June 2004 — Volume 8, Number 1
Materials in Use and Transition at a Public Adult School
Oahu adult community schools form a large English as a second language training service in Hawaii that consumes both state and federal public funds (Board of Education, 2003). This article examines the Stand Out (Jenkins & Sabbagh, 2002, 2002a; Stand Out Grammar Challenge, 2002) materials that are being piloted during 2004 at the second largest (Auditor, 2002) of these schools. The materials are interpreted in the context of the institution’s administrative policies, assessment strategies (CASAS National Consortium, 2003), and curricular guidelines (Stein, 2001). The Stand Out materials are further contrasted with the ExpressWays (Molinsky & Bliss, 1999, Molinsky et al., 1997) materials that were previously used. In summary, the Stand Out materials are considered appropriate for the institution because they can help align administrative, assessment, curriculum, and instructional activities and policies.
The McKinley Community School for Adults (hereafter, the institution) is an English as a Second Language (ESL) training institution founded by the State of Hawaii Department of Education (DOE) in 1947. During the Fall 2003 semester there were 42 course sections covering beginning ESL through high school diploma equivalency (Department of Education, 2003a). The core of that curriculum is distributed through ESL-1 through ESL-6 classes. Those classes are bracketed by bilingual (Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese) and pre-literate ESL-1 at the beginning level and high school diploma equivalency courses that may be considered as “ESL-7″ (meeting notes, 9/8/2003), at the other end of the spectrum. This review focuses on the materials in use in ESL-3 courses. ESL-3 was chosen because it is in the low middle of the spectrum taught at the institution.
Enrollment at the institution from June through October 2003 was slightly more than 1,450 (telephone interview, staff, 11/10/2003). However that number does not precisely describe class size because students may be enrolled in multiple courses during the semester and through the year. For example during the 1999-2000 school year the institution classroom seating totaled 5,616 (Auditor, 2002), or about four classes per student per year using present enrollment figures. Overall the institution is the second largest of the 7 Oahu adult community schools (Department of Education, 2003a). In addition to the importance coming from that size, the community schools also receive state and federal funds (Board of Education, 2003). Therefore the institution is of dual interest to the community, as a consumer of tax funding and as a labor preparation agency.
That dual importance recommends close inspection of the institution’s classroom materials. Additionally, those materials have recently changed in response to factors identifiable as administrative policies, curriculum guidelines, and assessment methods. The incoming materials are collected under the brand name Stand Out (Jenkins & Sabbagh, 2002, 2002a; Stand Out Grammar Challenge, 2002). Voluntary piloting is being conducted during Spring 2004 to foster instructor acquaintance with the materials. A formal, institution-wide transition is then scheduled for Fall 2004, followed by a formal reevaluation in 2005 (meeting notes, 11/6/2003). [-1-]
During the transition phase other institutionally sanctioned textbooks were ExpressWays (Molinsky & Bliss, 1999; Molinsky et al., 1997) and LifePrints (Newman, 2002). The institution also distributes issues of the Honolulu Advertiser daily newspaper that the publisher provides gratis.
The textbooks may be interpreted diachronically; there are those in use (ExpressWays), those out of use but still serving as sources for instructors who used them earlier (LifePrints), and those to be piloted (Stand Out). This review compares the incoming materials to the in-use materials.
In addition to comparison with the materials that will be replaced, the Stand Out materials are considered in light of administrative policies, assessment methods, and curriculum standards in place at the school. The content standards are the Equipped for the Future Content Standards (EFF, Stein, 2001). Assessment is conducted using the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System (CASAS, CASAS National Consortium, 2003) standardized tests. Both of those mechanisms were adopted during a process separate from the described materials evaluation. That process was prompted by a State of Hawaii Auditor’s (2002) report and the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB, Bush, 2001).
Because the administrative policies, assessment methods, and curriculum standards for the institutional context, these are first described. The following section then describes the in-use and incoming materials. A short discussion then follows that coordinates the incoming materials to the institutional contexts.
The institution advertises ESL-3 courses as “ESL-3 Low Intermediate” (Department of Education, 2003a, p. 4). Although not explicitly stated in the catalog, based on the other course denotations, this designation is clearly that from the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages scale (ACTFL, 1983). In general this level denotes ability to complete critical tasks with sentence to slightly longer language samples such that one could competently interact with native speakers for the common needs of a modern citizen. However the denotation is not particularly prominent in discussion with instructional staff or in the classroom and may simply be detritus from before the adoption of the current standards. Its only appearance in class materials besides class denotation is as a latter item on a CASAS background form.
