Academic journal article Adult Learning

Building an Adult Workplace Literacy Program for Spanish-Speaking Carpenters

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Building an Adult Workplace Literacy Program for Spanish-Speaking Carpenters

Article excerpt

In the last 15 years, adult literacy educators have witnessed an important change in how the curriculum of adult workplace literacy programs is structured. The functional approach, a method of developing curriculum which is heavily skills-based, to developing workplace literacy curriculum has dominated the adult workplace literacy research until the end of the 1990s when it fell out of favor with researchers who began to question its narrow conception of literacy and program development practices which excluded the students from participation (Bailey, 1997; Bell, 2000; Lankshear & Gee, 1997; Sticht, 1997). The social practice definition of literacy, a philosophy of curriculum development and literacy which examines the multiple ways that literacy is used in individuals' lives, emerged as an alternative and called for increased involvement of students in the development process and a wider definition of literacy and goals which reflect the students' interests and needs. Despite the promise a social practices definition of literacy holds for adult workplace literacy, discussions of how to develop and implement an adult workplace literacy program within a social practices definition have not been forthcoming.

This article answers that need by providing a field-based account of how to develop and implement an adult workplace literacy program for English as a Second Language (ESL) students based upon the principles of a social practices definition of literacy, A literacy course for ESL students is slightly different from traditional ESL courses. In a traditional class, students develop all four skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Within an ESL literacy course, speaking and listening are not ignored but the focus is on developing reading and writing skills. The purpose of the program is to provide basic literacy instruction for the growing population of Spanish-speaking apprentice carpenters in northern Nevada. The following parties participated in the development of the program (Pseudonyms are used in place of actual names.): a college professor of English as a second language and his graduate students at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR); the Joint Apprentice Training Committee (JATC), a union school of carpentry in northern Nevada; Spanish-speaking apprentice carpenters attending the JATC, and representatives of various construction companies.

This article details the development of a curriculum for the UNR/JATC workplace ESL literacy program, with a particular emphasis on the role that the socio-cultural definition of literacy played in the development of the curriculum. The audience is adult literacy workplace specialists or business leaders interested in developing a curriculum for a similar program. After a discussion of the context for the UNR/JATC workplace ESL literacy program, we detail the steps taken in developing the curriculum.

Context

The JATC, located in Reno, Nevada, is one of two schools in Nevada responsible for the training of apprentice carpenters. The program is staffed by a coordinator, Sam, a full-time instructor, Brad, and a number of part-time instructors. At present, there are approximately 300 apprentices enrolled. Forty identify themselves as Spanish speakers. Entrance into a union school of carpentry requires that the applicant secure a job with a construction company, pass an exam in basic mathematics, join the union and hold a high school diploma. Apprentice carpenters are given a week off every three months to attend one in a sequence of sixteen developmentally-based classes in topics ranging from the operation of simple hand-tools in the beginning classes to complex cabinetry construction techniques at the end.

Step 1: Selecting a Literacy Perspective

Consistent with Richards (2001), we began the curriculum development process with a careful reading of contemporary research on literacy and curriculum development. The purpose was to find a contemporary theory of literacy which would build upon the Spanish-speaking apprentices' knowledge of carpentry and value the ways that literacy is used across multiple settings. …

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