Research projects, 2003 - 2004

The following research work was undertaken during the 2003/04 academic year

final share: research project participants discussed their work on Wednesday, May 26, from 1 to 4 pm at the Genesis Center. Their reports are being posted as they're completed.

Lisa Clark Pawtucket Library Family Literacy/RIFLI

I would like to explore the topic of "Issues of Differences in the ESOL Classroom." This research project would be an expansion of the ideas discussed in my Vision, Literacy, and Practices project ("Issues of Disability in the ESOL Classroom").

Within the ESOL classroom, adult learners often encounter people of cultures and abilities with which they are either not familiar or not comfortable. This can often cause tension for the learners and the teacher who wants to accommodate and assist everyone. For example, students from countries with high expectations for formal education may not understand the experiences of students with no formal education. Or, students who are not members of a dominant group may feel uncomfortable in a classroom where the dominant group uses their first language often. Another example of discomfort in the classroom is when two groups of students have historical disagreements between their countries or cultures. Learners with physical difficulties (e.g. low vision, limited mobility, attention deficits) struggle to keep up with the rest of the class.

The teacher plays an important role in helping students benefit from the diversity of the class. The question I would like to pursue is: How can students of different backgrounds (educational and cultural in particular) and abilities best learn together and from each other?

The first step in approaching this inquiry is to introduce this topic to my co-workers. They can provide feedback, examples, and strategies that have worked well for them. Another resource is the students, who can help in two ways. They can answer questions about their own experiences, culture, and expectations for people of different groups. This can be done through surveys, assessments, and discussions. They can also teach the other students about their perspectives and experiences. Also, I will need to research the writings of other practitioners and find the legal resources necessary (such as ADA requirements) through literature review, online resources, and print materials.

My purposes in gathering this information is to inform my teaching practice and to help other teachers who may encounter similar issues. In answering this question and implementing the results in class, I expect that learners (adults and children), volunteers, and staff will be affected. My goals for us are threefold. I want to see:

1) more acceptance and sensitivity to others' situations
2) more willingness to ask rather than assume
3) more knowledge about legal rights and responsibilities.

Also see Lisa's project for the American Federation for the Blind workshops held during November, 2003.

Read Lisa's final report

Chrissy Courtney, BVC RI ARC

Inquiry on Employers Attitude towards employing Adults with Developmental Disabilities

I would like to do research on the attitudes of employers towards employing adults with developmental disabilities. In my job, I work with employers on a daily basis. These employers have employed several consumers I support out in the community. Such as, working at a grocery store, day care, restaurants and even a bank. Recently I have had both a hard time with getting more consumers placements and have had a hard time keeping them in their placements due to lack of advancement, lack of raises, and also a lack of appreciation for the work they do.

Due to their types of disabilities which consist of MR, Cerebral Paslsy, seizure activity, and Down Syndrome they may not be able to work to the full expectations of their employers and co-workers. What some employers do not realize is that because of the disability a lot of times individuals will work harder to prove that they can do the job and sometimes complete the job better than expected.

Most of the consumers that I assist have the support of their family members. The family members encourage them and give them praise when they are doing well. Some also help transport them to thier jobs and home after their shifts are over. But there are those few consumers that would like to work in the community, and they do not have the support of their family which is important. Some family members do not want the consumer working because they may not think that the individual is capable of working on their own, knows how to work under pressure, understands direction and/or they do not know how the the public would react towards the person with the disability.

Most of the individuals like to work on a set schedule and want their job duties to be as consistent as possible. In some businesses this is welcomed and in others more flexibility is prefered. Due to matters of Social Security the individuals are only allowed to work a certain amount of hours before they loose some of their benefits. A lot of the individuals would like to work a full time schedule to make money to help pay for rent if needed or would like to have money to go to the movies or to buy a music CD. However, due to the Social Security rules most can only work part time.

In this study I would like to collect data to see if existing attitudes about hiring workers with disabilities will counter any misconceptions or prejudices that there may be. After gathering this data I would like to increase the awareness of employers on the abilities of the individuals rather than focusing on the disability. Hopefully, in the future, this will create more advancement opportunities for individuals with developemental disabilities.

Presenting Problem:

Many adults with disabilities that have found jobs that are "stuck" in the role model of jobs that employers percieve are "suitable" for them,

leaving little room for advancement or the opportunity to apply for a different job within that company.

Study Model:

The model used would be based in part of the Special Olympics study (released May 2003) that explored attitudes towards adults with disabilities worldwide. The study I would like to do will focus on local businesses and their attitude about hiring individuals with developmental disabilities as well as the jobs they could actively perform.

Employability Survey

1. Have you ever observed an individual with a disability working in the community?

2. If so, what type of job did they have?

3. Do you feel that individual's with disabilities should work, or remain dependant upon services and Social Security?

4. Would you consider or be willing and able to assist and individual with a disability at your place of business?

5. Have you ever hired a person with a disability to work in your place of business?

6. If so, what was the job.

7. Would you consider hiring a person with some type of disability? If so, would you be willing and able to spend time with them personally to learn the job.

8. If you are not able to spend the personal time with the person, would you allow a Job coach to assist the individual?

9. Do you feel that you have Job Duties in your business that these individuals would be able to complete?

10. If so, what types of duties? If not, what reason?

read Chrissy's final report


What topic / area do you want to explore?

We would like to explore the topic of learner assessment and evaluation in a participatory learning environment. More specifically, we want to create an oral assessment tool that measures learner progress, and is integrated into our learner-centered, participatory curriculum. The oral assessment tool is based on a facilitation technique we call "pop scenarios." Pop scenarios are contextual dialogues based on what learners experience, in which they are put on the spot and challenged to respond to difficult situations that reflect those they encounter every day. Often in traditional role-plays, learners get the opportunity to practice language in straight forward situations that lack conflict or complication. In these role plays, the focus is for learners to develop technical language skills. Pop scenarios takes role-plays a step further, by also challenging learners to develop the language and advocacy skills needed to confront belligerent attitudes, discrimination, or dismissal by people who lack empathy or patience to communicate with non-Native English speakers.

Learners and facilitators co-create pop scenarios based on learnersŐ real-life challenges. In particular, pop scenarios are well-suited to address situations in which personnel deny them services because they donŐt speak English well, confiscate or destroy their documents, withhold information, violate regulations, or are simply not kind or courteous. For example, one class created a pop scenario based on the current situation at the DMV, and the difficulty immigrants have acquiring driverŐs licenses. Rather than developing a pop scenario where the participant would only learn the process of obtaining a driver's license, the scenario reflected the recent restrictions on the type of qualifying documents needed to receive a license. In the class, the facilitator played the role of a DMV clerk, and learners tried to obtain licenses. The facilitator acted the part of a hostile staff person who did not make an effort to understand the learners, turned them away if they did not have social security numbers, and did not offer to give them any more information or options. The learners had to advocate for themselves, and argue their cases to the staff person. Afterwards, the whole group debriefed on the scenario, brainstormed better strategies for interacting with DMV personnel, and reviewed the required documents to obtain a license.

We would like to develop pop-scenarios with varying levels of difficulty focusing on three areas of assessment. The first area gauges learnersŐ basic listening comprehension, which includes vocabulary and phrases used in context. The second level includes conversational English where the learner is tested for his or her ability to communicate in basic terms. And the third level would test the learnerŐs ability to navigate and advocate their way through a difficult or tense situation.

What approach(es) are you considering, and why? (e.g. literature review, study circle, survey, reading group)

We will develop pop scenarios as an assessment tool by working with one class of 10-15 ESOL learners over the course of the spring semester, (February to May 2004). Staff will work with the facilitators and learners to first identify themes and challenges they face when they try to communicate in English, prioritize them and select two to three main challenges to develop into pop scenarios over the course of the semester.

