ERIC Identifier: ED385173
Publication Date: 1995-07-00
Author: Rance-Roney, Judith
Source: Adjunct ERIC
Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education Washington DC., National Clearinghouse
for ESL Literacy Education Washington DC.
Transitioning Adult ESL Learners to Academic Programs. ERIC
Adults study English as a second language (ESL) in a variety of settings
(e.g., church basements, workplaces, public schools, community centers) for a
variety of purposes (e.g., to improve employability, to survive in society, to
help with children's education). However, few of the ESL participants in adult
education classes transition, or move on, to academic ESL programs which prepare
them for content study in a subject area, or to general education development
(GED) study which provides them with a certificate of high school equivalency.
This digest examines the differences between academic and adult ESL programs,
and it suggests curricular and programmatic strategies to facilitate
transitioning learners from adult ESL to academic English or to GED programs.
THE CURRICULAR MISMATCH
Between the adult ESL literacy
curriculum and the GED and academic ESL curricula, there are differences in
PURPOSE, CONTENT, and CONTEXTUALITY.
Purpose: The goal of federally-funded adult ESL instruction is to provide
learners with the language skills necessary to function in American society, and
to attain and retain a job (Young, Fitzgerald, & Morgan,1994). In contrast,
the goal of academic ESL instruction is to prepare adults of limited English
proficiency with the grammar, vocabulary, reading, and writing skills necessary
to succeed in remedial or developmental courses and mainstream academic
coursework (Wrigley, 1994a).
Content: In adult ESL programs, the focus is on oral/aural communication and on
reading comprehension and writing. The vocabulary and content center around
personal expression and on survival needs in the home, workplace, and community
(Crandall & Peyton, 1993). Conversely, in academic programs, the focus is
somewhat less personal. Students usually learn language through an examination
of grammar, less frequently used vocabulary, and longer readings. The content is
frequently a precursor to upcoming subject study (Chamot & O'Malley, 1987).
Contextuality: Much of the content and practice in ESL literacy instruction
centers around issues within the context of adult life, such as making a
doctor's appointment or looking for a job (Crandall & Peyton, 1993). In
academic English classes, language study is either context-reduced (where there
are few clues to help derive meaning) or context-embedded (where clues to
meaning are available from the surrounding text material) (Snow, Met, &
TRANSITIONAL PROGRAM OUTCOMES FOR LEARNERS
Given the chasm
in purpose, content, and contextuality between adult ESL and academic ESL
instruction, what learner outcomes can adult ESL or transitional programs
facilitate to enable learners to bridge the gap to academic or GED programs?
Motivation and belief in self-worth to face the challenges of academic demands
and administrative systems
Adult learners moving on to academic ESL might face for the first time in
their language study certain inflexible standards--such as passing GED exams or
course tests--that must be met to achieve success. Learners may also experience
an absence of the consistent positive feedback they have probably found in the
adult ESL classroom. For learners to be successful in continuing education, they
need to believe that advancement is possible through their OWN efforts
To promote this necessary self-confidence in learners, programs need to
challenge them with difficult but attainable tasks. For example, learners who
want information about academic classes must do all the necessary research
themselves to get this information (e.g., call the college dean, find how to get
to the campus by car or by public transportation, practice the interview, do the
Knowledge of how to transition to the norms of the academic community
Formal collaborations among adult ESL service providers and institutions of
higher learning are key to addressing this outcome. Collaborations can assure
linking of curricula among the programs, orientation for transitioning learners,
and transitional classes to bridge the gap between the programs (Wrigley,
1994a). Programs can create mentor partnerships in which ESL learners shadow
learners who are already in GED or college classes. Other activities to
familiarize learners with their future academic environment include interviewing
academic staff and native English-speaking college students, reading college
orientation guides, and taking notes from videotaped class lectures.
