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Sunday, March 19, 2017

PBLA - Six Week Update

I got myself into a bit of a panic this past week when I realized I am NOT on track to meet the artefact quotas I've been handed for my classes: a morning class (multi-level for seniors) and afternoon class, which is CLB 1L adequate reaching for the beginning stage of 2L. I am supposed to have about eight artefacts per skill by the end of this term. Actually, we've been asked to have them in the portfolios by the end of May so that some auditing, etc., can be done by the lead teacher in June. Well, if I continue at this same rate, it looks like I'll get about HALF that number by the deadline in order to make decisions about promotion.

I was feeling a lot of stress and resentment over this fact, almost feeling as if I've been given an impossible task. That was until I sat down with my calculator and did the math. The whole number of artefacts notion is based upon the premise that it takes about 300 hours of instruction to move a benchmark level.

Now I am feeling comforted a bit by two facts:
  • With the term having begun on January 30th, by the end of May my students will have had about--and this is an optimistic estimate--just 164 instructional hours;
  • Not all demographics make progress toward a benchmark at the same rate. Goodness knows new arrivals still getting settled, missing a lot of school due to myriad appointments, make slower progress. And we all know that those over the age of 60 AND do not fall under and should not be placed together with those under the same umbrella as mainstream settlement English learners.
So, a) I am on target if you consider that our term really includes just over half of 300 instructional hours. And b) at least in the case of my morning class, I have a strong case if I choose to argue that they should not be subject to this artefact collection quota in the first place. Let us collect examples of our best work at our pace since no promotion ever takes place. I'll let you know if this plea of mine ever bears fruit.

Other notes:

With seniors and to some extent with literacy, Back to the Well and Martine's Rule Number One continue to cut down on the ridiculous amount of time I once spent on lesson prep. Both classes seem to benefit from my turning work over to them that I once would have done. Example: literacy students can help me make flashcards, seniors can create dialogues that I simply check, seniors can go 'materials light,' etc.

Better self care continues to contribute to a drastic lessening in my stress levels.

I do not mind creating detailed module plans when there is already one in the Manitoba Module Planning Framework for me to riff off of for that topic and level. It takes me only 5 minutes to go through and take out what I'm not teaching, substitute what I am. Otherwise, the module plan all typed up with every single one of those 36 boxes filled (some with multiple levels of detail) feels like busy work, duplication of information that can be found on my rubrics/checklists and monthly report, a cruel bureaucratic hoop I'm made to jump through, and VERY time consuming.

I continue to find ways to help the students become more independent of me when it comes to classroom and school routines, housekeeping, etc. Below are two examples of classroom management innovations that I believe save me precious time when it's all added up. They are:

1 - Keep a box in the classroom where students returning after an absence know to look for prior days' worksheets. I always make exactly the number of copies as there are students in the class. After passing out papers, I jot down the names of absentees on the tops of the extras and put them in "the box." It then becomes 100% the responsibility of that absent student to check the box and collect all missed worksheets upon her return. Teachers who consider writing the names a burden might consider having a helper do this part.

2 - I keep a wall calendar where I colour all "no class" days in orange highlighter. Events are also written there, such as Health Access Day and other school-wide events. I will announce upcoming events and closures at least once and will write them on the board, but the students have the ultimate responsibility to keep an eye on those orange squares. This cuts out time wasted on multiple unnecessary repetition of announcements. I often see students referring to this, pointing out dates to their peers, all without the need for me to get involved.


3 - A third classroom routine I'm hoping to introduce this week in order to establish a boundary that will help me with my sanity is the reporting of a classmate's absence. I just realized last week that my seniors are lacking when it comes to some tiny issues of common courtesy; one of them revolves around being dismissed, and the other is knowing how to politely interrupt someone who looks busy (that's me before 9:00). I am planning to ask that they change how they report the classmate's reason for absence to me. I know this is going to sound cold-hearted, but that time before 9:00 is mine. Because of how my brain works, I need that period to be as free from interruptions as possible, and I get a very anxious and impatient feeling welling up in me when I am interrupted and then have to smile politely while my student slowly, with many pauses, tries to convey the message. They do not first ask, "Do you have a second?" or "Is this a good time?" No matter what I'm right in the middle of, they launch right into their agonizingly halted explanation. That's my bad. I have failed to teach them how to politely interrupt someone.

My idea is to give them three options:
  1. They can ask me if it's a good time and then act upon the answer; 
  2. They can wait until 9:00 and then let me know either aloud from their seat or by approaching me and whispering; 
  3. They can write the message on a sticky note for me to put inside the roll book and later convey to the administrative assistant. I will explain that if it's before 9:00, the sticky note should be passed to me wordlessly or put into my roll book without a bid for my attention. 
Perhaps this problem is specific to a seniors' class; I don't see too many teachers with loads of students who arrive more than 15 or 20 minutes early every day. There are certain prep tasks that I cannot accomplish anywhere but in the classroom. So I am going to attempt to teach them about my need for this boundary.

