Challenges, Ideas, and Solutions – Svetlana

Svetlana Lupasco

Teaching Adult ESL Learners with Emergent Conventional Literacy Skills
– Svetlana Lupasco


Maryam’s Big News   Maryam is holding tight her little son’s tiny hand while rushing through familiar path on her way to school. There’s big news to share: her husband and two children have become Canadian citizens today! In a few minutes she will drop off her 3-year-old at the childcare and step into the classroom, sit at her desk, open the calendar and highlight today’s date. Then, printing wholeheartedly every letter and number she will carefully write the date and their first names in her notebook. She will be waiting patiently for her classmates to appear one by one to tell them the news. Just a few weeks ago neither of them could write or read in any language and were total strangers to each other. Today, they are sharing the joy of learning to read, write and live in English.

 I often start a new term (week or class) of the Adult ESL Literacy program with the calendar learning activities. It is pretty easy to customize and print out a yearly calendar from various “time and date” websites or simply create an original template using the desired font, size and format. Adult ESL learners with emergent literacy skills will gradually learn to navigate the table format, get used to the left-to-right directionality, rehearse the numbers, recognize by sight and spell days of the week, follow simple instructions, mark personally important dates (birthdays, appointments, holidays, arrival in Canada), ask and answer questions about a certain date, etc. With more practice, they will be able to identify important dates and times on notices, letters, flyers in their daily lives and respond accordingly. The value of these activities is that the learners develop their basic literacy skills together with their ability to function in the English language using meaningful real life resources and tools.

Adult ESL Literacy instructors are in a constant search of feasible ideas to overcome multiple classroom challenges such as continuous intake and mixed ability classes, time constraints and mature age of the literacy learners, their inability to learn independently caused by the lack of learning strategies, etc. In my experience, focusing solely on challenges did not prove very successful. In fact, my professional growth and happiness started as soon as I realized that all of the above could be viewed as opportunities rather than barriers. Today, I truly believe that continuous intake, however difficult it is for the instructor, greatly benefits the learners, as they are able to start school as soon as possible. I look forward to welcoming new learners into the classroom, as I believe that the mixed ability is certainly an advantage and a good opportunity to build mutually beneficial learning partnerships. I am not frustrated any longer by the limited instructional and learning time caused by the life circumstances, instead it motivates me to devise relevant tasks to develop efficient communication skills in the shortest time possible. I value adult learners’ life insights and try to appropriate them to make language and literacy learning experience as successful as possible. Finally, I know that the learning strategies and the ability to self-direct learning will be built incrementally with the partner and group work as long as there are plenty of opportunities to interact on meaningful and comprehensible tasks.

Maryam’s story Maryam is 34. Last year, she started school for the first time in her life. She loves to read aloud, although she knows that it is somewhat slow. Her letters aren’t perfect yet, but she is trying to write neatly. In class, Maryam realized that she is quite good with numbers and that the household math is much easier for her than for her fellows. Therefore, she has been in charge of mentoring a few classmates learning to handle Canadian money. Since she became the class math tutor, she has noticeably improved her communication skills. Maryam has never missed a single class, as she knows that at any time her help might be needed…


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