Far more prevalent in staff discussions and the classroom are the EFF (Stein, 2001) standards. These standards are divided into four skill areas that are subdivided into sixteen standard areas for assessment. The standards are worded as generalized activities, with an emphasis on both critical skills and the relevance of language use to oneself. For example within the skill “read with understanding”, the first standard is “Determine the reading purpose” (Stein, 2001, p. 25). Unlike the ACTFL scale, the EFF standards do not denote proficiency levels but skills one would use at all levels. Thus most language learners would, it is hoped, have a measurable competency in each of the four EFF skill areas.
It is not the purpose of this discussion to critically interpret the EFF standards. At their best they could represent an exceptionally student-centered approach. At their worst they could be meaningless labels. What is significant is that these standards have been adopted at the institution, their adoption and dissemination are supported by a process that includes faculty as stakeholders, and that the institution is making good faith efforts to adhere to the standard. As an example of good faith effort, classrooms are required to display EFF posters designed for student consumption, to help students more consciously participate in EFF guided instruction. [-2-]
Regardless of one’s critical interpretation of the EFF standards, their own documentation admits to a lack of implementation-ready assessment guidelines (Stein, 2001, p. 91). However, well documented assessment is required by both a recent state audit (Auditor, 2002) and the NCLB (Bush, 2001). To this extent the next framer of the instructional environment, the CASAS test, is promoted by the State of Hawaii Department of Education (meeting notes, 11/6/2003). The tests were mandated as a measure of increasing accountability within the schools, echoing the overlap of curriculum and politics well documented elsewhere (see Ricento and Hornberger, 1996 for introduction). Developed in accordance with the EFF standards and in response to its lack of assessment tools, the CASAS tests are administered in the class as a multiple-choice battery recorded on a Scantron sheet. Pre- and post-tests are administered during the semester, making the test prominent in the classroom.
The CASAS competency set is large; there are 300 different items formed from a mix of functional and task-based denotations. They constitute an expansive interpretation of language use; for example, item 1.2.2 covers price comparison when shopping (CASAS National Consortium, 2003, p. 3). One notable feature of the CASAS system is that test reports returned to faculty stratify scores according to CASAS competencies, potentially an aid in selecting competencies for classroom focus (meeting notes, 11/6/2003).
The institution was founded in 1947 with a mandate to provide free, if non-credit bearing, education to the public. Currently Spring, Summer, and Fall sessions are offered. Spring and Fall sessions include morning and afternoon classes of 160 hours, while evening courses occupy 120 hours. The shorter duration of evening courses is caused by the institution being closed Friday evenings. Therefore daylight courses are given Monday through Friday, but evening courses end on Thursday. All summer courses are 60 hours.
From inception through to the present, local government financial support has been predicated on enrollment rates. Predictably, administrative policies adapted to that legislative stimulus. Therefore today the institution’s enrollment policy is expansive both in that it accepts all students and that it accepts students at nearly all periods in a semester. This decision maximizes adherence to both the official mandate and the financial stimulus. Those same factors have also affected attendance policies. The combination of free enrollment, a desire to maximize student population, and a lack of credit-bearing completion have contributed to an equally open attendance policy.
It is useful here to reconsider “traditional” credit-bearing education. In such situations students are captive; public education students are compelled to attend and, once the tuition refund period closes, a college student is also compelled to remain until the grade is distributed. Therefore students at such institutions have direct pressures to attend class.
Although there are pressures at work on the institution’s students, they are rarely direct. For example a general social pressure such as “to fit in better” (in class survey, 1/12/2004) is not similar to a state requirement to attend freshman year of high school. In short the direct motivation for attendance at MCSA is usually a student’s own choice, at all stages of the semester. Therefore an important factor in student retention is student satisfaction. Prominent among policies that address student satisfaction is the institution’s transfer policy. Although undergoing review and revision, the transfer policy has long been as open as the enrollment and attendance policies.
