Learner Profile 2
Amala is from Ethiopia. She is 27 years old and has been in Canada three months. In Ethiopia, she never attended school because as the eldest daughter she was expected to stay home and take care of her younger siblings. She never learned to read or write in Amharic. She counts to 100 and can do very basic addition and subtraction.
Since her arrival in Canada, she has attended English classes and has learned English very quickly. She is able to communicate and understand spoken English in her daily activities. She is just starting to learn the written form of words she knows orally.
Learner Profile 3
Maria has lived in Canada for over 30 years since arriving from her native Portugal at the age of 16. She went to school as a child for four years, then quit to work in the family business.
Soon after her arrival in Canada, she was hired as a cleaner in a large urban hospital. She works there still, within a group of employees largely of the same background. They communicate in Portuguese to each other and in English to other hospital staff.
Maria speaks English quite fluently, though she has never attended an English class. She never learned to read or write in English. Maria has good basic numeracy skills; she can figure out her change when shopping and manage a basic monthly household budget.
Learner Profile 4
Samjit is a 45 year old man from the Punjab. He has 12 years of education in his country and worked in a bank until he immigrated to Canada six months ago. Since that time he has had to attend to family concerns and has not yet started English classes. He does not speak, understand, read or write any English.
As described earlier, these benchmarks describe what a student can do at various phases of their ESL Literacy development. They are not a curriculum, nor are they an assessment tool although they may be used to develop both.
Using ESL Literacy Benchmarks in Assessment
The ESL Literacy Benchmarks provide the basis for developing assessment tools to assist programs and teachers in placing students into appropriate classes and determining progress. Test developers can use the information provided in these descriptors to design appropriate assessment tasks and performance criteria.
ESL Literacy students may perform inconsistently on assessment tasks from day to day. Performance can be affected by a number of factors, such as the amount of teacher support provided during the task, the similarity of the assessment task to previous practice or the familiarity of the students with test-taking strategies. All of this must be taken into consideration when establishing criteria for assessment performance and deciding upon assessment strategies.
Teachers may also want to use the ESL Literacy Benchmarks to develop self-assessment tools for student use.
Using ESL Literacy Benchmarks in Curriculum Development
Benchmarks are standards by which we measure progress. They are outcomes. The ESL Literacy Benchmarks are the anticipated outcomes at various phases of the student's development and for each benchmark, indicators of achievement are listed. These specific indicators help the instructor to decide if the learner is able to achieve the outcome.
By contrast, curriculum is the means by which learners achieve outcomes. The ESL Literacy Benchmarks do not outline what the teacher does in the classroom to facilitate learning. A program or teacher could use the ESL Literacy Benchmarks to set learning objectives and identify activities and tasks.
The ESL Benchmarks do not describe the contexts or themes in which the literacy skills and concepts can be taught. In a learner-centred program, a needs assessment should be conducted to reveal the contexts that the students need, such as shopping, going to the doctor, finding a job. The development of ESL Literacy skills can take place within these themes using relevant materials and language.
The ESL Literacy Benchmarks also do not prescribe a methodology although there are a number of suggestions implied. For more ideas on teaching ESL Literacy, teachers are referred to the section, WHAT ARE SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR METHODOLOGY?, in this introduction. In addition, Jill Bell's book, A Handbook for ESL Literacy is a very valuable resource.
Programs may also find the ESL Literacy Benchmarks to be a useful resource in developing reporting protocols to assist teachers in providing feedback to the learners on their progress.
Limitations of using benchmarks to show progression in ESL Literacy development
Benchmarks showing progression in ESL Literacy development have certain limitations and can create some mis-leading conclusions. They may suggest that ESL Literacy learning can be neatly "boxified" into a particular rubric, when, in fact, learning is continuous and fluid. Students may be able to do some things at one degree of competence and function at another level in something else and are thus likely to overlap the boundaries between phases at times.
Benchmarks do not show the amount of time required to learn one thing or another, nor do they show the relative importance of the various aspects of reading and writing or their impact on learning other concepts.
Benchmarks such as these are usually limited in scope to a representative sample of competencies. They tend, therefore to focus our attention on those things which are easily measurable and may omit aspects of learning which are equally important but less easily tested.
Canadian Language Benchmarks www.language.ca
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