Sunday, June 16, 2019

On Summer Break

I'm taking a break from posting on this blog for the summer. The end of this semester found me closer to burnout than I've ever felt before. I have GOT to find a way to make it fresh for myself again. But if a change is as good as a rest, an actual rest is even better, and I welcome this one.
a watercolour by Dottie Morrissey, my mother
On teacher-student conference day, I received a bit of a boost to my tired soul. Several students in my morning (seniors) class expressed appreciation for my teaching style, my patience and kindness, and the topics we were able to explore in depth. I had though that my module on diagnostic imaging had dragged on too long and that it had, in the end, been too dry and too difficult. But several students said they are glad I did not abandon it when some students could be heard moaning toward the end (okay, actually just one student who is given to audible yawns except on days when she gets her way) because they felt that by the end of the enormous module, they had reaped many benefits in the form of stronger communication skills and retention of key vocabulary. One man said he is so glad that he can now read any requisition form. ***BOOST***

One student said she found the courage to go to a medical appointment by herself for the first time since her arrival in Canada many years ago. She felt confident explaining her symptoms to the doctor and understood much of what was said to her. ***BOOST***

Even though I was feeling like a failure because I had not managed my usual morning smile or pep in my step during the last weeks, several students gushed about my pleasant nature and how I always greet them with a smile. One woman, alone with me for the meeting and the door shut for privacy, grasped my two hands and broke down in tears because she's getting her citizenship and won't be back in our class this September. Our class had been there for her when her husband died. Joining our class saved her from being alone all day in her apartment with her overwhelming grief. ***BOOST***

This sort of feedback helps, but I am still desperately in need of rest. We pour our hearts and souls into this work, but self-care needs to come first.

This summer I am cutting way back on the things I usually do so that I can concentrate on two things that have taken higher priority. One of those priorities is spending time with my mom, who will turn 89 at the end of this year. She is far more active than I am with neighbours who drop in for her hospitality once a week, artists with whom she generously shares her outdoor art pavilion, and shows in which she enters her work. She is my best friend, my soul mate. I cannot fathom life on this planet without her, but I know that even with the longevity that runs in the family, every moment counts these days. We have two visits planned this summer; first I'll go to her and then she'll come to me.

The second priority is a project that should result in a new resource that could be used across Canada as well as in public schools--if I can pull it off!

How about you? Are you working or off this summer? Will you have a chance to rest and recharge at all?

Monday, June 10, 2019

A Smidgen of Teacher Empowerment? by Claudie Graner, guest blogger

Last weekend I started getting a link to, and questions about, an IRCC PBLA “survey” that was being circulated. Had I received it? Was it legit? What about anonymity? Although it promised anonymity it asked for province and service provider organization (SPO). There is a list of 129 SPOs + an “Other” field. 

I wouldn't worry about anonymity in big school boards in Ontario.

It looked legit although it seemed constructed to “shoehorn” us into telling them what they want to hear. There were no questions about the real issues – and no “comment space” to expand or explain concerns. I answered the questions about the usefulness of CLB, PBLA, Tutela, LearnIT2Teach with “not useful”.

So - finally a GREAT anonymous (more or less) opportunity to tell the government what we have learned about PBLA and the CLBs, and other related projects?

Not so fast...

Many instructors (myself included) have not received it from their SPOs. Why not?

An obvious answer is that the SPOs are afraid of being blamed and their egregious behaviour being exposed. But seems to me that SPOs were taken by surprise, as we were, and simply wanted to know more.  Time will tell.

An anonymous comment posted here (6/07/2019) mentioned that their “SPO won't let us do the survey”.  “What is going on?” 6/08/2019 10:19 replied, “the funder requested the survey link be forwarded to “ALL LINC/CLIC instructors. (emphasis added to ALL)”.  The irony of Administrators who countered every attempt to discuss the flaws of PBLA with the mantra “The Funder Wants This” not complying with the funder request is remarkable.

There is no “Confidentiality “ note on the survey, no “Please do not share” note. I sent it to my union president. She waited till the weekend then sent it out to all instructors. She said it was an opportunity to send an “anonymous unfiltered message to IRCC about the impact and ramifications these initiatives have had on the teaching and learning experience of ESL, not to mention the non-compensated excessive workload.”

Yuliya Desyatova also sent it to the participants of her study as she saw it as an opportunity for those who had expressed the need for the funders and policy decision makers to hear their voices to give their thoughts to the funding ministry.

AND Kyle Lachini posted the link on the petition to Stop PBLA site. I hope the IRCC site was swamped.

Paula Rebolledo gave a brilliant IATEFL plenary talk “Teacher empowerment: leaving the  twilight zone”  Link: Very worth watching. The expression “cosmetic consultation” caught my eye. I hope this is not just a “cosmetic survey”.

What do you think? What did/would you say to IRCC?

Saturday, June 1, 2019

On the Horizon

Back in early spring I was feeling the burgeoning potential of the greening world around me. I was in a new relationship and feeling excited. I had an idea for a new project, too--something bigger than I've taken on before.

The relationship has ended, I'm sorry to say, but one of the benefits of dating a compulsive analyzer and sensitive communicator is that now I'm participating in a very helpful post-mortem.

The project, I'm happy to say, has not shrivelled on the vine. Rather, it just this morning entered a phase more concrete than conceptualization. My project partner met with me under the maple boughs on my lower deck landing overlooking a small tributary to the Detroit River. The person who graced my humble abode with her presence is a bit of a legend in these parts, and I'm still feeling high from her visit.

Also of interest to us all is a new book coming from Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti on teaching listening. This blog post is a small teaser.

What is on your horizon this week?

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The New Disconnect

Another semester is drawing to a close where I teach. Word on the street is that IRCC will be sending an auditor around to check our students' binders in June. Although the new PBLA guidelines prohibit the PBLA lead from coming round and checking my students' binders, there is nothing stopping my employer from simply shifting this task to the manager, which they have done.

There are two things that happen every five to six months at the school where I teach: 1) the end of one school semester and beginning of the next, marked by progress reports and student-teacher conferences and 2) performance evaluations of teachers by their manager culminating in the completion of a performance review and manager-teacher conference.

To get ready for the first of these semiannual rituals, artifacts, however you wish to spell that word, are tallied. During the semester, I enter every assessment--skill using or real-world task--into an Excel spreadsheet along with a mark that allows me to see whether the student received a beginning, developing or achieved score, or was absent. Calling on skills I acquired over years in clerical and quasi-technical roles, I have written formulas to do the math for me. It often feels as if I am becoming as much a statistician as language teacher. Having this tracking tool makes short work of the end-of-semester progress reports that we all must prepare. Some students will have collected enough artifacts--most of them successful--to have a benchmark changed in HARTs; others will not. In any case, it is the responsibility of the teacher to have provided students with about two "assessment opportunities" per skill per month.

