ESOL Lab School
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Evidence-Based Practice  
Professional development strategies and initiatives of the PSU Adult ESOL Lab School seek to develop and enhance reflective practice, based on critical review and appropriate adaptation of the best research available, as well as experience and teacher knowledge, to improve student learning outcomes.
To this end, the PSU Adult ESOL Lab School, using the concept of practitioner study circles developed by NCSALL, conducted a study circle for adult ESOL practitioners at Portland Community College in winter and spring 2003 that encouraged reflective practice and introduced participants to finding, evaluating, adapting, and using research in adult ESOL literacy. In addition, the Lab School study circle viewed and discussed especially selected clips from the Multimedia Adult English Language Corpus (MAELC).
Nine faculty from the Lab School's educational service provider, Portland Community College's adult ESL program, participated. The group met twice each in winter and spring for three hours per meeting.
All faculty who taught the lowest two levels of adult ESL were invited to participate. The topic for the first session was selected by the lead teacher for the group. The following
presents the proceedings and activities of each of the four sessions:
Introductory Discussion: "What are best practices? How do you know?"
Take home reading:
Smith, C., Bingman, B., and Kurzet, R. (2003, March), Developing Practitioner Knowledge in ESOL. NCSALL concept paper.
Reading and discussion (done in "jigsaw" format):
Van Duzer, Carol. (1997, Nov./Dec.). Towards a Framework for teaching adult
learners. American Language Review, Nov/Dec. 1977, Vol. 1, No. 5.
Wrigley, H. (1993). Innovative programs and practices in adult ESL.
ERIC Digest, February 1997. EDO-LE-93-07. available:
Presentation: locating on-line research articles in education and evaluating the quality of research.
Viewed video clips from the Lab School MAELC: a phonics lesson on vowel sounds embedded within a whole language activity on the names of students' countries of origin.
Discussion of video clips: initial presentation to adult ESOL learners and concluding activities, looking for evidence of modeling the practice activity, scaffolding on students prior knowledge, checking and validating students' learning.
Participants selected the topic for the next meeting: lessons that start from students' life experiences, and agreed to each try a lesson that would do this before the next meeting.
Introductory Discussion: How do teachers select strategies to use in their classes?
Included review of the NCSALL concept paper on "Developing Practitioner
Knowledge in ESOL."
Viewed and discussed Lab School video from the MAELC, that focused on classroom strategies to teach a lesson that emerges from adult students' experience and knowledge, together with written copy of the instructor's lesson plan. The instructor introduced a reading lesson by first "activating" students' background knowledge and previously learned vocabulary to create a context and support for the reading.
Participants shared their experiences teaching a lesson based on students' background experiences and the strategies that they used to "activate" students' background knowledge.
Presentation reviewed the participant steps suggested in the NCSALL concept paper,
"Developing Practitioner Knowledge in ESOL." No funding was available to pay participants to document and write up their experiences, but one did so.
Wrigley, H. (2002). What Works for Adult ESL Literacy Students: Summary of
the Findings on Instruction, 1999 Cohort. Available:
Participants scheduled time to conduct peer observations in each other's classes.
Presentation: Introducing the U.S. Department of Education's Evidence-Based Education initiative. This presentation was based on:
Bringing Evidence-Driven Progress to Education: A Recommended Strategy
for the U.S. Department of Education. (2002). Available: ExcelGov
Discussion: Availability and quality of research on adult ESL, usefulness and limitations of the evidence-based practice initiative.
Participants selected topic for the next meeting: the effectiveness of drills.
Reviewed video from last session: Chinese/Spanish speaking partners. Discussed baseline assessment of students' knowledge and how that led to instructor's decisions about what strategies to employ. Compared low-level ESL student performance when doing scripted versus unscripted activities and the development of English fluency and accuracy. Discussion of "fossilized" student errors as a teaching challenge.
Viewed MAELC video clips of "disguised drills," set up to appear as natural and authentic as possible but still provide extensive practice of a target form.
Presentation: Adapting Kagan structures (cooperative learning structures, by Spencer Kagan, originally developed for K-12) in adult ESOL to provide "disguised drills" and other language practice activities.

Burt, M., Peyton, J. K., and Adams, R. (2003). Reading and Adult English
Language Learners: A Review of the Research. Washington, D.C. : Center for Applied Linguistics.

Presentation: One participant shared how she had gathered ideas for classroom strategies from Heide Wrigley's article, "What Works in Adult ESL," implemented them in her classroom, and the results.

Participants selected topic for the next meeting: video clips from the MAELC showing the Lab School intervention of modified Sustained Silent Reading in progress.

Introductory Discussion: participants shared what they had learned about reflective practice and teaching strategies from doing the peer observations. Participants all found that doing peer observations, and having the opportunity to discuss the observations afterwards with the teacher observed, to be very helpful. Most found that the experience validated what they were doing in the classroom and at the same time provided new ideas for instructional strategies and activities.

Discussion: Roles of research and teacher knowledge and experience in improving instructional practices. Participants noted difficulty of finding high quality, relevant research related to instructional questions in adult ESL.

Viewed and discussed MAELC video clips from the Lab School modified Sustained Silent Reading intervention and also from the control group (in this case, a language experience lesson). Participants discussed the kinds of things the research might be able to show or clarify about language and literacy development in low-level adult ESL classes.

Participants completed an evaluation form on the study circle.

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