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CAELA Currents April 2006


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)


April Articles

CAELA Activities: Ask a Simple Question...

Two New CAELA Briefs

Upcoming CAELA Briefs

TESOL 2006

State Capacity-Building Meetings

Engaging Immigrant Seniors in Community Service and Employment Programs

CAELA Web Site

CAELA Activities: Ask A Simple Question... 

CAELA staff members are involved in a number of activities that include preparing reports and research briefs; supporting state teams through telephone calls, emails, and regional meetings; disseminating information and resources at conferences and workshops; and moderating the electronic discussion list (Adult English Language Learners Discussion List, accessible at for practitioners who work with adult English language learners.

An important role that CAELA plays is responding to questions from state teams and the field. In the past few months we have responded to dozens of questions on topics related to adult ESL teaching and learning. Questions range from how best to provide feedback on learners’ writing to what information is available on teaching and assessing math literacy, to whether there are studies on setting English language standards in the workplace.

As an example:

Question: What statistics are available on the training and education levels of adult ESL teachers?


One recent study about adult educators and reading instruction surveyed 208 adult education practitioners (77.9% were teachers, 16.8% were program supervisors or coordinators) and found that 21.6% had certification in elementary education, 5.8% in secondary education. 26.9% had certification in more than one area, and 17.3% had no certification ( Bell, Ziegler, & McCallum, April 2004, “What adult educators know compared with what they say they know about providing research-based reading instruction,” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 47:7, 542-563.)

To find more information on the topic and to follow the steps CAELA followed click here:

Searching CAELA resources

Searching public access Web sites

Asking colleagues

Searching academic databases

Responding to questions about adult ESL education can be a complex and challenging process, but we welcome the opportunity to think about new questions and consider old issues in new ways. If you have a question about adult English language learners or adult ESL education, please do not hesitate to ask us (, and we will do our best to find an answer for you.

Two New CAELA Briefs

English Literacy and Civics Education

This brief provides concrete examples of how teachers can develop EL/Civics education that is appropriate for learners at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels of English proficiency. Many online resources for EL/Civics education are also identified.

Promoting the Success of Multilevel ESL Classes: What Teachers and Administrators Can Do

This brief discusses instructional strategies for teachers of multilevel classes, including needs assessment, lesson planning, grouping strategies, using native languages, project-based learning and thematic instruction, and using self-access materials. It also outlines strategies for program administrators to help teachers, who need support from administrators in order to successfully serve the learners in their classes.

Upcoming CAELA Briefs

The following briefs will be available in the coming months:

  • Transitioning Adult ELLs into ABE or Postsecondary Education (available June 2006)
  • Content Standards for Adult ESL Instruction (Available July 2006)
  • Teaching Adult ELLs in the Content Classroom (available August 2006)

TESOL 2006

The 40th Annual TESOL Convention was held in Tampa, FL, March 14-18, 2006. CAELA staff participated in a number of presentations, which are summarized here.

ESOL in Adult Education: Perspectives on the Adult Immigrant Experience Today

Presentations in this session focused on the adult immigrant experience and implications for adult ESL instruction.

Research on adult immigrants in Australia and New Zealand. Former TESOL president, Dr. Denise Murray, a professor at Macquarie University, in Ryde, Australia, noted that recent immigrants in Australia and New Zealand face similar issues to those of immigrants in the United States. For more information on this presentation, click here.

Language, culture, and families in Ontario, Canada. Constantine Ioannou of the Ottawa –Carleton District School Board ( Canada) spoke about working with family literacy programs in Canada and gave the suggestions for those working in these programs. For more information about this presentation, click here.

Immigration, naturalization, and citizenship in the United States. Linda Taylor of CASAS and Lynne Weintraub, a consultant in Amherst, Massachusetts, spoke about issues related to immigration. Ms. Taylor gave figures about recent immigrants For more information about this presentation, click here. Ms. Weintraub described issues related to the naturalization process. For more information on this presentation, click here.

Research on adult English language learners. Miriam Burt of the Center for Adult English Language Acquisition reminded participants of the importance of research in an era in which teachers must demonstrate that they use evidence-based practices in their instruction and must show that students are making gains in language proficiency. For more information on this presentation, click here.


