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The Road to College and Career Readiness: Why It Just May Be Paved with Rigor April 11, 2019

By Lia Conklin Olson

Perhaps you have heard the term rigor dropped now and again at staff meetings, professional development gatherings, and even in lunchroom conversations.  Lest the term lose its glitter from overuse, let’s consider why it may be worth its weight in gold.  When we as adult educators recognize the high stakes our students face and commit to the tall order of helping them succeed, we realize we need a high-yield investment.  Rigor may be just that investment, one that provides our students the successful returns this era of high stakes demands.

High stakes for ABE students

Let’s consider just how high the stakes are for our adult basic education (ABE) students.  The “Tipping Point” study (Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, 2005) found that individuals who completed one year of postsecondary education plus a credential had significantly higher earnings than individuals who held fewer than ten college credits.  A more recent study (Mancuso, 2015) again showed this disparity, finding that individuals who met the “tipping point” earned on average $6,265 per year more and were 23% more likely to be employed than those who did not.  High stakes, indeed.

That is exactly the reason behind the Workforce Investment and Opportunities Act (WIOA; 2013-2014) that legislates rigorous instruction for all ABE students along a pathway towards college and careers readiness.  Since students requiring at least one remedial college class have college graduation rates 27% to 39% lower than students who require no remediation (Wiley, Wyatt, & Camara, 2011), college and career preparedness is specifically defined as “academic knowledge and skills required to qualify for placement into entry-level college credit coursework without remediation” (Camara, 2013, p. 22).  Therefore, to meet the high stakes, we must prepare all students for the rigor of college and careers and propel them toward the point where the balance tips from economic disparity to prosperity.

Credit: sirtravelalot.Shutterstock

Serving diverse needs of ABE students

When we consider these high stakes alongside the diverse needs of our ABE students, we recognize just how tall an order we, in partnership with our students, must fill.  Each year, the ABE field serves approximately 1.8 million adults (Patterson, 2016) from a pool of 36 million who would benefit from ABE services (Coalition of Adult Basic Education [COABE], n.d.).  Adult English language learners (ELLs) represent the largest portion of this population and present a wide variety of educational backgrounds and levels of language and literacy development, including students with limited and interrupted formal education (Lesgold & Welch-Ross, 2012).  Native-born ABE students are equally diverse with wide variation in level of knowledge and skills, educational goals, and prior educational experiences (Lesgold & Welch-Ross).  To magnify these needs further, 29% of all ABE students self-report having a learning disability (Mellard, 2013).

As ABE educators, we are ready and willing to step up and mediate the melee of student needs.  However, a number of professional and programmatic limitations often leave us ill-equipped to do so.  According to Patterson (2016), 78.6% of ABE teachers are part-time, which limits the preparation time and commitment teachers can provide.  Likewise, few ABE teachers have teaching preparation specific to the ABE population and limited professional development opportunities (Sun, 2010).  In addition, ABE programming is severely underfunded, receiving approximately one tenth the funding of the K12 system: $800 per ABE student in 2014 (COABE, n.d.) versus $11,009 per K12 student of the same year (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016).  Clearly, we are left with a tall order, indeed.

Rigor in instruction

What we can latch onto are instructional content and methods that offer our students an opportunity to meet this tall order as efficiently and effectively as possible.  Rigor may offer just this opportunity.  Researchers in education have defined rigor in a variety of ways.  The definition I favor is that of Hess (2014) which describes rigor as “the complexity of content, the cognitive engagement with that content, and the scope of the planned learning activities” (p. 1). This definition lends itself well to instructional considerations around content and material selection, deep student engagement, and the design of challenging learning tasks.

Regardless of the definition you prefer, rigor inherently requires the use of critical thinking and problem solving, skills that are overwhelmingly supported in the research as integral for success in college and careers (Camara, 2013; Conley, 2014; Foster, Strawn, & Duke-Benfield, 2011; Johnson & Parrish, 2010; Pimentel, 2013; Rothman, 2012).  Even adult learners who may not enter postsecondary education benefit from rigorous learning. According to Parrish (2016), when considering the increased literacy and critical thinking demands placed on adult ELLs as they compete in the job market and navigate everyday tasks, it is critical for ELL instructors “to imbed these higher order, more complex academic and career-readiness skills early and often at all levels of adult English language acquisition” (p. 3).

How well does ABE instruction deliver on its commitment to prepare ABE students for college and careers?  Johnson & Parrish (2010) surveyed college faculty and ABE instructors and found four critical gaps between what postsecondary faculty expected students to know upon entering postsecondary education and training and what ABE instructors were actually teaching: critical thinking, notetaking, technology, and presentation skills.  Of particular note, Johnson and Parrish found that 60% of college instructors regarded the critical thinking skills of paraphrasing, summarizing, and synthesizing as very or extremely important, whereas ABE instructors reported teaching these skills only sometimes or rarely.  Clearly, to deliver upon our commitment to our students’ success, we must better prepare them to meet the higher expectations of the future.

WIOA and its legislated rigorous content standards for all students provides the opportunity to do just that in earnest.  The College and Career Readiness (CCR) standards were designed to articulate the knowledge and skills needed to meet the rigorous demands of college and career readiness.  According to Pimentel (2013), these standards articulate three research-based instructional advances designed to increase instructional rigor by targeting high-impact cognitively demanding skills.  One of these key advances is regular student engagement with complex informational texts.  According to Williamson (2006), prior to the CCR standards, a gap of approximately four grade levels existed in the level of complexity between secondary texts and postsecondary texts.  In addition, the ACT study (2006) found the ability to read complex text to be the best predictor of college and career success.  Taken together, these studies indicate that developing the ability to read complex text may better prepare students for college and careers.

Credit: Shutterstock

According to Pimentel (2013), college faculty input and national assessment data indicated the use of evidence to be a critical skill for postsecondary preparation.  As such, the second key advance is a focus on student “reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from text” (Pimentel, 2013, p. 10).  This focus ensures that students must rely on the text to develop their understanding, limiting the role of their prior knowledge and experiences and increasing the need to develop deeper understanding of the text itself.  Tied to this reliance on text is the third advance, “building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction” (Pimentel, 2013, p.10).  This advance recognizes the need for students to build their knowledge base through text in all content areas while developing the ability to read complex text and use critical thinking skills.

