Study Circle Guide for Teachers of Low-Literacy Adult ESL Students

Study Circle for teachers of low-literacy adult ESL students.

Patsy Vinogradov
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Hamline University
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages

This study-circle guide provides all the materials and instructions a facilitator needs to conduct a professional learning activity for teachers of low-literate adult ESL students, those whose learners have little or no first-language literacy. Additional Study Circle Guides for teachers of ESL students can be found here: With a special focus on reading development, this study-circle guide aids participants to explore relevant research and its implications for best practices in the classroom. Teachers engage in both at-home reading and reflective classroom tasks between meetings, expanding their professional learning and embedding this collaborative work into their own classroom contexts. The study circle is designed for three meetings of 3 hours each over the course of 6–8 weeks.

Objectives are identified for each topic, but the overall objectives of this study circle include:

  1. Become familiar with relevant research in literacy and language development in low-literacy adults.
  2. Articulate connections between relevant research and effective classroom practices with low-literacy adults.
  3. Identify useful resources (for both students and teachers) that can enhance teaching and learning.
  4. Receive and provide support and ideas in this group setting, thereby creating more effective, more engaging, and more satisfying teaching and learning experiences in low-literacy adult ESL classrooms.

This study-circle guide includes detailed plans for each of the three meetings, links to all readings, sample communications to participants, as well as handouts, discussion questions, and tips for conducting a successful study circle.

Required Training

Although all of the required information is provided, study-circle facilitators are expected to be familiar with the topic of working with adult ELLs with low levels of literacy. It is expected that study-circle participants are currently working or have recently worked with adult ELLs who are emergent readers. 

What the experts say

This study-circle guide was developed in Minnesota in 2011 and revised and updated in 2013. It was commissioned in response to a professional development survey in 2009 of adult basic educators statewide, and teaching low-literacy adult ESL was identified as an urgent need for teachers. The study circle was piloted in 2011, and a subsequent report was published in the Commission of Adult Basic Education (COABE)-sponsored journal. See Vinogradov, P. (2012). “You just get a deeper understanding of things by talking:” Study circles for teachers of ESL emergent readers. Journal of Research and Practice for Adult Literacy, Secondary, and Basic Education, 1, 34–48.

The resulting study-circle guide provides all of the information and materials required for a facilitator to lead a three-session, 9-hour study circle. The guide is designed for a cohort of participants who are currently teaching or have recently taught ELLs who are emergent readers. The design of the study circle promotes sustained professional development and moves away from single-meeting workshop-style PD that research has shown to be less effective (for review see Desimone, 2009). 

For the facilitator, the study-circle guide follows a very logical sequence and is easy to follow. All of the necessary information and materials are provided, including instructions on facilitating online discussion. Links to the reading and video, guiding questions for reading and viewing, as well as materials required for activities during the study circle are all provided. 

The study circle itself is participatory in structure, guiding participants on a tour through current research, connections to practice, observation of video, and observation of a peer. A variety of face-to-face activities engage participants with different learning styles. Online discussions support and extend face-to-face time and create the potential for a community that continues beyond the study circle. A particular strength of this study circle is the review of online resources. By helping teachers become familiar with the Low-Educated Second Language and Literacy Acquisition (LESLLA) and ESL Literacy Web sites, participants can remain up-to-date with emerging research and practices in the field of working with emerging readers.

Works cited:

Desimone, L. M. (2009). Improving impact studies of teachers’ professional development: Toward better conceptualizations and measures. Educational Researcher, 38(3), 181–199.

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