Evidence-based, Student-centered Instructional Practices

 This Center for Adult English Language Acquisition (CAELA) Network Brief addresses the importance of and the research supporting the use of student-centered instructional practices in the adult English language learner classroom.

J. Peyton
S. Moore
S. Young
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL)
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages
Product Type

This Center for Adult English Language Acquisition (CAELA) Network Brief addresses the importance of and the research supporting the use of student-centered instructional practices in the adult English language learner classroom. The authors walk the reader through the existing research on instructional practice, the components of student-centered language instruction, and then move to how the two support one another in identifying four effective student-centered instructional approaches. They describe each of these approaches (promote interaction among learners, connect instruction with learners’ lives, use the native language when possible and appropriate, connect instruction with learners’ lives, teach learning strategies), offer suggestions as to how these can be implemented in the classroom, and end with ways in which teachers, mentors, and administrators can support each other in staying current with and evaluating research on the topic and then translating it to classroom practice

Required Training


What the experts say

 In adult ESOL, practitioners commonly acknowledge the importance of using learner-centered instructional practices to promote interaction, engagement, and language acquisition, an approach that has long been espoused by experts in the field (Auerbach, 1992; Freire, 1970; Knowles, 1980). However, practitioners may not fully understand why these practices are effective or how to best implement them.  Evidence-Based, Student-Centered Instructional Practices promises to be of use to the field of adult education because it attempts to bring together the need for student-center instruction and the importance of using evidence-based instruction; it provides a strong rationale for using current research to support and shape instruction.

The brief provides background information about the U.S. Department of Education’s effort to “develop a system of education based on a body of scientifically based research findings” that includes setting criteria for such research: “defining evidence-based practice, and determining which instructional practices are supported by scientifically based research (p. 1).”   Furthermore, the authors use timely, relevant research (e.g., Condelli, Wrigley, & Yoon, 2009) to provide insight as to the “why and how” of effective instructional practices.

To that end, this resource synthesizes and interprets evidence on effective learner-centered instructional practices and recommends four concrete approaches. Recognizing the difficulties inherent in staying abreast of continual developments in research and determining how to best implement them in the classroom, it proposes a collaborative way for practitioners to do so. It is this resource’s clear, practical proposal for establishing learning communities or study circles—and the outline of specific questions to guide this process—that make it so valuable for both practitioners and program administrators.

The article lists several studies (such as An Evaluation of the Impact of Explicit Literacy Instruction on Adult ESL Learners) and other initiatives (such as the What Works Clearinghouse) related to evidence-based research and practice. Sections of the brief describe the evolution of adult ESL instruction from teacher-centered and structure-based approaches to more learner-centered, meaning based, communicative approaches. This section also includes a brief description of five approaches that are emphasized in student-centered instruction [e.g., “building on learners’ experiences and strengths while also teaching them how to use specific learning strategies to accomplish their goals (p. 2).”]

The next section, From Research to Practice, describes four instructional approaches supported by research: “promote interaction among learners, use native language when possible and appropriate, connect instruction with learners’ lives, [and] teach learning strategies explicitly (p3).” This description may be of particular interest to novice classroom teachers who have wondered what instructional approaches may be most effective.

The final section of the article suggests that teachers may be able to keep up with research on evidence-based instructional approaches by forming learning communities and study circles. The article includes sample discussion questions and possible studies and research reviews that teacher groups could use.

Overall, because the authorscover so many topics in a few pages, some readers may be left wishing for more explanation and detail.  This may be particularly true for teachers who understand the importance of scientifically based research findings, but may be left wanting more specific information and “how to” about the approaches that are supported by research. The brief serves the field by explicitly connecting learner-centered approaches and scientifically-based research. The extensive references will also likely provide educational researchers and others with a step up on continued investigation of this connection.  

Valuable features:

  • An excellent synthesis of a vast body of research as to instructional practices in adult ESL that have proven effective;
  • A clear and concise discussion of the why and how these practices should be undertaken;
  • A synthesis of four concrete learner-centered instructional approaches, supported by research, and practical tips for ways to implement them in the classroom;
  • An outline of specific studies and research reviews that can serve as the basis for study circle discussions, as well as a very comprehensive, helpful list of resources.
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