How about you? Are you doing well with work-life balance? How is PBLA going? Does your admin have a reasonable artefact quota collection schedule that you can comfortably meet? Would love to hear.

18 comments:

  1. I enjoy reading your blog. It helps me feel less alone in my struggle with PBLA. I have a few seniors in my morning class that sound very much like your seniors. So far my biggest issue with PBLA is the insane amount of marking that comes with the tasks. I teach in a continuous intake ESL program with a class limit of 35. In one school year, because 1 teach two classes I'm expected to mark between 1920 to 2000+ artefacts. And the worst part is that we're expected to do it for free on our own time.

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    1. Anonymous,

      I can't thank you enough for letting me know that my blog makes a difference to you. Comments like yours keep me going, make me want to continue to do this week after week.

      Somehow we have GOT to figure out how, as a professional group, we can let it be known at the top of the food chain that something unethical and very unfair is happening in the trenches as the result of PBLA implementation.

      Keep the faith. Something has GOT to give. In the meantime, big hug to you. K

      Delete
    2. How is PBLA "unethical"? How is it "unfair"? I don't see this at all and am wondering how you can back up this characterization.

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    3. Hi.
      First, I would like to say that I enabled anonymous commenting in order to allow teachers to come here and speak honestly about their PBLA experience without having to hold back out of fear of reprisal. I never dreamed in a million years that any commenter defending PBLA would find it necessary to use the anonymous commenting feature. Why do you feel a need to hide your identity from this group when what you say cannot put your job in jeopardy? Do you not want us to know that you are someone with a conflict of interest?

      Secondly, the teachers who comment here often make suggestions on how to make this situation better. It is not my job to go back through all the comments and mine them for you.

      Thirdly, I do not claim that the premise of portfolios per se is unethical or unfair. The comment will make sense to those who have either been following this thread since October or who take the time to go back and read previous comments in order to put this one into context.

      As Toni Lynn Cassidy said, your bias is showing. I don't have the time or energy for such a game. --K

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  2. After a full school year many of our learners have not gained enough artifacts to move. Unfortunately, instructors are not being paid to do the full job of PBLA so they are only doing what can be done in their paid time. Good on them. I think the funders are out of line. Unless their goal is to force out the people who worked in ESL before PBLA; primarily good hearted well-educated people who wanted to make a difference. Now they are being punished for years of dedicated service. "If you don't like it, retire." Direct quote. Nice golden handshake.

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    1. Someone I like and respect recently said that in his experience it's the bitter ones who are complaining. That has not been my experience at all. In my circles, it's the passionate, committed professionals who are questioning some aspects of the rollout of this framework. Years of dedicated service should be celebrated. Whistleblowers and critical thinkers should be thanked, their insights carried up the chain, their questions valued as part of a discussion that needs to happen. --K

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    2. Whistle-blowers? What do you mean by this? What are they blowing the whistle on? It's disconcerting to read all the negativity about PBLA and rarely anything positive about improved standards, consistency, more accurate benchmarks etc.

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    3. Dear Anonymous Administrator: If I am asked to fly on an aircraft that is still being designed and has not completed the safety testing, don't expect me to gush about the lovely leather seats or leg room. The reason some of us are spending time pointing out the flaws instead of balancing each and every conversation with pros and cons is because there are plenty of other spaces in conferences and on the web where you can go to hear the cheerleading. This space has been offered up to balance THAT. --K

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  3. WOW "the Bitter ones"? That's a pretty closed-minded put down. Who is he hanging with? What did he mean? Bitter about what? Life? Being ESL teachers? Bitter about not having their training, experience, independent critical abilities and judgement respected? Being asked to do insipid, nonsensical "requirements" that do not advance the learners English acquisition. Being burned out? Being abused emotionally? Bitter about misguided government mandated experiment wasting taxpayer dollars that are siphoned off from needed programs. If it is the last one - count me in. I'm very bitter about the stranglehold that those persons who planned, prepared, launched, profited in any way from this illconceived attempt to reshape SLA methodology has on Canadian LINC/ESL. But as I am generally a very positive person I live in hope that your friend will realise that the "bitter ones" might have valid reasons to be bitter (his words) and are giving feedback that might be useful in taking an honest second look at the motives, validity ethics,wisdom and sustainability of this. it is not enough that it is a pet project of a particular section of the ESL community.

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  4. I am going to quietly pack up my classroom in June and not return to ESL in the Fall.

    Burnt Out in Ontario.

    PS They won.

