Introduction

 

 

In 1992, the federal government implemented a new language training policy for newcomers to Canada entitled LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada), resulting in increased funding for language instruction across Canada. Growing concern on the part of ATESL about the quality of the resulting programs and instruction led eventually to the drafting of the original Best Practice Guidelines for Adult ESL/LINC Programming and Instruction in Alberta in 1994.1 This document, which was subsequently revised in 2004, was one of the first of its kind to specify a list of quality practices (best practices or standards) related to adult ESL programming.

Since 1994, a number of best practice and standards documents focusing on the provision of English language instruction to adult learners have emerged in other jurisdictions (e.g., in other provinces in Canada, in the United States, and in Australia2), and exploration of these documents has informed the present Best Practices document.> In particular, TESOL Standards for Adult Education ESL Programs (TESOL, 2003), the basis of many of the standards documents in the United States, has influenced the present document.

As in the original document, a key influence on this present document has been input from ESL professionals across Alberta. Initially, focus group and telephone interviews> were held with participants representing programs in Calgary, Edmonton, and North, South and Central Alberta (see Appendix 1 for more details on this process). 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 25+ students, 2‐3 classes, and 1‐2 instructors in a typical fall semester. They represented programs that were unique in a variety of ways, either in terms of the population they served (barriered youth, refugees, newcomers, international students, professionals), or in terms of the services they offered (e.g., providing child‐minding support for mothers, transportation assistance for literacy students, or homestay opportunities for international students). Some programs focused on survival and settlement needs and/or on providing literacy instruction, while others offered employment bridging programs for professionals, and still others offered high intensity, rigorous, academically oriented instruction, preparing students for higher education. 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 focused on very specific populations (e.g., German Mennonites, mothers/women with literacy barriers). The input provided by the focus group participants reflects the rich variety of their perspectives and experience, informed by the particular programs and populations they represent and serve.

To ensure that everyone who wished to contribute had opportunity to do so, an electronic questionnaire soliciting input was included on the ATESL website, and an invitation to contribute was sent out to all ATESL members. A small number of ATESL members across Alberta took this opportunity to provide thoughtful and, in some cases, extensive input.

Input from both the focus group interviews and the electronic questionnaire forms the essence, the core, of the present document.

Throughout the process of drafting the document, research of current literature was also taken into consideration: in some sections, validating the input gathered from ESL professionals across Alberta; in other sections, expanding on that input; and in still other sections, providing the primary content of the best practices.

Once a draft of the document was completed, it was sent out to a number of experts in the field in 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 two or more experts.

Objective

The purpose of this document is to delineate a common set of expectations regarding what constitutes best practice in adult ESL and LINC programs in Alberta.

This document is not meant to be prescriptive or constraining. Instead, it provides a common frame of reference, or perhaps a common language, for all involved in providing ESL and LINC programming in Alberta. It is recognized that an attempt to draw up a record of what constitutes “best practice” regarding adult ESL and LINC programming in Alberta, given the wide variety of programs and professionals involved, is necessarily complex. That is, any such statement involves a “construction of the teaching/learning process that will not be universally shared” (Crabbe, 2003, p.29). In this sense, the document provides a starting point for debating, clarifying, and reconciling divergent beliefs and perspectives regarding the provision of English language learning/teaching in Alberta. Rather than ignoring the dissonance that is there, it provides opportunity for it to be “brought into the open and negotiated to a satisfactory conclusion” (Crabbe, 2003, p.29).

The hope, then, is that this Best Practices document will be a catalyst for reflective practice, collaboration and change.

Content
The core of this document is composed of 67 statements of best practice organized around nine themes followed by indicators that demonstrate that best practice.

Section 1: Best Practice Statements & Guidelines includes a list of the 67 best practice statements, providing an overview to Best Practices for Adult ESL and LINC programs in Alberta and includes the list of the 67 best practice statements, each followed by indicators that demonstrate that best practice. While a program may demonstrate a best practice in ways not specified by indicators, the indicators clarify the best practice statements and identify ways to meet the expectations set up by the best practice statement. In general, the more indicators that can be checked off or listed under a particular best practice, the more likely it is that that best practice is being reached. However, the process of determining whether or not a program or individual is attaining best practice is essentially qualitative rather than quantitative. That is, the document does not specify a particular number of “required” indicators for each best practice. While determining whether or not a best practice is met remains a judgment call, it is a principled judgment that can be justified and supported with evidence.

The Best Practice guidelines are organized into nine themes, each of which is followed by a list of “References and Further Reading.”

Section 2: Putting Best Practices into Practice includes a discussion of the many ways that this Best Practice document can be used, followed by specific suggestions for using the document for self‐reflection, for conducting a program self‐evaluation, and for identifying effective programs.

Appendix 1: Report

Appendix 2: References

Appendix 3: Evaluation Tool