of a solid interview process that allows an applicant to demonstrate strengths and talent. Before hiring, these program administrators seek to ensure an applicant is a good fit for their program. Moreover, they provide quality employment conditions and engaging opportunities for new teachers. When teachers need to resign from their teaching assignment because of personal schedules, both programs find a way to utilize their expertise in other aspects of the program (e.g., conducting intermittent student assessment, substitutes, registration). Reassigning professional staff in this way meets both individual and program needs. It is not hard to find individuals who love adult education and want to work with adult learners, but that motivation alone should not be the reason for hiring teachers. Adult learners expect and deserve a quality education. To achieve quality, programs need to begin with standards in hiring.


Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. (2003). Standards for adult education ESL programs. Alexandria, VA: TESOL.

Debby Cargill is the lead for ESOL/program developer for adult education for Prince William County Schools and conducts ESOL teacher training for the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center. She has an MEd in adult education from George Mason University.

Assessing Oral Communication in the Workplace

Melissa Dayton,

Oral communication is the most immediate need of non-English and limited-English speakers in the workplace, and often the first skill addressed by ESL workplace programs. The ability to understand and be understood in spoken English drives the most basic workplace activities: greeting coworkers and supervisors, following directions, reporting a problem, and asking for clarification. Oral communication is critical to employees’ ability to work safely, access their workplace rights and benefits, and pursue career advancement. In Connecticut, the need to measure the speaking skills of ESL students in the workplace led to the development and implementation of the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment Systems (CASAS) Workplace Speaking assessment.

This article highlights the Connecticut adult education system’s initiative to integrate standardized workplace speaking assessment into workplace and classroom instruction. It describes the participation of adult educators in the test development process, the initial pilot and workplace implementations, the response of students and teachers, and considerations for implementing the Workplace Speaking assessment.

<I>Workplace education</I> generally refers to basic skills instruction (reading, writing, math, technology), secondary school completion, and English as a second language. Workplace programs are designed to help workers develop the foundational skills that will allow them to take advantage of training and career advancement opportunities, respond to constant changes brought by technology and globalization, and participate fully as members of their workforce. Connecticut has a long history of providing onsite workplace education programs, which have served workers in a wide range of industries including manufacturing, agriculture, retail, healthcare, hospitality, and the service sector. The current trend in Connecticut, as in many states, is toward increased demand for workplace ESL programs. In a state where population and labor force trends are projected to remain flat—boosted only by the arrival of new immigrants–employers in every business sector are increasingly relying on non-English and limited-English speakers to fill job positions to help support their company’s competitiveness.

In 2000, Connecticut’s State Department of Education contracted with CASAS in San Diego, California, to develop an assessment that would define a student’s speaking level and measure his or her progress over time. In addition to addressing the need in the workplace, the department was interested in expanding the assessment options available to Connecticut’s adult education programs and enhancing links between assessment and instruction. The resulting cross-country effort involved Connecticut adult educators, CASAS test developers, and contributors from numerous states in between.

Developing the Test

Connecticut educators participated in several phases of the test development process. The first task was to identify the speaking competencies that would provide context for the test items, based on the priorities of employers across a range of industries. Surveys of employers in California, Connecticut, Texas, and other states yielded a consistent set of competencies, cited as critical for frontline workers. They included

  • Workplace safety
  • Customer service
  • Employment information and work history
  • Following instructions and giving directions
  • Social interactions with coworkers

Once priority competencies were identified, work began on writing test items and developing the scoring system. Teachers and test developers worked together to develop and try out test items, grouping them into three item types: language about work, social language, and responses to work-related picture prompts. Items were compiled into test forms that created a structured interview; students would be asked to respond to a series of questions related to their job, the workplace, and typical social interactions. If the student was unable to respond to a particular item, the assessor would continue to the next item, until all items were covered.

Meanwhile the scoring system evolved, focusing on a definition of “communication of meaning” that would capture student output while providing a practical frame of reference for scoring. On the basis of numerous tryouts with a large cross-section of students, the test developers created a three-point scoring rubric that enabled assessors to score responses based on

· Clarity—the degree to which the meaning of an entire response was apparent, requiring no inference on the assessor’s part, and

· Completeness—the degree to which all aspects of a test question were addressed.

