Discussion Transcript - What Works forAdult ESL/ESOL Student April 2007

cheryl gentry


Sun Apr 1 23:01:19 EDT 2007

I teach GED at CRC...a prison in Norco, Calif. I have many students who grew up speaking Spanish in the home and have difficulty with English grammar. Are there any special tricks?


Cameron Eileen


Fri Apr 6 02:40:01 EDT 2007

1. In the article "National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy: A Conversation With FOB... What Works for Adult ESL Students," it states that ESL students are better able to learn and understand English when the teacher or instructor of ESL is bilingual, in which case, the instructor can speak the students' native language or languages in order to clarify the students' understanding to further construct meaning. This statement is also made in the article "Real World Research: Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Research for Adult ESL." However, if a teacher or instructor is not bilingual, and they want to improve ESL students' written proficiency levels, should the instructor who is fluent only in English be encouraged to permit his or her ESL students to first write an essay or paragraph, depending upon the written assignment, within the student's own native language and then work closely with the student to translate that writing into English? Is
this a recommended form of instruction? For one thing, allowing ESL students to write within their native languages helps the instructor familiarize themselves with languages that may be foreign to them. This can also help the student translate and interpret their own native language and correspond their thoughts and ideas within a contextualized English language. This can permit ESL students to demonstrate writing that displays clearer contextualized meanings. It also allows ESL students to demonstrate a complexity of thoughts and ideas as well as express critical, analytical thinking skills within written English, especially those ESL students who struggle with written English in terms of writing incoherent sentences or clauses, or students who write mere phrases or simple sentences with incorrect word choice and improper use of grammar. The article, "Real World Research," states "English learners who, for example, have good higher order reading strategies in their
own language cannot call on those strategies to help them understand English texts until their understanding of English vocabulary and syntax are good enough to understand basic sentences and expressions." Can this same principle be applied to ESL students' written English?

2. The article "Real World Research: Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Research for Adult ESL" briefly refers to the codings of a running record. A running record that is incorporated in the teaching of standard American English and literacy within elementary schools in this country is used in a way that teachers can determine a student's reading abilities and potentialities through close observation of a student's reading processes. Before a running record can be implemented, the teacher or instructor first must decipher the probable reading level of a particular student. For instance, the teacher must select a book that the student will easily be able to read along with selecting two other books that may be more challenging to this same student. Students must read 50 words within each of the three books. To correspond the running record in accordance with the student's reading, the teacher must listen closely and observe, paying strict attention to the
student's substitution or replacement of words, repetition of words, omission of words, pronunciation and/or mispronunciation of words, and number of self-corrections the student makes during their reading. Once the student is finished reading 50 words within all three selected books, the teacher must add up all of the student's errors. The book in which the student made no less than five errors is selected for appropriate reading in terms of a substantiated reading level since it presents more of a challenge. However, a book in which a student makes more than five errors is considered too difficult for the student to read or comprehend. I brought this up because in a standard English or literacy class in grades K-12, a student can be placed within a specific reading level or group and is given reading material in accordance with that particular reading or grade level, as it pertains to a balanced literacy model in adherence with the curricular standards of a running
record. Students are given reading material that is slightly more challenging in order to assist these students in mastering the English language. Once students have mastered the English language and have acquired appropriate English reading skills, they will be able to read books that are several reading or grade levels above their current reading performance level. Can a running record such as the one I have previousy described be applied within an adult literacy program for ESL students? Instead of using grocery store fliers, electricity bills, and immigration documents, can literature be incorporated in an adult literacy program for ESL students?

3. In the research study discussed in the article "Instruction, Language, and Literacy: What Works Study for Adult ESL Literacy Students, the BEST Oral Interview was incorporated in measuring listening comprehension, communication, and fluency. In the footnote of that same research study, it states that the BEST Oral Interview also includes measures of pronunciation and a reading and writing score which were not used in the study. I would actually like to know more about those measures of pronunciation, reading, and writing, and how they are assessed in determining a student's perfomance level. Recently, I completed a training session for both print-based and the computer-adaptive BEST PLUS software program which measures the same items that were measured in the research study 1)listening comprehension, 2) language complexity or fluency, and 3) communication. When I completed the training session in BEST PLUS there was no mention of scoring for pronunciation, reading,
or writing. Also, I wanted to know if these measurements had been included in your research study, would it have any effect on the students' performance levels quantitatively? Also would it have any statistical significance whatsoever in this particular research study if these variables had been taken into consideration when the BEST Oral Interview was administered?


David J. Rosen


Mon Apr 9 01:52:03 EDT 2007

Good day colleagues,

I would like to welcome Dr. Heide Spruck Wrigley and Dr. Larry Condelli,
authors of the "What Works for Adult ESL Students" study. They will be
our guests this week as we learn about and discuss this important study.
We have received a few questions already, and I will post them today. I
hope that you will send your questions and comments today, and
throughout the week, and that we will have a good discussion about the

I would like to begin by asking Heide and Larry to describe the major
findings of the study and to put the study in context of research on
adult ESL/ESOL and especially literacy. Why is this an important study
for adult ESL/ESOL and perhaps for the wider fields of ESL/ESOL and
literacy education?

Everyone: to contribute a question or comment, or to add to the
discussion, please e-mail your message to specialtopics@nifl.gov.


David J. Rosen
Special Topics Discussion Moderator


Wrigley, Heide


Mon Apr 9 08:07:26 EDT 2007

Good morning all

This promises to be an exciting discussion and I look forward to talking
with you about the study in general and responding to the issues you
have raised. So thanks for those of you who have already posted
questions and we look forward to more.

I'm in D.C. at the moment at a meeting on adult ESL literacy with NIFL,
the National Institute for Literacy and will be responding to David's
invitation and to your questions this evening.

See you soon on-line




Mon Apr 9 09:51:55 EDT 2007

From "What Works" you noted that it was a surprise to see that "a
judicious use of L1" had a positive influence. Can you expound on the
difference between "judicious use" and bilingualism?

Kirk Olgin


Wrigley, Heide


Mon Apr 9 20:51:57 EDT 2007

Hi, all

And thank you for the questions you posted so far

You'll be reading a quick overview on the study soon (Larry just came
back from Mexico) and I'll be responding to some of the topics raised in
your postings. I'll take one issue at a time.

I will try to write about one topic at a time, in order to make it
easier to find and read about a particular area of interest. And if you
do ask a question (or more), please indicate the topic in the subject
line to help keep us organized.

First up, native language use in the classroom



Wrigley, Heide


Mon Apr 9 21:28:16 EDT 2007

We had two questions so far on our finding that use of the native
language in the ESL classroom, one asking for a clarification of the
differenced between judicious use of the native language and
bilingualism and another on the practice of having students compose an
essay in Spanish and then translating the work into English (more on
that in the next post)

Judicious use of the native language - an explanation:
The study only focused on adult ESL literacy classes. We did not include
classes in which teachers used a bilingual model where two languages are
used purposefully (such as a preview/review model where the teacher
introduces a topic in the native language, spends the rest of the time
in English, and then reviews what has been learned once again in the
native language and allows for a period of questions and answers in the
native language to make sure students understand the content or point of
a lesson). Also not included in the study where classes where some topic
areas (U.S. history and government, for example) where taught in the
native language while English communication skills where taught using,
well, English

We did not include these types of classes because the bilingual model,
consciously designed and applied as such) is not a common model in adult
ESL (it is in bilingual education. And no programs that met the study
requirements were found that consciously and systematically used a
bilingual model as defined in the literature on bilingual education.

We would have liked to include programs that include a native language
literacy component, that is programs that teach non-literate students to
read and write in a language they understand (i.e., the native language
- also referred to as L1) instead of teaching literacy in a language
students are still struggling with (English - or L2 the term used for
the target language). We did find a few programs that used this model
but funding decisions made their inclusion not possible.

We also did not include programs in which teachers translated
directions, vocabulary and content almost constantly, the minute a
single student looked a bit confused, giving students little opportunity
to grapple with English or stay in English for a significant amount of
time and in the process depriving students of the opportunity to build
confidence and competence in understanding and using English. We don't
see constant translation as a model that is pedagogically sound, given
the need of students to learn to communicate in English and to learn to
engage and process print in English.

What we found was that many of the bilingual ESL teachers adapted their
teaching to the needs of the students and used L1 in support of ESL
learning and teaching. Using their own judgment (rather than a specific
model), they used any number of bilingual strategies which included
providing a quick translation of a task when directions (in a book for
example), proved to be more complex than the task itself or giving an
explanation of a language pattern that confused students. Strategies
also included saying a word in Spanish when students were stuck or using
Spanish to clarify when a student had a question.

Are there other ways to take advantage of L1 in the classroom?
Absolutely, and we can talk about those.

Are teachers who don't speak the language of their students condemning
their students to failure? Absolutely not. There are any number of
strategies that teachers can use when their students are stuck or
confused, and a number of ways in which they can take advantage of L1 in
the L2 classroom.

But this is a discussion for another day..



Wrigley, Heide


Mon Apr 9 22:34:07 EDT 2007

Although the study did not address issues of having students write in L1
and then translate, here are a couple of thoughts (mine only)

Translation has long been used in other countries to build language
skills. Since the advent of the communicative approach to language
teaching it has become out of favor. Translation workshops where
students take work that they have created or other texts written in L1
and then render them in English can be an excellent way to build
language awareness and put language skills to use. Promising are
approaches that engage students in translating brochures or other texts
for a real audience, such as offering to translate a menu for a
restaurant or a brochure for a local business. "Backward translations"
are a must in these cases.

Workshops focused on translation are most appropriate for intermediate
levels on up where students have the English skills necessary to
translate more complex concepts and sophisticated language.

I'm reluctant to endorse having students write in the native language
and then translate in beginning literacy classes - at that level,
students tend to think that there is a one to one relationship between
L1 words, phrases and structures and their L2 equivalents, and the
translations tend to be both awkward and highly ungrammatical. In
addition, we don't want students to overly rely on translation but move
them toward thinking in the target language.

You do, however, make a very good point in terms of helping students to
organize their ideas and think about what they want to say before asking
them to write in English. This can be done in a number of ways. Here are
some tips for teachers:

1. Introduce writing by using oral language first. Help students to
compose the text orally, whether it is a story, a description, or a
process. Make sure students have the language they need.

2. Connect oral language with writing through models such as the
Language Experience Approach where the connections are obvious since
students talk, read and write together as a group

3. Model what you want students to do in writing by giving an oral
example (if you do it in writing, your students tend to copy what you

4. Dictate a few sentences that model what you want students to
write that way they get practice in putting pen to paper without having
to compose something from scratch (some may still copy but that's also
writing practice and they may not be ready to write on their own)

5. Allow students to think about and talk about their ideas in L1
or L2 before you ask them to write. - that process activates background
knowledge and facilitates the composing process. In the beginning
levels, let students know what they will be writing about over the next
few days - that's not cheating, that's giving your students a fighting

6. Invite students to draw a picture as a starting point, again
giving them a chance to compose a story mentally before engaging in
combat with vocabulary, grammar and spelling. Students can create a
snapshot of a scene, create a strip story a la Chalk Talks, or draw an
item, for example.

It's late - back to the study tomorrow



Wrigley, Heide


Mon Apr 9 22:01:50 EDT 2007

Hi, Camaron Eileen (I wasn't sure on the name - please tell us more)

Thanks, so much for your thoughtful reading of the reports and your
insightful comments. We'll take one question at a time in order to keep
reading manageable for the busy readers out there.

We did see positive effects on both oral language and literacy in
classrooms where teachers used the native language occasionally to
clarify or explain. In these classes students also occasionally used L1
in pair or group work to help each other understand a tasks or to get
the point across.

We did not see instances where the teacher invited students to write in
the native language and then translate what they had written in English
so the study is silent on this approach. Here, however are my own
thoughts on this approach.

1. Teaching students to learn to read and write in the native
language is a promising approach for a number of reasons:

  • It is easier to understand sound/symbol relationships in a known language than in a new language.
  • Meta-cognitive strategies, such as asking questions about language or explaining what one can and cannot do with language and identifying where one's difficulties lie are difficult to apply in a new language.
  • We know that strong literacy skills in L1 transfer to L2 literacy (but not immediately or directly, some mediation is still necessary)
  • You only learn to read once - and once you have "broken the code" , that is your mind has understood that there is a relationship between oral language and print (sound/symbol correspondences).
  • Once you have developed phonemic awareness and once you have learned to decode in L1, you don't have to learn it again when you move to another language (you do have to learn how the new language works, but the hard work of understanding the nature and function of print has been done.)