How do CCR standards live up to their design?  So far, there is little research available to support or dispute their effectiveness.  My dissertation, Minnesota Adult Educators’ Descriptions of Standards Implementation and Its Influence on Cognitive Rigor (Conklin Olson, 2017), set out to answer this question.  I interviewed 12 ABE instructors regarding their experiences implementing CCR standards in their classes and what they believed to be its impact on the cognitive rigor of their instruction and student learning.  Ten of 12 participants reported that their CCR standards implementation increased the rigor of their instruction and their students’ learning.  Participants described choosing more complex texts, implementing tasks that demanded increased cognitive rigor, and setting higher expectations for students.  In reference to student learning, participants reported that their students demonstrated higher levels of rigor, met increased expectations, and experienced increased confidence and self-reliance.  Obviously, more research is needed to measure the impact implementation of rigorous standards has on the learning outcomes of ABE students.  However, this small study offers a hopeful glimpse into its potential.

Even if we knew unequivocally that imbedding rigor via CCR-aligned standards would result in more successful student outcomes, we would still need to build our own knowledge and skills to exploit its potential to the fullest.  The LINCS website, under the auspices of U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, contains a full battery of professional development resources designed to train educators to enact rigorous instruction and effective implementation of CCR standards.  Equipped with high-quality, CCR-aligned instructional resources (be sure to access publisher-provided correlation charts or request them if not available), we are on our way to facilitating the high returns we envision for our students.

It’s true that a focus on college and career readiness demands a disconcerting concerted effort on the part of us and our students.  Yet, when we acknowledge the high stakes our students face, we recognize that these high stakes necessitate the tall order of preparing all students along a pathway to college and careers.  To fill that tall order, we must believe in the glitter of rigor, not as a flash in the pan, but as a 24-carat commitment to provide rigor-rich content, rigorous student engagement with that content, and rigorous knowledge and skill building along a pathway to college and careers.  True, all that glitters is not gold, but rigor…well, it just may be the real deal.


Lia Conklin Olson, PhD has been an instructor for St. Paul Adult Education for twenty years.  In addition, she is an adjunct professor for the Teaching English as a Foreign Language program at Hamline University and a curriculum developer of College and Career Readiness standards-aligned curriculum for Minneapolis Adult Education.  Dr. Olson is the author of the New Readers Press series What’s Next? (2012) and Bridging English Language Learners to GED Prep teacher’s guides (2017) as well as the series consultant for Road to Work (2017).  Dr. Olson focused her PhD dissertation on CCR standards implementation in Minnesota (Adult Basic Educators’ Descriptions of Standards Implementation and Its Influence on Cognitive Rigor; 2017).


The new edition of Future: English for Work, Life, and Academic Success integrates English language instruction with workforce, academic, and soft skills and the latest digital tools in one complete program. Built on the backbone of College and Career Readiness (CCR) and English Language Proficiency (ELP) Standards, Future empowers students to successfully reach their work, life, and academic goals.

The new edition features increased rigor built into all lessons at every level that challenges students to analyze, evaluate, predict, infer, and problem-solve. Future‘s curriculum closely aligns with WIOA, NRS, ELPS, and CCRS. The skills and competencies are fully and seamlessly integrated in every lesson of the program, equipping learners with higher order skills to help them achieve their personal, professional, and educational goals. Future, 2E is the best solution to ensure your students’ success.

Learn more at www.pearsoneltusa.com/future2e

 

References

ACT. (2006). Ready for college, ready for work: Same or different. Iowa City, IA: Author.

Retrieved from https://www.michigan.gov/documents/Ready_for_Life_or_Work-Are_They_Different_159090_7.pdf

files/3-PI-%20ELA.pdf

Camara, W. (2013). Defining and measuring college and career readiness: A validation

framework. Educational Measurement: Issues & Practice 32(4), 16-27. doi:10.1111/emip.12016.

Coalition on Adult Basic Education (n.d.). Adult education is needed now. Retrieved (3-3-2017)

from http://www.coabe.org/adult-education-is-needed-now/

Conley, D. T. (2014). The Common Core State Standards: Insight into their development and

purpose. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers. Retrieved from http://cusd200.org/cms/lib7/IL01001538/Centricity/Domain/38/CCSS_Insight_Into_Development_2014.pdf

Foster, M., Strawn, J., & Duke-Benfield, A. E. (2011). Beyond basic skills: State strategies to

connect low-skilled students to an employer-valued postsecondary education. Washington, DC: CLASP Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success. Retrieved from http://www.clasp.org/ resources-and-publications/publication-1/Beyond-Basic- Skills-March-2011.pdf

Hess, K. (2013). Cognitive rigor in today’s classroom. Measured Progress. Retrieved from

http://asdn.org/wp-content/uploads/CCAP3010_Cognitive_Rigor_in_Todays_Classroom.

pdf

Johnson, K., & Parrish, B. (2010). Aligning instructional practices to meet the academic needs of

adult ESL students. TESOL Quarterly, 44, 618–628. doi: 10.5054/tq.2010.230742_2.

Lesgold, A. & Welch-Ross (Eds.). (2012). Improving adult literacy instruction: Options for

practice and research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi:10.17226/

13242

LINCS [Website].  Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education:

https://lincs.ed.gov/state-resources/federal-initiatives/college-career-readiness

Mancuso, D. (2015). Impact for WorkFirst participants of reaching the ‘tipping point’. (Briefing

Document). Department of Social & Health Services. Retrieved from http://www.sbctc.

edu/resources/documents/colleges-staff/programs-services/basic-education-for-adults/WorkFirst-Tipping-Point.pdf

Mellard, D. (2013). Observations about providing effective instruction to adults with low

literacy. Perspectives on Language and Literacy 39(2), 13-16. Retrieved from

http://search.proquest.com/openview/6183a187e471927b78de6f8a9ed84d18/1?pq-o            rigsite=gscholar&cbl=28091

Parrish, B. (2016). Meeting the language needs of today’s adult English language learner (Issue

Brief). Literacy Information and Communication System. Retrieved from

https://lincs.ed.gov/publications/pdf/ELL_Increasing_Rigor_508.pdf

Olson, L. C. (2017). Adult Basic Educators’ Descriptions of Standards Implementation and Its

Influence on Cognitive Rigor. (Doctoral dissertation, Capella University). Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/openview/cd9b8b7cd65ea434864d79e21676cc15/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y

Patterson, M. (2016). Full-time instructional staffing and outcomes of advanced adult learners.

