ERIC Identifier: ED343462
Publication Date: 1990-11-00
Author: Huss, Susan - And Others
Clearinghouse on Literacy Education Washington DC.
Using Computers with Adult ESL Literacy Learners. ERIC Digest.
During the 1980s, the microcomputer became an important tool for many
educational purposes. The appropriate use of computers with adults acquiring
literacy while learning English as a Second Language (ESL) is of critical
concern. Researchers and practitioners now realize the important role that
computers can play in both second language and literacy instruction and are
looking for effective ways to integrate their use into various types of
programs. This "Digest" provides an overview of the ways in which various types
of computer software and instructional strategies can be used effectively with
adult ESL literacy learners.
COMPUTER USE IN LANGUAGE AND LITERACY DEVELOPMENT
drill and practice software has a role to play in reinforcing the learning of
discrete language skills (e.g., specific grammar points and vocabulary items),
the overall trend is away from such behaviorist modes of computer-assisted
instruction (CAI), and toward the use of CAI to provide functional and
communicative experiences that better serve learners' needs (Stevens, 1989) and
help to develop all language skills reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
These types of software are now used in computer-assisted literacy
instruction: drill and practice; tutorial; simulations and games;
problem-solving; word processing; and databases and spreadsheets (for workplace
literacy exposure). Digitized audio and video recordings, animated graphics, and
local area and distance network communication are also in use.
In addition, other newer technologies, including interactive videodiscs,
hypermedia, and other forms of multimedia are constantly being explored and
expanded. (See Bevilacqua, 1989; Gay & Mazur, 1989; Kerka, 1989.)
Adults generally have positive attitudes toward computer use and are eager to
acquire computer skills for the workplace, and microcomputers have become
increasingly available and affordable. Research on the effectiveness of computer
use in adult literacy education programs has shown that CAI is effective with a
variety of adult learners and gives adults a number of advantages: flexibility
of use, control over pacing and sequencing of learning, individualization,
privacy, and immediate feedback (Askov, Maclay, & Meenan, 1987; Kulik,
Kulik, & Shwalb, 1986; Patton, 1987; Turner, 1988a & b; see also Imel,
1988 for an overview).
USING CAI WITH ADULT LEARNERS
In spite of the progress that
has been made in hardware and software development and toward integrating
computers into adult ESL language and literacy instruction, the effectiveness of
computer-assisted instructional approaches is largely dependent on the ability
of instructors to choose, adapt, and use computer programs effectively. The
instructional strategies used with learners are as important to successful
learning as the quality of the software and hardware used. When using CAI
approaches with adult literacy learners who are also learning English, consider:
* Much of the software and many of the instructional approaches now in use
focus either on language learning or on literacy development but do not combine
the two. Computers can help to develop language and literacy skills
simultaneously, but software and instructional techniques uniting these skills
* Most of the practice and research to date has focused on work with
children. The specific concerns and needs of adult ESL literacy learners need to
be examined, and appropriate software and instructional strategies designed or
adapted. Software designed for children (for example, a program with graphics of
rabbits and balls bouncing across the screen) should not be used with adult
learners when something more appropriate is available.
* There is relatively little software designed expressly for adult ESL
literacy learners, especially those with low-level English language and reading
skills. ESL literacy professionals usually must select from programs originally
targeted for other users, such as native English speakers with basic skills
development needs or elementary students developing literacy skills in English.
Existing software must then be adapted for appropriate use. Literacy instructors
should review the software and the written directions given and provide
preparatory activities so that beginning ESL readers can use the software
without becoming frustrated. For example, the instructor might familiarize
learners with vocabulary and sentence structures used in the directions and
exercises, give an overview of the types of exercises included, and demonstrate
how to work through the program.
Instructors should look for software that permits them to alter the content
(lexical or otherwise) via an "authoring" or "editing" option in the software
program. In this way, for example, difficult or irrelevant vocabulary can be
changed without having to recreate the format or template. Some programs provide
a choice of activities (e.g., a Cloze exercise where the instructor has control
over which words are deleted) and even allow the user to type in a preselected
text that is then used in the various activities provided.
Another approach is to use a separate authoring program that allows a
curriculum writer to design activities and lessons within a larger framework.
The overall template is provided, but the user determines the exact content and
type of exercises. Such authoring programs are available for many types of
hardware and are relatively easy to use, if one has word processing skills.
WORD PROCESSING PROGRAMS AND COLLABORATIVE WRITING
processing programs can also be used effectively with ESL literacy learners.
Word processors, which allow relatively easy revision and the sharing of texts,
facilitate a process approach to writing, which places emphasis on choosing
meaningful topics, writing in groups, producing multiple drafts, and conferring
about drafts. A variety of grammar and style checker programs (in addition to
the spelling checkers and thesauri available with most word processors) can help
intermediate and advanced language learners to analyze and correct their own
writing, both individually and cooperatively.
Pairing learners who speak different native languages in front of the
computer terminal is one way to facilitate real communication in English,
especially if group work or cooperative learning techniques are used (cf.
Johnson & Johnson, 1986; Piper, 1986). Cooperative writing tasks or the use
of problem-solving types of software or simulation games can enhance both
language and literacy acquisition. Similarly, peer teaching works well on the
computer. Learners with more developed reading and keyboarding skills can direct
their fellow learners toward successful computer use. Those they are coaching
can ask for clarification without risking embarrassment in front of the class.
In the realm of adult ESL literacy education, educators have just begun to
explore the possibilities that technology, particularly computer-assisted
instruction, offers the learner. Some activities have been pursued with
elementary and secondary ESL students: interactive writing within a classroom on
a local area computer network (Peyton & Batson, 1986); and classroom
exchanges via electronic mail or bulletin boards, including cooperative projects
such as data gathering, newsletter production, and "pen pal videos" (Levin,
Riel, Rowe, & Boruta, 1985; Milheim, 1989; Riel, 1987; Sayers, 1988, 1989).
However, little has been done to see if these same types of strategies work with
adult ESL literacy learners. Other uses of the computer as a tool for ESL
literacy assessment, database formation, and information retrievalhave yet to be
explored. Much investigation and research remain to be done.
Using CAI software and approaches can be an
exciting and rewarding experience for adult ESL literacy learners and their
instructors, especially when these tools are used to facilitate interpersonal
communication alongside language and literacy skills development. The use of
computers can create a new social and instructional environment for language
learning and literacy acquisition. The prospects for using computer-assisted
instructional programs and other technological media with adult ESL literacy
learners are excellent, provided that programs are designed or adapted
especially for these learners and that instructors are willing to try new and
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