Vol. 1. No. 3 R-9 March 1995
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Talking Shop: A Curriculum Sourcebook for Participatory Adult ESL

Andrea Nash, Ann Caston, Madeline Rhum, Loren McGrail, and Rosario Gomez-Sanford. (1992)
Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics
Pp. 70. ISBN 0-937354-78-3 (paper)
US $9.95

Written for teachers by teachers, this sourcebook's aim is to help ESL instructors involve students in a participatory learning process. Learners, they contend, should be involved in all aspects of the process, from curriculum design to classroom management. All of these teachers work in the Boston area adult education programs funded by a Title VII grant--the English Family Literacy Project of the University of Massachusetts. Their rationale for using a participatory methodology is that "A language curriculum that reflects the social and cultural realities of the students has the most relevance and is therefore more motivating for students. This first task for a teacher, then, is to find out who the students are and what they want or need to learn" (pg. 2). The dialogue that a participatory approach creates is essential in finding out the needs of the students; it requires constant discussion between class and teacher. In sharing decision-making tasks with the students, the instructor creates an open and welcoming environment, becoming more of a facilitator than an authority figure. Central to this idea is the concept of involving students in curriculum development, something that is not etched in stone, but always evolving in response to the needs of the class.

Each of the five authors wrote separate sections and chapters of the book, which detracts somewhat from the collaborative feeling, but does give the reader five distinct perspectives. The sourcebook is just that--a tool that offers possible solutions and methods to meet learning needs and stimulate different approaches to teaching ESL, and it serves that purpose well.

Chapter One deals with expressing feelings, a component of language that Nash feels is central to survival English. Using "I feel..." and "When..." cards, students form sentences by making logical connections between occurrences and emotions: "I feel happy when I hear salsa music", for example. They then follow up by describing that feeling or event in more detail. This activity serves several purposes. It gets students using known language, learning new vocabulary, and getting to know each other by sharing similar experiences.

Chapter Two describes various activities dealing with immigrant experiences, using family pictures, immigration problems, sexism in the workplace, and stereotypes--all very practical applications. In "No Green Card, No Good Pay", students relate the importance of having a green card to the ability to get a good job. Charts are used to show students' rent raises, comparing them to salary raises. [-1-] After a class discussion, the teacher types up the story and gives everyone a copy. Then she uses scrambled sentences and cloze exercises (sentences in which words are left out for students to fill in) to reinforce comprehension of the story. These techniques can be easily adapted to whatever topics interest the class.

In Chapter Four, activities for process writing (a method of writing instruction that emphasizes the processes involved in producing a written text as much as the product) are introduced. One activity begins by reading a story that needs revision. The teacher then asks content questions about the story, and returns two revised copies to the students; one corrected only for grammatical errors, the other with new information. The latter is the one that inspires new conversations among the class, and is considered by them a "good" piece of writing. This exercise evokes new questions from the teacher as to what good writing really is, and about how process writing can encourage students to write both in an interesting manner and with correct form.

A particularly interesting section of this chapter is on group dynamics. It deals with the problems of students who are hesitant to speak in class and those who take too much floor time. To deal with these concerns, the teacher holds an open discussion with the entire class to talk about ground rules. She shows them a cartoon of people sitting in a room with one person repeatedly saying "I think," while others gradually start dozing off. She asks the students in what situation the cartoon takes place, which stimulates dialogue about why quiet students don't want to speak up and why others talk at length. The matter is resolved not with cut-and- dried rules about how many minutes each student can talk, but with an understanding of their different needs and preferences. This is the sort of conflict resolution activity that is the embodiment of participatory classroom management.

The section on "All-program evaluations" has as its theme the evaluations these teachers received from the students, and how their comments and concerns are incorporated into the classes. The book includes a brief glossary, a list of references, and a substantial resource list. Some of the sections are supplemented with drawings, pictures, and sample worksheets, assignments, and exercises.

As valuable as the book is, it could have been improved by making it longer, to provide the reader with even more examples of instruction in a participatory environment. A lengthier explanation of the methodology would have also been welcomed, to further assist teachers new to this kind of teaching. A good grounding in the background and purpose of participatory teaching is crucial to the reader's ability to apply the techniques. [-2-] All in all, this is quite a helpful book, and will give ESL instructors some very good ideas and some points to ponder on participatory classrooms.

Lisa K. Miller
Paradise Valley Community College


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