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					Adult ESL Classes and Participatory Citizenship:

An Examination of a Rural Town’s ESL Programs

                 Isabelle King

     Submitted to Professor Tegtmeyer Pak

  In partial fulfillment of the requirements for

             Political Science 350

                St. Olaf College

              December 19, 2011

       Learning the dominant language is an essential step for immigrants in their efforts to

become participatory citizens and achieve a sense of belonging in society. Language classes for

immigrants can play a critical role in helping immigrants with both language proficiency and

citizenship. However, many obstacles and problems exist that prevent immigrants from fully

benefitting from language classes. This paper begins with a literature review and then examines

the case of Faribault, a small rural town in Minnesota. I have researched the ESL programs using

observations, interviews, and an examination of the curriculums and materials. The programs are

compared to the findings from current research on immigrant language classes and participatory

citizenship. I find that despite good intentions and a variety of ESL programs, the classes

available to immigrants in Faribault generally do not serve to promote participatory citizenship

or a sense of belonging. They struggle to do so because of significant barriers and challenges,

and because they often fail to listen to and address immigrants’ needs. I conclude with some

researched-based recommendations.


       While becoming active participants and integrating into a society is a complex and

multifaceted process, learning the dominant language is a key part of that process. Knowledge of

a country’s dominant or official language has been shown to correlate with several measures of

success (Drbohlav and Dzúrová 2007). Language programs for adults play an important role in

helping adult immigrants acquire language and integrate into their communities.

       Although language acquisition is important for immigrants’ success, government-run

language programs have historically been inconsistent and underfunded. They are often affected

by political and ideological shifts, and as a result are fragmented in their funding, oversight and

provision (although Australia is a notable exception to this) (Burns and De Silva Joyce 2007a, 1).

Programs also vary widely in their curriculums, goals and methods. Research on the

effectiveness of programs for promoting integration is equally fragmented and inconsistent, and

there are many gaps in the literature (ibid.).

       Despite these problems, much valuable research exists that examines the effectiveness of

language programs for adult immigrants. This paper reviews the current literature on the extent

to which language programs help immigrants to integrate and become active participants in their

communities. Although successful programs exist, many do not achieve this goal. Many barriers

to integration and participatory citizenship exist, including a lack of funding, inappropriate

curriculum and a narrow focus on preparing immigrants for low-wage entry-level jobs.

Immigrants can also be affected by a lack of contact with native speakers of the language.

However, some targeted interventions have been successful at improving immigrants’


       Research on ESL classes in rural communities in the US is particularly lacking. A few

rural communities with large meatpacking plants or other sources of unskilled labor have

experienced recent dramatic increases in their non-European immigrant population (Fennelly

2006, 7). Research is needed in these communities to examine the effectiveness of current

programs, in order to evaluate the need for changes. This paper focuses on one such rural

community, Faribault. The leadership of some organizations that work with immigrants in

Faribault has been requesting more information on the provision and effectiveness of ESL

programs (Arbeiter, Ward, and Tegtmeyer Pak 2010, 35). This paper attempts to help fill these

gaps by examining in detail the ESL programs in Faribault. Better research in this area will allow

the programs to better evaluate the need for change and growth, and guide them in making

recommendations for improvements.

       I examine the availability, goals and methods of the various ESL programs in Faribault,

both the state-funded program that operates within the Adult Basic Education branch of the

Faribault School District, and volunteer programs taught through various non-profit

organizations. I then compare these findings with the current research. I conclude that despite

good efforts, the ESL programs in Faribault face significant barriers to promoting participatory

citizenship for immigrants. They largely fail to do so because they struggle with significant

barriers and for the most part, they do not engage in meaningful discussion with immigrants.

Programs could be improved using research-supported interventions and changes.

                                Comparative Literature Review

       This review examines the current research on the extent to which adult language classes

for immigrants help them integrate and become participatory or active citizens. Despite

complexities in language programs, valuable research has been done. While some research

examines the results of entire programs, other studies focus on a single aspect of or even

individual students in a program. Other researchers have examined the curriculum and materials

used by language programs. Finally, some research has evaluated the success of targeted

interventions that are designed to improve immigrants’ participatory citizenship.

       The first challenge in researching language programs is the fact that the ways in which

language classes are provided and funded vary widely between countries and over time. The

countries under review in this paper, Canada, the UK, the US, Australia, New Zealand and

Sweden, all have government-funded programs. However, in all of these countries except

Australia, the structure, oversight and funding of these programs have been unstable and subject

to changes in the political climate (Roberts, Cooke, Baynham and Simpson 2007, 20; Roach and

Roskvist 2007, 44). In addition, most countries have non-profit volunteer organizations that also

provide language instruction. These are largely independent and free from oversight and

accountability (although in the US these programs can receive funding and oversight from the

state) (ABE Minnesota). This has made researching and evaluating these programs difficult. In

many ways, Australia is looked to as an exemplary provider of ESL services because of its

consistency and strong federal leadership of the program. However, in all countries the language

programs have suffered from underfunding and a relative lack of research support. This is an

area where much research is needed.


       The terms in use in this paper are not used consistently in the literature, so some

definitions are required. For this study, Immigrants are defined as foreign-born residents of a

country, regardless of legal status (Ramakrishnan and Bloemraad 2008, 4). ‘Adult language

classes for immigrants’ (also referred to simply as ‘language classes’ or ‘language programs’ are

any classes, whether run by the state, private companies, or non-profits, whose goals include

teaching immigrants the dominant or official language of the receiving country. Citizenship

includes so-called formal citizenship, which Howard (2009) defines as “membership in a

“national political community”” and which includes “the right to vote, to run for office and to

participate freely in public activities…[and] the obligation of paying taxes” (3). However,

Bloemraad, Korteweg and Yurdakul (2008) define citizenship as having four dimensions, “legal

status, rights, political and other forms of participation in society, and a sense of belonging”

(154). These last two dimensions of citizenship are the focus of this paper.

      Citizens who achieve the third dimension are called ‘participatory’ or ‘active’ citizens.

Following Brettell and Reed-Danahay’s (2008) example, I conceptualize this participation using

the framework of communities of practice, or an “activity system in which participants share

understandings about what they are doing and what that means in their lives” (198).

Communities of practice exist at multiple, overlapping levels of society. Immigrants generally

begin with peripheral participation in communities of practice that involve or serve

predominantly other immigrants, like hometown organizations, churches and ethnic community

centers. Immigrants then gradually move to more central participation in mainstream

communities of practice, such as PTOs, city councils and non-ethnic organizations.

      This process is referred to as ‘integration’ in many of the studies examined in this paper.

Drbohlav and Dzúrová (2007) define integration as “some maintenance of the cultural integrity

of the group as well as the movement to become an integral part of a larger societal framework”

(76). However, integration does not necessarily imply classical assimilation, whereby

immigrants carry the full responsibility of linearly adapting to all aspects of the dominant society

(Ramakrishan and Bloemraad 2008, 6). Rather, integration can be a flexible process, which can

occur more rapidly in some arenas (called segmented assimilation) and which can involve

changes and adaptations on the part of the dominant culture as well (leading to what some refer

to as multiculturalism). Participatory citizenship and integration are essential for achieving the

fourth dimension of citizenship, a sense of belonging. As immigrants become fully integrated

into different communities of practice, they are able to both participate and to feel a sense of

belonging to those communities.

                             The importance of language proficiency

       A lack of proficiency in the dominant language is often a key barrier to immigrants

engaging and integrating into their communities of practice (Ramakrishan and Bloemraad 2008,

5). Thus classes that teach the majority language are an important element for immigrants in their

efforts to become participatory citizens. Yet there is and has been much disagreement over how,

in what ways and to what extent majority language classes can and should promote participatory

citizenship. While Anne Burns rightly asserts that more research is needed in this field (Burns

and De Silva Joyce 2007a, 1), there is both quantitative and qualitative research that sheds light

on different aspects of this debate in various immigrant-receiving countries. Both Prospect

Journal in Australia and the international journal Linguistics and Education have devoted full

issues to recent research.

       Much research has been devoted to exploring the need for and benefits resulting from

acquiring the target language. These studies do not necessarily examine actual language teaching

programs, but they are important for understanding the extent to which classes that improve

immigrants’ language proficiency can actually improve outcomes for immigrants. These studies

often compare qualitative and quantitative data about language proficiency to measures of

success and integration. In light of the increased language requirements for immigration and

settlement in Germany, Doerschler and Jackson (2010) examined the extent to which immigrant

integration programs that focus on German language acquisition help immigrants to integrate

into German society. They found that, although knowledge of German was associated with

positive outcomes, other factors were equally or more important.

      Drbohlav and Dzúrová (2007) approached the same issue from the opposite direction. They

researched the factors that are associated with satisfaction and integration among three groups of

immigrants to the Czech Republic. Although they found significant differences between the

groups, they also found that across all groups, immigrants who were most satisfied with their

quality of life had above-average knowledge of Czech. Although they assert that “good

knowledge of the Czech language seems to be a gateway to immigrants’ satisfaction,” the

multiple possible confounding variables and small sample size call that conclusion into question

(70). Despite problems with both studies, it is clear that knowledge of the language is necessary

but not sufficient for integration into the receiving country’s society.

                           Language classes as communities of practice

       However, it is not enough to simply teach immigrants isolated language skills in the

classroom, because using a language to engage in a community of practice requires not just

grammatical knowledge, but an ability to use the language in a pragmatically and socially

accepted way (Warriner 2010, 24). Increasingly, language classrooms are being understood as

part of a “complex sociolinguistic environment,” connected and related to other aspects and

contexts of immigrants’ lives (Roberts, Cooke, Baynham and Simpson 2007, 24). In order to

study the effectiveness of language classrooms, they are beginning to be examined within their

wider context.

       Like Brettell and Reed-Danahay (2008), Warriner (2010) used the concept of

communities of practice to conceptualize the process by which the ‘learning opportunities’ in

language classes help immigrants to acquire “full participation and membership” in their

communities of practice (23). He found that the language classes he examined limited

immigrants’ ability to engage in communities of practice. These findings are explained in more

detail below.

       Indeed, although they do not necessarily use this term, many researchers are beginning to

conceive of language classrooms as ‘communities of practice.’ In Australia, stable government

funding and long-term research projects have allowed the AMEP, which oversees ESL programs,

to develop progressive, research-based teaching methods centered on authentic texts. This

program relies on student-to-student and student-to-teacher collaboration to help students

concurrently acquire linguistic features like grammar and vocabulary, cultural context,

background knowledge and comprehension (Burns and De Silva Joyce 2007b, 13). In this way,

immigrants acquire language skills as well as the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully

use the language in their communities, allowing them to gain legitimacy in communities of


       New Zealand has suffered from a much more unstable and underfunded system of ESL

programs (Roach and Rostvisk 2007, 54). Despite these challenges, it has managed to develop a

patchwork of ESL classes that target specific immigrant populations’ needs. There are separate

programs for refugees and employed, unemployed and senior citizen immigrants. This allows the

programs to target instruction to immigrants’ needs within specific communities of practice.

                             Language programs and the workplace

       However, in many cases language programs have failed to facilitate immigrants’

integration or participatory citizenship. Many programs have a very narrow focus on job

preparation. Their goal is to ensure students have the language skills necessary to enter the

workforce as low-wage workers. While these programs are often successful in accomplishing

their goals, their limited focus can prevent immigrants from fully integrating beyond their

workplace. Warriner (2010) found that the ESL curriculum in one American community helped

students to access the community of practice of low-wage, entry-level jobs, but limited their full

participation in other communities of practice available to them. Because classes were focused

on isolated elements of grammar and simple language skills necessary for entry-level jobs, they

failed to engage students in discussions that would use higher-order thinking and other language

skills, which would facilitate their entrance into better jobs and other communities of practice

(26). Lindberg and Sandwall (2007) examined the Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) program. They

found that, despite the fact that SFI is part of a federal integration program that guarantees

language education for all immigrants, participatory citizenship goals have been overshadowed

by the need to quickly prepare immigrants for entrance into low-wage jobs. This is consistent

with Warriner’s (2009) findings.

       Brooks (2009) also researched the connection between language classes and work. She

examined the complex and often conflicting practices of ESL programs provided at or through

immigrants’ workplaces. She found that it is difficult to deduce patterns and trends because

workplace ESL is complex and even chaotic due to the multiple partners and sources of funding

involved (66). However, she did find that there is often a conflict between ESL educators, who

are learner-centered and concerned with the immigrants’ ability to develop their language

proficiency, and HR Managers, whose expectations for workplace ESL are oriented toward

improving “productivity, quality, and workplace safety issues” (67). This conflict meant that it

was often difficult to provide ESL that was geared toward both learner and employer needs.