For the most part (and for funding reasons) in our field, native
language literacy classes are taught in parallel with ESL classes
focused on communication skills, though it is rare to find beginning ESL
classes that are solely or even primarily focused on developing English
speaking and listening skills and where the teacher does not rely on
print (e.g., writing on the board; using a textbook or hand-outs with
written text)

More on translation in a bit


Wrigley, Heide


Mon Apr 9 22:34:07 EDT 2007

Although the study did not address issues of having students write in L1
and then translate, here are a couple of thoughts (mine only)

Translation has long been used in other countries to build language
skills. Since the advent of the communicative approach to language
teaching it has become out of favor. Translation workshops where
students take work that they have created or other texts written in L1
and then render them in English can be an excellent way to build
language awareness and put language skills to use. Promising are
approaches that engage students in translating brochures or other texts
for a real audience, such as offering to translate a menu for a
restaurant or a brochure for a local business. "Backward translations"
are a must in these cases.

Workshops focused on translation are most appropriate for intermediate
levels on up where students have the English skills necessary to
translate more complex concepts and sophisticated language.

I'm reluctant to endorse having students write in the native language
and then translate in beginning literacy classes - at that level,
students tend to think that there is a one to one relationship between
L1 words, phrases and structures and their L2 equivalents, and the
translations tend to be both awkward and highly ungrammatical. In
addition, we don't want students to overly rely on translation but move
them toward thinking in the target language.

You do, however, make a very good point in terms of helping students to
organize their ideas and think about what they want to say before asking
them to write in English. This can be done in a number of ways. Here are
some tips for teachers:

1. Introduce writing by using oral language first. Help students to
compose the text orally, whether it is a story, a description, or a
process. Make sure students have the language they need.

2. Connect oral language with writing through models such as the
Language Experience Approach where the connections are obvious since
students talk, read and write together as a group

3. Model what you want students to do in writing by giving an oral
example (if you do it in writing, your students tend to copy what you

4. Dictate a few sentences that model what you want students to
write that way they get practice in putting pen to paper without having
to compose something from scratch (some may still copy but that's also
writing practice and they may not be ready to write on their own)

5. Allow students to think about and talk about their ideas in L1
or L2 before you ask them to write. - that process activates background
knowledge and facilitates the composing process. In the beginning
levels, let students know what they will be writing about over the next
few days - that's not cheating, that's giving your students a fighting

6. Invite students to draw a picture as a starting point, again
giving them a chance to compose a story mentally before engaging in
combat with vocabulary, grammar and spelling. Students can create a
snapshot of a scene, create a strip story a la Chalk Talks, or draw an
item, for example.

It's late - back to the study tomorrow



David J. Rosen


Tue Apr 10 02:40:24 EDT 2007

Hello Heide,

Thanks for your replies to the questions posed so far. I hope we will
have lots more questions from subscribers to this discussion, including
follow-up questions and comments. I have a bunch of questions that
you'll find below, mostly my own, but also some that people have sent me
to post. I have organized the questions by article rather than by topic
area, but please feel free to address them in any order that makes sense
to you and over the course of the week if you like. They are addressed
to both you and Larry.

Here are the questions:

1. From your perspectives, what are the most important and
interesting findings of the study?

2. In the Real World Research article, you write "Indeed, scientific
research combined with professional wisdom is the definition of
"evidence-based research" put forth by the research branch of the
U.S. Department of Education.[1] <#_ftn1> Does the U.S.
Department of Education have a definition of "professional wisdom"
specifically, "professional wisdom in adult literacy education"?
Do you have a definition that _you_ prefer?

3. In the Real World Research article you write "we found that the
teachers in our study we[re] not trained in teaching literacy.
They were mostly using the materials and methods that they would
normally use in regular ESL classes aimed at more literate
students." From your experience is this typical of adult ESL/ESOL
practice in the U.S., and if so, what needs to be done about it?

4. Do you know of ESL/ESOL studies (completed or planned) which
(will) look at how students acquire literacy (or language)
learning from experiences outside of class?

5. In the Real World Research article, you wrote "It is worth noting
that we found only two studies [ of the 17 studies of literacy
interventions] that used adult ESL students ....Thus, the effects
of literacy interventions on literacy and language development
among adult ESL learners lacks a research base ...." Are you aware
of any other efforts that are planned to address this lack of
research on ESL literacy?

6. In the Real World Research article, you wrote "Given that adult
immigrants and refugees come to classes to learn the skills needed
in the community and at work, and given that only a few hours of
classes are offered in a week, an approach that connects classroom
learning with the community and encourages language and literacy
use outside of school shows a great deal of promise." You have
given some examples in the article. Can you review those here and
give additional examples of how ESL/ESOL teachers could connect
classroom learning with the community to use language and literacy
outside of school?

7. In the Real World Research article, you wrote "Video, or
multimedia containing video, shows particular promise for language
instruction, since language and content are presented in a variety
of modalities (visual, auditory, text based) that reinforce each
other. As such, they offer an immediate context for language
learning that is not print dependent and allows for varied inputs
in terms of language variation (regional accents and foreign
dialects), as well as variation in the speed of discourse, thus
allowing for increases in listening comprehension and
understanding of the pronunciation of American English. In
addition, skill and drill software" Could you elaborate? Can you
give us some examples of effective and creative uses of video or
multimedia used for language and literacy learning?

8. In the Real World Research article, you wrote "Since distance
learning is often problematic for non-traditional learners with
low levels of skills and little experience with technology, a
model that integrates multimedia with classroom teaching might
have greater success than distance learning models, at least for
students at the very beginning levels of English proficiency. Such
a model could also include language learning tasks designed to
help students learn on their own from TV, video, and film, thereby
possibly increasing both language skills and language awareness.
We find this an option worth considering." Are you - or is anyone
- aware of work being done to help students learn on their own
from TV, video and film?

9. In the Real World Research article, you wrote "The results of
studies that look at the relationship between strategy-based
teaching and reading comprehension look promising, as do the
studies that have examined the effects of extended reading on
general reading skills and vocabulary acquisition in particular.
This latter approach has been successful with both L1 and L2
readers (Day and Bamford, 1998; Pilgreen and Krashen, 1993).
However, both approaches assume at least an intermediate level of
English proficiency." Can you elaborate on the relationship
between strategy-based teaching and reading comprehension? What is
strategy-based teaching?

10. In the Real World Research article, you wrote "Case studies of
individual programs that use technology creatively and show high
rates of success in terms of student outcomes can help provide
explanations as to why technology might be worth considering in
research and practice. The Socorro Family Literacy Program near El
Paso on the U.S.-Mexico border, for example, has adopted a model
that asks learners to work in teams and create projects with
technologies such as PowerPoint or video.[2] <#_ftn2> Each year
the students are part of a showcase where they present their
finished projects to an English speaking audience consisting of
other students, parents, school administrators and community
members such as social workers and officials from the Workforce
Board. Investigations into the effect of innovative approaches to
technology integration can offer insights into what it takes to
engage learners and help us see the difference in learning that
occurs when adult literacy is used for real world purposes beyond
the classroom. " Can you tell us more about the Socorro Family
Literacy Program model?

11. A key recommendation laid out in the Real World Research article
is this: "A direct literacy teaching intervention we envision
would target skills and strategies found to be effective in the
teaching of reading and writing, such as creating phonemic
awareness, developing fluency or automaticity, modeling
comprehension strategies, increasing vocabulary, and fostering
writing skills.The point of such an intervention would not be to
change teaching to a phonics based approach (and make ESL teachers
"phonicators") but to find ways to integrate the teaching of basic
literacy skills into an ESL curriculum so that non-literate or low
literate students get a chance to develop the skills that they
have not had the chance to attain in their first language. An
intervention study of this sort would then allow us to see whether
an overt focus on underlying skills associated with reading and
writing will facilitate the literacy acquisition process." The
questions is, can this be done now within existing, limited
intensity ESL/ESOL programs, or do you think this requires
expanding the hours of instruction?

12. You have proposed testing this hypothesis: "An instructional
program that combines native language literacy and the teaching of
oral communication skills in English will increase both the
literacy and language skills of adults who are not literate in
their native language. Use of the native language as part of ESL
instruction is likely to aid students in the cognitive processing
of new information and might result in greater gains in literacy
as well." This appears to be bucking the trend of eliminating
bilingual education. Has this been a politically controversial
part of your study?

13. In the Tilberg presentation, you write "Class Variables. The only
class variable related to growth in basic reading skills was the
length of the scheduled hours per week of class meeting time.
Students in classes with longer scheduled hours showed less growth
than students in classes with fewer scheduled hours. Other things
being equal, including students' attendance and persistence, the
longer the class's weekly scheduled meeting hours, the slower the
rate of students' learning in basic reading skills." However,
later you write "The scheduled length of class in hours per week
was also related to positive growth in reading comprehension.
Students in class with more scheduled hours per week had more
growth in reading comprehension". Could you comment on the meaning
of these two findings? What exactly does "longer scheduled hours"
mean, and given that it is positively related to growth in basic
reading skills, but negatively related to reading comprehension,
how should this variable be treated in the design of ESL/ESOL
class schedules?

14. In the Tilberg presentation, you write "We also looked at whether
teacher background and training had an effect on adult ESL
literacy student learning. We found that no teacher variables
were related to any of the student outcome measures used in the
study. However, the 38 teachers in the study were relatively
homogeneous. They were generally new, inexperienced teachers and
although well credentialed, had little training or professional
development in teaching adult ESL or ESL literacy. " Can you
tell us why there was not a more hetereogeneous sample of
teachers, and what differences you think that that might have made
in the study?

[1] Whitehurst, G. (2002). Evidence-Based Education. U.S.
Department of Education.

[2] For a fuller description see Wrigley, H. S.
(forthcoming). Research in Action: Teachers, Projects and High End
Technologies, Texas Center for the Advancement of Adult Literacy and

David J. Rosen

Special Topics Discussion Moderator



Condelli, Larry


Tue Apr 10 12:20:37 EDT 2007


Heide has already responded to some of your more substantive questions
but here's just a quick reply to your question #3 regarding the
pronunciation and writing scores on the BEST that we did not use in the

We used the old BEST (not BEST Plus which was not yet developed) in the
study. On that older test, the scorer can rate students pronunciation
and writing, the latter based on how well the student completed
identifying information (name, etc.) on the test booklet. BEST Plus
does not have such measures. Because pronunciation was not a focus of
the study and it is difficult to train raters to score it reliably, we
simply did not score it. Because we already had a more comprehensive
reading and writing test, we did not score those aspects of the BEST
Plus either.


Elsa Auerbach


Tue Apr 10 08:46:21 EDT 2007

A little anecdotal evidence here: I remember Paulo Freire once telling a
story about his daughter's teaching (I'm not totally sure I'm getting this
right). She found that if students are allowed to write in their first
language first (to develop their ideas, to figure out what they think, to
write their way towards understanding) and THEN write in the second language
(without translating, but having already explored their ideas), their L2
writing was much richer and more developed than texts written Œcold¹ in
their L2. This implies NOT translating, but using L1 almost as a way in to
L2 writing.




Tue Apr 10 11:41:33 EDT 2007

How significant was your final finding--the use of the native language
in the classroom? What can substitute if the class is not homogeneous?

Jean Bodman



Condelli, Larry


Tue Apr 10 12:48:15 EDT 2007


David has posed several intriguing questions and has generously given us
the option of responding to them in the order we wish.

I will take him up on this and answer the last two on the relationship
between scheduled hours (#13) and reading and the effect of teacher
characteristics on student learning (#14).

We used several measures of student persistence and instructional
"intensity" (defined various ways and explained in the complete final
report of the study) in our analysis to examine the effects of these
measures on instruction. Scheduled hours was simply how many hours per
week the class was scheduled to meet, which ranged from 4 to 20 hours
among our classes. For measures of reading basic skills, the longer the
scheduled time the less learning. This is a counter intuitive finding
and difficult to explain because we don't have data to explain it. We
speculate in the report that this may be due to repetitiveness -- the
class going over and over the same basic reading skills. Perhaps the
students in these classes were bored or already new the concepts being
taught so more of the same did not help them. However, this is my
speculation, as we did not have the data to examine this.

