Sunday, April 15, 2018

An Open Letter to IRCC

Just now an interesting comment came in on the post I wrote two weeks ago, Dave Has an Idea.
I hereby invite every reader and visitor to this blog to leave his or her response to this comment in the comments below THIS, today's post.

Here is my own personal response. I represent nobody but myself in saying what follows.

First of all, who am I speaking to? The IRCC people or person reading this blog knows my name and face, where I work and my every thought and feeling on this subject going back at least two years. Could I please know your name(s) and see your face(s)? We would very much like some transparency around this pan-Canadian mandate.

ONE: My first request is to have the entire misstep retracted. Please watch professor Norm Friesen's video, listen to Yuliya Desyatova's findings, compare this project with the Belgian roll-out of task-based learning, and do some investigating into how a broad imposition of AfL models have worked out (or not) in the UK.

TWO: If you are not willing to entertain recalling this edict, then I beg of you: at least put a moratorium on making it a requirement for SPOs' funding and teachers' employment until such a time that all supports, resources and materials are in place. By making PBLA optional, those few teachers I've encountered who actually like doing it can fill their boots. Those of us who were more effective as teachers before being hobbled by this paint-by-numbers formula can go back to what we were doing before.

THREE: Apologize for the damage already done. Seriously. An apology would go a very long way toward reuniting us as one big team so that we can go forward together once more. Apologize not only for the hours we have donated shoring up a half-baked initiative, but also for the way employers contracted by you and under directions from you have, in not just a few locations, weaponized PBLA and abused employees. You must not only apologize but also take steps to put an immediate stop to all the ways that misinterpretation of the guidelines is resulting in miserable work conditions, divisiveness among team members, and violation of labour standards.

FOUR: Replace the train-the-trainer model. If you want to know what works better, talk to Yuliya Desyatova. She has studied the Belgian model in great depth.

FIVE: Forget about those bulky, heavy two-inch binders. They are a complete waste of taxpayer money, especially the Language Companion. If you must issue binders for portfolios, give our students one-inch binders with the portfolio dividers only. If you must continue to publish the Language Companion, bind it separately. But really? Ditch it. That money could be so much better spent.

Okay, dear readers, I hand it over to you. If someone with any power at IRCC really is reading this, what do you want them to do? Can you encapsulate it in five points? Please give yourself a nickname so that we don't end up with twenty people all named anonymous. How about the way Google handles it? Anonymous Aardvark, Anonymous Marmot, ...

Have a good Sunday. I won't be here next weekend and have decided to leave this post at the top for two weeks.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Sky is the Limit with Google Drawing

Ever since I made the astoundingly wise decision to join Tony Vincent's online course "Classy Graphics with Google Drawing," I have all but abandoned the Microsoft Office suite for creation of classroom materials. Learning how to use Google Draw also opened the door for me to investigate Google Docs, Google Forms, and Google Slides. I love the fact that I no longer need to worry about saving work done at home to a flash drive that I carry to work since everything I create in the Google suite is saved in the cloud. Sorry if the way I talk about this magic gives me away as someone who did not grow up with the terminology. Is that even how digital natives say it? Saved in the cloud? Whatever! I am happy to be a digital transplant, non-native accent be damned.

A couple of weeks ago, I was standing at the copy machine, my hands outstretched as I eagerly collected a print job before heading off to class. "I made that," I bragged to a colleague who was next in the queue for the copier. She indicated that she would like for me to show her how to do it.  You don't have to ask me twice to show you how to do something; teaching is my passion.

And so about a week later I had six or seven colleagues from three different departments gathered in our computer lab after hours to get the quick and dirty introduction to Google Drawing. Since I cannot possibly teach all the concepts and applications of this great tool in an hour (nor do the sort of job Tony does in breaking it down and making it fun), I passed out flyers inviting those who wished to go further to Tony's only offering of Classy Graphics to take place in 2018. The deadline for joining is April 9th, 2018. Although the first class was this past Tuesday, that is not a big deal since all instruction is recorded and posted for viewing at each student's leisure. A lot of peer support takes place via Flipgrid among fellow educators located around the world. Homework assignments are always optional. It is very cool.

Anyway, everyone was pretty excited to receive an introduction to the platform. In just an hour of playing around, these coworkers of mine were already starting to get the hang of the various tools.

I had pinned to a bulletin board in the class a sampling of worksheets, graphic organizers, and posters I've made using Google Drawing as well as some magazine advertisements that could easily be reproduced using nothing but Google Drawing and an attractive photo. We analyzed how some of these were created.

I continue to be fascinated by graphic design and constantly view every bit of visual marketing in my environment with the question, "How did they do that? Could I do that?" With the exception of text that curves around a circle or semi-circle, I find there is just about nothing I cannot reproduce.

While flipping through a free magazine picked up this morning at a health food store, I spotted a lovely layout that I wanted to try to replicate just for the fun of it...just to see if I could. Here is my mock-up.

This took me about 20 minutes, including obsessively searching for the perfect fonts and similar photo of a rosemary plant. Not bad for free software, eh?

The thing I like most about Google docs, slides and drawings compared with Microsoft Word is that elements stay where I put them. With Word, I find myself very often frustrated and wasting time fighting the software to get it to do exactly what I want it to do and then not mess up what I had arranged when I go to add something else to the mix. The columns of words in my word bank below the bingo grid need to stay put and not bleed over onto the next page every time I sneeze. Why must I turn on REVEAL CODES to find out where the 3-column formatting ends? I should not have to first insert a table before using images just to ensure images will not get a life of their own and fly away to another part of the page when my back is turned. It's not like I don't know my way around the FORMAT IMAGE menus. I've been enrolling in MS Office suite workshops since the late 1990s. When I tick "different first page" in Headers and Footers, it should be intuitive and not make me guess whether the first page or every page thereafter is now going to keep the header I just created. Things like that drive me batty. Teaching is hard enough without having to duke it out with materials creation tools. These are some of the reasons I am abandoning Microsoft and embracing the Google suite of tools.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Dave Has an Idea

I hope everyone had a nice relaxing long weekend. This is one week late and still not what I had envisioned, but I hope it helps.

Part 1 - Dave has an idea.

Part 2 - The idea (click link to watch)

We Have a Winner

This is not my main post for this week. That I hope to have up by the end of today, Easter Monday, which I am spending at home.

Meanwhile, congratulations to the winner of the $100 draw.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Walking the Walk

I am sitting here at the close of a glorious weekend watching the pale blue sky turn cotton-candy pink at the horizon that peeps from behind the naked maple, walnut, and poplar trees on the far bank. I am fortunate enough to be able to sit on my living room sofa with rippling water within view. It calms me.

Because my partner and I both work hard during the week, we try always to guard our weekend together time. It's not an easy thing for me to stop thinking about projects and deadlines in order to be with him in a mindful way. It takes discipline and a certain amount of self-talk using that inner parent voice.

Were I not in a relationship, I could easily spend my entire weekend alone--ping-ponging from chore to chore, absentmindedly picking up where an earlier job was left off, then remembering the one I'd abandoned to do that one. John Sivell says I have a Type A personality--unable to sit still, always nursing several projects. I did not believe him until last summer's major abdominal surgery forced me to lie still for large portions of each day. Now I notice that about myself.