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  5. Dear Anonymous. No. You won. I am sure "They" have lost an extraordinary teacher, with smarts, knowledge, passion, heart, responsibility, I wish you well in your journey. You have made the right decision for you and good things will come your way. The "future" plans for CLB and PBLA are dire. Read the abstracts of the presentations at TESLCanada Conference (they should rename it "The CLB and PBLA" conference) and you will see that it is "full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes". No matter that the project is based on unsound premises and is defective ( "new assessment methodologgy; standardisation? Show me the money.) It is being made up as they go along. (On our backs and the backs of the newcomers, the learners). Government is being fed unsubstantiated claims and information and so the "funders" will keep funding...( actually, remember, the funders are the TAXPAYERS). When I worked selling cars for Ford the rule wss: admit mistakes and recall, recall, recall. Above all be truthful to the customer. CCLB and PBLA are not being truthful to the public (to us). They are hellbent on protecting their turf and trying to prove that Canada is leading the world in immigrant settlement...

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  6. Burnt in ON: It makes me sad that this unvetted, premature and clumsy PBLA roll-out has driven you to decide to quit. I hope you'll keep us posted on the next chapter of your life, and I hope the funders start paying attention to those of us who are trying to point out the pitfalls before I lose any more coworkers.

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  7. It took me 30 minutes to go through ONE binder to review assessment tasks (some were at my level but created by the S's former teacher), figure out the various start dates for the progress report (course start date and learner assessment date), and write meaningful comments the student will understand. The design of the report isn't straight-forward for programs that do not have a fixed start and end date with the same group of students.

    PBLA is inconsistent across the country. Some organizations have admin staff calculate hours and determine which students get which report, while other organizations ask teachers to do it. (No, not all organizations use HARTS and not all organizations have a system that calculates information required for the reports. These are extra duties for teachers in some places.) Some organizations incorporate more professional development days into their yearly operational plans than others, and with those PD days, some organizations allow teachers to use that time to sort through binders to tally the number of tasks completed and to create tasks, while other orgs have sharing sessions instead. I'm not saying information sharing sessions are bad; I'd like to see more paid PD days to include time for PBLA duties. This seems to vary by city.

    Teachers are putting in a lot of extra unpaid time for this which, I think, leads to the previous comments of burn out.

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  8. It took me 30 minutes to go through ONE binder to review assessment tasks (some were at my level but created by the S's former teacher), figure out the various start dates for the progress report (course start date and learner assessment date), and write meaningful comments the student will understand. The design of the report isn't straight-forward for programs that do not have a fixed start and end date with the same group of students.

    PBLA is inconsistent across the country. Some organizations have admin staff calculate hours and determine which students get which report, while other organizations ask teachers to do it. (No, not all organizations use HARTS and not all organizations have a system that calculates information required for the reports. These are extra duties for teachers in some places.) Some organizations incorporate more professional development days into their yearly operational plans than others, and with those PD days, some organizations allow teachers to use that time to sort through binders to tally the number of tasks completed and to create tasks, while other orgs have sharing sessions instead. I'm not saying information sharing sessions are bad; I'd like to see more paid PD days to include time for PBLA duties. This seems to vary by city.

    Teachers are putting in a lot of extra unpaid time for this which, I think, leads to the previous comments of burn out.

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  9. I guess I'm Anonymous #5. Having what appears to be an administrator comment anonymously speaks volumes. We've been doing PBLA for over two years, and in that first year, our lead teachers gave feedback to administrators but got no response; no follow-up questions to clarify, no suggestions to ease frustrations, no thanks for feedback - nothing. They stopped trying a year into it.

    If, in fact, "Anonymous" #2 is an administrator, why not identify themselves to allow for a professional discussion about implementation of PBLA and talk about specifics to make it better?

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  10. Anonymous Administrator asked you to back up your "characterization of PBLA". Along those lines, can we ask PBLA creators to show data proving this is working? Some organizations have been doing it for more than 2 years, so there should be evidence of success, right? PBLA is costly and I would think the government would like to see evidence of success in their investment before incorporating it Canada wide. Where can teachers, leads, managers submit feedback?

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  11. Wow! Things are moving fast. We have sold our home and will be moving to a new life out of Ontario. Two new jobs with government agencies have been found and hope for a new happier work/life balance. So sorry to abandon ship and the struggle with friends but home called, and we are leaving the misadventure that Ontario has been behind. Ontario really has been a disappointment and ESL was a disaster.

    No longer "Burnt Out in Ontario"
    but
    "Yukon or bust"

    PS I will watch from a distance. Rebuilding my life.

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    1. Oh, I am so sorry that there was a comment approval bottleneck (I'm trying to solve the spam problem). Woot! Yukon or Bust, I am SO HAPPY for you! The students in Yukon will be lucky to get you. Please do keep us posted on your new adventure!!!
      --Kelly

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