Appendix 1: Report

Overview
A significant influence on this Best Practices document has been input from ESL professionals across Alberta, gathered primarily through focus group interviews, but also through an electronic questionnaire and feedback from experts in the field. Following is a discussion of the processes that were followed in gathering input from ESL professionals across Alberta.

 

Focus Groups

Selection process
 

Initially it was determined that five focus group interviews would be held, one each in Edmonton and Calgary, as well as one each in North, South and Central Alberta. After consultation and research, we decided that a maximum of 10 programs would be invited to each focus group to ensure the effectiveness of the groups. This was not an issue for the focus groups held in Southern Alberta (Medicine Hat) and Central Alberta (Red Deer). Neither was it an issue in Northern Alberta, where only one program responded to the invitation to contribute and the resulting interview took place by phone. However, the ESL directory listed many more than 10 providers in each of Edmonton & Calgary. To ensure that a representative sample71 was drawn from the ESL providers in these two urban settings, stratified random sampling72 was used to determine which 10 programs would be invited to the focus group in each centre. If a program did not RSVP an intention to attend, we invited a randomly generated substitute from the same strata. In this way, we could still maintain momentum in the numbers attending the focus group and remain true to the methodology.

Summary of programs represented by participants73

Focus group participants represented programs serving a broad range of learners, including immigrants, refugees, newcomers, women, women with less than 5 years of formal education, mothers, seniors, barriered youth, academically bound international students, and professionals. These students were from a diverse selection of countries, although each program seemed to have its own unique mix, and there were two programs that served a particular ethnic population (German Mennonites from Mexico; women from China). Most programs had students who ranged in age from young adults to seniors; however, a few of the programs served a younger population (e.g., 16‐26), some had special programs for seniors, and one had programs for both adults and preschool children. Some of the special needs of the learners in the represented programs included literacy, L1 translation, Academic English, childcare, sight and hearing disabilities, learning disabilities, refugee needs, test preparation (IELTS/TOEFL), and employment bridging – with literacy being the issue most often cited.

Focus group participants represented programs that offered programming at a variety of levels. Almost half represented programs serving the whole range of levels (e.g., beginner to advanced; literacy to university prep). Others represented programs with only beginners or with beginner‐intermediate levels. A few represented programs that dealt primarily with intermediate and advanced students.

Focus group participants represented programs of various sizes, from the very large programs with 1000+ students, 60+ classes and 60+ instructors during a typical fall semester, to much smaller programs with approximately 25 students, in 2‐3 classes, taught by 1‐2 instructors.

Each focus group participant represented a program that was distinct in some way, either in terms of the population it served (barriered youth, refugees, international students, professionals), or in terms of the services it offered (e.g., providing childminding support for mothers or home‐stay opportunities for international students). Some programs focused on survival and settlement needs or on providing literacy instruction, while others offered high intensity, rigorous, academically oriented instruction, preparing students for higher education, in one case offering university credit for their EAP classes. Some of the programs offered an extensive breadth of services and programming (providing, for instance, programs for literacy, barriered youth, bridging classes, LINC classes, and EAP classes). Other programs dealt with very specific populations or focuses (e.g., German Mennonites, mothers, or employment bridging).

Format

There were some differences in how the focus groups were run, depending on how large the groups were; however, the basic format remained the same in each location:

• Arrival: Participants filled in name tags, surveys, and consent forms.

• Welcome and introduction: The purpose of the focus group interview was reviewed, as were the consent form, the agenda, and ground rules.

• Introductions: Each participant introduced themselves and the program they represented.

• Setting the stage questions: For the most part, the following questions were approached as brainstorming activities done in groups and recorded on flipchart paper; at the end of the activity, participants placed a checkmark beside the three74 brainstormed statements under each question that they felt were of greatest importance.
 

1. How would you (individually or as an institution) view and use a document detailing the “Best Practices for ESL & LINC programs in Alberta”?

2. If you were an ESL student who was looking to choose a particular program in Alberta, what would make one program a better choice than another?

3. If you could have anything you liked in an ESL program, what would you wish for?
 

• Graffiti: In this activity, participants were invited to write on flip chart paper anything that they felt would be vital to include as “best practice” in each of 8> themes: Staff, Instruction, Curriculum, Canadian Language Benchmarks and Essential Skills, Assessment/Learner gains, Program structure/administration, Learner support, and Resources.

• Discussion of themes. This activity was approached differently in various locations, depending on the size and composition of the group. However, in general, this activity provided opportunity for participants to discuss what was written up in the graffiti section in more detail. In some cases, this was done in small groups, and particular best practices were expanded upon. In other cases, this was done as a large group. At the end of the activity, participants placed a checkmark beside the three75 statements in each theme (generated during the graffiti and discussion activities) that they felt were of greatest importance.
 

Data from the focus group interview was gathered from what respondents recorded on flipchart paper during the setting the stage questions, the graffiti activity, and the discussion of the themes, as well as from the checkmarks that distinguished more important from less important issues. The focus groups were also recorded and notes made of any discussion.
 

The data were sorted according to theme and, along with data from the electronic questionnaire (see below), informed the drafting of the best practices.

Electronic questionnaire

To ensure that everyone who wished to provide input into the drafting of the Best Practices document had opportunity to do so, an electronic questionnaire soliciting input on the same eight themes that had been explored in the focus groups was included on the ATESL website, and an invitation to contribute was sent out to all ATESL members. While only nine responded, the input from the electronic questionnaire was equivalent in scope to the input from one focus group.

The input gathered was sorted and incorporated into the data from the focus group interviews.

Using the input

Input from the focus groups and electronic questionnaire forms the essence of the present Best Practices document. In some cases, responses during the focus group interviews identified areas that needed to be addressed in the best practices, but didn’t provide the content or the substance for these areas. In these cases (e.g., methodology in the Instruction theme), while the focus groups provided a focus, it was the professional/academic literature that provided the substance. In other cases (e.g., professional development in the Staff theme), the input from the focus group interviews provided almost the entire substance of that section. In some cases, the wording of the themes, best practices, and indicators came directly or indirectly from the focus group interviews. And in some cases, input from the focus groups affected the overall organization of the document (e.g., in the inclusion of ESL Literacy, Assessment, and Canadian Language Benchmarks as separate themes).

Expert Feedback

Once a draft of the document was completed, it was sent out to 20 experts in the ESL field across Alberta, soliciting their feedback on particular sections, depending on their areas of expertise. In total, 15 persons reviewed the document, with each Best Practices theme being reviewed by at least two experts, and the Instruction theme being reviewed by five. Revisions were then made to the document based on the feedback received.