The good news is that in the past week or two a previous brain fog--probably resulting from hormonal extremes--has lifted. Suddenly ideas are popping into my head at all hours. Do I have too many irons in the fire? Let's see...

The Classy Graphics course with Tony Vincent came to an end this past Tuesday. Wow, that was a steep learning curve! I have a ring light and green screen en route to my house this week. I don't know if I'll ever be good at making videos, but I will give it the old college try.

I promised myself that no matter what else came up this weekend, I would spend at least two hours on my slides and script for my two upcoming presentations, one for ATESL and another for the TESL London spring conference. I'm pleased to say that ideas for how to better communicate the concepts are surfacing in my mind like bubbles from the murky bottom of a lake. The ideas came fast and furiously this morning before I had even thrown back the covers. I had to spring from the bed in search of a pen and a ripped open, discarded envelope in partner's mail pile. (Stacks of opened and unopened mail are guests of honour in his apartment; they get their own chair.) I'm feeling good about this iteration of the old Back to the Well workshop. It is evolving and is about to undergo a growth spurt, I think.

Then there's my Sunday blog post. Right up until about 2:00 p.m. today I had thought I would be posting a video for you tonight. At some point, though, I realized I had to make some choices; I couldn't have it all. I could make the video and do the subject justice. I might or might not finish it before bedtime, but in either case I would have to postpone grocery shopping until Monday. I could do the grocery shopping (a non-negotiable if I'm going to eat in a healthy way all week) and give the video a lick and a promise. Or I could take good care of myself, accept the fact that the video would be late, and post something else here tonight instead.

By now you know which path I chose.

Once I had taken a deep breath and accepted the fact that I wasn't going to make this self-imposed (and promised to others) deadline, I relaxed and took my time with the week's worth of groceries. A couple of items I had to go get myself, the rest of it I allowed the Click and Collect staff to get ready for me to drive through and have deposited into my waiting trunk. Gosh, I like that service. Discovered it when participation in the Fast Metabolism Diet had me completely overwhelmed with continual meal prep. But I digress. Let's digress some more. For the couple of items St. Clair Beach Zehrs did not have, I popped into my local Zehrs and felt the universe tugging me toward Value Village. I don't usually scan the book section but thought I'd look over the diet and cookbooks. My eyes landed on a nearly new copy of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Stahl and Goldstein. The CD was still attached to the inside back cover. I nabbed it.

Before sitting down to eat my dinner, I took a peek inside my new book. I thought these words from the foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn were worth sharing with you tonight: "Mindfulness involves an elemental and spontaneous openness to experience, grounded in the body, in the timeless, in not expecting anything to happen, a befriending and inhabiting of this present moment for its own sake."

Deep breath. The video will be late.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Joy of ESL's 2nd (not quite annual) Prize Draw!

Hey, everyone!

If you look at the area just under my blog banner, you can see that after four years of blogging, I'm just now branching out onto a few more social media platforms. I don't really know what I'm doing, but discovering together is fun, isn't it?

I now have a YouTube channel and a Facebook page in addition to the website, blog, Twitter account and Instagram account I already had. Oh, and there's the monthly newsletter round-up of what I wrote about, linked to, or gave away on the blog or on Twitter during the month prior.

The picture below is from the new FB page.

This is my YouTube channel. Some of the videos there simply fulfil homework assignments for my Classy Videos online course.

In order to encourage folks to subscribe or follow, I'm holding a draw for a $100 CAD gift card to Chapters Indigo or Amazon, winner's choice. For each of the following actions that you carry out and report back here in the comments during March, I will put your name one time in the hat.
  • subscribe to my newsletter (for those who are already subscribed, get a friend to subscribe)
  • start following me on Instagram
  • subscribe to my YouTube channel
  • like my Facebook page and leave a comment that responds to the top post (a question)
  • find and report a broken link, typo, spelling error or grammatical error on my blog or website
So if you do three of these things and report back, that's three chances to win. I'll use an online tool such as WheelDecide to choose the winner at the end of March. I might even figure out how to spin the wheel on Facebook live!

Good luck and thanks for playing along. Happy spring (soon, very soon)!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

My (Current) Perspective on the Experiment

Okay! The results of my blog reader need assessment revealed that updates from the you-know-what battlefield are the most popular topic. Your wish is my command.
Once again, opinions expressed here are mine alone and do not in any way represent those of my employer.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Growth Spurt

Looking over my posts from February in order to prepare the end-of-month summary newsletter, I noticed that I have not been creating very much. There was only one freebie that month. NB: If you subscribe to the newsletter, you know about all the freebies, even ones I only announce on Twitter but do not blog about. One week in February, I listened instead of talking.

You might think this lull means that things are slowing down here at Joy of ESL, but actually this is just the fallow time before the growing season. I am currently taking another of Tony Vincent's online classes, and this one is a doozy. The course is called Classy Videos. I am hoping to learn how to create good videos--both for ESL students and for my fellow teachers. Last week's assignment was to practice good narration. Here is what I created for that.

The assignment for this week is to create a tutorial video. The intended audience is YOU. I hope I can realize my vision and that it proves valuable to someone somewhere. Stay tuned for the addition of a Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Because the course is cognitively taxing and time-consuming, you can expect things to remain a bit low-key here on the blog for a few more weeks.

Here are the results of the survey so far:

What do readers value most in an activity pack?
  1. Lots of images
  2. Picture-word matching activity
  3. Spelling activity
  4. Cloze or gap-fill
  5. Sentence unscramble
  6. Peer survey or dialogue (zero votes)
Which types of blog posts do readers find most engaging?
  1. Updates from the PBLA battlefield
  2. Links to others' ideas
  3. Personal stories
  4. Classroom techniques
  5. Announcements of freebies
Finally, I looked at reasons why someone might not subscribe to the newsletter. One reader said s/he reads the blog weekly and therefore does not need a summary. I should mention that some links to others' tools / ideas and some freebies do not get mentioned on the blog. However, if you are on Twitter, you will probably catch them there. Once I get the Facebook page up and running, everything will be there, too.

What are you up to these days? Is spring finally arriving in your neck of the woods?

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Talk to Me

Instead of talking to you this week, I'd like you to talk to me. How can I--with my website of free materials and my weekly blog posts--better meet your needs? I hope you will take a moment to answer six questions for me.

Click HERE to take the six-question survey.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Self-Care Update

Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you are shaken awake and motivated to make a U-turn on a path that is not helpful or healthful. That might be what happened to me. You see, I snapped. At work.

I behaved in a way I had never before behaved in a work setting. In fact, I cannot even remember a time outside of a place of employment when I have come so unglued. I was feeling utterly frustrated, completely powerless to effect change in the ways that are essential for me and my team to be happy and healthy.

It's not as if I didn't see it coming. I had felt myself on the verge of losing it on a few earlier occasions. I did not want to come undone in front of students, did not want to end up taking my frustrations out on an unsuspecting client. The last thing these vulnerable people need is to be on the receiving end of an explosion by the very person assigned to help them. I knew I could not let that happen, and so I had sought professional help. It had fallen through, but the meltdown motivated me to try again.