Brooks found that the practices in workplace ESL that best help learners to function successfully

and safely in their workplace communities of practice make learning relevant, reflective and

cooperative. ESL providers also need to actively “attend to the membership and belonging needs

of ESL speakers” by involving supervisors and coworkers and advocating for a bilingual

workplace (72).

                         The importance of contact with native speakers

       Language programs can fail to reach their potential if their immigrant students have

limited contact with target language speakers outside the classroom. As Norton (2000) explains,

“SLA theorists have not adequately explored how inequitable relations of power limit the

opportunities that L2 learners have to practice the target language outside of the classroom”

(cited in Warriner 2010, 24).

       Elmeroth (2003) researched the factors that govern immigrants’ acquisition of Swedish in

Sweden. She found that a lack of contact with native Swedish speakers hampered learners’

proficiency and motivation, and more importantly, prevented them from feeling a sense of

belonging in Sweden, which in turn made it more difficult for them to learn the language (441).

Immigrants’ language learning was mostly limited to the language classroom community of

practice and failed to help them become full participants in mainstream communities of practice.

This lack of contact was in part caused by and also aggravated by immigrants’ illiteracy. This

illiteracy exacerbated barriers in understanding between immigrants and their language teachers

(435). It also slowed down immigrants’ progress in learning Swedish, making ordinary timelines

unrealistic and a source of anxiety for immigrants (437).

       Wright (2006) conducted an intervention with ESL students in New Zealand with the

goal of increasing their contact with English and their use of English outside the classroom. The

intervention was three-pronged. Students met with language tutors for conversation practice. The

class heard from advanced-level ESL students, who gave them advice and suggestions on how to

use English outside the classroom. And students kept a language log of conversations held in the

community and a series of reflections on their experiences. Although many students still

expressed frustration at the difficulty of English and their lack of speaking ability, students

overwhelmingly found the language log, language tutors, and discussion with advanced level

students to be helpful in their efforts to use English in the community.

                                      The effect of curriculum

       The curriculum and other materials used in language classes can also affect how well

classes facilitate immigrant integration. Carlson (2006) studied the textbooks and other materials

used in teaching Swedish for Immigrants (SFI). According to the SFI curriculum, the program is

designed to teach language and also to be a “bridge to Swedish life” (as cited in Carlson, 2006,

p.131). Instead of looking at how culture is taught explicitly in language classes, she looked at

how these materials implicitly communicate expectations for immigrants and present Swedish

culture. This implicit transmission of ideas and values is called Social Orientation (SO). She

found that textbooks prevailingly presented a division between the ‘Swedish way’ and immigrant

perspectives. Immigrants were expected to unilaterally adapt to the ‘Swedish way’ in their

lifestyles, values and choices. This expectation is unrealistic, since scholars have found that

integration is more complex, flexible, and cooperative than this simplistic attitude would suggest

(Ramakrishan and Bloemraad 2008, 6). This rigid attitude can prevent immigrants from feeling

like they belong and becoming legitimate members of mainstream communities of practice. In

her study of two Toronto ESL programs, Damjanovic (2010) also found that the national

curriculum limited immigrants’ active citizenship (or in her terms, citizenship as agency). She

found that, even at higher levels, the curriculum contained very little content about Canada, its

cultures and values. What little content present was simplistic and did not invite discussion that

would facilitate integration or active participation (39-40).

       Most second language curriculums for adult immigrants have not been researched or

evaluated in any way. Many programs allow teachers to choose or develop their own

curriculums, while others provide curriculums that have not been researched or evaluated

(McMurtrey 2004, 59). Still other programs ‘teach to the test,’ teaching only the isolated

language structures necessary to pass a particular language test, whether it be for citizenship, the

GED, entrance into higher education or another purpose.

                                       Targeted interventions

       Targeted interventions in ESL classes can help immigrants become involved in a specific

community of practice. Waterman (2008) researched the ways in which targeted ESL instruction

could improve parent-school collaboration among Mexican immigrant mothers in Colorado. He

used a quasi-experimental approach to explore whether ESL classes that specifically and

explicitly focused on parent involvement at school could improve both language proficiency and

parent-school collaboration. Although the experiment was small, involving only 87 mothers, and

was limited to Mexican mothers in one urban school district, it yielded impressive results, with

immigrants in the experimental group performing significantly better on quantitative and

qualitative measures of both language proficiency and parent involvement than immigrants in the

control group (a regular ESL class). This is supported by SLA research, which has shown

repeatedly that students learn a second language better when it is taught using meaningful,

applicable content (Lightbown and Spada 2006, 156). Since parent involvement in school has

been associated with positive outcomes for student achievement, these results could have far-

reaching implications for immigrant families in their efforts to integrate successfully into

American life (Arellano Anguiano 2008, 198).

                                An ESL program case study

       Jelena Damjanovic (2010) in Canada conducted what is perhaps the most detailed and

comprehensive study of the relationship between ESL and participatory citizenship focusing on

one program. For her master’s thesis, she examined two classes of the COSTI ESL program in

Toronto, Canada. She interviewed teachers and students, observed classes, and examined

curriculum materials. Then she made conclusions about what kind of citizenship was being

taught and communicated indirectly through the program. She outlined four different kinds of

citizenship, which are related to the categories presented in this paper: citizenship as status (most

closely related to formal citizenship), as identity, civic virtues and agency (most closely related

to active or participatory citizenship (8). She found that ESL classes focused almost exclusively

on teaching the survival English necessary to enter the workforce. Classes contained little to no

honest reflection on current issues of culture and politics in Canada, nor did they teach Canadian

history with a critical eye. In doing so, they promoted citizenship as status, but did not assist

students (or even sometimes inhibited students) from developing citizenship as agency (71).

Damjanovic did not blame ESL teachers, citing a lack of appropriate resources, training, and

understanding of the importance of teaching citizenship as agency. She called for a change in

policy at the national level, supported by appropriate teaching materials for all levels of ESL and

professional development for teachers (72).

