Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Of many minds . . .

I've been reflecting on my first semester teaching at City College. One student, in particular, comes to mind. She is a 44-year-old former teacher from Somalia. She is a dedicated student who had completed level 6 (advanced low) in Continuing Ed. before transferring to City. Although she initially placed into the lowest level of ESOL at City, she started taking Child Development and other content courses concurrently with ESOL. She has passed all of her classes thus far.

Her counselor advised her to bypass additional ESOL and focus on completing her AA degree. She did not want to do that -- She told me that she wanted "a firm base" in English, that as a teacher, she knows that reading and communicating in English are fundamental. However, by the end of this semester, having successfully completed ESOL 20, 21, and 22, (intermediate writing/grammar, reading, and listening/speaking) she decided to follow her counselor's advice and postpone ESOL studies until after she finishes her AA in Child Development. Completing ESOL would simply take too long.

Her decision raises several questions for me. Will she need ESOL to reach her goal? Will she be able to complete her AA without additional ESOL or developmental English courses? If so, what does that say about the expecations and standards in ESOL classes and those in subject matter courses? Let me also state that I think this student was properly assessed and placed. To my English teacher mind, she would definitely benefit from the next two levels of ESOL. She is still developing college-level reading and writing skills. More questions . . . Assuming she achieves her goal, will she be able to obtain employment and perform successfully on the job? Will her language skills hinder her or limit her opportunities? Would she be able to transfer to a university -- and will she be prepared to do so?

And heres's a biggee for me as a new college teacher . . . Does our ESOL program meet the needs of our students?

Any answers out there? Thoughts? Anecdotes?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting question ... I am a noncredit ESL instructor, and my husband is a native Spanish speaker. His situation was similar. He tested into ESL classes at a community college in San Diego, and despite being a nearly fluent speaker of English, he received a C in an intermediate for-credit listening and speaking class (because his test scores on a written exam of tag questions and the like were not high). However, he started with his general ed classes and classes within his major (architecture). He will graduate this June, having received all As in his major, and nothing lower than a B in all the other transfer-level classes. If he had followed the ESL track, he would only now be starting transfer-level classes. I agree that there needs to be serious needs assessment and ongoing evaluation of these students to get them on the fast-track toward employment and career goals. ESL classes should foster language skills, not delay attainment of goals and dreams. My opinion.

7:44 PM  
Anonymous liz flynn said...

This is something I always wonder about. I teach a non-credit level 5/6 class and often teach students who have college aspirations. Inevitably, they ask me the same question - whether they should begin with ESL classes or jump right into classes for a major.

(Probably better to ask a counselor on the credit side who understands the challenges of college classes better than I do... But I think students will always see me in at least an informal counseling role, especially when it comes to academic questions. So I have to be able to provide some kind of answer to them.)

My advice generally depends on the individual student, his/her skills, and the major being considered. This semester I have a student who came to me with a strong academic background and years of accounting experience in her own country. I've suggested to her that she take one accounting class and one ESL class during her first semester. The accounting should be conceptually easy for her, but challenging because it will be in English. I imagine that reading an introductory accounting textbook and doing class projects will test her English skills more than her accounting skiils. And the ESL class will help her develop her English skills, though I doubt they will be exactly what she needs to help her achieve an AA in accounting...

Which brings us right back to the two questions you've raised here: Will students need ESL to reach their college goals? And are the ESL classes meeting the needs of students - across the wide spectrum of possible majors?

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Dave Williams said...

These are great questions and ones that need to be continually asked of any of our academic programs. I have looked for answers to similar questions with non-ESL, academic programs from adult education. But for ESL students these questions and the programs that support them, take on a much greater role (in my opinion).

I believe that it is highly dependent on the type of post-secondary program the student wishes to pursue. The example student you provided, seekng a career in teaching, is ,probably, the best example of dependency on a very high level of academic English.

But, for other programs and career paths the degree of fluency may not be so critical. As an example, we offer a Licensed Vocational Nursing program at our adult ed. facility. Almost 50% of the students enrolled in this program are ESL students. While some do struggle with academic English in their curriculum, only about 10% are unable to keep up with the academic requirements of the program. Would all of these students benefit from a higher mastery of the English language? Almost certainly, but the fact is they still achieve success without it.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Colleen Fitzmaurice said...

A comment in response to Dave's message about LVN students achieving success in that field without mastering English first…. Many students that I know have some experience from their native countries doing nursing on some level so it's a job they can imagine themselves being successful doing here. Many feel the urgency to get a career started for financial reasons. I know of students with very low English reading and writing skills being accepted to a private CNA program and passing it! I want to support my students and feel happy when they're accepted into a program and especially when they pass. But, something inside of me worries. My concern is one of public safety. Safety is less of an issue in accounting or architecture.

9:03 AM  

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