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Philosophies and Approaches in Adult ESL Literacy Instruction
Joy Peyton, National Center for ESL Literacy Education
Five approaches currently used in adult English as a second language (ESL) literacy instruction include Freirean or participatory education, whole language, language experience approach, learner writing and publishing, and competency-based education. This digest gives an overview of these approaches, which represent a range of practices used in native language and biliteracy programs as well as in ESL classes, with learners whose literacy ranges from limited to advanced.
Among adult educators in the United States, Freire's ideas have been adapted to fit diverse learners and educational contexts. The primary revision is the notion of emergent curriculum (Auerbach, 1992), where learners identify their own problems and issues and seek their own solutions. Teachers, freed from doing extensive research to identify problems for learners, become facilitators of class discussions and activities, and learn along with the class.
Whole language classes consist of communities of learners who work together to develop the curriculum, read and write for and with each other, and evaluate products together. Classroom activities might include extended reading and writing, with both sustained silent reading and oral reading of a variety of published and student-written works; group development of written texts that grow out of individual or group experiences (language experience approach, described below); direct instruction in effective reading and writing strategies; and ongoing student and teacher evaluation of student work and class success.
Whole language approaches are used in a number of basic and family literacy programs as well as in some workplace literacy programs (Pharness, 1991). A well-known program is located at the Invergarry Learning Centre in Surrey, British Columbia (described in detail in Sharing What Works, Center for Applied Linguistics, 1993). Learners entering the program are given a blank, lined notebook and asked to write whatever they want. As they continue to write, their notebooks become reading texts and sources of ideas for further writing. New learners, more experienced learners, and tutors work together as they sit at round tables writing, reading, talking, and conferring about their writing.
Language experience stories can grow out of individual or group experiences that occur naturally or are staged for the class. Personal experiences can be dictated by a learner to a teacher or an aide who transcribes them, reads them back to the learner, and then helps the learner read them. For group experiences, the class can choose an experience (such as making lunch or taking a trip somewhere), develop a plan of action (such as assigning ingredients or making schedules), and go through the experience. After the experience, the learners discuss it orally, compose a narrative about it, read the narrative, and participate in follow-up activities (such as developing vocabulary lists and cloze passages, or writing related stories). A teacher acts as the group's transcriber until learners become proficient enough to transcribe for themselves.
Most writing-based classrooms follow a writing process approach in which learners and the teacher brainstorm writing topics, draft pieces, share and confer about their writing, revise, edit, and publish in a workshop atmosphere in which reading, writing, and talk are integrated and support each other.
A competency is an instructional objective described in task-based terms such as "Students will be able to ..." that include a verb describing a demonstrable skill such as answer, interpret, or request. Competencies include basic survival skills such as answering personal information questions, using public transportation, or obtaining food and shelter; or more academic or work-related skills such as taking notes during an academic lecture, following directions for a work-related task, explaining one's position on an issue, or distinguishing between fact and opinion in a newspaper article. Thus, a CBE approach can be used for learners with academic, employment, and self-enrichment goals as well as for those with basic survival goals.
Adult Performance Level Project. (1975). Adult functional competency: A summary. Austin, TX: University of Texas, Division of Extension. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 114 609)
Auerbach, E.R. (1992). Making meaning, making change: Participatory curriculum development for adult ESL literacy. Washington, DC and McHenry, IL: Center for Applied Linguistics and Delta Systems.
Center for Applied Linguistics. (1993). Sharing what works: A series of videos for staff development. Washington, DC: Author.
Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System. (1982). Life skills survey achievement tests. San Diego: Author.
Edelsky, C., Altwerger, B., & Flores, B. (1991). Whole language: What's the difference? Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Freire, P. (1985). The politics of education. New York: Bergin & Garvey.
Pharness, G. (1991). A learner-centered worker education program. NCLE Digest. Washington, DC: National Center for ESL Literacy Education. (EDRS No. ED 334 872)
Stauffer, R.G. (1965). A language experience approach. In J.A. Kerfoot (Ed.), First grade reading programs: Perspectives in reading No. 5 (pp. 86-118). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
My Name is Rose‹the best known of several student-written publications, published by East End Literacy Press in Toronto, Ontario. (Available from Pippin Publishing, 380 Esna Park Drive, Markham, Ontario, Canada L3R 1H5; 800-567-6591 or 416-598-1866.)
New Writers' Voices‹student writing published by New Readers Press. (Available from New Readers Press, P.O. Box 888, Syracuse, NY 13210-0888; 800-448-8878.)
Voices: New Writers for New Readers‹a student-produced magazine. (Available from The Canadian Centre for Educational Development, 9260 140th Street, Surrey, British Columbia V3V 5Z4; 604-584-5424.)
This digest summarizes the ideas presented in Approaches to Adult ESL Literacy Instruction (J. Crandall & J.K. Peyton, Eds., 1993, McHenry, IL and Washington, DC: Delta Systems and Center for Applied Linguistics). Contributors are JoAnn Crandall (overview and social context), David Spener (Freirean philosophy), Pat Rigg and Francis Kazemek (whole language), Marcia Taylor (language experience approach), Joy Kreeft Peyton (publishing students' writing), and K. Lynn Savage (competency-based approaches). Detailed information on implementing these ideas is given in the book (available from Delta Systems at 1-800-323-8270).
This document was produced at the Center for Applied Linguistics (4646 40th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20016 202-362-0700) with funding from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), contract no. RI 93002010. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of ED or OERI. This document is in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission.