For the past decade, ATLAS, housed at Hamline University, has been offering innovative professional development for adult basic educators across Minnesota. ESL education has been at the center of these efforts since the beginning! ATLAS cultivates new leaders as they work to improve the lives of adult immigrant and refugee learners in our communities.
Minnesota is enriched by immigrants and refugees from around the world, and English language acquisition is critical to navigate their new communities. Much focus is given to the language needs of children in K-12 settings, and neighboring this system to assist the adults in families is Adult Basic Education (ABE). ABE supports adults in gaining the skills they need for family-sustaining work, postsecondary opportunities, and full participation in their communities1. In ABE, we teach language, literacy, math, academic content, digital literacy, as well as employability and career-specific skills.
Minnesota ABE programs exist in every corner of Minnesota, hundreds of sites statewide. How do the teachers working within them gain the knowledge and skills they need for the classroom and keep abreast of new trends and requirements for their work? This is where ATLAS comes in! ATLAS, the ABE Teaching & Learning Advancement System, provides professional development to Minnesota’s adult education workforce. It is part of the MN ABE Support Network. Housed at Hamline University in St. Paul and solely funded by the Minnesota Department of Education, ATLAS has been fostering the growth of adult educators for over 10 years. In this article, we share a brief history of our work and the principles undergirding our efforts, and we showcase some of the projects specifically geared to adult ESL educators.
MN ABE has a long history of supporting adult ESL teachers. In fact, the original ATLAS grant was written in 2007 by Betsy Parrish, ESL Professor at Hamline University, and Kim Johnson, also an ESL specialist! Kim became the first ATLAS Director, and Betsy served as Senior ATLAS Advisor. Soon after, an administrator was hired to assist with finances, communications, and event logistics. As ATLAS initiatives and responsibilities grew, so did its staff. For example, ATLAS added a Literacy Coordinator when a national reading initiative (StAR) came to Minnesota ABE. In 2013, current Director Patsy Egan (another ESL person!) took the reins, and an Events Manager also joined the team. In the last five years, ATLAS has added positions for English Language Arts and Numeracy Coordinators, and several consultants assist with various projects yearly in areas such as adult career pathways, ESL, and standards implementation.
In Fall 2017, ATLAS celebrated 10 years of providing professional development (PD) opportunities for adult basic education teachers, including ESL teachers, throughout Minnesota. At the same time, the National Coalition for Literacy honored ATLAS with the National Literacy Leadership Award, citing its high quality, evidence-based professional development and ability to produce national leaders. “They intentionally cultivate teacher leadership,” said Silja Kallenbach of World Education at an awards ceremony in Washington DC, in October, 2017. In her remarks, Silja recognized the national impact of ATLAS’s Transition Integration Framework (TIF), which defines the academic, career, and employability skills essential for adult learners to successfully transition to postsecondary education, career training, the workplace, and deeper community involvement.
The figure (Figure 1) below represents visually how ATLAS serves adult ESL professionals statewide. At the center of this work are adult immigrant and refugee learners. Surrounding them is a delivery model for adult basic education that integrates English language and content, teaching language and skills related to employability, academic content, and careers. To support the work of adult ESL teachers, ATLAS provides professional development through various means: creating and sharing resources, delivering study circles, and hosting an annual Language & Literacy Institute. All of this work creates the conditions for leaders to emerge. Minnesota ABE practitioners are asked to facilitate workshops and study circles, to design and share resources, write articles for the statewide ABE newsletter, and to serve on our advisory teams. Our relationship with Hamline University’s ESL faculty continuously introduces ATLAS to relevant research, ESL graduate students, and many opportunities to collaborate.
Research has shown that ongoing professional development (PD) is far more beneficial than the one-shot workshop (Guskey, 2000). When professional learning is job-embedded, focused, and takes place over time with guided, meaningful collaboration among colleagues, teacher change and growth can truly take hold (Burt, Peyton, & Schaetzel, 2008; Desimone, 2009; Smith, 2010). These are principles that have always guided ATLAS’s professional development efforts. ATLAS does provide numerous conferences and one-time workshops and webinars that meet the needs of ABE practitioners around the state. Such one-shot PD experiences are important for quickly receiving pertinent information on topics such as state and federal accountability requirements and to promote interest in more involved PD. However, from the beginning of ATLAS, we have placed more of our energies and efforts on longer-term PD initiatives that foster greater impact on teaching and learning.
A few examples of job-embedded, extended PD efforts include cohorts on evidence-based reading instruction, standards implementation, adult career pathway development, career-focused contextualized teaching, and numeracy. Online Communities of Practice (using platforms such as Wiggio and now Schoology) provide networking and resource sharing among teachers of math, around standards implementation, and for those working in one-room schoolhouse contexts. Study circles are offered on employability skills (TIF), low-literacy adult ESL, integrating language and numeracy, and teaching pronunciation with adult English learners. All of these experiences – cohorts, communities of practice, and study circles – allow for the kind of professional learning that research shows leads to greater teacher development and higher student achievement (Darling-Hammond, Hyler and Gardner, 2017; Smith; 2016).
Central to all of ATLAS’s PD efforts is careful, consistent evaluation of participant outcomes. ATLAS PD providers have engaged in in-depth research and analysis of the results of two of their ESL study circles, highlighted in these publications:
Echelberger, A., McCurdy, M., & Parrish, B. (2018) Using a study circle model to improve teacher confidence and proficiency in delivering pronunciation instruction in the classroom. CATESOL Journal 30(1), 213-230.
Vinogradov, P. (2012). “You just get a deeper understanding of things by talking:” Study circles for teachers of ESL emergent readers. Journal of Research and Practice for Adult Literacy, Secondary, and Basic Education (1), 34-48.
A number of driving forces in the field of ABE nationally have sparked two remarkable shifts in recent years for adult ESL: an increased rigor of instruction and the promotion of instructional approaches that integrate language and content. Upping the rigor in adult ESL instruction has largely been driven by new legislation in the field. When the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) became federal law in 2014, it brought with it a strong emphasis on careers and employment, as well as new compliance requirements around standards-based education. These two facts have shifted adult ESL from its traditional role of ‘life-skills’ and ‘survival English’ teaching for new immigrants and refugees to preparing non-native speakers of English for high school equivalency, postsecondary options, and family-sustaining careers. While life-skills will continue to play an important role in adult ESL teaching, our work has expanded in recent years to connect with the larger array of services adult basic education offers.
Integrating language and content instruction is nothing new to K-12 EL teachers, but it is somewhat new to adult education settings. Historically, ESL has been silo-ed from other offerings in adult education such as math, GED preparation, and career pathways. But with WIOA and standards-based education, we are seeing a major shift toward including more substantive content in English language classes. The College and Career Readiness Standards (US Department of Education, 2013) have been adopted in Minnesota ABE, as well as the Transitions Integration Framework (TIF), which outlines employability skills, and the Northstar Digital Literacy Standards. These three sets of standards define what is taught in adult basic education in Minnesota2. Adult ESL teachers are no longer ‘just language’ teachers (if they ever were!); they are now responsible for helping their students meet all three sets of standards, as well as traditional language development.
Minnesota ABE has embraced these new priorities around increased rigor and integrating language and content, and ATLAS has responded in kind with new professional development opportunities. Of top priority has been the ‘de-silo-ing’ of ESL teachers, and bringing language teachers together with GED and career pathways teachers. A few examples include:
All of the above efforts work to de-silo adult ESL teachers and bring them into the fold of ABE, and in doing so, we raise the expectations and opportunities for adult immigrants and refugees to thrive in Minnesota. At ATLAS, we also recognize that sometimes ESL teachers need specific support around language development and immigrant resettlement. To this end, we continue to have offerings such as the following:
Looking back over the last 10 years of ATLAS, the field has changed immensely! Since it began, ATLAS has taken on more and more complex initiatives to keep ABE practitioners in Minnesota abreast of national trends, relevant research, and new requirements that affect their work. Many of the models developed by Minnesota’s ABE practitioners for ATLAS have had a national reach. ATLAS looks forward to cultivating continued collaborative leadership in the years ahead, addressing the needs of all adult learners in our state and beyond, and supporting the needs of practitioners in an ever-changing adult education landscape through innovative professional development practices.
Burt, M., Peyton, J.K., & Schaetzel, K. (2008). Working with adult English language learners with limited literacy: Research, practice, and professional development. Washington, DC: the Center for Applied Linguistics. Retrieved from http://www.cal.org/adultesl/resources/briefs/working-with-adult-english-language-learners-with-limited-literacy.php
Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M.E., & Gardner, M. (2017). Effective teacher professional development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.
Desimone, L.M. (2009). Improving impact studies of teachers’ professional development: Toward better conceptualizations and measures. Educational Researcher, 38(3), 181-199.
Guskey, T.R. (2000). Evaluating professional development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Smith, C. (2016). The role of professional development in bridging research and practice in adult literacy and basic education. Journal of Research and Practice for Adult Literacy, Secondary, and Basic Education, 5(3), 40-43.
Smith, C. (2010). The great dilemma of improving teacher quality in adult learning and literacy. Adult Basic Education and Literacy, 4(2), 67. Retrieved from http://scholarworks.umass.edu/cie_faculty_pubs/36
Minnesota’s first university ESL program seeded programs throughout the state, building a web of caring human relationships that can help bridge linguistic and cultural differences. Dr. Elaine Tarone shares a description of how the program developed, and how, though moving through several institutional homes at the university, the program remained committed to sustaining that web.
A version of this paper, written by the recipient of MinneTESOL’s 2017 Harold B. Allen Award, was presented at the University of Minnesota on September 17, 2018, as part of the celebration of the ESL Program’s 50th anniversary. Readers interested in more detail on the history reported here can find it in Clement (2018), an online timeline with links to many archival documents.
In 1861, when the University of Minnesota was founded as a land grant institution, its mission focused exclusively on the practical needs of Minnesota residents, who spoke English as the language of government and education. There was no international vision; the U’s mission was intensely local. However, in 1945 after WWII, J. William Fulbright introduced a bill in the United States Congress that called for the use of surplus war property for an international purpose: “to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby to increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship” (Fulbright, 2018).
U.S. colleges and universities began seriously recruiting ‘foreign students’ for this purpose. Such students, already highly educated in their own countries, and fluent in at least one language other than English, aimed to earn graduate and undergraduate degrees in the U.S., but were not necessarily fluent in English. Many required highly professional instruction in what came to be known as English as a second language, so the US government allocated resources to develop high quality ESL instruction in universities across the country.
As the number of ‘foreign students’ increased at the University of Minnesota during the 1950’s and 1960’s no regular course of ESL was provided to enable them to pursue high level academic work. Prof. Harold B. Allen, a linguist in the English Department and the first president of TESOL, was fully committed to this work; he sometimes taught noncredit ESL classes with a strong linguistic focus. He even brought in faculty from other departments to join him teaching occasional short-term intensive English language and cultural orientation programs, as when, for example, visiting faculty from Seoul National University came to the campus in 1956-7.
In 1968, Prof. Allen was instrumental in appointing Dr. Betty Wallace Robinett as Director of a new English as a Second Language (ESL) Program. The program had a 3-part mission: 1) to teach English to foreign students, 2) to prepare teachers of ESL, and 3) to do research on the learning and teaching of ESL. The teaching of English was carried out through two “Intensified” ESL programs: a noncredit English Program for International Students (EPIS) during the academic year, and a noncredit Summer Intensive English Language and Orientation Program (SIELOP). Though U.S. students were awarded credit for completing beginning levels of foreign language, international students were not awarded credit for completion of even the most advanced ESL courses, since (given the underlying assumptions detailed above) ESL was considered ‘remedial’. An MA program prepared ESL teachers to teach such students in college-level programs, and both faculty and graduate students conducted research projects on the learning and teaching of ESL.
Dr. Robinett was asked where she wanted to locate this tripartite ESL Program. Canestorp (2011) points out that there is considerable variation among U.S. universities in where ESL programs should be administratively placed. Some contention may be due to the misperception mentioned earlier that ESL instruction is ‘remedial’ rather than academic (Canestorp, 2011). At a land grant university, ESL program placement may also be contested due to the assumed scope of the land grant’s educational mission (local rather than global), the identity of the target student population (state residents rather than international citizens), and the language skills of that population (monolingual English rather than multilingual). Whatever the debate in 1968, at the University of Minnesota, the ESL Program was housed in the Linguistics Department in the College of Liberal Arts.
As a program director regularly meeting with Chairs and Directors with the CLA dean, Betty Robinett instilled very high standards for both ESL teaching and professional preparation for teachers. But in 1979 she went on leave from the department to become Associate Vice President of the University, a position she held until her retirement. Elaine Tarone (author) had just been hired to be the next in a series of tenure-track assistant professors with primary responsibility in the MA ESL program (for a list of these, see endnote 3). Upon arrival, she learned of the Director’s departure and was asked by Bruce Downing, chair of the Linguistics Department, to informally1 oversee all operations of the ESL Program, both the intensive English programs and the MA. Because she was untenured, she declined at first, and the chair assumed these duties; however, after a year she agreed. In 1980, the Minnesota English Center was formed, with Mark Landa as MEC director2, to house noncredit ESL classes for international students.
The MEC offered classes in the four skills (speaking, listening, reading and writing) and grammar (a ‘fifth skill’), for students testing in at four different proficiency levels. EPIS (academic year) courses and SIELOP (summer) courses were well articulated and students could move up to higher level classes in the different ‘skills’ in a highly individualized and seamless manner. An ethos of student-centered, highly individualized instruction aimed to meet students’ assessed communicative needs. Although Tarone periodically suggested that MEC courses be offered for credit (in parallel with all other foreign language courses at the U), MEC courses continued to be considered “remedial” noncredit courses.
In 1978, Mark Landa taught the first ESL course for international graduate TAs (ITAs) at the University. On June 6, 1983, a front-page story in the Star Tribune featured UMN students (two of whose parents were Minnesota legislators) saying they couldn’t understand their foreign TAs; the Minnesota legislature passed a funded requirement that ITAs improve their ‘foreign accents’. The ITA program was large enough by 1984 to need a coordinator, Jan Smith. With dedicated funding from the state, the ITA program grew to offer individualized training to all ITAs on campus. In 1995, Central Administration’s Office of Human Resources absorbed the program into its new Center for Teaching and Learning.
Other English courses for international students began to be introduced in a decentralized fashion outside the MEC as well: special sections of Freshman writing for international students in CLA, business English courses for international students in the Carlson School of Management; a summer course for international lawyers in the Law School. In 1989, General College approved a program for immigrant students called Commanding English (CE), originally directed by Susan Bosher and later by Robin Murie.
Betty Robinett’s high standards for teacher preparation had a lasting impact on the MA ESL program. From the beginning, the M.A. program required a semester each of introduction to linguistics, phonetics, research (initially on contrastive analysis but later second-language acquisition), ESL teaching methods, two semesters of English grammar, and two years of foreign language study. Students also had to write three research-based Plan B qualifying papers and pass a comprehensive oral exam, all within the span of two years. (Later required were a supervised and video recorded semester-long teaching practicum situated in the MEC, and a language assessment class.)
The MEC and the MA ESL were closely related. MEC instructors regularly mentored MA Practicum students in their classes in partnership with graduate faculty officially teaching Practicum. MA students who passed Practicum could be hired as MEC TAs, and upon graduation many were hired as MEC teachers, in a tight, supportive community with a shared investment in research-based pedagogical excellence. MA students often did the research for their Plan B qualifying papers in the MEC, gathering data from students there and proposing improvements to MEC pedagogy based on the outcomes of their research.
