What happens when ESOL students engage in a series of self-reflective and explorative exercises related to job interest, needs and abilities?

Hermes G. Leal

I. Introduction

Hermes Leal teaches ESL at the Genesis Center to students at the beginner level. He also teaches at Spanish Woonsocket High School and has previously taught Theology and humanities at the High School level. Hermes taught 4th grade in a two-way bilingual class in Attleboro. He is currently completing a Masters degree in ESL at Rhode Island College.

This report describes a project that originally intended to expose ESL students to a larger array of career choices through the use of a simple tool understandable to students with limited English proficiency. Two other teachers at Genesis Center worked also on the same project with students at a higher level of English proficiency.

II. The story of the question

Though there are several tools in the market that target career choice exploration, we did not consider that they were suitable to ESOL students due to the complexity of their language, content and structure. A simpler tool had to be developed in order to help students at Genesis consider the possibility of career exploration and change. We developed an outcome based question that would be answered by the creation and implementation of this simpler tool. We have been working with this same question throughout the process: "What happens when ESOL students engage in a series of self-reflective and explorative exercises related to job interest, needs and abilities?"

This question became very relevant to us as teachers at the Genesis Center since one of the main goals of the agency is to help students develop job skills, language being a fundamental one.

III. Data collection methods

1. The tool itself (Questionnaire): In order to collect data we considered existing tools, their strengths, weaknesses and limitations for our particular audience. We considered that "What color is your parachute" by Richard Nelson Bolles was a good point of departure due to its organization and relative simplicity. Though we used the eight dimensions explored in this tool, students identified themselves with specific ones depending on their motivation and interests. This adapted tool was my main source of data collection. Each dimension was explored and discussed at different weeks in the sequence they appear in the tool.

2. General discussion: Each week, as each one of the dimensions was touched, students shared and discussed their reflexions and findings in the general group.

3. One-on-one conferences: As students work individually on their surveys, I approached target students in order to obtain more individual information on their progress and reflections. This method was specifically helpful to those who did not share in the larger group due to shyness or insecurity with the language.

Using a uniform tool to collect data from a group gives more validity and cohesiveness to the final answer. This method lends itself to comparing and contrasting individual answers in specific circumstances. The general discussion allowed for a more open forum where better feedback and clarification took place. The one-on-one interviews gave me a better understanding of the studentıs opinion and reaction to different questions.

IV. General findings

One of the main findings in the initial stages of the project was the difference in opinion between the beginner level students and the more advanced levels. The beginner level students stated an overall feeling of satisfaction with their present jobs as opposed to the more discontent intermediate and advanced levels.

Regarding the tool used:

1. The tool proved to be helpful to students as an instrument of reflection about their present jobs and potential changes in the future. For the level of education and experience of the majority of the students, the tool was comprehensive enough and it did not appear to overwhelm students with the anxiety associated with any major exploratory process.

2. It was necessary to pre-teach vocabulary and concepts associated with the tool before each stage was undertaken. This reality made me reflect on the difficulty of simplifying a tool of this nature in order to make it more accessible to LEP students. I found challenging to arrive at a complex outcome using a simple tool.

3. I believe I expected too much from the tool itself and I overlooked very important variables that were fundamental to the specific group of students I worked with. These variables include motivational, professional, educational, and legal realities. Iıll discuss these variables in the following section regarding the project's outcome.

Regarding the outcome of the project:

1. Though students received the idea of this project with enthusiasm, their general expression of satisfaction with their present jobs challenged me to make each activity relevant to their actual needs. Most students were not interested in changing jobs. Only one out of the ten final subjects for this study expressed a deep desire to attend CCRI in order to gain major knowledge and skills in the auto mechanic field. He already works at a car garage. Two students who worked as educators in their native countries were unemployed during most of the time of this project. Their hope was to go back to the teaching profession some time in the future. One of them finally got a general help job a car dealership. Most other students expressed satisfaction with their jobs.

2. Final data showed that students who participated in the project were mainly motivated to maintain their jobs for three main reasons:
a. Their jobs provided enough financial security to provide for their families
b. They had acquired the necessary experience to make them comfortable at what they did at their respective places of employment.
c. Due to the undocumented legal status of many of the students (7/10), finding employment at a different location or field would prove to be a major risk to their financial security if employment were denied.

3. This brings me to the variables mentioned earlier. Some general assumptions that I made at the beginning of the project were that students had an intrinsic motivation to change their jobs, that they possessed or wanted to possess the required experience and knowledge to get "better" jobs, and that they had the freedom to apply for a "better" job in all, circumstances. These variables proved to be very important in the final outcome of the project. Students definitely had hopes and dreams as far as the perfect career in their lives. However, their experiential and legal limitations hinder their possibilities to achieve their dream job.

4. A major motivation for most of the student in the study is to improve the lives of their families, mainly their childrenıs quality of life and possibilities for the future. In our general discussions students expressed very vividly the reality of self-sacrifice for the sake of children.

V. Implications:

One of the major implications found though this project is the importance to look at the subjects of a study more comprehensively in order to be more objective, sensitive and holistic as we approach their specific realities. I believe now that one of the major obstacles that immigrants face is their inability to succeed due to limitations what we take for granted such as intellectual and practical experience and legal status in the US.

A tool for career exploration for these students is nonetheless needed in order to offer a reflective environment about their jobs and their futures. This tool may prove to be beneficial not only to our actual students in the classroom but perhaps to their children and other relatives if properly used and followed up.

I would be interested in exploring in more depth how legal variables such as the one faced by undocumented immigrants affects their development as members of the work force, their families and society in general.

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