Using Program Quality Standards to Evaluate Adult ESL Programs

Joy Peyton, CAELA, and Gretchen Bitterlin, San Diego Community Colleges, presented a session on program quality standards that describe the important components of a program that will lead to learner achievement as outlined in content, performance, and proficiency standards. For more information on this presentation, click here.

From Individual Workshops to Systematic Professional Development

Miriam Burt and Kirsten Schaetzel (CAELA) led a discussion group focused on how systematic professional development differs from “one-shot” trainings and described the research showing that systematic professional development is more beneficial. For more information on this discussion group, click here.

Using Study Circles for Professional Development

Kirsten Schaetzel led a discussion group on study circles and how to implement them. For more information on this discussion group, click here.


Using Volunteers in the Adult ESL Class

In this discussion group, Sarah Young (CAELA), gave participants an opportunity to share experiences and ideas on the variety of ways in which volunteer tutors, teachers, and teaching assistants are used in adult ESL programs. For more information on this discussion group, click here.

Interactive Student-Generated Questioning Techniques

Sarah Young also gave a demonstration session of a popular and effective speaking activity, known by its ESL class name as “The Hot Seat.” For information on this technique, click here.


State Capacity-Building Meetings

CAELA seeks to improve the capacity of states to provide technical assistance to professional developers and teachers of adult English language learners. A major activity supporting this goal is annual capacity-building workshops conducted by CAELA staff for state teams of ESL professionals. The second series of annual workshops was held this March and April, and nearly 100 adult ESL specialists, professional developers, and teachers from 24 states attended. The first two workshops were held this March in Las Vegas, Nevada and Houston, Texas. A third workshop was held in April in Baltimore, Maryland. The chart below shows the states that teams represent.


Las Vegas, Nevada
Riveria Hotel
March 1 & 2

Houston, Texas
Hilton Hobby Hotel
March 27 & 28

Baltimore, Maryland
Holiday Inn Inner Harbor
April 10 & 11





New Mexico

South Dakota







Rhode Island









South Carolina


West Virginia


Engaging Immigrant Seniors in Community Service and Employment Programs

CAELA staff members have teamed up with Senior Service America to create a resource for organizations that assist immigrant seniors entering or re-entering the workforce. Engaging Immigrant Seniors in Community Service and Employment Programs: A Guide for Providers is intended to provide guidance for the staff of Senior Community Service Employment Programs (SCSEP, a U.S. Department of Labor project that subsidizes part-time employment for low-income seniors), workforce development agencies, agencies on aging, and other providers of services to older adults. The guide provides background information on immigrant seniors in the United States and the services available to them from SCSEP and partner organizations, and gives practical advice for employees of such organizations for working with seniors from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds.

Several chapters give useful advice on how to facilitate interactions between immigrant seniors and the SCSEP staff members who work with them. One chapter outlines nine scenarios that examine issues that may occur in work situations, such as an immigrant senior not wanting to let his supervisor and co-workers know that he does not understand a task or what is being said to him. The materials are designed to be used either for self-study or as exercises for program staff, and aim to encourage staff members to think about how they would respond to the scenarios outlined. The last chapter gives references and resources for staff of SCSEP programs and partner organizations.

Engaging Immigrant Seniors is available from Senior Service America, Inc., (301) 578-8900,

CAELA Web Site

Coming Soon A number of new resources, links, and tools are being developed on the CAELA Web site. For example, the links sections for instructors ( ) and program development ( ) have been reviewed and updated following the criteria CAELA staff developed. The research links section is still under development. The Tools sections for instructors and for program development are being developed and linked to resources both on the site and from other online and print resources. For example, based on feedback from the CAELA trainings, the instructor and program development tools sections will include brief scenarios that can help practitioners narrow down and decide which resources will be most useful for them. Below is an example of how we plan to integrate a typical adult ESL scenario and the resources on the CAELA Web site.

