Sunday, May 27, 2018

A Windsor Freebie and PBLA Update

Happy Sunday!

Before I get to the freebie, allow me to take a moment to give you an update on the results of my digging. Anytime you find information that could be helpful to others who are struggling in Orwellian work environments, feel free to email me with that info so I can add it to THIS PAGE.

Those who follow The Joy of ESL Facebook page have probably already seen this email I received:

Hello Kelly,
Thank you for raising your concerns with how the Portfolio-Based Language Assessment (PBLA) is being implemented. We will be sending new Operational Guidelines for PBLA to all language training providers in the coming weeks. These guidelines will clarify many of the issues raised in your email and we will encourage all language training providers to consult the guidelines regularly.The Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks (CCLB) is responsible for coordinating the implementation of PBLA in Ontario. You are welcome to add to your website for instructors who have questions about PBLA or who require additional support. This is a more appropriate point of contact than MCI staff.
The CCLB is undertaking a Practice Review of PBLA to gather feedback from Administrators, Classroom Teachers, and Lead Teachers on how PBLA has been implemented and to ensure that PBLA is implemented in a consistent manner. If you would like more information you can visit…/pbla-practice-review-framewo…/…
Daniel Lisi
Team Lead
Program Design Unit
Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration

The reason I was referred to MCI and not IRCC is presumably because it was my local MPP's office answering me. Anyway, I was hoping for a NAME that goes with a FACE to put on on the PBLA support page, but I suppose will have to do. That email inbox is monitored by someone on the Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks Board, I assume?

In any case, the advent of this document, "new Operational Guidelines" could be a good thing, no? When it comes out, we need to get our hands on a copy and read it cover to cover to see if it is of any help to us as we face drastic inconsistencies in expectations from school to school. Some employers are implementing PBLA in a way that does not create a hostile, toxic work environment with unreasonable after-hours workload expectations, while others... well, you know. (Don't even get me started on how PBLA is not resulting in consistent assessment around the country. That's another can of worms.)

At the same time, I've been in communication with someone who has advice for those of us in unions, but I am just waiting for that person to advise me whether he/she wants to be identified when I share that advice or not.

As for those of us who are NOT unionized, I did get a an interesting bit of information this past week when we had a speaker visit my morning class from Community Legal Aid. She spoke mostly about Community Legal Aid, but also a bit about Legal Assistance Windsor, whose offices are in the same building on Ouellette over the fitness centre next to the post office. She said that the law students at these two organizations can assist workers who are concerned that their employers may be violating labour standards. To be eligible for this help, you would need to a) not be a member of a union and b) qualify for their free services based on income. The threshold is somewhere around $25K per year for a family of two and around $21 K per year for a single person. She said that even if you don't meet the threshold,  it is worthwhile to stop in or call them because oftentimes where they cannot help directly, they can make a referral.

This week I had two opportunities to talk to teachers at other SPOs around my city and both times I learned interesting things.

  • Some employers do not give teachers any paid PBLA prep time. I think all teachers deserve to be aware of what is happening around the province and country when it comes to the PBLA roll-out.
  • One teacher was overheard saying, 'if they hold up London as the gold standard, I'll quit my job tomorrow.' Watch out, Thames Valley. You have a reputation for how NOT to implement PBLA. 🙁
  • Some SPOs do not require the collection of 32 artifacts between promotion periods. They recognize that as untenable, especially for those with very large classes.
  • Some employers understand that worker wellbeing is more important than PBLA. Implementation needs to be done with a heavy dose of common sense and compassion for instructors, as well as by providing paid time for teachers to accomplish training and to meet expectations for the creation of lesson plans, materials, module plans and assessment tools.
Oh, and I've contacted Yuliya Desyatova about my need to update the status of her project on my website. She will update us as soon as she can. She has to do things in a certain order since this is her PhD research project.
As for the freebie, here is a 3-page list of free and low cost things students in Windsor's downtown core can do this summer. Feel free to edit.