About that same time, I was feeling a need to shed two winters' worth of pudge before an upcoming conference at which I'm presenting. I recalled John Sivell's having recommended a diet that worked for him. I emailed him to get the name of it and within days had two of Haylie Pomroy's books in my possession: The Fast Metabolism Diet and the companion cookbook.

The first couple of days were hellish. I suppose the killer headache and brain fog were related to detox. The regimen is a 28-day commitment to say no to alcohol, wheat, dairy, soy, refined sugar and chemical additives while saying yes to mostly organic, home-cooked, clean and healthy whole foods eaten at specific intervals in cycles (three phases) in order to reboot the metabolism.

I don't "do" diets very often--perhaps one every seven or eight years, in fact. But when I do one, I do it all the way. I read the book with highlighters and coloured sticky flags at hand. I took all the forbidden foods out of my pantry and stashed them in large shopping bags behind a door in a room I don't enter often. There was a practical side to this: I had to make room for a tonne of new-to-me ingredients! I went shopping for the coconut aminos, coconut vinegar, fresh (and frozen) foods I would need to do this right.

When I embarked on the diet, it was for weight loss. Little did I know that I would end up loving it for an entirely different reason: for how it makes me feel. Mind you, I already was a pretty healthy eater. I was already avoiding refined sugar and did not eat fast food or junk food. But now? I'm discovering a Kelly I did not know existed.

Now I get sleepy earlier than before and rise earlier without an alarm clock feeling rested and refreshed. I become mentally alert very soon after waking in spite of not having ingested anything caffeinated--not even my beloved dark chocolate!

Right about the time I started the diet and working with a counsellor with some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) tools, I also saw a post in Global Innovative Language Teachers (FB group) about another FB group called Seriously Happy Educators' Forum. When I saw that the owner of the group, Kerry Garnier, holds a live tapping session every Thursday, I joined right away. Emotional Freedom Technique has been of enormous help to me in the distant past. I welcomed back into my life this method of getting psychically unstuck.

With these three new tools, I started to see changes in myself as an employee, colleague and teacher. Coworkers say I'm more chipper.

Students have also benefited from the transformation. I had an incident where a student went into my things on my desk without asking and proceeded to knock over my water, getting the day's worksheets wet. Whereas before I might have felt myself becoming upset and would then have had to mask or get control of that emotion, this time I was able to turn back to writing on the board while letting natural consequences take care of things. The students get wet worksheets. Whoopdie doo! It's not the end of the world. I was calm when I said, "Next time you want to borrow something off my desk, just ask."

And one day this past week I did something unheard of: I played ping-pong with students and teachers in the gym during my lunch break.

How about you? Have you taken any steps recently to improve your self-care habits? Are they working? If not, what is standing in your way? If so, please share what is working.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Grammar Gal

My friend Lucy taught me the saying, "A change is as good as a rest." This week is proving to me the truth of that expression.

Two weeks ago the makeup of my morning (seniors) class changed rather dramatically. This change couldn't have come at a better time. I was feeling stagnated with that group, as I've had some of the same students for three years. I do my best to mix it up, but the truth is that we've been together so long that in some ways it doesn't feel healthy. They push their luck with me, and I sometimes feel that they receive my rockstar lessons and my mediocre lessons with equal satisfaction.  Being pushed to do my best feels good. I don't feel good about myself when I am lazy in my prep. I've felt like taking a break from it, like asking another teacher to trade classes with me for a term.

Then along came three students who are accustomed to a very different sort of class: one with more structure and discipline, for one thing. Since their first week with me was during our needs assessment, I got a lot of requests that I haven't had in a long time. They want me to teach them the English articles system. C-V linking. Gerunds.

These requests have put some fresh wind in my sails. For one thing, I MISS teaching grammar. I've studied ten languages as diverse as Japanese and Latin, German and ASL, and minored in linguistics.  Teaching grammar makes me happy because I get comments from the learners like, "Nobody ever explained it like that before. I get it now."

So this week was devoted to gerunds. I used a combination of the Azar blue book and materials I'd made in the past. The week went something like this:
  • Warm up by talking about our hobbies
  • Pull up city's Activity Guide, go over some of the classes offered (swimming, dancing, etc.)
  • Small group discussion about these activities
  • Grammar lesson on the white board with students practicing orally
  • Gerund as Subject lesson (worksheet on website)
  • Azar blue book - sentences 1 through 16, but not the table of preposition combinations
  • Take up first half of homework (class time was provided)
  • Now the big reveal: provide the table of verbs and the prepositions with which they colligate
  • Oral practice
  • Hand out page with the rest of the gapped sentences, 17 through 25
  • Take up.
  • Chat using gerunds with question prompts for A/B pairs (change partners every 6 min and repeat)
  • Gerunds and prepositions board game

That's it. That was the week. All the materials mentioned above, with the exception of the Azar grammar pages, are available for free download from my website under FREE - GRAMMAR.

I sure had fun digging into long-forgotten folders on my flash drive. I feel alive again. A change really is as good as a rest.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

One Week, One Handout (almost)

Anyone who knows me probably knows I have a keen interest in methods such as Dogme and other materials-light approaches. You might also know that I recently joined a Facebook group called Global Innovative Language Teachers, led by Dr. Gianfranco Conti. Well, the other day a member of the group posted a comment in which she expressed appreciation for a graphic organizer she had gotten from one of Dr. Conti's books and which had proven very useful for her language class. Others seemed interested, so (with his permission) I recreated it in Google Drawing--first in A4 for all the European teachers in the group, and then in 8.5" by 11" for those of us in the U.S. and Canada.

You can find it on the FREE - BLANK TEMPLATES page of my website. If you have a Google account, you can click the name of the worksheet to be taken to the master, copy it over to your own Google Drive, and edit for your purposes. If you like it as is, just click the image to download the PDF.

Anyway! I showed it to my morning (seniors) class and they were keen to take it for a test drive. I introduced the form this week, but didn't introduce it on Monday. First we talked about our recent student-teacher conferences that ended our fall/winter term on January 26th. Many people told me that seniors cannot learn the same way young people can. They want even MORE reviewing than I have been giving them. (I admit that over time, I tend to drift away from some good practices and have to be reminded.) They said that as seniors, they learn three new words Monday and forget two on Tuesday.

So I decided it was time for a trip back to our easel chart--where each page full of topical lexical items represents one module we've covered in the past. I flipped back to the very beginning of the pad of paper and asked the first student to choose one useful word* from the sheet. I asked a new student who was brand new to our class and whose English is more developed than most in the room, to be my secretary--writing each word on the white board as I flipped pages. She was great--a good speller with lovely large handwriting.

I flipped to the second page and had the student next to the first one choose a word. Thus we took turns and ended up with about 20 previously studied words on the white board.

"Now take out a piece of paper. You can do this with a partner or on your own, as you wish. I want you to write a short story and incorporate as many of these unrelated words as you can." As usual, I advised Ss with lower writing benchmarks to try to incorporate 4-5 words, while higher level writers could try to incorporate almost all of them. And then I sat down with my tablet and pen to work on the same task while they did it.

