Tuesday, February 28, 2023

My website has a new URL

 Hello, ESL Literacy teachers,

I was notified by the new Square-Weebly company that I would have to start paying at least $10 per month to retain my website on the custom domain, so I switched it over to their free option, which means using their domain.

The literacy resources are still available. They are now found at thejoyofesl.weebly.com.

If you have time, I would love for you to leave a comment. Just one sentence about where you teach would be a delight for me to read.


Monday, April 4, 2022

Continuing to Help ESL Literacy Teachers

 Hello from Arkansas, ESL literacy teachers and tutors!

Though it's been two years since I left the field of teaching ESL, I continue to hear from stressed out, overwhelmed, and simply curious ESL literacy teachers and tutors in Canada and here in the US. Some are volunteers tasked with teaching ESL literacy to newly arrived Afghan refugees with no prior formal education. Some are Canadian teachers suddenly assigned to literacy for the first time. I just want to say that I'm still here for you and love to help you find resources and figure out how you are going to plot out a weekly routine whose prep does not eat up every hour of your life. You deserve work-life balance.

One teacher whom I met at the TESL conference in Toronto and whom I remember for her beautiful smile lamented that there was no activity pack for the Bow Valley College reader she wanted to use with her class the upcoming week. Since I am not yet working 40 hours in the field to which I have returned (public libraries), I decided to create that activity book for her class. It didn't take me long, and I was happy to do it. So never be afraid to ask me to create something. Being of use to others lifts my spirits. Take advantage of this offer now, for I will eventually have to return to a 40-hour-a-week work life.

To one Canadian teacher whose admin suddenly sprang on her the news that she would be teaching literacy after spring break, I suggested browsing this blog by category. If you click a category in the sidebar such as games, pedagogy, or classroom reflection, you can get ideas to build into your own weekly teaching routine. I'm pretty detail-oriented, but you are always welcome to get in touch if a blog post leaves you unsure how to execute the game or activity, or if the download link to a related worksheet doesn't work.

I miss you all and hope you will continue to push to make #PBLA optional. As IRCC's own research and the rigorous research of Yuliya Desyatova both reveal, PBLA might be good for teaching but is not appropriate or effective for assessment.1 Keep fighting the good fight!

P.S. A big shout out to the teacher whose big donation will pay for the website domain for 2022 and 2023.

Screen shot of ESL Literacy menu item on www.kellymorrissey.com

1IRCC. (2020). Evaluation of language training services [PDF]. Research and Evaluation Branch, Ottawa, Ontario. https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/reports-statistics/evaluations/eval-language-training-services.html

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Thank You for the Help

 Thank you to everyone who used the "Buy me a coffee" button to help me pay for my website domain. I was able to get Weebly to stop charging me for a premium account, and they even refunded the recent annual charge for that. I was left with only a $40 annual fee for the domain, and you all have very generously stepped up and helped me with that. I'm good now until the end of 2021! Yay!

I'm adjusting to life in Arkansas and am learning to live my life in Mom's spare bedroom with kitchen privileges, my own bathroom, and my sewing machine set up at one end of her art room. She's getting used to my sometimes obsessive tidiness, and I'm learning to live with her ... um ... opposite of that.

I got a rather rude awakening when I first started job hunting here. Ageism is definitely a factor. Also, I can't teach without a state teaching certificate or a master's degree. They just don't have any equivalent of our Canadian LINC program, and I did not have luck breaking into teaching the G.E.D. When I applied for city and state clerical jobs, I somehow did not make it past the clerical battery tests even though I'm pretty darned good with Excel and Word, remember basic high school algebra, and surely knocked the English section out of the park.

Oh, well. I took the rejections as a sign that I should just focus on taking good care of mom and of my brother since he currently depends on me to visit him and dress his wounds five mornings per week. I put the job search on hold.

Returning to my old Quaker Meeting, I found that they were right in the middle of a discussion re what to do about a new logo since nobody could find the original of a sketch I had made in the 90s of the Craftsman style meetinghouse. The digital version was degraded. I volunteered to develop a new image, and I've been working on that ever since. Someone told me about Inkscape, a free and open-source graphics software that is super powerful. But the menu system made me feel like I was trying to learn to fly a commercial jetliner, so I paid $17 for a masterclass with Nick (Logos by Nick), which I completed this morning after devoting hours and hours and hours to watching the videos and practicing with each and every tool over the past two months.

Two weeks ago a job posting came into my inbox since I'm subscribed to several job alerts, and I ended up putting in four applications, all with the city. Three are part-time and barely pay over minimum wage, but the benefits are good. I would be over the moon to get my foot in the door at one particular organization, so my fingers are crossed. I'm told that having to start over at the bottom when moving between countries is a common experience. Good thing I'm not materialistic, eh? Now I can more than relate to those newcomers whose degrees went to waste as they drove taxis and learned to spin pizza dough in the air. Sigh.

What are you doing of late? Have you adjusted to online teaching? 

Oh, speaking of that, don't miss my list of African Canadian history links on the links page. You may also be able to use the abridged story of the life of Josiah Henson that I put together, carefully grading the language for use with CLB 3 or 3/4 and above. You will note that it was to be part of a series of profiles; that plan was taking shape before I made the decision to move.

Take good care!


Thursday, December 10, 2020

Asking for a Little Help

I hope you all, if there is still anyone reading, are doing well and surviving online teaching, something you've had to do with zero forewarning that this was what would be expected of you.

Because Weebly just docked me another $100 USD for a year for a premium account and the domain registration, and because I am currently unemployed, I decided to put a donations button on the web site. I'm hoping to be able to break even. Because I have a premium account, I've never had to worry about how many documents I uploaded for teachers to download.