The other finding of longer scheduled hours relating to improvements in
reading comprehension is more what we might expect but we again don't
have the data to explain it. My guess is the longer classes may have
had more challenging or a broader range of materials and instruction in
reading comprehension that helped students.

Regarding the impact of teachers on student outcomes, as noted in the
report we could not study this because teachers were too much alike --
there was not enough variation in their training, experience and
background for us to compare them (in addition we didn't really have
enough teachers to do the complex quantitative analysis we used). There
was not a more homogeneous sample because we selected the class to be in
the study, not the teacher. We simply don't know if teachers with the
characteristics we found are typical of ESL literacy teachers in general
or if this was an anomaly of our classes. We might have found (and what
we were hoping to find) is whether training in literacy and/or
experience teaching adult ESL literacy students would have a positive
effect on student acquisition of literacy and language.


Wrigley, Heide


Tue Apr 10 19:50:29 EDT 2007

Hi, Elsa

That makes total sense to me - to explore different ways of telling the
story (orally, in L1, through pictures) before committing oneself to
writing. I think, as a rule, we give way too little time to preparation
when we ask students to write. Most of us tend to write much richer
pieces when we have been given a chance to think things through, talk
with others about it, and have a good idea of what a final product might
look like.

As ESL teachers we often see writing preparation and sharing models as
stifling students' creativity, but it is really difficult to be creative
in a language you don't yet understand. If we don't show students what
we mean by vivid language and voice and, how will they develop the kind
of writing that engages a reader? We cannot wait, I think, until we get
to a GED class to talk about the power of writing and how to create
powerful writing. Why not start early on with simple poetry, rather
than with those deadly little formulaic paragraphs we often see.

One time I saw a very short piece written by a student that used the
basic structure of "my name is... I am from..." but at the end of her
paragraph, she wrote "that's all!" and that little phrase allowed her
to come through as a person who could have fun with writing.

More on grammar and study findings in the morning. Keep your questions
and comments coming



Pedro Contreras


Tue Apr 10 22:25:49 EDT 2007


We at American Hispanic School, deliver the ADULT HIGH
SCHOOL COMPLETION, a non-public, instructional,
bilingual program.

70% of our students understand only Spanish: SO, we
print all the curriculum with 1 paragraph in Spanish
and next paragraph in English.
They are free to read at classroom in their preferred

The Independent study assignment must be handwritten
in both languages.

They enjoy the mistakes, make fun correcting each

We apply EFF standards:

1. Read with understanding: highlight the subjects, and
the verbs. Mainly, must explain, what the subject said
or did.

2. Practice the lecture in public, with the respect
from their peers, but don't fear to mistake: they fix

3. They also learn to use math. permanently.
Calculators are permitted.

At the end, they have not learned the second language
at all: but understand and have an academic

Finally: teacher mission is not to teach: is to help
them to understand, learn in any language ( spanglish
probably- . Teacher kindly correct them and allow them
to make as many new assignments as necessary.

We love so much, to be "professors".

Best regards

Professor Contreras



From: Ellen Berg <iceberg900@hotmail.com>

Date: Wed, 11 Apr 2007 09:58:34 -0400

Subject: [SpecialTopics 276] Re: giving students a chance to think
about writing and play with language

Heidi - I'm a volunteer that teaches GED in a correctional setting - I get
the students starting to write from the very start (right at the intake). I
am not a trained professional in this field but seem to have success with
getting the students to write. I get ones who "hate it" or "I can't do it"
from the onset but enjoy it, and succeed at writing a somewhat interesting
paragraph, at the end. I mostly emplore them to write about themselves
using a particular issue. I spend a lot of time talking with them,
provoking thought about different issues, how the issue might apply to them
or their family or their friends. Once I get them comfortable in the
talking stage, I then have them start to put the words to paper and show
them simple things to do to improve on what it is they are trying to say. I
could go on and on but I think you catch the drift. With a student from
Africa who did not understand American culture, and especially black
American culture, we had to spend a lot of time explaining idioms,
euphemisms & colloquialisms.

I guess my main point is, it seems that I have to do a lot of work on the
verbal end before they master the writing part. Once they start putting
their thoughts on paper then we slowly start to work on structure (I even
have to work on pennmanship for what is the point of writing if no one can
read it). The important thing for me is to keep feeding back what it is
that they have written and seeing if I am interpreting according to what
they meant to say and keeping working forward from this point. In my
experience, teaching them structure from the onset does not seem to work.
It seems to be a relationship thing but mostly verbalizing everything seems
key to their engagement and participation.

By the way - I usually participate in your forums from a distance (reading
only to pick up thoughts, ideas and tips). I actually don't feel qualified
to participate at the level that all of you participate. I hope my thoughts
have made a difference.

Ellen Berg

Customized Business Services, LLC

POB 214

Washington VA 22747-0214

540-827-4498 (INet Phone)


Hartel, Joanne


Wed Apr 11 14:48:40 EDT 2007

I work at a a community-based adult education program. We run two levels of ESL literacy classes, one for beginning speakers who may not be literate in their native languages or in English (although some in this level can read and write in a non-Roman alphabet.) The other literacy class is for students who know the alphabet and can read very simple text. Both classes work with written material that is controlled for useful, every day vocabulary, length of sentences, and grammar. In both levels, it is typical for students to be better at reading than at writing. We use a combination of a structured approach, including phonics, and more traditional ESL approaches that include listening and speaking activities. The students come from many different countries, including Haiti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nepal, and some Central American countries. I have two questions:

1. I don't know of any standardized reading assessments for low level ESOL students. I think the Woodcock-Johnson Basic Reading Skills Tests were developed for native speakers of English. Was the comprehension subtest controlled for vocabulary that would be unfamiliar to someone who is a beginning speaker? In my experience teaching ESL literacy, ESOL students do not do well with nonsense words because they can't relate or get any meaning from them. Also it is difficult for the test administrator to judge correct pronunciation of words and separate out issues due to second language interference.

2. I've always had difficulty using authentic materials with beginning literacy students. Can you suggest ways to use them without simplifying them so much that they don't resemble the real thing?

Thanks for all of your work. I think this will be very useful to the field.


Condelli, Larry


Wed Apr 11 15:11:34 EDT 2007

Hi Joanne,

I can answer #1, I'll leave it to Heide to answer #2.

Yes, it is true that the Woodcock was designed for native speakers. As
you know, there really are very few reading tests for low-literate ESOL
students and we picked Woodcock after a comprehensive review and pilot
test of several reading assessments. It's advantage was that it goes to
quite a low level and assesses the reading sub-skills that are important
to assess at the literacy level. In the end, it worked better than we
expected. The problem students had was with the synonym-antonym
subtest (they had no idea what we were asking them to do). Most
actually did fairly well on the nonsense words, especially Spanish
speakers from Mexico who had a couple of years of schooling -- and we
did find differential effects on this subtest.


Janet Isserlis


Wed Apr 11 18:00:16 EDT 2007

hi, Ellen

Thanks for this -I think everyone has pieces to contribute here. I work
with a young woman in prison as well – and we do a lot of writing around
topics that she chooses.

I know that Heide has a number of great ideas about writing prompts. A
slightly different set of work around teaching in prisons can also be found
in an online issue of Focus on Basics, if you've not already seen it

thanks, too, to Heide and Larry and all for the discussion so far.

Janet Isserlis


Wrigley, Heide


Wed Apr 11 20:13:46 EDT 2007

Hi, Ellen - thanks so much for jumping in and offering your insights and
experience with your students. It's a great contribution to the
discussion and really highlights the relationship between thinking about
ideas, writing, and culture. It is always amazing to me how much
cultural knowledge is required to understand basic communication, read
simple texts or comprehend what is going in the news (the Imus story
being a case in point).

I've been using the following sentence as an example of embedded
cultural knowledge "She decided she would rather stay home alone than
participate in her family's Thanksgiving" My guess is that someone who
grew up in the United States has a much more nuanced interpretation of
that sentence (in terms of the backstory) than someone who is new to
the U.S. I talked with a young woman from Moldova yesterday with a PhD
from Princeton who was trying to sort out the phrase "I'm not just
whistling Dixie" (she knew the Dixie chicks but that didn't help much).

Culture (ours, "theirs") really is integral part of language learning
and literacy development. It also shapes our social identities, and we
get thrown off balance as we cross cultural borders and need to navigate
between systems. It is surprising how little attention we pay to
culture in professional development (beyond activities around holidays
and multi-cultural potlucks). Unpacking the euphemisms and
colloquialism that students encounter, while at the same time touching
on issues of racism and stereotyping is really quite a challenge.

In terms of the study, we actually saw very few instances of teachers
dealing with cultural issues in the classes we observed. Most likely,
because these were beginning level ESL students and it's difficult to
"discuss" cultural issues when you don't yet have much English.

I wonder how some of the other practitioners out there are making
cultural concepts accessible to students or teach toward cross-cultural
competence, particularly at the lower levels.

By the way, one reason I like the special topics is that it is a
"sheltered discussion" where participants don't have to worry about
being attacked or having their views dismissed (at least I hope that's
right). So I'd like to invite others who may be a bit reluctant to
share their experiences as well.

Oh, and very interesting point, Ellen, about introducing structure after
students have started to write, rather than before

Soon more



Wrigley, Heide


Wed Apr 11 23:41:16 EDT 2007

Hi, Cheryl

I'm sorry it took me awhile to get to the grammar question. I just got
back from D.C. and am off to Austin in the morning, but here it goes.

First of all, it is indeed very difficult to help students write with
expression and help them develop their language skills so that they are
able to write sentences that are grammatical. It is quite a challenge,
especially once students are able to communicate quite well orally and
aren't particularly keen on working on their grammar skills.

Complicating the enterprise is the fact that at this level the
difficulties that students have may differ from learner to learner so
anything you teach to the entire class will probably bore some students
(since it's not their problem) and frustrate others (cause they are not
ready - given where they are in their language development - to absorb
whatever rules you are presenting). So any time there is a presentation
to the entire class on grammar at this level you may only have a few
students who are with you. (Cheryl, correct me if I'm wrong in your
case, since I am speaking in general terms and obviously don't know your

One thing that doesn't work very well, is to have students write their
paragraphs on the board and have everyone else point out the grammar
mistakes. Students generally are not particularly engaged in what other
students have written, particularly if asked to focus on form. And
again, some students may be able to detect errors and correct them (and
what are they learning?) while others are nowhere near ready and the
explanations make no sense to them - again, if some of you have had
great success with this strategy, let us know.

Ok, here then are some strategies that you might try:

1. There is a hypothesis in second language acquisition that
emphasize the notion of "noticing" and holds that students won't be able
to acquire accurate linguistic forms and structures, unless they first
notice them, that is unless they pay attention to their own language and
the language of others and say to themselves "oh, that's how it's said
(or not said); this is how you write it; this is what people do" And
once student pay attention to these forms, it becomes easier for them to
use correct forms or edit their own writing. So one suggestion I would
make to build in your students a curiosity about language, an eagerness
(well, may-be not eagerness, but an interest) in seeing how language
works. This notion is also known as "language awareness" and it goes a
long way in helping students pay attention to how the language they use
in expressing their ideas is similar or different from the way other
people say or write things.
a. One way to help students build language awareness and
look at their own language output is to ask students to circle the kinds
of phrases or words that appear in their writing that they are not sure
about. Sometimes students a way to self-correct, but you can also work
with them to find better ways of expressing their ideas (sometimes that
means fixing up the grammar and other times that means rephrasing a
sentence and using a different structure altogether, one that the
student is more familiar and comfortable with). After you help students
use fix-up strategies, you can then ask them to pay attention in their
reading to see if they can identify the structure in question in other
people's writing.

b. Another way is to have students read their writings into
a tape recorder and then listen to it again to see if it sounds right.
I first saw this technique used when I was up in Vancouver at the
Invergarry Learning Centre where Janet Isserlis taught for awhile. It
was amazing to see how students would read their essays and then
self-correct as they noticed that the language they used was awkward or
ungrammatical. The tape recorder acted as a tool for editing and
revision that was fun for students to use (many students I've known just
hate rewriting - in their mind it was hard enough to put pen to paper
and get their thoughts in writing, they don't want to prolong the
agony). So the tape recorder adds a new dimension (students can just
take turns using the machine as they finish their writings).

