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Community-Based Language Learning

Community-Based Language Learning

Literacy Network and Goodman South Madison Library Team Up to Help English-Language Learners
Literacy Network Community English Class at Goodman South Madison

Student-Led and Flexible

Goodman South Madison Library has been working with and supporting the Literacy Network for nearly 10 years to help improve language learning in the Madison community. Literacy Network teaches reading, writing, communication, and computer skills to Dane County adults so they can achieve financial security, well-being, and deeper engagement with their families and the community. One class offered by the Literacy Network is called Community English and takes place three times per year as a  hybrid virtual and in-person program. The goal of the class is to help students reach their language-learning goals by teaching conversational English for different skill levels that allows students to interact more easily with others in their community, as well as access resources at the library and beyond.

“One reason that I love this program is because students tell US what is important to them when it comes to learning English and communicating in English in their everyday life,” said Bex Fabrizio, Director of ESL Instruction at Literacy Network. “It’s very student-centered – we use English to make their dreams a reality.”

Literacy Network Class Community English with Farrah

Much More than Books

Bex has seen so many students come through the class over the years and their goals range from family-centered aspirations like being able to attend and navigate a parent-teacher conference to work or job-related goals around applying for jobs or school. Accessing community resources is another frequent need from students who are attending the class, and the library is happy to help share and provide many of those resources.

“A lot of people don’t know that the library has so much more than books. We always make that one of our learning objectives for the class and everyone is always excited by all the things the library offers -  it’s new information to a lot of them,” said Fabrizio.

In addition to providing space for the in-person sessions of the Community English class, a librarian from Goodman South Madison Library takes over one class during the semester to share library resources and help people who are learning English navigate the library - from checking out a book to using a language-learning database with their library card. In 2021, Goodman South Madison's Community Engagement Librarian Farrah McDaniel has been leading the class:

"I have had the pleasure of leading several library presentations where I introduced library services to these new users. I also covered vocabulary words and conversations pertaining to the library, and led an interactive library scavenger hunt during the November Community English class. It has been a true joy getting to know the instructors and students and interacting with individuals who are eager to learn and grow."

How It Started...

The Community English class has grown and changed since its inception in 2012, according to Fabrizio. The original format was to hold a Community English class just once per year and that class took place in-person at Goodman South Madison Library with a big variety in skill levels for the students. This way of providing the class continued for many years until Fabrizio found data that suggested they could produce better outcomes for learners if they offered more than just one semester per year. In 2018, the class began to be offered twice a year and it is currently available three times each year.

“That is one thing I attribute to the growth we’ve seen lately in terms of retention, outcomes for learners, etc. because it’s more consistent. They have lofty goals and it’s hard to make progress in just a single semester,” said Fabrizio. “Earlier in the partnership, students would do one semester and that would be it. Research shows that it takes 1,000 hours of study to move up one level in English, so we discovered that one semester is really not enough regardless of where you start.”

Literacy Network Students Share Their Experience

Adult Learners' Literacy Journey - Building Confidence and Pursuing Dreams


2017-2021 Community English Attendance at Goodman South Madison Library

...How It's Going

The Literacy Network made additional changes that started out as necessity from the pandemic, but soon became their standard practice. For instance, pre-pandemic, the class was multi-level, but Literacy Network determined it would be too difficult to offer high-level instruction via Zoom to students starting out at different skill levels. In 2021, it has become common practice for them to offer a beginner and intermediate class for each semester. The classes are also longer now, moving from one hour per week up to 90 minutes. These changes have resulted in some great outcomes - in 2021, six times more people participated for multiple semesters than in 2020.

Madison Public Library supports the class by providing $1,000/semester to help cover the cost of books, which allows Literacy Network to offer them for free to their students. The $3,000 per year given by the library also helps to fund experienced English Second Language (ESL) teachers for each level of the class. In addition to funds and space, the library also helps market the class, which has continued to grow in popularity over the past five years. In 2017, total enrollment for the year was at 12 students (for one semester), while that number has grown to 75 students this year.

“We’ve loved seeing the way in which our recruitment has evolved with the Library providing marketing support. We’ve gone from having a physical paper flyer at the library to using so many modes to recruit learners,” said Fabrizio. “This past semester we had something like 6 referrals through the Library’s Instagram - before we had zero! The marketing is working and we’re reaching different people.”

Fabrizio says the new marketing has resulted in a perfect combination of 50-60% of their students being returning students, while the other half are new. “That creates a really nice classroom environment, since half of them are already comfortable with each other and the teacher and they welcome new people into that environment.”

Literacy Network Community English Class at Goodman South Madison Library

Keeping Community at the Heart

The environment at Goodman South Madison Library is an important piece of the partnership, as well, and it has been from the beginning for Literacy Network. The organization is deeply centered in community.

“It’s a pillar of our mission to support learners in engaging with their community in a way that is engaging to them and the library has always been a really important part of that community,” said Fabrizio. “It’s a place that naturally fosters literacy skills in a way that is accessible to everyone, including our target population given that so many resources are free. Really it’s like the other side of the literacy coin – our teaching method is one that is based in ‘real world’, everyday kinds of conversation. They can apply that everyday conversation that we’re teaching them as soon as they leave the classroom - the library is such a great fit for that!”

The Community English class runs for eight weeks during the Spring, Summer and Fall. Registration for the next class will be announced online here.

Additional Language Resources from the Library

  • World Languages CollectionTransparent Language: A language learning database accessible via Library Card with over 100 languages to choose from, including English for speakers of over 26 languages.
  • Madison Writing Assistance: Free, one-to-one writing support for community members at library branches throughout the city provided by experienced instructors from UW-Madison’s Writing Center.
  • World Language Collection: All Madison Public Library locations, with the exception of the Monroe Street Library, have growing collections of fiction and nonfiction in Spanish for adults and children, including books originally in Spanish by Latin American and Spanish authors and translations of popular English works.
  • Spanish Art of the Picture Book Collection: A collection of picture books written and illustrated by native Spanish speakers that is available for checkout from any Madison Public Library location, including the Dream Bus.
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