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Focus On Basics

Volume 7, Issue C ::: March 2005


Adult basic education (ABE) programs use a variety of modes of delivery: group, individualized, and online instruction; one-on-one tutoring; permutations of all of these; and probably a few others I’ve never heard of. In preparing this issue of Focus on Basics, I was struck by how little empirical evidence has been gathered on the relative impact of the different modes of delivery. At the same time, it was pleasant to find that three authors, when writing about the modes of delivery they use, explained them through the lens of building learners’ reading skills.

In our cover story, English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) teacher Donna Moss, of Arlington, VA, reviews the research on the important role that interaction plays in enabling learners to acquire a second language. She includes suggestions on how to structure group instruction to give learners opportunities for rich language interaction. Susanne Campagna’s ABE students spend most of their time in group instruction in their Springfield, MA, program, but once a week she limits their interaction and focuses them on sustained silent reading. By doing so, her students build their reading fluency and explore content areas of interest to them (page 8). Teacher Susan Watson, who is based in Kentucky, writes about the struggle she faced in luring her students from individualized instruction into group-based book clubs. Once they made the switch, they haven’t looked back, and their reading skills continue to flourish (page 10).

On page 13, Mary Ann Corley provides an overview of differentiated instruction (DI): an approach to group instruction through which teachers offer multiple avenues via which their learners can master material. Teacher Catherine Saldana was struggling to meet the needs of her multilevel class in San Bernadino, CA, when she heard about DI and decided to try it. Find out how it worked for her class on page 17.

The Ahrens Learning Center, in Jefferson County, KY, combines group and individualized instruction. Staff joined me for a discussion of why and how they do this; turn to page 19 for this conversation. Perrine Robinson-Geller writes about individualized instruction, its probable origin in the 1960s, and its strengths and weaknesses, in the article on page 24. National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy researcher Hal Beder discusses his research on learner engagement, which he describes as students “working hard” — an important component of (but not synonymous with) learning. He also shares what his research team learned about individualized instruction in the course of their research. See the article on page 27.

Will Summers has been a volunteer tutor in Illinois for nine years; Marianne Buswell has tutored learners as teacher for Vermont Adult Learning for eight. They describe their experiences in the articles on pages 30 and 36, respectively. Mary Dunn Siedow fills out this picture of tutoring with the theory behind it, the pros and cons, and how best to support tutors, in the article that begins on page 32.

Marisol Richmond, Marian Thacher, and Paul Porter teamed up to evaluate online instruction in English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) in California. They share their experiences: advanced intermediate ESOL learners with prior computer knowledge seemed to fare best using this mode of delivery. Read more about it on page 38.

All the articles in this issue highlight the importance of the teacher in making each and every mode of delivery work well for learners. We hope that this Focus on Basics encourages you to experiment with different modes of delivery and enables you to ensure that the mode of delivery you now use works well for your learners.

Barbara Garner

Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL