The proposed intervention strategy is centered on improving English language proficiency within the Gulfton community. The premise behind this strategy is that improved language proficiency will facilitate better communication skills that will lead to (better) employment, improved knowledge around legal status and rights, better healthcare and other amenities, and improved outcomes relative to children’s education.
This is a multifaceted strategy that aims to reach out to multiple groups of residents. In laying out an intervention strategy it is highly important to determine up front how to articulate a plan, implementation, refinement, etc. This will be laid in greater detail in the ensuing sections. To be clear, the aim is ambitious. Statistics show that language acquisition is an intensive exercise that requires a range of tactics (defined in this document as short-term) and strategies (defined as long-term). Among the most agreed upon factors is age. In their classic study, The optimal age to learn a language, Asher and Garcia (1969) note that children are far better positioned to learn a second language. The earlier they start the better is the standard that is held among scholars of the linguistics community (Pierce, 1992). This, however, needs to be put in context. How the proposed intervention is articulated is central to its success. To mobilize adults to learn English requires a sense of purpose on behalf of the learners and methods to fuel motivation and to navigate language learning exhaustion (Gardner & Lambert, 1972; Oxford & Shearin, 1994). Most importantly is to recognize the level of fluency in the first language. Lack of literacy skills in the first language will pose problems in learning the second language if not identified early on. Assessing literacy skills in the first language is essential to the needs assessment.
The aim of this section is to move towards an intervention strategy. The purpose of outlining some of the literature on factors and obstacles to language learning is to impart the importance of a needs assessment and to anticipate potential obstacles, if not resistance to the proposed intervention on behalf of some of the residents of Gulfton.
According to Netting, Kettner, & McMurty (2007), there is an increasing consensus on how to design, implement, and refine a strategy. In applying some of their ideas, it is also important to realize the idiosyncratic nature of any intervention. The relief effort in Banda Aceh after the tsunami in 2004 was entirely different than the relief effort for Hurricane Katrina one year later. Albeit the current topic is not comparable in magnitude to these example, the point is contextual factors matter, and the needs of the Gulfton community should start with their input, and invitation to participate as prospective learners, but also as co-owners over the project.
The premise behind community input is to build consensus from an early stage. A study by Michie, et al (2005), demonstrated that this needs to be situated in behavioral change. In the context of Gulfton, the behavior to change is centered on learning English. Among 12 domains they identified from an intervention with healthcare workers relevant domains to this study were to focus on: beliefs about capabilities, beliefs about consequences (or potential), motivation and goals, emotion regulation, behavioral regulation. With this in mind, the needs assessment of the intervention strategy should be to ascertain concerns or interests around behavioral issues that are deeper than simply “a desire or need to learn English.” At the heart of this first aspect of the intervention strategy is to inform curriculum design and teaching strategies, for example, to safeguard against attrition. If the dropout rate in high schools is 8% (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011), then it should be expected that some of the potentially thousands of participants in the Gulton intervention strategy will also drop out of this proposed program. Minimizing this with prepared interventions upfront will be of tremendous benefit.
The biggest factor in the intervention strategy will be resources. This will include budgeting and personnel. Both are highly intertwined. In any intervention, the largest costs are often associated with human resources. Obtaining qualified and passionate people is essential, both as managers, and as instructors. Discerning fixed and variable costs is also integral to this portion of the intervention strategy. Fixed costs are to build the infrastructure. Variable costs will include staffing, resources, and other aspects such as repairs to infrastructure, utilities, etc. The variable costs will be largely dictated by enrolment.
The next import aspect to the intervention strategy is sustainability. If an intense amount of time and effort are imparted at the beginning of this intervention strategy, then there are also requirements to safeguard sustainability. This is essential, particularly after the honeymoon phase end, meaning enthusiasm and excitement of the intervention. Remember, behavior change is a central component to this intervention. Convincing residents of the Gulfton community that learning English is feasible and will pay off for them down the road will be a challenge. Conflicting with time to work, be with family, and rest, there is the added pressure to learn English without guarantees that this will pay dividends in future. So, how can sustainability be weaved into the intervention strategy?