Adult Education Quarterly 66(4), 336-358. doi:10.1177/0741713616662906

Pimentel, S. (2013). College and career readiness standards for adult education. Washington,

DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education. Retrieved from http://lincs.ed.gov/publications/pdf/ CCRStandardsAdultEd.pdf

Rothman, R. (2012). A common core of readiness. Educational Leadership, 69(7), 10-15.

Retrieved from http://www.oprfhs.org/documents/CommonCoreofReadiness.pdf

Sun, Y. (2010). Standards, equity, and advocacy: Employment conditions of ESOL teachers in

adult basic education and literacy systems. TESOL Journal 1(1). doi: 10.5054/tj.2010.215135.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2016) Public Education Finances: 2014 (G14-ASPEF). Educational

Finance Branch. U.S. Department of Commerce. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/

content/dam/Census/library/publications/2016/econ/g14-aspef.pdf

Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges (2005). Building pathways to

success for low-skill adult students: Lessons for community college policy and practice from a longitudinal student tracking study (the “Tipping Point” research).  (Research Report No. 06-2). Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED496218.pdf

Wiley, A., Wyatt, J., & Camara, W. J. (2011). The Development of a Multidimensional College

Readiness Index. Research Report 2010-3. College Board.

Williamson, G. L. (2006). Aligning the Journey with a Destination: A Model for K-16 Reading

Standards.  (White Paper). Durham, NC: MetaMetrics, Inc.  Retrieved from https://www.georgiastandards.org/resources/Documents/AligningJourneyWithDestination_MetaMetricsWhitepaper.pdf

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, 113th Cong., H.R. 803, (2013–2014). Retrieved

from http://www.doleta.gov/wioa

Wrigley, H.S. (2007). Beyond the lifeboat: Improving language, citizenship, and training

services for immigrants and refugees. In A. Belzer (Ed.), Toward defining and improving quality in adult basic education: Issues and challenges (pp. 221–240). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

 

How do we design programs that lead to measurable progress? February 21, 2019

By Sara Davila

In institutions around the world there is increasing pressure to demonstrate how program design will lead to demonstrable progress in English for learners. It raises a key question: how do we design programs that lead to measurable progress. Over the last three years, numerous schools have begun to work on how they can address this challenge using the Global Scale of English (GSE). This year, at TESOL 2019, it will be my pleasure to facilitate a discussion between two administrators who have worked through this process. For me, it’s an opportunity to share some of the best practices I’ve seen developed by experienced educators in the field. For my colleagues, it’s a chance to talk about what they learned during the process, the benefits to their learners, and their future plans.

Salem State University

 Shawn Wolfe, the Associate Director of English Language Programs and International Enrollment Management at Salem State University, will be the first to share his insight into applying the GSE in an institutional environment. At the institution—located in Salem, Massachusetts—Shawn began to explore how the GSE could help to address a greater need for insight into progress given the time ELLs had to prepare in order to enter their degree courses. How much time was required to achieve success in English? How could progress be measured in a way that was tangible to professors and students? These are just a few of the questions that lead Shawn to begin to explore the Global Scale of English.

While the process has been slow and steady, Shawn can provide first hand experience from his use of the GSE, including how he is working to secure facility buy-in by embedding professor views in the curriculum alignment process.

Sacred Hearts University

 Alla Schlate, Academic Director at Sacred Heart University based in Connecticut, will be our second speaker, sharing her process of curriculum review and alignment for her various English programs. At Sacred Hearts, like Salem State and other schools that enroll international learners, there is a significant challenge with both the diversity of language ability and degree interest areas demonstrated by students. In order to address these challenges, Alla has developed a four pillar approach to support learner development. Her long-term goal is to create a curriculum that can be easily adapt over time to the changes in learner needs, instructor needs, and available materials and content. At her institution, like Shawn, she faced similar challenges with aligning the program to the GSE: from gaining faculty buy-in to addressing the challenging and changing needs of the student population.

How did Shawn and Alla achieve success in their institutions using the GSE? What can other schools learn from their experiences? At our TESOL 2019 panel discussion session (on Friday, March 15 at 2pm, Room A407) we intend to explore answers to these questions, and more. We look forward to seeing you in March, and sharing our experiences with you.


Shawn Wolfe is an associate director of the Center for International Education at Salem State University in Massachusetts, where he oversees student recruitment and the core academic components of the center’s English language programs, including accreditation preparation, curriculum and student assessment, instructional coaching, and professional development for English language specialists. Shawn has more than 11 years of EFL/ESL teaching and administrative experience in Japan, Mexico, and the United States. Prior to working at Salem State, Shawn oversaw a community-based English language program for adults and was a recognized state leader and advocate for adult language learners in West Virginia. Shawn holds an MAT-TESOL from the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education and has research interests in teaching English for Specific Purposes (ESP), second language Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT), and E-learning.

Alla Schlate is the Academic Director of the English Language Institute at Sacred Heart University. Professor Schlate is responsible for academic oversight of the ELI. She is in charge of the content of the Intensive English Program: curriculum, instructors, books, etc., as well as makes sure that the curriculum meets the rigorous requirements of higher education accreditation organizations. She leads Professional Development meetings providing the instructors with the best opportunities to keep abreast with the latest research in Language Acquisition Methodology. Her goal also is to ensure that international students are actively engaged in meaningful language learning process exploring all opportunities offered by numerous Departments at SHU. Prior to working at Sacred Heart, Professor Schlate worked at the Institute of International Relations, Yekaterinburg, Russia, and was an acknowledged leader in Education in the Ural Area of Russia. Professor Schlate holds an M.A. in Linguistics and an M.A.T in Teaching EFL/ESL and Literature from Udmurt State University in Russia (Evaluated by WES); an M.A. in Educational Leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University, New York; and a CELTA in Teacher Training and Material Design, from Cambridge University, UK.

Ten Tips to Accelerate Academic Listening February 8, 2019

 By Michael Rost

Academic listening is a special kind of listening. It is listening in order to encounter, understand, learn, discuss, and remember new ideas. No matter what your teaching situation, helping students become better academic listeners is an important part of language teaching.

Over the years, through teaching, observation, and research, I have come up with ten teaching tips that can accelerate academic listening.

Tip 1: Use great content

Academic listening is really about content learning. You want the content to do the teaching! Your goal as a teacher is to get the students excited about the new content and about sharing their perspectives. It is easiest to do this when the content itself is compelling, when there is substance that is really worth trying to understand. Whether you are teaching history or math, biology or art, literature or physiology, try packaging and presenting the content in ways that make it more interesting and provocative. Try supplementing the content with different forms of multimedia (audio tracks, video clips, web pages) and activities (tasks, games, experiments, surveys) in order to make it more engaging and more motivating for your students. (See Philp and Duchesne, 2016 for a clear summary on the interaction of engagement and motivation.)

