As we return from our celebration of Independence Day, we also want to celebrate the efforts and dedication of the learners and educators who participate in adult literacy’s integrated English literacy and civics education. This important, but sometimes forgotten, aspect of adult education opens opportunities for learners and creates an engaged, informed citizenry.
What is “integrated civics” in adult education?
Under Title II of the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), integrated English literacy and civics education refers to services for adult English language learners, including professionals with degrees and credentials in their native countries, to build their English language skills—foundational and more advanced—to support their roles as parents, workers, and citizens in the United States. These courses must include English literacy instruction and “instruction on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and civic participation and may include workforce training.”
Are there specific curricula for these programs?
Although WIOA defined what had and could be included in this form of adult education, it did not specify how to include it. Nor did WIOA mandate a particular curriculum or instructional practices. Thus, programs offering these courses may leverage resources from multiple sources and design approaches to meet their communities’ needs.
Luckily, both the Office of Career, Adult, and Technical Education (OCATE, U.S. Department of Education) and the U.S. Citizen and Immigrations Services (USCIS, Department of Homeland Security) have developed resources and standards to help educators.
Though multiple guides, online education resources, and other teaching materials are available, the evidence base and promise of these is not always apparent.
Is IES supporting research in this area?
In FY21, IES awarded a research grant, Content-Integrated Language Instruction for Adults with Technology Support (CILIA-T), to Dr. Aydin Durgunoglu (University of Minnesota). She and her team of researchers and educators are developing and pilot testing a curriculum that aims to strengthen English language proficiency, knowledge of U.S. history and civics, and digital literacy. This project, which is part of the CREATE Adult Skills Research Network, is the first field-initiated research project IES has funded for adult English learners or adult civics.
Why is integrating language and civics important?
A fundamental instructional practice in adult education is to link instruction to activities and goals highly relevant to the adult learner. For refugees, immigrants, and others new to the United States, becoming a citizen and being able to communicate with others are both highly relevant goals and both daunting tasks. By blending the two, these courses may help adults persist longer and gain knowledge in skills in multiple domains concurrently.
Dr. Durgunglu notes—
I don’t think conversational skills are enough for refugees or immigrants as they learn to navigate in their new communities. To be participatory citizens, they need “academic” English, especially about rights and responsibilities. To really belong to a community, individuals need to know their rights so that they are not exploited and know their responsibilities such as voting and participating in the community activities. Knowing how the system works help people contribute to different type of the decision-making processes, from selecting schoolbooks to selecting a president.
On a personal note, as a naturalized citizen who learned about U.S. history and civics and then took the citizenship exam, these topics really helped me understand the American psyche, such as the individualistic streak that goes back to the pioneers, why government’s role in social services is so controversial in this country, and why one state can be so different from another. Having experienced censorship and autocratic governments, I have a lot of respect for the principle of checks and balances and am aware how fragile democracy and individual rights can really be if not protected dearly.
Where can people learn more?
To learn more about CILIA-T, visit the ABE Teaching & Learning Advancement Systems article: Civics/History Curriculum: An Introduction to the CILIA-T Curriculum Project.
To learn more about the CREATE Adult Skills Research Network, please visit the network lead’s site.
For additional resources, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s LINCS website, which includes items about civics education, English language learners, and other topics relevant to adult education.
For additional information and resources about the citizenship test and courses, visit the USCIS Citizenship Resource Center.
Written by Meredith Larson (firstname.lastname@example.org), adult education research analyst and program officer for the CREATE Adult Skills Research Network.