Working with Literacy-Level Adult English Language Learners August 7-11, 2006

Below is a summary of an electronic discussion that took place on the Adult English Language discussion list, August 7-11, 2006. The discussion list is part of the National Institute for Literacy's Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS) and is moderated by staff at the Center for Adult English Language Acquisition at the Center for Applied Linguistics.


The nine adult ESL content experts described below were panelists on an electronic discussion that took place on the Adult English Language discussion list, August 7-11, 2006. The discussion list is part of the National Institute for Literacy's Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS) and is moderated by staff at the Center for Adult English Language Acquisition at the Center for Applied Linguistics.

Sanja Bebic, Director, Cultural Orientation Resource Center, Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, DC

The COR Center— funded by the United States Department of State—assists refugees and service providers both in the United States and overseas to make the resettlement process as effective and smooth as possible. Sanja coordinates training efforts here and abroad, much of this through yearly trainings as well as the very highly regarded Culture Profiles such as Muslim Refugees in the United States and other publications.  Program, regional, or state administrators may have questions about the demographics and process of refugee resettlement in the United States to Sanja.

MaryAnn Cunningham Florez, Lead ESL Specialist, Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP), Arlington, Virginia

As  former moderator of this list, MaryAnn may be familiar to many of you. You also might recognize her as the author of  Lifeprints Literacy and  "Beginning ESOL Learners' Advice to Their Teachers" ( What you may not know is that she has coordinated programs that range from a church volunteer-taught adult ESL program to very large, multifaceted programs in Fairfax and Arlington, VA.  For the purposes of this discussion, program administrators with questions about working with literacy-level learners on the program may want to direct their comments to MaryAnn.

Debbie Jones, EL/Civics Literacy Coordinator, Arlington Education and Employment Program, Arlington, VA

REEP is in the enviable position of being able to support a coordinator who focuses on instruction for literacy-level learners.  Debbie—a former teacher and volunteer—has developed materials and processes which address the specific needs of literacy-level learners in the program.  For example, in the program Debbie coordinates, learners identified as needing support in developing literacy skills are able to attend a half/hour pull-out session five days a week with a trained volunteer with carefully developed and chosen materials.  Program administrators and teachers who are wondering how they can develop a systematic process for helping literacy-learners in their program, might seek Debbie’s input

Sharon McKay, ESL Specialist, Center for Adult English Language Acquisition, Washington, DC

Sharon has been teaching adult ESL for the past twenty years—four quarters a year—morning, noon, and night at the REEP Program.  While she is continuing to teach two evenings a week, she is now sharing her expertise with CAELA and the field.  Sharon has taught general ESL, literacy to high advanced, transition, family literacy, and workplace classes and has been a trainer on these topics as we—as learner goal-setting, project-based learning, reading, and writing. She is co-author of English Works, a learner text for workplace classes. Because of her deep, wide, and current experience, Sharon may be the person to address some of the questions related to strategies, methods, and activities that are effective with literacy-level learners.

Donna Moss, Family Literacy Coordinator, Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP), Arlington, Virginia

Donna began working with refugees in Thailand and in Comer, Georgia in the early 1980’s. In 1986 she began teaching literacy-level learners at REEP as part of the amnesty program. Donna has taught workplace and transition classes as well as family literacy; developed a variety of curricula, coordinated 353 Grants on alternative assessment and project-based learning, was the content expert on the PBS ESL/CivicsLink project. She is also co-author of Collaborations: English in Our Lives, Literacy Worktext. After a stint at the National Center for ESL Literacy Education (NCLE), she returned to coordinate REEP's many-faceted family literacy program.

Barb Sample, Director of Educational Services at  the Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning (founded in 1979), Denver, Colorado

Barb and her colleagues at Spring Institute have been providing technical assistance—throughout the country and beyond—particularly related to English language training, mental health ( see, Mental Health and the Adult Refugee: The Role of the ESL Teacher), cross-cultural communication, and cultural adjustment since the days of the Mainstream English Language Training (MELT) Project during the refugee migrations after the Vietnam War and other conflicts in Southeast Asia.  Barb has worked for years as a course and curriculum designer, teacher trainer and she is also expert on workplace training and workplace readiness.

Kate Singleton, Healthcare Social Worker, Inova Fairfax Hospital, Falls Church , Virginia

As an adult ESL teacher at REEP and Fairfax County Public Schools Adult and  Community Education (ACE), Kate taught intensive and non-intensive ESL, in the learning lab, and  in the workplace; she was volunteer coordinator, curriculum designer, and teacher trainer. She worked with colleagues and learners on issues related to learning disabilities and health.  In 2003 she developed the Virginia Adult Education Health Literacy Toolkit (, and “Picture Stories for Adult ESL Health Literacy” ( Now, as an hospital trauma social worker, Kate sees firsthand how issues of culture and language intersect in urgent health situations.

Sharyl Tanck, Program Coordinator, Cultural Orientation Resource Center, Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, DC

One of Shari’s task at the COR Center is to moderate a discussion list for refugee providers in the United States and abroad. Listserv topics are various, but all are related to cultural orientation, that is, how to help service providers help refugees adjust to their new lives in the U.S. In addition to coordinating trainings and site visits, Shari spends part of each year overseas working with trainers to help provide information and links that will help smooth the way for refugees.   

Betsy Lindeman Wong, Online facilitator, ESOL Basics, Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center

Like many on the panel, Betsy has taught adult ESL in several programs in Northern Virginia and developed EL/Civics, ESOL family literacy, and other curricula for Fairfax County and  Virginia ( Currently an onsite coordinator and adult ESL instructor for Alexandria (Virginia) Community Education, she is also one of the online facilitators for Virginia’s ESOL BASICS online course for novice adult ESOL teachers. Program and state administrators may want to ask Betsy for input on how online courses such as ESOL Basics might serve the needs of programs who work with literacy-level learners. 


For information about subscribing to the adult English language discussion list or to read current and past postings, go to

If you wish to read or reread the individual postings from this discussion you can access them from the National Institute for Literacy’s Web site at and looking at the “Read Current Posted Messages” section.  From there you can search by  date, thread, subject, or author. The official dates of the discussion were  August 7-11, 2006, but the de facto dates were August 3-13, 2006 with the posting numbers roughly from 518 to 593. 

The main topics discussed by subscribers and panelists were the use of native language in the classroom, using volunteers, issues related to learner retention, community-building in the classroom, information about refugees, and identification of resources.  Native language use for learners and teachers and effective and appropriate use of  volunteers with literacy-level adult English language learners were  by far the most discussed topics.  On both of these topics, subscribers and panelists shared a variety of perspectives.

In the native language thread, the list heard from teachers who work with learners who share a common language that the teacher also speaks, teachers who work with multilingual groups where using some students’ native language may seem insensitive to other learners, from those who distinguished between teacher use and learner use of a language other than English, as well as many other perspectives.  

The discussion about using volunteers with literacy-level learners centered on what to look for in a prospective volunteer, appropriate training, use and supervision of volunteers, and some specific types of activities teachers or administrators may ask volunteers to work on with literacy-level learners.

As some teachers are now beginning new classes—literacy-level and other levels— I hope you will consider sharing approaches, techniques, and materials that are working well for you and the learners in your classes. I hope you will also share some of the challenges you face —such as deciding if, when, and how to use languages other than English in the class; how you use, or would like to use volunteers; and other topics. Thanks for your continued interest and input.

Lynda Terrill

Adult English language discussion list moderator

September 2006

Please note: We do not control and cannot guarantee the relevance, timeliness, or accuracy of the materials provided by other agencies or organizations, their views, products or services.