According to Shediac-Rizkallah & Bone (1998), sustainability in intervention programs lacks consensus. Obviously maintenance of the program is central, yet they also point to the level of institutionalization of a program within the organization. The other indicators to consider are the extent of capacity building in the recipient community. With these factors established, the authors summarized the literature on healthcare interventions and found that there were three factors that contributed to sustainability in an intervention: design and implementation of the intervention strategy (or program), knowing and understanding factors within the organization, and factors within the broader community. Considering that the proposed intervention strategy is a new component to the community – it is not embedded in a particular organization, such as a school – this raises other challenges to the Gulfton intervention. Nevertheless, tying the needs assessment to developing sustainability practices within the intervention strategy will be key.
In introducing this intervention strategy, three aspects were identified: needs assessment, the allotment of resources and a sustainability model. Each is order in terms of recommendations of sequencing. The needs assessment will determine the strength of interest in the proposed language learning initiative and the extent to which the organizers of the intervention can rely on community involvement. With this established a proposed budget can be compiled. The sustainability model will be integral to budgeting as long-term financing and other resources will need to be determined.
In a definitional sense, tactics are described as short-term objectives. They are selected, tested, implemented, and refined, and so on. They are oriented as techniques and behaviors that function to meet incremental objectives. In their totality, they aim to contribute to the success and adoption of the long-term strategy. In this section, I propose the development of two groups of tactics: those related to the theory and practice of language learning, and those related to logistical aspects of planning, financing, sustainability, and so on. I will first identify important tactics related to language learning.
Bridging Theory and Practice
In applying the concept of tactics to the Gulfton community, the first tactic is to ascertain the behavior of the population. Some questions to pose are, What is your interest in learning English? What barriers do you see in the short term and the long-term to meeting the goal of becoming a speaker of English? Assuming the barriers identified are minimized, what do you think will change or improve for you if you become a speaker of English? Considering there are 53,000 residents in Gulfton, of which 82% are of Hispanic origin, there is a very real possibility that learning English is not a priority within this community. Day to day activities are met by speaking Spanish with neighbors, not to mention the prevalence of Spanish speakers in the larger Houston area. In line with understanding the behavior of the population, another tactic is to build trust. One or two meetings with the community or its leaders will do little to convince residents of Gulfton that the intentions for the language program are altruistic.
Trust takes time and therefor the organizers behind the intervention need to demonstrate understanding of the community and to know important figures within the community. It will be impossible to reach out to 53,000 residents (approximately, 80% are Spanish speaking and presumably the main target population). Making an impression on the right stakeholders will be central to building trust. The final tactic to identify in relation to the language learning program is to find and bring in role models. Individuals whose heritage language is Spanish, but are also fluent English speakers need to be identified and included as stakeholders in this intervention. Their roles will be multiple. An initial role with be to demonstrate that the residents of Gulfton can achieve fluency in English. Ideally these role models will act as sources of information, and to share strategies, and challenges they encountered in their own language learning. Without individuals who can adequately identify with the residents of Gulfton, it is likely that there will be problems of understanding and that the intervention, particularly its sustainability will be challenged. Convincing people to buy in to the program long-term is among the most important factors for consideration.
Tactics that relate to logistics include planning, financing and sustainability. In terms of planning, it is important to look at interventions that have aimed to accomplish similar goals to the proposed intervention at Gulfton. I describe this as a comparative tactic. Oddly there is few, if any, documentation on the type of intervention proposed in Gulfton. The literature includes successful intervention on raising AIDS and HIV awareness in Hispanic communities (Stallworth, J. et. al, 2009), health literacy (Soto, 2014), and weight loss intervention (Nangel, et al., 2013). Within the health-related interventions, success was found in providing all materials in Spanish, the development of capacity building assistance, and needs assessment, quality assurance and technical assistance. There are also innumerable studies that have been implemented for English language learning among Hispanic school children. There are less community based and therefore may be too de-contextualized for the proposed intervention program in Gulfton.
