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Practitioner Toolkit: Working With Adult English Language Learners book cover
Practitioner Toolkit: Working With Adult English Language Learners

This toolkit provides a variety of materials to help language and literacy instructors who are new to serving adults and families learning English. These materials include a first-day orientation guide, lesson plans, and research-to-practice papers on English language and literacy learning.

Promoting education and achievement of adults learning English


Professional Development for Teachers of Adult English Language Learners: An Annotated Bibliography

Kirsten Schaetzel
Center for Applied Linguistics
October 2007

Professional development for teachers of adult English language learners is of great importance. The quality of teaching has been associated with raising student achievement (U.S. Department of Education, 2007). Yet, many teachers serving new immigrant populations are not specifically trained to work with adults learning English.
The literature on professional development in adult education is limited. The relatively few adult education specific studies that have been done shed light on the characteristics of professional development and the complexities of offering professional development in adult education contexts. More research on professional development exists for teachers in grades K-12, and that research can inform professional development for teachers of adult English language learners.

The items provided here include significant studies and resources on professional development in K-12 and adult education as well as current trends in provision of professional development. These resources provide practitioners with information needed to design, plan, implement, and evaluate high quality professional development for those working with adult English language learners.

For a detailed discussion of professional development trends and options in adult ESL education, see Schaetzel, Peyton, & Burt (2007).

Schaetzel, K., Peyton, J., & Burt, M. (2007). Professional development for adult ESL practitioners: Building capacity. Washington, DC: Center for Adult English Language Acquisition. Available: www.cal.org/caela/esl_resources/briefs/profdev.html

U. S. Department of Education (2007, August). No Child Left Behind: Teacher-to-teacher initiative. Washington, DC: Author. Available: www.ed.gov/teachers/how/tools/initiative/factsheet.pdf

Association of Adult Literacy Professional Developers (AALDP). (n.d.) Recommended policies to support professional development for adult basic education practitioners. Available: www.aalpd.org/priorities_pdpolicies.htm

The Association of Adult Literacy Professional Developers (AALPD) developed a list of 16 policies that AALPD determined should be adopted at national, state, and local levels to support the professional development of adult education practitioners. The policies include orientation for new teachers, creation of professional development plans, provision of paid release time for participating teachers, teacher participation in program improvement activities such as reviewing assessment data and designing program curricula, and performance evaluations of all practitioners. For each policy, a rationale based on research and examples from practice are given.


Belzer, A., Drennon, C., & Smith, C. (2001). Building professional development systems in adult basic education: Lessons from the field. Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, 2. Available: www.ncsall.net/?id=559

This article analyzes the professional development systems in five states: Idaho, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The following key features of the professional development systems in the states are examined: scope, cooperative leadership, coherence, and accessibility. The examples show how each feature manifests itself in each state and the variations in its implementation. The article concludes with implications for practice, research, and policy.


Borg, S. (2006). Teacher cognition and language education. New York: Continuum.

Study of teacher cognition – what teachers think, know, and believe – is an important area in professional development. Borg’s book gives a thorough overview of work on teacher cognition. The first part gives a history of the research on teacher cognition in general and shows how the field has evolved from the study of teacher decision making to the study of teacher thought, knowledge, and beliefs and the impact that these have on classroom teaching and learning. It then focuses on teacher cognition in grammar teaching and literacy instruction. The second part of the book examines research methods that can be used for teachers to reflect on their own learning and practice. These include self-report instruments, verbal commentaries, observation, and reflective writing. The book ends with a framework for studying language teacher cognition.


Freeman, D., & Johnson, K. (1998). Reconceptualizing the knowledge-base of language teacher education. TESOL Quarterly, 32, 119-127.

Freeman and Johnson propose an outline for the knowledge base required in language teacher education and argue that three broad families of issues need to be addressed: the nature of the teacher-learner, the nature of schools and schooling, and the nature of language teaching (pedagogical thinking and activity, subject matter taught, and language learning). The authors maintain that knowledge about second language acquisition and other topics should be infused with experience. They argue for a social constructivist view of language learning, which holds that language knowledge is not simply a group of facts about language but is constructed by the teaching and learning situation in a particular classroom based on its historical and cultural contexts.


Garet, M., Porter, A., Desimone, L., Birman, B., & Kwang, S. (2001). What makes professional development effective: Results from a national sample of teachers. American Educational Research Journal, (38)4, 915-945.

This study is the first large-scale empirical comparison of effects of different types of professional development on teachers’ learning. Using a sample of 1,027 mathematics and science teachers in K-12 education, the study found that three structural features and three core features of professional development activities had significant positive effects on teachers. Structural features found to have an impact on teacher learning were form and duration of the professional development experience and opportunities for collective participation with others. Activities of longer duration provided more opportunities for active learning and coherence. Core features that had an impact were the content that the teachers were teaching, opportunities for active learning and hands-on practice, and integration of the professional development with the program in which the teachers were teaching. These features enhanced teachers’ knowledge and skills, which resulted in changes in teaching practice. The discussion section of the article describes several ways to improve professional development based on these findings.


Guskey, T. (2002). Does it make a difference? Evaluating professional development. Educational Leadership, 59(6), 45-51.