We ended up with some really wonderful stories, and I was amazed at my students' creativity. (They have asked me to focus on L/S, so I rarely get to find out if they are creative writers; some really are!) I came around to check papers and point out errors that needed correcting before they shared their stories aloud.

In a subsequent lesson that week, I introduced the Connectigram. I filled in one as an exemplar and projected it. After talking about the whys and wherefores of my use of these connectors, the students took turns trying to put together their sentences. Students discovered that "while" and "since" both have temporal connotations as well as definitions that refer to to causal or logical relationships.

Remembering Conti's admonition to provide students not only with practice on focused processing but also with thorough processing, and recalling that he considered "odd man out" activities to be helpful with this, I created a multiple choice worksheet to complement the Connectigram.

By this time we were at the end of Thursday, as we did some work on our beginning-of-term needs assessment along the way. Friday morning we took up the answers to the quiz, and debated the answers until everyone was satisfied. I then asked the students to take out their stories from earlier in the week and select a few sentences or passages to re-write using their new connector words. This was the point at which I really got to see who understood and who did not. One student had even used "whereas" in place of the temporal "while." See? This is why we have to go Back to the Well. They cannot finish the trial-and-error process without time to test out hypotheses and have them checked.

We finished by watching the three-minute film from the National Film Board's Canada Vignettes, The Log Driver's Waltz. We ran out of time, but Monday we will try to talk about the plot of the little film using some of our new words. Can you say something about the plot using "nevertheless?"

I ended the week feeling very good about how the class had gone. We had successfully (I hope) integrated two new and very different types of students into a class whose chemistry had been cemented for months if not years. We now have equal numbers of Mandarin speakers and students who speak another language, meaning I can now give my Mandarin speakers a partner every week with whom they cannot fall back on their L1 to communicate. The best part was that my prep was minimal. I hope you can make use of these resources--the way I created them or customized.

*I use the term word to mean unit of meaning, whether it be an idiom, phrasal verb or other lexical chunk.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Live Worksheets, a Cool New Tool

Thank you, Christine, for telling us about I cannot believe how quick and easy it was for me to open an account and create my first worksheet, then try it as a student. Wow.

Victor Gayol is the creator and site administrator. Thank you, Victor! Why didn't anyone think of this method of automating worksheets before? You can upload any worksheet (please don't violate copyright laws) and then drag text entry boxes on top of the worksheet in order to allow your students to enter the answers online. You--the teacher--enter the correct answers when you create the text boxes, which allows the software to give students instant feedback, turning correct answers green and wrong ones red. Your students will even get their total score circled in red in the upper lefthand corner of the worksheet.

It's this easy.

I can't wait to use this new tool with my literacy learners soon. It will provide students with a chance to review a worksheet we did during the week, perhaps one they did not do well on the first time.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Claudie Graner on Using Humour in the Adult ESL Classroom

As part of better self-care in 2018, I spent time today sewing and invited my friend and fellow ESL instructor with over 17 years' experience teaching English (who also got her OCELT from CCLCS, we discovered after we met) if she would be my guest blogger this week. She agreed. Hers is a perspective usually missing from this blog: that of the teacher of upper levels. Take it away, Claudie!


I eat, sleep, drink, live and love with humour - never leave home without it. So, of course I teach with humour.

A. In my Adult ESL/LINC classroom I use my own shortcomings (I am short)  to laugh at myself, to set an example for the students, and to minimise the "distance" between teacher and student that they often come with. My goal is to create a very relaxed, friendly atmosphere in the class.  I get feedback like: "She's strict", "She pushes me/us",  but it is tempered with: "I like this class is friendly", "She's fun." I am a notorious ham - and I also like to draw on the board - often with unexpected results. The Olympic torch  "See?" "A carrot?" comes back. Laughter when I show them the real thing.

B. I use movies (including comedies) and sitcoms to introduce the students to popular movies so they will start to understand the references and build up cultural capital.  Sure, it is also for comic relief, but I am very aware that what is considered "funny" in one culture may not be "funny" at all in another.  In the classroom we can discuss why Mr. Bean is sidesplittingly funny to some but not to others, (and that includes to native born Canadians.) By the way, most students love the "Merry Christmas, Mr Bean" episode.

When I show a movie or a video it is always connected somehow to a theme or topic that we are discussing in class:
Family Roles and Responsibilities: Mrs. Doubtfire or "Baggage"  episode from Everyone Loves Raymond;
Culture clash: My Big Fat Greek Wedding or (again) Everyone Loves Raymond "Fish or Fowl";
Gender issues: Bend it like Beckham (shown again during the World Cup!!)

It just occurred to me that most of the movies I show over and over again are comedies.

Sometimes I can show a whole movie at one sitting, maybe on a Friday afternoon. However, I always make sure that the students know that they will be expected to follow the movie/episode and answer the questions that are on the worksheet. Sometimes I will show the movie over a few days: “What do you think happens next?"

I don't usually pre-teach a lot of vocabulary for movies, but I usually give them a list of the main characters.  Then as the story unfolds I stop at predetermined points, and the students "work" on the worksheets, or we discuss the scenes and the relationships together. I often give a synopsis so the students get an idea of what is happening. The worksheets check for understanding. I can teach in the moment if it is necessary.


While I preview the movie, I write down words and expressions and a short summary of the scenes.
Then I create the worksheets…..
Here's the moment when I give a shout out to where I "learned" to do this.

C . I use "funny" clips from Youtube.  Preparing lessons with movies is a lot of work, so I find I am using YouTube clips more frequently now — a lot of them with humour so as to engage the students, e.g. a compilation of award winning ads, and I used the "Canadian Fridge" ad before Canada Day. Again: preview, write down vocab, issues, create a worksheet.

I used Anita Renfroe's "The Mom song" (YouTube) for Mother's Day and had the class in stitches.
For this I used a simple fill in the blanks (cloze exercise) of the lyrics. Then we sang the song together with the clip.  Great satisfaction when some students told me they had shared the video with their

TEDTalks has a filter "funny”; that's how I found "The Magic Washing Machine"! (Which I have used for International Women's day and World Water Day)

D,  I teach "knock knock" jokes as part of a pronunciation lesson, however sometimes it is hard for students to see the humour in the double entendres.  Reading headlines and understanding headline  vocabulary is often difficult because of the punning. Sometimes the students get it, sometimes not. When they do - smiles and giggles. (Vocabulary in Use, Upper Intermediate, has a good unit on Headline English.)

E.  I collect and post comics and cartoons (e,.g. to illustrate Small Talk/"Ice Breaker".  Guy standing on the deck of a real icebreaker: "What's a nice girl like you doing on a boat like this?"
Also political cartoons when an election is taking place!

Soooo....Lots of ways to introduce humour into the classroom without losing control and decorum.
(Oh, okay, okay, so I lose a little control and decorum for a while - laughter is the best medicine.)

I think I have to end with this.  Some of the most hilarious moments in the class have come from the students making jokes and/or laughing at their own mistakes, or REALLY hamming it up in role plays.

