Stories from the Field Volume 3 is a series of stories from the Adult Literacy Research Institute that explores innovations in ESL literacy programming that have been spearheaded by the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement (CEIIA) at Bow Valley College.
Over the past six months Sandi Loschnig, the project’s researcher and writer, has written about her discussions with ESL literacy practitioners working in this field: their successes and challenges, best practices and approaches, innovations, and professional development needs.
The eighth story in the series is a two-part article that examines how experienced ESL Literacy practitioners at the CEIIA work to create transformative learning environments. Here is an excerpt from part one of the article:
The Computer Enhanced ESL Literacy Program: Embedding computer literacy in low-level classes
Norma Tersigni, Lois Heckel, and Joanne Pritchard work together in the Computer Enhanced ESL Literacy program, which serves learners with interrupted formal education. They talked to me about how the program works, and the advantages of working together as part of a team.
Joanne began by talking about who is in the program. “Our target audience is adult English language learners with interrupted formal education. In many cases, these learners did not have the opportunity to go to school in their home countries and now, many years later, they’re trying to acquire literacy in English. Many of the people that join our program are older adults who have been in Canada for quite a number of years. Some have worked at entry-level jobs for 20 or more years. Most are Canadian citizens, who don’t qualify for other funded programs. We also welcome many learners who are referred to us from Bow Valley College’s full-time English Language Learning (ELL) program who haven’t been able to move to the next level of the program. Our learners have very little or no literacy in their first language, little or no literacy in English, and some may even have special learning needs, such as vision and hearing disabilities. To ensure foundational learning is accessible, this Calgary Learns’ funded program has a nominal registration fee that can be waived for learners who have little to no income.”
“Many of these learners live with relatives that have already come to Canada, so they do have access to a bit of a support system. However, we also have taught learners who were homeless,” Norma added.
The goal of the program is to help immigrant learners with interrupted formal education develop their reading, writing, and digital literacy (computer use) skills within an educational setting that that respects their learning needs and individual learning rates. The emphasis is on creating a safe environment that provides the support and time these particular learners need to develop their literacy and language skills. This class also introduces computer use in a gentle way to learners who have little or no experience using computers.
The program is divided into three levels with equivalencies to the Canadian Language Benchmarks for ESL Literacy Learners. Norma teaches level one, Lois teaches level two, and Joanne teaches level three; however, the three instructors work together as a united team sharing resources and effective teaching strategies. As well, they collaborated to develop internal in-take assessment materials for the program.
Lois explained, “During our program, learners make significant gains in their literacy and language development, but these gains occur in small increment steps. With time, learners develop an increased awareness of the significance of their learning achievements. I have one learner that has been in the program for quite some time. When he came into the program he was extremely quiet and didn’t ask any questions. Now, he actively engages, asking me questions, talking about his weekend, and writing in his journal.”
All three instructors emphasized the need to be flexible and responsive to the needs of learners, especially within a multi-level environment.
To read the entire article, visit the Adult Literacy Research Institute.