Monday, June 26, 2017

U of T PhD Student Seeks PBLA Research Participants

Yuliya Desyatova says:

I am a PhD student at the University of Toronto and a LINC teacher. In response to numerous calls I have heard about the need for independent empirical research, I am starting a research project on how PBLA affects teaching and learning. How big of a resonance the project will make will depend on the number of participants. If you or anybody you know would consider joining – you can e-mail me for more details at

Thank you.

Friday, June 23, 2017

What's on the Walls?

A member of my PLN, Cintia Costa, will be starting a new job this fall as an ESL literacy teacher. She asked me for ideas on decorating her classroom. There isn't enough room on this page for me to share all the ways I can think of for doing this. But I'll start a list of ideas with the hope that some of them will spark Cintia's imagination. Others can add more ideas in the comments.

Although this doesn't get you started on day one, I would say that having the students do the decorating is a wonderful way to make them feel at home and to instantly convey the notion that it is their class, their space. Their work is the focus; their work is valued.

Another thing to consider is whether you want stations, or want a classroom that can easily be reconfigured to accommodate learning stations (a table with iPads, a table with art supplies and paper, a table with letters that can be manipulated, a sand tray to help students with learning disabilities and kinaesthetic learners, a table with flashcards). I am a strong believer in self-paced, self-directed learning and think every school week should include at least one or two hours in which students choose their activity and pace--even if you have to narrow the choices down to only two: Puzzle or iPads? Peer reading circle or illustrating and colouring today's terms?

Each unit you teach will produce something that can be displayed on the walls.

Maria Margaritis incorporated students' colouring pages and stickers in a quiet alcove.

Students love to see their own work displayed on the wall. Everyone benefits from seeing what the other teams came up with. Our walls are a constantly changing gallery of learners' work.

When you succeed in creating a sense of community in your class, the learners will feel empowered to take over many tasks, such as throwing birthday parties for each other.
An alphabet line is invaluable. The many ways we use ours would take up an entire blog post. Try to find one whose illustrations are items that will be familiar and relevant to the learners (x-ray, not xylophone) and not babyish. You might even want learners to cut out their own pictures from magazines to create a custom alphabet line to laminate.

In one corner of my whiteboard, just under the day's date, I write any announcements, such as "Friday: no school." Students learn over time to keep an eye on that part of the board in order not to forget important events and information.

Students in my class also quickly learn that retrieving prior days' worksheets after an absence is their responsibility, not mine. I find that students of both my classes TRULY appreciate this system.

You may want to keep an easel chart at the front of the class for a list of words that you will revisit throughout that week's module.

Students remember the lexis when they have illustrated the new terms. These posters stay on our classroom walls for a week or two and then move to the computer lab for the rest of the school to see.

Some teachers post frequently needed phrases and gambits on a bulletin board, along the wall near the ceiling, or keep them at the ready for certain activities.
Some literacy instructors use word walls. For a while I had one poster for every vowel sound we learned to decode in CVC and vowel team patterns, but I found that over a period of a year or more, this system did not render much bang for our buck.
One thing I can think of that is really important to have on the wall is an exemplar of what the expectation is for a particular task. I put up a copy of the rubric or checklist we'll be using to measure success on a task as well as what success looks like. For example, this is uniform printing. This is not. These sentences each have a capital and period. These do not. And so on. (I seem to have lost the photo of my printing exemplar poster. Sorry!)

Oftentimes our walls are a reflection of what our classroom has become that week. Is it a doctor's office with magazines on a table in the waiting room? A family's dining room during Thanksgiving? A grocery store with aisle signs? A bus stop with schedule posted for weekdays and holidays?

One of the first activities Maria Margaritis did with her Foundations learners was on names of the colours. Their pastel creations soon covered one wall and instantly transformed a sterile little room into a safe and welcoming space.

From musical instruments to construction paper, from live plants to cooking utensils to cameras, the sky is the limit on what your learning space can contain. Cintia, I cannot wait to see what you do with your classroom as you and the learners form relationships and organically co-create the learning space and experience.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

End of Term Thoughts...and a New Book!

The 2016-2017 school year has ended on some very good notes for me, even though two of my colleagues won't be there when I return in September. Maria is off to get an advanced degree at McGill. She hopes that she will have more clout and ability to influence and shape policy after she gets her master's degree. My other departing coworker will return after maternity leave.

