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?