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Welcome by Editor


According to the US Department of Education’s Report to Congress for the year 2002-2003, English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) students make up 43 percent of the learners served by USDOE-funded adult basic education programs, and 52 percent of the ESOL learners are at beginning levels. So it comes as no surprise that NCSALL’s ESOL Lab School, a joint project of Portland (Oregon) University and Portland Community College, decided to study the learning processes of beginning-level ESOL students. Many, but not all, of the articles in this issue are written by researchers and teachers from the Lab School.

In our cover article, Steve Reder, director of the ESOL Lab School, describes the focus of the research and how it is conducted. Researcher Kathryn Harris reports on one aspect of her study of pair work in the ESOL classroom. Learners she studied individualized their pair work, adapting the activities to their language learning needs. Read about how to ensure that this happens in your classroom. Donna Moss of Arlington, VA, provides ideas on how to set up pair activities in a related article.

Sustained silent reading has been found to encourage many students to read: does it do the same with beginning-level ESOL learners? It is a viable practice with this group, explain Sandra Banke and Reuel Kurzet, who participated in this Lab School study.

To improve their students’ speaking and listening skills, teachers often set up conversation groups. What if the conversation leaders were university students who studied immigration and cultural adaptation as well as strategies for initiating and keeping conversations going? Betsy Kraft chronicles her classes’ experiences leading conversations with Lab School students.

Anyone who has taught an ESOL class with students from a variety of language backgrounds has noticed the chatter that goes on, in English, during breaks. Dominique Brillanceau was curious about whether this casual conversation occurs in class as well, and, if it does, what role it plays in learning. She shares her observations from her Lab School study.

Starting conversations can be hard for anyone; it’s even harder in a new language. John Hellermann explored the nuance of initiating and turn-taking in conversations in Lab School classes. He provides some suggestions on how to help learners hone this skill.

Some ESOL learners get stuck, and teachers struggle to find out why. Robin Schwarz, now of Ohio, shares case studies from her years of work with ESOL learners and teachers and provides tips on how to find out what might be the problem.


I’m sad to say that Volume 8 may be the last volume of Focus on Basics. NCSALL has funding to publish this issue — 8A — and 8B, on engagement, and 8C, on the longitudinal study of adult learners. After that? It’s hard to say. We’ll keep you informed.

Barbara Garner