Full Discussion - What is intensity? -Strategies for Innovation in Community College ESL, February 4 - 8, 2008

What is intensity?

A brief discussion of what is meant by intensity of instruction.


Hi Marie,

Since the conversation has had a slow start, I am going to ask a question. I know that perhaps this question is answered in the reading, which I have had time to read, so forgive me if that is the case. What exactly is "intensity of instruction"? And how does one measure "rigor"?

Just the thoughts I had when I first read the description of this discussion group.

Jackie Coelho


Hi Jackie, great questions. I can weigh in a little, and I'm sure that subscribers can also add to what is meant by intensity and rigor, and of course we will hear from our guests later on today.

There's a good article from Center for Applied Linguistics that discusses this, through the lens of advancing NRS levels in BEST Plus:

Effects of Instructional Hours and Intensity of Instruction on NRS Level Gain in Listening and Speaking Sarah Young Center for Applied Linguistics 2007 http://www.cal.org/resources/Digest/levelgain.html

It's pretty good - it reviews what is meant by instructional hours and intensity, the relationship between level gains and these two factors, and then provides some advice to programs.

Here is their definition of intensity of instruction:

"Intensity of instruction was defined as how often students attended class over a given period of time, ranging from low intensity (e.g., 100 hours of instruction over 250 days) to high intensity (e.g., 100 hours of instruction over 75 days)."

How about anyone else? Anything to add?

Marie Cora


I would like to respond to this question it has been very hard to track this. I have develop a process by viewing class data. We have begun to give all instructor and support staff computer access to data for tracking and forecasting.

Valerie Y. Woodard, MA


Hi, everyone. It has been interesting reading the postings today and want to respond to some of them now. I just learned from Forrest that his Internet Service Provider is down, but he expects to be back on line either tonight or tomorrow. He'll add his comments later.

In the meantime, let me respond to a couple of themes that have emerged in the discussion.

Jackie asked what we meant by "intensity of instruction" and Marie provided a definition from an excellent publication from the Center for Applied Linguistics which analyzes the effects of instructional hours and intensity of instruction on NRS level gains in listening and speaking.

In our study, we define "intensity of instruction" as the number of hours per week and differentiate it from "duration" which is the total number of hours for the program. We think both intensity and duration are important. It is important to have enough hours per week of instruction, but also important that there be enough weeks. Programs in the 5 community colleges we studied varied from 3 to 20 hours per week of instruction, with 10 hours/week considered "semi-intensive" and 20 hours/week as "intensive" instruction.

As Jim so eloquently put it, there are some basic reasons why programs might not offer as many hours of instruction per week as they want to, with funding being at the root of many of the reasons.

Forrest and I would be interested in knowing how many hours per week your various programs meet (and for how many weeks) and how you determined that schedule. Have you tried more intense programs for shorter periods of time? What has been the impact on attendance?

Have any of you provided adult ESL/ESOL programs that charge a fee? We were surprised to learn of such a program at Bunker Hill Community College. They provide free adult ESOL and also a fee-based program in an attempt to accommodate more learners. They found that at least some learners were able to pay the fee and thus they were able to serve more learners.

We'd also like to know if your programs are open-entry/open-exit, with learners coming to class when they can and sometimes leaving for several classes before they return, or if you have tried some kind of "managed enrollment" with attendance expectations of those who are enrolled in your classes. Several community colleges have experimented with this approach and have found it effective. I know that Forrest will have more to say about this.

I have to go teach, but when I return, I'd like to talk a bit about issues surrounding literacy and prior education.

Jodi Crandall


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