Of course, building language awareness and helping students self-monitor
their writing is only one strategy to help students gain greater
accuracy in their writing. And self-monitoring is not a great deal of
help if students don't have much experience with the standard ways of
writing. So you may want to see if there are some common areas of
difficulties that your students share (subject-verb agreement; passive
constructions; irregular past verbs) and then teach mini-lessons that
zero in on those areas. While some students respond well to rules
because they are good at deductive thinking, others do much better when
you present patterns of language and then draw their attention to the
commonalities within these patterns - so that you help your students
abstract the grammar rules from the sentences they see - helping them to
get to the aha! moment. This approach is also known as "discovery

If particular grammar forms are new to students and they need to know
them because there are no simpler work-arounds, they will need some
guided practice in using these forms in different ways so that they
become internalized. I would then include these structures in a grammar
editing check-list that students can use when they look over their own
writing - once again, building language awareness in the process.

Another insight that might help you: Just correcting students each time
you see a mistake in their writing and giving them a quick explanation
generally doesn't work unless the student made a careless mistake. This
sort of "drive-by" grammar lesson usually doesn't stick. It is much
better, generally, to set some time aside, either with an individual
student or with the group and ask the student(s) to focus on a
linguistic form when they are not in the middle of writing or reading
their writing to others.

Finally - and you will notice a theme here - a lesson that I learned as
an adult second language learner: Quite a few of the mistakes that I
made in writing English disappeared when I spent more time thinking
about and discussing what it is I wanted to say and write.

Quite often, at the intermediate levels, the language that learners use
is muddled and the sentences awkward or ungrammatical, because the
thinking is still fuzzy. Once a writer is clear on what it is exactly
(s)he wants to say, it is easier to construct sentences that are clear
and concise.

I used this model of talking things through to discover what it is you
want to write with my students when I taught Developmental Writing and
for many students it did make a quite a difference.

Others did need some structured lessons on the grammar they had missed
along the way.

So no silver bullet here (ha! another cultural reference to mess with
the uninitiated).

Good night all!



Lynne Weintraub


Thu Apr 12 07:36:35 EDT 2007

Heide--the GED grammar question reminds me of a related question I've had on
my mind for a long time. Over the years, I have run into a number of
students who seem to be "fossilized" in their language development. They get
to a certain point, and then they just don't seem to make any progress
anymore in terms of pronunciation, structure, or even expanding their
vocabulary. Has any research been done on this problem? Do you have any
ideas on how to break through? I'd like to offer some hope (and strategies)
to their tutors, but so far I haven't found any that are genuinely

Lynne Weintraub


Nicole Graves


Thu Apr 12 16:05:05 EDT 2007


Language awareness works for fossilization too. If you stop the student and
focus on one point and explain the differences or similarities, on the spot,
chances are the problem will go away. When the student is ready to become
aware and you make the student aware, it always works. One at a time.

Nicole B. Graves


Wrigley, Heide


Thu Apr 12 19:26:31 EDT 2007

Hi, Joanne and others

As many of you know by now, one of the major findings of the What Works
Study was that a set of instructional strategies we clustered under the
heading of "Bringing in the Outside" made a significant difference in
learner outcomes.

This finding is consistent with other research (Sticht, Purcell-Gates)
that points to the importance of keeping adult language and literacy
connected to the language and literacy tasks that students encounter in
their daily lives (in the community; at work; in training).

It is indeed difficult to find authentic materials that are accessible
to first level learners, especially if you are looking for "connected
text" (written pieces that use paragraphs as part of prose literacy).
Examples of document literacy, particularly environmental print, are
much easier to find and they provide a great many opportunities to
develop sight words, read for meaning, skim and scan for specific
information, compare and contrast various texts and develop critical
literacy (do we really think that this medicine will flush out fat and
make us slim and thin?)-

Here is a listing that provides a great starting point (more on
connected text later)

1. Authentic real life products that students can identify and talk
about (what is it? Where do you find it? What is it for? Do you like
it?) - these can include cans of food from the store, soft drink cans,
fast food bags or wrappers; toothpaste tubes, aspirin bottles. Students
can work in groups to discuss and categories or fill in charts - it's a
great starting point for low level learners. If you want to see how
these materials can be used as part of an assessment, go to
www.clese.org <http://www.clese.org/> and click on "Reading
Demonstration" and you'll see me work with Bessima, a woman from Bosnia
who is a refugee who had never had the opportunity to go to school.

If you work with learners who don't have much experience with reading
and writing in their own language, real materials (products, not just
pictures) make a lot of sense as a starting point.

You then can move on to using print that students often see and are
probably interested in and that contains lots of picture support.

2. Grocery flyers, Sunday paper inserts, Home Depot ads and catalogues
(tools, gear; department store)

3. Then you may want to move to environmental print that has some
pictures (just because it's not as intimidating as print alone)
Ads are great (you can have students design their own); TV schedules;
magazine articles ("How to" are sometimes accessible but you may want to
just start with the headings and pictures); brochures

4. Next comes environmental print that does not have visual support but
still reflects every day tasks. These might include:
Lottery tickets; Penny Saver type ads; simple medicine labels, simple
maps; utility bills; yard sale announcements; street signs; signs in and
around the airport, etc;

Basic reading development tends to move through the following stages

  • from recognition of common products and labels as a whole (how

else would anyone manage to shop)

  • to being able to recognize a word when the product name appears

clearly in a photograph with the logo prominent

  • to being able to read the word in question on a piece of paper

when visual support is not there (e.g., if Coca Cola or Crest is
written on a drawing of a can and toothpaste

  • to being able to manipulate words (which word says "coca" which

word says "cola"),

  • to being able to manipulate the string of letters the word

represents (if we take out the "c" in cola - what word is left?)

  • to being able to decode simple words (Cola and Lola; Mac and


You can then, of course, use the products you've worked with, and
categorize them into sound patterns so that you don't have to do
decontextualized phonics work, but can keep going back to real words
that students recognize as you introduce new words that follow the same
pattern. The beauty here is that you can use real products that the
students know about and use at home (they can copy the labels at home
and bring them in and do various forms of Word Sorts). We don't see
these types of activities in textbooks, since publishers, for good
reason, don't use real products.

By the way, even when doing phonics and decoding work with low level
learners, I would still continue with recognitions and comprehension
work around real things (including newspaper headlines or magazine
articles on common topics), since comprehension is where the rubber hits
the road in reading.

More on connected text later - and I apologize Joanne if your learners
are at much higher levels of proficiency than what is indicated here

All the best

Soon more



Fri Apr 13 10:22:43 EDT 2007

Hi all -

I've been reading all week, and now how some time to respond. I hope the
following is useful.

First of all, I totally agree awareness is a critical element for working
on fossilization issues.

And then, just to put another work into the mix, I was just reading a
chapter (Chapter 9) in Ilona Leki's book "Understanding ESL Writers." She
writes about an interlanguage (an unstable language developed during the
language learning process). The student is on his/her way to developing
the correct L2 form by receiving input, but this student stresses and
ignores rules based on input. For example, s/he may have learned about 3
person "S" and then overgeneralize the rule to modal forms (She cans...)
Eventually, s/he will stop as s/he practices more.

I'm simplifying, but what Leki says at the end of all this is: "Normally,
as language learners continue recieving input from the target language,
their interlanguage reshapes itself in increasing conformity to the L2.
For reasons not completly understoond, however, certain interlanguage
forms become fixed, or folssilized, and no amount of input seems to be
able to induce a re-analysis of the fossilized form to put it more in line
with the L2...Fossilized interlanguage forms are particularly difficult to
alter, possibly because the learner is for whaterver reason unmotivated to
identify completely with the target discours community."

She has more to say about what to do (this particular chapter is about
correcting sentence level errors - what, how, why). Worth a read I think.

Moira Taylor

Moira Taylor

CUNY Adult Literacy Program

101 West 31st St., Room 704

New York, NY 10001

Tel: 212 652 2883

Fax: 646 344 7329



Julie McKinney


Fri Apr 13 10:51:41 EDT 2007

Lynne and others,

I want to suggest an excellent article about ESOL learners who seem "fossilized" in their learning development. It is from an issue of Focus on Basics dedicated to ESOL research.

"Taking a Closer Look at Struggling ESOL Learners" by Robin Lovien Schwarz
is about ESOL learners who seem "stuck", and how we can find the real reasons for their struggles and find ways to get them back on track.

You can find this article at


Last year we had a discussion about this on the Focus on Basics list with Robin, and it is definitely worth looking at if you are exploring this issue. You can find it on the FOB Discussion list archives at the following link:


Scroll down and find the discussion from February 15-22.

You can find all other Focus on basics articles at

All the best,


Julie McKinney

Discussion List Moderator

World Education/NCSALL



Elsa Auerbach


Fri Apr 13 19:24:03 EDT 2007

A word of caution: when using authentic materials, it's important to be sure
they're authentic for the learners, not just for the teachers. So, for
example, if students shop at local Chinese grocers, a flyer from a food
chain may not be authentic. If you like, McDonald's, your students might
not. It's also important to consider the message you send as a teacher: are
you using mainly consumer products to teach literacy? Does that send a
message of preparing students to become good consumers. An alternative is
to ask students themselves to bring in materials that they would like to
understand. Alternatively, they can take pictures of signs (with throw away
cameras) of signs or symbols that are confusing to them. They can bring in
mail that they get that's difficult to understand and teachers can teach
genre conventions (where do you find the amount you have to pay on a bill?
Where do you find the due date?).



A Tom


Sat Apr 14 08:42:44 EDT 2007

I have two thoughts about authentic text:
One is using them authentically, unlike one instructor who suggested
using a pizza box as authentic text and then having the students find
all the words with the letter P in them. So, for example, a
supermarket flier can be used to work with quantities (69 cents a pound
vs 69 cents each) and for price comparison in a unit on food.
The other is that I don't have a problem modifying an original text for
lower level students. For example, I've made a lease and a doctor's
office form for high beginners which are similar to but not as long or
as complex as the ones I used as models. By modifying it I can be
sure that I include the most important information without leaving my
students totally baffled. Abbie Tom


Abbie Tom

Chapel Hill, NC


Kathleen Reynolds


Sat Apr 14 22:53:54 EDT 2007

Hi all

I'm new to this list--I teach Level 1 ESL at a community center in
Chicago--classes include many students with low levels of literacy/little
education in native countries. I wanted to share a few thoughts on using
authentic materials in the low level ESL class:

  • I often find it useful to modify the task rather than modifying an authentic text.... so, for example, if we are looking at an apartment lease, instead of re-writing the lease myself, I would have them read (scan?) for specific information, not read line-by-line. I find that when I modify things, I tend to oversimplify them..... which is not to say that I never do it, of course!
  • Elsa's comments on what is authentic to me (teacher) vs. what is authentic to my students definitely rings true for me. I always ask students to bring in examples of things they need to read in English, but finally (with some clearer explanations, a lucky good lesson, and good old bribery(candy)) I am managing to get more things. Lots of children's homework (that was the example lesson) and also lots of "junk" mail... which has turned out to be quite important to students.
  • Having sudents bring things in is necessary and vital, especially for the "bringing the outside in" element of "what works." But I am realizing that they are not sufficient to create the "rich" "exploration of a variety of texts" that Drs. Wrigley and Condelli talk about. For things like... poems, short news articles, personal stories.... I need to find them. When I as a teacher am struggling to do a good job of teaching life skills in an authentic and student-centered way, to go beyond that, to enrich that, to teach a very full range of metacognitive and other reading skills (especially things like phonics that I don't know that much about) sounds like a huge challenge (but definitely an exciting one!)

Really enjoying this discussion.




David J. Rosen


Sat Apr 14 23:21:28 EDT 2007

Special Topics Discussion Colleagues,

This has been an enjoyable discussion, and I want to thank our
guests, Heide Spruck Wrigley and Larry Condelli, for joining us this
week and helping us to better understand the What Works for Adult ESL
Students study. I will leave the discussion open for a few more days
in case others want to add comments, but Heide and Larry may not be
able to continue to join in, or answer every reply. Our agreement was
that their participation would only continue through today. Of
course, they are welcome to continue if they wish.