Over the decades, a succession of assistant professors3, some tenure-track and some not, were hired to teach graduate courses in the MA ESL program; supervise student teaching, research and writing of Plan B papers; and evaluate final oral exams. The quality of this work is evidenced by the fact that many graduates of the MA ESL program went on to publish their research in refereed journals or books. By 2006, at least 20 books and well over 170 scholarly papers had been published, many in top-ranked national journals4, by graduates of the MA ESL program. A partial list of these publications is available from the author upon request.
Graduate faculty in the M.A. program were able to guide MA students so effectively in their academic work because they themselves presented and published influential research in national venues. In consequence, the MA ESL program was for many years rated as among the top ten such programs in the nation. Graduates secured positions as leaders and teachers throughout the University of Minnesota, and in higher education throughout the state and the nation. MA ESL graduates also competed successfully for teaching and teacher training positions in such federal programs as Fulbright and the English Language Fellows (ELF) Program5.
Though the quality of the ESL Program (both the courses for international students and the teacher preparation degree programs) was maintained, the ‘90’s saw unfortunate changes in its institutional placement. In 1992, the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts abruptly closed Linguistics, the parent department of the ESL Program, and moved ESL into a newly formed Institute of Linguistics and Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures (ILASLL). For 7 years, the ESL Program continued to function well there, but in 1999, the Asian languages program in ILASLL became an independent department. The remaining programs became the Institute of Linguistics, ESL and Slavic Languages and Literatures (ILES), a unit that institutionalized a growing separation between linguistics faculty and TESL faculty: At about this time, Klaeber Court was demolished, and ILES moved to Nolte Center. In 2003, as a result of advocacy by Lynne Ackerberg, MEC Director, the University approved a new Undergraduate Minor and Certificate in ESL as part of teacher preparation.
It is fair to say that, particularly after the ESL Program’s home department, Linguistics, was closed, and the Program’s ‘departmental home’ became less and less conventional, most Deans of the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) increasingly questioned its very existence in the College, citing budgetary constraints. CLA’s ambivalence may have been related to a more general questioning of the place of all the languages offered in CLA (Spanish, French, German). Whatever the reason, beginning in the 2000’s, CLA deans began the process of closing all ESL programs housed in the College of Liberal Arts – first the MEC, and then the ESL MA.
Late in the spring of 2004, the CLA Dean abruptly ordered the closure of the MEC. Six faculty and three administrators were laid off, and 19 noncredit ESL courses per semester were closed. International students could no longer be issued I-20 visas for English-only study at the MEC. However, because at the time of the Dean’s sudden announcement, some international students had already been issued I-20s for English-only study in the 2004 intensive summer ESL program, and some were already in transit, CLA was forced to reopen the MEC’s noncredit courses just for that summer. Because all but two teaching staff had already been laid off, MA ESL grad students taught those courses. By the beginning of Fall semester 2004, there was no longer any intensive noncredit ESL program at the University of Minnesota. Ironically, in 2004, the same year the MEC was closed, the University of Minnesota was ranked 21st in the nation in number of enrolled international students (Maupin, 2005).
In Fall 2004, 6 credit ESL classes (developed and proposed in haste during the summer of 2004) were offered by Lynne Ackerberg and Eric Nelson in ILES for matriculated students who had TOEFL scores below 213: advanced and academic classes in English grammar, pronunciation, reading and composition skills and oral skills. In 2005, these courses were transferred to the College of Continuing Education (CCE) (Canestorp 2011: 21), with Lynne Ackerberg as coordinator in both ILES and CCE between 2004-2007 effectively keeping English for international students alive in the gap between MEC and MELP.
The loss of the MEC as an intensive English program for non-matriculated students had an immediate negative effect on the University of Minnesota’s ability to recruit international students. International recruiters during the 2004-2005 year reported that the U lost desirable international students who needed an intensive English program. So two years after the MEC closed, in summer 2007, a new intensive English program, called the Minnesota English Language Program (MELP), was established in the College of Continuing Education (CCE). Mike Anderson was appointed Director in Fall 2007. Like the MEC, MELP offered a full intensive noncredit English language program (four proficiency levels, 5 ‘skills’) for non-matriculated students and issued I-20 visas to international students for English-only study at the U. MELP also offered the 6 credit ESL courses described above to matriculated students at the university.
