A Survey of Writing Instruction in Adult ESL Programs: Are Teaching Practices Meeting Adult Learner Needs?

This research article reports on the results of a survey of adult education teachers about writing instruction.

Rebeca Fernandez
Joy Kreeft Peyton
Kirsten Schaetzel
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Davidson College
Center for Applied Linguistics
Emory University
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

Recent legislation and education standards focus on the importance of developing students’ academic and professional writing skills. Research on the teaching of writing has articulated the types of texts and features of writing that students need to produce to succeed. At the same time, studies of writing in adult education have found that limited time is devoted to writing instruction. The experiences and needs of adults learning English as an additional language (L2 learners) are often not understood and met by teachers, and teachers often have limited professional development in the effective teaching of writing to adults.

This article reviews this research and reports the results of a survey of over 400 teachers of L2 learners in adult education across the United States about their teaching of writing. The results show some positive trends and a number of challenges. Two immediate needs emerge. First, more needs to be done to prepare students for the writing demands of college and careers. Second, adult ESL teachers need professional development and collaboration opportunities to incorporate argumentative/persuasive writing and sound writing pedagogy at all levels.

What the experts say

A survey of the field, in this case writing at the L2 level, along with implications from that survey is an essential first step in determining what is currently being done and what needs to change. Despite acknowledged limitations in the representativeness of the sample, the authors provide useful information about the current state of writing instruction for adult ESL learners. The results are interpreted based on a framework of the writing knowledge and skills needed for later success in college and career, so they could be useful for programs reviewing their own writing instruction.

It is all too easy to teach as one has always done without asking, "Why am I doing this? For what purpose?" This survey and the discussion that follows is critical in helping teachers to answer these questions and to make needed changes in their instruction. It should inspire teachers to look at their own approaches to teaching writing to adult students and to question both their goals and methods. Teaching students to compose a paragraph of comprehensible English text is something that most adult education instructors in all areas need to do. The discussion in this survey shows that this is not enough. More time needs to be spent on writing, more critical thought demanded, and higher levels of vocabulary and language structures emphasized. While this survey doesn't attempt to provide teachers with lesson plans or examples, it will encourage teachers to examine their own practices and to research ways to improve them.

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