I'm happy to say that after posting this on the FB page yesterday, I'm already 1/4 of the way to my goal for the year. You guys rock.

Donation or not, I hope you'll use the comment box to let us know how you're doing these days.

--Kelly P.S. The "Buy Me a Coffee" button is at the top of the most frequented pages.


tip jar
Photo by Sam Dan Truong on Unsplash

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Update from Yuliya Desyatova - Nov 2020

 I may no longer be in the field, but the field is still in me.

Last week I got to participate in an independent focus group designed to gather feedback on PBLA from various stakeholders, and my departure was recent enough that my participation was considered valuable in a unique way.

I just heard from Yuliya Desyatova regarding the next phase of her Ph.D. / PBLA research. I have posted that letter on my website's PBLA Activism page. Scroll down until you see the words November 2020.

I continue to receive communication from teachers across Canada. This week one teacher told me that the other instructors at her agency have quit. She's the only one left standing.

And so it goes.

I miss you all.


Weary woman holding drawn smile up in front of her mouth

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Yes, You May Turn My Materials into Liveworksheets

A teacher reached out to ask if I'd considered turning my activity packs into Liveworksheets. I told her that I have left the field, but that she is welcome to do that. 

All my activity packs were released under a Creative Commons BY NC-SA 4.0 International license. You may create derivative works as long as you share those works freely with others and do not charge for them. I'm not worried about credit, but please always respect Bow Valley College's copyright over the readers upon which most of my activity packs are based. Those are not in the public domain but remain the property of Bow Valley College, though BVC does allow them to be freely downloaded for classroom use.

If anyone would like access to the Google Slide file in which I did the original layout and design of an activity pack so that you can edit, grab a single image file, etc., just give me a shout and I will make that file available as a template that you can carry over to your own Google drive.

Some activities could also be moved into other online interactive platforms for learning, such as Hot Potatoes, etc. I'm fine with that.

The page below is from a vocabulary building activity in the Food from Home activity pack, based upon a literacy reader by that name that is available for free download or online reading with audio from Bow Valley College School of Global Access.

Update: Joanne Hogeveen has turned the Lien Buys Food matching activity into a Liveworksheet HERE: https://www.liveworksheets.com/zy1205855oo

Saturday, July 18, 2020

A Good Run

Ten years is a good run. It is longer by five years than the length of time I had ever stuck with one employer. I am sad to be leaving a good organization, a team of wonderful colleagues, and my beloved students, but recognize that my teaching was stagnating. The wind had gone out of my sails.

The combination of PBLA and its sickening effect on our field, a need for new horizons, and the call of filial duty has made for the perfect storm.

Learning to teach English to newcomers is without a doubt the most satisfying calling I've ever found, a most perfect fit for my skills set. I leave with a treasure trove of precious memories, many of them memorialized on this blog and on my two classroom blogs.

I am starting life over in Arkansas, having downsized my earthly possessions until my life fits into a small guest bedroom in my mother's house. Wish me well, please, as I learn anew how to navigate life in the US, life in the South, and begin to seek my next livelihood. I will be thinking of all of you as you try to adapt to teaching in these very different times.

Do reach out if you find a broken link on my website or are desperate for a particular sort of resource. Who knows, I may just be able to help.

Don't forget me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

COVID-19 and Our Livelihood (and PBLA Update)

Hey, teachers!

Long time no blog, eh?

I am posting from my mother's home in Arkansas where I travelled for spring break without thinking ahead to the possibility that I might end up remaining longer than a week. I did not bring my sewing machine or good sewing scissors nor any patterns. I did not bring anything connected to my work as a settlement English teacher. I did not even bring my good chef's knife, as I forgot that my mom lives with a houseful of tools dulled from years of using them for other than their intended purpose. The good cast iron dutch oven is just as likely to be used as a saucer under a Boston Fern out on the back deck as it is to remain in the kitchen. The wooden spoons often migrate to the art studio to be used in burnishing woodblock prints. Nothing is safe from my artist mother's "form follows function" mind and wabi-sabi heart. Wherever I may have gotten my OCD and need to alphabetize the spices, it wasn't from her.

Last week my employer notified us all that face-to-face classes are cancelled until further notice, but that we will be paid through the end of our contract year with IRCC (March 31st) with the expectation that we continue to work remotely. One objective is to engage our students online. Can't wait to see how that turns out! Our manager is meeting with us in virtual team meetings as well as individually. We fill out work trackers to account for how we spend the hours for which we are being paid.

One thing that my PBLA lead has long wished for from all of us is for us to contribute to the bank of modules, materials, and assessments that we can all access via Tutela.ca. I have in the past been quite resistant to that for a number of reasons, not the least of which was how hypocritical it made me feel in light of the fact that I believe PBLA to be a pedagogically unsound sham and government blunder destined to die an embarrassing death at some point down the road.

But I have been doing the minimal amount of PBLA to cover my butt, i.e. have been creating assessments for my students' binders. Until recently, those pieces of paper had little connection to actual learning. I led two lives: I taught and assessed as I had always done--using common sense and a teacher's judgment along with consultation with my learners, including their input regarding their own confidence levels and feeling of readiness to move up. Meanwhile, we churned out an insane number of so-called "artefacts" for the binders that could not possibly be a true reflection of learning. They were shoved into the binders for the purpose of the government audits under the steady gaze of administrators who were not pushing back hard enough (if at all) against the insanity of the quotas or unsoundness of the new practice from a pedagogical perspective, not to mention from the perspective of best practices dealing with recently arrived refugees with trauma.