It is always about laughing with each other and not at each other.  The laughter brightens my heart and lightens my day, and I hope it does for the students as well.

Claudie and I leave you with this note: January 24 is Global Belly Laughing Day. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

One Door Closes

My friend and mentor, Dr. John Sivell, who prefers to be addressed simply as John, has decided it's time for him to shift his attention and energies to new projects and endeavours. It's a sad time for him, for his students, and for all of us who looked forward to hearing from him at conferences. 

With his enormous intellect and huge heart, he has given so much to our profession, to teachers in training, to former students, and to me. This last one was something I could only have dreamed of without ever expecting it to happen. I was not even one of his students at Brock, yet he suggested that we co-present at the annual TESL Ontario conference. I was nervous and doubtful, freaking out over every detail while he calmly finished his lunch just minutes before we were to go on.

All of John's emails bear a signature quote at the bottom: The highest good is like water... - Tao Te Ching: 8. I never asked him about it because I instantly understood. I saw that he lived that way. When asked to travel four hours to co-present with me for my affiliate chapter of TESL Ontario, though we could only offer an honorarium that barely covered lodging and gas, he gladly came. He and his wife, Daeng, supped with me and my partner. When I stopped in at his home on my way to Niagara, Daeng prepared a wonderful Thai meal.

John taught me much, and I know I'll never have another friend quite like him.

While John is looking forward to devoting more time to travel and fiction writing, new doors are also opening for me. ATESL has reached out to me in response to a member's request to have us (now just me) repeat the Fast Equals Slow webinar. Right about the same time as that invitation came in, I also got an invitation to be the plenary presenter at the spring conference of another affiliate chapter of TESL Ontario. Of course I have accepted both and am already immersed in thoughts about how I want to change the scope and content of what was once 'our' presentation. Now it's my baby, and my brain is flooded with ideas.

On a completely different note, tonight I finished a 19-page activity pack to complement the Bow Valley College ESL Literacy Reader Mary Gets Sick. It took an entire week of evenings and much of my weekend to create. I think parts of it could be used with CLB 1 and 2 as well as with CLB 2L. I hope that anyone downloading it from my website (LITERACY - HEALTH) will leave me a comment.

Be well. Let me know what you're up to.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

What's Up at Joy of ESL?

There is a lot going on right now for me as a language instructor, perpetual student, blogger, webmaster, and creator / illustrator of learning materials! Since everything I'm doing right now leaves no time for a separate blog post, I thought I would simply write about what I'm up to. Would you like a peek under the hood?

The thing that gives me most pleasure is illustrating. When I first started making activity packs to complement literacy readers, I did not know how to easily create illustrations. My earliest attempts were simple black line drawings done in the free Paint application that came pre-loaded on my computer. I drew a scarf, hat, and boots using my finger on my laptop's trackpad.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I am using Google Drawing to create images such as this medical form and health card. I can't say enough good things about the online "Classy Graphics" course I took in Google Classroom with Tony Vincent. Without that class, I would not know how to use Google Drawing at all. Anyway, the image of a blank piece of paper on a clipboard was free for the taking on I send them a donation after every 20 or 30 images that I use.  I also found the caduceus on Pixabay and simply shrank it down to fit in the upper left corner of the piece of paper. The rest of the form was created using text boxes in Google Drawing.

The image of a health card was created almost entirely in Google Drawing. I imported only Maria's face, which I drew using a Wacom Intuos Draw graphic tablet and Artrage software in trace mode over a photo from the reader.

The walk-in clinic image started with a photo of an actual clinic in downtown Windsor that I believe my students are familiar with. I traced the sidewalk and greenery, made the canvas transparent, exported that as a PNG file, and imported it into Google Drawing in order to create the building, doors, and signs using shapes and text boxes.

For some images, I don't open Google Drawing at all, but just use the graphic tablet, such as was the case with this depiction of the nurse who calls Maria in from the waiting room. When I was originally given permission to create activity packs for the Bow Valley College readers, I was told I could not use their images. Yet one cannot follow best practices for the creation of materials and worksheets for literacy learners without images! So hopefully the number of images I replicate with modification falls within the scope of what in Canada we call 'fair dealing'.

So! Literacy teachers can look forward to my publishing this new activity pack before too long. It is my hope that you will notice the quality of my materials improving over time.

My own literacy learners are reaching the end of their five-month term with me. Many will be moving on to a mainstream CLB 1 or 1/2 class at the end of this month. I'm so proud that they can now tackle this level of reader and are asking for more challenging material all the time.

Second on my plate right now, aside from teaching itself, is keeping up with the research and latest developments in our ongoing effort to get the powers that be to listen to us, believe us, and respect us when we attempt to inform them of things that are wrong with (or are going wrong with the roll-out of) Portfolio Based Language Assessment experiment. Many problems are inherent, other problems are the result of certain employers' interpretation of the 'non-negotiables.' Either way, we still have a dire need for open, honest, mutually respectful and fruitful communication between front-line workers and the big fish at the top of the food chain. Since I was losing track of all the links, I decided to dedicate a page of my website to the curation of these resources, links to research, and so on. It is HERE. If you have suggestions for better wording or other links, you can comment below, email me, or message me on Twitter.

Thirdly and lastly, I am SO JAZZED that Tony Vincent, the one who taught me how to use Google Drawing, is offering a new course called Classy Videos in February. It's not too late to sign up. It's six weeks, but you do NOT have to be at your computer at a given time on a given day. You always have a week to watch the video and do the (optional) assignment.

All of this has me excited about the new year. How about you? Are you excited?

Sunday, December 31, 2017

10 Steps to Better Self-care

Right about now many of us are thinking about including better self-care in our resolutions for the new year. Teachers, all of us, from those who teach K-12 to those of us in adult education, are known for donating our energy and personal time in order to give our students an enriched classroom experience. Self-care has never been easy for those of us who've chosen this field. But these days in Canadian settlement English programs--with the roll-out of Portfolio Based Language Assessment--good self-care has become even trickier and more elusive for many of us.

Below are ten ways that I attempt to arrive at the end of the work day or week feeling there is still some energy and time left for me, for my hobbies, for exercise, for family. These are things you may or may not already have thought of or made part of your life. Some of these tips relate to physical well-being, others to mental, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing. I hope you come away with at least one new idea to try in the new year and will take the time to use the comments section to share with us how you feel about this topic.