I have a comment on the study and the discussion. The study has
impressed me with what we know as a result of this research but, like
a good appetizer, it has whetted my appetite for more adult ESL/ESOL
research. There are so many questions that yet need to be answered.

David J. Rosen

Special Topics Discussion List Moderator



Wrigley, Heide


Sun Apr 15 10:05:48 EDT 2007

Hello, all

I still have a number of answers and comments that I would to post. What
had looked like a more or less "open time" when we first agreed to this
discussion turned into a week chock full of commitment and travel. I'll
now be a few days in the office and can field additional answers plus
pick up those we haven't responded to. I'm wrapping up my time in Austin
and flying back to NM this afternoon. More from there

So stick with us for a few days if you have the time and are interested.

Be well, all thanks for putting you questions out there so far (and
thanks also to all the wonderful lurkers out there who are reading the
list and have commented privately



Isserlis, Janet


Sun Apr 15 10:45:16 EDT 2007

Kathleen's observation:

- Having sudents bring things in is necessary and vital, especially for the "bringing the outside in" element of "what works." But I am realizing that they are not sufficient to create the "rich" "exploration of a variety of texts" that Drs. Wrigley and Condelli talk about. For things like... poems, short news articles, personal stories.... I need to find them. When I as a teacher am struggling to do a good job of teaching life skills in an authentic and student-centered way, to go beyond that, to enrich that, to teach a very full range of metacognitive and other reading skills (especially things like phonics that I don't know that much about) sounds like a huge challenge (but definitely an exciting one!)

makes me think, too, of the work many of us do with Language Experience writing - where we/learners encode their spoken words into written form, as part of a process of helping new readers 'see' their words, and as part of a process of generating and using meaningful texts. The next step[s] have to do with building bridges from those texts to other materials, relevant to learners but also generated from beyond the classroom, in order to help readers broaden their abilities to take on all kinds of texts.

Heide's hands-on work, particularly, has been helpful to many practitioners in broadening our practice and the kinds of texts and other materials we use with learners.

Janet Isserlis


Wrigley, Heide


Sun Apr 15 14:36:40 EDT 2007

Thanks for all the contributions around "authentic materials" -

Thanks, Elsa Auerbach also for participating in this discussion and
challenging some of the ideas put forward. It makes this a more exciting
and worthwhile discussion as we grapple with what to teach to whom and
how and what difference it might make. I am hoping that the rest of you
will feel free to disagree or pose alternative views - and, as you have
done, offer your own ideas.

Here are my two cents Coca Cola, doing literacy work around the print
materials that students bring to class, and the value of strategy-based

I take Elsa's point about making sure that the materials we use as a
start are both known to the students and meaningful to them - and I had
a sinking feeling that the minute I mention Coca Cola and McDonald's,
the issue of teaching toward consumerism might come up. It is indeed an
issue to consider. A couple of thoughts on that one, before we move on
to connected text:

1. One reason we chose Coke and Micky D. in our assessment materials because they are ubiquitous - if a student does NOT recognize the logos, it does tell us something about their level of print awareness. In our study, there was only one group, a group of elderly Hmong refugees who did not recognize the Coca Cola can (whether by color, logo or script and good for them). The knowledge that highly popular consumer items are unfamiliar to our students indeed tells us that we need to start at a different point.

2. Yep, if you use authentic materials to find out if students can read and negotiate familiar print, you indeed have to find out what print is familiar to them and asking students to bring in examples is, of course, a great idea.

  • Much is to be learned from what students read or want to read in L1 as well as in English and what kind of print materials baffle them. Print in other language also offers opportunities for authentic communication as students explain to the non-bilingual teacher or to students who don't share the same language: What is it? What does it do (what's it's function)? And what do some of the key words mean. Having students teach other students and a the teacher a few words is a good way to connect groups to each other and build community.
  • I know several teachers who model vocabulary learning, by having the students teach them a few high frequency words a day from their language. They write down the words on big flashcards, and in the back, draw a picture or paste a photo of the word and write the English equivalent underneath. They then show the students how they study the words (look at the back, study the clue, predict the word and then turn it over). A word you know goes into one pile - the ones who still have trouble with goes in another. They then encourage the students to do the same, with a few select words that are key to what's being studied or that students really want to know and remember. And together they set a few minutes aside to study the words. The students then work in pairs to check each other, using the flash cards as tools - they count the words they know and put them on a chart and keep working with the ones they don't know and keep adding to them (it's ok to just give up on some words because they are not all that important to you anymore and you figure you'll never learn them and that has to be ok). The class then checks the teacher on her new vocabulary. The trick is for the teacher to take on enough of a challenge so the task is genuinely difficult .. The class then continues with a number of other vocabulary learning strategies - and each gets modeled and practiced - again, a lot of the words come from words that students are curious about but there should also be words that the teacher selects because they have high value in terms of facilitating reading comprehension for the topics they class has selected -
  • if you are working with speakers of Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole), there is a high value in making students aware of cognates as a strategy for building skills in "word study"- but that's a topic for another day

3. As for the concern that we may be emphasizing consumerism by focusing on brand news, flyers, catalogues, and ads, here are my thoughts:

  • We are bombarded with consumer messages all day long and so are most of our students. Why not take advantage of what's out there and use it as an apportunity not just for reading, but for discussion. There is great value in "problematizing" consumer messages - in taking that Coke can and saying, what is it? What does it do? Who drinks it in your family (a lot of the grandkids). Why is this the one product we know? Where do you see it? Is it good for you? Why or why not? What else do people here drink? What do you drink? When you were little - what did you drink? You can move the direction into a critical analysis of marketing (who benefits?), of health and nutrition, and of alternative ways of eating. It can also lead to parenting issues (how do you say "no" to your children)

4. A quick thought on having students bring in materials and discussing them in class. Many times, I see teachers just do a quick explanation and rephrasing of what those print artifacts are and what they mean, and quite a few opportunities for language learning gets lost because the discussions tend to be hit and miss and students tend to be interested in their own piece but not necessarily in what others bring in.

  • I like what some of you have suggested, asking students to bring in example of print that they find interesting and that baffles them and then collecting these pieces (copy, and, if necessary, black out names, and number each piece). After students to their sorting, it may be worthwhile to take one type of text with several examples and study it further.
  • I think it is worthwhile to introduce reading strategies specific to different kinds of print (labels, announcements, bills, ads), so that students can see how to approach, navigate and make sense of the different genres.
  • If you have enough examples for small groups, you can ask the group to sort and categorize, filling out a chart (a literacy activity in itself) that has them seek and record evidence such as what is it? What is it's function, who sent it and why? who is it for? And, is it current (date)? Is it urgent? Should I do something (is action required?). Is there small print? Why?
  • Most importantly, perhaps are the questions: What is the central message here? And What happens if I ignore it (USCIS letters; IRS letters etc; letters from a court)

Through activities of this sort, we can teach students that different kinds of environmental print are laid out differently and that there are often indicators that give us a worthwhile clue although we may not yet have the English skills to understand all the language in the text. Just having the confidence and the competence necessary to approach a new text can move students down the road to what is called "strategic competence" (knowing what to do when your English is still not good enough to understand it all or explain what you mean).

Here's hoping you are all having a terrific weekend



Condelli, Larry


Sun Apr 15 14:48:00 EDT 2007

Hi David,

Thank you the the opportunity to discuss the study. I (and if I may speak for her) and Heide will be happy to answer additional questions, either posted here or emailed directly to us.

Regarding your comment on more research, I with colleagues from AIR and Dr. John Strucker, are just now beginning a new study of reading in instruction for adult ESL literacy students. Perhaps someday (a few years from now) we will be discussing that! But there really is a need for more research of all types in adult ESL in general.

All the best,

Larry Condelli


Nicole Graves


Sun Apr 15 15:11:32 EDT 2007

Hi all,

Recently, once again, two examples of interlanguage development and fossilization jumped at me.

The first one from a high level student who has been here 15 years: the person consistently used "privaty" for privacy. You can see that having seen the word private on doors at work, at the gym, at school, etc. she made up the new word "privaty" applying whatever assumptions she was working with at the time. I might have corrected her by repeating the correct form many times but I understood what she wanted to communicate. My way of correcting her did not work. It was not enough. Because there was no breakdown in communication, there was no need to alter the utterance. This week, I stopped and pointed out the mistake directly. I also mentioned that other people might be confused and possibly would not understand. We talked about the two words. It was a five minutes direct instruction language awareness lesson. She self-corrected after that for a short time. She no longer uses the wrong word.

The second one is from a man who has been here more than 6 years but just entered a high intermediate class. He had a smattering of English when he first arrived and got a job immediately. He continued to develop his oral English skills over the years but had no time to attend classes until now. When I interviewed him, he said he worked in a factory that had 3 shifts [shiftes]. In two months [monses], he would change his shift [shifte]. That would allow him to come to class. I asked him how he would write shift and month. He replied: shifte and monte. You can see how he had applied a plural rule he got somewhere to use these words in the plural. Another quick mini-lesson: no final "e" in either of these words. After a final voiceless consonant sound, the plural marker "s" is also voiceless. He also learned to self-correct with prompting from the teacher at first and no longer makes the mistake. I do not think that he has internalized the rule but he has corrected 2 words that appeared "fossilized".

Nicole B. Graves


David J. Rosen


Sun Apr 15 20:22:48 EDT 2007


Heide and Larry have graciously agreed to continue the discussion for a
few days, so if you have questions or comments you have not yet posted,
please post them now. I'll extend the discussion through this week.


David J. Rosen

Special Topics Discussion Moderator



Mon Apr 16 11:13:06 EDT 2007

Hi all -- I am starting through unread messages from a while ago, so
maybe this has already been discussed, but the use of first language
for creative writing is seen as a perfectly viable method in TESOL-- I
believe TESOL Matters, a quarterly publication from TESOL had a
wonderful article a couple of years ago about having students write
something in first language and then having them work on getting that
into English.The instructor writing the article noted what a big change
in attitude and connection occurred as students were finally able to
express themselves.

In addition, Evangeline Stefanakis, who used to be at Harvard and is
now, I think, at City College of NY, has done extensive work with
portfolios with ESL learners suspected of having learning difficulties.
She has shown repeatedly that it is the lack of language skill
((vocabulary) and writing skill in English that impedes writing, and
often comprehension of course. As part of the portfolios, Stefanakis
has students write if possible in their first language to demonstrate
that it is not a learning difficulty blocking writing. She also then
has students work on getting their writing into English by learning
what they need to do that. Her workshops on this topic are very
moving as she demonstrates that ESOL learners have so much to say but
cannot yet say it in English. She has a book about this approach, but I
cannot lay hands on it to give the exact title--sorry.

Robin Lovrien Schwarz



Mon Apr 16 11:22:48 EDT 2007

What Ellen is doing here is developing the CALPS I talk about all the
time. I noted that CALPS require many years to become strong enough for
learners to do work as native speakers do, which is what writing pretty
much requires. And I would like to point out again that cultural
differences in the way text is organized and accessed are quite
significant. WE should never assume that readers and writers from
other cultures understand our way of doing things automatically--nor
accept that it is the right way to write. I think I referred to a
book called "Listening to the World," Cultural Issues in Academic
Writing (Helen Fox), in which the author explored the phenomenon of
college foreign students who cdo assignments the way they think they
should be done and pay no attention to their American college
professors' assignment formats etc. Culture is a pretty powerful

(This book was written over a decade ago but reviewed in the Spring
2006 issue of Progress, the newsletter from the Virginia Adult Learning
Resource Center www.valrc.org)

Robin Lovrien Schwarz


Barbara Tondre


Mon Apr 16 11:33:11 EDT 2007

Hello from Texas! I have been following the discussion. It's always good
to hear from Heide and Larry as well as fellow practitioners from beyond...

Janet touched upon something that is so fundamental to this discussion, and
that is the basic preparation of ESL instructors. Here in Texas, we have
been fortunate to have Heide work closely with us for a number of years in
an effort to build a foundation of knowledge among our very part time AE

Unfortunately, because of the overwhelming demand, AE often finds it
necessary to make ESL instruction assignments to those who are still
struggling to get a firm grasp on adult learning theory and the principles
of second language learning. In my work with Texas LEARNS and its response
to a legislative mandate that AE provide work-related ESL instruction, I am
constantly reminded that our efforts rest on a rather shaky foundation.

Preparing program administrators and instructional staff to respond to the
work-related needs of adult English language learners - and to maintain a
balance between language learning and workforce skills development - is
quite a challenge. So I have to ask: are there efforts out there that
require (or strongly encourage) administrators to guide their instructors
through a series of PD activities that help them incrementally develop
expertise vs. merely fulfill the annual PD requirement? The Texas Teacher
Credential project is a model for this kind of professional development, but
it seems we need a multi-faceted tactical approach to move forward.

Just wondering out loud...

Barbara Tondre-El Zorkani




Mon Apr 16 12:22:24 EDT 2007

Heide and I are so often on the very same page on these issues! I
too, see very little attention paid to cultural issues in ESOL
classrooms and I would like to say that while yes, it is hard to
DISCUSS cultural issues with beginning learners, it behooves the
teachers to be enough aware of cultural issues related their
particular population of learners not to make some gross assumptions
about them and their behaviors.

My favorite examples of teachers being unaware of cultural issues,
which I have no doubt talked about before here or on the English
Language Learners' list, are two comments: one from a teacher who said
in annoyance " I don't know why it is so hard for [the students] to
adjust to the US. WE don't HAVE a culture." and the other two from a
tutor and a teacher who said similar things about students and
homework: "These students just don't seem to care about learning.
They do not engage in learning behaviors." and the other who said, "
These students do not do homework. They are just not independent

These remarks tell me how unaware adult ESOL teachers are of cultural
differences-- OURS and theirs. The students who are seen as "not
independent learners" or not engaging in student behaviors are usually
those who come from educational traditions where memorizing is the
norm--the teacher tells them what to memorize and they do. If their
teacher here does not give them something to memorize, they do not
consider that they have any homework as they understand it. And if you
asked them they would say they do not think their teacher is very good
either, as a another quote from a 20 year old GED student from Africa
sort of sums that up: " You GED teachers are so stupid! You do not
even know what you want us to learn. In my country the teacher tells
us exactly what to learn and we learn it and then we have a test on
that. Here, you tell us to go study something but we do not know which
part and then the test is on some part you did not tell us to learn. "

Another cultural gap, especially in writing, is that students from such
traditions ( where memorizing is the mode and the teacher is the
expert) have no experience with our analytical and question-asking
approach to learning, nor do they have experience with giving opinions.
When my college ESL students were asked what would happen in their
country if they gave an opinion they first laughed and then were
shocked. They said they would be thrown out of school if they gave
their opinions, and why would they, since the teacher knew all there
was to know.

In fact, question asking is very much a Euro-centric approach to
knowing. I am reminded of a professor at Lesley who has worked among
the Navajo for years. During a doctoral program discussion on
interdisciplinary inquiry, this professor quietly noted that not every
culture knows by asking questions. He pointed out that the Navajo are
not a question-asking culture. They accumulate knowledge in other
ways. This is true for other cultures besides the Navajo, but is
something we Americans tend to bulldoze right over as we ask questions
to our learners.

When you consider how much we train students in our system to have
opinions and ask questions, and how much cultural behaviors and
culturally grounded beliefs govern an adult, no wonder there is so much
confusion in the writing--and other aspects of ESOL classes.

Robin Lovrien Schwarz



Mon Apr 16 12:39:38 EDT 2007

Thank you Heide for the great explanation of why correction does not
always help and for pointing out the need for language awareness. This
is a topic I address often from two perspectives. The first is that of
the non-literate learner-- who has little understanding of the
structure of language and for whom grammar is a mystery. I have
observed very low level ESOL classes of non- or preliterate learners
where teachers were attempting to explain grammar or mistakes by using
grammar and the learners were completely mystified.

One teacher with whom I was discussing this problem recently expressed
frustration because the structure she was trying to explain in English
exists in Spanish and the learner in question just couldn't seem to get
that. But the teacher herself finally had the insight that since that
learner had almost no education in Spanish either, just the fact of
translating the structure or referring to it in the native language
doesn't mean the learner will understand it. (and then of course for
many teachers there is the issue that learners with unwritten languages
will not have any access to the notions of grammar nor the words for it
in their language---they do not exist. )

The second perspective is of auditory attention to grammar-- a teacher
recently gave me an example of a learner who had "fossilized" grammar
and never had subject verb agreement in the simple present tense ( He
say, she talk, etc. ) One day recently the teacher automatically
corrected this student when she said "he look" and the student was
stunned. She asked, " What did you just say? Did you say LOOKS???"
and the teacher said yes, The student asked, " Do you mean you have
always been saying LOOKS with a final /s/ and I never heard it??" And
the teacher said, of course, YES!

This is a small illustration of the need to bring many adult learners'
attention to the auditory details they do not know they should hear.
Since we know that literacy skills and language skills transfer at the
level at which they are developed in first language, if a learner does
not know HOW verbs agree in his or her own language or how plurals are
made or how present past and future are indicated, why would that
learner be listening for how it is in English. My research tells me
that accurate auditory input is required for the brain to build up a
store of sounds, words, strings of words ( such as idioms) and grammar
strings--but if the auditory input is not accurate, the stored up
information is not accurate. Hence we need to help learners pay
attention auditorily to details they are not hearing.

But, as Heide points out, this will only be useful if the learner is at
the language learning stage where she or he can make sense of it.
Language acquisition stages are yet another piece of the picture which
is not well known in adult ESOL.

Robin Lovrien Schwarz



Mon Apr 16 12:44:47 EDT 2007

And as I just pointed out in a longer post, these learners often lack
auditory awareness of what they are supposed to hear--and they usually
have great difficulty with phoneme discrimination in English. I find
that intensive training in minimal pair discrimination, among other
things, helps with fossilization a great deal.

Robin Lovrien Schwarz



Mon Apr 16 13:19:28 EDT 2007

This second example reminds me of a wonderful ESOL teacher in the
Washington, DC area of 40 years' experience who always says that ESOL
learners always have a reason for what they do-- it is NOT random. But
their reasons are not always the right reason. Our job is to help them
replace their reason with the right reason. Bravo Nicole! Asking the
learner WHY he said or wrote what he did was a great direct route to
that issue.

And the first example is a great illustration of what I see as the need
to bring auditory attention to the learner of what it is they need to
hear and then say-- as noted in a longer posting just earlier this

Robin Lovrien Schwarz


Wrigley, Heide


Mon Apr 16 17:40:24 EDT 2007

Hi, Nicole and others who have written on issues of fossilization,
interlanguage (and implicitly error correction), and building language
awareness through the explicit teaching of mini-lessons. We appreciate
both your examples and your insights

I wanted to make sure that we don't leave new teachers or those who come
to adult ESL from other fields in the dust, so I wanted to stop for a
minute and add a few definitions:

Interlanguage: All second language learners make language errors.
Errors are part of language learning. We make "mistakes" as we try to
create the target language (L2) in our minds. The language we produce in
the early stages of proficiency is only an approximation of the target
language, the language we are trying to learn. Since you cannot memorize
a new language, mistakes must happen. The language that learners use on
their way to proficiency is often referred to as "interlanguage." As
students learn and acquire more language through various forms of input
(noticing; practicing; studying, using the language in various
contexts), they make fewer language errors and get closer to full
proficiency. So a student's interlanguage is changing all the time,
based on the "input" they receive (what they hear and read), and the
"output" they are asked to produce (speaking, communicating with others;
presenting). There is some evidence that "corrective feedback"
judiciously applied (more on that later) can help students notice the
errors they make, correct them, and move forward, self monitoring and
self-correcting down the road.

As several others pointed out, creating mini-lessons around some of the
sticky points (where students keep making the same mistake over and
over) can be really helpful, if students are indeed ready in their
language development to understand and integrate new knowledge about
language into their existing knowledge (schema). You can try to explain
how present perfect or how hypotheticals work in the beginning ESL class
(if I had had the money, I would have bought the car), but your students
will not be ready to take in sophisticated structures of this sort. So
you will hear "I be here 5 years" or "I am here 5 years" or "I have 5
years here" but probably not, "I've been here for five years" - so
whatever your Level 1 students say when you ask them "how long have you
been in the United States," that's interlanguage.

Fossilization. At any time in the learning process a student may become
stuck in some level of interlanguage and may make the same mistakes over
and over again - and language development does not seem to move forward.
That's called fossilization. I've know older students who seem to have
decided that their language skills are close enough and they aren't all
that interested in improving their grammar. Those may be the students
that Lynn (Weintraub was talking about). In many cases, the strategies
we mentioned do get learners moving forward, in others, the learners
seem so focused on communication that little noticing of form takes
place. Perhaps asking learners straight out:

Do you want to improve your English? If so, which part of English?
(vocabulary, comprehension, pronunciation, grammar). We can then ask
students to identify language they are not sure about (from an audio
tape of their story or a written piece). Or as Nicole explains below, we
can keep trying to isolate a pattern and offer insights.

Corrective feedback: This much we know: If corrective feedback (input
focused on errors, such as "recasting" has to have any effect, it must
be selective, judiciously applied and offered at optimal times (NOT,
when the student is trying to tell us something important - correcting
at that point can be really insulting and most likely make no

Language learning is extraordinarily complex and so is language teaching
- knowing what to correct, when, why and how (and when to leave things
alone) may be one of the most critical skills new teachers need to

Examples, anyone?



Wrigley, Heide


Mon Apr 16 18:44:33 EDT 2007

Hello all

And thanks, Janet for pointing out that for a lot of teachers it can be
a significant burden collecting authentic texts, working with "stuff"
that students bring to class, and yeah-right-who's-got-the-time
modifying existing texts.

The "Language Experience Approach" makes a great deal of sense for
beginning learners who are "emergent" readers and writers. It is based
on the assumption that it is much easier to read something that is based
on a common experience with language generated by students than it is to
read something that is disconnected from their life experience.

How does LEA work?

1. Create a common experience for students - a field trip works and so
does a hands-on activity that has a point to it, a how-to perhaps. News
accounts that everyone has heard about - especially if they are a few
days old and have been on TV in different languages work also. The point
is to have a common point of reference on a topic that engages students
("how to iron a shirt" would leave me cold, for example). Years ago I
saw the teachers at REEP demonstrate how to make instant pudding and
they later had a pudding tasting, identifying their favorite flavors -
the students were fascinated by the whole process. Butterscotch lost, by
the way, no surprise there.

Here then is how Language Experience might work as part of a How-to

2. Demonstration: Introduce tools and materials to the students.
Demonstrate the steps either by yourself or have students follow along
(making a paper airplane in preparation for a contest, say).

3. Ask students to recreate the steps orally that they just observed. If
you can, create a story board on the board or a flip chart that reminds
students of the steps- simple drawings are fine.

4. Work with the class to write down the steps on the board - asking
guiding questions, such as - what should the title be? What is a good
first sentence? We have steps, right? What is step number 1? As
individual students generate the language, check with the class - what
do you think? Should we write this? Yes, no? Any changes?

5. After you have created the story with the class, read the story to
the class and then with the class - asking students again if they like
the sentences and the story. You can use joint reading (with the class;
echo reading - you read a sentence, students repeat it; shared reading -
students take turns reading a step).

The point of a Language Experience Lesson is to use the language that
students generate since that is the language that they know and can say
orally. In the conventional model, ONLY the students make corrections in
the text and the teacher leaves it alone, errors and all (and no,
students won't pick up an error that they saw once on a blackboard and
it becomes fossilized).

It makes sense to have the text on newsprint so it can be reviewed and
used again. But I also know teachers who type the Language Experience
text up at home and print it for students to read the next day in class.

As part of that process, many teachers end up making tiny changes in the
language to get it a little closer to standard English (they don't
usually touch vocabulary, just sentence structure. Purists, however
frown on meddling with students' language.

As for me, I would leave the language alone when writing it down in
class and then perhaps make tiny changes as I print it up - mostly for
clarity so that students still have a text to work with in class that
represents their language -

By the way, Susan Gaer - whose site on home remedies is an excellent
example of student generated connected text - told me one time that they
first time her refugee students had written their stories of how they
escaped, she had fixed them up before she printed them as a collection
of student accounts of their lives. She now feels that in straightening
out the students' grammar, she had destroyed much of what was powerful
in the students' language - the language they used and the errors they
made represented who they were as people and as learners on a journey.
The basic sentences she created in standard English did not capture the
spirit of the stories the same way that their writing had done.