As for the second of these twice-yearly protocols, the one I underwent last week marked the half-way point of my employment year. It is a time to check in with my manager regarding some non-negotiable goals tied to the IRCC contract and other goals that I was allowed to choose for myself from a list of the organization's core values.

Did I file all my reports on time? Yes, every month for the past nine years, my reports have been filed within 3 days of being due, and usually early. Are they slapdash reports? No. They have been held up as exemplary to newer employees.

Am I executing PBLA as mandated? Yes, my afternoon class was administered 32 assessments, all but one of them having been concluded before the onset of Ramadan.

How am I doing on my chosen value of "innovation?" Knocking that one out of the park, I'd say. Self development? Developing others? All my ratings were either satisfactory or 'excels.'

And yet...

Having brought one binder from each of my two classes to this meeting, I discovered alongside my manager that my wonderful student A, who worked for the federal government of her home country in a scientific role, had items in her "About Me" section that were not perfectly in the same order as listed on the inventory sheet. (This is the class that has been officially excused from "doing" PBLA, by the way; I have voluntarily done some PLBA with them just to keep abreast of how to do so with a higher level class should I ever need to dust off my resume and apply for LINC work elsewhere).

And so that is the goal assigned to me for the second six-month period: check every student binder, even if it means dedicating teaching assistant time to that, in order to ensure that every single paper filed in the binder is in perfect order according to the inventory sheet.

I know that this new manager is just doing her job. I know that she has already gotten an earful of how I feel about this, and I know that I've already received her pep talk about keeping it positive, especially in team meetings, more times than I can count. With a weak smile, I thank my manager for her time, sign the form, return to my classroom.

Driving home, I am already dreaming of the hours I can spend on a new project that has no connection to my next performance review. Once upon a time my passion and energy were connected to what happens in my classroom. Now there is a disconnect.

Few people seemed to understand why I posted the clip of the movie Cool Hand Luke, the scene in which he is made to dig and fill and re-dig and re-fill the same hole in the ground. The most demoralizing thing in the world is being forced to do something in which you see no value, no meaning. It's especially demeaning if you think the task you are being forced to perform is COUNTERPRODUCTIVE to your students' wellbeing.

How about you? Is your school year coming to a close or do you work through the summer months? Are you able to find meaning in your work?

Sunday, May 19, 2019

New Activity Pack - Jiadeep's Big Fall

I have just published my latest activity pack to accompany an ESL literacy reader from Bow Valley College - School of Global Access.

Before using this reader with my phase one adequate and phase two beginning literacy students, I use the emergency services materials from Toronto Police newcomer outreach program and also the "Calling 911" materials from the free e-book HandsOn!, each one for a week.** For this reason, I did not include fire, or police car in the new lexicon of twelve terms. Those three words are being recycled but are not novel at this point.

My new activity pack has:
  • label new vocabulary
  • gap-fill
  • text flash cards
  • picture flash cards
  • word unscramble
  • dialogue to practice for calling 911
  • true/false quiz
  • make the false sentences true
  • sentence unscramble
  • bingo game
Also available for download under LITERACY - EMERGENCY SERVICES is a word search puzzle. Enjoy!

**Teachers of higher levels can use the Toronto Police materials, as they go through CLB 5 and culminate in the viewing of a clip from the movie Crash along with an actual form for filing a complaint with the police.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Fun with Graphics

There is not much I enjoy more on a chilly, overcast day than to cuddle up in my corner by the window with my graphic tablet. I can watch the Baltimore Orioles stick their bills down into blobs of grape jelly, sip nectar, and pick the pulp out of orange halves while I work.

As someone who loves to illustrate learning materials, I think two of the best purchases I ever made were: enrolment in Tony Vincent's online course, Classy Graphics, and my Wacom Intuos Draw graphic tablet, which came with the free version of ArtRage software. I ended up upgrading to the premium version, but only for one feature that most people will not need.

Tony taught me how to create things in Google Draw. I have forsaken word processing platforms and usually use Google Draw to make worksheets like this one.

I can also use it to make board games.

Tony also taught me how to build any icon or illustration I need just using the SHAPES feature of Google Draw. The car in the picture below consists of about nine different shapes. This is a great ability to have when you just cannot find that perfect royalty-free image to illustrate a concept.

Google Draw is also handy when I need props for role plays such as bank cards, the screens of the self-check machine at the library, and even an auto insurance card or speeding ticket.

But Google Draw has its limitations. For some jobs, I turn to the graphic tablet. For my mock Ontario driver's license, I first had to trace over a photo of a trillium. From that I made a tiny trillium watermark. Tony showed me how to replicate one very small image to create a background pattern on a page. Then I brought in my traced trillium and used the transparency tool to turn it into a big watermark. I enjoy all these fussy little steps!

The graphic tablet also comes in really handy for things like adding the face to this driver's license.  You CAN use Google Draw to make a face, but I find that for $99 CAD, the tablet was well worth it for all the fun I have with it. Oh, and Tony also taught me how to use a colour picker tool to find out the exact shade of green I had already chosen for the licence so I could repeat a shade of it behind the man's face.

Here is something I did entirely with the graphic tablet. I took a photo of my students sitting on chairs that we were using as an imaginary bus stop. In ArtRage I was able to trace the photo, colour it, then bring in a photo of a park bench, size it, and trace that so that it seemed to be under the men all along. 
If you've read this far, you deserve the reward. I've just uploaded the Andres' Speeding Ticket activity pack to my website under LITERACY - Emergency Services. It made sense to me to put it there instead of creating a section about the law for literacy learners. Stay tuned for more. I usually end up fixing a typo or two and adding a couple of puzzles when I use the pack in my own class.

How about you? Do you have the type of personality that is good for slow, methodical, fussy work like sewing? Or not so much?

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Spring Fever

The tulips in my yard are opening, the peonies are just starting to unfurl their shiny new leaves, and the grape hyacinth is in bloom along my driveway. My boyfriend loves seeking out the ephemeral wildflowers in the woods this time of year. I am a birder who enjoys catching the migrating warblers as they pass through as well as ticking off new species on my fern and wildflower checklists. Today he got Trout Lily, Red Trillium, White Trillium, and Spring Beauty while I craned my neck at the budding canopy where Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, and other warblers foraged.
photo by Grant Segall

At school, there is something in the air. Teachers can be overheard counting the weeks until summer break. In the hallways, I have seen more than one huddle around a crying student. Is it the sudden crunch of assessments and knowledge that there's only so much time left to make the grade?

With each April, the world is made to feel new again. After nine years in the same job--four years longer than I've ever stayed with the same organization or position--I'm struggling to find ways to make it feel fresh. I'm very fortunate that half my teaching day is spent with seniors; they are always open to adventure. To keep things from feeling stale, I rely on a steady stream of topics that are intriguing not only to the students but also to me. Each comes with the possibility of a guest speaker or field trip.

Last week the seniors and I hopped on a city bus and visited our local hospice for a tour. And no, my school does not receive any funds for field trips. We were able to go because every single student owns a bus pass. I paid my $6 round-trip fare from my pocket.
At the bus terminal
Another thing I do to make old topics feel novel, aside from leading field trips and hosting guest speakers, is to expand on or enhance previously used materials. This week, for example, I jazzed up a module on Vitamin D and calcium with a trivia game for the traditionally lighter fifth day of the school week. If you are using a lesson pack on calcium and vitamin D from the OPH-OCDSB Collaborative Team via, you are welcome to download my trivia game cards from

Literacy class is even more prone to feeling repetitive. In the back corner of the room stands the same grey file cabinet I've had for nine years. The second drawer holds all my literacy materials: master copies of handouts, picture flashcards, and all those matching games that took hours of early morning time to cut out and paper clip together for up to five pairs of students. So, as with seniors class, to keep myself from going mad, I find ways to make each iteration of the same module a bit different.

This past week the afternoon students were learning about minimum wage with the Laws About Pay materials from Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO). I'm happy to say that all but one of my students will be moving to the mainstream CLB 1 class in September, as they can now handle level one work such as this booklet from CLEO. This time around, I added a listening activity that brought in both numeracy and map skills by quickly grabbing a copyright-free colouring page from the internet.

First I led them through colouring the water so that it was easier to see where land ended and water began. We talked about the wiggly lines (coast) versus the straight lines (international border). Since Windsor is a border town, they easily got the idea that the straight line along the "bottom" of Canada is the U.S.A. After colouring the provinces and territories, which I hope will strengthen their growing ability to identify provinces and territories, I turned the map into a worksheet for a listening quiz. With a list of Canada's minimum wage amounts in front of me, I first had a strong student come to the board and write in the dollar amount as I dictated "Alberta's minimum wage is $15 an hour." He got it right. I then called on the second strongest student to write in an amount on another province. After three more demonstrations, I had everyone copy these five amounts onto their maps. I then dictated the last eight dollar amounts to the whole class as each student listened and pencilled in the remaining dollar amounts on their maps.

How about you? Do you have spring fever? Have you been teaching the same level for some time? How do you make the old feel new again?

Saturday, April 27, 2019

A Part-Time Job Activity Pack

I'm back to doing what I enjoy most: creating learning resources. Today I'm pleased to announce the publication of an activity pack to complement the School of Global Access ESL Literacy reader entitled A Part-Time Job. It's about a student named Fazil who looks in the newspaper for a suitable job ad. He finds an ad for part-time help in a clothing store. He goes to the store and fills out an application.

Because the idea of a simple search through the classifieds is a bit outdated, I decided to include references to three other methods of finding work: the Internet, networking (talking to people), and looking for signs in shop windows.

This book is actually a bit too easy for my current cohort, but I used it this week because Easter Monday made it a short week. I tend to save the more challenging stories for weeks in which we have the full five days.

The complement of activities I developed, however, is targeted to my students' slightly higher level of ability. I hope you'll still be able to make use of parts of the activity pack and that you'll let me know if you do. Don't wait till you see me at a conference; shoot me an email or leave a comment on the blog, why dontcha?

Responding to a needs assessment in which you readers took part, I made a point of including ten colour picture flashcards as well as matching text flashcards. It was tricky trying to depict the concepts "full time" and "part time" in images, but my students got the idea right away.

You can find the new resources on my website under LITERACY - JOBS, a new section under development. Cheers!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

A New Leaf

Whether you celebrated Nowruz a month ago, celebrated Passover this weekend, are celebrating Easter today, or celebrate nothing at all, I raise a glass in your direction and echo my partner's dinner table toast: to rebirth, to freedom, to spring.
Classic Southern Buttermilk Pie

Perhaps it is the longer days and emerging light green shoots affecting my spirit, but it does feel to me to be a time of fresh starts and beckoning freedom.

One of my colleagues is leaving us this week for the birth and early bonding with her second baby while another teacher prepares to fill her shoes while she's away. Some of us are using the new PBLA guidelines as a reason to purge file cabinets of forms no longer needed (sorry, trees!) and rethink our entire approach to complying with the government-mandated framework. Others hear freedom's call and are looking to broaden their horizons, seeking new opportunities and other ways to use their gifts, experience, skills, and education.

I am in Ohio today with a group of rowdy, mostly extroverted men who are quickly endearing themselves to me. They are beginning to feel to me like family. It's good to know that one can begin again at any stage of life.

How about you?

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Quiet Subversion

More and more these days, the topic of discussion around me seems to be compensation and fairness.  This week's blog post by Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy is an interview with Angela Watson, founder of the 40-hour Teacher Workweek Club, and it's a good read (or podcast, if you prefer to listen).

Before the days of PBLA, I might have clucked my tongue, shaken my head, and thought, "Those poor overworked public school teachers!" Now I find myself nodding as I read along, agreeing with the proposed strategies, agreeing with statements such as the following:
We will work dozens of unpaid hours every week, we will make our materials from scratch, we will spend money from our own pay checks. We’ll neglect our health, our relationships, our home, even our own kids because we need to do whatever it takes for students.
Another idea from the interview that resonated with me was number three under "ways to push back." Actually, all the strategies named by Angela could also help us in our professional settings. If you have time, listen to or read the transcript of the interview and tell me what you think.

As for me and my professional world, it was an interesting week. Here is a list of just some of the loosely related things that happened to me or were observed by me recently:

  • Was asked by my supervisor if I would be willing to sit down for a mediated discussion with a student. I agreed to do so only if it could be done on paid time (i.e., not on my lunch hour nor after 3:00; that leaves my two 15-minute paid breaks).
  • Received a request from someone in another city. S/he is in need of copies of collective agreements in force at SPOs implementing PBLA. If you have one handy, send it my way and I will see that it reaches that person.
  • Heard a PBLA lead teacher say that s/he is way behind in his/her marking because his/her son/daughter has exams right now. Son/daughter has promised to do all the marking in a few more days, after midterms.
  • Learned of yet another person who is leaving the field because of PBLA.
What about you? What's happening in your world this week?

Sunday, March 31, 2019


Less than a month ago I was writing here about my conversation with Paul Chislett about worker rights and organizing, and here I am to relate some news I just got that a federally funded service provider organization (SPO) in Windsor just voted to unionize. There is, of course, no connection between my blog post and the timing of that. The person who started the ball rolling began calling around to various unions back in October of last year, I learned earlier this week. The vote was narrow, but the employees at Windsor Women Working with Immigrant Women are now in the Unifor fold. Congratulations to those across all departments, not just language skills, who fought for that. With Unemployed Help Centre, that makes two union SPOs that I am aware of; UHC is with CUPE.

I don't have much else to say on that topic now, so I'll finish out this blog post with bits of news on other topics.