But what about the language teaching aspect? Don’t we need to teach the language? Of course, yes. But it is well established that the most effective way to teach the language is through the learning of content in the target language — provided that there is sufficient language support (See Cenoz, 2015 for discussion of the role of language support in L2 content instruction.)

Tip 2: Teach “academic conversations” as a social learning tool

Academic listening is also about exploring, negotiating, and sharing ideas and learning new perspectives. Classroom learning of academic listening depends crucially on the learners having frequent collaborative “academic conversations” with one another — and with you, the teacher. Learners need to feel safe brainstorming, sharing personal thoughts, questioning ideas, reacting emotionally at times, and working out problems understanding one another and the course content.

But trying to have meaningful academic conversations often runs into a wall. Left to their own devices, most learners, regardless of age, will settle on minimal verbal and non-verbal interaction in the classroom, often attempting to finish learning tasks as quickly — and with as few words — as possible. The challenge for learners is that academic learning involves making our thinking explicit, so it is necessary to teach and reward the use of explicit gambits in order to develop this elaborated style of thinking (Crawford and Zwiers, 2011; Zwiers and Soto, 2017).

Implementing this tip involves two practical steps: (1) presenting conversation prompts, interaction models, and academic phrases and (2) promoting “positive regard” for others. Presenting interaction models is best done by identifying specific critical thinking skills as “focus points” for learning. The most commonly recognized critical thinking skills are: identify main ideas, comparing similarities, contrasting differences, attributing facts to sources, evaluation of validity, inferring missing information, explaining results, and applying information to solve problems.

Here is an example of displaying the relationship between focus, conversation gambit (for posing questions), and language frame (for responding and formulating ideas).

Focus Conversation Gambit Language Frame
Describe the main idea.

 

What is the gist of the lecture?

What do you think is the central idea?

What was this part of the lecture about?

The presentation was mainly about…

The speaker is basically saying…

The main idea of the talk was…

The second aspect is promoting “positive regard,” which means seeking and acknowledging each speaker’s contribution. Positive regard can be achieved through active listening to one another’s ideas, supporting each other’s efforts to learn, and respecting alternate points of view. Teachers assist through modeling and monitoring of conversational interaction to be sure that “positive regard” is systematically practiced (or at least aimed for!) in all classroom interactions (Singer, 2018).

Tip 3: Shift responsibility to the learner

The essential insight behind this tip is: It is the learners themselves who decide whether or not they want to understand. Set up optimal learning conditions — and let the learners do the work. This suggestion may seem obvious, but I have often seen learning get short-circuited when teachers try to guide or help their students too much. Think in terms of letting the students take the lead, in whatever ways you can. Have the students run the technology, let them select content supplements and decide on activities when possible, have them lead group discussions, have them give presentations, even have them design the tests.

But are we being too “harsh” if we really think learners decide whether or not they want to understand? Shouldn’t we be making the content easier for the students to understand if they are having difficulties with the language? Well, yes and no. The paradox is that by setting high expectations and allowing the students to struggle to succeed, we are actually empowering them with the skills and strategies they need outside of the classroom (See Ferlazzo, 2016 and Asgedom, 2014 for powerful discussions of this issue of teachers challenging students with high standards.)

Tip 4: Teach “active listening” as a reliable learning strategy

 Active listening is more than the notion of “being animated when you listen.” It is actually a broader range of cognitive and emotional activity that could be described as “engaged processing.” Active listening starts with a mindset: an open-mindedness, curiosity, and a “positive regard” for the speaker and his or her ideas — a supportive intention to try to understand without judging. Beyond these intentional aspects, active listening involves the specific teachable behaviors of paying full attention, asking clarification questions, paraphrasing, reflecting, summarizing, and asking creative follow-up questions to probe further into the speaker’s meaning (Rost and Wilson, 2013).

For all of these behaviors, there are specific gambits we can teach students to help them adopt an active listening mindset:

  • Asking clarification questions: “When you said …, did you mean…?” “I’d like to ask if you can explain more about…”
  • Paraphrasing: “What I hear you saying is…” “Let me see if I understand you correctly. I believe you said…”
  • Reflecting: “That is very interesting to me. It reminds me of…” “I see a parallel between … and ….”
  • Asking follow-up questions: Is there another way to think about this? For example, is it possible that…?”

I often talk with teachers who believe that active listening is way beyond their learners’ abilities. After all, their students may be struggling with basic vocabulary and grammar issues. Don’t they need to master the language more fully before they can use these “advanced” academic formulas and interaction gambits? Research has shown that teaching this type of “metacognitive thinking” actually helps students, even lower-level students, handle new and complex language more readily, without simplification of content. It empowers learners to engage gradually with more complex ideas (Goh, 2018; Vlach and Ellis, 2010).

Learning to use structured academic language can also create more meaningful interactions — “learning conversations” — between the students. This language provides students with “islands of reliability” for interacting in pairs and groups in ways that promote more “comprehensible output” — that is, speaking or writing output that challenges the learner to use his or her maximum language capacity (Keene, 2011; Graf and Birkstein, 2007). And in my own experience, teaching active listening strategies makes listening more enjoyable for the students!

Tip 5: Provide a clear purpose for listening

 One my own mentors in language teaching, Joan Morley, used to say, “The only way to improve aural comprehension is to spend many hours practicing listening…. However, a directed program of purposeful listening can shorten the time.” What she meant was that improvement of listening skills can be accelerated by immediate task completion along with feedback on accuracy (Morley, 1990). Morley claimed that this type of instruction provided “an urgency for focusing attention.” One clear way to convert this advice into instructional practice is to create selective listening tasks so that the students know what to listen for before they begin listening.

Common selective listening tasks include:

  • completion of a chart or table with specific words or numbers
  • notation of specific words or facts
  • completion of a text (such as lyrics of a song) with certain words blanked out
  • confirmation that a speaker said or did not say specific things
  • drawing a picture to conform to a speaker’s description
  • following physical commands (like “stand up, walk to the door,” etc.).