(1)  Reduce the cognitive load. Or rather, be mindful of where you and your students may be spending cognitive resources that you could free up via routines and wiser organization. Work smarter, not more.
    file folders on computer drive - very organized
  • Keep lists. We only have so much working memory. To feel less stressed throughout the day, I find it helpful to keep a written list of things I have to do. At school I maintain a tiny corner of the whiteboard for the things I need to remember, such as printing out my time sheet for my site supervisor or calling my dentist.
  • Keep well-organized files, both soft and hard. My day is easier and less stressful because I know exactly where everything is. If I need a resource on the topic of citizenship to use with a CLB 3/4 class, I know it's on my flash drive under Canada - Citizenship, which is in alphabetical order along with Canada -  Geography, Canada - Government, and Canada - History. In case you're not already annoyed at my having my ducks lined up in a way that would make Martha Stewart proud, I'll add that establishing a logical file naming convention is another thing I'm very glad I thought of at the beginning of my teaching career. For example, files to do with the ESL Literacy reader "Food from Home" are named Food from Home crossword, Food from Home word shapes, Food from Home activity pack, etc. This way they all end up together on the storage drive.
  • Use routines. Routines free up cognitive real estate for the content of the lesson, and this applies to both student and instructor. When students know what to expect, they can help you more easily. My students know that as soon as they enter the classroom after an absence, it's their job to check "the box" for the worksheets they missed. With routines like this one, the class can practically run itself, which means less stress for me than I would experience in a class where students were continually asking for direction.
woman sleeping - illustration(2)   Get your sleep. I am absolutely amazed at how much better I feel after going to bed early and getting those proverbial eight hours. I smile more. I let go of little annoyances more easily. I remember to breathe.

(3)   Nourish yourself. Stay hydrated and bring healthy meals and snacks every day. This has been a hard one for me, especially hydration. I've found ways to incentivize these new behaviours until they becomes habit:
  • Buy or upcycle a pretty water bottle; maybe even infuse some cucumber, lime, lemon or mint leaves in it. Most of my morning students nurse a little jam jar of green tea with goji berries all day long. They set a great example for me.
  • Buy or make an attractive lunch bag. I had to go online to find one I liked. I make up the first two or three lunches on the weekend and later mix in some leftovers or a Luvo organic frozen dinner for days when I've run out of homemade meals. If you think you don't have time to make healthy meals, let me tell you about grain bowls. I cook up a batch of brown rice or quinoa in my little rice cooker, then open and rinse a can of garbanzo beans, lentils, or other legume. These form the base of my grain bowl. From there I add in something crunchy, such as sunflower seeds, something green, such as seaweed or barely wilted baby spinach leaves. You might like to toss in a soft-boiled egg. Finally, add a dressing of your choice. I just mix up a tiny bit of sesame oil and vinegar. I divide this up into three lunch containers and...Bob's your uncle!
(4)   Guard your breaks. Take breaks away from clients and, if you're an introvert like me, away from colleagues, too. Retreat to a quiet room or close and lock your door. Don't stress out over being perceived as rude. Folks will get over it. If you have to, make a sign for the door that says, "I"m on a legally mandated break. Back at X:00." Do whatever restores you, whether that be deep breathing, cranking up some music, playing a game on your phone, whatever! I see too many of my colleagues spending their entire break and the first fifteen minutes after class trying to be their students' social worker.  That may work for them, but for me it would be a recipe for burnout.

(5)   Take a load off.
  • Follow Martine's Rule Number One. This one ties into 'routines' above.  Remember to delegate to students everything that can be handed off to them. If you didn't have time to make that wonderful graphic organizer, project an exemplar and pass out notebook paper. I did this recently when we needed a Venn Diagram graphic organizer. One student grabbed the tea tin off the hospitality station and started passing it around, as it was the perfect size for our two circles. Literacy students can make flashcards.
  • Strategically place quiet work. I was listening to a podcast from Jennifer Gonzalez / Cult of Pedagogy the other day on the topic of what she calls Grecian Urns. You have to listen to the podcast to find out how she arrived at the term. That's her name for an activity that takes up a lot of time and might be fun, but has no real educational value. She warns us away from them, of course. That being said, even she admits there can be times when you consciously choose to give students an activity that will get them out of your hair because, hey, you can't be ON all the time. This is the point where I admit to you that I embed a quiet activity in the lesson most days at 2:40. That's when my literacy learners and I are worn out. We've been working hard on listening, reading, writing and speaking. They need a break, and I need time to clean up the hospitality station. So that's the point in the day when I give them a puzzle. Yes, the puzzles have SOME value. But honestly? I need twenty minutes of quiet.
(6)   Wear sensible shoes and comfortable clothes. I know this is a hard one for my colleagues who like to wear high heels, but in the end you are going to have to decide which you value more: how you look or how your feet and back feel after hours of standing, walking, and stair-climbing. I find that I enjoy going to work more when I can spend my day dressed in clothes made from natural fibres that breathe and that are tailored to allow for easy movement. I am a big fan of Lagenlook. As for shoes, I've tried many brands and have found I can rely on Joseph Siebel and Blundstone for their comfort, support, and longevity.

(7)   Be authentic. It takes a lot less energy to be yourself than it does to wear a mask all day long.
Not very long ago, I was experiencing the emotional and physiological vagaries that accompany menopause. Because my students and I have an honest, real relationship in which I am a human being who happens to be the facilitator of their language learning and collaborator in shaping their curriculum, I was able to be candid with them regarding what was going on with me. During an especially difficult morning, I whispered to one of them, "I need to step out. Can you lead the lesson for five minutes?" I indicated to her what was going on. The transition was seamless. I knew I could trust the students to carry on without me. Because we are real with each other every day, this was no big deal. I also need to note that our way of being together also empowers my students to be their fullest selves. The student in whom I confided is a retired OB/GYN. I was honouring what she brings to our group--her expertise as a physician specializing in women's reproductive system--when I chose her to receive my whispered 'I need to step out' and my reason for needing to do so.

(8)   Work smarter, not longer. Weave in some Back-to-the-Well. Cut your marking time in half. Go materials-light at least some of the time (see also Dogme in ELT).  By following recommendations for the teaching of vocabulary or lexical chunks as outlined by Gianfranco Conti on his blog and in this week's blog post about a shift from focused to thorough processing, I believe you will end up making life easier on yourself while becoming a more effective language instructor.

(9)   Advocate for yourself and for your team. The number of signatures on this petition says to me that settlement English teachers in Canada are facing a crisis in their agencies and classrooms. If you are happy with Portfolio Based Language Assessment as it is being implemented at your workplace, then scroll on; number nine is not for you. If you are unhappy with what is happening, find a way to connect with others in your field. At the very least, get your head out of Canada and join a group such as the Facebook group Global Innovative Language Teachers, where trends and fads such as this one can be put into a wider context.

(10)   Protect your capacity for joy. If doing your job well and having a life outside of teaching have become mutually exclusive, it is time to re-evaluate. Life is too short to live it in such a way that you turn down play dates with children, don't ever walk in the woods, never find time for a day trip, no longer have time for hobbies. Decide now, before the new year begins, where you're going to draw the line. What will be your signal to yourself that enough is enough?

Done is better than perfect - illustrationWhen my lesson planning is corralled and self-care managed to the extent that I have time and energy for an evening class one or two nights a week, date nights with my partner, and blocks of unstructured down time throughout the week, I know I am achieving work-life balance. If not, that's when I know it's time to step back and see what's going awry.

How about you? Are you making resolutions to do with self-care in the new year? Do you have self-care strategies to share with me and with our peers in this field? We would love to hear.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Take a Break!

I'm drinking hot chocolate by the window. Kelly's Cafe is hopping. The juncoes, cardinals, tree sparrows, house sparrows, and even the odd song sparrow are enjoying my smorgasbord of finch seed mix, peanut splits, black-oil sunflower seed, suet, and the heated birdbath that never freezes over.