Situation: A rural section of a state has seen a recent, rapid increase in adult immigrants, who have come to the area to take entry-level jobs at a meat-packing plant. Until now, the small adult education center has offered only adult basic education (ABE) and General Education Development (GED) preparation classes. Immigrants who wanted to study took the ABE class. Now, there are enough adult English language learners to support a class, so one of the ABE teachers—a former middle-school math teacher—has agreed to teach the class. It will be 7 months before the yearly adult education conference, and the ESL class begins in 3 weeks.

How the CAELA Web site can help: Through the CAELA Web site, the teacher can begin learning independently about adult ESL.

First, she can visit Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) under ESL Resources ( While all 18 FAQs are relevant to a novice, for this teacher the most immediately pertinent FAQs may be these:

7. What are the characteristics of adults learning English in the United States?

8. How do adult English language learners differ from adult basic education learners?

9. What instructional practices best meet the needs of adult English language learners?

10. How long does it take an adult to learn English?

12. How can I find out more about teaching English as second language?

18. What do beginning adult ESL teachers and tutors need to know?

Each FAQ cites briefs, digests, and other resources relevant to the specific topic.

Having become familiar with these FAQs, the teacher can then make use of the following resources:

This paper gives a concise overview of four essential questions that all adult ESL teachers should consider: How do the principles of adult learning apply to adult English language learners? What do instructors need to know about second language acquisition ( SLA)? What do instructors need to know about culture and working with multicultural groups? What instructional approaches support second language development in adults?

If the novice teacher has no more time than to thoroughly study this Q & A, she could discover the basics of the principles and methods that are appropriate for adult ESL from this brief overview.

This collection includes links to CAELA’s and other resources, including articles, reports, teacher reference books, curricula, organizations, an electronic discussion list, and policy issues that affect the field. For the novice teacher with limited time to absorb a huge amount of data, the practical advice gathered from an experienced teacher focus group may demystify the field. The advice would include such comments as “Write the day’s agenda on the board,” “Do a lot of physical activity,” and “Limit teacher talk.”

As this 238-page compendium was developed to serve the needs of practitioners new to adult ESL, many of the topics of concern to the novice are addressed here. Topics include background characteristics of nonnative speakers in the U.S., assessment and needs assessment, and how to promote interaction and communication ( and reading development ( The Toolkit was developed specifically for family literacy programs, therefore, several sections specifically related to parent education may not be directly relevant.

Focusing on the skill of reading, this brief makes the critically important point that teaching adult English language learners requires approaches that differ from those used in instruction in ABE programs.

The teacher also can subscribe to the quarterly online newsletter CAELA Currents ( and the adult ESL electronic discussion list ( The newsletter will help connect the novice to current activities in the field. The electronic discussion list can provide a forum for communicating with approximately 800 adult (mostly) ESL practitioners from across the country and around the world.

Finally, the teacher can use the CAELA Web site for a systematic and focused course of self-study.In fact,throughout the process of her self-education, the novice teacher can use the CAELA Web site as a way to methodically develop her professional knowledge of adult ESL—to become, in effect, her own teacher. Here are some of the things she can do:

  • Begin a journal to keep track of questions and concerns about teaching adult ESL. As she reads through the online resources, she can jot down possible answers or explanations.

  • Narrow the scope of study to one or two goals that fit into her time frame and situation. For example, if adult immigrants at the meat-packing plant have beginning-level skills in speaking, reading, and writing English, there is no immediate reason for the teacher to study how adult English learners can transition to GED or community college education. Rather, she should access documents directly relevant to her situation, such as Working with Literacy-Level Adult English Language Learners (


After trying out a new activity in the classroom, she can reflect upon the experience, asking herself: How did the activity work? What would make it better? Is it worth trying again? Then she can jot down the reflections in the journal.

  • E-mail CAELA staff ( with questions about instructional practice, appropriate learner materials, use of technology, sources of information about specific cultural groups, and other concerns.
  • Share questions, concerns, and information with the adult ESL discussion list community (
  • Set aside a regular time to share new knowledge and concerns with the program administrator, who can also benefit from her insights . The novice can ask the administrator to observe her class, making sure that the observation focuses on the activities and approaches she has been experimenting with.
  • Go back to her journal after several weeks, and again after several months, to review the initial set of questions and concerns to see which questions have been answered, which remain, and what new questions have arisen.