Tasks of this type can greatly improve students’ confidence in listening to longer or complex inputs because they need only focus on specific sequences. Many teachers argue that this type of task doesn’t really test students’ general listening proficiency, but that is precisely the point. We want students to get acclimated to listening to difficult passages by giving them the opportunity to selectively focus on parts of the text they can understand (Kanaoka, 2009). This type of practice has a scaffolding effect, allowing students to gradually understand more, improve their working memory, and listen for longer stretches (Bransford and Johnson, 2004). 

Tip 6: Use short segments to focus on skill building

Academic listening can be overwhelming for students because it involves sustained listening, sometimes up to 30 minutes or longer. Once a student becomes overwhelmed and fatigued, learning efficiency — engagement and enjoyment, as well as memory function — obviously diminishes. What I like to do to counteract this is to punctuate a class with intensive work on shorter listening extracts: cuing an audio or video track to just 30, 60, or 90 seconds of input. I may play the track three or four times, each time with a new task:

  • “Listen and write down just the verbs.” (Drawing attention to the need to identify key words.)
  • “Listen and write the full forms for these reduced forms.” (Drawing attention to reductions and assimilations.)
  • “Listen and tell me which of these words or expressions you hear.” (To develop selective listening. I write several words on the board, only some of which are actually in the passage to be played.)
  • “Listen and summarize the main ideas.” (Orally to a partner or in writing.)
  • “Listen without taking notes. Then at the end, try to reconstruct exactly what the speaker said.” (I may provide a partial transcript to facilitate this process.)

You might object that this type of activity doesn’t resemble true academic listening – as in a university lecture or a business presentation. That is correct, but in order to effect transfer of skills to academic listening contexts, students also need the training opportunities to build up the sub-skills of word recognition, phonological discrimination, extracting key information, and building short-term memory (Field, 1998; Goh and Aryadoust, 2013; Wilson, 2003). Working with short extracts also helps the teacher and students diagnose specific decoding problems and take concrete steps to remediate, rather than relying entirely on inferencing in order to guess “the missing pieces” (Cross, 2009).

Tip 7: Teach listening strategies through specific tasks

Listening strategies are cognitive and social techniques for “how to understand,” deliberate plans to construct meaning more deeply. Some have argued that effective strategies are a by-product of motivation and emerge in learners naturally without being taught (this is the “soft skills” theory), and others argue that listening strategies d o not emerge unless they are demonstrated explicitly, and that direct teaching of listening strategies improves motivation (Graham, 2017). The realized benefits may be a matter of individual differences and cultural learning styles. I have found that most learners will benefit from some explicit instruction in “how to listen,” particularly if it is done in the immediate context of a listening task.

What are listening strategies? In my own research tracking and interviewing learners (Rost, 2016), as well as through the research of colleagues (e.g. Vandergrift, 2007), we have identified eight recognizable categories of listening strategies.

1. Planning

Developing an awareness of the steps needed to accomplish a listening task, anticipating content that may be introduced, coming up with an “action plan”

Advance organizing: Clarifying the goals of a task before listening

Self-management: Rehearsing the steps to take to deal with a listening task

 

 

2. Focusing attention

Concentrating on the input and task at hand, avoiding distractions and disruptive thoughts, reminding oneself of the plan

Directed attention: Attending to the listening task, consciously ignoring distractions or any tendency to give up

Selective attention: Attending to specific aspects of the listening input, such as key words or ideas that have been anticipated

Persistent attention: Attending to broad meaning, keeping flow of attention even if temporarily distracted by unknown language

Noticing attention: Attending to new language, specific language, rhetorical forms in the input

 

 

3. Monitoring

Verifying or adjusting one’s understanding or way of understanding during a task

Comprehension monitoring: Checking how well one is understanding, identifying problematic aspects in the input

Double-check monitoring: Verifying one’s initial understanding and making revisions in understanding as needed, during the second listening to the same input

Emotional monitoring: Keeping track of one’s feelings, encouraging oneself to keep listening, finding ways to counter negative emotions and anxiety

 

 

 

4. Evaluating

Checking the outcome of one’s listening process against a standard of accuracy or completeness

Performance evaluation: Checking one’s overall attainment of the task goals

Problem evaluation: Identifying what specific issue needs to be solved or understood or what part of the listening task still needs to be completed

Revision evaluation: Choosing a second listening to assist understanding or selecting an alternative way of accomplishing a listening task

 

5. Inferencing

Using information in the input to guess the meaning of unfamiliar language, to predict content, or to fill in missing information

 

Linguistic inferencing: Using known words to guess meanings of unknown words or blurs of sounds

Contextual inferencing: Consciously using knowledge of the setting and extralinguistic features (items in the environment) to create or amplify meaning

Speaker inferencing: Using the speaker’s tone of voice, paralinguistic cues (stress, pause, intonation) or guessing intended meanings, facial expressions, body language, and baton signals (hand and arm movements) to guess intended meanings

Multimodal inferencing: Using background sounds, visual cues, supplementary text, and intuitive sense of the input to infer meaning Predictive inferencing: Anticipating details in a specific part of the input (local prediction) or anticipating the gist of what is coming in the input (global prediction)

Retrospective inferencing: Thinking back over a large chunk of input to fill in gaps and consolidate one’s understanding

 

6. Elaborating

Using prior knowledge from outside the input and relating it to content in the input in order to enrich one’s interpretation of the input

 

Personal elaboration: Connecting with prior personal experiences

World elaboration: Connecting with knowledge gained about the world

Creative elaboration: Making up background information to contextualize the inputs, generating questions that relate to the input, or introducing new possibilities to extend the input

Visual elaboration: Using mental visualizations to represent aspects of the input

 

7. Collaborating

Cooperating with the speaker, other listeners, and outside sources for assistance with improving comprehension or enriching interpretations

 

Seeking clarification: Asking for repetition, explanations, rephrasings, or elaborations about the language just heard

Seeking confirmation: Asking for verification that what you have said has been understood

Backchannelling: Showing the speaker that you are engaged, following the input and ready to continue listening

Joint task construction: Working together, with the speaker or with another listener, to solve a problem or complete a task

Resourcing: Using available referencing resources to deepen language and idea comprehension

 

8. Reviewing

Condensing, reordering, or transferring from one modality to another, of what one has processed to help understanding, memory storage and retrieval

 

Summarization: Making a mental or verbal (oral or written) summary of information presentation

Repetition: Repeating or paraphrasing part of what was heard as part of a listening task

Noting: Writing down key words or ideas in another form (abbreviated verbal or graphic form) to assist in recall or performance of a task

Mediating: Rendering ideas from the input to the listener’s L1, orally or in writing

 

(From Rost and Wilson, 2013)

But how do we teach listening strategies? And is it important for students to learn all of these various categories? Much of the language used to describe the strategies (“metalanguage”) is very abstract and unfamiliar to our students. Will this really help them? The key to helping students learn and adopt these strategies is in designing tasks, or steps in an activity, that focus on one specific listening strategy. For example, to promote “advance organizing,” we might give a series of images related to an upcoming lecture to the students, and ask them to come up with a list of ideas that might be included in the lecture. For “joint task construction,” we might play a segment of a lecture or presentation and have students work in pairs to complete a cloze summary of the section. And because listening strategies are conscious plans to improve understanding, it is important for students to reflect on their utility. At the end of an activity, we may simply ask, “What did you think of that activity? Did it help you listen better? Why or why not?”