How are you spending this time when all the stores close and things are quiet and still? Do you have snow where you are? I would love to hear what you are up to.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

FREEBIE! Winter Break Wordless Picture Book

It's nice to have the webinar behind me. I can go back to what I enjoy most: illustrating and making learning materials! I spent today revamping a little 8-page wordless book about winter break that prints two-sided and folds in the middle for stapling. The whole book requires just 2 sheets of 8.5 by 11" paper. It uses only a tiny bit of colour ink and also prints well in grey scale. Some images were intentionally left as line drawings so that students may add the colour if they see fit. I keep a box of coloured pencils in my cabinet for those days when we just need a short break from the cognitive heavy lifting.  Colouring is also therapeutic for those experiencing PTSD. Margaret Margaritis and I have both observed students having better focus and lower affective filter during and after about 20 minutes of colouring.

As for the webinar, I suppose it went pretty well, but I have since thought of several things I'll do differently if we are invited to repeat somewhere. For one, I think we should have been more explicit in our directions. Teachers were to look at the graphic organizers and come up with specific ideas for how the initial collection activity could be a springboard to further study of one of the parts of speech. I've created a space on my Flipgrid where anyone curious about Back-to-the-Well or anyone who already believes in slowing down, turning fewer pages, and engaging learners more deeply can drop in with questions or ideas. Hey, if nothing else, just stop in to see how Flipgrid works! It's SO easy that even my seniors AND literacy learners can use it. There's nothing to register for, no email address required. Come on, you know you wanna. ;)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Nice to Meet You!

Instead of a blog post this week, I thought it would be nice to introduce myself to any of tonight's webinar attendees who visit the blog for the first time during or after the webinar. See you again next Sunday!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

I'm Starting a Newsletter

Don't worry, I don't want to clog up your inbox. Every time I publish a literacy activity pack, I email the site coordinators at certain centres where I know there are literacy teachers who rely on those resources quite a bit. Rather than trusting myself always to remember who likes to get which alerts, I thought it would be nice to have a monthly roundup, a simple summary of the topics I've written about on the blog during the prior month. I could also list any resources or activity packs that I published on the website for all to freely enjoy. If I've tweeted about anything I think would be of interest or value to others, I might include a little recap of that. What do you think?

If you would like to receive such a monthly summary, please click the link at the top of the sidebar. >

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Update on the pan-Canadian experiment:

I'm going to give the initiators of the pan-Canadian experiment in pseudo-pedagogy that is called Portfolio Based Language Assessment the benefit of the doubt and assume that they meant well in the beginning. By now, however, they realize that you cannot build a good house without first checking the soil on which you plan to build the foundation. If one doesn't have the time and money to first do lengthy, solid, peer-reviewed research and action research, then one should not undertake an initiative of this magnitude. As database designers and coders say, "Have no late errors." Measure twice, cut once. Follow best practices for bringing large change to large groups. Do your homework, ALL of it.

Some people are speaking truth to power. Some are speaking out about the disastrous impact this is having in many classrooms across Canada. They are doing things such as circulating petitions, contacting their MPs, exposing the weaknesses in presentations, and are attempting to quantify and qualify the impact of this experiment on teachers and learners via a national research project.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Gratitude and and Example of What DOES Work for Me

About eight years ago, I made a change that turned my head and my life around. I took the complaint-free challenge from Patti Digh, who in turn had heard about it from Christine Kane. I sent off for a free purple bracelet from A Complaint-Free World and started the attempt to rewire my brain. I would attempt never to complain, criticize, or gossip. I would attempt not Will Bowen's suggested 21 straight days, but Patti Digh's 37 days without a single slip up. When I slipped, I would move the bracelet to the other arm and begin again from scratch. The first day, I slipped up several times each hour. By the end of the week, I was changing the bracelet to the other arm only a few times a day. After several weeks, I made it to four days straight before a slip. Finally, at the end of about five or six months, I did it. And my neural pathways had been rewired along with my outlook on life.

It's probably time for a refresher course, if I'm to be honest. I appreciate that I work with a crew of teachers who eschew gossip and will tactfully guide me back on track if I go that direction. As for complaining, I should probably clarify and let you know that there is a kind of communicating to bring about change that I do not avoid. Eckhart Tolle explains the difference between the sort of complaining that serves no purpose other than to strengthen the ego and complaining to bring about change (without personalizing) in this video:

Alongside the Complaint-free Challenge, I also took up--for one year--a habit of recording in a gratitude journal five things each day for which I was grateful. This was perhaps as potent as the bracelet challenge in reprogramming my mind. After one year, I was left with a brain that sees reason for gratitude all day long, from dawn to sleep, everywhere it casts its gaze.

That brings me to today's intention. What in the world of teaching settlement English in Canada gives me reason to feel grateful? I could go on for pages, but I'll stick to my old habit of listing five at a time.
  • I work in an organization that values transparency and accountability. Though we may sometimes get off track, there is a process in place through which we can eventually right the boat when it begins to list to one side.
  • There are quality materials freely available to me for use in my classroom, and I thank the TESL professionals who poured months or years of thought, time, and energy into their creation. There is a lot out there that I would continue to use whether the current Canadian AFL experiment is scrapped or made optional.
  • I feel so fortunate to live in a land and particularly in a city that welcomes refugees and immigrants, as well as in a society that sees the value in investing in free settlement English classes for newcomers. Such services are not available in the same way throughout the country from which I immigrated almost 20 years ago.
  • I am appreciative of those who have involved themselves in good faith in the Canadian pedagogical experiment as project leads or resource creators. It isn't your fault that the entire house was designed from the roof down before checking the quality of the soil. Operative words: in good faith. For the others, well, that's not going on this blog post.
  • I appreciate those who, in these strange times, find the courage to speak truth to power.
This week I found myself particularly grateful for a resource my colleague Lucy found on (the new and much improved ♥ iteration of) Tutela.  The OPH-OCDSB Collaborative Team, the acronyms within which stand for Ottawa Public Health and Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, has created a series of health-related lesson plan cum activity books complete with rationale statements, instructor notes, skill-specific activities, assessment tools that can be put in student portfolios, and student self-reflection activities at the end of each module.

Specifically because I have been excused from strictly following the funder's non-negotiables of what we are calling Portfolio Based Language Assessment, I was able to use this resource this week with my seniors class. Although their benchmarks range widely from 2 to 8, they prefer to work with material that is geared for high 2, low 3. Because they are out of the workforce and have vastly different needs from a mainstream LINC student, I feel it is in their best interest to allow them to cherry-pick and help me sculpt a syllabus that is tailored to their very special situation. For reasons such as these, I do not press them to attempt ever higher level material when they do not wish to do so.

In any case, because this class has been excused from trying to chase after 8-10 portfolio artifacts per skill in 300 instructional hours (which turns into more like 170 classroom hours per five-month term at my centre), we were free to move through the lessons in the Mental Health for CLB 2-3 book at our own pace. We were able to stop midway and have a guest speaker. We were able to pause for a Peace Week activity, which nicely tied in to our learning about stress, self-care, and culture shock, actually. I was able to get more sleep knowing someone else had already written a resource that meets my standards for resource quality.