My Twitter feed is abuzz with colleagues' preparations to attend BC TEAL's annual conference. Yuliya has been presenting again, this time edging into the subject of student feedback on PBLA. I'll update you on that when I can, or you can follow her on Twitter

After using my own resources The Library and accompanying activity pack in my literacy classroom for a week, I ended up publishing a longer version of the activity pack with more matching words to pictures, more picture flashcards so that every text flashcard has an image to go with it, as well as two new dialogues for role plays. The librarian's role will have to be played by the teacher or a T.A. The following week, I published a resource that is a facsimile of my local library's self-check machine screens. I stuck the pages (screens) into the cello sleeves of my old classroom bank machine made from a cardboard box. That worked out great; everyone seemed excited to learn how to check out their own materials without going to the circulation desk. Whether that translates to an actual ability to do so during our field trip this Wednesday is yet to be seen! The bonus extension resource is on the website for free download.

That's it for me for this week. I'm enjoying the rest of my visit to Shaker Heights, Ohio today where the grand mature trees that shade the boulevards are beautifully blanketed in snow this afternoon.

How's life in your neck of the woods?

Sunday, March 24, 2019

New Guidelines: Do They Matter?

Do the new PBLA guidelines matter? That depends on whom you ask and how you finish that question. Whether they matter may depend on one's goal or focus in the ongoing battle over the fate of our profession. A couple of readers have taken the time in the last few days to leave very well reasoned and clearly worded comments on this topic. They do a better job than I can presenting solid arguments around this question.

Here is a comment from a teacher who doesn't see the revision as being all that meaningful in the larger scheme of things.

Anonymous3/23/2019 1:46 AM 
Well I suppose it's a step in the right direction,(?) but the reality is that there are several factors in many ESL programs (mine for example), that make PBLA simply an unsound and wasteful practice. a) many of our students are middle aged or old, women leaving home for the first time with babysitters and daycare and sick kids at home or visitors here for a short time, and really don't care about writing tests and changing benchmarks so all the time spent doing this is simply wasted on them, not to mention the time wasted organizing binders b) the binders themselves are cumbersome and a great waste of paper and material full of redundant stuff and in many cases students don't even take them with them when they leave (we are constantly collecting old binders in my school - dozens of them) which is shameful in this day and age c) there is no consistency from teacher to teacher in what constitutes a 'task' which makes a pass or fail more or less useless (my tasks for example are markedly different from my co-workers' tasks ) d) real life 'modules' can only be done for so long and when the actual focus of language learning is no longer 'language' students end up in higher levels lacking the ability to write sentences with no concept of grammar which is , after all, the basis of language - funny I feel like PBLA has embraced the opposite of what we should be doing. I think we should do some real life stuff for a few students who would like to learn about banking etc. but should mostly focus on fluency and using proper grammar and how to write well d) students are still held back by the need for 8 'artefacts' in all skill areas. If you have two full classes, as I do, the time required to create, deliver, mark and tabulate the tasks is unreasonable e) there is so much focus on test writing that many ESL programs have lost sight of what it means to teach ESL f) many ESL programs have continuous intake which means new students on a daily basis so no matter how good their language skills are, rather than a quick brush up on skills which is what many of the younger students need, they are forced to stay in their level until they finish 8 tasks in all skill areas and this simply cannot be done in a short amount of time so classes are jammed up, nowhere to go until everyone 'passes' (and pass - fail - test is not a good way to teach / learn English) and everyone feels discouraged. Morale is at an all time low. Finally, the people we are dealing with need compassion and kindness. They have lived difficult and stressful lives, and PBLA only adds to the stress. Oh and no more fun.
And then there is this response, with focus on the difference that the revision can make in some of our work lives.
Anonymous3/23/2019 8:14 AM 
Point C is interesting. YES, we are all different-staff and students included. 
It sounds as if you work at one of the SPOs that were trained by a leaders that were developed in a certain cohort. Please remember that the new 2019 guidelines have been created with abused staff in mind. Some SPOs have caused undue stress and workload because they acted as hostile and unkind leaders. The new guidelines need to be presented to administration, boards of directors or agency heads so that balance and respect can return to the workplace. 
Everyone, and I mean everyone, did the best that THEY could do for their learners before PBLA. If employers are concerned about their workforce, then they should implement better hiring practices for future program development. No agency should discipline, or discouraged an employee who has "struggles" implementing PBLA because it is clear in the new 2019 (and all past documents )n that PBLA implementation is a process in which we are working toward PBLA. 
Anyone who experiences anything else can now approach their local labour board. Do not work beyond your paid time. Offer the resources that are available to your students. Enjoy your job. Do what you can. IF anyone is harassing you at work, tell your supervisor and if it is your supervisor then contact the CCLB. I have been informed that we should please contact François Bélisle, Executive Director, at 
He wants to know if SPOs are still abusing people with PBLA. By the way, the CHANGE CYCLE has been removed as it was the document that encouraged the abuse. The labour board of Ontario advised that the inclusion of the Change Cycle document opened up the CCLB for charges. It would be good for any employer to understand that harassment and abuse are no longer going to be tolerated by labour boards, unions or boards of directors. 
The pertinent aforementioned documents are linked below. Enjoy your Saturday colleagues. Managers, make a cup of tea and read where you went wrong and where you need to improve. Prepare your apology and maybe hand in your resignation if you aren't willing to conform. 
Advised by legal counsel prior to writing this piece.
Here are a few of the passages I find to be most pertinent in the struggle some of us have been facing in getting admin and lead teachers to stop abusing their roles. The yellow highlighting is my own.

From the section on ACCOUNTABILITY:

Lead Teacher Role The Lead Teacher is responsible to the administrator for assisting teachers in PBLA implementation. Responsibilities include
  • Provide PBLA orientation, and support to new teachers. 
  • Advise administrators on needed supports such as PD or resources. 
  • Complete an annual self assessment using the PBLA Practice Review framework and identify and complete an action plan. 
The Lead Teacher also plays a valuable role in supporting colleagues, using strategies that might include the following:

  • Facilitate informal small-group discussions or learning groups to address common concerns using classroom teachers as resources for one other.
  • Offer workshops related to PBLA implementation, such as the CCLB Professional Learning Sessions.
  • Observe teachers and provide feedback and/or suggestions as a peer and colleague.
  • Team teach or team plan on occasion.
  • Give demonstration lessons. 
If you are a lead teacher, you have an important supportive role, but should not be supervising or evaluating colleagues or screening portfolios or artefacts from colleagues’ classrooms.
I appreciate this paragraph at the end of the section on the teacher's role:
In the end, PBLA builds on the understanding that ongoing, effective assessment provides learners with feedback that they can use to improve. It also recognizes that as a teacher, you are best situated to observe and assess learners’ language proficiency related to CLB expectations, and your professional judgements are foundational to the reflective teaching and assessment practices that best support learners in their learning journeys.
In some ways, I see the new guidelines as nothing more than rearrangement of the deck chairs on the titanic. So you've given Cool Hand Luke a long-handled shovel instead of a short-handled shovel. (You can always depend on me to mix my metaphors. Lol.) The way we have to execute the nonsense that Norm Friesen says was "born of a colonial mindset" just became easier?

