The stress I feel, when I feel it, in beginning to fully implement PBLA with literacy and seniors, usually can be traced back to two causes:
- I'm often overwhelmed by the number of books, documents, training manuals, workshop handouts, etc., I have to keep up with. I would give a limb for a master index.
- In certain situations, I feel as if meeting contractual obligations and putting my students' best interest first are mutually exclusive. That's a crappy feeling.
In the first instance, it helps to have a supervisor who reminds me that many of us are overwhelmed by the same thing. She tells me to forget about certain trackers. My colleague next door commiserates. She also tells me when she finds the exact thing we've both been searching for.
This week I have examples of the second scenario. In seniors class, we just finished up a rich series of modules (or one long one?) on the Erie Saint Clair Community Care Access Centre, a topic the students begged me to cover in spite of the fact that we would have to create all our own materials to turn their website and patient guide into ESL lessons. Everything went well. The students came away with a very comprehensive grasp of that community agency's mandate, services, how they can access those services, how likely it is they will be eligible for the services given a variety of health crises, and so forth. They now have the language to talk to a PSW, request services, or rent a walker.
When it came time to represent their learning in the form of artefacts for the binders, some of it felt contrived to me. Since students, divided into teams, had spent a week parsing 2 pages each of the patient guide and reporting on their part to the class, we considered digesting the guide as a real world reading task. Their presentations are proof they understood the content. So the presentations can be used as both reading and speaking artefacts, in my mind. No issue there. But then the speaker came to visit us. Feeling pressured to squeeze in another artefact, I tried to get each student to ask one question OR ask the speaker for clarification on something. Epic fail. What should have been an enjoyable Q & A session became Kelly the ringmaster trying to make students jump through hoops just to get one more gosh-darned artefact into those bloody portfolios. One student flat out refused to ask a question. When I reminded him it was for the binder, he shrugged. He's no dummy. He knows those artefacts accumulating in the binders are meaningless for the seniors class. It's the language and knowledge they want, not the pieces of paper with checkmarks.
Lesson learned? Assess when it feels natural to assess, don't become an artefact collecting machine. The same lesson presented itself to me this week in literacy class. Because my group has been whizzing through material very quickly, I told them it was time to raise the bar a bit. Having just finished a week of Mursal on the Bus (all skill-building, no RWT), I chose Farid Takes the Bus as a reader that would recycle all the language they had just mastered and add several new terms. I also thought we could try basic concepts related to Transit Windsor maps and schedules, which I have successfully used with a CLB 1L class before.
It was a four-day week due to Family Day. While the students did well with the longer reader and were keen to learn the four directions and words like "weekdays, holiday, schedule," and "map," they were not ready for assessments by Friday. Before PBLA, this would not have been a source of stress for me. I would either have abandoned the objectives as too high (my bad), or decided to spend another week building toward successful assessment. I still have those choices, but there is always the black cloud hovering over me, the little voice reminding me that I only have so many weeks in which to collect eight to ten artefacts for each of four skills. Tick, tick, tick, tick.
My decision is to do what is right for the students. They should not pay for my having misjudged their level. They also should not pay for the fact that the powers that be sending us our PBLA obligations are out of touch. PBLA should not be viewed as a one-size-fits-all framework, equally applicable to CLB 4 and to students still trying to figure out which way the paper goes. So I breathe and say: I'll get them when I get them. If I make the quota, I make the quota.
Again I have to remind myself that I only have max 15 a.m. and max 12 p.m. My troubles are minor compared to others'.
Speaking of PBLA, I got a wonderfully candid anonymous comment on this blogpost last week. Thank you, whoever you are, for being so forthright, and for others who continue to be supportive of the questioning contingent.