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Program Development

Staff Development

Adult ESL teachers, trainers, and administrators face many professional challenges. Barriers to professional development include part-time employment, frequent turnover of teaching staff, widely divergent professional qualifications among staff, a diverse and mobile learner population with variable needs, limited and uncertain funding, and geographic and technological barriers. As states and programs work to build ongoing, responsive professional development systems, they often face “reinventing the wheel” as new teachers and administrators need to be trained. The examples below show how using the CAELA Web site can provide resources for ongoing professional development.

Example 1
Situation: A state has organized a series of professional development activities that will include face-to-face workshops, peer mentoring, and study circles to begin at next summer’s state adult education institute. The state’s ABE/adult ESL trainer has retired, and her replacement is relatively new to adult ESL and knows little about professional development.

How the CAELA Web site can help: In the months before she begins the trainer series, the new trainer can use the CAELA Web site to access information on both professional development issues and adult ESL content and methods. The following sources should prove particularly useful:

  • Bibliography: Online Adult Professional Development Resources
This annotated bibliography offers a selection of some of the most comprehensive and useful online resources available to practitioners.

  • Briefs
CAELA’s briefs will give the trainer a taste of current topics of concern and inquiry. Of particular note is Online Professional Development for Adult ESL Educators. This brief describes current efforts to provide online professional development opportunities and resources for adult ESL teachers, and discusses factors that should be considered in the development, delivery, and evaluation of professional development. The other briefs are

  • Digests: Professional Development Series
    The nine digests in this series provide information about specific adult ESL topics, such as working with beginning-level learners, video-based distance education, and working with learners with learning disabilities.

  • Digests: Program Design Series
These digests can help the professional developer learn about the types of programs and classes (e.g., English literacy/civics, native language literacy) and issues (e.g., outreach and retention, transitioning to academic programs) so she can better understand the perspectives of the teachers and programs she will be working with.

Example 2
Situation: A large Western state with a rapidly increasing immigrant population conducted a teacher survey that included teacher background and needs assessment. The state adult education office plans to use these data to strengthen the adult education system. The survey results indicate that while several teachers in the capital city area have academic backgrounds and experience in adult ESL, those in other parts of the state do not. Results of the needs assessment indicate that the teachers want training in the following areas: teaching multilevel classes, teaching reading, and second language acquisition.

The trainer charged with providing the training taught adult ESL for many years, so she knows about multilevel classes. However, she is less comfortable about teaching reading because she is unfamiliar with current research and resources; in fact, the texts she used aren’t even in print anymore. She is not comfortable at all about providing training on second language acquisition. The trainer did most of her ESL teaching in the 1980s when the focus was seat-of-the-pants, competency-based instruction, without much theoretical underpinning.

How the CAELA Web site can help: This experienced trainer can use the CAELA Web site to learn what she needs to know about reading and second language before she develops her professional development plan. She will also be able to use some of the materials in the face-to-face trainings and for follow up.

For information on reading, the trainer could read or review the following resources:

  • Brief: How Should Adult ESL Reading Instruction Differ from ABE Reading Instruction?

  • Bibliography: Research on Reading Development of Adult English Language Learners: An Annotated Bibliography

  • Digest: Reading and Adult English Language Learners: The Role of the First Language

  • Digest: Reading and the Adult English Language Learner

  • Practitioner Toolkit: Working with Adult English Language Learners

Activities to Promote Reading Development

For information on second language acquisition, the trainer could read or review the following resources:

  • Digest: Second Language Acquisition in Adults: From Research to Practice

  • Collection: Second Language Acquisition

As the trainer reads through the documents and resources, she can contact CAELA staff ( with questions about the topics and for suggestions about effective training techniques.

Click here for examples of how classroom instructors might use the CAELA Web site.

This CAELA web page is still being developed. If you have questions or comments about this topic, please email