But now something has shifted at my agency. I still don't believe in the premise behind PBLA, BUT I have a new manager who is a sane and reasonable human being. She also is a literacy teacher. What a blessing! She has changed the expectations with regard to artefact collection. Recognizing that trying to collect 32 artefacts per term was counter-productive in so many ways, she has reduced that quota to six per skill for mainstream levels CLB 1 and up. Should we have a student who needs all 32 in order for a benchmarks to be changed in the system, we are encouraged to provide the extra two artefacts per skills in the form of anecdotal evidence or via an extra assessment delivered by the teaching assistant.

For literacy, the expectations are the same except that FINALLY it has been acknowledged that literacy students do not move from foundations to CLB 1 in one semester. So why on earth was the foundations teacher struggling to get 32 pieces of evidence into the binder while the CLB 1L and CLB 2L teachers also galloped in their respective hamster wheels trying to do the same? It was nonsense. Thanks to a sane manager, we are now allowed to pace the collection of those artefacts over a period of two semesters (Feb to mid-June; early September to end of January minus winter and spring breaks). This manager also listened to input from us on the frontlines and recognized that most of our literacy students already have the listening and speaking skills necessary for a mainstream level one class. It's only the need for reading and writing remediation that has landed them in our literacy classes. Therefore, our new artefact quota per literacy level is 4 R and 4 W per semester and just 2 L and 2 S per semester. Whew!

I cannot tell you how relieved I am to be able to have time to teach a module before giving learners the thing that will go into the binder--whatever you want to call that thing. The new pace allows me to put time and thought into that task, allows there to be an actual connection between classroom learning and that task. Mind you, the artefacts are still not "assessment for learning." They are assessment of learning (summative). I do true formative assessment daily in a way that is not visible to the government nor to my management; it is an essential part of good teaching and informs what I do next--by the minute and by the day.

All this is just a lead-up to what I came here to say to you today. I am spending some of my daily on-the-clock time preparing existing assessments for sharing with the rest of you across Canada. This week's item is a reading comprehension quiz meant to follow classroom use of the literacy reader from Changing Lanes called From Liberia to Nova Scotia. My students who have just arrived from a low to middling CLB 1L class spent about two weeks learning to read this story, receiving from me a few pages of the book every day or two. We didn't add more pages until we had mastered the first few. The book comes with vocabulary-building and revision activities for every few pages. Once learners could easily read and understand, talk about and personalize / expand on the entire story, I administered this quiz to check ability to get the gist and find key details in the reader.

The assessment has two versions so that no two students sitting next to one another have the same paper. I hope that after the global pandemic has resolved and we are back in the brick-and-mortar classroom, you find this resource to be useful. It can be downloaded from www.kellymorrissey.com - Literacy - Weather.

How are you surviving the pandemic?

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Just in Time for Black History Month: an Abridged 'Life of Josiah Henson'

It's not as if I think Black history should be relegated to one twelfth of the year. Not at all. Black history is everyone's history and deserves a place in our classrooms at all times. Nevertheless, I know there are many teachers who will make a point in February of shining a spotlight on the topics of famous Black Canadians, the Underground Railroad, and other stories of the African diaspora that typically come to the forefront at this time of year.

In October of 2018, Irene Moore Davis spoke to my local TESL Ontario affiliate about incorporating local Black history in our lessons. She had a lot of great slides, and I was scribbling notes like crazy. But when I got back home and checked out all the links, I found mostly material that is suitable for K-12 classrooms full of native speakers of English and very little I consider to be suitable for the average CLB 3 or 4 LINC student. And that is when I had the insanely ambitious idea to create some myself. Boy, did I have a steep learning curve ahead of me.

When Irene graciously allowed me to pick her brain, I discovered she had written a chapter in the book A Fluid Frontier: Slavery, Resistance, and the Underground Railroad in the Detroit River Borderland. I checked a copy out of the library and read all of her chapter and much of the rest of the book. It is fascinating!

Then I found out that Irene was hard at work on her own book Our Own Two Hands, which has recently gone through the advanced readers phase, resulting in much additional content of value being contributed to her research, content that will be included in the published volume.

My dream of having an entire series of profiles ready for February of 2020 was a lofty one; I did not succeed. But I have finished an introductory profile which is meant to give learners an idea of what the freedom seekers were fleeing when they travelled here from bondage in the U.S.

N.B. Canada was not the blameless, angelic state we like to believe her to be: freedom-seeking took place in both directions across the Detroit River. If you don't know what I mean, read A Fluid Frontier and Irene's new book as soon as it's available.

The introductory profile is that of Josiah Henson. I read his (now in the public domain) autobiography and managed to condense it to just 16 pages in a rather large font. I've inserted whatever public domain illustrations I could find in order to help our newcomer English learners visualize some of the concepts. I hope you will use the book and the suggested activities on the web page where it is hosted as well as the suggested extension ideas on the last page. I expect a high CLB 3 class to be able to handle it; certainly a CLB 4 class should have little difficulty if it is taken in chunks over a period of one or two weeks.

Bear with me as I continue to build this new page and add profiles.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Jan 2020 Update from Yuliya

Dear Colleagues,
I hope the New Year has been off to a good start for you.

I have exciting news to share: another article on the research project you contributed to has been published this week. Here is a link to the journal website, and a pre-print copy attached for those (most of us) who do not have access to an academic library.

Unfortunately, the journal is not open access, but it is a reputable one, with a focus on critical theory and pedagogy, as is the article itself. The paper took over a year of blind peer review and revisions, so I hope you find the final product worth taking a look at.

As with the previously published article, I have just started uncovering the very tip of the PBLA iceberg, and more of it will be described in the dissertation, which will take another year or two. I understand that many of you may want to see more tangible results much sooner.

