Advanced-level English language instruction focuses on helping adults achieve the language proficiency they need to transition out of their English language lessons onto their educational or career paths, engage with their communities, and advocate successfully for themselves and their families. One of the gifts of teaching at this level is the ability to communicate the adult education principles at the heart of our instructional design.
We can overtly demonstrate respect for learners’ prior knowledge and build upon that knowledge to address essential questions that transcend basic skills. We can provide the tasks and projects that support self-directed and rigorous inquiry alongside the development of language strategies that are critical to learners’ successful language skill development.[i] We can also share evidence of the direct connection between learners’ future goals, 21st-century adult life, and essential language strategies along with an array of global skills (i.e., communication and collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, intercultural competence and citizenship, emotional self-regulation and well-being, and digital literacies.)
Routines and Rigor
Of course, even with all the opportunities and advantages of the advanced-level class, instructors have the universal challenge of finding the time to plan for—and teach—units of instruction with rigorous, relevant, high-interest, skill- and strategy-building lessons. One workaround is to look at task-types and routines that naturally incorporate a number of the language strategies and global skills advanced learners need. Routines that accompany task types help learners be intentional in their use of skills and strategies and, with a few tweaks, a routine can also provide additional rigor.
Consider a lecture and note-taking task. This type of task typically includes a wealth of language strategies, e.g., focusing on the speaker’s opening and closing statements to identify the gist of the lecture, using clues in the oral text to identify key ideas for note-taking, paraphrasing information in notes, summarizing the speaker’s ideas, and using the content of the lecture to address a question or problem. This task process is rigorous in its own right. However, if we add the routine of comparing and clarifying the lecture notes with a classmate through a Turn and Talk, we can increase the rigor of that routine by requiring that learners:
- use academic language during the exchange,
- reach consensus on the most important points in the lecture, and
- cite evidence to support their view,
and now we’ve incorporated opportunities to use English to demonstrate collaboration, clarification, consensus building, and critical thinking skills—real skills for the world outside the classroom.
A research-and-report task is another example that incorporates numerous language strategies, e.g., previewing complex text to determine if it meets the reader’s needs, scanning text for necessary information, note-taking to record sources, outlining or organizing ideas for an oral report, using intonation to help the listener identify important information, etc. Not surprisingly, this task requires critical thinking to select, analyze, and evaluate information. Some routines that would increase learners’ use of other global skills and heighten the rigor of the task include having learners:
- take on roles requiring decision making, team management, and resource management,
- use a checklist as they research to confirm the validity of their sources and build information literacy skills, or
- use a mobile device to record, rehearse, and upload team reports to increase digital skills.
Rigor and Scaffolds
Of course, all classes have learners at different levels of proficiency. Even if the class level is fairly homogeneous, learners experiencing a task or routine for the first time will need support to be successful. The following scaffolds are just some of the ways to support learners as they engage with the rigorous requirements of a task:
- provide graphic organizers with prompts and/or some sections filled in to help learners organize their thinking,
- post charts with academic language stems and frames for use in discussions and writing tasks,
- create checklists with the task instructions for learners to reference as they work,
- reveal the steps of a task in stages rather than all at once, and
- show examples of the task product created in previous classes.
Routines and Novelty
Using a repertoire of routines and task-types can streamline planning and allows advanced learners to regularly cycle through the skills and strategies they need, rather than approaching global skill development as a “one and done” process. When we add rigor to our routines and tasks, we ensure a connection between the academic, civic, and work-place routines and tasks our advanced learners will perform outside the classroom. The rigor in the routines and tasks gives learners a global skills “work out.”
Even with these benefits, some instructors might equate routine with a lack of novelty—knowing that novelty is an important factor in learning.[iii] The trick is to employ tasks and routines to help learners engage with an array of essential questions, complex and high-interest texts and media, and thought-provoking prompts. This juxtaposition of rigorous routines and complex content encourages learners to make novel connections between ideas: the learners and content provide the source of the novelty essential to motivation and retention.[iv]
Advanced level learners have a wide variety of transition goals. When they have the opportunity to demonstrate and refine global skills such as strategic thinking, planning, problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration, alongside their language skill development, they are more likely to see the connection between their classwork and their future goals. When they engage with rigorous routines and tasks, they are better prepared to apply their global and language skills in the complex world outside their classroom’s walls.
Find out more about incorporating global skills into your classroom.
- [i] Parrish, B. (2016) LINCS ESL PRO Meeting the Language Needs of Today’s English Language Learner [Issue Brief]
- Washington D.C.: American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from: https://lincs.ed.gov/sites/default/files/ELL_Increasing_Rigor_508.pdf
- [ii] Mercer, S., Hockley, N., Stobart, G., and Lorenzo Gales, N. (2020) Global Skills: Creating Empowered 21st Century Citizens. Oxford: Oxford University Press
- [iii] Heller, R., & Riley, B. (2019, May 28). What we know (and think we know) about the learning brain: An interview with Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa. Retrieved from https://kappanonline.org/learning-brain-neuroscience-tokuhama-espinosa-heller/
- [iv] Ibid.
Jayme Adelson-Goldstein is a teacher educator and curriculum consultant. Her work focuses on supporting adult English language instructors with rigorous and contextualized task-based, problem-based, and/or project-based instruction. She is currently working with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) on The Skills That Matter project. Jayme’s publications include The Oxford Picture Dictionary and Step Forward. She also hosts the podcast Oxford Adult ESL Conversations.