Scoring guidelines and item anchors provided detailed references for assessors. As they field-tested the Workplace Speaking assessment, assessors were asked to listen and score student responses with the ear of “an average American,” versus the trained and forgiving ear of an ESL professional. This required assessors to wear the hard hat of a supervisor on the shop floor, figuratively speaking, and hear the students as others would hear them at work. “Communication of meaning” provided an overall frame of reference for scoring; other elements such as pronunciation and grammar accuracy factored into scoring to the degree that they affected the overall communication of the response. The scoring rubric had to capture the richness of a student’s output and, at the same time, be practical for use by assessors as they scored the interviews.

The Pilot Implementation

Following the completion of the Workplace Speaking assessment, Connecticut launched the pilot implementation during the summer of 2005. ESL instructors from seven adult education programs completed Workplace Speaking certification training, administered pre- and posttests, and provided instruction, at worksites and adult learning centers. They reported matched-pair results for 65 students, with overall positive results. At an end-of-year focus group session, the instructors shared their observations and suggestions along with feedback from their students.

During both the test development phase and pilot implementation, students responded positively to the Workplace Speaking assessment. Many liked having the opportunity to practice their speaking in a structured format and reported that they found the questions practical and relevant. After completing the test, many were interested in the words they did not recognize and wanted to go back and correct their responses. (Posttesting provided that opportunity.)

Teachers found value in Workplace Speaking, for many of the same reasons. As a performance-based assessment, Workplace Speaking provides direct evidence of a student’s speaking ability, information that can be readily transferred to classroom instruction. An unanticipated benefit noted by one instructor was that “We get to learn about the students in a whole new way, beyond what we usually learn during intake.” The assessment provided both formal and informal diagnostic opportunities. Teachers also reported that, for some students, Workplace Speaking was a more comfortable fit than other assessments. These students were able to respond and demonstrate learning gains more effectively in speaking than through multiple-choice listening or reading tests (the two other assessment options). In a system using multiple assessments, this additional option provided a way to reach more students.

The following section highlights the recent successful use of Workplace Speaking at one Connecticut workplace.

Workplace Case Study

Norwich Adult Education is currently using Workplace Speaking with employees of a casino in southwestern Connecticut. Workers from four departments—housekeeping, environmental services, culinary, and food and beverage—participate in onsite ESL classes that focus on communication and customer service skills. All have contact with guests, and a goal of the program is to have employees increase their speaking skills so they can handle their interactions with guests more effectively and confidently.

During the past year Workplace Speaking was implemented through pre- and posttesting, and the results have been beneficial to each of the project partners. Employees demonstrated growth in speaking ability over time, with 28 of 35 participants achieving significant learning gains. Many in the group entered the program at a beginning level, and the majority of these made significant progress, boosting their ability and confidence.

The instructors obtained diagnostic information that informed their instructional planning and gave them an early acquaintance with their students. One of the teachers commented, “The results of the pre-tests drove the curriculum to some extent. It gave us real-life communication goals.” The pre-test results guided teachers’ development of discussion topics and speaking lesson activities.

For the employer, the Workplace Speaking assessment provided a good fit with their program goals. As Norwich’s workplace coordinator explained,

The idea of a speaking assessment was very attractive to [the employer]. This employer’s focus and goal for the employees is customer service, specifically speaking to the guests. The employer is gauging student progress by performance in the workplace. The Workplace Speaking assessment is a visible tool that supervisors can look to, confirming their own assessment of worker progress and achievement.

Considerations for Implementing Workplace Speaking Assessment

Implementing oral communication assessment in either the workplace or the classroom calls for good planning, logistical capacity, and skilled staff.

The one-on-one administration format of Workplace Speaking can require staff coordination. Many programs find it most effective to conduct assessment during class time, with the assessor calling out individual students to take the test. When the classroom teacher is the assessor, a substitute teacher may be needed to cover the class.

It is important to administer Workplace Speaking in a quiet room, free from distractions and interruptions. This can be particularly challenging in the workplace, where space is at a premium, as well as in adult learning centers. Advance planning enables staff to reserve a room, inform others that testing will be taking place, and organize student flow. Quiet is especially important when interviews are audiotaped. The sound of students in adjoining classrooms or vehicles passing outside can easily end up on tape. The goal when recording interviews (always with a student’s signed permission) is to maximize audio quality while keeping the mechanics as unobtrusive as possible.