In this article, Guskey proposes a schema of five levels of professional development evaluation. From low to high, the levels are: participants’ reactions, participants’ learning, organization support and change, participants’ use of new knowledge and skills, and student learning outcomes. Higher levels build on the information gathered at lower levels. The process of gathering evaluation information becomes more complicated at each level. For each level Guskey delineates questions to be answered, information to be gathered, outcomes measured, and ways to use the information gained. Each level is described in detail and outlined succinctly in a chart.


Kutner, M., Sherman, R., Tibbetts, J., & Condelli, L. (1997). Evaluating professional development: A framework for adult education. Building Professional Development Partnerships for Adult Educators Project. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research. Available: www.calpro-online.org/pubs/evalmon.pdf
This document contains a framework for evaluating professional development in adult education. The framework examines the effects of professional development on learners, instructors, and programs. It includes strategies for evaluation, such as questionnaires, interviews, and observations of practice. Issues and recommendations to consider when designing and implementing evaluations of professional development are also described.


Sherman, R. & Kutner, M. (1998). Professional development resource guide for adult educators. Building Professional Development Partnerships for Adult Educators Project. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research. Available: www.calpro-online.org/pubs.asp

This guide aims to promote professional development activities for adult educators. It presents different approaches to professional development suitable for adult education (workshop, observation with feedback, inquiry and research, and product and program development), information about evaluating the impact of professional development, and a collection of resources, including sample needs assessments and professional development plans. It also contains information for professional development coordinators, instructors, and administrators about how to implement and support professional development with available personnel and resources.


Sherman, R., Kutner, M., Tibbetts, J., & Weidler, D. (2000). Professional development resources supplement: Improving instruction, organization, and learner outcomes through professional development. Building Professional Development Partnerships for Adult Educators Project. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research. Available: www.calpro-online.org/pubs/PDResSupp.pdf

This supplement to the Professional Development Resource Guide for Adult Educators (see above) addresses the topics of needs assessment and collaboration, two very important aspects of professional development for teachers. It describes procedures and steps to follow in designing and conducting a needs assessment and gives several sample needs assessment profiles. The supplement also lists the characteristics, benefits, and challenges of collaboration and strategies for developing collaborative relationships.


Smith, C., & Gillespie, M. (2007). Research on professional development and teacher change: Implications for adult basic education. Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, 7. Available: www.ncsall.net/fileadmin/resources/ann_rev/smith-gillespie-07.pdf

In this article, Smith and Gillespie discuss the state of professional development in adult basic education; examine different models of professional development, specifically in a standards-based environment; review the literature on how teachers change; and discuss implications for policy, practice, and research. The article reviews what we know about how teachers change when they participate in different models of professional development and applies those findings to environments in which professional development occurs. For example, it describes both the traditional professional development model (workshops with follow-up, conferences, seminars, and lectures) and the job-embedded professional development model (collaborative teacher learning activities, teacher inquiry, study circles, and professional learning communities) and their effectiveness in contexts in which many teachers work part time and resources for professional development are limited. The last section of the article gives suggestions for policy, practice, and research so that professional development for adult educators will better meet their needs.


Smith, C., Hofer, J., Gillespie, M., Solomon, M., & Rowe, K. (2003). How teachers change: A study of professional development in adult education. (Report No. 25a). Cambridge, MA: National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy. Available: www.ncsall.net/fileadmin/resources/research/report25a.pdf

This study examined how teachers changed after participating in one of three models of professional development (multisession workshop, mentor teacher group, practitioner research group). The study was conducted in Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts, with a sample of 100 teachers. The study found that most teachers changed, at least minimally. Changes were most often seen in teachers’ roles as classroom teachers, not as program members, learners, or members of the field of adult education. The teachers who gained the most had the following characteristics: They worked more hours, had well-supported jobs, had a voice in decision-making, had their first teaching experience in adult education, were relatively new to the field of adult education, had more access to colleagues, did not have a degree above a Bachelor’s, and participated for more hours in professional development activities. The study did not find that one model of professional development was more effective than the others: The teachers who made a change in their teaching were almost evenly spread across all professional development models, but the two teachers who made significant change were in the practitioner research group.


Swaffield, S. (2005). No sleeping partners: Relationships between head teachers and critical friends. School Leadership and Management, 25(1), 43-57.

A critical friend is a person or organization outside a classroom, school, or program who provides guidance and feedback (e.g., on instruction or professional development). This small-scale study of head teachers and their critical friends was conducted in the United Kingdom to better understand the dynamics of the critical friend relationship. The article includes a review of the literature on critical friend relationships in schools and lists the work, conduct, and characteristics of a critical friend. The findings of the study emphasize the collegiality and support as well as the critical eye that a critical friend brings, and highlight the importance of both participants in the critical pair relationship, which is shaped by the actions and personalities of the partners.


Yates, R. & Muchisky, D. (2003). On reconceptualizing teacher education. TESOL Quarterly, 37, 135-147.

Yates and Muchisky challenge Freeman and Johnson’s (1998, see above) reconceptualization of the knowledge base needed in language teacher education. They argue that Freeman and Johnson’s reconceptualization marginalizes issues that are critical to language teacher education. These issues include a basic understanding of language components and how different languages organize these components, the ways that additional languages are learned, and the ways that these issues influence what language teachers do in their classrooms. The authors argue that the knowledge base of language teachers must be grounded in research on second language acquisition so that teachers understand how languages are organized and learned; and instructional strategies to help students become more proficient in the second language in the contexts in which they are learning.

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