Developing pop scenarios entails several steps:

  • Set-up is the first stage where facilitators and learners begin to explore one of the selected challenges. Facilitators and learners utilize readings, pictures or flyers as an introduction to a learner-based theme. Facilitators can also incorporate participatory tools such as problem-posing, socio-dramas and story-sharing. This way facilitators and learners can reach a common understanding of the specific language and situational challenges.
  • Then, facilitators and learners engage in creating a situation or scenario, which describes the who, what, when and where. Again, facilitators implement participatory tools like Language Experience Approach (LEA), collective drawing and socio-dramas in which learners can develop a situation as a group.
  • In the next phase, facilitators take into consideration the first stage of the pop-scenario and practice basic vocabulary and phrases used in the context of the topic.
  • Moving ahead with the second level, facilitators and learners will write dialogues that address the language and situational challenges. At this point, facilitators begin to incorporate new language skills such as more vocabulary, grammar and writing skills appropriate to their level.
  • Once learners complete their dialogues, the class moves into oral skills-building where facilitators incorporate oral presentation techniques, public speaking and debating skills to assist learners in delivering their dialogues. This part will focus on the second and third levels of the pop-scenario level scheme.
  • After practicing dialogues, facilitators execute a mini pop scenario in class which includes all three areas of assessment. Facilitators play the role of the person described in the scenario created by the class and who is causing a difficult situation. Learners are put on the spot where they have to react and use the language and speaking skills covered in previous lessons.
  • A debriefing period then follows the pop-scenario. During this stage facilitators and learners talk about their experience, reaction, thoughts and difficulties regarding the pop scenario. At this point, facilitators and learners brainstorm better strategies. They can also identify other language skills needed to perform better based on the three areas of assessment. Facilitators will implement journal writing activities to gather information that will assist them in developing a final pop-scenario.
  • Following the debriefing, learners read more about the issues relating to the scenario's topic. They also touch on other relevant current affairs in an effort to provide opportunities to improve their reading skills.
  • Before moving into the next unit, learners prepare for additional run throughs of the pop-scenario. This time, they include changes and suggestions made during the debriefing session. At the end, the facilitator can report to learners what levels they completed successfully and which skills they need to practice.
  • Finally, at the end of the semester facilitators challenge learners to complete all levels of one of the three "pop scenarios" developed during the term. This way, facilitators can assess whether or not learners remember how they can effectively articulate their needs in English, in pressing situations.
  • Staff and facilitators will produce a report which documents the process and results of the project, reflects the difficulties and challenges, and makes recommendations for the future. The report will also describe the participatory tools we drew upon for the purpose of developing Ňpop scenariosÓ.
  • What resources and materials do you have access to and what might you need? (e.g. internet access, particular texts, articles)

  • Our main resource is the EFA learners who can communicate their learning priorities to facilitators and staff, and give their input and feedback on the development of pop scenarios.
  • ESOL facilitators who will implement EFAŐs assessment and evaluation can help us design components that blend in with course topics.
  • Rebecca Foster of the Genesis Center, Jose Itzigsohn of Brown University, and Michael Townsend of RISD, members of the board of directors and advisory board will contribute their knowledge in developing alternative curricula, assessment and evaluation systems to this inquiry project.
  • The Education Director will research other participatory models around the U.S. and gather information about assessment and evaluation tools, which could refine the process of using pop-scenarios as an oral assessment.
  • Literacy Resource RI also provides a website with a compilation of adult literacy resources that will inform our inquiry project.
  • What do you hope to gain from the information you_ll gather and from the research process itself? What are the purposes of the research you propose?

    The main purpose is to develop an innovative and practical oral assessment tool compatible with a learner-centered, participatory ESOL program. Hopefully, other ESOL practitioners in Rhode Island will find the assessment tool applicable to their classes. In researching this project, we hope to understand how to more effectively integrate our learner-based curricular components with a systematic, formal oral assessment process. We also expect to create and document three pop-scenarios to work from and improve after our spring semester.

