Sunday, February 12, 2017

"Unbelievable Waste"

I guess it's time for a little update on my implementation of PBLA in both my morning and afternoon classes. I also want to share a bit of what I'm hearing around me.

My morning class consists of 15 people over the age of 55. Most are immigrants, four are refugees. They do not change teachers. Their stated goals involve social integration and being able to live independently, navigating our healthcare system, the banking system, shopping, and other activities of everyday life without having to depend on their grown children or grandchildren for help. They want to be able to talk to and understand healthcare professionals. Because I am a champion of the client-centred model, they have sculpted and tweaked our class until it is exactly what they want and need. We do very little writing, focusing mostly on their weakest areas: speaking intelligibly and listening comprehension. Though there are exceptions, most have a long way to go when it comes to strategic competence. So that's something we focus on, as well.

I'm not quite sure how to handle my PBLA mandate when it comes to this group. They do not care about their benchmarks. They never progress to a "next level." So for now I am in a sort of "cover my ass" mode, entreating them to humour me as I administer assessments of their skills. I resent having to lead them through a process that brings into the light the fact that their skills have plateaued. I do not want to demoralize them. I look for ways to emphasize what they CAN do, not what they still cannot do. Therefore I have moved to checklists instead of rubrics, have designed the assessment tools in such a way as to highlight what they have learned to do and not the fact that the benchmarks seldom change.

But I do attempt to stay abreast of what my peers are learning. I am trying out the Conestoga College rubrics; I recently volunteered to field test a multi-level module plan with assessment tools. In a bid for the students' buy-in, I told them that all my colleagues across Canada were learning how to use rubrics (some multi-level) and other assessment tools for the purpose of PBLA. I told them it wouldn't be good for me to fall behind and not gain these skills. What if I one day had to teach a mainstream class again with focus on the benchmarks? I wouldn't want to be lacking in this area of my professional development. So would they be so kind as to serve as my guinea pigs? Would they play along with all these assessments that have little value to them? Yes, they said.

What wouldn't they do for me if I asked? But boy, do I ever feel like a schmuck for taking advantage of that.

The literacy students seem to like being assessed, like putting artefacts in their big white binders that we keep in the cabinet. No, they don't go home. And that brings me to what others around me are saying. One thing I hear over and over is: what an unbelievable waste!

The Language Companion for the literacy level seems to be geared for a CLB 2 or 3L. Maybe not even L. The level two teacher covets it. Goodness knows the LC 1-4 is way too high for her students. I've heard of some schools that have removed the LC part of the binders, locking all that paper up in a storage closet somewhere. It's useless to the lower level learners. I am feeling envious of the teachers at the schools where permission has been granted to gut the damned things and make them light enough to lug home and back.

Another teacher cries to me about the wasted money. Imagine, he says, all that printing, all that ink, all that paper multiplied by all the schools across the nation. That's a lot of money that we could have used on something we really need.

Yet another instructor comes to my class just to show me what she just finished printing: inventory sheets times four skills plus About Me for her two classes. "That's JUST the inventory sheets. That. That much paper!!!"
Inventory sheets
I know there is little to no chance any of this is going to change, but do you know what? It sure would help my morale and that of a lot of teachers I know if someone at the top would just acknowledge that not everything PBLA is coming up roses. Not all teachers are pleased with the wasteful aspect, just to name one problem. A simple acknowledgement of that would go a long way in my book.

Okay, rant finished. I'm not even going to ask for comments anymore. I've pretty much given up hope that teachers across Ontario or Canada are ever going to coalesce into a vibrant, mutually supportive online community.  And many struggling with or critical of any aspect of PBLA seem afraid to speak out. So I'll just keep on doing my thing over here.

P.S. This week I added a page to my website: Literacy - Health. There you will find a whole whack of free printable worksheets to accompany four different CLB 1L resources. If you use them, I hope you'll let me know.


