ERIC Identifier: ED358749
Publication Date: 1993-03-00
Author: Rabideau, Dan
Source: National Clearinghouse on
Literacy Education Washington DC., Adjunct ERIC Clearinghouse on Literacy
Education for Limited-English-Proficient Adults Washington DC.
Integrating Reading and Writing into Adult ESL Instruction.
Reading and writing play a larger role in language instruction for adult
learners today than they have in the recent past. Reading and writing were never
completely removed from adult English as a Second Language (ESL) curricula, but
during the early 1980s there was a shift toward oral/aural instructional goals
and practices. That shift was motivated by learners' needs; many adults had a
limited amount of time to spend in a program, and their most immediate need
seemed to be oral communication. Some learners came to adult programs with very
limited formal schooling, and an oral/aural approach allowed them more
opportunities to participate in class. In fact, oral communicative ability is
still a primary goal of much adult ESL instruction, but the pendulum is swinging
back toward a greater emphasis on reading and writing.
Certainly, the value of oral communicative classroom activities has been
demonstrated (Asher, 1982; Savignon, 1983), and no one would endorse abandoning
what we know to be effective about those practices. But reading and writing,
which are valid instructional activities in themselves, allow for more
reflection and contemplation. For example, Tarvin and Al-Arishi (1991) suggest
that oral activities in the classroom frequently make reflection and
contemplation difficult because of the need for an immediate response. Rodby
(1987) found that young adult nonnative English speakers employed by the
California Conservation Corps survived for years in the oral English-dominant
workplace without ever learning English. They engaged in interactions in English
as little as possible and simply made sure they understood and fulfilled the
simple directions given by their supervisors. It was not until they began
communicating in writing with their teacher and each other in class that they
became motivated to learn English and began to acquire it. In informal reading
and writing activities, the Corps members were able to work with language that
"stood still" (as one of them explained). They could look at it, take time with
it, and manipulate it, so they were not so overwhelmed by it.
This digest describes some of the major reading and writing practices
currently in use in adult ESL programs (see also Crandall & Peyton, in
press, for detailed descriptions of these and other approaches).
RELATING ESL LITERACY INSTRUCTION TO LEARNER
The ways reading and writing are used in adult ESL programs must
be influenced by learners' various language proficiencies, backgrounds, and
needs. "Initial literacy" activities are used with learners who have had limited
schooling in their first language or whose first language does not have a
written form. Bilingual programs for adults offer initial literacy in the native
language as well as oral English and English literacy. Some ESL literacy
programs provide oral English instruction in a way that is accessible to
learners with limited reading ability, as well as initial literacy instruction
"Reading and writing for language acquisition" is used with learners who have
completed a basic education in their first language. Reading texts that match
learner interests and English proficiency provide learners with comprehensible
language input--a chance to learn new vocabulary in context and to see the
syntax of the language. Writing allows learners opportunities to experiment with
the language and try different constructions to make themselves understood.
"More complex reading and writing tasks" are appropriate for learners with
some literacy background in their own language or in English. Many ESL programs
now use a process approach to writing instruction, and some regularly publish
collections of learner writing (see Peyton, 1991, for an overview). Many of the
contributors to "Voices" magazine (a well known publication written by and for
adult learners and published by the Invergarry Learning Centre in Vancouver,
British Columbia) are taking ESL classes.
Reading activities for learners
acquiring English as a second language are similar to those used in Adult Basic
Education (ABE) classes. The Language Experience Approach (LEA) forms the core
of many beginning-level classes for native and nonnative English speakers.
Students dictate stories to the teacher or share orally a common experience.
When written down by or in collaboration with the teacher, these experiences and
stories become texts for initial reading instruction. The stories are accessible
because they reflect the language and experience of the learners. This approach
is excellent for creating reading texts for beginning-level ESL students whose
command of vocabulary and structures in English is limited, as well as for those
who are learning to read for the first time. (See Dixon & Nessel, 1983;
Rabideau, 1991; Taylor, 1992 for descriptions of the LEA.) D'Annunzio (1990)
describes a bilingual version of the LEA. Bilingual tutors take whole-class
dictations on a class-selected theme, each learner being encouraged to provide a
sentence or two. After the story is completed, it is translated into English by
the tutors, and related reading and writing activities are carried out in
English and the native language. Learners gradually move from these stories to
more extended, expressive writing.
In literature-based programs, learners often select their own reading texts.
The most popular are high interest/low reading level books, fiction or
non-fiction. Two series of such books particularly appropriate for ESL students
are "Hopes and Dreams" (Fearon/Janus/Quercus, Belmont, CA) and "Fitting In" (New
Readers Press, Syracuse, NY). Both of these series are fictionalized accounts of
the experiences of immigrants, but ESL instructors needn't feel limited to works
about immigrants. Many of the high/low books written for adult new readers are
appropriate for ESL learners as well, although care needs to be taken that
cultural concepts and idiomatic expressions are accessible. When the text is
written at an accessible level and the story is engaging, readers usually get
past unfamiliar words and derive meaning from the context.
Rosow (1990) describes using junk mail and other advertisements as reading
texts in a consumer skills class. Whatever they select to read, learners read
complete texts that they have chosen, rather than the short, decontextualized
passages commonly found in skills books.
Process writing, an integral part of
most ABE classes, is beginning to play a larger role in ESL classes as well.
From a process writing perspective, writing is a communicative act with an
intended purpose and audience. The teacher and other learners help the writer
find a topic and revise drafts of a written piece until it conveys the intended
meaning. Learners are encouraged to take risks and try out new language. As they
continue to work to make their meanings clear, learners acquire competence using
the style, syntax, grammar, and surface features of the language. Sometimes
language rules are taught in teacher-led mini-lessons, but always in the context
of expressing the learner's own ideas. In D'Annunzio's (1990) work described
above, a learner's attempt to use quotation marks, however inappropriately,
demonstrated that she had noticed this convention in the texts she had read. By
experimenting with quotation marks in her own writing and through interaction
with the teacher and fellow learners, she developed a deeper understanding of
the purpose and correct use of that surface feature.
Marc Freedman (1991) has done a small survey of current uses of writing in
adult ESL classes. He interviewed 14 ESL practitioners from the Division of
Adult and Continuing Education at the City University of New York and several
community-based organizations in the New York City area, and found three
purposes for writing. The first purpose has to do with practicing language:
"Many traditional, workbook-style writing exercises seem predicated on the
idea that practicing writing [that is already] correctly formulated serves the
purpose of concretizing learning....While extreme versions of this view have
gone the way of the bronto-audio-lingual-saurus, many teachers of beginning/low
literacy students stress the need for a great deal of repetition of simplified
forms in order for students to build a base upon which to work" (p.11).
The second purpose has to do with experimenting with language, encouraging
learners to attempt to write things they want to express, even if they are
unsure of how to do it. This emphasis does the following:
It develops an experimental or exploratory approach to language and literacy
learning in which the learner plays an active role;
It allows learners to set their own goals and focus on the language necessary
for what they are trying to convey in writing;
It provides opportunities for learners to explore resources other than the
teacher (e.g., their own, perhaps underestimated, knowledge; the knowledge of
other students; dictionaries; texts; or their own notes) (p. 12).
The third purpose has to do with "communication." While an oral utterance is
usually based on a preceding utterance or event, has an immediate impact on what
happens next, and is of immediate concern to the speaker, many writing
activities share none of these characteristics. Interactive writing activities
such as letter writing, electronic mail interactions, and dialogue journals
(Peyton & Staton, 1991) do have these qualities and thus strengthen the link
between written and oral language.
Adult learners in the United States need to
learn oral English, but their needs don't stop there; they are frequently
required to read and write in English as well. Whether literacy is a new skill
for the learner, or whether the learner is drawing on literacy ability in the
first language, reading and writing activities can be developed to meet learner
needs. Oral language ability continues to be a primary goal of adult ESL
instruction, but reading and writing should also be an aim of adult education
for second language learners and native speakers alike.
Asher, J. (1982). "Learning another language
through actions: The complete teacher's guidebook." Los Gatos, CA: Sky Oaks.
Crandall, J., & Peyton, J.K. (Eds.). (in press). "Approaches to adult ESL
literacy instruction." Washington, DC and McHenry, IL: Center for Applied
Linguistics and Delta Systems.
D'Annunzio, A. (1990). A nondirective combinatory model in an adult ESL
program. "Journal of Reading," 34(3), 198-202.
Dixon, C., & Nessel, D. (1983). "Language experience approach to reading
(and writing)." Hayward, CA: Alemany.
Freedman, M. (1991). "Writing for language acquisition in beginning and
low-literacy adult ESOL classes." Paper presented at the conference of the New
York State TESOL, Albany.
Peyton, J.K. (1991). "Listening to students' voices: Educational materials
written by and for adults learning English." ERIC Digest. Washington, DC:
National Clearinghouse on Literacy Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction
Service No. ED 317 096)
Peyton, J.K., & Staton, J. (Eds.) (1991). "Writing our lives: Reflections
on dialogue journal writing with adults learning English." Washington, DC and
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Center for Applied Linguistics and Regents/Prentice Hall.
(ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 333 763)
Rabideau, D. (1991). Language experience approach for limited English
proficient adults. "Information Update," 7(2), 20-24.
Rodby, J. (1987). "Literacy as a catalyst to second language acquisition."
Unpublished manuscript, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
Rosow, L. (1990). Consumer advocacy, empowerment, and adult literacy.
"Journal of Reading," 34(4), 258-262.
Savignon, S.J. (1983). "Communicative competence: Theory and classroom
practice." Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Tarvin, W.L., & Al-Arishi, A.Y. (1991). Rethinking communicative language
teaching: Reflection and the EFL classroom. "TESOL Quarterly," 28(1), 9-27.
Taylor, M. (1992). "The language experience approach and adult learners."
ERIC Digest. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse on Literacy Education. (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED 350 887)
"Voices: New writers for new readers." Vancouver, BC: Invergarry Learning
Centre. Available from Delta Systems Company, Inc., 1400 Miller Parkway,
McHenry, IL 60050 (800-323-8270).
An earlier version of this article appeared in "Literacy Harvest" (Winter,
1992), 1(1), published by the Literacy Assistance Center.