A more radical, if not contested tactic that is proposed is self-financing. Studies have shown that imparting ownership over an intervention strategy for recipients can augment long-term sustainability. The investment one makes acts as incentive for participation, use, etc. In regards to encouraging residents/prospective learners in the proposed English language program to pay for the services they are to receive is a fair request, or tactic. An amount would have to be set that is conducive to affordability but also enough that it can contribute to running the program(s) for the long-term.
In this section, several tactics were introduced. In relation to language learning, it is important to work collaboratively with the community to ensure needs are met and that there is a way to measure outcomes. This will aim to build trust, and involving role models – those who identify as Hispanic (and speak Spanish as a heritage language) to engage with residents in some manner to convince them of the merits of the proposed program. Tactics related to logistics should include looking to other intervention strategies that have proven successful in changing behavior in Hispanic communities. A pay-for-service tactic should also be considered with the creation of a fair price point.
Planning and Intervention
According to Netting, Kettner, & McMurty (2007), an intervention should include the following four components: establishing goals, determining objectives, identifying appropriate activities, and setting timelines, deadlines and responsibilities. In this section we will apply this framework to the intervention strategy for the Gulfton community.
The intervention strategy will focus on a four-level English language training curriculum open to residents of the Gulfton community. The primary focus of the intervention is listening and speaking, although some literacy aspects relative to writing and reading will be implemented. The introductory component of the program, or level one, will be on survival English, which serves as a means of teaching English relative to authentic experiences or contexts (Cathcart, 1989). This will include everyday phrases, survival questions, and pronunciation. Level two will focus on expanding vocabulary only. Level three will move towards simple conversations. Speaking up to two minutes without stopping will be emphasized as a benchmark. Level four will aim to demonstrate intermediate skills such as presenting an argument, or engaging in a conversation up to 10 minutes in duration. This final component will be the measure to assess students and will be conducted between student and instructor. Components to the final assessment will be based on use of vocabulary, subject-verb agreement, pronunciation, intonation and strength of arguments, opinions, etc.
With this cursory review of the four levels for the intervention program, the following goals are listed:
The objectives of the intervention are as follows:
- Run a course for 8 weeks
- Include day trips to shopping malls, the library and the community centre
- 8 weeks; each level runs for 2 weeks
- Consider a rolling enrolment thereby some levels will have sections that are staggered
- Community partners
- Local politicians
- Staff and instructors of the program
- Community leaders of Gulfton
- Residents of Gulfton
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Cathcart, R. L. (1989). Authentic discourse and the survival English curriculum. TESOL Quarterly, 23(1), 105-126.
Gardner, R. C., & Lambert, W. E. (1972). Attitudes and Motivation in Second-Language Learning. Chicago: Pearson.
Halperin, R. O. (2013). Weight-loss interventions for Hispanic populations: The role of culture. Journal of obesity, 2013.
Michie, S., Johnston, M., Abraham, C., Lawton, R., Parker, D., & Walker, A. (2005). Making psychological theory useful for implementing evidence based practice: a consensus approach. Quality and safety in health care, 14(1), 26-33.
National Center for Education Statistics (2011). The Condition of Education 2011. Retrieved from: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2011/2011033.pdf.
Netting, F. E, Kettner, P. M., McMurty, S. L. (2007). Selecting Appropriate Strategies and Tactics. In F. E. Netting, P. M. Kettner & S. L. McMurty, Social Work Macro Practice (4th Ed.). pp.404-445. New York: Pearson.
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Shediac-Rizkallah, M. C., & Bone, L. R. (1998). Planning for the sustainability of community-based health programs: conceptual frameworks and future directions for research, practice and policy. Health education research, 13(1), 87-108.
Soto, M., Cordova, C. M, Jacobson, H. E., Ronquillo, F. & Helitzer, D. (2014, Oct. 16). A Multisite Community-Based Health Literacy Intervention for Spanish Speakers. Journal of Community Health. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25319468.
Stallworth, J. M., Andia, J. F., Burgess, R., Alvarez, M. E. & Collins, C. (2009). AIDS Education and Prevention, 21, Supplement B, 152–163.