Even though it was now housed in a different college (CCE), MELP assumed the role of providing graduate students in the MA ESL program with high quality practice teaching experiences, and hiring them as TAs. In July 2009, CLA deans moved the MA ESL and undergraduate ESL minor out of ILES, loosely affiliating them as the Program in Second Language Studies with the Department of Writing Studies. At that point, Tarone assumed the full-time Directorship of the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA); Professor Cohen began a 5-year process of phased retirement; and Professor Lazaraton became Director of Graduate Studies of the MA ESL program.
Soon after, in October 2011, the Dean of CLA completed the process, abruptly closing admissions to the MA ESL program. Alumni and friends, both in the University of Minnesota and in MinneTESOL, protested. During the next two years, no new students were admitted, existing MA ESL students worked on completing degree requirements, and a grievance filed by Professor Tarone was considered and rejected by CLA faculty committees. Negotiations to recreate the MA ESL in the College of Education and Human Development began, and in February 2013, an agreement was reached with faculty to recreate it in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction (C&I), along with the undergraduate ESL minor and certificate program. Even as students in the discontinued MA ESL program finished their degrees, new students were admitted to the MA in ESL for Higher Ed as a track in an existing M.A. in Second Languages and Cultures (SLC), with Professors Martha Bigelow and Kendall King as members of its graduate faculty. Later renamed the MA in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), the graduate program retains its close relationship with MELP in CCE. For example, MELP’s Director, Mike Anderson, teaches the MA TESOL Program’s Practicum course. Both the MA in TESOL and the undergraduate ESL minor and certificate programs have found faculty and student support in their new collegiate and departmental home.
It is striking that something very important has happened at the University of Minnesota over the last fifty years (1968-2018) in spite of continuous change in formal administrative structures – founded in uncertainty about where to locate these ESL programs. That uncertainty is unsurprising given University infrastructure originally created for a monolingual, monocultural world. Something important happened when, at an informal level, a web of human relationships was created, endured and grew, a web in which there has been a shared commitment to the highest levels of quality of applied research and instruction in higher education. People whose careers began in the U’s ESL Program are now positioned as administrators and teachers throughout the University, across many units in many colleges. Now extending to colleges and universities throughout the state and nation, this web of human relationships still holds, united by what Lynne Ackerberg calls a “culture of appreciation” (Canestorp 2011: 20). This appreciation often transcends official academic roles as people pursue a commitment to a mission shared among teachers and teacher educators and researchers alike. That mission is to improve our understanding and practice of the learning and teaching of English, as a world language that can help bridge linguistic and cultural differences, in order to enable and improve world-wide access to knowledge and mutual understanding.
Canestorp, F. (2011). The growth of an emerging field: A history of ESL program development at the University of Minnesota. MA ESL, Plan B Paper, University of Minnesota. Available in the Digital Conservancy of the University of Minnesota: https://conservancy.umn.edu/handle/11299/164434
Clements, K., & Atterberry, D. (2018). Welcoming the world for more than 50 years: History of ESL at the University of Minnesota. Accessed 9-20-2018 at: https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=1unoMvwpomMfrslqPE3JK1YowOQo9txUn8ZlMQFYCy6k&font=Default&lang=en&initial_zoom=2&height=650
Fulbright (2018). http://www.fulbright.org.nz/about/ (Accessed September 2018).
Maupin, B. (2005). English as a Second Language programming for University of Minnesota international students: Present and future. MA ESL, Double Plan B Paper, University of Minnesota. Available in the Digital Conservancy of the University of Minnesota: https://conservancy.umn.edu/handle/11299/164638
Tarone, E. (2016). Minnesota’s multilingualism and English learner education: A historical perspective. MinneTESOL Journal, 32(2). http://minnetesoljournal.org/fall-2016/minnesotas-multilingualism-and-english-learner-education-a-historical-perspective
In other Minnesota colleges and universities
In universities & institutions outside Minnesota: