Promoting Learner Transitions to Postsecondary Education and Work: Developing Academic Readiness Skills from the Beginning

B. Parrish
K. Johnson
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Hamline University
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

This brief addresses the current and projected need for skilled workers and the skills immigrants will need to be able to take these positions. These skills are based in academic and higher level thinking skills. The authors provide the rationale and research underlying the need to incorporate these skills into ESL classes, regardless of the level or purpose of the courses (e.g., beginning, life skills). These skills will assist them in transitioning to postsecondary work training, academic settings, or navigating life in general. They address the following skills as being essential to incorporate into the classroom: reading and listening, note taking and organizing information, and critical thinking. They state that these skills can, and should, be introduced to beginning level learners. The brief provides instruction on how to structure and sequence activities to fit in with any classroom content and build on skill development. Included in the brief are sample activities that are leveled by beginning, intermediate, and advanced ESL learners.

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What the experts say

The skills needed to transition from ESOL instruction to employment or postsecondary education have been well-documented (Alamprese, 2005; Di Tommaso, 2005; Mathews-Aydinli, 2006; Rance-Roney, 1995). Although many programs teach these skills, they typically do so once learners have reached the advanced level and are preparing to leave ESOL.

This highly valuable resource makes the case for integrating these skills into ESOL instruction from the start—and gives examples of how to do so at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels. Although learners do not all share the goals of obtaining a GED or finding a better job, the authors argue, they would nonetheless benefit in their daily lives from academic and non-academic readiness skills such as time management and prioritizing responsibilities.

To this end, the authors cite research indicating that it is beneficial for learners to receive academic skill instruction in beginning-level ESOL classes, as opposed to waiting until they are in advanced-level classes (Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, 2005). As the authors write, “Given the time it takes to master academic readiness skills, the development of complex skills in early levels of instruction may facilitate students’ progress throughout their education and as they move toward meaningful employment.”

A unique feature of this resource is the author’s original research as to the skills needed for learners to succeed in postsecondary education programs—and how these skills correlate with those taught in ABE classes. Concluding that the skills (reading and listening, organizing information and notetaking, thinking critically) “are receiving limited attention in adult education programs” (Johnson & Parrish, in press), the authors give examples of specific research-based strategies and activities to help learners develop them. The highly practical examples are built on existing ESL lifeskill topics and activities, and they are structured to help learners progress from guided to independent practice.

In sum, this resource is extremely useful for practitioners, administrators, and curricular/program developers in both ESOL and ABE programs. Its most significant features are:

Valuable features:

  • The authors make a good case for integrating academic skills early in the “regular” ESL process. They advocate for an intentional approach to including these skills as early as possible;
  • A strong synthesis of the research on the skills needed to prepare learners for the workplace and for postsecondary education;
  • The original research by the authors as to instructors’ perceptions of the skills ESOL learners need to succeed in academic programs;
  • The tables of ESL Activities, level by level, illustrate, very clearly, activities, related higher-order skills and application of principles to the lesson. The tables also model the use of graphic organizers and provide teachers with a concrete method of lesson design. In higher level classes, the tables might also be useful for learners because they name the skills (e.g., reading for specific information, sequencing information) and would help the learner understand the academic skills process;
  • The tables offer a format for task analysis in lesson design and many examples of the application of higher order skills. They assist a teacher in thinking explicitly about how the choice of material supports the instruction of higher order skills. This is as important as task analysis but is often an overlooked element in lesson planning;
  • Specific activity examples and strategies to use at all levels of ESL instruction in order to help learners develop academic and workplace readiness skills.