Sunday, December 31, 2017

10 Steps to Better Self-care

Right about now many of us are thinking about including better self-care in our resolutions for the new year. Teachers, all of us, from those who teach K-12 to those of us in adult education, are known for donating our energy and personal time in order to give our students an enriched classroom experience. Self-care has never been easy for those of us who've chosen this field. But these days in Canadian settlement English programs--with the roll-out of Portfolio Based Language Assessment--good self-care has become even trickier and more elusive for many of us.

Below are ten ways that I attempt to arrive at the end of the work day or week feeling there is still some energy and time left for me, for my hobbies, for exercise, for family. These are things you may or may not already have thought of or made part of your life. Some of these tips relate to physical well-being, others to mental, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing. I hope you come away with at least one new idea to try in the new year and will take the time to use the comments section to share with us how you feel about this topic.

(1)  Reduce the cognitive load. Or rather, be mindful of where you and your students may be spending cognitive resources that you could free up via routines and wiser organization. Work smarter, not more.
    file folders on computer drive - very organized
  • Keep lists. We only have so much working memory. To feel less stressed throughout the day, I find it helpful to keep a written list of things I have to do. At school I maintain a tiny corner of the whiteboard for the things I need to remember, such as printing out my time sheet for my site supervisor or calling my dentist.
  • Keep well-organized files, both soft and hard. My day is easier and less stressful because I know exactly where everything is. If I need a resource on the topic of citizenship to use with a CLB 3/4 class, I know it's on my flash drive under Canada - Citizenship, which is in alphabetical order along with Canada -  Geography, Canada - Government, and Canada - History. In case you're not already annoyed at my having my ducks lined up in a way that would make Martha Stewart proud, I'll add that establishing a logical file naming convention is another thing I'm very glad I thought of at the beginning of my teaching career. For example, files to do with the ESL Literacy reader "Food from Home" are named Food from Home crossword, Food from Home word shapes, Food from Home activity pack, etc. This way they all end up together on the storage drive.
  • Use routines. Routines free up cognitive real estate for the content of the lesson, and this applies to both student and instructor. When students know what to expect, they can help you more easily. My students know that as soon as they enter the classroom after an absence, it's their job to check "the box" for the worksheets they missed. With routines like this one, the class can practically run itself, which means less stress for me than I would experience in a class where students were continually asking for direction.
woman sleeping - illustration(2)   Get your sleep. I am absolutely amazed at how much better I feel after going to bed early and getting those proverbial eight hours. I smile more. I let go of little annoyances more easily. I remember to breathe.

(3)   Nourish yourself. Stay hydrated and bring healthy meals and snacks every day. This has been a hard one for me, especially hydration. I've found ways to incentivize these new behaviours until they becomes habit:
  • Buy or upcycle a pretty water bottle; maybe even infuse some cucumber, lime, lemon or mint leaves in it. Most of my morning students nurse a little jam jar of green tea with goji berries all day long. They set a great example for me.
  • Buy or make an attractive lunch bag. I had to go online to find one I liked. I make up the first two or three lunches on the weekend and later mix in some leftovers or a Luvo organic frozen dinner for days when I've run out of homemade meals. If you think you don't have time to make healthy meals, let me tell you about grain bowls. I cook up a batch of brown rice or quinoa in my little rice cooker, then open and rinse a can of garbanzo beans, lentils, or other legume. These form the base of my grain bowl. From there I add in something crunchy, such as sunflower seeds, something green, such as seaweed or barely wilted baby spinach leaves. You might like to toss in a soft-boiled egg. Finally, add a dressing of your choice. I just mix up a tiny bit of sesame oil and vinegar. I divide this up into three lunch containers and...Bob's your uncle!
(4)   Guard your breaks. Take breaks away from clients and, if you're an introvert like me, away from colleagues, too. Retreat to a quiet room or close and lock your door. Don't stress out over being perceived as rude. Folks will get over it. If you have to, make a sign for the door that says, "I"m on a legally mandated break. Back at X:00." Do whatever restores you, whether that be deep breathing, cranking up some music, playing a game on your phone, whatever! I see too many of my colleagues spending their entire break and the first fifteen minutes after class trying to be their students' social worker.  That may work for them, but for me it would be a recipe for burnout.

(5)   Take a load off.
  • Follow Martine's Rule Number One. This one ties into 'routines' above.  Remember to delegate to students everything that can be handed off to them. If you didn't have time to make that wonderful graphic organizer, project an exemplar and pass out notebook paper. I did this recently when we needed a Venn Diagram graphic organizer. One student grabbed the tea tin off the hospitality station and started passing it around, as it was the perfect size for our two circles. Literacy students can make flashcards.
  • Strategically place quiet work. I was listening to a podcast from Jennifer Gonzalez / Cult of Pedagogy the other day on the topic of what she calls Grecian Urns. You have to listen to the podcast to find out how she arrived at the term. That's her name for an activity that takes up a lot of time and might be fun, but has no real educational value. She warns us away from them, of course. That being said, even she admits there can be times when you consciously choose to give students an activity that will get them out of your hair because, hey, you can't be ON all the time. This is the point where I admit to you that I embed a quiet activity in the lesson most days at 2:40. That's when my literacy learners and I are worn out. We've been working hard on listening, reading, writing and speaking. They need a break, and I need time to clean up the hospitality station. So that's the point in the day when I give them a puzzle. Yes, the puzzles have SOME value. But honestly? I need twenty minutes of quiet.
(6)   Wear sensible shoes and comfortable clothes. I know this is a hard one for my colleagues who like to wear high heels, but in the end you are going to have to decide which you value more: how you look or how your feet and back feel after hours of standing, walking, and stair-climbing. I find that I enjoy going to work more when I can spend my day dressed in clothes made from natural fibres that breathe and that are tailored to allow for easy movement. I am a big fan of Lagenlook. As for shoes, I've tried many brands and have found I can rely on Joseph Siebel and Blundstone for their comfort, support, and longevity.

(7)   Be authentic. It takes a lot less energy to be yourself than it does to wear a mask all day long.
Not very long ago, I was experiencing the emotional and physiological vagaries that accompany menopause. Because my students and I have an honest, real relationship in which I am a human being who happens to be the facilitator of their language learning and collaborator in shaping their curriculum, I was able to be candid with them regarding what was going on with me. During an especially difficult morning, I whispered to one of them, "I need to step out. Can you lead the lesson for five minutes?" I indicated to her what was going on. The transition was seamless. I knew I could trust the students to carry on without me. Because we are real with each other every day, this was no big deal. I also need to note that our way of being together also empowers my students to be their fullest selves. The student in whom I confided is a retired OB/GYN. I was honouring what she brings to our group--her expertise as a physician specializing in women's reproductive system--when I chose her to receive my whispered 'I need to step out' and my reason for needing to do so.