Below is a brief overview with links to a few previous and upcoming presentations continuing to explore PBLA from different angles. The presentations were well-attended, including representatives from IRCC and the CCLB.

I am grateful to each and every one of you for your contributions! I am also thankful to my colleague, Jennifer Burton, who joined me in this large, time-consuming, but exciting project.
Collectively, we make it known and well-documented how PBLA has been experienced by LINC/ESL practitioners in Canada.

Looking forward to sharing more milestones with you in the future.

Best regards, 


P.S. You can always let me know if you would like to be removed from this mailing list. 
Alternatively, if you know anyone who may be interested in receiving these infrequent updates, feel free to share my email with them.
Thank you!

Yuliya Desyatova
PhD Student

Centre for Educational Research on Languages and Literacies
Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning  | OISE

Twitter: @YuliyaESL

Publications on PBLA:

Critical Inquiry in Language Studies – When Inquiry is Seen as Resistance to Change: Expert teachers' experiences with the implementation of portfolio-based language assessment

TESL Canada Journal - "Batting the piñata and swallowing camels”: Teachers learn to PBLA in the absence of dialogic interaction

Presentations on PBLA:

Desyatova, Y. & Burton, J. L. (2020, March). Examining learner autonomy in portfolio-based language assessment: Adult student experiences. AAAL Annual Conference. Denver, Colorado.
Desyatova, Y. (2019, December). Leading and administrating PBLA: “Champagne on water wage.” Paper presented at the TESL Ontario Annual Conference, Toronto, ON. Available from the TESL Ontario website – presentation slides & summary hand out
Burton, J. L., & Desyatova, Y. (2019, December). Learning English with PBLA: What LINC students say. Paper presented at the TESL Ontario Annual Conference, Toronto, ON. Available from the TESL Ontario website – presentation slides & summary hand out
Desyatova, Y. (2019, June). Newcomer language teaching and learning in Canada: Perspectives on recent policy changes. International Metropolis Conference. Ottawa, ON.
Desyatova, Y. (2018, November). Teacher learning in PBLA: A critical analysis. (Published later in the TESL Canada Journal) TESL Ontario Annual Conference. Toronto, Ontario. Available from the TESL Ontario website – slides & hand out 

Calling Edith!

If anyone knows how to get in touch with Edith, please let her know that I'm awaiting her mailing address, as she did win the book in the draw.

Also stay tuned for an update from Yuliya. My SPO had their visit from our IRCC overseer yesterday, and my manger asked him if he had heard of my website and blog. He had not and appeared very open to feedback to send up the chain, so she will send him links. Before that happens, Yuliya will post an update on her latest research, which I will post here and on the PBLA activism page of the website.

Stay tuned.

P.S. At my SPO we just learned we are losing yet another seasoned, committed, gifted teacher. Sigh.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Wanna Be There for the Draw?

Okay, I have capped the draw at these six people:
Cheryl, Tiff, Gaby, Sarah, Siddiqa and Edith. I am just checking now to make sure that the free Zoom account allows screen sharing. If it does, I'll invite ya'll to hop on Zoom with me when I spin the wheel. You won't have to be present to win.


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

My TESL Ontario Conference Experience

Ah, lovely Toronto. In the summer of 2009, I impulsively quit a job that had turned hellish under a psycho supervisor and ran off to CCLCS to get my OCELT, draining my savings account to do so. During those first seven weeks lodged in a dorm with six very young women on Bloor Street, a seven week break, and second seven-week term lodged in a so-called homestay for international students in the Italian / Portuguese neighbourhood that required me to ride a bus up and down Dufferin to the subway, I learned my way around what I will always think of as one of the world's most beautiful cities.

A colleague and I shared a taxi from Billy Bishop and soon I was tucking myself under clean white sheets and a puffy duvet with alarm set for 5:30. I've always liked to have a slow, leisurely breakfast and still be first in line for my attendee's package. I already had two floor plans printed out, one for each day, with workshop names and arrows to help me jump quickly to my second choice should the first one fill up before I got a seat. Oddly, that measure proved entirely unnecessary this year.

Of course I could not miss U of T's Jennifer Burton and Yuliya Desyatova's Learning English with PBLA: What LINC Students Say. I must admit I did not know how this would turn out because I wasn't sure a satisfaction type of survey could capture the circus that PBLA is in reality, wasn't sure students across Canada were picking up on the failings since they might not know why PBLA was dreamt up in the first place.

But because these two researchers had the forethought to provide students with an open comment box after each question and because Jennifer took the time to sift through them and find the commonalities, we can see that students ARE indeed picking up on the same things that make us want to hang our heads in shame for what this profession is becoming, or leave it altogether.

We already know what those common threads are. We live them daily. But here are some slide snippets anyway:

At the end, during the Q and A, Karen Alexander stood up and spoke her truth bravely. Peers encouraged her to attend the next morning's panel discussion and say what she had said once more, this time into a microphone. She did, and I'm proud of her for doing so. She said to me Thursday night when we were both seated at Trios what many of us concluded long ago: a field dominated by men would never have stood for this treatment, this nonsense, nor with being loaded down with a stressful load of extra work without pay.

At 9:50 I attended Recognizing and Accommodating Alternately Abled Students, Part 1 with Eliza Garland of ISANS. She is an occupational therapist and goldmine of information and insights to help us better understand Universal Design for Learning and how it can benefit not only our many students with undiagnosed learning disabilities, but the rest of the students as well--hence the name. This was one of the most valuable workshops I've attended ten years of conferences, and I look forward to seeing her slides posted on the website for all to peruse. From Eliza I learned about proprioception, sensory seekers and avoiders. I think what I gained from her session is even going to make me a better First Day School teacher, as some of the kids in my Quaker Meeting are very wiggly!

At 11:20 I joined Marijke Wertheim's Teaching without a Net because not since Ken Lackman's C.A.T., a framework for dogme has there been a dogme-focused session at this conference. Since I am a huge dogme believer, I could not miss this session. Marijke did an excellent job of bringing dogme to life, and I wish I could have stayed for the full two hours. Alas, I had to slip out for...

Yuliya was back at it in the same room at 12:40 with more research results in Leading and administrating PBLA: "Champagne on water wage." Here are a couple of slides I found to be most telling:

I liked that Yuliya put these quotes up without the "Learner," "Teacher," and "Admin" labels on them and had us first GUESS who we thought each quote had come from. I love the acknowledgment that a teacher can produce a beautiful binder without it being a reflection of learning.

This is a fantastic revelation. There is a negative correlation between length of time implementing PBLA and feeling the increased teacher workload is justified. Yes! I know many teachers AND a couple of leads who started out with an open mind and one who even started out as a cheerleader but who now say, "It looked good on paper" while shaking their heads.

One slide I thought was very telling was the one demonstrating that the closer one is to the frontline, the less optimism that person reported having toward PBLA. In other words, top admin feels the best about it, teachers themselves the worst, with lead teachers in between the two.

And Yuliya's recommendation? Make it optional. I love her list of advantages of making PBLA optional:

After a quick washroom break where I encountered a Joy of ESL fan who said she hoped to see me at the reception shortly, I ran off to Tapping the potential of conversation circles for integration by Tehreem Nathaniel, which was lovely and gave me lots of ideas. What a breath of fresh air it is to be in PBLA-free workshops! I was VERY satisfied to find at least one non-PBLA workshop in each time slot.

The reception catering was some of the best to date! I loved the artistic dessert. Sparks winner Susan Webb looked so cute in her dress and footwear, I thought. The next day she had on day-glo green Eiffel Tower earrings and an artsy dress that picked up on that colour. Suddenly, Susan, I feel I could almost forgive you for being on the PBLA bandwagon, as wobbly and small as that may be. One day, my sister, you may look back and see the error of your ways. Until then, keep rocking those unique outfits! (OMG, can you so totally tell that I have no more Fs to give?) And no, there is no alcohol and no THC in my system in this moment. This is all just Goddess Kali having her way with me.

Friday morning I discovered that the steel-cut oatmeal is better at Trios Bistro than at Hemispheres at the DoubleTree (did you know they changed their logo years ago because everyone thought the two entwined tree symbols looked like two entwined female symbols?), and they give you lots of fresh berries with it. But the absolute best steel-cut oatmeal in the conference hotel circuit is still Sheraton. They let you have nuts AND dried fruit AND fresh berries instead of making you choose just one.

In hopes of giving support to Karen Alexander, I sat down in the room where the panel discussion was to take place but was careful to sit close to the door since I would need to slip out for part two of Alternately Abled students. Yvonne Ferrer mentioned giving money to PBLA and caring about refugees in almost the same breath, and I wanted to follow her to the parking lot to ask her if she had read this article or understood that foisting born-of-a-colonial mindset 32-tests-a-term PBLA on newly arrived people from war-torn areas who don't yet know how to find their name in the stack of binders or hold a pencil is anathema to best practices in work with refugees and those with PTSD.


Knowing Karen would be great at the mic, I slipped out and made it to part II: Recognizing and Accommodating Alternatively Abled Students, which was as good as part I had been. Can't wait to synthesize my notes and share what I learned with my team.

I briefly sat down in Anne Hajer's PBLA Portfolio: ESL Literacy Considerations, but thought better of it. I sometimes have executive function / prefrontal cortex lapses when I'm tired, hungry, and/or emotionally aroused, so I thought it best to leave dear Anne in peace and spare her one of my angry outbursts. Instead I dashed out to Dundas station, bought three tickets (one for returning to Billy Bishop later), and headed out to Kensington to try the restaurant with the most rave reviews for vegan options on Tripadvisor.com : Hibiscus! 

Anyway, you cannot visit Toronto without wandering up and down the feast for the eyes that Kensington Market area is with its murals and whimsical tin shapes welded onto the window bars of Queen Annes painted in a riot of bright colours. You just cannot.

Hibiscus was quiet and clean with built in bookcases housing interesting poetry collections and glazed ceramic pieces. I had and a cup of the sweet potato chickpea soup and a savoury crepe with pear slices and pecans in it. The fresh cilantro on top of the soup made me sigh with appreciation.

I didn't quite make it back in time for my next session, but I'm glad I went ahead and slipped in late anyway because An Innovative and Easy Approach to Corpus Analysis was fascinating, inspiring, and left me wanting to get her slides so I can fill in what I missed. It also made me want to teach EAP. Julia Williams of the U of Waterloo was a very good presenter! If I were an engineering grad student faced with writing my papers in a language I hadn't spoken as a child, I would want Julia there by my side. I wish I had snippets of her slides to show you. Here's hoping she posts them!

After a light dinner and even lighter flirting with someone seated at the bar, I got my bag out of safekeeping and used my last subway ticket to get to Union Station where I somehow managed to find the hotel with the flags and thus the free shuttle back to Billy Bishop.

So long for now, Toronto. For me you will always be the crazy frugal Italian house mother at my homestay who locked up peanut butter and toilet paper, murals and head shops in Kensington, Honest Eds, stopping on Queen St West to sniff Johnny Fluevogs, lunches at the Queen Mum, being sold a dime for $2.75 by a panhandler who tricked me into thinking it was a subway token, Martine my TESL prof with her elegant ballet dancer body, the sudoku puzzle in the free Metro newspaper that helped me pass the time en route to my suburban practicum, indie movies on nights when assignments were not due the next day, and learning how to walk a labyrinth.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Using Linguistically Appropriate Practice by Roma Chumak-Horbatsch, a Review

If you are an educator or childminder in a program where newcomer children are tasked with learning the school language, this book is for you. If you are a program director or school principal where even one child arrives needing to learn the school language, this book is for you.