A few days ago my copy of Teaching Lexically arrived in the mail, and I am engrossed. This is going to be the most highlighted of all my TESL books. The glossy covered book will look like a flower, what with all the coloured sticky flags protruding from between the pages on two of the four sides.

What I'm reading accords nicely with other teaching approaches I believe in, such as Dogme and Back-to-the-Well. Just 35 pages in, I already know that my current projects, such as a webinar I'll be co-presenting this winter, readers I'm creating, and activity packs I'm readying for upload to the website, are going to undergo re-thinking and redesigning in light of my new understanding of lexical teaching.

The feedback my morning students gave me during their student-teacher conferences already has me excitedly imagining how I can better meet their needs next term. They unanimously and resoundingly voiced appreciation for the CCAC book I wrote. It helped them grasp the concepts and practice the language needed to understand eligibility criteria and use of the services of the Community Care Access Centre. Although the book was based on Erie-Saint Clair CCAC's website, teachers in other parts of Canada may find it useful--especially for a class of older learners--since there are equivalents to CCAC across the country. Query your favourite web search engine about home and community care in X community.

Almost all of my morning students requested that I bring the target level down and do more "everyday English" as well as more repeating and revisiting prior lexis. This latter request fits in perfectly with what I'm already reading in Teaching Lexically.

So, yeah! I'm excited.

I'm also happy that an open, honest dialogue about the flaws of the current PBLA roll-out is taking place in the comments of Sridatt Lakhan's recent blog post there.

Speaking of PBLA, there's a fact that has only just recently crystallized in my thinking. That is that there are two sub-camps into which the PBLA backlash can be divided. There are those, like Claudie Graner and Norm Friesen, who would challenge the quality of the research used to justify this enormous expenditure and retooling of our programs. They might suggest that the emperor has no clothes at all. Then there is another group: they are the teachers who would be willing to give PBLA a good old college try provided they were paid for their time to do so.  But they are being asked to do the impossible: create the content, create the assessments, and mark the assessments without watering their pay down to minimum wage or lower. They are angry at their employers for not pushing back on their behalf, for not advocating for their rights under labour laws, for not simply doing the right thing. Some are quitting or going to part-time while looking for a workplace that does not subscribe to PBLA.

Eternal optimist that I am, I expect something to give soon. The fact that public dialogue is starting to take place is a step in the right direction.

What's up for you this summer?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Norm Friesen's "PBLA: Claims and Controversies"

Professor Norm Friesen (Wikipedia entry here, blog here) sat in on an open chat at BC TEAL, took notes, and gave this talk in Manitoba last month.

If you are questioning the validity of PBLA, if you are feeling demoralized, if you are being called a whiner and complainer, if you have been reprimanded at work for speaking out, this presentation is worth 28 minutes of your life a thousand times over.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Time for a little Fun!

Because it was our goal to wrap up all artifact collection before the start of Ramadan (and also early enough to leave time for binder review, student-teacher conferences, progress reports and data collation by admin in June), I get to spend the last three weeks with my learners just exploring language in fun ways with them without the stress of another assessment around every corner.

It feels so good.

Also, the weather is now perfect for field trips.

And so I find myself so full of ideas, I can't plan or execute them all fast enough. One of the ideas that is blowing my little mind comes from a recent TESL Ontario blog post by John Allan entitled, "Change the Routine without Disrupting the Class - Take a Virtual Field Trip."

Have you heard of Google Expedition? I had never heard of it before I read John's post. I already have three Google Cardboard viewers en route to my home. I'll have the whole summer to play with them and think up ways to incorporate their use into English lessons.

In the meantime, while I dreamt about those little viewers being shipped to me, I've been working on lesson materials for an upcoming trip to Windsor Sculpture Park, an open-air art gallery stretching for ten kilometres along the Detroit River. My class will visit a small sampling of about a dozen works close enough for a self-paced walking tour that takes no more than two hours to complete, even with rest breaks at shady picnic tables with water and snacks.

I've spent today putting together a little booklet of activities, including a jigsaw. I'm looking forward to tomorrow!

If you are a Windsor teacher and would like to use this booklet, give me a shout.