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IUPUI students help Indianapolis Public Library develop community-based ESL program for adults

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February 20, 2013

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INDIANAPOLIS -- When the Indianapolis Public Library was looking to offer free, monthlong, theme-based ESL classes to the city's adult immigrants and language learners, it turned to IUPUI for help.

This spring, an “English for the Workplace” course runs through March 9 at the Southport Branch Library, while “English for Everyday Living” will meet Wednesdays and Saturdays, March 6 to 30 at the Haughville Branch Library.

The classes are among a series offered at the library's 22 branches, the result of the work of IUPUI professor and Department of English Chair Thomas Upton and IUPUI alumna Amanda Snell (M.A. in English, 2012; Certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language, 2011; Graduate Certificate in Teaching Writing, 2011), and English graduate students Cindy Carr, Kate Dobson and Susan Peebles.

After receiving hundreds of calls from adults asking for English as a Second Language classes, Jessica Moore, immigrant outreach specialist at the Indianapolis Public Library, contacted the
English department in the IU School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

In response to Moore’s request in fall 2010, Upton encouraged Snell, then one of his beginning graduate students, to develop an ESL course as part of her master’s degree thesis.

Snell, who has a passion for community-based language teaching, conducted a needs assessment, interviewing students, teachers and administrators at other successful ESL programs around the state. She then developed a curriculum that includes pragmatics, or language use in context, as well as grammar and vocabulary, and taught the first course, “English for the Workplace,” in October 2011, reaching more than 100 students.

To make the IUPUI-public library partnership sustainable, Snell invited Carr, Dobson and Peebles, all graduate students in IUPUI’s Master of Arts in English/Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages program, to help develop the second session of the program. The graduate students collaborated to develop curriculum that was informed by students’ needs and sound application of language teaching principles.

The second session, “English for Everyday Living,” was offered in spring 2012 at Haughville Library. It contained eight two-hour classes on specific themes, including “English for School Communication,” “English for Emergencies” and “English for Shopping.”

After each round of classes, the IUPUI students worked with Moore to evaluate and revise the program. After the first session, for example, Snell and Moore decided to target advertising specifically to beginning ESL students who lacked access to classes, hanging bilingual fliers in small local grocery stores, Laundromats and public schools instead of emailing information to employers and posting it on the library website.

The advertising efforts paid off. Students in the second-session class came from Latin America, Africa and Asia; some were young mothers and others were retired; some had doctoral degrees from their home countries and others had never attended elementary school.

Moore reports that phone calls continue to come in from prospective students asking when more “English for ” classes will occur. Though Snell graduated in May 2012, the legacy of her efforts exists in the continuing classes.