Having read Chumak-Horbatsch's new book Using Linguistically Appropriate Practice: a Guide for Teaching in Multilingual Classrooms, I am left convinced that this book and the LAP approach are key to the wellbeing, healthy self-concept, happiness, sense of identity, and optimal development of newcomer children (emergent bilinguals) across Canada, the United States, and the globe.

Before watching my review, it will be helpful for you to first view the author's own introduction to the concept of LAP here. (https://youtu.be/wLod5d9mT98)

Saturday, November 23, 2019

PBLA Survey

This one has an open text (comment) box in each section after the qualitative questions. Yay! Make your voices heard, LINC teachers.


Thank you to Martyne Farris for tackling this.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Those Missing Resources from Queen's Library English for Your Health Adult Literacy Program

A reader commented the other day to lament the fact that Queen's Library has completely revamped their website and the adult literacy resources can no longer be found.

There is some part of me that recognizes those "too good to last" things in life--like the full ride scholarships we used to get to attend the annual conference, and my gut told me that one day all those free resources would disappear. I downloaded them, printed them out, hole-punched them, and organized them in a huge three-ring binder.

It took me a while to locate the right thumb drive in the tangle of the I keep in my desk drawer at home, but find it I did. I don't think ALL the lessons are here, but many are, including audio files. Mind you, I did TRY to contact Queen's, but their contact form only works if you have an email address identifying you as part of their faculty or student body. Sigh.

So if you know how to get access to the full body of that collection, please let me know. If you work for Queen's and want to sue me for copyright infringement, um... let me know. Otherwise, here is a zip file with everything I managed to preserve before the site disappeared.

Sunday, October 20, 2019


Today in the meeting for discussion that took place before the Meeting for Worship of my group of Friends just five minutes across the Detroit River, the topic was gifts. How do we find out what gifts each attender or member has and how those gifts can be brought out to the benefit of the Meeting?

I love the question.

Yesterday I was listening to This Jungian Life podcast series, which I only recently discovered. One of the most intriguing episodes for me was the one about the Shadow. The three analysts delved into what Shadow is: the parts of yourself you unconsciously cut off because you cannot bear to face that they are part of you. This is usually a dark side, but Jung also recognized a Golden Shadow, meaning good parts of the psyche that can get severed and lost beyond consciousness. The analysts also made a point of distinguishing between Shadow and something else: undesirable traits and qualities that have been socialized out of us but from which we are not completely cut off and which we are not totally unaware. An example of this might be my bitchy side. I have been socialized to tone it down and hide it, but I'm very aware it exists. The same can be said for positive traits: some get completely cut off (Golden Shadow) and some are just kept in check by societal and cultural rules while still being in one's conscious awareness at least some of the time.

Throughout my life I've sometimes found it tricky to express my gifts in group situations, especially in jobs. Sometimes you find yourself working for someone who isn't as bright or competent as you are. Such a manager might find his or her underlings' gifts to be a threat to his/her ego instead of a help to the team. Even fellow teammates and classmates can contribute to our being socialized to hide our gifts. An example of this that seared itself into my memory in high school was when my test score set the curve for the grading, and other students gave me the stink-eye. When I taught Japanese to grade six students at Gibbs Magnet School in Little Rock, I noticed a very bright girl who was mixed race but who--like almost all racialized children in the South--chose to hang out with other Black kids. When I would call on her, she pretended not to know the answers to questions. I knew she knew the answers. I could see it in her eyes. She was shutting down a part of herself to avoid being teased and perhaps even completely ostracized by her peers in a sub-culture that equates raising your hand and giving the answer with "acting white."

I've done a lot of shutting down of parts of myself over the years.

As I sat in the discussion group this morning participating in the brainstorming part of the meeting and anticipating the break-out into smaller groups for an activity in which we would each be asked which activities bring us joy, I began to daydream and think back to the jobs I've enjoyed most. The thread connecting them all is obvious to me. I've been happiest when my employer gave me the freedom to wear the hats I wanted to wear and contribute my gifts in ways that made me feel fulfilled.

At the public library in Little Rock, I took over the job of making attractive monthly thematic displays. I got to sneak into the supply closet of the Children's Department and borrow their die-cut machine to make perfect letters and shapes out of brightly coloured cardboard for these displays.

As systems specialist at a mid-sized mutual life insurance company in Waterloo, I was allowed to wear many hats. I taught myself a programming language and developed apps to solve my department's problems and turn processes that had once been riddled with human error into idiot-proof processes as the result of my having designed graphic user interfaces that made errors impossible. I was on fire and in heaven. This company's management had the same sort of vision as those at the top of Google who came up with 'genius hour,' and it paid off.

When I first entered the field of teaching English to refugees and immigrants, I was over the moon to get to bring so many of my gifts to the table. I used my love of the English language, my passion for all languages and linguistics, my artistic ability, and my aptitude for technology. My patience was appreciated, as was my compassionate heart. It's all in there. But more and more lately I am feeling called to lay this down a while in order to see what else I might have inside me.

My old friend Olivia once told me about a concept she called fallow time, which can be a very tough one for those of us who always need a project on the go. The idea is to stop doing and just BE for a while, just as farmers sometimes leave a field unplanted for a season in order to let the soil recover.

What I'm getting at is that I'm going to be letting this blog and my website rest in the very near future. In fact, there is just one more thing I've committed to doing that is standing between me and TESL blogger retirement, and that is to give you a review--probably on video--of a book sent to me by a publisher. They sent me two copies so that I can raffle off one copy to you all and keep the other. I'm looking forward to that; I am about halfway through the book.

How about you? Do you feel your gifts are being properly used by your employer? How does that feel?

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Grateful Heart

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend and day. At my school this coming week is a three-day teaching week, so I thought it was the perfect time to host a little get-together with the class next door. I think we will colour and cut out fall leaves to decorate the door. On each leaf we can write what we are thankful for. We can make invitations for the students in the other class to join us for pie and cider. They can learn how to RSVP to an invite.

I don't have any family in Canada and I'm not dating anyone right now, but I still plan to have a lovely Thanksgiving by myself. If I want a big traditional meal with all the trimmings, I will go to the Market Buffet in the basement of Caesar's Windsor, which is what I did last year. Otherwise, I will gladly spend the day resting and catching up on chores with the door open to the fresh fall air. On second thought, I probably cannot keep the door open because the resident squirrels are very cheeky and will come right in to ask for the peanuts they know I have on hand for them.

I feel like reflecting on three things for which I am thankful tonight. I'm limiting the list to three because otherwise I could go on for pages. I have a grateful heart.

  1. I am grateful that my mom, at almost 89, is still very active and that she's super fun to be with. 
  2. I am very thankful to have re-found my spiritual home in the form of Detroit Friends Meeting (Quakers). Every First Day (Sunday), I cross through the tunnel to be with them for an hour or two. Many times I bring treats I've baked in my oven.
  3. I'm very appreciative of my employer and the team of people with whom I work. They have helped me grow a lot as a person and as a teacher over the past 9 1/2 years.
How about you? Did you do or are you going to do something with your class for the holiday? Do you feel like sharing reasons you feel thankful?

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Teaching Seniors but Were Afraid to Ask

Today I received an email from some nice educators at a very good service provider organization in Ontario saying they were toying with the idea of starting a seniors class but had no idea how one would handle PBLA in such a classroom. They wanted to know how I do it. In attempting to compose a response, I realized I have volumes and volumes to share with the world on the topic of teaching seniors. It also crossed my mind that I've been at a loss for what to blog about lately. Thus was born the world's longest blog post about the tiniest ESL niche in history: newcomers to Canada who are over the age of 50.

When I took over the seniors class in 2011, it was eight students, and in the beginning they were all men. Bernie dropped out due to his deafness and a couple joined. Finally we had one woman in the mix. Back in those days, we had a car mechanic, a truck driver, an electrician, a courier, and a ruby diver by trade. Two of the students were still young enough to want to look for work.

Even though he felt too uncomfortable continuing classes with his hearing impairment, Bernie spread the word in his building that I was a good teacher. Very soon, with the government cap of 10 seats for this special demographic, I had a waiting list.

At some point my admin requested two more seats. IRCC approved that, but again I had a waiting list. They asked for three more seats, and today I am allowed up to 15 in the class. That's all the room will hold, anyway. The makeup of the class with regard to average age and background has changed a lot over the years. This was the class in May of 2019. We were headed out on a field trip with our bus passes.

At one point the average age was 73 and my oldest student was 86. The youngest was 69. In more recent years, professions represented have included doctors, a nurse, a pharmacist, many engineers, a chemistry professor, a high school physics teacher, a banker, a vaccine biologist, and the head of a famous hospital specializing in contagious diseases. We often joked that we could open our own clinic.

Seniors are an absolute JOY to teach. They don't arrive late, they arrive early. They look forward to Monday as much as most of us look forward to Friday. They are sassy and funny and brimming with ideas and wisdom to share.

At one point the class makeup was mostly Chinese, and during that time I had a lot of trouble navigating our cultural differences. They were private, formal, and insisted on copying down every single word I wrote on the board. They had difficulty with the concept of a needs assessment or a show of hands to find out how many wanted to go to the computer lab on Fridays and how many didn't. They just did not "get" classroom democracy, as I call it. "You are the teacher," they said. "You decide." I told them that's not how it works in a student-centred model. Finally, after weeks of trying to get everyone to put a hand in the air to show a preference for one option or another during votes, they got it. And when they finally caught on and felt the power they held quite literally in their hands, there was no turning back. They became downright bossy.

Teacher, can you give us a lesson on XXX? The teacher at our last school couldn't explain it. Teacher, can we YYY? Can we go slower? Can we each have a copy of that? Can you make the font bigger? Can we watch a movie? Can you print out all the words to the movie? The list was endless, and I gave them every single thing they asked for and more. About that time my waiting list got even longer.

Here are some tips I've come up with for anyone considering teaching seniors:

  • Do a series of needs assessments to ensure you are always tailoring the class to their needs: do they even want reading and writing? Grammar? Do they like games or dislike them? Field trips? Guest speakers?
  • Provide frequent opportunities to get up and stretch; old bodies get stiff quickly.
  • Ensure your classroom has seating with cushioned seats; old bony bums get sore on plastic chairs.
  • Make sure all handouts are in 24 pt font or larger.
  • Keep a box of dollar store reading glasses in a box - various strengths.
  • Keep a lighted magnifier and other magnifying tools for students to borrow.
  • Keep the pace very, very, very slow and provide lots of opportunities for reviewing and recycling (John and Chirawibha Sivell's 'Back to the Well' is compatible with seniors' way of learning.
  • There's no need for PBLA since seniors do not change classes or care about benchmarks.
  • Teacher of seniors class will need a first aid and CPR certificate and will need to keep it current.
  • Have the class learn together about the AED in the building and how to use it.
  • Partner with local agencies who can send in guest speakers on topics such as advanced care planning, how to make a will, etc. (Yes, you may think this is morbid, but you could be surprised how older adults want and need to learn about these things. One of my most successful modules with filed trip was on hospice.)
  • Expect students to vote to study health A LOT; as they age, they find themselves having to communicate with health specialists more and more. While the family doctor may speak their first language, all the technicians and specialists do not.
  • Seniors are often on fixed incomes and can be frugal; they like to learn about all free services in the community.
  • Take lots of field trips to help seniors connect and feel part of the community as well as to learn how to navigate and be part of it.
  • Explore 'free things to do' in the community: parks, library, art centres; my group took a field trip to discover a free outdoor ping pong table.
  • Seniors are just as keen as young folks to learn to use an iPad, open a FB account, open an email account, send and save photos of grandchildren, etc. Digital literacy should not be overlooked.
  • Seniors have a wealth of knowledge to share with others; tap into this for special projects and presentations!

  • Okay, now for the big question: How did we get out of having to do PBLA? I approached the PBLA lead; at that time she was also site supervisor. I said I thought seniors should not be subjected to PBLA. I was told to submit a proposal in writing. I took my time and poured my heart and brain into it. Permission was granted.


    Because my other class was literacy, I was afraid of the professional consequences of completely skipping PBLA with this multilevel class, as that might leave me without the ability to tell a potential future employer that I knew how to "do" PBLA at a level higher than literacy. And so over the past two years we have cherry picked and modified PBLA in a way we --the students and I-- find to be suitable to their way of learning, as follows.

    >> We do a needs assessment; I have believed in the importance of doing needs assessments since getting my TESL training, which was long before the advent of PBLA. Even when I was 95% sure I already knew what the learners needed, I did it. Going through the process of consulting them causes them to become more invested, for one thing, and that is nothing to sneeze at.

    >> We do learning reflections at the end of each module so that I find out whether their needs were met and so that they can reflect on the language, skills, and knowledge they've gained. Mind you, a module often lasts four times longer with seniors than it might with younger learners. Don't worry about boredom. Remember the six strategies for effective learning. We employ interleaving. That is to say, we may interrupt a three-week module on our LIHN to do some urban foraging then come back again to the module on the LIHN. Three or four weeks on one subject can be broken up nicely through interleaving AND you're increasing the chance of long-term retention to boot!

    >> We do use the inventory sheets at the beginning of each skill section. Since the students do not progress to other teachers, we are now on our third or fourth inventory sheet per section, having filled our binders to overflowing several times over. We remove artifacts that are over a year old, but we keep the inventory sheets as a 'cover our asses' insurance policy just in case my management should turn over and new administrators not believe me when I tell them we've been exempt. There's the proof we've been (sort of) doing PBLA all along.

    >>Two years ago, when I needed to prove to myself that I could do this thing called PBLA, we filled each section with senior versions of assessments as much as possible considering it is a widely ranging multilevel class. If I tried to explain all the ways I've attempted to create and execute valid assessments over these two years, we'd all be here till Christmas. None of it, in my opinion, has been valid. All the ways in which my assessments are an exercise in futility is material for another day's blog post.

    Now that I feel that I'm as well versed in rubric creation as I'll ever be, the pace has slowed and the expectations have softened a lot. When I say senior versions, I mean that we decide together what the criteria will be and they always have the option to take the "test" home if they want to. It is always up to them how often they are assessed, what competency and skill they want assessed, and how they wish to be assessed. For example, many times they mark their own papers and give themselves the scores. Other times, for receptive skills in particular, they fill out a self-assessment (4.25" by 5.5" sheet) stapled to the artifact and circle whether the task was easy, so-so, or difficult. This translates to a mark of beginning, developing or achieved.

    More than anything, I've tried to get them to assess themselves based on a personal goal that is really none of my business. I encourage them to record their progress in the binder so that we all cover our assess should a government inspector come sniffing around. But in the end, the choice has been theirs to make. Needless to say I do not expect octogenarians to cart the heavy binder back and forth daily. Their binders live in our black cabinet nine months out of the year and get taken out on artifact pass-back days--about one or two Tuesdays per month. They are required to take the behemoths home for summer break and take them upon changing classes or schools.

    Did I mention that these guys all have more university education than I have? From day one I knew that I was not going to stand over them and impose upon them any Mickey Mouse secretarial exercises. They already know how to take notes, organize their notes, study, etc. PBLA workshops endowed me with a set of protocols I found to be embarrassingly patronizing to the learners, and I did not follow through as instructed. I came to class and was utterly transparent. I told them about my PBLA training and how it was a government mandated experiment being carried out all across Canada. I explained to them the parts I disagreed with and the parts that even I thought could be useful. I told them I had no expectations from them either way--to like it or join me in rolling my eyes at it. I simply informed them of each element and gave them choices. For some things I told them, "I need to learn how to do this, so bear with me while we do it a few times." 

    At the beginning one woman told me she had nightmares the night before assessments. That's when I realized we needed to have a talk. I said, "Think about this. What happens if you do poorly on every assessment? What happens if you do very well?" My beloved student Huarong spoke up from the back, "Nothing."

    "That's right. Nothing happens. You still come back next term to this same classroom and this same teacher no matter whether your benchmarks have all plateaued and never budge one inch. Even if you can't remember what we did yesterday, this is our class where you are all welcome to keep coming back to semester after semester. We know we're learning. These papers are just for the government and to keep my manager happy." Wink, wink.

    They relaxed again after that and we went back to the business of learning.

    So that's it. That's pretty much everything I know about teaching seniors and surviving (or faking) #PBLA with them.