                                     Introduction to Faribault

       Faribault is a small town of about 20,000 in southern Minnesota. According to the US

Census Bureau (2011), it is estimated that 7.2% of Faribault residents speak English less than

‘very well.’ In the last twenty years, there has been an influx of immigrants, predominantly

Mexican Latinos, Somalis and Sudanese, many of whom have moved to Faribault to work at

Jennie-O Turkey Store, a local meat-packing plant. Despite being quite welcoming to its

immigrant newcomers, the town has struggled to accommodate them because of a lack of access

to resources and funding that are available in larger cities. The town previously had a Welcome

Center, which served new immigrants by pointing them to services and resources in the

community. In 2010, the Welcome Center closed, and the town has been struggling with how to

best serve its immigrant population in the absence of the center. One way that Faribault has

particularly struggled is in helping immigrants learn English. Although several programs exist,

there is confusion and a general lack of knowledge about what programs, funding and resources

are available and being used (Arbeiter, Ward, and Tegtmeyer Pak 2010, 35).

     A federally funded adult ESL program exists in Faribault, provided through the

Community Education office of the school district. The Office of Vocational and Adult

Education, the federal office that oversees and regulates spending for government-provided adult

ESL instruction in the US state in their 2005 report that the goal of the program is to “help

learners acquire the skills and knowledge to become active and informed parents, workers, and

community members” (Lasater and Elliot 2005, 3). Presumably this last clause is intended to

encompass all other rolls that immigrants could play in their communities, beyond parents and

workers. Thus the program’s goals include integration and participation in various communities

of practice. However, this program does not seem to be meeting the communication and

integration needs of the immigrant population. In After the Welcome Center, Arbeiter, Ward and

Tegtmeyer Pak reported that every survey respondent “emphasized language barriers as a

priority challenge confronting immigrants” (2010, 34). Agencies also expressed a need for

research-based knowledge that could be used to enact changes in Faribault programs and petition

for grant money. Therefore, it is important to examine the ESL instruction already available in

Faribault in light of current research, in order for local agencies and organizations to be able to

make recommendations for improvements.

      In this section, I examine the programs in Faribault, both the state-funded program that

operates within the Adult Basic Education branch of the Faribault School District, and volunteer

programs taught through various non-profit organizations. I outline the availability and types of

programs, their goals and curriculums. I compare my findings with the current research. I

conclude that the ESL programs in Faribault face significant barriers to promoting participatory

citizenship for immigrants.


       There is no longer a central source of information about ESL services that exist in

Faribault. So compiling a list of programs and their characteristics was my first task. I began

with the ESL program run through the Adult Basic Education (ABE) branch of the school

district. I then contacted community leaders who work for non-profits that work with

immigrants. I asked each ESL program that I contacted if they knew of other programs. This

process turned out to be quite challenging due to a general lack of up-to-date knowledge and

communication among the various organizations. I managed to compile a list that may not be

comprehensive, but certainly represents the largest and most well known classes.

       I communicated with both directors and ESL teachers at each program. From these

conversations and emails, I gathered both objective and subjective data about the programs. I

then observed classes at ABE ESL, Somali Community Services, and St. Vincent DePaul. I

collected curriculum and testing materials at each program.

  Characteristics of ESL Programs in Faribault

Program       Type of      Volunteer     Number of      Class        Curriculums
              funding      or paid       immigrants     schedules    and testing
                           teachers      served
ABE ESL       State        Paid          268*           M-Th,        “Reading for
                                                        10am-12pm,   Life,” The
                                                        1pm-3pm,     Complete Story
                                                        6pm-8pm      by Story,
                                                                     Marshall Scope
                                                                     and Sequence
Somali        Grants       Volunteer     8-15           M-F 10am-    Variety
Community     and                                       12pm
Services      donations
SHAC          Grants       Volunteer     20             T, Th        Rosetta Stone
Rosetta       and                                       6:30pm-
Stone**       donations                                 7:30pm
Mary Ho @     None         Volunteer     Drop-in        M, W 4pm-    Variety
St. Vincent                                             6pm
de Paul

  *FY 2010-2011 (ABE Minnesota)
  **This program is planned to begin in January 2012.

       Some would not question the lack of participatory citizenship in ESL classes. The

ostensible responsibility of ESL programs is to teach immigrants to read, write, understand and

speak the English language. However, as stated previously, participatory citizenship is a goal of

government-funded ESL classes, according to the Office of Vocational and Adult Education. The

question is, is there evidence of both language and participatory citizenship being learned in

Faribault’s ESL programs? If not, what barriers and challenges exist that prevent this from

happening? And could their efforts be improved? To answer these questions, I begin with the

Office of Vocational and Adult Education’s definition of participatory citizenship. This

definition applies directly to the ABE ESL program, and should directly inform their classes. But

since the other ESL classes are intended to replace the ABE ESL classes, this definition should

be applicable to them as well. Do Faribault’s ESL classes help immigrants to “acquire the skills

and knowledge to become active and informed parents, workers, and community members”

(Lasater and Elliot 2005, 3)?

       First, I consider immigrants who should be being served by ABE ESL but are not

currently in the program. I have heard from multiple second-hand sources that there is a waiting

list for the classes, and one of the reasons the other programs were set up was to handle the

overflow from these classes (Mary Ho, personal communication, December 5, 2011, Gary

Kasten, personal communication, November 28, 2011). Yet the state program purports to serve

all immigrants needing or desiring language classes, and distributes funding according to the

number of students (ABE Minnesota). This discrepancy must be resolved. Although students

should have the opportunity to choose between different programs, they should not be forced to

attend classes with uncertified teachers, or worse, no classes at all, because of a lack of space.
                                             ABE ESL

       Next I consider students in the ABE ESL classes, which serve the majority of immigrants

taking language classes (see table). The ABE ESL is the only program in Faribault that receives

consistent state and federal funding. It is also the only program to employ paid, certified ESL

teachers, most of whom are K-12 ESL teachers during the school day (Pam Wieseler, personal

communication, November 14, 2011). The program is a part of Adult Basic Education, which is

itself a part of the Community Education program. This program has been run through a

partnership between the Faribault Public School District and the city of Faribault, whereby the

district provides $160,000 to the city to provide services and support, including management

staff (Lindberg 2011). However, the program is currently under review by the school board, and

the city has voted not to continue this partnership past June of 2012 (ibid.). Classes are held at

three times throughout the day. They are separated by levels, based on students’ scores on the

CASAS Competencies test. Students in lower levels are mainly learning ‘survival English’,

while many students in the higher levels are working on passing the GED or entering the


       I observed in two ESL classes at this program. The first was an advanced beginner class,

where they were working on simple ideas of health, the body and doctors, as well as the past

tense of irregular verbs. The class consisted of seven students, five Somalis and two Latinos. The

second class was an intermediate level. It consisted of seven students, all except one of whom are

Somali. The class was also learning about health and doctors, but at a more advanced level.