On the other hand, if you are my friend who has been on the brink of mental and emotional collapse while s/he tried to figure out how to continue to make a living in the face of unbelievable bullying, the new guidelines matter.

What do you think? Is the publication of these revised guidelines consequential in the long run? If so, are there other sections that have drawn your attention? Are there challenges that are not addressed by the new guidelines?

Let's keep it respectful no matter how much we may disagree, eh?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Cool Hand Luke

This week I have a little of this and a little of that for discussion.

First I want to share Yuliya's update on the state of PBLA research. Here is her recent missive.

Dear Colleagues,

Here is a very brief update on our PBLA implementation research and a new project invitation for literacy teachers, from a colleague at theUniversity of Birmingham.

I continue to present on the project that you participated in order to stimulate further discussion, more research, and, ultimately, policy changes.
Three major conferences are approaching: Metropolis National Conference in Halifax, BC TEAL, and ACLA/CAAL 2019 in Vancouver. Hoping to see you there if you are close to any of the conference sites.

Good news is that other research projects on PBLA are underway, and both are researching PBLA impact on beginner language learners: Dr. Marylin Abbot is working with learners of refugee background in Edmonton, and Esther Karasova is inviting literacy teachers to share their experiences with PBLA implementation at pre-CLB and lowest CLB levels.

If you could share the invitation below with your colleagues, it would be very much appreciated. Insightful and practice-relevant research can not be conducted without teachers' input. Esther’s survey is short, focused, and can be completed in about 10 minutes.
Thank you for your consideration!

Best regards,

Secondly, I'm happy to announce to literacy and low-level ESL teachers that I've just published a new ESL literacy reader with activity pack. It's aimed at about a high CLB 1L to 2L or a CLB 1 class and is called The Library. You can download the PDFs of the book and activity pack from - LITERACY - School and Library OR you can click either the book image or the activity pack image on that site to go directly into the Google file in order to edit it before use. The book itself is not city-specific, but the activity pack does have Windsor street names and our late fines. So the activity pack would need to be edited before use by teachers in other cities. Please email me if you find a typo or have any feedback.

Lastly, I would like to address myself to those commenters whose comments have not made it past the new screening process in the past week or two--not that any of you would be back here to read another blog post! The rule as is stands, having been put to a vote by readers, is that the anonymous commenting feature is intended to be used only by those whose comments could get them fired or blacklisted. If you want to take potshots at the PBLA skeptics and critics, use your name. If you want to call us whiners and wallowers in negativity, do so under your own name. If you want to make the point that the issuing of new PBLA guidelines means we now have no excuse not to all jump back on the bandwagon, shut our traps and just put the damned pieces of paper in the binders, you may say that; just sign your real name.

I think that is where a lot of debate is going to centre now. What do the new guidelines mean for everyone? For some, it could mean an end to a lot of bullying and power grabbing by supervisors who had been using their twisted version of PBLA to make teachers' lives a living hell. That's yet to be seen. But for some of us, the new guidelines do little to change our stance. I don't have Claudie's gift for spelling things out; I'm fond of metaphors and allegories.

My PBLA lead teacher, after a round of inspecting binders in anticipation of a visit by an IRCC binder auditor, said to me: "I don't know why you have such issues with PBLA. You know how to do it. You're doing it fine." She said something to that effect. I responded, "Just because I can follow some steps doesn't mean I think it's in the best interest of stakeholders. You could set up a ladder and ask me to climb to the top and back down 17 times. I could execute that perfectly. It wouldn't mean I agreed with having to do it."

Suddenly a scene from an old movie came to mind.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Worker Rights and Organizing in Windsor, Ontario

The questions of the week are whether an employer can pay a full-time ESL teacher and a part-time teacher at a different rate of pay, whether the employer must reveal the wages paid, and where to turn for help with such issues.

You may know more about this than I do. Please use the comments section to educate me if you do. To find answers to these questions, I turned to the Internet and to my friend Paul Chislett of the Windsor Workers Education Centre on Ottawa Street in Windsor. If you happen to lunch at Taloola Cafe on a Sunday, you are likely to see him there with his wife Mireille Coral, founder of WWEC's sewing cooperative.

Going online, I found out that Ontario has a Pay Equity Act that covers pay equity between men and women doing the same work. But that wasn't what I was looking for. I was trying to find out whether employers are legally required to pay part-time teachers the same as full-time teachers if they are doing the same job.

Interestingly, between April 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018, there was a law requiring equal pay for equal work regardless of employment status! It looks like Premier Doug Ford repealed that provision. However, this website says that one may still file a claim if one's employer did not follow the law while it was in effect. You may have back pay coming to you, if nothing else.

While researching, I discovered the Collective Agreements e-Library Portal, which is where you might look to find the pay scales for various positions at a given institution if your employer refuses to reveal what others are paid.

Paul Chislett was happy to meet with me to talk about steps teachers can take when employers break the law. You can just imagine how quickly the conversation turned to PBLA.

In most cases, Paul pointed out, everything depends on status. "How are you classed? Are you classed as an employee of the organization or as a contract worker? That is key," he said. Employees may fall under a collective agreement while contract workers do not.

Paul is not a lawyer and neither am I, so we cannot give legal advice. The Windsor Workers' Education Centre does, however, educate workers on how to organize as well as referring people for legal help. One such lawyer who has helped WWEC referrals in the past is David Deluzio, whose office is on Goyeau. If his caseload is too full, he can refer clients to another lawyer. Paul remembered one such case in which the worker had to travel out of town to meet with the lawyer, but the outcome was positive in the end.

"What do you think of asking someone from the Ministry of Labour to speak at one of our PD events?"

"That's a great idea," Paul said, adding "I've always had good experiences with employment standards officers." Paul said they have an office right here in town, though it tends to be understaffed.

"Of course, they can't advocate," Paul started.

"But they can inform, educate..." I said.


Mireille returned to the cafe after a walk around the block in gale-force winds to find that our conversation had turned to the broader topic of adult education and PBLA.

"It's not by accident that ESL and related activities are crippled," Paul said. "Because the next step [after empowering students] would be critiquing the system, and the ruling classes are not interested in letting that happen."

If you are interested in learning more about employee rights or cooperativism, you can follow @chislettshakeup on Twitter or drop into the Windsor Workers' Education Centre at 2034 Ottawa Street.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Assessment Successes and Challenges, Eh?

Claudie Graner brought our attention to this address by Anne Senior of the Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks. If you don't have time for the entire thing, Claudie thinks the following points are especially interesting for those of us questioning the validity of our PBLA artifacts as a means of deciding progression, among other reasons:



Sunday, February 24, 2019

Resources for Black History Month in Canada

Barely squeaking it in before the end of February, I have just updated the LINKS page of to include the resource links that Irene Moore Davis gave to attendees of her presentation to TESL Windsor, "Creative Strategies to Teach Black History in ESL Settings."