From an instructor’s perspective, the net result of the enrollment, attendance, and transfer policies is a classroom where students come and go, although the actual class size may be stable. It should also be noted that all these policies began as rational responses to the demands of controlling authorities. The period of transition that the school is going through, including the materials transition is also a response to external stimuli, namely the introduction of the NCLB. Although the exact interaction of these different legislative requirements demands a second study, it must be noted that class materials need to balance their demands. [-3-]
The ExpressWays materials are first briefly described so that they may contribute to analysis of the Stand Out materials. The Stand Out materials are then described in detail, including teacher and student tests, supplementary workbooks, and multimedia materials. This approach is taken to underscore the change that the Stand Out materials represent.
EFF clearly represents a process-oriented syllabus (Long & Crookes, 1993, p. 33), with its focus on social skills and problem solving. Although the EFF document admits a lack of assessment tools, a common criticism of process syllabi (Long & Crookes, 1993, p. 35), the CASAS system remediates that issue. The problem then becomes matching classroom content to curriculum and assessment. To this end Stand Out was democratically adopted (meeting notes, 11/6/2003) for piloting.
The full ExpressWays material set includes student texts, workbooks, companion “magazine-style” quasi-realia, teacher’s guides, audio program, picture cards, and placement and achievement assessment materials. However an ESL-3 teacher or student typically has access only to the 187-page textbook, 106-page workbook, and audio materials (Molinsky & Bliss, 1999; Molinsky et. al., 1997).
Using a highway metaphor, each textbook is organized into 8 chapters as “exits”. Like the other materials used at the institution, these texts are richly illustrated and have color printing and paper. Teaching strategies are presented in the introduction, consisting of directions on material use and notable for insisting that student group work be done in pairs.
Chapters have similar structures. Chapter 1 begins with wh-questions and proceeds to communicative tasks regarding introductions and family, information about national origin, answering hotel reservations, emergency room information, and a reading passage on numbers. Chapter content is listed with goal oriented phrasing in a list. Tasks are listed as functions. Audio prompts are available that coordinate with textual multiple-choice responses in the book. There are photographs with prompts for discussion, a side bar on common questions during a personal introduction, and a suggested pair role-play based on a doctor’s visit. This format is the template for each content area.
The textbook introduction claims that the series “provides dynamic, communicative practice” concerning “real-life contexts and situations” (Molinsky & Bliss, 1999, p. ix). A feature claimed as distinctive is the inclusion of discourse strategies such as initiating dialogue and questioning a discourse partner. However, and tabling issues regarding communicative theory, further examination reveals that ExpressWays is actually a structural syllabus. For example the introduction defines the book’s content and presentation as the “…functions, the grammatical forms…, and the contexts and situations” of use (Molinsky & Bliss, 1999, pp. ix-x).
The chapters do not seem structure-oriented until one examines the exercises. There are short dialogues followed by part of speech based word substitution drills for wh-questions. The word substitution occurs in two forms. There is object substitution as in, “Who is your supervisor?” with supplied answer names. There are also blank substitution items where the proper wh- word is to be provided. Use of interrogatives with “am” and “do” are similarly practiced through part of speech-focused blank completion exercises. Blank completion is the primary exercise format, occurring on 8 of the chapter’s 18 pages. Role-plays are the only student-student interaction format. Most exercises have a discrete item (Brown & Hudson, 2002) character and are in traditionally discrete item formats such as multiple choice and ranking exercises (Brown, 1996). The student’s ExpressWays experience is structure-focused. [-4-]
The workbook (Molinsky et al., 1997) is a bit more varied in its exercises but is even more structurally focused. It lacks an informative introduction and focuses on grammatical structure. In addition to the exercise types also in the textbook, there are language register identification questions, picture-dialogue matching exercises using audio prompts, sentence rearrangement, column matching, crossword, word search, short answer, and question provision exercises. There is one interesting, non-overtly structural exercise called “WordRap” that involves clapping and round robin recitation of dialogue. A useful index correlates workbook and textbook sections.
The following Stand Out materials were available to this reviewer: a 182-page instructor text (Jenkins & Sabbagh, 2002), a 172-page student volume (Jenkins & Sabbagh, 2002a), and a 71-page workbook for structural skills (Stand Out Grammar Challenge, 2002). The Lesson Planner additionally comes with a CD-ROM and standard audio CD. Each of these materials is at the second of the four levels designated in the Stand Out series. At the institution the student texts are expected to sell to students for $18, with financial aid for qualified students (expected to be less than 10% of the population, meeting notes, 11/6/2003). The texts are intended for use over two years. Like many recent materials the Stand Out texts are printed in color, although there are not any photographs. The texts do not assume a complexity ordering of language material, in practical terms each chapter in a textbook has a homogenized difficulty. Therefore the chapters need not be followed in order (meeting notes, 11/6/2003).
The textbook structure is recognizable, for example the texts are ordered into 8 units “mirroring competency areas most useful to newcomers” (Jenkins & Sabbagh, 2002a, p. vi). A unit is further divided into 8 lessons followed by a team project. The wealth of material, particularly for class use, is significant; there are 231 hours of instruction and activities provided in the student text (Jenkins & Sabbagh, 2002a, p. vii). The Lesson Planner provides 77 lesson plans.
The texts provide a template lesson structure divided into warm-up, introduction, presentation, practice, evaluation, and application. The teacher’s manual provides lesson timings by activity and class-time position. Both the teacher and student texts correlate lessons with CASAS and EFF standards points in both the front matter and through sidebars in the units.
Text chapters in both the teacher and student books begin with a statement of the goals and then the “life skill” for the student. For example chapter one’s goals are “greet your friends”, “describe your feelings”, “say letters”, “say numbers”, and “follow classroom instructions” (Jenkins & Sabbagh, 2002, p. P2). These are presented under the life skill of “greet your friends”. The immediately following section is a dialogue followed by student-student practice in a group of five. The next activity has the class line up in alphabetical order. The syllabus seems to be heavily student-focused and task based. For example the lesson planner doesn’t suggest writing structural material on the board until the third lesson in the unit (Jenkins & Sabbagh, 2002, p. P2a).
The teacher and student texts declare a “competency” focus over grammar in their front matter (Jenkins & Sabbagh, 2002, 2002a, p. vii in both). Exercise types support this approach. For example the teacher’s volume begins the first segment with a practice dialog followed by conversation in a group of five students. At times a Total Physical Response-esque approach is used as in the alphabetization exercise described above. Pure structural issues do not emerge until midway through the second session of the first lesson, when “be” conjugation is reviewed (Jenkins & Sabbagh, 2002, p. P3). This is the only purely structural exercise in the 28 listed for the first section. [-5-]
The student text has a variety of response modes but primary among them is oral production. Exercise formats in first section of the student text, which is congruent to the teacher’s edition section described above, include illustration-vocabulary matching, practice dialogs, table fill-in based on student-student jigsaws, phonetic practice in production and recognition, and blank completion. Of the 18 exercises, 4 involve blank completion and only one of those is a structural exercise motivated wholly by part of speech (Jenkins & Sabbagh, 2002a, p. P4). Elsewhere in the text are other, less common formats such as network and Venn diagrams for establishing semantic maps of vocabulary items (Jenkins & Sabbagh, 2002a, pp. 54, 129, 149). Reiterating adherence to CASAS implementation, there is a review of the “bubble” format used on the CASAS tests (Jenkins & Sabbagh, 2002a, p. P5). There are no long, discursive texts in the student book, it is almost purely item and response prompts for exercises, however formed. The student text does not include CDs.
The Grammar Challenge workbook includes structural practice in blank completion, column matching, and short answer formats. Designed for teacher review, the workbook pages have perforated page binding for “tear-out” submission to the instructor.
The teacher’s CD-ROM provides Microsoft Word-format documents for use in class, for example tables to use in completing student jigsaws, and provides tools for quiz creation from an item bank. The tests are not computer administered but are instead printed. Students provide their answers on CASAS-like answer forms. Test item types include multiple-choice (yes-no, true false, and 5-item), blank completion, and numeric response items. The publishers have provided a copyright scheme that allows instructors to print and disseminate CD-ROM materials to students (meeting notes, 11/8/2003).
The audio CD is a useful source of audio material, particularly for controlled exposure of students to voices other than the teacher’s. It is well known that the characteristics of CD media are an advance over tapes, particularly in seek times when selecting and replaying passages. However the StandOut CDs do not provide a full track division between all sections of an audio passage. For example, many passages are prefaced by a narrator giving directions for an exercise. This complicates the use of the passages for other purposes and also reduces one’s ability to go directly from a passage’s end to start, as for replay purposes.
The need for a change in the institution’s materials seems clear to this researcher as the prior textbook series clearly represents a structural-situational syllabus while the adopted standards and assessment methodologies are process oriented. As such the current materials, standards, and assessment tools represent a clash between the synthetic and analytic approaches (Long and Crookes, 1993).
The Stand Out materials are themselves notable in at least two respects. First, they are extremely ambitious in their attempt to provide a complete set of analytic materials for classroom use. Second, they are exceptionally direct in their coordination with the EFF and CASAS standards. These aspects are extremely important in the institution’s view because they coordinate classroom instruction with legislative requirements, while focusing on language uses meaningful to students. In this sense the materials should increase the satisfaction of both students and funding agencies.
Some instructors have voiced a concern that the Stand Out materials, especially at the lower levels, are not as conversationally oriented as other materials, particularly the ExpressWays texts (meeting notes, 11/6/2003). This seems unlikely in objective terms given that the analyzed ExpressWays text focuses on tightly scripted scenarios supported by exercises practicing structural substitutions. However, the institution, at least during the pilot phase, is allowing instructors to supplement from their own materials (meeting notes, 11/6/2003), a decision that accommodates prior material outlays and maintains instructor autonomy. [-6-]
The homogenized difficulty within textbook levels is a particular benefit in the institutional context. The homogenized difficulty is promoted as allowing teachers to manipulate chapter order to student needs (meeting notes, 11/6/03). However, because the overarching legislative requirements have produced classrooms with great fluctuations in student populations, Stand Out’s homogenized difficulty will likely improve student participation when entering or returning to class.
It is not impractical to interpret the Grammar Challenge as a means of softening the transition for instructors using synthetic, structurally oriented syllabi. In that respect, the student and teacher textbooks are part of the analytic approach of the series, while the workbook is not because its exercises are divorced from task. For example the workbook gives no indication of the goals and life skills. The workbook structure is even more jarring in that the Stand Out teacher’s text front matter claims “We believe that grammar instruction in context is extremely important” (Stand Out Grammar Challenge, 2002, p. vii).
However, too great a lack of structural content is a well-documented criticism of process-oriented syllabi (Long & Crookes, 1993, p. 36). In the hands of an effective instructor the workbook could answer that complaint. Additionally the relatively brief length of the workbook, 71 pages contrasted with ExpressWays’ (Molinsky et al., 1997) 106 pages, and its lack of clear authorship further indicates that the workbook is not a principal component of the Stand Out curriculum.
The CD materials seem promising, particularly in their ability to better prepare students for the CASAS tests. However CD-ROMs require computers. Although the institution intends to install multimedia terminals in each classroom, the budgetary logistics are not yet established (meeting notes, 11/6/2003) and for any institution computer platform maintenance costs are likely not trivial. The same concern attends standard audio CDs. If a multimedia terminal is not available then stand-alone CD players must be procured, as done at the institution. Such CD players are less expensive but still not of insignificant cost. Still the benefits of the new media are useful, although separating logistical and source language speech into different tracks could enhance the audio CD.
A larger concern is the interaction of the materials with existing course structures. Stand Out is a 4 level system while the institution has six levels. Strangely, given the series’ notice of EFF and other standards, it is unclear whether the four text levels correspond to the four ACTFL tiers. It is unlikely that they correspond to the four EFF skill areas, since the textbook volumes are denoted as ordered levels and, as noted above, EFF skill areas are not proficiency levels.
Additionally the materials are new and will likely go through “debugging”. For example the textbook back matter is not plentiful and will likely undergo editing in subsequent editions. Additionally, the page numbering in the teacher’s edition can be confusing. The comparatively high price of the student edition is however not a great concern as financial aid exists to facilitate student procurement of texts.
In this author’s opinion the Stand Out materials offer an advance for the institution. Given acceptance of EFF and CASAS, the Stand Out materials should coordinate well with institutional aims and assessment methodologies. Like so much else in second language acquisition, the final result will depend upon individual instructors and students. That result will largely be a matter of training and culture. As the former concern is constrained by hiring policy, a critical question for the piloting process will be the interaction of the materials with Hawaii’s exceptionally multiethnic culture (US Census, 2000).
McKinley Community School for Adults
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