Learning and Change: A Phase Two North Carolina ESOL Framework
In the spring of 1999 I participated
in Literacy South's Phase Two of the North Carolina ESOL Curriculum
Framework Inquiry Project. The purpose of this project was to discuss
and analyze the draft form of the North Carolina ESOL Curriculum
Framework, developed in a year long process by a group of 15 adult
Following our initial meeting, I focused my part of the inquiry
project on one of the eight guiding principles developed by Phase
One participants that asserted that language learning is a change
process, both cognitive and affective. Further, that ESOL learners
make non-language gains such as increased self-confidence and self-esteem.
I specifically wanted to explore the non-language gains learners
make in the ESOL classroom. I spent two months reading any literature
I could get my hands on regarding the subject, talking to my colleagues
about the changes they saw in their learners, and conducting an
inquiry with my ESOL learners. In this article I share the findings
of my inquiry and what I see as some implications for ESOL practitioners.
I decided to ask the ESOL learners in my intermediate level class
at Wake Technical Community College what changes they have experienced
while studying English.
I designed a survey entitled, "Are you changing?" based on a tool
from East End Literacy (Hemmindinger, 1988). I taught this class
on Monday and Wednesday evenings, from 6:30 to 9:30. Students also
attended class on Tuesday and Thursday, same time, but with a different
I began class by telling the learners I was part of a research
project and that I was interested in finding out the kinds of changes
students had made in the process of learning English other than
gains in language ability. We brainstormed a list of non-language
gains students had made, which I wrote on the board. Then I gave
out the assessment tool, "Are you changing?" and briefly went through
it to make sure the students understood all the vocabulary. The
survey also included the request, "If you can, draw a picture of
how you looked when you first started to speak English and how you
look now when you speak English." The students then completed the
survey individually. Finally, students got together with a partner
and each person shared what she or he had written.
The list of non-language outcomes the students brainstormed consisted
More confidence to go shopping
Ability to go out and make friends
Confidence to express feelings
Improved relationships--found love [!]
Come to class regularly, even every day
Changed appearance, clothing
Better understanding of formal situations
Able to give help to family
Got driver's license.
We discussed the changes as we brainstormed this list. Sometimes
I asked clarifying questions. At other times I asked students to
expound on what they had said, or to give an example.
All the students agreed that they had changed. They also agreed
that the amount of time they had spent in the U.S. and studying
English influenced the changes they had made in their lives. They
felt, generally, that they had made significant language gains after
they had come to the U.S. and had studied in class.
The answers on the survey varied. All the students listed language
as well as non-language gains they had made in the process of learning
English. The categories of non-language outcomes the students'responses
fell into were: Confidence, Learning Skills, Cultural Awareness,
Knowledge of Social Institutions, Access and Entry into Further
Study, and Support in the Learning Environment.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ESOL
I was struck by three things in the survey results. First, I noticed
that students had difficulty separating non-language and language
outcomes. Second, I was amazed at the level of excitement students
exhibited in talking about how they had changed. Last, it was interesting
to me that so many students were eager to draw a picture to show
how they had changed.
Of course it is understandable that students have difficulty separating
language and non-language outcomes. It is difficult to talk about
change without describing it holistically. The recommendations here
for ESOL educators are twofold, I believe. First, non-language outcomes
should be included in our objectives, right alongside our objectives
for gains in language proficiency. Second, the methods used in our
classroom should promote non-language, as well as language gains.
Australia's Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) shows its high
regard for non-language outcomes in English language and literacy
programs by incorporating them within a Certificate in Spoken and
Written English Competencies (Jackson, 1994). "By doing this, full
recognition is also given to the fact that non-language outcomes
are amenable to... expression... within a competency-based training"
(p. 19). Non-language gains are not merely by-products; they are
consciously addressed in the curriculum. AMEP recognizes that language
and non-language outcomes are intertwined.
An Australian study lists numerous achievements by incorporating
non-language outcomes as an integral part of the development of
language and literacy competencies (Jackson, 1994):
It makes these outcomes apparent within the framework of
other educational accomplishments.
It acknowledges the skills development in this area as part
of an ongoing educational process.
It encourages closer examination of the content of these
It allows similar continuity of development in this area
of skill as in others.
It fully appreciates the value of these outcomes to the proposed
education both within and outside the context of the classroom.
It promotes the development of teaching practices specifically
targeting these outcomes.
This leads very well into the second recommendation I have for
ESOL educators: use methods in our classroom that promote non-language,
as well as language gains. I found that the Australian study seemed
to place great emphasis on the methods used in an ESOL classroom.
Specifically, the study mentioned that applying the principles of
adult learning increased students'confidence and self-esteem (Jackson,
Susan Imel lists the following adult learning principles to guide
our methods in class:
Involve learners in planning and implementing learning activities;
Draw upon learners'experiences as a
Establish a climate that encourages
and supports learners and enhances self-esteem;
Encourage self-direction in learners;
Promote a spirit of collaboration in
the classroom; and
Use small groups to encourage cooperation and promote teamwork
I would like to return to my surprise at the level of excitement
students exhibited in talking about how they had changed and that
so many students were eager to draw a picture to show how they had
changed. I believe this has implications specifically in the area
of assessment. If students are so eager to talk about and draw the
changes they are making while learning English, that tells me this
is something worthy of being assessed!
I believe there is a lack of assessment tools that consider non-language
outcomes. Certainly standardized measures fail to assess these gains.
Thus, it is the responsibility of educators, both instructors and
administrators, to come up with tools that assess non-language outcomes.
About 88 percent of the teachers interviewed for the research in
the Adult Migrant English program in Australia "thought that achievements
in the non-language outcome area deserved formal recognition and
should be recorded as part of an adequate student profile" (Jackson,
1994, p. 8).
Teachers of ESOL students who want to portray a more authentic
picture of their students should foster non-language outcomes in
their students by creating assessment tools that give opportunities
for students to talk about and reflect on the changes they are going
through while studying English. Teachers should encourage students
to write about their own experiences of change. For low-level literacy
students, a teacher could use the Language Experience Approach (LEA).
There are many variations of the LEA and it can easily be adapted
to most classroom situations.
For students with higher levels of literacy, teachers can give
them a variety of ways to share their stories through writing. Students
can write in journals or dialogue journals, compose poetry, develop
a student newsletter, and even publish a class newspaper or book.
Students who publish their writings, either within or beyond the
classroom, experience many benefits. They discover that the realities
of their own lives are worth thinking about, getting down on paper,
and sharing with other people (Peyton, 1993). These stories can
be used to help students think about the changes they are experiencing,
and give them an avenue for expressing themselves.
Seeing the students excited about expressing themselves through
drawing emphasized to me the importance of acknowledging a variety
of ways of knowing and communicating (Schneider & Clarke, 1993).
Thus, assessment should rely on an assortment of tools to reflect
students'knowing and allow them different ways to express their
outcomes. Certainly one assessment tool will not capture it all.
Participating in Phase Two of the ESOL Curriculum Framework Inquiry
Project was a great learning experience for me. At the end of my
project, I concluded that change is an important part of a healthy
system. It is an essential and natural part of living, and plays
a meaningful role in growth and evolution. Change and continued
creation signal new ways of maintaining order and structure. Thus,
it is natural to expect ESOL learners in our classrooms to experience
all kinds of changes, including those that fall into the realm of
non-language outcomes. Instead of merely anticipating these changes,
let's do what we can to encourage them by including non-language
outcomes in our objectives, addressing them in our classrooms, and
designing assessment tools that capture these gains.
Hemmendinger, A. (1988). A tool kit: Self evaluation exercises for
students and literacy workers. Ontario, Canada: East End Literacy.
Jackson, E. (1994). Non-language outcomes in the adult migrant
English program. Sydney, Australia: The National Centre for English
Language Teaching and Research.
Peyton, J. K. (1993). Listening to students'voices: Publishing
students'writing for other students to read. In J. Crandall &
J. K. Peyton (Eds.), Approaches to adult ESL
literacy instruction (pp. 59-73). Washington, DC: Center for Applied
Rosen, D. J. (1999). NLA Discussion: The need to improve practice.
Posting to NLA list-serve, 13 February 1999.
Schneider, M, & Clarke, M. (1993). Dimensions of change: An
authentic assessment guidebook. Durham, NC: Peppercorn Press.
Are you changing?
Are you getting more confident?
- Are there things that you do now that you did not do before
coming to English class? What are they?
EXAMPLE: I go out by myself more often.
- How often did you come to English class when you first started
studying English? Please explain.
- How often do you come to class now? Please explain.
- Do you feel less shy with your teacher now? Please explain.
- Do you feel more comfortable participating in class? Please
Adapted from Hemmendinger, A. (1988). A tool kit: Self evaluation
exercises for students and literacy workers. Ontario, Canada: East
Originally published in Adventures in Assessment,
Volume 12 (Winter 2000),
SABES/World Education, Boston, MA, Copyright 2000.
Funding support for the publication of this document
on the Web provided in part by the Ohio State Literacy Resource
Center as part of the LINCS
Assessment Special Collection.