Hopefully we will all remember that they are there when February rolls around again in 2020. Or perhaps we won't limit ourselves to only covering African Canadian history one month of the year!

Do you have any good resources to add to that list?

Friday, February 22, 2019

Two Project Ideas

Is this Monday's post four days late? Or did I miss that one, in which case next week's is early? In any case, ...

I have a couple of interesting projects on the horizon and want to get your input on one of them before I dig in.

I did not do anything with either of my classes for Black History Month this year. I do, however, plan to cover local Black history in some form or other before this term is over. The reason I did not want to study Black history with my students in February is that I want to go on a walking field trip to the Tower of Freedom Underground Railroad Monument in downtown Windsor as part of the unit. Neither my students nor I wish, however, to navigate treacherous sidewalks to get there. We will go when the weather warms up a bit.

Did you know that Windsor has one half of this international monument? The other half is in Hart Plaza, Detroit. At a recent TESL Windsor PD event, Irene Moore Davis told us that the sculptor designed the monuments so that the companion sculpture's pointing hand lines up perfectly with our sculpture in Windsor! You can prove it with a laser beam.

The day of our PD event, Irene Moore Davis provided us with a handout that includes links and references to a lot of good material. My problem is that this material is a bit beyond the reading ability of my class. I would love to create something for LINC teachers in the Windsor area to use with their students. It looks like I am going to be able to do that. I plan to write and illustrate something biographical with tie-ins to the monument and to people such as Mary Ann Shadd Cary. I am bad about biting off more than I can finish in a month or two. But I would rather do something really nice and not have it ready this school year than to do a rush job.

My question to Windsor area teachers is this: what would a booklet and activity pack need to contain in order for you to use it with your class? Would you use a level three text if the accompanying activity pack included level-appropriate activities for higher CLBs? Or should I publish three versions of the same book: CLB 1/2, 3/4, and 5 plus? Please leave me ideas in the comments.

The other project on my plate--one I can begin this Sunday at Taloola Cafe--is to interview Paul Chislett and get his ideas regarding the steps a teacher can take if he / she suspects an employer is not compliant with the new legislation that requires equal compensation for equivalent work regardless of the employee's full- or part-time employment status. I will post that interview on this blog soon.

What are you up to this week?

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

A Troll Poll

Here are the characteristics of an internet troll.

To take the Troll Poll, you do not have to leave your personal info or email. I am relying on the honour system and the assumption that teachers are far too busy to go around sitting at multiple computers just to skew results.

Multiple times over the past two years or more,  I have wanted to set a rule for this forum so that only those whose opinions could get them fired or reprimanded are to use cover of anonymity.
The only reason I ever allowed for anonymity in commenting is that this blog is the only forum in Canada where teachers are free to express their opinions of PBLA without fear of reprisal. I never intended the anonymous commenting feature to enable PBLA defenders to snipe without revealing who they are, which in turn  would reveal any conflicts of interest or ulterior motives for coming here. There are plenty of other venues where we can go if we feel like being attacked on an uneven playing field. If it's up to me to make the decision, I will not publish comments from PBLA proponents who do not identify themselves.

But it's not just my blog, it's your forum. So I'm leaving this decision to you all. I hope you'll take the one-question survey.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Food for Thought

I don't have a specific topic for you this week, but there's a lot of food for thought swirling around right now.

For one, there is the discussion that has taken place in the comments on New Reader Has Lots to Contribute.

I thought that one of the most telling comments was from a PBLA Lead who signed herself "Norma." She addressed herself to a former school teacher who likes the structure PBLA provides:

Linda, if you’re still reading, I’m honestly interested in what you have to say. I was a strong advocate for PBLA—until I was introduced to the CCLB’s grossly inadequate and unprofessional training materials (I’m a PBLA Lead) and to add insult to injury, we were told that THERE ARE NO RESOURCES to implement this thing. This is contrary to what is explicitly stated in their own practice guidelines that “sufficient resources” will be provided. Due to the number of “artefacts” required, classes have become testing centres and stress has increased exponentially for both learners (especially refugees—unforgivable!) and instructors. PBLA implementation has been a negative experience for every teacher I’ve met. You are the first that I know of who has spoken so positively of it. That makes me curious. It is demanded of us that we be “Champions of PBLA”. If this methodology is so wonderful, why does it need championing? It should speak for itself! Why are those who raise valid concerns in an objective and professional manner labeled “laggards”? Why are there NEVER anonymous surveys of instructors and learners? What is the CCLB afraid of? That the emperor has no clothes is my bet. PBLA takes a heavy toll. I sincerely wish you good luck in keeping your head above water. How can it possibly help learners to have exhausted unhappy teachers? How can it help them to push through 32 assessments or they languish at the same benchmarks. Incredibly badly thought out flop of an experiment with disastrous consequences. Please tell me how you’re able to do three assessments a week? Is this a full-time class? —Norma
Other food for thought this week came in the form of two things Yuliya retweeted. One was this article in The Atlantic by Rahm Emanuel about education reform.

The other  was this meme, which I also saw retweeted by @YuliyaESL.

I hope everyone is surviving winter.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Amplify, Amplify

I've deleted my post about Back-to-the-Well and PBLA Survival. Other things are more pressing right now.

There are two items this week that we can all mail off to the folks on our PBLA CONTACTS list. One is Yuliya Desyatova's latest publication, a brilliant article in the TESL Canada Journal. The other is a news article that appeared two days ago in The Star.

Yuliya Desyatova's latest article is "Batting the Piñata and Swallowing Camels": Teachers Learn to PBLA in the Absence of Dialogic Interaction in TESL Canada Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2 (2018): Special Issue - The Shifting Landscape of Professional Self-Development for ELT Practitioners. Reading it helped me understand why I feel the way I do about PBLA, the training model and so-called PD we have received and continue to have shoved at us to date. Brava, Yuliya! This is your heftiest work yet.

The news piece, posted to Twitter, is entitled, "Refugees Hoping to Become Citizens Face High Bar to Achieve Language Benchmarks." It was written by Sarah Schulman for the Toronto Star. Schulman, a sociologist, brings up many points that I believe spell out discrimination. We are erecting barriers to citizenship for those who will never--no matter how hard they try--be able to reach that magic status of achieved CLB four.

Shouldn't OCASI and other organizations advocating for refugees' rights have an interest in the way PBLA is affecting refugees' wellbeing? There are so many ways PBLA is damaging, especially when you consider factors such as trauma and learning disabilities.

Let's add OCASI to the list of contacts, shall we? But I don't want to be guilty of being Ontario-centric. Do you know of a similar organization in your province that might take up our cause?