       Based on my very limited observations and interviews with teachers and the director,

Pam Wieseler, these classes demonstrate some evidence of helping students to integrate into their

Faribault communities. Integrated into lessons on grammar are discussions of important aspects

of American culture and life that students will encounter as parents, workers, and community

members, such as visiting the doctor, fill out job applications, and shop at grocery stores. The

classes are certainly designed with an eye toward focusing on those elements of these situations

that are most likely to be unfamiliar to immigrants. For instance, the intermediate class was

learning about visiting a doctor or hospital during the class that I observed. However, barriers

still exist that largely prevent true participatory citizenship.

           As Carlson (2006) in Sweden and Damjanovic (2010) in Canada found, the curriculum

and materials of the Faribault program do not encourage participatory citizenship. As in most

ESL classes in the US, teachers in this program are allowed and even encouraged to choose and

invent their own curriculum materials. The only guiding expectations or goals are the Marshall

Adult Education Scope and Sequence (Freiermuth 2003). These consist of a list of

‘competencies’ that students must achieve for each of six levels of ESL. They range from ‘Read

and tell time’ and ‘Recognize the English alphabet’ at the beginner level to ‘Describe

tenant/landlord rights and responsibilities’ and ‘Write paragraphs and multi-paragraph essays on

personal topics’ at the advanced level. These competencies seem highly academic- and work-


           Like Damjanovic (2010), I found that overall these competencies contain little American

content and are missing important aspects of participatory citizenship. The advanced level

includes 19 computation goals, including “Convert and calculate measurements using US and

metric units” and nine employment competencies, including “Complete a job application, resume

and cover letter.” Some of these most certainly are oriented toward participatory citizenship,

although the focus on computation seems strange, and more appropriate to a GED class. And

these competencies include nothing about parenting in the US, nothing about the public school

system, college, scholarships, American expectations of parenting, etc. They are also missing

many important elements of being a ‘community member.’ The advanced level, under

community resources, includes telephones, directories, and recycling, but nothing about

neighborhood or homeowner associations, PTOs, or other community groups or activities in

which immigrants might be involved. Thus even the highest levels, by focusing on the Marshall

Scope and Sequence, omit a lot of important information necessary for active citizenship.

       Teachers are also provided with various textbooks. The only one I saw in use during

observations is called The Complete Story by Story. It consists of short stories written at an

elementary level, about a variety of topics, including everything from baseball to Cub Foods.

Each story teaches a phonics sound or letter combination. It is designed to teach illiterate adults

to read, but as the authors state in the introduction, it can be “used, modified, adapted or

expanded…to meet the…needs of…ESL/ELL students” (Frank n.d., 1). Despite the authors’

claims, this book does not seem well-suited to immigrants’ needs. Although (unlike the

textbooks in Damjanovic’s (2010) analysis) they include a lot of American content, these stories

are designed for people who know exactly what baseball and grocery store shopping are like.

They do not teach, inform or encourage discussion. Rather their goal is to provide easy reading

practice using topics with which adults will be familiar. Since these topics are not familiar to

immigrants and are not explained in the stories, they may be too challenging for some


       Another textbook that was shown to me is Reading for Life. It was written by Linda

Strand for the state of Minnesota ABE program, and is designed to help illiterate adults learn to

read. It consists of ‘real-life’ written materials like job applications and advertisements, and

worksheets about those materials. Since these materials are authentic, they have the potential for

fostering real conversation about important aspects of immigrants’ culture. Unfortunately, I did

not see this textbook in use in my observations. Other materials used in the classes I observed

were either photocopied worksheets, chosen presumably for their relevance to the theme or

grammar point being taught, or activities invented by the teachers. Even worksheets that were

related to the themes were overwhelmingly grammar-focused, requiring students mostly to fill in

blanks with the correct form of the word.

       The format of the courses is also not particularly conducive to learning active citizenship.

Much of class time is focused squarely on acquiring (memorizing) isolated grammar structures

and vocabulary. In the beginner class, students spent about half of the class on two grammar

activities. One required students to listen to present tense verbs and write down the past tense

form. The other required students to fill in the verb in a sentence, choosing between does, did,

doesn’t and do. In the intermediate class, students spent about half of the hour completing a

worksheet that required them to list the months and days of the week in order. Warriner (2010)

found in his examination of ESL programs that an overemphasis on grammar caused students to

prioritize grammar over other aspects of language included in the course. I also found that the

grammatical emphasis of the classes affected immigrants’ engagement. Immigrants prioritized

the vocabulary and grammar exercises over everything else. They participated in discussions

only when they had completed and corrected the exercises.

       In general, students do not talk much in class, at least in the lower and intermediate

levels, and the emphasis is not on conversational skills. When students converse in class, it is

often not a planned part of the lesson, but rather a spontaneous discussion. The most extensive

conversation in the advanced beginner class actually occurred because the teacher made a

mistake on the numbering of the activity on past tense verbs. In the intermediate class, students

‘talked’ about the story they had read from The Complete Story by Story about visiting a doctor.

She first discussed filling out forms, and explained ideas like emergency contact and allergies.

Then she described waiting rooms, seeing a nurse, seeing a doctor, getting results, and having the

results explained. This process was very teacher-oriented. The teacher occasionally prompted

students to contribute when they knew what a term was or what step came next. But most of the

time the students said nothing at all, and the one-word answers rarely involved students in an

actual discussion. Warriner (2010) found that this lack of discussion limits immigrants’ abilities

to apply their language learning in their various communities of practice (26).

        Finally, many students’ primary difficulty with the exercises in both classes was actually

the literacy aspect of them. They had difficult writing down answers to spoken questions,

copying down the months correctly, etc. Yet when the teacher asked the students to list the

months orally, they did it with ease. Literacy is taught explicitly in this program. For instance, in

the intermediate class, students reviewed the ‘short a’ sound at the end of the class. However,

despite these efforts, students’ illiteracy is affecting their ability to benefit fully from the classes.

