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CAELA Currents January 2005

About CAELA Currents

This newsletter is published quartely by the Center for Adult English Acquisition at the Center for Applied Linguistics and is offered free of charge. If you have information that you would like us to consider including in the newsletter, please contact the editor at

To subscribe to CAELA Currents, send a message to

This publication was prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education, under contract no. ED-04-CO-0031/0001

The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education (ED)


January Articles:

CAL Opens New Center for Adult English Language Acquisition

CAELA Technical Work Group


ELL Toolkit Available Online

Meeting of the Minds: National Adult Education Practitioner-Researcher Symposium

Calendar of Upcoming Trainings

Calendar of Upcoming Publications


CAL Opens New Center for Adult English Language Acquisition

Literacy and oral fluency in English seem to be related to economic self-sufficiency. An analysis of the 2000 Census data on immigrant earnings revealed a positive correlation between earnings and English language ability. Immigrants who are literate only in a language other than English are more likely to have non-continuous employment and earn less than those literate in English.

Most immigrants realize that they need to improve their English language skills: 40 percent of the participants in federally funded adult education programs are studying English. Yet, as the 2000 Census data show, many immigrants still do not have the English skills they need to be as successful and productive as they wish, and their salaries remain lower than those of native-born workers: for example, 54 percent of the foreign-born population working full time held low-income jobs, compared to only 38 percent of native-born working full time.

High quality instructional programs that improve immigrants’ English language proficiency are critical. Yet systematic staff development that increases the number and effectiveness of trainers, facilitators, and technical advisors to teachers and programs offering adult English language education has been limited by several factors. Many adult education teachers work part time, and teacher turnover is high. Tight budgets often allow only for limited professional development for teachers. While this problem is particularly evident in states with emerging ESL populations and those with less established English language acquisition programs, it is an issue throughout the country. In states with rapidly growing immigrant populations that need to acquire English literacy, the need has quickly outstripped the available resources and expertise. In many states and locales, adult education continues to be a mostly part-time profession with many teachers entering and leaving the field. One challenge for the field is for states to build a high quality, flexible, and easy-to-access infrastructure to deliver high-quality professional development.

To address this challenge, the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) is pleased to announce the opening of the Center for Adult English Language Acquisition (CAELA). CAELA’s mission is to help states that have recently begun serving adult English language learners build their capacity to improve the skills of teachers and administrators in adult English as a second language (ESL) programs. This, in turn, will help promote the success of the learners. CAELA also will make research findings and research-based resources available to practitioners across the nation who work with adult English language learners. CAELA replaces the National Center for ESL Literacy Education (NCLE), which was operated by CAL from 1989 to 2004 and provided technical assistance to all who work with adult English language learners.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education funds the operation of CAELA. CAELA will work with its partners—Abt Associates, American Institutes for Research (AIR), and World Education/National Center for Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL)—to increase the capacity of states to provide technical assistance to professional developers and teachers of adult English language learners. CAELA activities will include the following:

  • Conducting three regional capacity-building workshops for state teams of ESL professionals
  • Developing a toolkit of training materials for state trainers and professional developers
  • Providing ongoing technical assistance to states through multiple strategies that may include distance learning, mentoring, and study groups
  • Disseminating research-based information and resources to all states regarding effective English language instruction for adults, including curricula, program standards, reports, and findings from research that have been collected or published by CAELA
  • Maintaining a Web site where research documents, information on professional development activities and opportunities, training materials, and links to other useful Web sites will assist practitioners as they seek to improve their practice
  • Maintaining a listserv for adult ESL practitioners

For more information, visit CAELA online or contact Miriam Burt, CAELA Associate Director at 202-362-0700, extension 556 or e-mail her at

CAELA Technical Work Group

CAELA has selected a Technical Work Group (TWG), a group of experts in the education of adults learning English as a second language. They will provide guidance to CAELA staff on information and technical assistance needs of adult ESL teachers, administrators, and professional development providers, including those in states with emerging ESL populations. The TWG also will provide guidance on establishing an infrastructure for training and technical assistance, and on development and dissemination of effective materials and resource collections.

