Effective teaching in adult ESOL includes many elements, which are conveniently summarized in the Massachusetts Professional Standards for Teachers of Adult ESOL. The seven standards in this document serve as a helpful guide, clarifying what ESOL teachers need to know and be able to do in order to be effective in the classroom. The SABES Professional Development (PD) Center for ESOL Curriculum and Instruction has a full menu of workshops and courses correlated to the ESOL Professional Standards, including an online Introduction that offers a self-assessment to help teachers identify their strengths and areas of professional development need. The ESOL Professional Standards document is currently being updated to reflect developments in the field, but the standards themselves will remain essentially as follows:
Standard 1: Principles of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) describes the theories and research behind effective ESOL teaching practices, and emphasizes the importance of balancing communicative activities for students with direct instruction and ample guided practice. Other SLA principles discussed are the importance of level-appropriate materials, as well as a supportive classroom environment where learners feel safe to experiment and make mistakes as they explore the language. The PD that SABES offers on SLA Principles is available in both blended and fully online courses several times each year.
Standard 2: The Components of Language details key features of the English language (sounds and pronunciation, vocabulary, grammatical forms, and communicative contexts) along with student-centered approaches to teaching them. While it can be helpful to students to learn about these components of the language, it is more effective for teachers to provide examples and models of how sounds, words and structures are used in context, and to give students opportunities to practice using them for various purposes and in various settings. In addition, whenever possible, teachers should promote metalinguistic awareness, and help students develop strategies to continue learning independently outside the classroom. In addition to the PD that SABES offers based on this standard, there are workshops on how to teach the specific components of vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar.
Standard 3: Intercultural Awareness brings teachers’ attention to features that define cultural competence, starting with an exploration of one’s own cultural beliefs and values, to better understand how these shape instructional decisions and impact student learning. This standard reminds teachers to strive to create a climate of respect and inclusivity, modeling and promoting acceptance of all manner of differences, and regularly encouraging student exchanges about cultural differences. By celebrating diversity within the classroom, and exploring content topics related to various cultures within and outside the U.S., students’ awareness, understanding and tolerance grows, as does their communicative competence. The SABES ESOL PD Center provides PD that focuses on intercultural awareness in the ESOL context, while the SABES Program Support PD Center offers PD on cultural competence for a broader audience.
Standard 4: Curriculum and Instructional Design outlines the process of effective curriculum and lesson planning, applying the steps of backward design (i.e., identifying desired results and how learning will be measured, and then designing the learning plan). This standard advises teachers to cultivate a growth mindset in learners; focus on themes that lead to college and careers readiness and civic engagement; teach language skills contextualized in meaningful content; embed culturally diverse materials and topics; and develop digital literacy skills through technology integration. Aligning all curricular materials (scope and sequence, unit plans, and lesson plans) to the Massachusetts English Language Proficiency Standards (MA ELPS) maximizes student success by defining level-appropriate expectations that progress through the six NRS levels. SABES offers a range and variety of PD on curriculum and instructional planning, including workshops on writing unit and lesson plans and the MA ELPS, as well as coaching and feedback on individual program curriculum materials.
Standard 5: Instructional Delivery and Classroom Management describes a variety of effective strategies and approaches that engage learners, facilitate communicative student interactions, and foster an inclusive student-centered learning environment. Effective teachers differentiate instruction to address students’ differences in skill levels and interests by modifying the content, process, or product of the lesson for individual students. They also integrate technology throughout lessons to help learners build their digital skills in finding, evaluating, organizing, creating, and communicating information. Both language and content objectives are provided so that students are able to assess their own progress along with the effectiveness of the lesson. SABES offers PD on this standard, which covers a range and variety of effective teaching practices, as well as PD focused on specific tools for differentiating instruction, language instruction contextualized in college and career readiness themes, and integrating digital tools in the ESOL classroom.
Standard 6: Assessment details the primary reasons for assessment: to determine learning needs, inform instruction, and monitor student progress. Effective teachers evaluate students at the beginning of an instructional period with a needs assessment that provides information about students’ backgrounds and goals, prior education and work experience, and language skills, and they use this information to place students and plan instruction. Following the backward design approach when planning instruction, teachers first define learning outcomes and then identify a way for students to demonstrate their learning; that is, they plan the summative assessments before planning their learning activities. In this way, lessons are designed to help learners reach measurable outcomes. Additionally, throughout a lesson, formative assessments are incorporated so that teachers can measure student comprehension and learning, or the lack thereof, and can adjust lessons as needed. At the end of a term or course of study, more formal, summative assessments in the form of standardized tests are used to measure learning gains, track and document student progress, inform decisions about student level advancement, and evaluate program effectiveness. The SABES ESOL PD Center offers PD based on Standard Six that focuses on classroom summative and formative assessment, while the Assessment Center at UMass provides trainings on the required standardized assessments used in the state.
Standard 7: Professional Growth, the final ESOL Professional Standard, emphasizes the importance of reflecting on one’s teaching practice, pursuing professional development opportunities, keeping abreast of SLA research and developments in the adult TESOL field, applying new ideas to one’s work, and evaluating the impact of one’s teaching practices on learners’ gains. Teachers of adult ESOL can work on this standard in a variety of ways, beginning with taking honest stock of their strengths and weaknesses as ESOL teachers, talking with their program director about developing a professional development plan, asking for feedback from students and colleagues, exploring the enormous amount of information on teaching ESOL available in professional journals and websites, and, of course, participating in SABES courses and workshops. The self-assessment questionnaire in the Introduction to the ESOL Professional Standards, available monthly through SABES, is a quick way to ascertain one’s professional strengths and areas of need. Additionally, when the ESOL Professional Standards revision is completed, SABES will offer PD on how teachers and program directors can use the standards for professional growth.
SABES professional development courses on the ESOL Professional Standards support teachers well beyond the initial face-to-face session. Through a blended approach that provides sustained learning experiences, participants are provided with additional course content within the online learning management system. Carefully curated resources directly related to each professional standard are available, along with opportunities to continue connecting with colleagues in robust online discussions. To close out each professional standard course, participants come together in a virtual session/webinar where they have the opportunity to discuss their experiences applying their learning in class, ask questions of their colleagues and course facilitator, and gain further strategies to employ in their instructional practice.
SABES will also bring professional development directly to your program, through an on-site workshop tailored to your needs or through an instructional or curriculum coach. Please reach out to Dori McCormack, Director, ESOL C&I PD Center at 508-854-4514 or email@example.com for more information.