Conceptual development/critical thinking skills such as synthesis, analysis, and
Wrigley (1994b) found little evidence of a metacognitive or
learning-how-to-learn focus in the exemplary programs surveyed in a
federally-funded study known as the Aguirre study. Yet, conceptual development
exercises need to be part of the curriculum at every level, and some academic
skills can be part of all adult language learning. For example, with a short
reading selection, even low-level learners can CLASSIFY vocabulary words (e.g.,
list all descriptive words or all action words) and can ANALYZE actions of the
A greater focus on language accuracy or careful language
Adult learners recognize that the language of the mainstream culture is
rule-based and that knowledge of these rules is necessary for success in the
academic world. While many adult learners acquire much English through immersion
in the English-speaking culture surrounding them and through classroom
opportunities for discussion, many educators now agree that immersion alone is
not sufficient to perfect language and that appropriate correction and feedback
have a legitimate role in the ESL classroom (Hadley, 1993).
Extensiveness in reading and writing, and multiple skill integration
thematically organized for in-depth study
Adult learners may begin ESL literacy study with grammar or phonics
instruction, but it is recommended that this isolated skill approach be
integrated with instruction organized around themes of personal interest such as
childcare, transportation, and immigration (Auerbach, 1992). These themes give
meaning to language being learned and lead to richer and more extensive language
use. Later, when academic goals become evident, content needs to be less
relevant to learners' personal interests and more tied to community, national,
and international themes (Chamot & O'Malley, 1987). This broader scope is
necessary for the comprehension of academic content material in the sciences and
Reading is arguably the most important skill for second language learners in
academic contexts. While pre-academic classes may require 5 or 6 pages of
reading, academic courses frequently require 30 to 50 pages of reading per
night. In transitional programs, learners need to read whole text material
(novels, textbook chapters, autobiographies, etc.) and make extensive written
responses to the material.
Writing instruction in the ESL adult classroom and in the academic classroom
differ not only in the expectation of correct grammar, but also in the knowledge
writers must possess of American English rhetorical organization, written
sentence structure, punctuation, and cohesion words. Learners, even in adult ESL
programs, need to learn a style of writing that may differ markedly from that of
their first language. Furthermore, in adult ESL classes, writing is often based
on personal experience, but academic writing tasks are more often based on
articles, books, or topics unrelated to the learners' lives. All of these
elements must be addressed in the transitional classes.
Development of a larger vocabulary corpus centered on less-frequently used
While fluent native readers possess a written English vocabulary of
10,000-100,000 words, second language learners generally have only 2,000-7,000
English words when they begin their academic studies (Hadley, 1993). This gap
can impede success in listening to lectures, reading academic material, or
Many educators and researchers believe that extensive reading is the best way
to build one's vocabulary. When learners are exposed to words in meaningful
contexts, they are more likely to learn the words than if they are exposed to
them in isolation; therefore, learners should be urged to read news magazines,
newspapers, and whole text material to foster this vocabulary development.
Krashen (1986) advocates narrow reading-the reading of several articles on the
SAME topic--so that learners receive multiple exposure to new vocabulary in
slightly differing contexts. In providing multiple texts to use in analyzing,
evaluating, and comparing and contrasting authors' points of view, narrow
reading also serves to build learners' critical thinking skills.
Integration/transference of first language skills and use of L1 in learning
The acquisition of literacy skills in a second language (L2) by adults
already literate in their first language (L1) is a complex phenomenon. However,
there is evidence of transfer of reading and writing skills from L1 to L2
(Carson, Carrell, Silberstein, Kroll, & Kuehn, 1990; Osburne &
Harss-Covaleski, 1992). More research is needed on this, however, and on the
value of using L1 to help complete difficult tasks in the academic environment
(Osburne & Harss-Covaleski, 1992).
Some educators advocate allowing learners to judge for themselves which tasks
are better performed in L1 and which ones can only be completed in L2. For
example, learners might choose to use L1 when generating ideas for a writing
assignment. When listening to lectures where the speed, density, and familiarity
of the material exceeds the skill of English language note-taking, learners
might find it useful to take notes in L1 or to code switch, writing key words in
English and explanatory information in L1. When reading, translation of terms or
L1 reflective margin notes may promote learning of concepts and new vocabulary.
Transitioning learners from adult ESL to
academic and GED programs requires a broad range of approaches and skills.
Administrators, teachers, and learners need to work together to create programs
that prepare learners to achieve all they can academically. Research is needed
on how content learned in L1 can transfer to L2, and on the value of using L1 to
help complete academic work in L2.
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