(8)   Work smarter, not longer. Weave in some Back-to-the-Well. Cut your marking time in half. Go materials-light at least some of the time (see also Dogme in ELT).  By following recommendations for the teaching of vocabulary or lexical chunks as outlined by Gianfranco Conti on his blog and in this week's blog post about a shift from focused to thorough processing, I believe you will end up making life easier on yourself while becoming a more effective language instructor.

(9)   Advocate for yourself and for your team. The number of signatures on this petition says to me that settlement English teachers in Canada are facing a crisis in their agencies and classrooms. If you are happy with Portfolio Based Language Assessment as it is being implemented at your workplace, then scroll on; number nine is not for you. If you are unhappy with what is happening, find a way to connect with others in your field. At the very least, get your head out of Canada and join a group such as the Facebook group Global Innovative Language Teachers, where trends and fads such as this one can be put into a wider context.

(10)   Protect your capacity for joy. If doing your job well and having a life outside of teaching have become mutually exclusive, it is time to re-evaluate. Life is too short to live it in such a way that you turn down play dates with children, don't ever walk in the woods, never find time for a day trip, no longer have time for hobbies. Decide now, before the new year begins, where you're going to draw the line. What will be your signal to yourself that enough is enough?

Done is better than perfect - illustrationWhen my lesson planning is corralled and self-care managed to the extent that I have time and energy for an evening class one or two nights a week, date nights with my partner, and blocks of unstructured down time throughout the week, I know I am achieving work-life balance. If not, that's when I know it's time to step back and see what's going awry.

How about you? Are you making resolutions to do with self-care in the new year? Do you have self-care strategies to share with me and with our peers in this field? We would love to hear.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Take a Break!

I'm drinking hot chocolate by the window. Kelly's Cafe is hopping. The juncoes, cardinals, tree sparrows, house sparrows, and even the odd song sparrow are enjoying my smorgasbord of finch seed mix, peanut splits, black-oil sunflower seed, suet, and the heated birdbath that never freezes over.

How are you spending this time when all the stores close and things are quiet and still? Do you have snow where you are? I would love to hear what you are up to.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

FREEBIE! Winter Break Wordless Picture Book

It's nice to have the webinar behind me. I can go back to what I enjoy most: illustrating and making learning materials! I spent today revamping a little 8-page wordless book about winter break that prints two-sided and folds in the middle for stapling. The whole book requires just 2 sheets of 8.5 by 11" paper. It uses only a tiny bit of colour ink and also prints well in grey scale. Some images were intentionally left as line drawings so that students may add the colour if they see fit. I keep a box of coloured pencils in my cabinet for those days when we just need a short break from the cognitive heavy lifting.  Colouring is also therapeutic for those experiencing PTSD. Margaret Margaritis and I have both observed students having better focus and lower affective filter during and after about 20 minutes of colouring.

As for the webinar, I suppose it went pretty well, but I have since thought of several things I'll do differently if we are invited to repeat somewhere. For one, I think we should have been more explicit in our directions. Teachers were to look at the graphic organizers and come up with specific ideas for how the initial collection activity could be a springboard to further study of one of the parts of speech. I've created a space on my Flipgrid where anyone curious about Back-to-the-Well or anyone who already believes in slowing down, turning fewer pages, and engaging learners more deeply can drop in with questions or ideas. Hey, if nothing else, just stop in to see how Flipgrid works! It's SO easy that even my seniors AND literacy learners can use it. There's nothing to register for, no email address required. Come on, you know you wanna. ;)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Nice to Meet You!

Instead of a blog post this week, I thought it would be nice to introduce myself to any of tonight's webinar attendees who visit the blog for the first time during or after the webinar. See you again next Sunday!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

I'm Starting a Newsletter

Don't worry, I don't want to clog up your inbox. Every time I publish a literacy activity pack, I email the site coordinators at certain centres where I know there are literacy teachers who rely on those resources quite a bit. Rather than trusting myself always to remember who likes to get which alerts, I thought it would be nice to have a monthly roundup, a simple summary of the topics I've written about on the blog during the prior month. I could also list any resources or activity packs that I published on the website for all to freely enjoy. If I've tweeted about anything I think would be of interest or value to others, I might include a little recap of that. What do you think?

If you would like to receive such a monthly summary, please click the link at the top of the sidebar. >

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Update on the pan-Canadian experiment:

I'm going to give the initiators of the pan-Canadian experiment in pseudo-pedagogy that is called Portfolio Based Language Assessment the benefit of the doubt and assume that they meant well in the beginning. By now, however, they realize that you cannot build a good house without first checking the soil on which you plan to build the foundation. If one doesn't have the time and money to first do lengthy, solid, peer-reviewed research and action research, then one should not undertake an initiative of this magnitude. As database designers and coders say, "Have no late errors." Measure twice, cut once. Follow best practices for bringing large change to large groups. Do your homework, ALL of it.

Some people are speaking truth to power. Some are speaking out about the disastrous impact this is having in many classrooms across Canada. They are doing things such as circulating petitions, contacting their MPs, exposing the weaknesses in presentations, and are attempting to quantify and qualify the impact of this experiment on teachers and learners via a national research project.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Gratitude and and Example of What DOES Work for Me

About eight years ago, I made a change that turned my head and my life around. I took the complaint-free challenge from Patti Digh, who in turn had heard about it from Christine Kane. I sent off for a free purple bracelet from A Complaint-Free World and started the attempt to rewire my brain. I would attempt never to complain, criticize, or gossip. I would attempt not Will Bowen's suggested 21 straight days, but Patti Digh's 37 days without a single slip up. When I slipped, I would move the bracelet to the other arm and begin again from scratch. The first day, I slipped up several times each hour. By the end of the week, I was changing the bracelet to the other arm only a few times a day. After several weeks, I made it to four days straight before a slip. Finally, at the end of about five or six months, I did it. And my neural pathways had been rewired along with my outlook on life.

It's probably time for a refresher course, if I'm to be honest. I appreciate that I work with a crew of teachers who eschew gossip and will tactfully guide me back on track if I go that direction. As for complaining, I should probably clarify and let you know that there is a kind of communicating to bring about change that I do not avoid. Eckhart Tolle explains the difference between the sort of complaining that serves no purpose other than to strengthen the ego and complaining to bring about change (without personalizing) in this video:

Alongside the Complaint-free Challenge, I also took up--for one year--a habit of recording in a gratitude journal five things each day for which I was grateful. This was perhaps as potent as the bracelet challenge in reprogramming my mind. After one year, I was left with a brain that sees reason for gratitude all day long, from dawn to sleep, everywhere it casts its gaze.

That brings me to today's intention. What in the world of teaching settlement English in Canada gives me reason to feel grateful? I could go on for pages, but I'll stick to my old habit of listing five at a time.
  • I work in an organization that values transparency and accountability. Though we may sometimes get off track, there is a process in place through which we can eventually right the boat when it begins to list to one side.
  • There are quality materials freely available to me for use in my classroom, and I thank the TESL professionals who poured months or years of thought, time, and energy into their creation. There is a lot out there that I would continue to use whether the current Canadian AFL experiment is scrapped or made optional.
  • I feel so fortunate to live in a land and particularly in a city that welcomes refugees and immigrants, as well as in a society that sees the value in investing in free settlement English classes for newcomers. Such services are not available in the same way throughout the country from which I immigrated almost 20 years ago.
  • I am appreciative of those who have involved themselves in good faith in the Canadian pedagogical experiment as project leads or resource creators. It isn't your fault that the entire house was designed from the roof down before checking the quality of the soil. Operative words: in good faith. For the others, well, that's not going on this blog post.
  • I appreciate those who, in these strange times, find the courage to speak truth to power.
This week I found myself particularly grateful for a resource my colleague Lucy found on (the new and much improved ♥ iteration of) Tutela.  The OPH-OCDSB Collaborative Team, the acronyms within which stand for Ottawa Public Health and Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, has created a series of health-related lesson plan cum activity books complete with rationale statements, instructor notes, skill-specific activities, assessment tools that can be put in student portfolios, and student self-reflection activities at the end of each module.

Specifically because I have been excused from strictly following the funder's non-negotiables of what we are calling Portfolio Based Language Assessment, I was able to use this resource this week with my seniors class. Although their benchmarks range widely from 2 to 8, they prefer to work with material that is geared for high 2, low 3. Because they are out of the workforce and have vastly different needs from a mainstream LINC student, I feel it is in their best interest to allow them to cherry-pick and help me sculpt a syllabus that is tailored to their very special situation. For reasons such as these, I do not press them to attempt ever higher level material when they do not wish to do so.

In any case, because this class has been excused from trying to chase after 8-10 portfolio artifacts per skill in 300 instructional hours (which turns into more like 170 classroom hours per five-month term at my centre), we were free to move through the lessons in the Mental Health for CLB 2-3 book at our own pace. We were able to stop midway and have a guest speaker. We were able to pause for a Peace Week activity, which nicely tied in to our learning about stress, self-care, and culture shock, actually. I was able to get more sleep knowing someone else had already written a resource that meets my standards for resource quality.

This week, having practiced all the functions, we will use the assessment tools and the learner self-reflection activity and will place those in student portfolios--the big three-ring-bound ones that live at school since they are too heavy for seniors to carry home daily.

So what sets this two- or three-week period of instruction apart from the compulsory PBLA model with which I do not agree? For one, the tail isn't trying to wag the dog. We first did the learning, and only when we felt ready did we move on to the next activity or quiz. We have been given permission to operate under no one-size-fits-all numeric quota for artifacts collected per term. On the contrary, with this one class I am free to truly put the learners' needs at the centre of my practice and move at a pace that makes sense for them. Secondly, everything I need for the module is provided. I do not have to stay up for hours each evening creating or searching for then modifying next resource. Mind you, even with off-the-shelf stuff, I still sometimes have to blow it up on the copy machine for weaker septuagenarian eyesight. But still. This week's morning class planning has been easy peasy.

So thank you, OPH-OCDSB collaborative team! My hat is off to you. I'll be using more of your booklets in the coming months since the seniors' most requested theme is health.

How about you? For those of you caught in the madness of PBLA gone wrong, would you warm to the experiment if you could put your current LINC cohort's unique needs ahead of a predetermined quota of 8-10 artifacts per skill collection period? How about if you had all resources provided, including the rubrics that did not have to be edited in the slightest for that module? If you could assess only when it felt you and your learners had arrived at the logical place to assess learning? If you could have a certain number of hiatus days per term that were free from all assessment so that students could just learn for the sheer joy of it? Or devote entire weeks to grammar just because they want to? I would love to get your feelings on that in the comments section below.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Save the Date!

I just now, on Tuesday, realized that I had forgotten to write a blog post this past Sunday. I was so absorbed in creating a little 10- to 12-page book for my literacy learners that it slipped my mind.

This is probably as good a time as any to promote the upcoming webinar that I am co-facilitating with John Sivell, recently retired from the department of applied linguistics at Brock and mentor to many of the best ESL professionals now teaching in Ontario.

Go to to sign up. Anyone in Canada who is in the field or is planning to enter the field is able to open a free account on

Although the examples we'll offer are for about a CLB 3, the principles and many of the worksheets work for 4 and up, as well. I have used what the Sivells call 'back to the well' activities with LINC 2, and it was with this group that I saw a most convincing transformation.

Hope you'll mark your calendar now for Sunday, December 10th from 7:00 to 8:00 EST.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Lessons for Canada?

The penultimate session I attended on Friday, day two of the two-day 2017 TESL Ontario Conference, was "Task-based Language Teaching Implementation Experiences: Lessons for Canada?" by Yuliya Desyatova of the University of Toronto. The conference brochure's blurb of this presentation says:
The Belgian experience of introducing Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) is analysed with the goal of drawing parallels to the implementation of Portfolio-Based Language Assessment (PBLA). Participants are invited to discuss benefits and challenges of different implementation models. Opportunities for further participation in a research project on PBLA and TBLT in Canada will be offered.
If you did not get a chance to see Yuliya's presentation and would like to see the slides, they can be found HERE.

Yuliya starts with a Venn diagram that highlights a few of the differences between these two projects and the one thing they have in common: tasks. One big difference that wasn't given much focus, one that I want to add here and now, is that in Canada the vast majority of settlement English teachers had been trained in communicative methods and task-based learning. I believe that TBL was already the norm in Canada before PBLA. It would seem that in Belgium, this was not so. Their big TBL project had the goal of helping teachers shift away from a teacher-centred model that focused on grammar and toward TBL. 

This is an important point, since it is not TBL itself with which I and many others take issue.

I was intrigued to hear Yuliya relate to us the vast amount of empirical research that was done in Belgium before classrooms were disrupted. All materials and syllabuses were developed before the classroom piloting began. There was no train-the-trainer model in Belgium, and for that the DSL students and their instructors should be eternally grateful. Experts were brought in to the "several hundred" school teams to do the training, coaching, supporting.

From Yuliya's report, it sounds to me as if the entire implementation process put the teachers and students in the driver's seat. There was room for a cycle of action and reflection, feedback and adjustment, at many points along the way. In other words, teachers were recognized and respected as the experts on our own classrooms that we are. In the end, the role of interaction between teacher and learner was acknowledged as key.

I hope that everyone reading this will help Yuliya with her research project.

Now, then.

On Friday my supervisor and her boss reached out to me to see if I wanted to send some feedback along to someone high up in our organization in another city, someone who will be attending an NLAB event in December. Through no fault of my superiors, I was given notice at 1:20 with a deadline of 4:30 to submit something in writing. 

At first my heart was pounding. This was the chance I'd been waiting for! Why didn't I have something all typed up and ready to go in my back pocket? I raced against the clock, grateful that it was computer lab day and that my literacy students are almost completely self-sufficient now once I get them logged into Spelling City. I was also feeling thankful for that grade 7 typing class that gave me my 60 wpm keyboarding speed.

It wasn't until after I'd typed and sent that I went back and re-read the printout of the email that had been left on the desk in front of me. I saw the words "send us your feedback based on the following categories..." and "recommendations to better support the successful implementation and continued use of PLBA...."

My heart sank. I realized that once again, the type of feedback I and so many others want to give does not fit into any of the categories. They only want to hear how to make this sustainable. Nobody wants to hear from you if you believe it is not sustainable and for good reason.

I suppose that going forward I need to specify that there are two types of feedback, and I am only comfortable at this time giving one of those two types. At this time, I am not interested in talking about the materials we need, although of course we can always use more. I am not interested right now in talking about better compensation, although of course there needs to be an immediate stop put to the practice of expecting teachers to spend so much off-the-clock time propping up PBLA that we end up working for minimum wage or less. We do deserve regular raises matched to inflation and cost of living adjustments. But that will not make PBLA right. I am not interested in talking about training unless you are open to ditching the entire train-the-trainer model. Your patient is bleeding out, and you are talking bandaids.

I believe that the "bucket" of psychological impact, stress, work-life balance and morale issues fit into the second category of feedback. If you really want to address these problems, then you must be willing to stop limiting feedback to only that which "contributes to the sustainability" of this experiment. You must be willing to say, "Tell us what is happening to your classroom and to your life under PBLA EVEN IF what you tell us does not "support the successful implementation" of this (broken) model. You must be willing to say, "We care that much about you and our mutual clients, the newcomers."

In short, I want to know where the panel of stakeholders is that is willing to talk about the cracked foundation of the entire project. Who is willing to sit in a room and watch Yuliya's slides? Who is willing to watch Norm Friesen's talk and open up the floor to discussion with a good cross-section of teachers, not just pre-chosen representatives? Who is willing to send out a survey to all teachers in Canada that does not shoe-horn us into questions that only fit a narrow set of pre-determined categories? Who is willing to admit that this entire misguided experiment must be put on hold until all the parts are in place, starting with solid, peer-reviewed research? And who has the gumption and integrity to start talking about the notion of conflict of interest in this whole thing?

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Thoughts on the 2017 TESL Ontario Conference

For the second year in a row, my employer has somehow found the funds to send all of us teachers and teaching assistants to the annual conference in Toronto (though not all were able to come for other reasons). For this I am grateful. I wonder how we can do it while most other agencies are still limited to 20% of their staff per year getting funding to attend.
Mary Ritter - More than Hearing

This year I discovered that many teachers who have used my stuff without leaving a comment on the blog will not hesitate to let me know in person that they appreciate what I do. Naveen thanked me before sprinting through closing elevator doors at her floor. Ben from Kitchener approached me at the end of a workshop we'd both attended. Christine from Kingston had nice things to say, and I embarrassed myself by not recognizing her again minutes later in the foyer. Sheesh. Maria and other teachers at our London branches acknowledged the many worksheets of mine that they adapt and use in their literacy classes. And one woman whose name I don't remember was nice enough to speak up when 'helpful websites' was being projected onto a screen to say to everyone, "And Kelly's website!" This resulted in my running out of MOO cards and resorting to scribbling the URL on the back of a few of the webinar flyers I'd had printed up at the Staples on University Ave.

The change in lodging pleased me. I found the smaller Marriott to be cosier and its staff warmer, able to give more personal attention to guests than folks at the Sheraton, where several conferences might be taking place simultaneously, bringing with them a lot of hustle and bustle. I also thought the food on site was better than that offered at the in-house restaurant at the Sheraton. Although I don't really want to be caught dead eating at a hotel restaurant, food court, or chain while in one of the culinary capitals of the world, I will settle when I'm exhausted after a flight or lengthy train ride that deposits me in the city late at night.

One unexpected perk of this new location is its proximity to a lovely public labyrinth, a fact that I shared with others attending Lisa Manary's "Self-care for Empathic Instructors" after we had enjoyed a sampling of stretches, breathing exercises, and a guided meditation to help the more empathic among us deal with the psychological and emotional demands of our increasingly stressful jobs.

As for the conference itself, I'm of course appreciative of all the work that goes into it, as I am of all the volunteers--from door monitors to presenters. I'm pleased that dedicated ELT professionals who go above and beyond the call of duty are singled out for recognition, such as this year's Sparks of Excellence recipient, Diane Ramanathan. Congrats, Diane!

I'm sad, though, to see how much the conference has shrunk in size since my first years in the field. What is happening? Even the Twitter feed seemed unusually quiet compared to prior years, with @TESLOntario, @JenArtan, and @StanzaSL (Svetlana Lupasco) doing the lion's share. I remember when the publishers' exhibit was enormous. There were years when our registration fee included a luncheon catered on the premises. Also, I never appreciated our past ability to pre-register for workshops because it never occurred to me that this convenience might ever be taken away.

Another thing I appreciate this year is that there were 20-minute gaps between sessions, meaning that I could put my bag and coat on a chair in the room of my next session and still have time for a washroom break. However, on two occasions I was still not able to get into my workshop of choice due to the fact that the room was way too small to accommodate everyone who wanted in. In one case I had even darted immediately from the room right next door the minute my prior session ended and STILL was not fast enough to get a seat in that session. I am baffled as to why we were told that break-out sessions were being held in larger capacity rooms this year. Clearly that was not the case at all. Note to organizers: sessions about teaching listening will always be popular. Perhaps organizers could use a polling tool such as Google Forms or Survey Monkey next year to better predict which sessions need to take place in rooms with lots and lots and lots of chairs.

The sessions I did get into, with only two exceptions, proved to be very valuable to me. I am planning to dedicate another whole blog post to discussing two of them in more depth, both of them tied to the topic of PBLA. So stay tuned for that.

My partner drove up on Thursday to join me. Chuck and I are both very comfortable navigating the city using subway and streetcar. A native of Detroit, he has been coming to Toronto since he was a young adult in love with Canadian society and TO's jazz scene.  I'm so happy that I learned my way around several neighbourhoods while getting my OCELT at CCLCS and living in a homestay. Saturday was 'two ride for one' day if you get a day pass, so we did that.

We love to dine and poke around in Chinatown, and he always buys a big box of Chinese pastries for me to take back to the seniors.

After Chinatown, we explored Kensington Market, too. One of these days I'm going to bring a nice dress for the opera house or to see a show. I would like to have made time to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, a Mirvish production.

How about you? Did you attend your area's annual conference this year, or will you next time? I'd love to hear why you do or do not value such an experience, or whether your attitude has changed of late.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Parallel Paragraphs

Before I began implementing Back to the Well in my classroom a few years ago, my usual practice would have been to spend some days scaffolding a pharmacist-patient role play and other days on the use of modal auxiliary verbs using pages from an Azar grammar book.

Now, however, the audio or written text of authentic language becomes the basis of further linguistic exploration. That one text can give us semantic exercises, syntax practice, discourse activities, pronunciation and prosody lessons, as well as being a springboard for presentations, posters, field trips, and invitations to guest speakers.

One of the discourse activities that John and Chirawibha Sivell mention in their article "Sending Them Back to the Well: Slowing Down, Turning Fewer Pages, and Engaging Learners More Deeply" in the Summer 2012 issue of Contact Magazine is parallel writing.

I have had success using this activity with the seniors. During one module on home remedies, we read a chapter in More True Stories by Sandra Heyer about the strange foods that are believed by some to cure ailments and keep us young.

(c) 2009 Pearson Longman

After reading the story and doing the five or six activities that are provided in the book, I asked the students to use the bones of the paragraph to write their own article about a weird health concoction they knew of. Through colour coding with markers while the passage was projected onto the board, I helped them notice which words they would need to replace with western allopathic over-the-counter remedies and which vocabulary they would replace with their own unusual cures.

It took a few runs at it before they completely grasped that they were to re-use the syntax and function words in the same tense as in the original while changing out only the content words, but once they got it, they were thrilled to have a model that made their compositions sound so natural.

The students were very engaged, motivated perhaps by a wish to share with me and their classmates folk remedies that had been passed to them through generations. Their essays were so good that we ended up turning them into presentations for the class. Our pet name for this activity is "hanging new flesh on old bones." It is a fun way to get learners re-using lexical chunks of English at the discourse level.

Update: I was asked to give another example, so...

Last week, as part of our Canada theme and on the topic of Canadian culture and cross-cultural friendships, my multilevel class read this section of Joan Acosta's Best of the Reader Series - Canada:

The following took place over a period of twelve classroom hours.

After reading this every way we know how (chorally, individually, writing in the C-V link lines), doing the activities that come with it, and playing this game with it, I asked students to get into groups while I wrote discussion questions on the board to get them thinking about whether we have a similar program in our community. In fact our new Conversation Cafe initiative did come up in conversation. I added a few questions to the board to encourage comparison and contrast of the two programs.

They crowded around the one student who had attended that inaugural meeting to find out the details of her experience. She felt like a rock star, I'm sure.

Next I passed out blank paper and showed them how to make a Venn Diagram. We brainstormed; I elicited from them the ways the two programs differ and are similar.

Finally we were ready to write our parallel compositions using the existing format, structure and a lot of the language from Joan Acosta's article. Together we decided which bones to keep and which parts of each paragraph / sentence would need to be replaced with our own ideas about Conversation Cafe.

After students worked on their individual compositions and those were reviewed, we compiled the best ideas from all of them to publish one story to share with the whole school.

What do you think? Might you give parallel writing a try in your classroom soon?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Take Them Back to the Well

Here is an activity you can do with your learners to allow them to get more ROI from a text they have already studied, including having done any and all activities that were included with a given written or audio text.

This activity requires no paper, just one die per group of 3-4 students and a board on which to post the directions. You can modify the requirements of each roll of the die depending on the level you teach.

Remind students to ask their peers in the group for feedback after they have completed the task on their turn. Play proceeds clockwise.

One thing I like about this game is that it has an element of choice and an element of chance.

How do you guide learners back into a familiar text to take advantage of their having crested the initial cognitive burden of learning all the new terms? Do you think it's important to do that as a rule?

If you would like to know more about taking learners 'back to the well,' consider joining me and John Sivell on December 10th from 7 to 8 p.m. for a webinar on the topic. Save the date. :)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Connection, Collaboration, Creation!

I don't believe that planetary alignment has any bearing on human activity, but if I DID believe that, then I would be asking myself right about now, "what is going on up there?"

Lately I'm feeling a lot of shifting, shedding of old, opening up to new, and lots of connecting.

In my personal life, I just finally--after 32 years--reconnected with the Japanese woman who was my best friend during the year I lived in Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido.

On the professional front, I'm feeling more connected each and every day to my peers in the field of language teaching--not just locally but also globally! For example:
  • After hearing two of my morning students rave about a wonderful class they took at WWWWIW over the summer, I contacted the instructor to find out what sort of magic she is working in her classroom. She generously shared a detailed run-down of a typical lesson structure. I copied this structure on Thursday, and the lesson was more engaging than usual.
  • Two new teachers at my agency are finding useful materials on my website and have thanked me for that.
  • One teacher in another province who has found my materials helpful has reached out to me to see if our two classes--my literacy and her CLB 1--might become pen pals. I'm thinking Flipgrid!
  • I have joined #LINCchat on Twitter two times in a row! It helps that the day and time has stabilized (every other Tuesday at 9:00 p.m. eastern), which is a time I'm usually free.
  • The TESL Ontario Conference is right around the corner. I feel so grateful that my employer is sending every teacher who wishes to go. Conferences put new wind in my sail.
  • Someone in a Facebook group I've just joined called Global Innovative Language Teachers shared a link to an article called "Principles for Resource Writing." It's good to share ideas with other language teachers around the world.
More and more teachers across Canada are letting me know that they use and appreciate the resources I share freely, the links I have curated, etc. Yay!
The verb TO BUY
Speaking of sharing, today I published an activity pack to complement Bow Valley College's ESL literacy reader "Food from Home." It's under LITERACY - FOOD on my website. I am also one step closer to finishing my alphabet line customized for adult settlement English learners in Canada. I finished D today, which means four down and at least 22 to go since I hope to do one card for every letter, plus one for a few of the most common digraphs.
D is for DOCTOR
How are YOU doing, dear reader? Surviving you-know-what?

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Get More Bang for Your Lesson Planning Buck

One thing that I love about the principles of Back to the Well is that both teacher and student get something out of it. If you're interested in what the students get out of it, you can read a whole whack of posts on this blog under the category label of 'Back to the Well.' You can also read A Year of Slow in the Spring 2015 issue of Contact, an article I co-wrote with John Sivell, recently retired from Brock University's Department of Applied Linguistics.

What I want to talk about today is one of the reasons it is teacher-friendly, namely that it increases the ROI of my lesson planning time and energy.

This week the seniors, for example, were studying The Battle of Vimy Ridge. This topic was being explored in response to their request for more lessons about Canada. They also have requested more field trips, and I thought that studying an historic event like the victory at Vimy would be a great way to prepare for a trip to Jackson Park, where they will encounter many war memorials and monuments.

I invested my time in the creation of a short text about the battle. It is a simplified combination of two texts I found on the Internet. It was not easy for me to get the story down to five short paragraphs with pictures. It took the better part of an evening.

But now that we have it, there are so many ways we are able to milk this text for many types of linguistic affordances. Here is how our week played out in a class. (It is for the most part a listening/speaking course.)

Monday we did a KWL warm-up followed by my pre-teaching new vocabulary and introduction to the text. We did choral repetition, which they repeatedly ask me for. I threw out some discussion questions to give them their daily dose of oral practice and to up the student talk time.
Tuesday they read the text again individually and for a partner. After break I circulated some trench image cards that I had been able to download for free from the Internet over the weekend. In groups of 2-3, students had to ask one another, "What's happening?" The lower level students were able to participate easily since pictures were of familiar activities (a soldier is cutting his friend's hair in the trench; a soldier is eating bread in the trench; the soldiers are washing their feet in the trench).
trench image cards - soldiers in the trenches engaged in daily activities

Wednesday I distributed one trench image card to each student and gave them 15 minutes of dictionary time. Next I gave them ten minutes to practice telling a partner about a photo card. Finally I had each student come to the front of the class to tell about his/her card. NB: I took all cards away from students so that they would give their full attention to the person at the front of the room instead of nervously continuing to look at their translators, study their card, etc., in preparation for their turn. As each student came up, I held up his/her assigned photo card for all to see.

Thursday before the break we went back into the text with two discussion questions and two vocabulary exercises:
1) When we studied Confederation, we learned that Canada's birthday is July 1, 1867. So then what did Brigadier-General Ross mean when he said that at Vimy he had seen 'the birth of a nation?'
2) Can you think of a historic event that contributed to a sense of nationhood for your first country? What is it? (Not all compatriots will agree.)
3) Choose 3-5 useful words or chunks from the text and use them in new sentences.
4) Choose one interesting word from the text and look up its synonyms. Can any of the synonyms be substituted for the original word? Discuss your answer with a classmate.

Higher level students tackled all four items while lower level students skipped the abstract discussion questions and did the vocabulary study.

After break was a dictation with short, simple sentences on this now very familiar topic. For example: The trenches were cold, muddy, and full of rats. Soldiers could get trench foot. German prisoners helped carry out the wounded. And so forth.

After taking up the dictation, I then had them do another activity with the same sentences. Students got into small groups and I gave each group of 3-4 students one die.

On the board I wrote, "Start with the first sentence. Take turns rolling the die. According to your roll of the die, do one of the following:
1 - Read the sentence.
2 - Change positive to negative / negative to positive.
3 - Change the tense of the sentence.
4 - Make a question that the sentence answers.
5 - Change one word in the sentence to a synonym that works as well as the original word.
6 - Say "Really?" and then the sentence with surprised, questioning intonation."

Friday we had to postpone the field trip due to rain. Instead students used Flipgrid for the first time. I enticed them to give it a try by offering them a video tour of my apartment that I had created on the weekend. Each student recorded an introduction under that thread and then moved on to reflections on the week's learning. I wish there was a quick and easy way to convert the URL of our grid to a QR code for inclusion in their portfolios.
Seniors can use Flipgrid!

In short, not only does going 'Back to the Well' allow students' brains to make more neural connections with the lexis, but it frees up many evenings for a teacher who wants a life outside of eternal lesson preparation.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Google Slides for Quick and Dirty Desktop Publishing

I am so OVER using a word processor to quickly create newsletters, Language Experience Approach (LEA) books with literacy students, and multi-page worksheets for my classes. Thanks to Tony Vincent and his Classy Graphics course that I took over the summer, I now turn to Google Drawing for one-page worksheets, handouts or posters. Google Slides can be used in the exact same way when you need a document to have several pages.

To use Google Slides to create a series of worksheets or a booklet, you simply change the page settings to 8.5" x 11" or to whatever your page dimensions need to be. One reason I love using these tools in the Google suite of tools is that I no longer find myself searching through a bunch of (not very intuitive) menus to find the setting I'm looking for. I'm tired of fighting with Word over headers and footers that need to start after the cover and inside front cover, or which need to be different section to section. I'm a smart person who has taken MANY classes, and after twenty years, the software should NOT still be giving me headaches. The interface in the suite of Google tools is easy to learn to use. It's more intuitive than a word processor and makes editing or making small and large changes to layout a breeze.

A few features that I enjoy in Google Slides and Google Drawing include the following:

  • Images stay where I put them. I can easily resize using handles.
  • Double clicking an image allows me to CROP IT IN PLACE! (Be still, my heart.)
  • Columns of text stay where I put them, do not run onto the next page when my back is turned!
  • I don't find myself needing to turn on REVEAL CODES to see why my document's content is 'acting up.'
  • All my creations reside on my Google Drive, available to me from any computer hooked to the internet. No more carrying around a flash drive!
  • I can easily share with my colleagues and with you.
  • By embedding the document in my website, any improvements I make to the original on my Google Drive automatically feed through to the one on my website!!! (This is so time-saving since I am a tweaker.)
This week I used Google Slides to create a variety of activities to enrich an upcoming field trip to Jackson Park / Queen Elizabeth II Gardens that my multilevel seniors class has requested. 

If you teach LINC in Windsor's downtown core (or just want to see a booklet that was created in Google Slides), you can download this activity pack for use with your own class. With Bloom's Taxonomy in mind, I provided at least one activity for each level of this pedagogical hierarchy. This week I will show my students the choices and allow each student to choose the task with which he/she feels most comfortable and which promises to boost his/her engagement and challenge language use the most. All of this ties into the theme of Canada and Canadian history, which got a large number of votes during our recent needs assessment.

How do you use Google Docs, Sites, Drive, Drawing, Slides and other tools in the suite with your classes? If you don't yet, are you tempted to try?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Getting into the Swing of Things

I'm holding to my resolutions. The first two weeks were a bit rocky in terms of good self-care, I'll admit. But we're now two weeks into the fall term, and it would seem that I'm getting better at not allowing lesson prep to fill all available free time. I've hung this print over my desk at home just to keep myself on track.

This weekend, because I corralled my lesson planning and sourcing of materials into a smaller time slot than I would normally, I was able to devote more of my weekend to restorative and fun activities by myself and with my partner. It also REALLY helps that my agency has negotiated us some PBLA prep days throughout the term. Friday I was able to spend the entire day--minus an hour lunch break--in an empty school building marking rubrics and organizing myself for another term of PBLA implementation.

Saturday I took myself to an artisan's fair, visited two of the artists on the Open Studios tour, puttered around the yard, and read for pleasure. Saturday evening I made time for a movie with my sweetheart. In the morning, he was pleased that I made time for a late and leisurely breakfast at a spot where service is slow and the food worth the wait. He was even more impressed when I let him come over Sunday, which usually would stress me out. Because I was letting done be better than perfect,  I even agreed to our making dinner from scratch and watching another movie.

This feels good.

I like having a life.

As for PBLA with the seniors, I've decided to make that a completely client-centred and client-driven operation. They will decide how often to collect an artifact and what they want marked. They will collaborate with me on creation of assessment tools, on decisions around criteria.

The needs assessment revealed that they want to focus more on Canadian history, culture, and law. They also want to get to know this city better, especially the important landmarks. We already have two field trips planned for October.

Each school term brings something that renews my enthusiasm for teaching. This term I have at least three new sources of inspiration. The first is a building full of new faces! I have new colleagues who will be bringing their fresh ideas to our next department meeting. Secondly, I have a literacy class made up of students with higher speaking and listening skills than any group I've taught before. They are a lot of fun! Thirdly, there's some new technology entering my sphere that I'm having fun with: an Instagram account for sharing with my PLN, Flipgrid for giving me and the students a new way to assess their listening and speaking, and the gift that keeps on giving--knowing how to use Google Drawing and Google Slides (thanks to Tony Vincent) and Google Forms (thanks to Jen Artan). I'm finding that Google Drawing is now my go-to platform for a one-page worksheet while Google Slides works for multi-page booklets, such as the literacy class' LEA stories. I prefer it to Word for many reasons, but the main one is ease of use and ease of editing. When I place a picture on the page, it stays there. When I create three columns of text under my BINGO grid, they stay put. I never have to scream at Google Drawing. After Jen Artan showed us via a webinar (available for viewing as a webcast on how to use Google Forms, I immediately tried it out as a way to tally the seniors' votes regarding themes and also types of activities they prefer so that we could all get a clear visual representation of the results.

These new tools are absolutely making my job easier and less time consuming. Maybe I will have time for another printmaking class, after all!

How about you? Have you mastered the fine art of work-life balance? Are you good at self-care?

Monday, September 18, 2017

I'm on Instagram !

"You can't teach an old dog new tricks."

That's a saying the seniors and I have been having a lot of fun with lately.

We are discovering that you can, indeed.

We are just in the midst of our needs assessment for the new term, which means we have to choose which themes and topics are of greatest interest to us. We'll be setting goals and plotting courses for reaching those goals.

Friday is the day when some seniors peter out, so to speak. A five-day school week is quite a load for an octogenarian, you have to admit. And yet, I have to get them through that door somehow. So Fridays have traditionally been the day on which I offer something extra, something special. At times that has been an hour in the computer lab after break, at other times it has been a pronunciation lesson or short, easy (and amazing) true story that we read and digest together.

Now it seems that nothing I do is quite enticing enough. I have to get out the big guns. The seniors have asked me if I would please take them on more field trips. So the first two I have scheduled on Fridays. Is that wrong of me?

Oh, but I digress. This isn't even what I wanted to blog about this week.

Over the weekend I managed to open and begin using an Instagram account. You can follow me; I'm JOYofESL. I think I'm going to enjoy Instagram even more than Twitter. I really love snapping pictures in the moment and sharing them quickly with just a word or hashtag or two.

I was keen to share my discovery with the seniors. I turned this Friday into a bit of a tech tasting party. We watched this video about a Korean grandfather who now has an Instagram account with a huge following. Seeing this prompted one student to get out her phone, open Instagram, which she already had installed, and follow "drawings_for_my_grandchildren."

We also played with the Google Cardboard units I ordered over the summer. Don't tell anyone that I got knock-offs from China for $3 each, okay? The students loved them. One was keen to order her own for her family. My student who has macular degeneration can play ping pong but cannot read worksheets even when I use a 24 pt font. But he WAS able to visit the Eiffel Tower using the virtual reality viewer. Cool! I wonder what might happen if I turned a team loose on an assignment to teach the rest of the class about Google Cardboard? Hmmmm. Project-based learning, anyone?

How about you? What were your first weeks like back at work / school? I would love to hear!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Change Happens

Tomorrow is the first day of the new fall term at the agency where I teach two LINC classes. It feels to me as if this term will be different in many ways. I'm going to see many new faces. I'm entering my second term of trying to comply with the PBLA mandate while balancing work with good self care. And I'm hoping to open myself up to new ways of teaching.

New Staffing
We underwent quite a bit of turnover during the summer, something that would have been unheard of when I joined the organization in the spring of 2010. Back then I was told that you had to wait for someone to die or hit 65 in order to squeeze your foot in the door. A person just did NOT give up a LINC teaching position once she or he had secured one.

That doesn't seem to be the case anymore. Seems like just the other day I was the new kid on the block, and now I'm going to be one of the oldies. I look forward to meeting all my new colleagues tomorrow and seeing the fresh energy and ideas they bring with them.

Developing My Teaching
How do I want to change how I do my job as I embark upon a new school term? I've had the entire summer break to read pedagogical books and articles, such as Ellen Langer's Mindful Learning, Dellar and Walkley's Teaching Lexically, and countless articles brought to my attention by my PLN via Twitter, such as the great blog posts over at The Cult of Pedagogy. And I've had time to look over the end-of-term feedback forms my students filled out in June.

How do I plan to evolve? In what ways do I hope to show growth? What do I want to do better than before?

There are three main areas in which I want to shake things up a bit: the curriculum of the seniors' class; the way PBLA is used with CLB 1L; how I use my time 'off the clock'.

Before the end of last term, the seniors conveyed to me that they would like more projects and would appreciate taking more trips off site. They benefited from a field trip we took to acquaint them with the free open-air ping pong table in Kiwanis Park as well as the trip we took to the Windsor Sculpture Park. These clients are long retired and do not need a syllabus that revolves around getting them into the workforce. Those days are long gone for them. Many of them, however, want to volunteer in the community. They want to better understand Canadian culture. They wish to engage socially with the people around them. I hope that by reading, talking to other teachers, and staying involved with my PLN on Twitter, I will think of ways to give the seniors more of what they value.

As for my literacy class, I will attempt to nail down exactly what is expected of me in terms of implementing PBLA at that level. On the one hand, we now have the ESL for ALL Support Kit. This should make it easier for me to help literacy learners set achievable language goals and measure progress. On the other hand, I still feel as if we are conflating formative and summative assessment with these rubrics and checklists. To me these marked artifacts feel like a summative assessment that is assembled over time. I would like to test out a system of instant feedback, such as the one my former coworker Maria employed with her foundations learners using a green/yellow/red light system that let the learners inform the instructor on the spot whether they were ready to move on.

Work Life Balance
Finally, I want to reexamine how much time I'm spending on lesson prep and whether I am spending that time wisely. My tendency toward perfectionism means that I too easily let lesson prep eat up almost all my free time. This year I must make myself a solemn promise not to let that happen. If ever there was a time for me to double down in my commitment to Back to the Well, it's now. I have to remember to trust the (audio or written) text. It's imperative that I demonstrate the courage of my conviction by guiding students back into the same language sample again and again in many ways, exploiting it for the myriad affordances it offers us. As for the students, they deserve a chance to deeply explore the language at a mindful pace.

As for me, I deserve bike riding time, time to take in cultural events with my partner, time for a good night's rest, time to cook and digest a healthy meal without rushing. Why should summer be the only season during which I find time for a printmaking class or a short road trip?

And so I return to the job I love with new resolutions, eager to see what my learners and I manage to co-create.

How about you?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

ESL Literacy Clients Deserve Better

Canadian ESL literacy instruction represents a tiny and often overlooked corner of the world of teaching English as a second or additional language. If you serve these clients, you know how difficult it can be to find appropriate resources and classroom materials of the same quality as what our colleagues teaching mainstream settlement English have at their fingertips.

When I was hired for the literacy class that I now teach, the materials I was expected to teach from consisted of a binder a colleague had put together on her own initiative. Had it not been for that, I would have had nothing but one shelf in a cabinet full of dusty, yellowed, outdated materials that fell far short of meeting what we know today as best practices for working with pre-literate and semi-literate ESL learners.

Slowly, by mining the internet every evening and weekend for many months, I began to curate a decent collection of resources on my computer. I found HandsOn!, Making it Real, and the treasure trove of materials and instructor handbooks at Bow Valley College Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement.

But it wasn't enough.

I began creating my own activity packs to complement the wonderful Bow Valley College readers. I went shopping online, and my employer purchased some of the Talk of the Block sets, a few resources from Grassroots Press, and a few more books each fall at the publishers' expo at the TESL Ontario conference.

Yet even when I was turned loose in Toronto with a couple hundred bucks in my pocket and permission from my employer to beef up the ESL literacy section of our resource library, there wasn't much for me to buy. There still isn't. When I visit my local teacher supply store in hopes of finding an alphabet line for my classroom, I come away having settled for something that was designed with NS children in mind.  I don't want the S word to be star, which begins with a blend. I want a pure S followed by vowel sound. I don't want any of the images to be words my newcomers will not need in their vocabularies for another ten years; I want words that are relevant to their lives now. O is for octopus? How about O is for on / off with a picture of a light switch? Now that's English we can put to use immediately!

On my last post, Cintia Costa left a profound comment. Central to her teaching philosophy is Love. Yeah, big L Love. I also believe deeply in the value of Love. So much flows from Love: respect, growth, trust, community, a safe space.

Love, if you ask me, is in the details.

How can we claim to respect our ESL literacy clients if we do not pay attention to the details? I, for one, am not satisfied putting materials in front of them that are not designed for them. Would you use a magazine containing violent war pictures with a group of refugees just arrived from war-torn areas? Of course not. You would pre-screen what you use and would set aside the resources not appropriate for them. You respect them. You care about the experience they have in your classroom.

So why are we okay with an alphabet line that was made for little Canadian children? To be honest, it's probably because we have no choice. Materials designed for pre-literate and semi-literate ADULT newcomers to Canada are very hard to find. It's a tiny niche market, so what publishing company is going to bother developing these things?

The good news is that it's becoming easier all the time for you and me to stop waiting around for someone else to make these resources. I'm ready to make them myself. A is for apple, B is for baby, C is for a cup of coffee. D is not for dog, but might be for door or doctor.

I'll let you know when the set is ready for free download. ;)

How about you? Do you think we teachers of ESL literacy have to take it upon ourselves to create what we need?

Monday, August 21, 2017

What's Your Philosophy?

After my first seven-week session (full time) at CCLCS, the Standard I students had their TESL Canada certificates and all the practical tools under their belts that they would need to teach English at local "visa" schools or in places like Thailand, South Korea, and Costa Rica. After a seven-week break, I returned to Toronto for the remaining seven-week session that would--if I passed--make me an Ontario Certified English Language Teacher. We settled in to learn in more depth the history of the teaching of second languages, the various second language acquisition theories--from Krashen to Chomsky. We wrote research papers peppered with our newly gained lexis of the field: L1, L2, interference, comprehensible input, ZPD. We had heated classroom debates on whether the existence of certain words in a native language allowed the speakers to entertain the concept while NS of languages without the words were unable to think in the terms provided by the existence of the word itself.

I still remember how I answered an important essay question on an exam. The question dealt with which SLA theory or theories I found to have the most merit and how that might inform my classroom practice. I answered that I did not feel able to conclude with absolute certainty which theory was the "right" one, nor did I find them to be mutually exclusive. I found some merit in bits and pieces of many of them, and therefore I planned to take an eclectic approach to classroom practice.

And so I have.

I enjoy delving deeply into certain pedagogical works and authors more than others, but always like to make time during summer break and--to a lesser extent--throughout the school year for reading that (hopefully) makes me a better informed instructor.

How about you? Do you enjoy reading books whose target audience is comprised mainly of teachers of English as a second or additional language? If not, why not? Are you an auditory learner who prefers attending workshops or webinars and watching videos on YouTube? What other ways do you enjoy expanding your knowledge and improving your teaching skills and repertoire?