Lessons learned .....



Lynne Weintraub


Tue Apr 17 12:14:01 EDT 2007

Heide: What I often hear from tutors is that they can get the student to
produce a troublesome sound/sentence correctly (or identify errors) when the
focus of a lesson is on that one particular aspect of language, but that it
does not carry through in spontaneous production. Any thoughts?

Lynne Weintraub



Tue Apr 17 14:19:04 EDT 2007


Thank you so much for your enlightening comments regarding "auditory attention and auditory input."

If possible, could you please share citations on these topics from your research. Is it research that you conducted?

Thanks again for your comments.




Tue Apr 17 22:47:21 EDT 2007

Lynn -- I will jump in with my version of this -- I hope Heide has her
version. I get asked this question an awful lot. I know from brain
research that the brain creates neural pathways when anything is
learned. The longer the behavior is used, the bigger the neural
pathway. When we help learners produce a new sound or combination of
sounds, we are asking them to create a new pathway -- we want that one
to replace the old one, but at first -- and maybe always -- the old is
like an interstate and the new one like a cow path -- the old one will
be used in unconscious situations because it is so well established.

It is said about spelling that one must spell a word correctly one more
time than one has spelled it incorrectly in life -- which means the same
thing -- the new pathway has to become dominant over the old one for the
new behavior to be used more than the old one -- in adult language
learners' brains, this means an awful lot of practice!!

As I have said before here, one practice I advocate heavily is use of
minimal pair drills to help the learner's brain focus on the critical
sounds it needs to build that new pathway. I was challenged on this
recently by people in ESOL who say that minimal pairs do not help adult
learners at all and are a waste of time because their brains cannot
learn to hear these differences any more . However, I did a reality
check on that with a colleague who is a speech pathologist. She
scoffed at this idea--in speech pathology, minimal pairs are used not
only as a screening test, but are used vigorously by therapists to help
patients of all ages who need clearer auditory input to be able to
produce speech more clearly. This is exactly why I have used them for
years with ANY learner or group of learners I work with. It helps so
much with the problem you identify.

I do a lot of training around minimal pairs and teachers always report
that students are EAGER for the practice and often ask to have practice
on sounds they KNOW they have difficulty hearing and producing.

Robin Lovrien Schwarz



Tue Apr 17 23:29:05 EDT 2007

Jane -- I am traveling again and do not have names and titles at
hand -- but as I just noted in another posting , much of my information
on this comes from speech pathology and from neuroscience. Also, I do
a lot of reading of international researchers on dyslexia in many
languages. ( Ellis from Wales, Lytenning from Finland, Baddely and
Gathercole from England among, Hu, Chong and others doing work on
Chinese). Many of these have examined the role of something called
phonological memory and its role in language acquisition. ( this is a
very short term memory for speech sounds) . This research has
indicated that when the phonological memory is weak oral/aural skills
in languaeg will be weak. I hypothesized that therefore if PM is
impacted by poor auditory discrimination ( what Marilyn Jager Adams,
researcher in reading, calls speech discrimination) PM will be poor and
therefore language acquisition will be poor. Thus if we strengthen
speech discrimination by helping learners focus on key sounds they have
normal difficulty hearing because adult brains do not process sound as
young brains do, we should see better learning all around.

I did a sort of pilot study in Texas last year on phonological skills
of adult ESOL learners (available at the website of TCALL a clearing
house at Texas A & M) and found that no matter the education level,
language background, or length of exposure to English as adult
learners, the learners could not repeat sentences of 4 or 5 words or
longer completely accurately--something any native speaker can do
readily up to 18 or 20 words. This reinforced my belief that these
learners do not hear sounds very accurately and therefore are not sure
what the actual words and word boundaries are in a stream of speech.
I did extensive minimal pair training with my ESL college students in
DC a decade ago and they reported themselves that their comprehension
of spoken English soared--certainly I saw remarkable improvement in
their spelling and grammar as they were able to discriminate sounds
that constitute grammar in speech.

As my earlier post says, my colleague the speech pathologist is
unimpressed with my ideas because they are so basic to speech pathology
that she is shocked ESL is not aware of the value of minimal pair drill
and the reasons that it is important to do this kind of auditory




Wed Apr 18 12:34:06 EDT 2007


Thanks for your reply. Perhaps, we as ESL / ESOL teachers need to be more cognizant of the research conducted in the fields of reading and speech pathology that impacts second language acquisition (SLA). Could you recommend specific journals in these fields?

Thanks again for your excellent postings.




Wed Apr 18 12:42:52 EDT 2007


Thanks for your reply. Perhaps, we as ESL / ESOL teachers need to be more cognizant of the research conducted in the fields of reading and speech pathology that impacts second language acquisition. Could you recommend pertinent journals in these fields?

Your comments on minimal pairs are right on target.

Again, thanks for your informative postings.



Wrigley, Heide


Thu Apr 19 12:29:45 EDT 2007

Hello, everyone

I apologize for being so slow in responding. I picked up a vicious flu
bug on the road which laid me low for a couple of days but am now as
good as new (well, almost). Larry is up to his eyeballs in a discussion
around the National Reporting System on the assessment list serve.

Here's my plan:

I'll review the questions we have not dealt with from last week and this
week and will post of few comments to pull things together and give the
rest of you a chance to respond tomorrow.

So thanks to all who jumped in there to post questions and ideas and
also to those of you who have taken the time to read the posts (a number
of people have written to me off-line).

All the best and I'll write more soon



Wrigley, Heide


Thu Apr 19 16:55:01 EDT 2007

Hi, all again

Man, it is quite a challenge to find key points reading backwards
through all the posts finding comments and issues that I still wanted to
address. I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to thank contributors
personally each time, but I'm sure we all appreciate hearing about
examples from the field and the other resources that were mentioned. I'm
hoping that as the discussion gets archived, it may be a bit easier for
folks to find things.

Here are a few left-over strands of discussion that I thought we might
tackle today and tomorrow:

1. Assessment of students ability to negotiate connected text
through variations of a strategy similar to conducting a Running Record

2. A quick note on contrastive analysis and cognate awareness

3. How do we build foundation skills in PD and allow teachers to be
experts in a particular area, such as workplace literacy or workforce

4. A quick note on Lynn's question about students being able to use
language correctly when there's practice in a point but then not in
spontaneous speech.

I'll take those on by one but not necessarily in that order. By the
way, if you have posted a burning question (or just a lukewarm one) that
I missed, please let me know. I think we answered the question, but
perhaps only implicitly, on the strategies that you as a teacher might
use if you are not bilingual and/or you have class where languages are

Stay tuned



Wrigley, Heide


Thu Apr 19 18:04:37 EDT 2007

Connected Texts:

Kathleen and others have mentioned the difficulties of finding authentic
texts that use connected prose for beginning level learners to read, and
Eileen asked about the use of an assessment strategy known as a Running
Record (see the details below for how this works). Eileen also mentioned
"graded readers".

Here are my thoughts:

1. I don't know of any research that looks at "graded readers" as a
way of moving low literate adult language learners into literacy, but
Penguin books has a series of novels that have been rewritten at
different levels. There is a debate on whether close enough to authentic
(that is modified) counts as long as it reflects what students may
encounter in their daily lives. So that's fine for informational text
particularly in cases where the information is important enough for
students to know and when they get a chance to grapple with content,
source, purpose etc. I'm not so sure about modifying novels or God
forbid - poetry since quite often it kills the spirit of the piece. So
I'm all for teachers writing a few short pieces about some issue of
interest to their students and then sharing it with other teachers who
then add another piece at a slightly higher level so that you can have a
program-wide reader (this could be done as part of PD). In terms of
commercial materials, many of the adult ESL students seem to love the
True Stories series although most are still too difficult for beginning

Starting points for beginning students are approaches we've discussed -
Telling stories orally with the students and using photographs from all
over the world (I love Material World) and personal pictures. We've
mentioned using instructional strategies such as Language Experience,
Chalk Talks, and other forms of story boarding where the connection
between oral language and written language are clear and connected text
is the end result, rather than the beginning of doing print-based
literacy work with students.

Assessment of students' ability to read and make sense of connected

As other researchers have found (and most teachers know), adult
beginning ESL students have highly uneven reading profiles so it is
difficult to place them into a particular book that is just right for
their reading level.

  • Students often have interests, background knowledge and real life experience related to particular topics that allow them to obtain meaning from stories and other texts that are significantly above the level they test at. A large vocabulary in particular can do much to propel a student forward when it comes to making sense of print. Students with this sort of "pragmatic competence" may still be missing some foundation skills (and could benefit from activities that focus on building those), but they should have the opportunity to encounter texts on "hot topics" (defined by them) and get a chance to work together to sort things out (graphic organizers and other learning aids can be helpful here).
  • It's often difficult to determine what the nature of the reading challenges are that beginning students face.
  • For some it may mean not having a strong foundation in L1 reading that might transfer and the mistakes they make are not so much errors related to reading English, as errors related to basic print processing (in any language)
  • Others may have L1 reading skills but their knowledge and experience with English is not strong enough to decode English or their difficulties with pronunciation may get in the way or reading text aloud correctly
  • Still others may not have the vocabulary needed to recognize and read words fluently
  • And for some English word structure and syntax remain a mystery although they have developed the kind of decoding skills that allows them to read aloud without making too many mistakes.

What then should we do?

  • It's important to have a sense of what the student can do with print in the native language - self report of what they read, inviting the student to read a L1 short passage aloud and using years of education in the home country as a proxy are all good starting points.
  • Here's a variation of a Running Record that has been helpful in my work - it's a way to develop a Reading Profile for each student or a way to use selected students to gain a better sense of what they can do and where they stumble.
  • Select a story or text that you KNOW students are familiar with because you have talked about it in class and the vocabulary has been introduced.
  • Select a second story written at the same level but using a text that is not as familiar
  • Have the class do some group or independent work while you spend a few minutes with an individual student
  • Invite the student to read with you (choral or echo reading) and pay attention to fluency (decoding, expression, speed). Pay attention and make notes on where the student tends to stumble (basic vowel sounds; longer words etc) and try to determine to what extent the errors are decoding errors and to what extent they are pronunciation errors (a Spanish speaking student saying "espays" for "space" is a pronunciation error; a student saying "espah-se" for space is a decoding error.
  • Invite students to mark 3 important words they know in the text and 3 words they are not sure about (they may think they should know these words). Mark the words on your sheet and discuss them with the student.
  • Ask the students a couple of comprehension question, making sure the student understands that the answer can be found in the text. Reread a short section around the answer with the student, ask the question again and see if the student picks up the answer.
  • Invite the student to ask a question that can be answered by the text (students should have practiced this perhaps as part of the strategies associated with "question generating" and "question answering" - (Robin made some very good points about the culture of question asking that we have in the States)
  • Use the opportunity to ask the student some open-ended questions about what's hard and easy around reading English, what the student likes to read and reads at home in L1; what kinds of things (s)he is interested in reading about (having some examples on the table is good) etc. It's important to keep the focus on reading since this is a Reading Profile you are trying to develop.

I have a rubric that I use for the different categories but again that takes a bit of work to develop. Again, it seems to me that teachers might work together as part of their professional development create such an assessment that can be shared. They can then use this information to see what students need and where they are stuck. Some may indeed be at a level where they cannot hear the distinctions in sounds and could benefit from some individual work in sound discrimination while the difficulties of others may have to do with vocabulary or with
trying to figure out how English sentences are structured.

In the end, the adult ESL teacher still has to teach an entire class focusing on those skills that help move students forward in their understanding of language and texts. Taking a bit of time to spend with individual students who are stuck seems worthwhile to me, but assessing
each student in a large class seems unrealistic. In the end, the task of adult ESL teachers is quite different from that of clinicians and speech pathologists whose job it is to work with clients one on one.

Which doesn't mean we can't learn from each other. And special thanks to Robin for providing such rich details on the topic.

Soon more



Wrigley, Heide


Fri Apr 20 00:15:00 EDT 2007

Hi, all

First a definition for those new to linguistics:
Minimal pairs: two words that are distinguished in meaning by only one

Ship and sheep are minimal pairs.

