In the TESOL Spotlight: Adult English Language Learners

The adult English language learner population is the largest sub-population of adult education students, accounting for over 40% of students in the federally-funded adult education system are in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. With the announcement of the Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy last year for youth up to age 30 and the growing momentum on comprehensive immigration reform, the issue of English language proficiency among adult immigrants has entered the national conversation. Adult language learning issues also featured prominently at at last week’s Teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) annual conference in Dallas, TX. This international conference draws over 6,000 educators, dedicated to the teaching of English across the lifespan. For over a decade, TESOL has been a critical professional network partner for OVAE, assisting in information dissemination and implementation support for educators.

While at the conference, OVAE’s Dr. Debra Suarez co-presented at the U.S. Department of Education policy update session along with the Office of English Language Acquisition, represented by Dr. Joanne Urrutia; and the Office of Early Learning, represented by Mr. Steven Hicks. This session demonstrated the Department’s commitment to collaborate across Offices and initiatives to address the needs of English language learners of all ages, to more fully engage immigrant parents, and to support families’ language learning efforts.

Dr. Suarez also presented at “National and State Initiatives in Adult ESL,” a session that showcased how state adult education systems are strengthening their professional development efforts to improve instructional quality, in part by integrating OVAE-funded resources such as those offered through OVAE’s ELL-U project. Co-presenting with Suarez were Karen Brown, Director for Professional Development and Instructional Support at North Carolina Community College System, North Carolina; Kimberly Johnson, Director of the Adult Basic Education Teaching and Learning Advancement System (ATLAS) Center at Hamline University, Minnesota; and Donna Kinerney, Dean for Instruction for Adult ESOL & Literacy Programs at Montgomery College, Maryland.

Dr. Suarez attended other events at the conference, including the Adult Education Special Interest Group and sessions devoted to adult English learning. Hot topics at the conference included for adult ESL educators included strengthening the academic readiness for adult English language learners, emergent literacy, the perceived shift toward more youth in the adult ESL population, leveraging resources and partnerships, and focusing on a research agenda specifically for adult ESL students.