    Erick's project changed in interesting ways during the course of the year; read his final report (a word document), here

    Nancy Fritz, Genesis Center

    I would like to investigate the current research that has been done on the best methods for teaching reading to ESOL adults. To do this, I plan to read as much as I can on the topic and talk to several teachers and administrators in Rhode Island who have had a lot of experience teaching reading.

    My reason for wanting to pursue this topic is that reading is extremely important for adult ESOL students' success in the United States. Admission to many job-training programs depends upon an applicant's ability to read well and to demonstrate this ability on standardized tests. These same skills are necessary for admission to post-secondary education. At The Genesis Center, we need to prepare our students using methods that have been proven by research to be effective.

    After synthesizing what I have learned from the research, I plan to put together a guide for teaching reading that will be "user-friendly" for ESOL teachers who do not have formal training in teaching reading. I hope this will be a useful product that will improve the level of reading instruction at Genesis.

    Read Nancy's final report (a Word document) here

    also see
    Research on Reading Development of Adult English Language Learners: An Annotated Bibliography developed in 2002 by Rebecca Adams and Miriam Burt

    Reading and Adult English Language Learners: A Review of the Research

    An Annotated Bibliography of Reading and Adult English Language Learning

    Teaching reading to adults: what does the research say? by Pat Campbell

    Michele Rajotte, Genesis Center

    Work-related ESOL instruction at our center requires lessons in diverse areas such as: grammar, life skills, resume writing, letter writing, interview and oral skills, computer skills, health, community action and other needs. Time does not allow for teachers to research current methods in specific subjects of interest. I would like to investigate Computer Assisted Language Learning, the past and current research regarding language development, acquisition and writing.

    I have found CALL to be a motivating factor for adult learners when asked to write. They are more engaged and spend more time thinking about tenses, sentence structure and spelling. Some questions I would like to explore are the following:
    Is using the computer to teach writing more beneficial for the learner?
    At what level is it more beneficial?
    For all people, or only those people with high literacy skills?
    Which areas of writing show the most improvement?

    LR/RI technology and learning resources

    Victoria Richter, Adult Education, COZPawtucket School Department;

    During my 6 years of practice in teaching ESL the number of older learners in my classroom had increased steadily. By "older" I mean learners between the ages of 60 - 80. In most cases I observe a considerable difficulty for these students to acquire and produce the English language as compared to other adult learners. As we might guess, these students are more likely to be affected by age-related conditions such as: hearing and vision loss, impaired mobility, and heart and respiratory illnesses. Notwithstanding these factors, "senior" learners see their difficulties in language acquisition as a result of age-related memory weakness or loss. They also often complain that they cannot keep up with the fast pace of the class and need to review all class material at home.

    It seems to me that "senior" learners, as well as many teachers, are affected by popular stereotypes that tell them that older adults cannot be good foreign language learners. These stereotypes, unfortunately, influence public opinion in many spheres of social life, a phenomenon that leads to unnecessary discrimination against seniors, especially in the workplace. In Latin American countries, for instance, it is a common practice to set age limits during the hiring process by publicly announcing them through job advertisements.

    I believe that difficulties older adults often experience in the language classroom can be overcome through adjustments in the learning environment, attention to certain factors, and use of effective teaching methods.

    I propose to investigate the existing scientific research published in books, articles, and on the Internet regarding the effects of age on the foreign language acquisition abilities of adults including the role of short- and long- term memory in such cases. If the time and scope of the research allows, I would like to conduct a series of interviews with older adult students concerning their perception of the difficulties they have been encountering in learning foreign language and compare these results with my research findings. Likewise, based on my findings, I would like to design a series of recommendations for adult ESL practitioners on how to approach the teaching of that student group as well as to develop or suggest effective methodology for improving senior student language acquisition.

    My long-term goal is to combat stereotypes regarding learning and other functional abilities of older adults by making my finding accessible to a large group of community organizations.

    also see
    Heide Spruck Wrigley et al - site addressing work with elderly language learners

    Growing Old in America: Learning English Literacy in the LaterYears, ERIC Digest

    Read Victoria's final report

    page created November 26, 2003 September 28, 2004

    research proposal guidelines

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