How the GSE helped Salem State University meet learner needs

Pearson Languages
a young man sat in a lecture hall with other students behind him

Salem State University is one of the largest and most diverse public teaching universities in Massachusetts. In total, it has about 8,700 students enrolled, 37% of whom are people of color. It also educates 221 international students from 59 different countries – with China, Albania, Brazil, Morocco, Nigeria and Japan among the most represented countries on campus.

The university runs an intensive English language program. Most students who enrol come from China, Brazil, Albania, Vietnam, and Japan. The program also has a number of part-time English language learners from the local community.

In 2016, Associate Director Shawn Wolfe and teachers at the American Language and Culture Institute did a review and found that areas for growth included establishing a universal documentation for identifying learner needs, goals and progress.

“The biggest challenge was that we needed to have a better way of placing students,” Wolfe says. “We also needed to have a way to have our curriculum, our assessment and our student learning outcomes unified.”

The team lacked programmatic data related to learning gains and outcomes. Additionally, they realized that assessments could be used to inform students about entry requirements at the university and other programs. And that’s where the Global Scale of English (GSE) came in, as a tool which enabled the staff at the American Language and Culture Institute to personalize and diversity their English teaching program to meet learner needs.

Cultural and linguistic diversity

David Silva PhD, the Provost and Academic Vice President, highlights the need for this type of personalization when it comes to education.

“We have to be prepared for an increasing variety of learners and learning contexts. This means we have to make our learning contexts real,” he says. “We have to think about application, and we have to think about how learners will take what they learn and apply it, both in terms of so-called book smarts, but also in terms of soft skills, because they’re so important.”

Silva makes the point that, as the world gets smaller and technology becomes a bigger part of our lives, we can be anywhere at any time, working with anyone from across the globe. “We need to be prepared,” he says, “for those cultural and linguistic differences that we’re going to face in our day-to-day jobs.”

The ability to change and adapt

So how does the curriculum at the American Language and Culture Institute help prepare students for the world of study and work?

At the Institute, the general review led to the realization that the program needed to be adaptive and flexible. This would provide a balance between general English and academic preparation and would also encompass English for specific purposes (ESP).

Wolfe says, “The GSE fit with what we were trying to do because it offers three different options; English for academic learners, English for professionals and English for adults, which is another area that we realized we needed to add to our evening program so that we can serve working adults that are English language learners in our community.”

The English language instructors at the Institute were also impressed with the capabilities of the GSE. Joni Hagigeorges, one of the instructors, found the GSE to be an excellent tool for tracking student progress.

“What I really like is that you can choose the skill – grammar, listening, speaking – and you’re given the can-do statements, the learning objectives that each student will need to progress to the next level,” she said.

Wolfe also commented on the GSE Teacher Toolkit and the way that it supports assessment and planning, allowing instructors to get ideas for specific learning objectives for groups or individual students. “It’s enabled us to personalize learning, and it’s changed the way that our teachers are planning their lessons, as well as the way that they are assessing the students.”

A curriculum that will meet learner needs

The GSE has allowed the team at the Institute to become more responsive to changing student expectations. The alignment of placement and progress tests to the GSE has allowed instructors to have more input into the courses they are teaching.

Elizabeth Cullen, an English language instructor at the Institute, said, “The GSE helps us assess the strengths and weaknesses of various textbooks. It has helped us develop a unified curriculum, and a unified assessment mechanism.”

This unification means that the curriculum can easily be tweaked or redesigned quickly to meet the needs of the students. What’s more, as Elizabeth points out, the students benefit too. “The Global Scale of English provides students with a road map showing them where they are now, where they want to go and how they’re going to get there.”

Standing out from the crowd

In this time of global hyper-competition, the challenge for any language program is finding innovative ways to stand out from the crowd while staying true to your identity. At Salem State, the staff found that the GSE was the perfect tool for the modern, data-driven approach to education, inspiring constant inquiry, discussion and innovation. It offers students, instructors and administrators a truly global metric to set and measure goals, and go beyond the ordinary.

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