Bear and pear and ruse and lose or minimal pairs (forget spelling, it's
the sound that counts), but choose and juice are not (they have more
than one difference - not that I can hear it - see story below)

Normally, native speakers don't have difficulties hearing the
differences and thinking of those words as denoting different concepts.
And, if you come from a language that uses the same sound to
differentiate meaning, you shouldn't have much of a problem.

The difficulties come in when your language doesn't have some of the
same sounds as English (or at least the sounds don't indicate a
difference in meaning). It's very difficult to hear differences that
your language does not have. For example, Chinese does not have long
vowels so many Chinese speakers new to English will have a hard time
hearing the difference between "hit" and "heat" and most likely will
have difficulties producing the sounds. I have a Chinese friend whose
Mom could not say "sheets" to save her life and kept using the short
vowel sound, much to the embarrassment of her children.

As Robin suggests below, the use of isolated minimal pairs in language
teaching has been out of fashion for awhile and remains controversial,
while the need to help students understand and use the sounds of the
target language remains, of course. There is now much more of an
emphasis on teaching students to use multiple clues to make meaning,
paying attention to both context and sound. For example, a teacher might
ask: If someone says, "Do you have a pin - what's the situation? If
someone says "do you have a pen?" what is the situation?"

The focus now is on teaching students to attend to sounds while at the
same time demonstrating that real life context can help to make the
meaning clear even if the student cannot distinguish between two sounds.
In terms of production, it makes sense to teach students "work arounds."
For example, my friend's mom learned to say "where are the towels?" when
asking for help in a department store, figuring the sheets had to be
close by. That's what we mean by "strategic competence" figuring out
what to do when your language skills are still "under development."

So here is my personal nightmare with decontextualized minimal pairs.
When I first started university in California (after having attended 2
years of adult ESL classes), minimal pairs were all the rage, and a
group of graduate students had created a test, specifically designed to
trip up members of different language groups. Predictably the test
focused on l/r differences for Japanese and Chinese speakers, and
Spanish speakers had to hear the difference between "I could really go
for this version" and "I could really go for this virgin" (I kid you
not; it was way before we got PC). My downfall? Not hearing the
difference between "he makes his money raising horses" and "he makes his
money racing horses". They could have asked me 100 times and or offered
me 1000 dollars, and I could not have heard the difference (my dialect
of German does not have a voiced "s" at all and even in high German
there is no difference in meaning between the voiced and unvoiced "s"

For what it's worth



Wrigley, Heide


Fri Apr 20 00:37:25 EDT 2007

Hi, Barbara and others

Good questions about PD and how to help teachers acquire the foundation
skills needed in teaching adult learners new to English. (I think
understanding how second language acquisition works and understanding
second language reading and literacy are good starting points). And
introducing teachers to tasks and texts that serve multiple purposes and
allow for deeper understanding of language and life seems a good way to
go ("less teaching and more learning" was the title that Susan Gaer gave
to one of her articles on project-based learning and was kind enough to
let me use for some of my work)

Unfortunately, I don't know what various states are doing in PD around
adult ESL though I very much like the model of the ongoing staff
development through Academies and Institutes that the Texas GREAT
Centers are adopting. The limitations of the conference model that
focuses on the one shot workshop has certainly been demonstrated through

Jodi Crandall (on the list but in Korea at the moment) is working on a
project that examines the various PD models that states in the U.S. use,
and she should have more information in a few months.

In terms of PD that focuses on the development of language skills in the
context of work or on the integration of jobs skills on the one hand and
language and literacy skills on the other, I keep hearing renewed
interest in these models from foundations, government agencies, and
other institutions. Various new reports have been published or are under
development. To what extent this interest is translating into workshops
or seminars for teachers is difficult to say and too early to tell,

But some of the rest of you might know more, and it would be great to
hear what is happening in other countries in that respect. Australia or
New Zealand, perhaps? Ireland?




Fri Apr 20 01:22:25 EDT 2007


I hope you are feeling better. I have always wondered how much "creaming"
were you able to detect in the classrooms in "What Works". Is this common
in most literacy classes? I brought this subject up at a conference and
was surprised at how wide spread "creaming" is. The consensus seems to be
that putting preliterate or nonliterates with non Roman literates or non
alphabetic literates together begs for "creaming". What are your thoughts?

Kirk Olgin

Glendale College


JoAnn (Jodi) Crandall


Fri Apr 20 03:45:09 EDT 2007

Dear Heide and others,

I'm on my way to Korea, but am at the airport in Tokyo (Narita) where they
have wireless so I'll briefly respond here.

In a study of promising practices in adult ESOL at five community
colleges, we did discuss a number of professional development practices,
ranging from those for new instructors to those for very experienced

The final report (and a much shorter executive summary) is available to
download at www.caalusa.org. Look for the study, Passing the Torch, on
the left side of the homepage.

Some of the interesting models included peer coaching and mentoring,
reflective teaching, setting up a certificate program, as well as a
variety of uses of program websites and resource centers.



Susan Reid


Sat Apr 21 20:39:31 EDT 2007

Hi Heide

At the end of your post you talk about PD options for those who want to integrate literacy numeracy and language skill development into vocational or workforce or other forms of training.

Australia has a long history of intergrated literacy training ( started in the mid 90s) and it has over the last few years been picked up in the UK under the title 'embedded literacy' mainly as a method to increase reach and scale.

In New Zealand this has for some years been recognition that low levels of literacy numeracy and language skills are not going to attended to just by specialist literacy practitioners. So last year a new qualification was developed for tutors ( in NZ this is not used just for volunteers as it is in the US) who are delivering vocational courses or industry training courses or workplace training programmes ( not literacy but focussed on specific workplace skills).
The main part of the qualifcation is what we call a unit standard ( competency standard) called 21204 .

The critical aspect of integrated literacy is the concurrent development of the two sets of skills together. The literacy skills that are to be developed are defined by the context of the vocational course and are therefore confined by that context. There needs to be sufficient teaching time and acts of teaching so that literacy can be integrated into the other course.

There are a number of models for delivering integrated literacy - one is team teaching where there are two tutors in the room - the literacy teacher and the vocational teacher. This is a resource hungry model and often depends on additional funding which may not be sustainable.

Unit Standard 21204 is based on another model - that vocational teachers themselves can be trained to develop their learners' literacy skills to a certain level. Teachers are not expected to develop the skills of someone who is at a very low level - people with low level skills need a specialist literacy tutor but we believe that vocational tutors can make a difference to learners' literacy skills.

At Workbase we have started to deliver this National Certificate this year. I am currently working with a group of teachers who train students who are acquiring skills and qualifications in dairy farming. The literacy skills of the students of these vocational teachers range from those who can easily cope with the literacy demands of the job and their vocational course to students who are really struggling. These vocational teachers are finding that a lot of actiivities they are currently using in their teaching can easily be used to teach and develop literacy skills - in some cases it is just a question of making it all explicit.

In the UK they have tended to focus on the team teaching model. They have also invested millions of pounds in developing really excellent 'embedded learning materials' for awhole range of occupations see


You are right too that NALA in Ireland has done some really good work on integrated literacy - they developed a really useful guide about the systems and processes needed to set up an integrated programme

with NALA's permission we adapted their guidelines for the NZ context ( particularly the pre employment context)

If people are interested we have what we believe is the largest collection of international online resources about integrated/embedded literacy on the New Zealand Literacy Portal
just type integrated or embedded into the search function - otherwise you can just type in 21204

if there is something else you know about that isn't on the portal please let use know

Kind regards,

Susan Reid

Manager Learning and Development

Workbase the New Zealand Centre for Workforce Lireracy Development



Wrigley, Heide


Sun Apr 22 14:33:50 EDT 2007

Hello Barbara and everyone

I had a couple of questions off-line about efforts to revive workplace
literacy, to link adult ESL and job skills training and to contextualize
language learning using task an contexts common to various job clusters
(health, advanced manufacturing, sales and service). Barbara can
certainly talk more about the Texas Initiative.

There's quite a bit of interest these days in studies that speak to the
issues of work and language education. Although we did not look at
workplace literacy or integrated approaches in the What Works study,
there are strong indicators from other studies that models that link job
skills training with language and literacy development have stronger
outcomes (in terms of retention and transition, job placement and
earnings), than other approaches.

If you'd like to know more, here are a couple of links to a report that
I did with Julie Strawn and others for the Center for Law and Social

Full Report:


Policy Brief:


Other papers are currently being commissioned that address models for
linking adult ESL with employment, including a paper for NIFL on issues
in preparing immigrants interested in careers in Allied Health
(Crandall, Wrigley and Goldberg) and a report commissioned by Public
Private Ventures on promising approaches to help immigrants with limited
proficiency in English move into jobs that pay a living wage and can
sustain a family.

For those of you interested in studies that examine these issues,
resources are available: The Migration Policy Institute's Center on
Immigrant Integration Policy has a number of papers and reports listed
on their site:


Should employment and training be the only goals of adult ESL? Certainly

But since millions of people are here in the U.S. to make a living and
need language, literacy, and job skills for employment that helps them
move out of poverty, it's worth thinking about models and approaches
that are likely to make a difference.

More on these topics from an international perspective - I just got a
long and thoughtful note from Susan Reid in New Zealand who knows of
such things.





Sun Apr 22 15:37:48 EDT 2007


Thank you for your informative postings and excellent links. Be assured that your time and efforts are very much appreciated.



David J. Rosen


Sun Apr 22 22:00:31 EDT 2007


I want to thank Heide Spruck Wrigley, Larry Condelli, and everyone
who contributed to the rich discussion of the What Works for Adult
ESL Students study. This discussion is now over. In the next few
days I will archive it on the ALE Wiki and post an announcement here
when it is available.

In the upcoming weeks we will have discussions on:

  • Community Literacy
  • Numeracy
  • Defining Professional Wisdom
  • Research on the GED

and possibly other topics. You are welcome to stay subscribed for
those discussions.

If you have comments about this or other special topics discussions,
or suggestions, please send them to me at djrosen at comcast.net

David J. Rosen

Special Topics Discussion Moderator



missy slaathaug


Sun Apr 22 22:42:21 EDT 2007

Ellen, I taught reading/writing in SD Women's prison for about a year, and I
can really relate to your comments - they make a lot of sense, and I wish I
had read this email before I started my teaching. I also had students who
started out from the outset claiming that they "hated to read" and "do we
have to read in this class?" For me to get them motivated to write or read,
it seemed to be all about creating an atmosphere of trust, so that they
dared to take risks, and also somehow responding to their questions and
conversations so that their curiosity was validated. They needed to talk a
lot before they started having anything to say, so to speak.

(sorry if my comments are off topic!)

Missy Slaathaug



Hartel, Joanne


Mon Apr 23 09:21:31 EDT 2007

Thank you very much. I'm happy to know that we actually do use some of the materials you describe in our classes. We should do more. The reading development stages and the video were especially helpful.


Barbara Tondre


Mon Apr 23 17:32:11 EDT 2007

Anyone interested in learning more about the Texas initiative may contact me
at btondre@earthlink.net. Also, the study we did in preparing to respond to
the legislation requiring AE in Texas to address industry-related
instructional needs can be found at http://www-tcall.tamu.edu by clicking on Workforce Partnerships and then scrolling down to Charting A Course.

Barbara Tondre


Wrigley, Heide


Mon Apr 23 18:22:01 EDT 2007

Wow. Susan!

I'm sorry it took me a bit to respond (but I did post your note - which
somehow didn't show up on its own)

Thanks so much for taking the time to lay things out and describe what's
going on in places other than the U.S. - and the links are invaluable.
I've already forwarded this page to a number of people beyond the list
who are dealing with workplace literacy, and perhaps it will get Paul
Jurmo energized as well.

I very much appreciate your contribution and I'm sure others do as well



David J. Rosen


Fri Apr 27 09:34:54 EDT 2007

Dear colleagues,

A couple of posts reached the Special Topics discussion list after the
What Works ESL Study discussion was closed, so they were not posted.
The moderator of the The Adult English Language Learners Discussion
List, Lynda Terrill, has agreed that our discussion could continue on
that list. Heide Wrigley has agreed to join that discussion list. To
subscribe to that discussion, please go to

I will post a message here in a few days when the Archived discussion is
available on the Adult Literacy Education Wiki. It is available now in
the National Institute Discussion List Archives at


David J. Rosen

Special Topics Discussion Moderator


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