Tip 8: Teach note-taking as a review tool

Note-taking is widely viewed as one of the most important macro-skills in academic listening, but there is little agreement on what constitutes effective practice. Different techniques have been taught, including the Cornell Method (columns and indenting to show relationships), Mind Maps (graphic connections to show associations), and Key Words (noting only key words and phrases to show sequencing and prominence). However, no one method has been shown to be superior to others, although there is evidence that certain modalities of note-taking represent deeper levels of information processing than others (Bohay et al., 2011; Mueller and Oppenheimer, 2014).

So does it matter if we have students take notes? Yes! Even though there is no consistent correlation between specific types of notes or quantity of notes and comprehension scores, as a teacher I have consistently seen a positive effect of note-taking instruction on student participation and an increase in student responsibility in trying to understand. I have seen advantages of providing interventions while students are actively engaged in listening to academic lectures — not just before or after. Interventions — short instructional episodes during a language processing experience — provide a way for students to focus their attention and learn specific note-taking strategies that promote comprehension. And as other researchers have found, I also believe that the note-taking interventions improve long-term memory during and after listening, particularly if notes are used for collaborative tasks and review for tests — or even if notes are allowed to be used during tests (Flowerdew and Miller, 2005).

Tip 9: Provide stimulating out-of-class listening homework 

Because accelerating academic listening involves nurturing a full-time active mindset, it is important to have productive outside homework assignments between classes.

For each course I teach, I try to curate a set of at least ten topically related YouTube, Vimeo, or TEDTalk or other videos, or FreshAir or other short interviews that are in the public domain. (I ask students to provide suggestions to add to the list as the course progresses.) This is a technique for keeping learning alive for students between classes and for “flipping” the roles of classwork and homework as needed (Jensen et al., 2015).

As a safety procedure, I recommend watching the videos all the way through or listening to interviews from start to finish first, to be sure the content is appropriate for your students. In a typical eight-week course for me, the homework for the students is to listen to at least five videos and complete a short task — usually some variation of “Summarize in your own words.” “What is one thing that you learned in this presentation?” “What is one follow-up question that you would like to ask the speaker?” “What are five words or expressions you learned in this video?” If the class has a discussion board in its learning management system, I may require that each student comment on each video they watch, and respond to one other student’s comments for each video. If the class has time for presentations, I may have students prepare a presentation in pairs, related to the ideas in one video they have watched together.

Tip 10: Demonstrate to learners how to “get an A” in your course

The concept of academic listening — and academic study generally — may be unfamiliar to your learners at first, so it is helpful to “gamify” the concept by demonstrating to students the specific active behaviors they can use to “win the game.” For example, in one of my CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) classes, I give the students guidelines that include a number of “active listening” ideas:

How to Study and Earn an A in This Course

These guidelines are the best way to master the material in this course and earn an A:

  • Come to class on time, listen actively, and participate. Take good notes and participate in the discussions and in-class exercises. Be certain that your comments improve on the silence.
  • Participate in the online discussions and make use of web resources, especially the videos.
  • Take notes as though you will be explaining the content to a friend who missed the class.
  • Communicate with the instructor — about possible absences, late assignments, or anything else that will affect your performance in class.
  • Ask questions if you don’t understand something! Just because others aren’t asking questions doesn’t mean they understand. If something isn’t clear to you, it may not be clear to your classmates. Do them a favor and raise your hand.
  • Summarize, rewrite, and review your notes between classes. Don’t wait for the night before an exam to re-familiarize yourself with the material covered.
  • Take some action to personalize the material. Develop your own set of study notes, summarize each lecture or reading to a classmate (learning partner), or write out what you think would be a likely essay question on the test.

But aren’t these guidelines too strict? Don’t we need to be sensitive to learner differences? Don’t we need to modify course expectations to fit a range of cultural learning styles? To an extent, yes, but we also need to allow students to understand and modify their own study habits and to clarify cultural differences (between their home culture and the target culture) for themselves. By showing the “rules” of the system, we are helping them succeed, both in content learning and cultural learning (Hattie, 2012; Hofstede et al, 2010).

So those are the ten tips that can accelerate academic listening. Using them is no guarantee that all students will immediately increase their listening ability, but trying them out in your classes may well trigger some fresh energy for students to improve. I hope you will try them.

References

Asgedom, M. (2014). The 5 powers of an educator. Chicago: Mawi Learning.

Bohay, M., Blakely, D., Tamplin, A., and Radvansky, G. (2011). Note taking, review, memory, and comprehension. The American Journal of Psychology, 124, 63–73.

Bransford, J. and Johnson, M. (2004). Contextual prerequisites for understanding: Some investigations of comprehension and recall. In Balota, D. and Marsh, E. (Eds.) Cognitive psychology: Key readings. New York: Psychology Press.

Cenoz, J. (2015). Content-based instruction and content and language integrated learning: The same or different? Language, Culture and Curriculum, 28:1, 8–24.

Crawford, M. and Zwiers, J. (2011). Academic conversations: Classroom talk that fosters critical thinking and content understandings. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Cross, J. (2009) Diagnosing the process, text, and intrusion problems responsible for L2 listeners’ decoding errors. Asian EFL Journal, 11, 31–53.

Ferlazzo, L. (2016, September 9). “Why we teach now”: An interview with Sonia Nieto. Education Week. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/classroom_qa_with_larry_ferlazzo/2016/09/why_we_teach_now_an_interview_with_sonia_nieto.html

Flowerdew, J. and Miller, L. (2005). Second language listening: Theory and practice. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Goh, C. (2018). Metacognition in second language listening. The TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching, 1–7. New York: Wiley.