The following members comprise the TWG:

State level representatives: Sandra Belitza-Vasquez, New York; Patricia DeHesus-Lopez, Illinois; Miriam Kroeger, Arizona; Federico Salas-Isnardi, Texas; and Karen Valbrun, Georgia.

Local program representative: Brigitte Marshall, Oakland, CA

Researcher: Kathy Escamilla, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO

The first meeting of the TWG, scheduled for January 13 and 14, 2005, was held as this newsletter was being completed. Look for a report on this meeting in the next CAELA Currents, in April 2005.


For many adult ESL teachers throughout the country, finding a group of colleagues with whom to network and share ideas can be difficult. This may be especially true for those who are new to teaching adult English language learners, particularly those teachers who are located in states that are experiencing a rapid growth in immigrant learners, such as Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, or North Carolina. In other states, the size of or distance between programs or sites may make it difficult for teachers to get the instructional support they need.

CAELA is prepared to respond to the types of questions that teachers of adult English language learners often want answered, either by phone, e-mail, or through the NIFL-ESL electronic discussion list it moderates for adult ESL teachers and administrators. To sign up for the electronic discussion list, simply go to and follow the instructions there.

Who contacts CAELA for information and what kinds of questions do they ask?
In October 2004, CAELA staff analyzed technical assistance questions and responses from saved e-mail files from 2002 through the present. The most obvious element of this survey was the diversity of questions. Questions ranged from the very specific (e.g., Can you help me find a place to teach in the Washington, D.C. area?) to very broad (e.g., Can you tell me about second language acquisition?)

Most frequent queries were about

  • How to become “certified” or what is needed to teach ESL (usually adult)
  • How to find a literacy program in a specific area (both for learners and would-be teachers)
  • How to find workplace curricula and materials (this included specifics like materials for hospitality workers)
  • How to set up an adult ESL program
  • How to find information and materials on specific topics such as GED study materials in Spanish, effective techniques for working with literacy level learners, and content-based material for EL/Civics and health literacy.

Other topics included questions about assessment, citizenship, hosting international students, learning online or educational software, learning disabilities, listening, pronunciation, research (e.g., request for statistics regarding immigrants and ESL or for specific types of ESL programs), spelling, and teaching techniques.

If you have a question regarding how to teach adult English language learners, please contact us at or call (202) 362-0700, ext. 200. If you want to subscribe to the NIFL-ESL electronic list, go to

CAELA wants to hear from you! We are conducting focus groups and phone surveys to find out in what ways we can most effectively serve the community of adult ESL teachers, administrators, and volunteers. If you have a few minutes, please answer the following questions and e-mail them to Lynda Terrill at by March 1, 2004.

1. What aspects of teaching adult ESL would you like to know more about (e.g., assessment, second language acquisition, classroom techniques, or working with literacy level learners)?

2. What are the strengths and challenges of your current professional development delivery system for teaching adult English language learners?

3. What kinds of resources, research, activities, and other information would you like to have available on the Internet?

(In your e-mail, you do not need to rewrite the questions above just number your responses as 1, 2, or 3. The responses summarized and discussed in the next quarterly newsletter, to be disseminated in April 2005.)

ELL Toolkit Available Online

The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) and the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) are pleased to announce the launch of a new toolkit designed to address the needs of practitioners serving the English language learner (ELL) population.

The resource, Practitioner Toolkit: Working with Adult English Language Learners, was created in response to the nationwide need of practitioners who seek strategies for meeting the needs of the ELL students they serve. A Spanish-language learner assessment also is included in the toolkit.

