Framework for Quality Professional Development for Practitioners Working with Adult English Language Learners

Professional Development Content

The content of professional development focuses on the knowledge that practitioners (teachers and administrators) need in order to work effectively with the adult English language learners in their programs.

The content of professional development should differentiate between received knowledge (knowledge typically provided through workshops or classes, is foundational in nature, and draws from the established tenants of the field) and constructed knowledge (knowledge created by or among practitioners through practice and focused reflection; it may draw from received knowledge as well as teaching experiences and beliefs) and integrate the two. There is a dynamic and reciprocal relationship between received knowledge and constructed knowledge (Borg, 2006; Crandall, 1993, 2000; Day, 1991; National Center for ESL Literacy Education, 2003; Freeman & Johnson, 1998, 2004; Vygotsky, 1986; Yates & Muchisky, 2003). Therefore, knowledge received in professional development sessions has an impact on program design and delivery and on teaching and learning in classrooms, and knowledge constructed in classrooms and programs influences what practitioners need to receive next in professional development sessions.

For example, teachers and tutors can be presented with the definition of “interlanguage” in a professional development workshop: Interlanguage refers to the intermediate patterns of language use between the target language (English) and the learner’s first language (Selinker, 1972; Ellis, 2000). In moving from the first or native language to the target language, learners make hypotheses about how a language works. These hypotheses are part of the learner’s interlanguage. Learners may produce some forms because they have a faculty hypothesis about the target language at a stage of their learning (Dulay & Burt, 1972, 1974a, 1974b, 1976; Ellis, 2000). For example, learners may make all past tense forms end in the letters “ed,” even those that are irregular verbs, such as “went.” If a teacher sees a pattern in the forms the learner is producing, such as putting an “ed” on every verb to make it past tense, then the teacher can deduce that the learner has a faculty hypothesis about formation of past tense in English. In instruction, the teacher can address this issue.

Teachers and tutors can grasp the concept of interlanguage and how it affects a learner’s movement toward producing correct target language forms. However, if they are to come to a deeper knowledge of what interlanguage is and how to benefit from this knowledge in their teaching, they need to apply this knowledge with their own students. After a training in which teachers and tutors receive this knowledge, they are then given an assignment to construct this knowledge in light of their own students’ learning. They may be asked to analyze several pieces of student writing for interlanguage patterns, ascertain if there are consistencies in the forms used, and determine what hypotheses the learners may have about English. Then they can detail what they would teach to lead the learners toward a correct hypothesis about the language. Through this activity of analyzing their students’ writing, they are constructing their knowledge about interlanguage. In future professional development sessions, teachers can discuss what they have learned and obtain more information about this topic.

In working with adult English language learners, the content knowledge that practitioners need to both receive and construct includes the following:

Practitioner Knowledge

  • The processes of second language acquisition for adult learners (e.g., interlanguage, the impact of native language proficiency on second language acquisition, stages of acquisition) (Dulay & Burt, 1972, 1974a, 1974b, 1976; Ellis, 2000; Fillmore & Snow, 2002; Florez & Burt, 2001; Muchisky & Yates, 2003; Yates & Muchisky, 2004)

  • The processes of learning components of the language (e.g., sound/symbol correspondence, grammar, vocabulary) (Burt, Peyton, & Adams, 2003; Fillmore & Snow, 2002; Muchisky & Yates, 2003; Yates & Muchisky, 2004)

  • The types and impact of native language literacy on English language and literacy learning (e.g., nonliterate, literate in a non-alphabetic script, literate in a Roman alphabetic script) (Birch, 2002; Burt, Peyton, & Adams, 2003; Hilferty, 1996; Huntley, 1992; Strucker, 2002)

  • The affective factors that can influence adult learning (e.g., study skills, time management, level of anxiety and confidence)* (Fillmore & Snow, 2002, Florez & Burt, 2001; Gee, 2004; Hawkins, 2004: Haynes, 2005)

  • The evidence-based principles and instructional strategies for teaching adults learning English (e.g., direct method, communicative language learning, project-based learning) (Brown, 2000; Hall & Hewings, 2001)

  • The selection and use of valid, appropriate, and reliable assessments to inform instruction and provide feedback about learner progress (e.g., standardized, formative, performance, and authentic assessment) (Bachman, 1990; Kenyon & Van Duzer, 2003; Misley & Knowles, 2002)

  • The use of ESL content standards and curriculum guidelines to guide instruction and align with assessment (e.g., benchmarks, scope and sequence, and proficiency levels) (Schaetzel & Young, 2007; Young & Smith, 2006; U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education, n.d.)

  • The appropriate uses of technology to support adult learners before, during, and after instruction* (e.g., guided practice, communicative practice, application of language skills) (Chapelle, 2003; National Center for ESL Literacy Education, 2003)


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