Performance-based assessments like Workplace Speaking demand accurate scoring and interrater reliability, that is, scoring that is consistent among assessors and constant over time, to ensure the integrity of test results. Ongoing training and frequent practice is key, as is the selection of assessors who are well suited to the task. It can be challenging for an assessor to maintain the neutral demeanor required to administer the test. Though students understand they are in a testing situation, it is tempting to ask the assessor for clarification, translation, or additional repetitions of a test item. Students often produce compelling responses to items, so assessors must manage their feelings of empathy, sympathy, or shared humor. The fact that Workplace Speaking is scored as the interview is conducted can be uncomfortable for assessors at first; however, it becomes routine over time.


Effective implementation of the Workplace Speaking assessment is linked to the continuing development of a cadre of assessors—working in an individual program or shared among several programs—who can train together, cooperate on logistics, and discuss testing results and program planning. Performance-based assessments, including Workplace Speaking, can offer an authentic and meaningful assessment experience for students, practical information for teachers to apply to curriculum planning and instruction, credibility for adult education providers in the workplace, and value for employers who wish to develop the basic skills—and career opportunities—of their workers.

The full implementation of a new assessment requires sustained effort. Moving forward, Connecticut faces the challenge of encouraging program use of the Workplace Speaking assessment, maintaining high standards among assessors, and enhancing the links between assessment, curriculum, and instruction that target oral communication. Workplace Speaking has increased the range of testing options that ESL programs can use to meet the diverse needs of students and the goals of both employers and their adult education providers.

Melissa Dayton is a workforce education trainer with the Adult Training and Development Network in Hartford, Connecticut, a CASAS state trainer, and former workplace program coordinator and ESL instructor.

Where’s the Grammar in Competency-Based Instruction?

Betsy Parrish,

The current focus of much of adult ESL instruction is on the development of skills and competencies that allow learners to interact in their communities, gain employment, and fulfill their daily needs. Less emphasis is placed on explicit grammar instruction; however, many adult learners expect to learn discrete grammar points, study grammar rules, and do grammar exercises in their ESL classes. Also, becoming competent in a second language includes competency in grammar, and a focus on form within meaning-based instruction has favorable effects on second language competence (Ellis, Basturkman, & Loewen, 2001). In both second language and immersion education studies, meaning-based instruction that is complemented with some degree of focus on form results in higher levels of grammatical competence than does meaning-based instruction alone (Ellis et al., 2001; Lightbown, 1992; Long, 1991; Genesee, 1987; Swain, 1985).

There are varying views on what focus on form should look like. One view is that a focus on form in meaning-based instruction consists of unplanned attention to linguistic features as they are encountered in a lesson. Multiple features could be focused on in one lesson, and attention to these forms may come from the students or teacher through interactions (Ellis et al., 2001). Long (1991) argued that by incidental focus on form, the learners need only explore the features they are actually experiencing, which is far more natural than overt focus on decontextualized linguistic features or a focus on forms.

Doughty and Williams (1998) suggested a proactive focus on form in meaning-based instruction where attention to particular features is planned and typically highlights a particular grammatical feature. The completion of a communicative task is still the desired outcome; however, focus on grammar is no longer incidental. This is in keeping with what I have observed in adult ESL classrooms: The most successful instruction is that which derives from a learner’s need to communicate for meaningful purposes, and the least effective grammar instruction is decontextualized and removed from learners’ needs and experiences.

In my observations of adult ESL classes, I have noticed a tendency for teachers to take a focus-on-forms approach through the insertion of mini, decontextualized grammar lessons, rather than letting grammar arise naturally out of the competency-based tasks they are using. In this article, I suggest a proactive approach that first identifies the grammatical needs of learners and then teaches the grammar that is imbedded in language competencies—for example, teaching modals of advice and obligation (e.g., should, have to, must) for understanding doctor’s recommendations and present perfect (e.g., I have worked as a nurse for 5 years) used in interviewing for a job. Presenting and practicing grammar within these competencies reflects more natural use of language.

Applying This Approach in the Adult ESL Classroom

In this section, I demonstrate how a proactive focus on form can be integrated into an adult ESL curriculum. As teachers determine which particular grammar points merit attention, they can focus on those areas within activities they are using to teach particular competencies. In each sample below, a meaning-based, communicative task that focuses on a language competency is used. After students complete the task, the teacher uses questions to draw the grammar out and check comprehension of the meaning of the grammar. The first example deals with the language of necessity and obligation for the purpose of navigating systems in a new community.

Sample 1: Navigating Systems

Students start by mingling with classmates to gather information needed to achieve a variety of personal goals. The items included in the chart should reflect the needs and goals of that group of students.

Try to find three people in class who can give you information about these things:

Get a driver’s license

Buy clothes for Minnesota winter

Register your child for school

Once students have gathered information from their classmates, the class comes together and the teacher asks:

What are some things you <U>have to</U> do to register your child for school?

What are some things you <U>should</U> do?

As students respond, the teacher records answers under the appropriate column:

What are some things you <U>have to</U> do?

What are some things you <U>should</U> do?

have a school readiness test

show proof of immunizations

fill in an application

visit some schools

talk to other parents about schools

After eliciting a number of the responses under each column, the teacher asks:

Which things are required?

Which are a good idea?

What words show us that it is required? (have to)

What other word could you use to show something is required? (must)

What word tells you something is a good idea? (should)

What other words would you use? (ought to, might want to, could)

These questions allow the learners to notice and demonstrate their understanding of modal verbs that express necessity/obligation versus advisability. The language generated through the initial task reflects their genuine ideas and advice to one another, while at the same time allows the learners to focus their attention on the forms needed to express advice and necessity more accurately and appropriately in English.

Sample 2: Find something that is used for . . .

Household utensils are placed around the classrooms or, alternatively, the teacher provides flashcards with the items:

Students are instructed to look for the items and guess what each is called.

Find something that is used for . . .

1. straining tea

It’s called a ______________________.

2. peeling vegetables

It’s called a ______________________.

3. holding hot pots and pans

It’s called a ______________________.

4. opening a bottle

It’s called a ______________________.

5. beating eggs

It’s called an ______________________.

6. grating cheese

It’s called a ______________________.

7. opening a can

It’s called a ______________________.

After students have found the items, the class comes together and the teacher asks:

What is a pot holder used for?

It<U>’s used</U> for holding hot pots and pans.

What is ___________ used for?

It’s used for ________________.

From there, the corresponding compound nouns and word stress pattern, with stress placed on the first word in the compound, can be highlighted:

holding hot pots and pans pot holder

opening a bottle bottle opener

opening a can can opener

Forms generated from this activity include passive voice (is used for) and compound nouns, as well as the word stress pattern in compound nouns of stressing the first word in the compound. In addition to the multiple forms that can be highlighted and practiced, learners acquire the compensation strategy of describing an item for which they do not know the name.

Sample 3: Understanding Employee Benefits

Working with a partner, students choose benefits that they believe would be most important to the individuals listed in the table below.

health insurance

flex time

dental insurance


tuition reimbursement

paid family leave

onsite training


Which benefit is most important to these people?

A woman expecting a baby

A person who wants to get a university degree

An athlete

A person who lives far from his or her office


Source: Lee, L. & Shurman, K. (2005). All-Start 3. McGraw-Hill: New York.

Afterward, the teacher asks:

What can you say to compare two benefits?

Health insurance may be <U>more important than</U> onsite training for a woman expecting a baby.

What if the two are equal?

Telecommuting is probably <U>just as important as</U> flex time for a woman expecting a baby.

The teacher can then lead students to describe degrees of difference:

Which do you think would be considerably (significantly/slightly, etc.) more important for someone who wants to get a university degree?

This activity for discussing employee benefits not only elicits the use of comparatives and adverbs of degree, but would also elicit the use of superlatives.

Sample 4: Home Remedies

The following activity could be used in a unit on health and wellness, and lends itself to practicing a variety of forms.

Many of us choose NOT to go to the doctor when we have a minor illness. What are some home remedies in your culture for common illnesses? Talk to the other students in class and find out what they do in their cultures.




Mira/El Salvador


Hot tea

Source: Parrish, B. (2004). Teaching Adult ESL. New York: McGraw Hill.

After students gather information from their classmates, a variety of language forms can be highlighted and practiced:

Simple present to express routines and adverbs of frequency:

In El Salvador, we usually drink hot tea when we have a cold.

“used to” expresses past routines:

I used to drink hot tea for a cold, but now I take cold medicine.

Sample 5: Comparing Cultures and Customs

In this final example, students begin by interviewing at least three people from different countries about different practices in their countries.

Interview 1



Interview 2



Interview 3



1. How do people greet one another in your culture?

2. How far apart do people stand when they’re talking to one another?

3. In your country, how much time do teenagers spend with their family?

4. Where do elderly people usually live?

5. Add your own question.

Afterward, the class is asked to make comparisons between the different countries. These comparisons may show differences:

In Laos, people stand much farther apart from one another than in Colombia.

Or similarities:

Teenagers spend as much time with family in Korea as they do in Poland.

Any number of language forms beyond those described for each sample above may emerge. It is up to the teacher to determine what is most useful and level-appropriate for learners in a class. A list of competencies with possible corresponding grammar points is provided in the appendix.


The five sample activities provided in this article demonstrate how meaning-based activities can provide a vehicle for working on the development of learners’ grammatical competence, while at the same time developing their overall communicative competence. Meaning-based activities replicate naturally occurring use of grammar. In addition, the grammar instruction becomes fully integrated into the content of the curriculum. The purposes for using the particular grammar points become more transparent than they tend to be in decontextualized grammar activities. This is not to say that teachers should start throwing out grammar books. A more reasonable place for grammar books may be for consolidation and review of forms once they have been presented through proactive focus on form within meaning-based activities.


Doughty, C., & Williams, J. (Eds.). (1998). Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition. Cambridge England: Cambridge University Press.

Ellis, R., Basturkman, H., & Loewen, S. (2001). Preemptive focus on form in the ESL classroom. TESOL Quarterly,35, 407-432.

Genesee, F. (1987). Learning through two languages. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Lee, L. & Shurman, K. (2005). All-Start 3. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Lightbown, P. (1992). Getting quality input in the second/foreign language classroom. In C. Kramsch & S. McConnell-Ginet (Eds.), Text and context: Cross disciplinary perspectives on language study (pp. 187-197). Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath.

Long, M. (1991). Focus on form: A design feature in language teaching methodology. In K. de Bot, R. Ginsberg, & C. Kramsch (Eds.), Foreign language research in cross-cultural perspective (pp. 39-52). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Parrish, B. (2004). Teaching adult ESL. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Swain, M. (1985). Communicative competence: Some roles of comprehensible input and comprehensible output in its development. In S. Gass & C. Madden (Eds.), Input in second language acquisition (pp. 235-253). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.


The Grammar of a Competency

Sample competencies

Possible grammar focus

1. Apologizing and providing reasons

Past continuous (I was V + ing when _____.)

2. Asking coworkers for assistance

Polite modals (could you please, would you mind V + ing)

3. Describing symptoms

Present perfect continuous (I have been feeling,experiencing)

4. Describing what you need at the store

Passive (is made of, is used for)

5. Following verbal instructions at work

“when” clauses (when you _____, do _____)

6. Interviewing for a job

Present perfect (I have worked as a nurse for 5 years.)

7. Taking and leaving telephone messages.

Reported speech (_____ said that, _____ told me to . . .)

8. Understanding a doctor’s recommendations

Modals of advice and obligation (should, have to, must)

Betsy Parrish is faculty/coordinator of adult ESL/TEFL certificates at Hamline University, St. Paul, Minnesota. She has worked as an ESL/EFL teacher, teacher educator, writer, and consultant in Minnesota , France, South Asia, and Russia during her 25 years in the field.

Storytelling and Conversation Games for Adults

The presentation handout from Lorraine Hopping Egan’s New York City TESOL 2009 session on “Storytelling and Conversation Games for Adults” is available for download, free of charge, at The packet includes five of her most successful activities for beginners through advanced learners, ranging from vocabulary and grammar skills to open-ended practice for conversational fluency. For an attachment of a 12-page pdf of cards for the “Something About Me” student biography activity, simply e-mail Lorraine at Lorraine is also happy to answer questions and loves to receive feedback on how teachers use or adapt the games. On Lorraine’s Web site, you can also find her presentation packet from the Seattle TESOL convention, “Create and Adapt Games to Motivate Adults”; cloze joke worksheets, quizzes, word searches, and other “freebie” teaching materials; and Lorraine’s Letter Perfect English picture card deck, along with a free downloadable teacher’s guide that includes 100-plus activities and games to play.

Lorraine Hopping Egan has written more than 50 books for children and teachers on a wide range of topics and is the former product development director of Aristoplay, an educational board game company. She coordinates English conversation groups in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for Washtenaw Literacy, a nonprofit organization. E-mail: