Sunday, May 3, 2015

Getting Better (at Teaching Literacy)

I don't have the proper training to do this job, I thought.

Have you ever thought that about a job you were tasked with undertaking?

When I applied for the position of LINC Literacy Instructor, I wanted it more than I'd ever wanted a job before. I think I may have aced the interview based on my passion alone. Perhaps they believed me--as well they should have--when I said that the most important qualities they should be seeking in a candidate were patience and compassion.

You won't find anyone, I assured them, better suited to take good care of this--the most vulnerable group in our school. I will, I promised, create a safe space where every learner's potential is nurtured and coaxed along until it blossoms.

I got the job.

And then I said to myself, "What on earth do I do now?"

While I am grateful for the quality education I received at CCLCS in their intensive full-time program that allowed me to get TESL accredited and back into the workforce in just under five months, the module on teaching ESL Literacy was, if I remember correctly, one or two Saturdays. Many of my colleagues who did their work online through a university got a separate course dedicated to this very specialized corner of TESL.

What this means is that I've been teaching myself how to do this as I go along. I've attended webinars hosted by the ESL Literacy Network, sought out every literacy workshop available each fall in Toronto, and have scoured the web for pedagogical materials, devouring what little there is out there.

Recently I attended for the second time "Oral Language First and Flashcard Use," facilitated by Val Baggaley. What a great webinar. I am still not where I want to be, but have definitely started to shift more weight to the initial oral activities and have put more energy into creating big, beautiful, colour flash cards that I laminate.

Speaking of flash cards, once again the ESL Literacy Network came to my rescue with a showcase on making custom flashcards that I blogged about two weeks ago.

But the one tutorial that has had the biggest impact on my ESL Literacy teaching this term has been this YouTube video called "Creating Worksheets for ESL Literacy Learners."  Yes, I had viewed it before, but apparently I don't always GET everything I read or watch the first time around.

This viewing left me determined to change my worksheets. Why were learners in my class having trouble with visual tracking of items on a sheet? Because my rows are too close together. I've got too much happening on the same sheet. I don't have enough graphics to support text.

This week, having spent a week on learning the days of the week and another on months of the year, we were putting all our calendar skills together by learning a few Canadian holidays. The end activity would be for me to give everyone a Milk Calendar, on which we could cross out all the days on which school is closed. I was able to put my freshly gained knowledge into practice. Here is a new and improved worksheet.

Managing to control my usual urge to save paper, I added more white space between rows. Our next activity after a YES/NO quiz is always to correct the false statements. I usually cram that part at the bottom of the YES/NO quiz. This time I moved it to its own sheet of paper.  Yay.

The one area I most want to work on next is supplying learners with more visual supports on worksheets. More pictures. But gathering copyright-free images or creating them does take time, and I do have a life. It is spring, after all, and I can't spend every hour of every day preparing for classes. One must go birding! One must go foraging for morels!

I'll get there, though. This week we are going to learn ten prepositions. We will create our own visual aids by posing for photos standing next to each other, crawling under the table, sitting on the table (egad), and so forth. Once again I have the ESL Literacy Network to thank for this idea.

On another positive note, The Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks has recently published Canadian Language Benchmarks: ESL for ADult Literacy Learners (ALL). I've been reading through the first several chapters with coloured stickies and highlighter in hand. So far I am impressed and so very grateful. I'm starting to feel a little less like I'm all on my own out here doing my best to muddle through the land of ESL Literacy teaching.

How about you?


  1. Great post, Kelly. Your passion is contagious! I love your worksheet on days and dates. I am glad you liked my oral first workshop and found it useful. We are so lucky where I work as there are several literacy classes and we can share ideas and worksheets easier. Are you by chance going to TESL Canada in the fall? I would love to meet you in person if you are. Your posts are great. Morels? Wow. I once was given a bag of them foraged by some friends in the Yukon. Yummy.

  2. Thank you SO MUCH, Val, for taking the time to comment here and for your words of support. If I'm out that way, I'll definitely look you up! Since our funding was cut for our annual provincial conference, I can probably just barely afford to attend that one by couch surfing. But you never know!


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