  1. Thanks for this update and for your honesty. The paperwork (and the energy required to generate it) is, indeed, a waste. Your efforts here aren't, though! I often suggest to my peers that they check out your blog if they're feeling overwhelmed and know that your students must benefit from your reflective approach to teaching.

    1. I can vouch for this! Your blog is great. I am a new teacher, and sadly, I don't think I can continue teaching ESL mainly because of PBLA. It is so much unpaid work. I knew prep was a part of this work, but I am constantly overwhelmed, new and untrained in PBLA, yet expected to do it properly.

    2. Unknown,
      Thank you for using a moniker other than "Anonymous." It helps me to recognize when someone new joins the conversation. And thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to let me know that you like my blog. That floats my boat.

      Do you teach at an IRCC funded agency? How do your colleagues feel about all that unpaid work? After all, they too were already spending their evenings doing lesson plans and a reasonable amount of marking. Now they are doing lesson plans PLUS so much more marking. I would love to learn more about each commenter's situation. --K

    3. Dear New Teacher "Unknown",
      First - you seem EXACTLY the kind of person who should be a teacher. You are proactive (commented on a blog), communicative, trusting and open (you trusted that there would be a person or persons out there with whom you could talk), and you are realistic and smart (reality checked a situation that threatens to overwhelm you, using your own judgement) and sensitive (sad at the thought of not being able to teach ESL.) So... could you hang in there a little longer, see this as a learning experience and keep the mantra "This too shall pass" in mind? You will will encounter many programs that are, maybe, well intentioned but miss the mark; involve much wasted time, effort and taxpayer dollars. Unless the programs are physically dangerous or morally compromising you will weather them.
      There is NO SUCH THING AS DOING PBLA properly!!! It is an experiment. There are no "models" in the world to look to ( those who say "Canada is behind, they have been doing this in the States for years" are,well, ingenuous. K-12 in STEM? Yes, there are some attempts to use portfolios. (note I do not capitalize). Results are mixed. The biggest criticism seems to be there is not enough return on the amount of effort and that it is not practical.)
      PBLA is being made up as they go along...
      But keeping samples of learners' work is an age old teacher practice, invaluable - and I could not teach without it. But not the prescriptive, checklist, hardcover, heavy (limiting) Portfolio Filled with Artefacts that's central to the "Canadian PBLA" "New Assessment Methodology" that is tied in to "valudating"? the Canadian Language Benchmarks.
      I guess you have a choice. If you really are at breaking point you could withdraw and wait till this fades away ( or implodes). (It is NOT sustainable).
      Or you could look at it in a detached way as something peculiar but interesting. Learn as much as you can about it. Do the best you can to comply. And do not doubt YOURSELF. Nothing wrong with you. It is the poorly designed project. Other experienced teachers are at their wits end. A most egregious response I heard was said by one "provider": "Things have to get worse before they can get better." Really!
      If you have one of those really awful Trainers ( PBLA Police) and if things get really unbearable perhaps you could request a meeting with your employer. (Make sure you log how much extra time you are putting in). As a new teacher you need support and encouragement. I am presuming you are not unionised.
      Something that helps me is to follow people on Twitter that are practical, but also inspirational - and who constantly value teachers and teaching. Like @Alec_Corbitt
      I wish you strength, and courage. There may be reasons why you decide that teaching ESL is not for you. That's OK. But hopefully it is not PBLA! Don't let it cheat you out of doing something that has the potential to being so much joy! All the best. Claudie

    4. Dear Unknown! OOPS! ALEX Corbitt, not Alec...So..@Alex_Corbitt. Sorry. It is complicated process editing comments. I could delete whole post, repost with correction. Hopefully this will be enough.Larry Ferlazzo is also great. Its all about the teaching! Claudie

  2. Thank you, Elizabeth! Oddly enough, the big PBLA thread is happening in the comments on another blog post of mine that had nothing to do with PBLA. Oh, well. It's here.


Thank you for participating in this forum. Anonymous commenting is available, but is not intended to shield those taking pot shots at those of us challenging PBLA. If you are here to do that, please use your name.