Spring 3-15-2016



Degree Name


Primary Advisor/Dissertation Chair

Patsy Vinogradov

Secondary Advisor/Reader One

Suzanne McCurdy

Peer-Reviewer/Reader Two

Rachel Johnson


A limited amount of research on low-educated low-literate adult English language learners exists. An even smaller body of literature addresses innovation and teacher change of the instructors of this demographic. Adult refugees need basic language competency to participate with dignity in a new culture. This study explores the impact of increasing teacher empathy for the monolingual language learning environment that most first-wave refugees encounter upon arrival in the United States and identifies the instructional innovations and modifications that result. Nine participants, all low-level adult ELL instructors from a number of community-based adult language schools, took part in a Karen language class over several weeks. Questionnaires, journaling, audio-recording, and researcher observation were used to study the perceived impact of this professional development language-learning experience on the participants’ teaching practice. The results fall into two categories: Experience and Impact. Within these categories are additional areas where a sharp increase in empathy results as each teacher-participant reports direct and immediate impact on teaching practices. Findings include: a renewed appreciation for the difficulty of the learners’ task, a recognition of the futility of extraneous teacher-talk, a deeper understanding of a variety of classroom behaviors, and a reinforcement of previously learned educational principles such as allowing silent periods for absorption, theme consistency and teaching a limited amount of content per class session. Findings demonstrate that this non-Roman alphabet monolingually-taught class is an experience that deeply challenges the current thought and perspectives of the teacher-participants. Reflective teaching practice is enhanced via this study as a means to create improvements in teaching and in adult learning.

Research Methodology

Case Study, Survey


Adult Education, ESL/ ELLs, Reflective Practice, Staff Development

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Education Commons