Goh, C. and Aryadoust, V. (2013). Examining the notion of listening sub-skill divisibility and its implications for second language listening. International Journal of Listening, 29:3, 109–133.

Graff, G. and Birkstein, C. (2007). They say/I say. The moves that matter in persuasive writing. New York: Norton.

Graham, S. (2017). Research into practice: Listening strategies in an instructed classroom setting. Language Teaching, 50:1, 107–119.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G. J., and Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Jensen, J. L., Kummer, T. A., and Godoy, P. D. d. M. (2015). Improvements from a flipped classroom may simply be the fruits of active learning. Life Science Education, 14:1, 1–12.

Kanaoka, Y. (2009). Academic listening encounters. New York: Cambridge.

Keene, E. O. (2011). Comprehension instruction grows up. In H. S. Daniels (Ed.), Comprehension going forward: Where we are/what’s next (pp. 111–127). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Morley, J. (1990). Trends and developments in listening comprehension. In J. Alatis (Eds.). Georgetown University Roundtable on Languages and Linguistics (pp. 317–337). Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.

Mueller, P. and Oppenheimer, D. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 25:6, 1159–1168

Norrick, N. (2008). Negotiating the reception of stories in conversation: Teller strategies

for modulating response. Narrative Inquiry, 18:1, 131–151.

Philp, J. and Duchesne, S. (2016). Exploring engagement in tasks in the language classroom. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 36,50–72.

Rost, M. and Wilson, J. J. (2013). Active listening. New York: Routledge.

Rost, M. (2016). Teaching and researching listening, 3rd edition. New York: Routledge.

Singer, T. (2018). EL excellence every day: The flip-to guide for differentiating academic literacy. New York: Sage.

Vandergrift, L. (2007). Recent developments in second and foreign language listening comprehension research. Language Teaching, 40, 191–210.

Vlach, R. and Ellis, N. (2010) An Academic Formulas List: New methods in phraseology research. Applied Linguistics, 31:4, 487–512.

Wilson, M. (2003). Discovery listening—improving perceptual processing. ELT Journal, 57:4, 335–343.

Zwiers, J. and Soto, I. (2017). Academic language mastery: Conversational discourse in context. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.


Michael Rost, principal author of Pearson English Interactive, has been active in the areas of language teaching, learning technology and language acquisition research for over 25 years. His interest in bilingualism and language education began in the Peace Corps in West Africa and was fueled during his 10 years as an educator in Japan and extensive touring as a lecturer in East Asia and Latin America. Formerly on the faculty of the TESOL programs at Temple University and the University of California, Berkeley, Michael now works as an independent researcher, author, and speaker based in San Francisco. Michael is the author of critically acclaimed works on second language development, including Teaching and Researching Listening (Routledge) and Active Listening(Routledge), Dr. Rost’s interests focus on spoken interaction and listening. He is also author or series editor of a number of successful EFL/ESL courses, including the global series Worldview and English Firsthand, as well as the academic listening series, Contemporary Topics (Pearson).

Designing a Superhero Movie Unit December 5, 2018

by Lora Yasen

“You’re despicable. Dishonorable. Faithless,” said Gamora to Peter Quill.

This short line from the sci-fi superhero movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, provides a lot of material for the ESL class.  First, this list of adjectives in the movie makes a good multiple-choice listening exercise. Next, students can learn new vocabulary words and talk about the tone, informality and intent of the speaker. This scene is a good discussion topic also. What are some characteristics of a hero?  Is Peter a hero at this point in the movie? Why or why not? At the end of the movie unit, this line from the movie may be cited with a reference in a student essay on the transformation of the hero character during the story.

In my university level reading, writing and discussion skills-based ESL courses, I often use a movie and reader in addition to the usual textbooks. Superhero movies are instantly engaging, and a favorite source of language and cultural content for my students. Here is the process I follow for designing a superhero movie unit.

Superhero Movie Toolkit

First collect the movie resources. Find a junior novelization or ESL reader on the movie (which includes movie photos) as a student textbook. Find teacher reference materials such as the movie script online, movie websites, movie trailers, soundtracks and lyrics, comic books, etc. Official movie websites may have games, quizzes, taglines, trailers, etc. that can be used in worksheets, scavenger hunts, or previewing activities. Most have character photos that can be references for students to learn about the heroes and the villains.

Pearson English Readers have a whole series based on the Marvel Super Heroes

Materials Creation

 For Guardians of the Galaxy, I created a PowerPoint with movie photos to help students learn the character names, and different groups and planets. Later we returned to the character photos to talk about special abilities, motives for wanting the orb, and tragic backstories.

I created a listening assignment called, “Who Said It?” for the movie. I used quotes from the movie or website taglines that are important to the comprehension of the film.

“You keep throwing that in my face!”

Who said It? Peter Quill said it when Yondu reminds him the crew wanted to eat him.

Since music is such an important theme in the movie, I developed lessons on several songs from the Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 soundtrack and discussed the lyrics, and we viewed the original singers in YouTube videos. Knowing the songs made the music more meaningful during the movie and helped students comprehend more of the movie.

I chose Scene 13 from the movie script for student role-plays. This scene, “12 % of a Plan”, is significant in the movie. It is a difficult, humorous, sad scene where the characters decide to set aside their selfish motives and unite to save the galaxy. Student read the scripts and then discussed the vocabulary and meaning of the scene before viewing this part of the film. Without this preparation, students would have missed this major change in the plot.

Lesson Plans, Course Outcomes & Assessments

Using a reader and movie offers plenty of opportunities to meet course outcomes and design interesting assessment options. I have students read 3-4 chapters of the reader each week. While reading, we discuss vocabulary in context, discuss parts of speech, work on reading comprehension skills, reading for details and do a lot of summarizing. We practice the concepts learned in our regular textbooks.  We begin with the paragraph and locate main ideas. Then we summarize the paragraph, then the page, and finally the chapter. We practice note-taking skills with the reader and make oral and written summaries. Unless the reader comes with reading exercises, I create my own worksheets that incorporate the skills and student learning outcomes that I normally teach in the course. To scaffold summarizing skills, students work in groups, pairs and then alone to summarize the chapters. Assessments include reading tests on the story and writing assignments on a character or a compare/contrast essay on the reader and movie.

Stop and Go Method

Every Friday after finishing the weekly reader chapters, we watch the portion of the movie we’ve read about. I turn on the closed captions and we watch the movie scene using a stop and go viewing method. I stop at confusing scenes to ask questions. Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? At the end of the movie unit, we watch the movie through without stopping to prepare for the final writing assessment.