The Practitioner Toolkit covers a large range of information, including

  • Background information about English language learners and their unique challenges
  • Research-to-practice papers on English language and literacy learning
  • Sample “first day” intake forms, activities, assessments, and lessons plans

The toolkit is made possible by a contract from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) through (DTI) Associates. This toolkit is the result of a collaborative effort between NCFL and CAL, who are the primary authors of the document. Principal writers representing the National Center for Family Literacy include Sylvia Cobos Lieshoff, Noemi Aguilar, and Susan McShane. Principal writers representing the Center for Applied Linguistics include Miriam Burt, Joy Kreeft Peyton, Lynda Terrill, and Carol Van Duzer.

A limited number of toolkits will be printed and distributed to state adult education directors and English as a second language (ESL) directors nationwide. The complete toolkit is also currently available on CAELA’s Web site.

Meeting of the Minds: National Adult Education Practitioner-Researcher Symposium

On December 9-11, 2004, researchers and practitioners came together for the three-day National Adult Education Practitioner-Researcher Symposium in Sacramento, California. The symposium was sponsored by the California Department of Education, in collaboration with the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL). More than 300 participants represented a diverse group of adult education professionals, including researchers, teachers, administrators, policy-makers, librarians, correctional educators, independent consultants, and professional developers. The theme of the symposium was “Supporting Student Success: What Research Tells Us.” Presentations covered such topics as reading profiles of adult students, distance learning, authentic materials health literacy, research methods for ABE/ESL populations, standards-based reform, pair activities in beginning ESL classes, effective instruction in adult ESL literacy, and the impact of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and welfare reform on practitioners. Papers and other handouts from the presentations will be available online this spring.

CAELA associate Regina Van Horne attended the conference and wrote the following summary of one presentation she attended:

Pair Activities in Beginning Adult ESL Classes
Kathryn A. Harris, Portland State University ( Oregon )/ NCSALL Adult ESOL Lab School
Steve Reder, Principal Investigator

Research: Harris reported on research conducted at the Lab School in Portland, where ESL classes are taped and recordings are coded and saved in a database. The database currently has over 3000 hours of recordings of classroom interaction. Harris used the classroom recordings to analyze 30 pair interactions in beginning-level adult ESL classes. She found that pair work did indeed “work” with these learners as students would often interact for an extended time toward success, helping each other negotiate meaning, pronunciation, and form. Two surprise findings were that the presence of the teacher in a pair changes the interaction (and not necessarily for the better), and that the use of students’ native language during the negotiation was almost always in pursuit of meaning.

Implications: Although the main point of Harris’s presentation was that pair work is possible in beginning ESL classes, teachers probably will be most interested in Harris’s “surprise findings.” These findings indicate that teachers should allow students to speak to each other in their native languages in order to help each other understand specific activities or meanings of new words. Also, teachers should not circulate around the room listening to students speaking to each other during pair activities, as this redirects students’ attention towards the teacher and changes the nature of their interaction with each other. Rather, teachers may choose to “stand back,” listening to their students’ interactions from afar and not interrupt their progress.

Gaps/Further Research: One area for further research is how the success of pair activities varies with learners who have different learning styles. It would also be useful to have more tangible or quantitative data about the effects of the teacher’s presence on students’ pair interactions. Teachers may be unlikely to change this ingrained behavior unless they can see proof that it is better to stand back.

For more information about the role of interaction and negotiating meaning in the adult ESL classroom, see Second Language Acquisition in Adults: From Research to Practice, by Donna Moss and Lauren Ross Feldman.


Upcoming Publications

In 2005, in addition to quarterly newsletters online, CAELA will produce five research-to-practice briefs, one annotated bibliography, and one set of frequently asked questions (FAQs). The following topics will be addressed this year:

  • Implementing research findings on how adult English language learners learn to read in English in classroom instruction
  • Using technology to provide professional development and technical assistance to adult ESL practitioners
  • Developing effective adult ESL programs
  • Instruction of beginning level adult English language learners
  • Helping advanced-level adult English language learners transition to academic programs or to work

Please send your recommendations for topics you would like to see addressed in future publications to