Reading and Adult English Language Learners May 12 - 16, 2008

Focus of Discussion | Reflective Questions | Background Reading | Facilitator Bios

Dear subscribers,

Assisting adult English language learners (or second language learners in general) to increase their reading proficiency is one of the perennial issues on this list and others. We will be focusing on this topic specifically from May 12-16, 2008 when Heide Wrigley and a cadre of Texas practitioners will share information, challenges, and outcomes of a professional development and classroom project they have been working on during the last year. See the bottom of this announcement for bios of Heide and the teacher working group.

Thank you,

Lynda Terrill

List moderator

Focus of Discussion

The last few years has seen a resurgence of interest in reading, not only at the primary level, but also at the secondary level and to a lesser degree in adult education. We've heard about the components of reading with an emphasis on phonemic awareness and decoding and about the importance of fostering reading comprehension. Yet, we don't know a great deal about what works in second language reading, particularly for adults. Exciting work is being done in the use of comprehension strategies and in vocabulary studies, yet not much of that information has made it into the ESL classroom. or in instruction for adult English language learners in ABE, GED, ASE, and community college classrooms.

This discussion seeks to close the gap. Our hope is to help teachers make the connection between what recent research tells us about reading in general and second language reading in particular and what works for teachers and learners in the classroom.

Reflective Questions

These questions will help frame the discussion, but can also help to direct background reading before the discussion:

  • Is teaching reading for native speakers similar to teaching reading to English language learners? If not, what is the difference?
  • If English language learners have some literacy in the native language, do we still need to focus on decoding and building phonemic awareness? Why or why not?
  • If our students seem to read just fine in terms of decoding and reading aloud, why do they often still have trouble understanding what they read?
  • What about the role of background knowledge and vocabulary - how do we build these skills so that reading comprehension is facilitated?
  • Some teachers wonder about the role of "reading strategies" in adult ESL. Many have found that "predicting meaning from context" doesn't always work for beginning level readers. Are there other strategies that can be adapted for English language learners that show greater promise in facilitating comprehension?

Background reading

There is a wealth of materials now available about teaching reading to adult English language learners. For a quick overview of issues that will be covered in the special discussion, see How Should Adult ESL Reading Instruction Differ from ABE Reading Instruction? (CAELA brief). Miriam Burt, Joy Kreeft-Peyton, and Carol Van Duzer, 2005 . A sample of other resources is below.

Facilitator Bios

Heide Spruck Wrigley is a senior researcher with Literacywork International, a small social science research firm based in Mesilla, NM. She was the subject matter expert on several national studies on adult ESL literacy and has written extensively on the subject. She also conducts Adult ESL Institutes for four of the Texas Professional Development Centers (the GREAT Centers), the most recent Institutes on Second Language Reading. These Institutes combine face-to-face seminars with learning circles where readings and classroom experiences are discussed with a mentor. Participants in the Institutes also try out instructional strategies and sample lessons in their own classes, after these have been demonstrated in the face-to-face sessions. In addition, mentors (experienced teachers) are available to discuss teaching challenges, provide technology support and conduct peer observations.

Practitioners participating in the first ESL Reading Institute include teachers from adult ESL programs situated in community college and CBOs in Texas, mostly from the coastal region. Also participating were administrators and experienced teachers acting as mentors to the rest of the group.

As part of the online discussion, participants will share their insights and discuss what works in their classroom. They will discuss their experiences as they try to implement a rich reading program, use research-based comprehension strategies, and seek to foster reading competence while promoting reading for pleasure.

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