By Moira Taylor, ESOL Department Chair, Portland Adult Education
My remote English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Level 5 class begins each night with a Google Slide that reads, “Welcome back to our community of curious and committed learners.” This alliteration is intentional, drawing on the core values – the 3Cs – of Portland Adult Education: Community, Commitment, and Curiosity. This one simple slide provides me, and the students, with a constant reminder of the 3Cs. By reviewing this slide at the start of each class, I am recommitting to the values of our school and ensuring that students know and understand the expectations I have for them (and that I hope they have for themselves) as they learn English at Portland Adult Education.
Building a classroom community is the foundation of a well functioning ESOL class. Community building activities at the start of class set students up for success with learning together. Language learning requires risk-taking, and students need to trust that they can do that in a safe environment. Recognizing this need for a trusting and safe classroom environment, during the first week of every class, I develop routines and activities that have multiple goals: help students get to know each other, set classroom expectations, and incorporate meaningful and authentic English language practice. But community building in my class doesn’t end with the first week of class; it is an ongoing process for the whole of the semester. It is woven into the fabric of my curriculum, and it requires vigilance. The “magic” way that ESOL students work together at the end of a semester is not magic at all. It is the result of careful planning and execution of lessons that build community and foster interactive language learning that subordinates my teaching to their learning.
Committing to attending English class twice a week for 2.5 hours is not to be underestimated. My motto is to set students up for success, so that they feel this commitment is worthwhile. It is no secret that PAE ESOL students are juggling multiple responsibilities. They are also struggling with issues like housing and food insecurity, immigration issues, and chronic health conditions, to name but a few. And still, they commit to coming to class and working hard. And so do we. ESOL teachers at PAE draw on students’ strengths while also acknowledging the challenges students face. In recent years – and as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – the school has expanded its commitment to helping students attend classes by offering remote access. Almost half of our class offerings are online at ESOL Levels 3, 4, and 5. What’s more, this commitment to studying remotely also means a commitment to learning digital skills.
Which brings me to the third of the 3Cs: curiosity. Of course our PAE students are curious! They are curious to know about Portland, to know more English grammar, to build their vocabulary, to learn to write in more sophisticated ways, to read and discuss topics of interest, to know about ways in which they can further their education and get better jobs. Recently, PAE’s Academic Advisor, Anja Hanson, came to my remote Level 5 class to speak to students about PAE’s High School Diploma Program and College Transition Program. I invited Anja for a short visit, but it became clear, very quickly, that students were curious about the academic pathways that Anja was talking about. There were questions from almost every student, so the short visit turned into a much longer, but very rich question-and-answer session.
The 3Cs are in action every day (and night!) at PAE. We have ESOL students committing to classes from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Come visit our building and take a look around. As you walk the halls, visit an office, or peer into a classroom, listen closely for the voices that say, “Welcome to our community of curious and committed staff and students.”