My observations suggest that, like Elmeroth (2003) concluded in her study of SFI, the lack of

understanding between illiterate students and their teachers is negatively affecting students’

ability to learn.

                                         Volunteer Programs

        In addition to the ABE ESL program, several non-profit organizations in Faribault

provide or are planning to provide ESL classes. These programs are all very small, have limited

hours and run on sporadic grants and donations or no money at all (see table). It is important to

note that the variety of ESL services in Faribault is not necessarily a negative factor in the

programs’ effectiveness. As Roach and Rostvisk (2007) found in their examination of programs

in New Zealand and as McMurtrey (2006) found in his research on programs in Kentucky, a

variety of programs means that each one can focus on a different target population, goal or

teaching style. This ensures that immigrants’ diverse needs are better met. In Faribault, the

different programs vary in teaching styles, levels of formality and consistency, hours and

locations. This helps immigrants to better access programs, since they are more likely to be able

to find transportation to one of the programs during hours when they are not otherwise occupied.

It also means that immigrants who do not feel comfortable with the structure and formality of the

ABE ESL classes or cannot consistently come to classes can access more flexible options.

Finally, members of the Somali population can access classes at the Somali Communities

Services that are conducted within their own cultural community.

       Nevertheless, these volunteer-based programs have been somewhat unstable in their

offerings, curriculums and teachers. And if the ABE ESL program has difficulty ensuring

students acquire participatory citizenship skills, the programs run by non-profits and volunteers

have still more problems and setbacks in doing so. They suffer from the same problems as ABE

ESL, plus additional challenges. They do not have the funding or resources to purchase

appropriate (or even modern) materials, train teachers, divide students by level or give

personalized attention. They also are challenged by unstable class sizes, irregular attendance, and

a lack of testing, firm goals and accountability. Unfortunately, I did not see any evidence of

citizenship, as defined by the Vocational Office, in any volunteer ESL class.

Somali Community Services

       Somali Community Services (SCS) was established after the Welcome Center closed, as

a way to help Somali immigrants connect to services. They also offer ESL classes once a day,

and sewing classes and a citizenship course as well. The ESL class is taught in the ‘lobby’ of the

small building, with both clients and students walking in and out constantly. This informality and

flexibility was explained to me as being quite a normal aspect of Somali culture. However, it is a

challenge for the teacher, Gary Kasten, a retired pastor who is not trained or certified in ESL. He

does not teach from any specific textbook or plan. He chooses materials from a variety of books

and textbooks. He remarked to me that the class is especially difficult to teach, both because of

the constant movement through the room, and because attendance is not stable or predictable.

This was quite evident throughout the class that I observed, as some students arrived late, left to

answer cell phones, and turned out not to be students at all, but rather clients waiting to meet

with someone (although they had happily taken one of the worksheets that he had passed out).

The number of students varied from six to fifteen throughout the two hours. Not only the number

of students, but also their levels varies widely within the class and from week to week, which is

evidently a challenge as well. One woman sat at the side studying the alphabet the whole time,

while others were easily able to answer Kasten’s questions.

        It is quite evident that Kasten struggles to teach this population. First, despite the

unstable attendance, he attempts to teach from a lesson plan. On the day that I observed, this plan

consisted of an overview of the months of the year, days of the week and seasons, and a

worksheet about a drawing of people in a train station. As in ABE ESL, these two activities were

focused on isolated elements of grammar and vocabulary. The class did not include any

conversation practice or other skills that they could directly apply in their communities.

Furthermore, the choice of topics for the worksheet (a train station) seemed oddly irrelevant,

since most of the immigrants had never seen and probably will never see a train station. The

activities were also at too advanced of a level, evidently a result of the unpredictable attendance


          Finally, his teaching style relies heavily on reading and writing skills that many of the

students do not have. They struggled to copy the months down from the board, did not

understand the concept of multiple choice, and had trouble reading the exercises on the

worksheet. Some students were not engaged in much of the lesson because they spent a full half

hour trying to copy down the months from the board before giving up. Like Elmeroth (2003), I

found that overall, illiteracy greatly contributed to a lack of understanding between the teacher

and the students, and caused frustration in the classroom.

Mary Ho at St. Vincent de Paul

          Mary Ho has no official training in teaching ESL, but she has been doing so in the

Faribault community for many years. She used to teach a class in the Welcome Center. When the

center closed, she asked for and received permission to use a room at the St. Vincent de Paul

center. She is available for four hours a week to teach immigrants on a drop-in basis. Most of her

students come for an hour or two after they finish work. The levels and numbers of students vary


          Like Kasten, Ho does not use any specific curriculum or textbook. She has borrowed

some materials from the ABE ESL program. Over time she has accumulated a wealth of maps,

puzzles, calendars, posters and other resources. In addition to these, she writes her own stories

and worksheets based on what level she perceives her students to be at. Since she does not test

her students, this of course raises doubts about the appropriateness of the materials. But given the

fact that she receives no funding at all, her stockpile of materials is frankly impressive.

          Although Ho prepares materials for each day, she conducts the class more like one-on-

one tutoring sessions than an entire class with a lesson plan. She provides assistance and

guidance, but she largely lets the students direct their learning. On the day that I observed, she

put one student to work on an alphabet puzzle while two other students worked with her on

reading a story. The story they were reading was not new to them. They had read it the week

before and requested to review it again. Out of all the Faribault programs, this one shows the

most evidence of focusing on students’ needs and learning goals. Ho has also in the past included

discussions and activities that directly contribute to immigrants’ integration and participatory

citizenship. She has helped students to acquire and learn to use library cards. She has also helped

students to understand current events like the recent Fukushima nuclear plant crisis (Ho 2011).

       Nevertheless, like the other programs Ho’s classes do not focus much on conversational

skills. The class was centered on reading the story and doing a worksheet about writing the date.

However, unlike the other classes, Ho writes her own material for the stories, and the stories she

writes are, to the best of her ability, contextualized within her students’ culture. The story they

were reading on the day that I observed was about a father named Omar and his child named

Zuhur who take a trip to New York. This story utilized transportation vocabulary in a way that is

much more relevant to the students than Kasten’s train station worksheet.