Monday, January 28, 2019

New Reader Has Lots to Contribute

I had a blog post up this morning, but I decided to hit 'revert to draft' and save it for next week. This week a new reader (or perhaps more than one?) left a comment on each of several posts, and I found the insights to be worthy of a blog post. Here is what this teacher, who recently quit due to a toxic PBLA training and enforcement environment, has to say:

Hi Kelly, thanks for your great work. You are brave in the toxic atmosphere created by PBLA. I am happily no longer teaching PBLA after many years of experience teaching English. The people in charge of this charade have not only caused untold amounts of stress for those remaining, but have chased many professionals out of the field. I decided that I would no longer tolerate being insulted and in essence told to shut up when I had even a minor criticism of PBLA. I don't need to work in a toxic workplace where I am disrespected every step of the way. Especially when I don't think those who made this monstrosity were teachers at all, or not good ones, that's for sure!

Hi Kelly, interesting that one of the notes on your blog by a former PBLA teacher said that she got out of pbla due to 'an integrity thing.' Wow, that is exactly what I have thought about it. It is actually unethical to waste huge amounts of taxpayer money to achieve poorer results now than we used to pre-PBLA. I was looking at some notes for an old class of mine and I realized that I am using a textbook for CLB6 that I used to use for CLB3!?! Shocking how poor PBLA is in teaching students to speak English! Many of my students in CLB6 still struggle with the basic verb tenses and yet, I've been yelled at by incompetent administrators for teaching grammar, even though my students beg me to teach grammar in every needs assessment. PBLA is a failure, pure and simple! on Where is Our Ally?

Unfortunately, there are some administrators and lead teachers who are hardline pbla believers and accuse others of being unprofessional while treating teachers with disrespect. In one of our staff meetings, both leads and the coordinators attacked a sweet teacher who dared to question the orthodoxy. Having been attacked the week before, I had vowed to not say a word, but I was ready to walk out, though I knew that I would be done if I did (both she and I have left the worst school I have ever worked at because of PBLA). I believe PBLA is actually unethical in that plenty of money is wasted on achieving poor results (students don't learn very much compared to real teaching). I call it fake teaching.

The creators of PBLA should be held accountable and must account for the mess." Isn't that just Joanne Pettis? Hear, hear! Someone definitely should be held accountable for this disaster (Pettis, Holmes, etc.). If what was done before was 'loosey-goosey' then why were the results better then than now with PBLA? Pre-PBLA I was using materials with my CLB3 classes that I now use with my CLB6 classes! To me, the bottom line is that PBLA is a miserable failure on teaching students how to speak English!

When I complain about PBLA around PBLA true believers, they always say things like, "Well, it's better than what we had before. We need accountability." But the fact remains that PBLA is less effective than the old way. A study by a researcher named Watts from about 10 years ago, claimed that it typically took 250-300 hours to move from one benchmark to the next. Nowadays, it takes 400-500 hours or more for benchmarks to change, thus requiring students to remain in each level for 2 or 3 semesters. I also find that students now are much weaker in the levels they are in than before (my school used to do TOEFL readings in CLB5-absolutely impossible now). That sounds like failure to me. It cannot be 'fixed'. It needs to be scrapped and teachers need to be able to teach as they know how. I have never in my life learned anything 'the PBLA way'
I've talked to several teachers in the regular school system who were forced at one time to teach pbla. They all roll their eyes and say the workload was ridiculous and they are certainly happy that that failed experiment was finally ditched

I enjoyed the comments from the person who says they just teach the way they know how and hide that fact from the PBLA police. I've tried to do this, because I truly want to help the students improve their English, but unfortunately, my school monitors what we teach in the classroom and freak out if the students happily say they are learning grammar and love it! The lead teacher goes in and talks to the students behind our backs to find out what we are doing. Needless to say, the atmosphere at my school is toxic!

I have learned almost nothing from any of the pbla training events at my school because the leads don't understand it either. Even 5 years in, they stumble around like Keystone Kops, or at my other school, they are Nazis who follow what they claim are the rules, to a 't'

My school definitely weeds out those who are not perfectly pbla compliant (actually they weed out anyone who even questions it mildly). You are attacked in meetings and thus, most who undergo such treatment quit. Or you are undermined by the administration and leads who tell the students behind your back that you are not a good teacher (one of my favourite students warned me that the lead would speak to certain students when I was on break who would thereafter be hostile to whatever I tried to do in class). It is an effective way to get rid of people without having to fire them. I was furious, but I had no direct proof that she had undermined my teaching.
Whoever you are, I hope you'll leave a comment to give yourself a pseudonym. Otherwise, I'll refer to you as "Got Out."

Monday, January 21, 2019

New Activity Pack, Revived Newsletter

Last week I said I was only going to blog every other week, yet here it is a week later and I'm blogging. Go figure.

Over the weekend I got my graphic tablet and ArtRage software up and running again with the new laptop. Did you know that I completely BLISS OUT when I am sketching on my Wacom Intuos Draw? I do. And it was the perfect weekend to stay inside and create materials. When I stepped out just to the store for soup ingredients, I instantly regretted it. Once I had the soup stuff, I was content to sit by the window and work on the Andres Needs Gas activity pack.

I'm not planning to make worksheets in MS Word anymore. I've noticed that older activity packs in Word do not maintain their formatting well when opened in subsequent versions of Word. Also, there can be an issue with fonts, particularly KG Primary Penmanship font, required for penmanship lines. A document created in Google Drawing, on the other hand, is very easy to set up and save as a PDF. Every once in a while, I'll get a request from a teacher somewhere out there in the world who wants me to open the Google doc for editing. In that case, I just point out that it's not necessary for me to share editing privileges with them. Anyone can go to FILE - Make a Copy. I learned all of this from Tony Vincent.

How many of you are enrolled now in Tony's spring course, Classy Graphics? I still use what he taught me weekly if not daily.

Not only am I having second thoughts about limiting my blogging to biweekly, I'm also thinking I may continue the newsletter. When I sent out a farewell edition, I got feedback encouraging me to continue. It doesn't take much for me to reconsider. A little positive feedback goes a long way.

With that said, here is what I worked on this weekend. You will notice I am not as stuck in perfectionist mode as before. Once upon a time, I felt that all images had to be in the same style. I would never mix clip art with photos with my own sketches. This time I did. I don't like it, but I'm going to live with it this once because a) I needed the activity pack this week and couldn't wait for perfectionist Kelly to spend an hour on every sketch; b) do the uncomfortable until it feels comfortable.

You can download the Andres Needs Gas reader from Bow Valley College School of Global Access website. You can grab my activity pack from - Literacy - Transportation. I also linked to it under Literacy - Community because Andres visits many places around town: the library, bank, grocery store, etc. In fact I think I will follow this reader with my "Around Town" unit.

If you know someone who would like to receive the monthly round up and reminders of free resources created that month, point them to the SUBSCRIBE link in the sidebar. ---->

I guess I'm getting a second wind!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


The topic on tonight's #CdnELTchat on Twitter is Resolutions in English language teaching (ELT). I could stay up long enough to join in, but then again, that would be breaking one of my personal resolutions. Last fall I decided to make an earlier bedtime a part of my self-care plan. Bedtime for screens is an hour before that, something my naturopathic doc recommended.

