Equipped for the Future and Adult ESOL Instruction (2000), by Andy Nash, EFF staff, New England Literacy Resource Center/World Education
Equipped for the Future (EFF) is a national standards-based initiative to reform the adult literacy system so that it better prepares adults for what they need to know and be able to do in today's world. The initiative began in 1993 when the National Institute for Literacy (NIFL) was asked by Congress to assess progress on National Education Goal 6, the Adult Literacy and Lifelong Learning Goal: "By the year 2000, every adult will be literate, and possess the knowledge and skills requisite to compete in the global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship." (National Education Goals Panel, 1993). This request reflected a growing interest in holding publicly funded education programs accountable for proving their effectiveness. A 1995 General Accounting Office (GAO) report heightened concern when it reported that federally funded adult education programs "had difficulty ensuring accountability for results - that is, being able to clearly or accurately say what program funds have accomplished" (Weiss, 1995). This article describes the EFF framework, examines its relevance to English learners, and talks about the challenges in applying the framework in ESOL contexts.
The EFF Framework
2) to develop a set of standards that would focus the system on delivering these results and be used to document progress in ways that are useful to students, programs, and policymakers.
EFF and ESOL
First, EFF supports an expanded notion of literacy and ESOL, one that goes beyond the traditional communication and computational skills to include the problem-solving, interpersonal, and lifelong learning skills that are valued but which are not typically recognized as part of the literacy system. Most ESOL teachers help students research needed resources, advocate for themselves, evaluate situations and options, and make decisions in an unfamiliar culture; yet few programs document these skills or report them to funders. EFF's definition of literacy legitimizes this work and enables teachers and learners to get credit for addressing all the skills needed in real world situations.
Second, EFF contributes tools (the role maps, skill wheel, etc.) that organize and guide a student-centered learning process. Practitioners use these to help adults identify their needs and strengths in the various roles and participate in deciding which skills, knowledge, or competencies they will need to improve in order to meet their purposes. As students collaborate in this curriculum development process, they develop a metacognitive awareness -- they become more conscious of their own learning -- that prepares them to understand and direct their learning in the future.
Third, EFF situates all adults along the same full range of skills, so that ESOL students are not only defined by their abilities to speak, listen, read, and write. Though these communication skills will always be the primary focus of their learning, adults can also document strengths in other categories, such as interpersonal or decision-making skills, creating a more holistic profile of their abilities. Adults can use such profiles outside the classroom for job interviews, school intakes, and other settings where they need to display their abilities.
And fourth, the standards provide a common, explicit and consistent set of skill definitions that allow us to communicate with a shared understanding across programs (e.g. family literacy, workforce development, ESOL, etc.) and with students. Moreover, the standards are written to describe what adults need to know in order to be able to USE the skills in real situations. This moves us away from a system of pencil and paper tests and toward one based on evidence that students can actually apply, in context, the skills they've been practicing.
EFF in the ESOL Classroom
Similar lessons could certainly take place in non-EFF classrooms. Judy, and many other ESOL teachers report, however, that using the EFF standards helps them remember to address all aspects of the skill and to discuss with students the connection between what they're learning and how they're going to use it in real life.
Alysan Croydan, a teacher from the Refugee Women's Alliance of Seattle, WA, has described that she uses the standards to remind herself to find out more about students' specific purposes. For example, she used to respond to their articulated need for "English to go to the doctor" by teaching the language for making an appointment, etc. After they had covered this language, she was confused when students continued to name it as their goal. She asked them what was still difficult about making an appointment, and learned that the real issue was finding an appointment time that would fit their schedules. So she began teaching them how to negotiate an appointment time (going beyond the scripted dialogues) and started discussing aspects of their own schedule planning with them. She says that she gained a new appreciation for what is the first component of many of the standards - identifying the purpose for using the skill. Now she investigates further so that she has a clearer and deeper understanding of the students' needs and purposes.
ESOL and EFF: The challenges
A second challenge is skill assessment. Is it appropriate to assess all of the EFF skills when adults are coming to programs to improve their communication skills? How does one assess the decision-making, interpersonal, and lifelong learning skills of adults with whom one does not share a common language? First, ESOL teachers working with EFF have found, where they have been able to have this conversation in a shared language, that their students have affirmed the relevance of the EFF skills. Even so, EFF proposes that students be assessed only on the standards that have been identified as relevant to their own purposes and intentionally taught and learned. Other standards would not, in fact, be appropriate to assess.
The second issue of collaborative assessment with ESOL beginners is not unique to EFF, and will be studied by practitioners in the field as EFF develops its assessment framework. Some teachers are beginning to experiment with developing their own bilingual tools to assess learner progress in these new areas.
Finally, there are questions of culture. Is EFF imposing homogenized American notions of family, work, and civic participation? Is it promoting culture-bound notions of goals, individualism, and personal responsibility? The role maps are descriptions (not prescriptions) that were developed by a broad cross-section of adults. They offer a picture of adult activity that is intended to help adults identify their own needs and priorities. If used appropriately, they are a point of reference that gives newcomers information about cultural practices and an orientation from which to make their own choices.
Similarly, culturally-based ideas that individuals can exercise free will (and can therefore make choices about how to "solve problems," for example) and are expected to take care of themselves (and must "plan" for this by "taking responsibility for learning") are important topics for classroom examination. All educational approaches are built upon cultural assumptions, whether or not these are named. The entire EFF framework has been explicitly defined precisely so that its assumptions are clear and not hidden. This allows them to be critiques and debated by educators as well as students. In another example from Alysan Croydan, she described working on the "Solve Problems and Make Decisions" standard with a female student who could generate a range of solutions to a problem but could not imagine, from her cultural perspective, implementing any of them. Yet it was instructive for this student to learn that most Americans would find these alternatives possible, and that many employers expect workers to solve problems in this way.
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