       Again, like in the SFI program (Elmeroth 2003), illiteracy is a major challenge for Ho.

While she has taught one student the alphabet, she does not seem to be teaching him the sounds

that the letters make (phonics) or to recognize sight words. She also does not try to teach students

any English conversational skills until they learn the basics of reading. Some of the students

struggled to read the story they were working on together, yet she did not help students learn to

sound words out. Unfortunately, the students struggled so much in reading the text that they did

not have time afterwards to practice using the information, vocabulary and structures in the story,

because they were not discussed or applied in any way. However, given the flexible, student-

oriented structure of the class, it is possible that the information and language from the text will

be used later on in another class.

SHAC Rosetta Stone

       So How Are The Children (SHAC) is a Faribault non-profit organization that “work[s] to

implement programs that meet the challenge of raising healthy children” (So How Are the

Children). It is setting up an ESL program that will pair immigrants with a community volunteer

who will help guide them through learning English using Rosetta Stone software. The program

will be piloted with twenty immigrants beginning in January 2012. Although the exact structure

of the program is not yet known, it has the potential for helping immigrants to develop

participatory citizenship due to the collaboration between immigrants and community volunteers.

                               Conclusions and recommendations

       It is important to emphasize that not only is it possible to teach both language and active

citizenship in an ESL class, it is likely to result in better mastery of both the language and the

citizenship. As stated previously, students tend to learn a language better when it is taught

through meaningful content (Waterman 2008, Lightbown and Spada 2006, 156). Since ESL

students are relatively new to the community, are striving to learn how to live, participate and

belong, and are for the most part parents, workers, and neighbors, active citizenship should be

highly applicable and interesting content for them.

       Using the Office of Vocational and Adult Education’s definition of participatory

citizenship, in many ways ESL classes in Faribault are indeed conducted with an eye to helping

immigrants “become active and informed parents, workers, and community members” (Lasater

and Elliot 2005, 3). In ABE ESL classes, lessons focus on teaching language and information

that students would need in common situations, like going to a doctor. There is also heavy

emphasis on work-related information, which helps immigrants to successfully enter workplace

communities of practice. Furthermore, staff members have created a unique and innovative

program that partners with South Central College to provide targeted instruction and ESL

support to students in welding and nursing classes, which directly supports immigrants’ efforts to

become active and informed workers (Wieseler 2011 and MN ABE 2011). The program is very

effective in helping students achieve the language goals for each level, and has always performed

well on the state-mandated report cards (Barry Shaffer, personal communication, December 15,

2011). Mary Ho also supports immigrants’ integration efforts, for example by using her ESL

class to help immigrants acquire and learn to use library cards (personal communication,

December 5, 2011). However, much more could be done to help students to become

participatory citizens.

       The ESL programs in Faribault face significant challenges and barriers to their attempts

to facilitate integration and participatory citizenship. First, all of the programs are constrained by

funding. Although ABE ESL receives consistent funding from the state, it is limited and

dependent on the number of students enrolled in the previous year. This has been seen as

restrictive, and makes it difficult for the program to provide for a fluctuating population (Pam

Wieseler, personal communication, November 14, 2011). Their source of funding also means

they are restricted in the kinds of education they can provide for immigrants, because the

government dictates what kinds of classes they can and cannot teach. The volunteer programs are

limited by a near total lack of funding. This prevents the programs from acquiring the resources,

training and staff necessary to teach a wide variety of immigrants. Due in part to the lack of

training, the programs are challenged by a general lack of knowledge and understanding of

immigrant issues including illiteracy. ABE ESL is also somewhat limited by testing and

accountability requirements, which are well-intentioned but restrict teachers to teaching the

specific competencies listed on the Marshall Scope and Sequence. Barriers also result from the

characteristics of the immigrant populations. Immigrants’ illiteracy makes it difficult for teachers

to understand and teach them. Unpredictable growth in the population and fluctuating enrollment

and attendance make it difficult to predict learners’ needs. These challenges are not to be taken

lightly. Many of them have been a source of frustration for language program providers across

the US and the world (Elmeroth 2003, Warriner 2010, McMurtrey 2006, Cooke 2006, Wright

2006, Damjanovic 2010).

        In order for ESL classes in Faribault to better serve immigrants’ participatory citizenship

needs, changes would need to be made both at the state level and at the local level. At the state

level, Minnesota’s policies would need to be updated in order to reflect the state’s participatory

citizenship goals. The Marshall Scope and Sequence would need to be either replaced or

supplemented by a list of goals or competencies that reflect all aspects of immigrants’

involvement in their community. The state would need to provide materials that involve

immigrants in discussing and actively building their own connections to their communities. They

also would need to train teachers about the importance of helping immigrants become active


        Despite the challenges summarized above, several changes could be made at the local

level, even without the formal and monetary support of the state. The first thing programs must

do is reflect on their goals. They need to decide if their goal is just to teach the English language

(thus contradicting the state goals) or if they will strive to support immigrants in becoming active

citizens. In the latter case, they need to consciously target classroom routines and activities to

that goal. This means involving students in discussions and debates, allowing students to ask,

explore and answer questions about their communities and the people they meet, and teaching

history and government from a critical and reflective perspective. Ultimately, it means listening

to immigrants and helping them to speak. Obviously, these kinds of discussions would be more

limited and simplistic at the lower levels. However, given that Mary Ho successfully discussed

current events with her students and ABE ESL teachers discussed rather complex doctor’s office

procedures, it would certainly be possible to extend these kinds of discussions to other

disciplines and involve immigrants more extensively. An excellent starting point would be to ask

students in the first class what their goals are and what they would most like to learn (this

conversation could be conducted in their native language with translators, if necessary). It is

impossible for teachers to fully support immigrants’ communication and integration needs if they

do not know what they are. Doing so would also help to balance the power dynamic, giving

immigrants a voice and allowing them to participate actively in the community of practice that is

the ESL classroom. They can apply the skills they acquire through this process to communities

outside the classroom, where speaking out and being involved might be more difficult or more


       In light of Wright’s (2006) and Elmeroth’s (2003) findings, immigrants may also need

more support in applying the English they learn in class to their interactions in the community.