Superhero Themes

Superhero movies reflect American society and culture and include many interesting themes for discussions or writing assignments. My students decided that one of the themes in Guardians of the Galaxy is that diverse groups of people can work together successfully to help others. Superhero movies are not simply for entertainment, they can be rich sources for teaching language and culture.


Pearson ELT offers a large collection of graded readers at all levels of proficiency. Our new series of readers is based on Marvel’s Super Heroes series. To search the catalog of all Pearson English Readers, click here.

Using Plays in the Classroom. Part 4: Reflecting on the Play October 2, 2018

This article is another installment in our Helping Superheroes Teach series. The aim of this series is to offer teachers helpful strategies and practical tips they can implement in their classrooms.

 
By Dr. Frances Boyd and Christopher W. Collins

In this series of blog posts, we’ve discussed a variety of language-learning exercises and activities for introducing the play preparing for the play and digging into the play . In fact, some of the most satisfying moments come when the play has been finished. Completion of the play allows for a deeper, more reflective response on the part of students. While they have focused on comprehension and interpretation of individual scenes, students now have the opportunity to respond to the work as a whole, to make connections with their own experiences, and to think critically about their views.

Play Performance
Whether students see a stage or a movie performance, when the reading is done, they can step back to observe and react to the director’s choices. The teacher can give them a choice of what to focus on and then pose such questions as: How do the casting, costumes, setting(s), lighting and sound fit your imagined version? How does the audience react (in a live performance)? If the director omitted or changed any lines or scenes, why and to what effect?

In our experience, few students have analyzed film; fewer still have ever experienced a play in the legitimate theater. By empowering students to get into the director’s shoes, rather than elicit a simple reaction, teachers create an intriguing platform for students to think critically about the techniques, strategies, and expressive power of drama.

Integration of Grammar and Vocabulary
Throughout the unit of materials for a play, students learn new language and practice using it. By the end, it is appropriate to expect more nuanced, varied, and accurate utterances. To both elicit and model such language, teachers can create a structured conversation between two readers who have just viewed a performance. Such an exercise could either be a quiz or a final practice. In either case, it is also effective as a prelude to a discussion.

Two readers of “To Kill a Mockingbird” have just seen the Academy-award-winning film. Use modal perfects, adjective clauses, and past unreal conditions.

A: Wow! That was no run-of-the-mill film. Gregory Peck was amazing as Atticus. I read that Harper Lee, [1] ___________wrote the original novel, said the director [2] _____________[choose/not] a better actor.

B: Uh, huh. One big difference from the novel is the point of view. Jean Louise, [3] __________ is Scout as a grown woman, is only there in the beginning of the film. If she [3]_____________________[continue], it __________________[be]

Essay Writing
When students write an essay in response to a play, they practice their writing skills in an organic way: the motivation should be intrinsic and much of the language should be at their fingertips.  In a variety of unedited quotes from student essays in response to August: Osage County, we can see some of the depth and breadth of their engagement with the work.

I really like this story and movie even though this is totally a tragedy, but this story gives me a lot of thoughts and made me reflect on what the family is…This story tells us an important thing: we are all part of our family and that is why we can talk to each other by heart and criticize them without offense, because we love them so much.

***

Every family has inevitable contradictions; everyone in this world has their own miserable problems.

While these students focus on the family, the following student delves into the emotional relationships themselves.

It’s an indisputable fact that some of plot is “fiercely funny”, but when I think rationally, I tend to think it’s “bitingly sad.” The emotions and implications of August: Osage County are complex….

Other students comment directly on how the reading of a play holds possibilities for understanding culture in greater depth.

Language and culture are the important factors that make the film or play have different national characteristics.

***

This play quintessentially displays the real American family who lives in the countryside.

***

As an international student, if I hadn’t learned this play so deeply, I would have never known those complicated aspects of real American life.

While excerpts from individual writings only give a narrow sense of the writing itself, we can see students responding to the piece of literature and to the culture out of which it emerges. We can also appreciate their search for connections to their own experience as well as explanations for the similarities and differences across cultures.

Concluding Remarks
“People’s need for theatre is as powerful as their desire for food or drink,” says Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of the Public Theatre in New York in his TED Talk “Why Theatre is Essential to Democracy”. In the dialog on stage, he explains, we hear the drama of conflicting points of view, and we “lean forward” in empathy; moreover, we do this together, as part of an audience.

In an in-depth study of an American play, English Language learners can partake of this powerful, ancient, collective experience – guided by teacher-made exercises and activities that move from comprehension to interpretation to reflection and coached by teachers who set the stage for students to explore new contexts, new relationships, and new ways of using language.

Here is a list of plays we have successfully introduced in the ESL classroom. This list is by no means exhaustive; we would welcome hearing recommendations for other plays, particularly those that are contemporary.

Selected American Plays for English Language Learners

Advanced: CEFR B2 – C1
All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, An Enemy of the People – Arthur Miller
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire – Tennessee Williams
August: Osage County – Tracy Letts
Inherit the Wind – Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee
A Raisin in the Sun – Lorraine Hansberry
Six Degrees of Separation – John Guare
To Kill a Mockingbird  – Christopher Sergel/Harper Lee
Twelve Angry Men – Reginald Rose

Intermediate: CEFR B1
Lost in Yonkers, The Prisoner of Second Avenue – Neil Simon
Children of a Lesser God – Mark Medoff
Crossing Delancey – Susan Sandler
The Miracle Worker – William Gibson
Our Town – Thornton Wilder


Dr. Frances Boyd has been teaching students and developing teachers for over 30 years in the U.S. and abroad, in China, Columbia, Kyrgyzstan, and Mexico. She serves on the faculty of Columbia University’s American Language Program in the School of Professional Studies, where she has collaborated on the American Play Project for nearly all of those years. She is co-editor of the academic book series NorthStar, author of Making Business Decisions –both published by Pearson, and a frequent featured speaker at international ELT conferences. Boyd holds the BA from Oberlin College, the MA from the University of Wisconsin, and the Ed.D. from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Christopher W. Collins is a lecturer in the American Language Program (ALP) at the Columbia University School of Professional Studies, where he also co-chairs the annual ALP Winter Conference, and he has also taught in the Czech Republic and in Japan. He completed his M.A. in TESOL at The New School, with a concentration in Curriculum Development.