This week, having practiced all the functions, we will use the assessment tools and the learner self-reflection activity and will place those in student portfolios--the big three-ring-bound ones that live at school since they are too heavy for seniors to carry home daily.

So what sets this two- or three-week period of instruction apart from the compulsory PBLA model with which I do not agree? For one, the tail isn't trying to wag the dog. We first did the learning, and only when we felt ready did we move on to the next activity or quiz. We have been given permission to operate under no one-size-fits-all numeric quota for artifacts collected per term. On the contrary, with this one class I am free to truly put the learners' needs at the centre of my practice and move at a pace that makes sense for them. Secondly, everything I need for the module is provided. I do not have to stay up for hours each evening creating or searching for then modifying next resource. Mind you, even with off-the-shelf stuff, I still sometimes have to blow it up on the copy machine for weaker septuagenarian eyesight. But still. This week's morning class planning has been easy peasy.

So thank you, OPH-OCDSB collaborative team! My hat is off to you. I'll be using more of your booklets in the coming months since the seniors' most requested theme is health.

How about you? For those of you caught in the madness of PBLA gone wrong, would you warm to the experiment if you could put your current LINC cohort's unique needs ahead of a predetermined quota of 8-10 artifacts per skill collection period? How about if you had all resources provided, including the rubrics that did not have to be edited in the slightest for that module? If you could assess only when it felt you and your learners had arrived at the logical place to assess learning? If you could have a certain number of hiatus days per term that were free from all assessment so that students could just learn for the sheer joy of it? Or devote entire weeks to grammar just because they want to? I would love to get your feelings on that in the comments section below.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Save the Date!

I just now, on Tuesday, realized that I had forgotten to write a blog post this past Sunday. I was so absorbed in creating a little 10- to 12-page book for my literacy learners that it slipped my mind.

This is probably as good a time as any to promote the upcoming webinar that I am co-facilitating with John Sivell, recently retired from the department of applied linguistics at Brock and mentor to many of the best ESL professionals now teaching in Ontario.

Go to to sign up. Anyone in Canada who is in the field or is planning to enter the field is able to open a free account on

Although the examples we'll offer are for about a CLB 3, the principles and many of the worksheets work for 4 and up, as well. I have used what the Sivells call 'back to the well' activities with LINC 2, and it was with this group that I saw a most convincing transformation.

Hope you'll mark your calendar now for Sunday, December 10th from 7:00 to 8:00 EST.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Lessons for Canada?

The penultimate session I attended on Friday, day two of the two-day 2017 TESL Ontario Conference, was "Task-based Language Teaching Implementation Experiences: Lessons for Canada?" by Yuliya Desyatova of the University of Toronto. The conference brochure's blurb of this presentation says:
The Belgian experience of introducing Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) is analysed with the goal of drawing parallels to the implementation of Portfolio-Based Language Assessment (PBLA). Participants are invited to discuss benefits and challenges of different implementation models. Opportunities for further participation in a research project on PBLA and TBLT in Canada will be offered.
If you did not get a chance to see Yuliya's presentation and would like to see the slides, they can be found HERE.

Yuliya starts with a Venn diagram that highlights a few of the differences between these two projects and the one thing they have in common: tasks. One big difference that wasn't given much focus, one that I want to add here and now, is that in Canada the vast majority of settlement English teachers had been trained in communicative methods and task-based learning. I believe that TBL was already the norm in Canada before PBLA. It would seem that in Belgium, this was not so. Their big TBL project had the goal of helping teachers shift away from a teacher-centred model that focused on grammar and toward TBL. 

This is an important point, since it is not TBL itself with which I and many others take issue.

I was intrigued to hear Yuliya relate to us the vast amount of empirical research that was done in Belgium before classrooms were disrupted. All materials and syllabuses were developed before the classroom piloting began. There was no train-the-trainer model in Belgium, and for that the DSL students and their instructors should be eternally grateful. Experts were brought in to the "several hundred" school teams to do the training, coaching, supporting.

From Yuliya's report, it sounds to me as if the entire implementation process put the teachers and students in the driver's seat. There was room for a cycle of action and reflection, feedback and adjustment, at many points along the way. In other words, teachers were recognized and respected as the experts on our own classrooms that we are. In the end, the role of interaction between teacher and learner was acknowledged as key.

I hope that everyone reading this will help Yuliya with her research project.

Now, then.

On Friday my supervisor and her boss reached out to me to see if I wanted to send some feedback along to someone high up in our organization in another city, someone who will be attending an NLAB event in December. Through no fault of my superiors, I was given notice at 1:20 with a deadline of 4:30 to submit something in writing. 

At first my heart was pounding. This was the chance I'd been waiting for! Why didn't I have something all typed up and ready to go in my back pocket? I raced against the clock, grateful that it was computer lab day and that my literacy students are almost completely self-sufficient now once I get them logged into Spelling City. I was also feeling thankful for that grade 7 typing class that gave me my 60 wpm keyboarding speed.

It wasn't until after I'd typed and sent that I went back and re-read the printout of the email that had been left on the desk in front of me. I saw the words "send us your feedback based on the following categories..." and "recommendations to better support the successful implementation and continued use of PLBA...."

My heart sank. I realized that once again, the type of feedback I and so many others want to give does not fit into any of the categories. They only want to hear how to make this sustainable. Nobody wants to hear from you if you believe it is not sustainable and for good reason.

I suppose that going forward I need to specify that there are two types of feedback, and I am only comfortable at this time giving one of those two types. At this time, I am not interested in talking about the materials we need, although of course we can always use more. I am not interested right now in talking about better compensation, although of course there needs to be an immediate stop put to the practice of expecting teachers to spend so much off-the-clock time propping up PBLA that we end up working for minimum wage or less. We do deserve regular raises matched to inflation and cost of living adjustments. But that will not make PBLA right. I am not interested in talking about training unless you are open to ditching the entire train-the-trainer model. Your patient is bleeding out, and you are talking bandaids.

I believe that the "bucket" of psychological impact, stress, work-life balance and morale issues fit into the second category of feedback. If you really want to address these problems, then you must be willing to stop limiting feedback to only that which "contributes to the sustainability" of this experiment. You must be willing to say, "Tell us what is happening to your classroom and to your life under PBLA EVEN IF what you tell us does not "support the successful implementation" of this (broken) model. You must be willing to say, "We care that much about you and our mutual clients, the newcomers."

In short, I want to know where the panel of stakeholders is that is willing to talk about the cracked foundation of the entire project. Who is willing to sit in a room and watch Yuliya's slides? Who is willing to watch Norm Friesen's talk and open up the floor to discussion with a good cross-section of teachers, not just pre-chosen representatives? Who is willing to send out a survey to all teachers in Canada that does not shoe-horn us into questions that only fit a narrow set of pre-determined categories? Who is willing to admit that this entire misguided experiment must be put on hold until all the parts are in place, starting with solid, peer-reviewed research? And who has the gumption and integrity to start talking about the notion of conflict of interest in this whole thing?