ESL teachers could guide immigrants in keeping a language log, as Wright did in her study. For

illiterate students, this log could be developed orally, with students reporting in class on their

experiences using English. For the same reasons, student might benefit from actual simulations

and real-life activities being done in class. Wright (2006) found an actual conversation with the

school principal to be a highly productive classroom activity. This kind of activity could easily

be implemented in Faribault, even if real community members are not available to participate.

Instead of discussing a doctor visit, the class could simulate one, with the teacher playing the part

of the doctor and nurse. Students could be given the building blocks of language and be

presented with a situation, such as a particular symptom. They would then have to go through the

process of filling out forms, waiting, seeing the nurse and doctor, and receiving instructions. This

would allow them to practice being active, participatory citizens and prepare to use English in

the community. And because it is a more natural situation than a discussion about doctor visits, it

is more likely to illicit discussion and questioning over issues that would come up during a real

doctor visit.

        Another technique that could be useful is language partners. Language partners are

native-English-speaking community members who are not trained in teaching or tutoring, but

who agree to meet with an immigrant one-on-one periodically, in order to practice conversational

skills in English. Wright (2006) found language partners to be a successful strategy for helping

ESL students apply their language skills outside of the classroom. In Faribault, language partners

could also exchange English conversations for conversations or instruction in the native language

of the immigrant. This could help break down cultural barriers and facilitate communication and

understanding between immigrants and non-immigrants, which was cited as a major need by

interviewees in the After the Welcome Center Report (Arbeiter, Ward, and Tegtmeyer Pak 2010,

36). Language partners also could help immigrants to build connections with their communities.

Finally, the different perspectives of the students and their partners should naturally lead to

reflection and discussion about elements of American culture, government and history. This

technique has been used in other communities. The Intercambios program in Chicago, for

instance, used language partners and was found to help both groups to interact and reflect

honestly about each other’s experiences and perspectives (d’Arlach Bagnon 2007).

       Faribault’s ESL programs should also consider questions of literacy among the

immigrants they serve. In a society that revolves so much around the written word, illiteracy is a

serious barrier to active participation. However, as Elmeroth (2003) explains, it is nearly

impossible for literate members of a literate society to understand the situation of an illiterate

(436). Mary Ho expressed this limitation well, when she confessed that it would be “hard for me

to think about learning another language if I didn’t read my own” (personal communication,

December 5, 2011). This lack of understanding seems to be hampering success in the SCS ESL

class especially, where there is no targeted instruction of literacy and the teacher and directors do

not seem to understand the students’ situation. ABE ESL and Mary Ho’s ESL include instruction

in literacy, but students were still observed struggling with the reading and writing requirements

of the classes. It might be helpful for teachers to use more oral activities and rely less on written

supports. All programs could also consider adding a separate literacy class for immigrants. This

could significantly help students to succeed in ESL classes, in daily life in Faribault, and in

engaging in communities of practice beyond the ESL classroom. Furthermore, programs should

consider separate classes teaching literacy in Somali and Spanish, since learning literacy is easier

and more successful in a native language (Elmeroth 436). Learning to read and write in their

native language could also help immigrants to engage more fully within the immigrant

community. However, ABE ESL, which serves the majority of immigrants taking ESL classes

(see table), cannot use state or federal funds to provide classes in languages other than English

(ABE Minnesota 2004). These classes would have to be provided by another organization.

       Finally, in light of Waterman’s (2008) research, ESL programs should also consider

incorporating parent-school collaboration into ESL classes. All program leaders and teachers

interviewed said that there are significant numbers of parents in the classes, many of whom are

unemployed and are primarily learning English for ‘general life.’ Classes that focus on the

school system, homework, and communication with teachers could be especially valuable to

them. They could even invite teachers and principals to talk to the students during ESL classes,

as Waterman did in his study. As Waterman showed, these activities could significantly increase

both immigrants’ English proficiency and their collaboration with schools, an important element

of participatory citizenship in that community of practice. Furthermore, leaders who have tried to

encourage immigrant participation in parenting classes suspect they have had limited success due

to immigrants’ prioritizing English classes over other classes (Arbeiter, Ward, and Tegtmeyer

Pak 2010, 40). Combining parenting classes with ESL classes has the potential for benefiting

everyone involved.

       Thus all of the ESL programs in Faribault show some evidence of promoting

participatory citizenship and all have areas where they can improve. All programs suffer from

barriers and challenges that to a certain extent prevent them from fulfilling their goals for

language acquisition and integration. More research is certainly needed to explore the exact

nature of these barriers and their possible solutions. However, improvements are still possible,

and have been successful in other programs that have faced similar challenges. The most

important improvement that can and should be made in Faribault is to listen to immigrants and

involve them in the process of learning. All the recommendations in this paper begin with

listening to immigrants. This will ensure that their needs are being met, that they are becoming

full legitimate members in the ESL class community of practice, and that they are actively

learning skills that they can use to become “active and informed” community members.

       In my analysis of Faribault programs, I have employed the Office of Vocational and

Adult Education’s limited definition of participatory citizenship. However, scholars’ definition

goes far beyond this to include not just “active and informed” participation, but also a sense of

belonging (Bloemraad, Korteweg and Yurdakul 2008, 154). Furthermore, when immigrants are

fully integrated into their communities of practice, they are not just members of the community,

they participate in the process of creating and building knowledge systems and contribute to the

construction of an identity for themselves and the community (Warriner 2010, 23). In this study,

applying the more demanding definitions of participatory citizenship described in the literature

review is not possible because of a lack of knowledge and information. Understanding

immigrants’ place in their various communities of practice would involve in-depth interviews

and extensive observation, which was not possible due to time and resource constraints. Nor was

it possible to quantitatively evaluate immigrant integration, as Drbohlav and Dzúrová (2007)

attempted to do in the Czech Republic. But based on the data gathered, it is unlikely that

Faribault’s ESL classes help immigrants to integrate fully into their communities of practice and

achieve a sense of belonging. Further research in this area would be very beneficial.

Appendix 1: Majority language programs and abbreviations

For the sake of clarity, English language programs are referred to as ESL throughout the paper,
regardless of the country. Below are the terms used in each country and their abbreviations.

New Zealand and Canada: English as an Additional Language (EAL)
United States, Canada and Australia: English as a Second Language (ESL)
       English Language Learners (ELL)
United Kingdom and New Zealand: English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)
Sweden: Swedish for Immigrants (SFI)

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