UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

The investigation of generative themes in E.S.L. needs assessment Millard, Ellen Joanne


This thesis investigates the "generative theme" as the basis for adult ESL needs analysis and curriculum development. Generative themes consist of the relationship between an objective situation and the perceptions held of that situation by the people involved in it. They form the basis for program content in the pedagogical scheme of Brazilian adult literacy educator Paulo Freire. North American ESL practitioners, notably Nina Wallerstein, Deborah Barndt, and the Toronto ESL Core Group, have developed guidelines for ESL teachers to identify students themes and structure the content of lessons around them. However according to Freire, a full-scale interdisciplinary ethnographic study of the students' community is necessary in order to understand their themes. The primary purpose of this investigation was to determine whether an individual ESL teacher could come up with a thematic analysis that would fulfill Freire's criteria, through a participant-observation case study of an adult ESL class. The second purpose was to identify the themes of these particular students in order to gain some insights as to the relevance of generative themes for learning ESL. The students were four Punjabi-speaking immigrant women enrolled in a homefront volunteer tutor ESL program offered by the Candian Farmworkers Union. I taught the twice-weekly classes for five months, taped them and recorded observations, and then conducted a content-analysis of transcriptions of the tapes in order to identify and rank the topic areas of most and least interest to the students according to time spent discussing them. I then analyzed these topic areas qualitatively, according to whether or not they met Freire's criteria for generative themes. From this analysis several possible themes emerged. Students see their position in Canada as one of "strangers in a strange land. The "strangers" area represents all those aspects of the students' traditional culture which, while sources of affirmation and strength to them, are out of place and irrelevant in Candian society. The "strange land" is Canda and the system - including the English language, the medical and legal system, life in a big city - which is foreign, difficult, alienating and hostile. Bridging the gulf between these two, their main source of contact and therefore of tensions . between them, are the family and the language learning process. Curricular recommendations are that ESL content be focussed on family-related learning needs, and that the curriculum take the approach of affirming the cultural themes that are sources of strength and pride while attempting to lessen the ignorance and alienation which characterizes students' perceptions of Canadian society. Several observations are made regarding the feasibility of investigating generative themes for ESL. Some of the problems are logistical and can be addressed by changing the situation: a strategy to combine Freire's four-stage team approach with the parameters of the classroom setting is proposed. Others, such as the difficulty of conducting 'dialogue' in one-word phrases, and the conflict of roles and agenda between the teaching and research aspects of the investigation, are inherent in the attempt to apply Freire's pedagogy to ESL. This attempt is worthwhile and important, however, because this approach is one of the few that takes into account learners' social context in the organization of curriculum, and that acknowledges the relationship between language learning and power in their lives.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.