The Twitter chat topic is, nevertheless, a great one for me to steal borrow for this week's blog post. I'm taking it in an unusually personal direction.

My life is going through some big shifts right now. A few months ago, I had what Carl Jung once referred to as a "big dream." I've only had about five such dreams in my lifetime. The meaning of the dream was clear. I was giving birth to a new me. This new Kelly is going to be able to state her needs like never before; she will be able to go after what she needs to be healthy and whole.

Shortly after this dream and the reverberations through my psyche, my six-plus-year relationship with my beau fell apart. It had been coasting on fumes for a while, but we had the long overdue conversation that ended it.

Two more events have recently impacted my life. I feel like a planet being pelted by one asteroid after another. The shake-up is good! First I met someone new, someone who is modelling excellent self-care and clear, no-nonsense communication. Second, I got a session with a Jungian life coach (there isn't such a thing; I made that up to describe my gifted friend) that has helped dissolved a complex that had been crippling me for decades. Since the lifting of this complex, I've found myself free from my usual anxiety, once diagnosed as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and beginning to feel much freer of perfectionism, which has also plagued me my whole adult life.

Yeah, I know. I don't usually get this personal on a professional blog, do I? But this tangent is going somewhere, I promise.

Things are shifting in me. Everything is starting to feel healthier, but I don't think this story ends well for my blog or newsletter or cute little MOO cards that I once passed out at conferences.

Six months ago my laptop broke and I couldn't afford at that time to replace it. I discovered that there is life beyond ELT and the hours I was putting into my prep and extracurricular activities. In the beginning, I felt anxious and guilty much of the time. But after a few weeks, I discovered that my students enjoy and benefit from lessons that include more 'Back to the Well' and fewer worksheets. I thank my lucky stars that seniors are not expected to do full-blown PBLA and that my other class consists of just eight CLB 2L learners. That is to say, PBLA is not crushing me the way it is so many of us.

On a personal level, It feels now as if I'm teetering on the brink of something (potentially) very big. A different life is calling me (though not necessarily a different job). My new direction involves art, and not just illustrations for ESL booklets.

I want to give myself space to figure out what is calling to me. That sounds like a great resolution. I hereby resolve to give myself space to hear the still small voice. I also declare this blog a bi-weekly publication. I won't be surprised if it is one day a monthly publication. I'm not steering right now so much as being carried along. It feels amazing.

How about you? Did you participate in this week's #CdnELTchat on Twitter? Do you feel yourself at a crossroads of any sort? Do you have resolutions for this year, professionally or personally?

Monday, January 7, 2019

How to Deal

In December, Claudie Graner made a comment on the "Where's Our Ally?" blog post asking the following:

Kelly, I was wondering for the start of the new year if you wouldn’t mind creating a practical blog post about ways to deal with the perpetual stress and tension, especially in those minute by minute interactions we have (“The binder failed?Whaaat!” “The assessment was no good? Why?”) Invite others to share. I’m going to need something as we start “implementation”....Being in constant PBLA crisis mode is unhealthy for us all...
I agree that being in constant PBLA crisis mode is unhealthy.

While we are all in the same boat, some of us have life jackets while others don't. Each of us is at a different point in the roll-out of PBLA. We belong to different cohorts. How our respective administrative teams enforce PBLA varies wildly from one agency to the next. I know of more than one place of employment where teachers are completely stressed out trying to please a micromanaging supervisor. One SPO director is--rumour has it--even using artifact quotas to create a bottleneck to keep classes full. At the same time, I have also been told about a college where the supervisor, someone who understands how stressful this entire mess has the potential to be, has said, "I am not going to check any binders." This supervisor has made an executive decision that I think is ethical and admirable. Hopefully this person is also advocating on behalf of staff whenever the opportunity arises. Most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

Claudie is asking for all of us to chime in with ways to deal with the stress and tension, the overall stress but also with the day-to-day difficult interactions with students around those artifacts, binders, progress reports, and progression decisions.

I will get the ball rolling by sharing what I do while acknowledging that what I do will probably not work for someone in one of the more dire situations.

To begin with, I do my best to put my self-care first. If I am not taking care of myself, I'm going to be stressed and come across as stressed. I'm going to break in front of students or perhaps even snap at them. If that day comes, I'm in the wrong job.

In order to lessen the probability that such a scene could manifest, I am authentic with my students. They know exactly how I feel about the binders and they know they are free to have their own opinions about this assessment framework. Some of them may like it or even adore it, and that's fine. (I haven't met that student yet, but my learners understand that there's room for all opinions.) Some of them may not like it or may not have an opinion, but we all understand that for now the government could take away our funding if we don't do it. So we make the best of it and make artifact collection as painless as possible.

Besides eating well, exercising, meditating and getting enough rest nightly, one thing I do to ensure PBLA will not drive me to a nervous breakdown is to stay organized. In my file cabinet I have folders labeled: About Me, Inventory Sheets, Goals, Needs Assessment, etc. In each folder I keep plenty of copies of each form. When one type of form is running low, I always replenish after school rather than letting myself get caught without a needed form while class is in session.
Staying Organized - OCD helps ;)
One of the best decisions I ever made was to compartmentalize and corral PBLA so that I'm not continuously interrupting the week's lessons to pass back marked papers, etc. My students know that binders must be at school every Tuesday and only Tuesdays. That's when I pass back marked assessments. I keep two file folders in my valise: orange for literacy and blue for seniors. Things to be marked go into those two folders all through the week, but I always know I have until Monday night to complete my marking.

Because paper pass-back is always on a Tuesday, students get used to the ritual. Even literacy students can follow along. Once they have binders open on their desks, I first announce the skill and write it on the board in the corresponding skill colour. We have colour-coded our binders, so this is helpful for literacy learners. Next, under the skill, I write the date and assessment title for students to copy onto their inventory sheets, e.g., "January 7, 2019 | Call 9-1-1". I also tell them which box to tick of the four competencies. As I come around the room and pass back the artifact with rubric stapled to the top, I point out the date on the rubric and the task title on the rubric. They are the same as what I've written on the board. So everyone is copying the same info at the same time. After some months, this becomes a really a calm and orderly process. Once everyone has finished filing that assessment in the binder and is giving me his or her full attention, I erase what's on the board and we start the whole process over with the next skill. At the literacy level, I really don't have any issues with arguments over scores or progression. Those not ready to move on almost always know it and don't want to move. Those making good progress toward promotion generally know it and are not stressed.

Higher levels are another story altogether.

I know that many CLB three and 3/4 teachers are having a very difficult time with students who are stressing over that magic level 4 achievement for citizenship. I cannot offer suggestions for how to defuse these confrontations. I know colleagues whose students have threatened them or become violent. Someone else will have to speak to that.

How about you? Do you have any wisdom to share with fellow teachers just now starting to implement PBLA, or to those who have been doing it for a while but are struggling with the questions Claudie posed above? Let us know in the comments.