  1. Call me a cynic, but I don't have high hopes for any new Operational Guidelines.

    My SPO has been involved in the PBLA Practice Review Framework, and for participants at all levels - teachers, lead teachers, programs - the questions are only about compliance. The Likert scale is from 1 (not yet a part of my/our practice) to 5 (a consistent part of my/our practice). There is no evaluative component. No one is asking if PBLA works.

    1. “No one is asking if PBLA works”.
      How true. But also no one is telling us what the variables and the measurables of “PBLA is working” are.
      Teams of IRCC inspectors visited some locations last year. Locations were forewarned so binders were prettied up and we heard some students were told to stay home thst day because their binders were not up to snuff. The inspectors apparently just took binders at random from classrooms and looked at them with checklists.

      Ellen - think they were looking for compliance to the indoctrination protocol? I think so. Think they found it? I think so.

      To the best of my knowledge noone has compared the actual “teacher created” assessment “artefacts” collected. Maybe there IS great consistency, validity, reliability over (say) 250 from each specific level from all over Canada. Wouldn’t that be great? Maybe it doesn’t matter if there isn’t consistency etc. But then how do you show that PBLA “works”?

      (I haven’t even touched on prePBLA ESL/LINC learning achievements versus present PBLA learning achievements...the whole point surely? If I hear/read another “PBLA Champion” dissing the incorrect “before teachers” I shall, well, use your imagination. What a horrible way to promote a new “approach” by dragging down the efforts of teachers who actually built the industry you now profit from. I am not saying that there wasn’t room for improvement, just that I cringe when “trainers” trot out the line, or confide that they “talked to a student who complained about the other teacher”...especially if they were not even in the profession, or in Canada, here during those years. Makes me laugh...(and cry).

      Looking at the “slick” PBLA/CCLB (code for IRCC, code for Canadian Government) propaganda reminds me that you can fool some of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Feedback from students I have encountered - some are fooled, but more - not at all.

      “Evidence is coming” (from the huge IRCC Western training earlier)
      We’re waiting.

    2. Re: Claudie's comment on May 29:
      I teach in western Canada and so I was at the rally/conference where we were told evidence for PBLA is coming. (I'd like to know how much that conference cost - bringing so many of us - 700+ - from SK, MB, and all over AB to Edmonton.)
      We need academmics to step up and say this is not how evidence-based practice works. You don't introduce a radical change to a multi-million dollar national program and THEN go looking for research to support your ill-considered decision.
      The research has to come FIRST.

  2. I read the review document and it was yet another review of how well workers have been indoctrinated in the cult of PBLA. There was only one line in it that indicated a need to evaluate whether or not it was a useful method of teaching English. In Alberta, there are very few, if any, unionized teachers. Anyone who protests is definitely endangering their employment. Reading all of the comments has me VERY relieved that I chose to ESCAPE from PBLA and teach English overseas, where the cost of living makes teaching ESL a very well-paid occupation, relatively speaking. Nevertheless, I'm sad not to be doing this with my kids and grandkids nearby and I'm sadly missing camping season! I also greatly miss my LINC students who were so eager to learn how English and Canada work! Keep on fighting the good fight, and I'll try to do what I can from the sidelines. Each of us needs to take care of our own well-being.

  3. IT is TRUE that working for certain SPOs is harder than working for other SPOs. BAD/WORSE/WORST. I wonder if CCLB/IRCC/MCI have made a spread sheet.

    You hit the nail on the head about one SPO, Kelly.

    Thank you for pursuing a cure for the mental health issues that are developing because of over the top work expectations.

    1. I work for the SPO "outed" in Kelly's blog and confirmed by Anonymous above. No other provider has been slandered in the same way - even Kelly's employer has never been mentioned. In fact, this employer has been more than generous in helping us adapt to PBLA. The Admin has given us more paid time, more support and more non-teaching time to meet the expectations of IRCC and MCI. It's too bad that this forum gives one or two the voice to speak for all of us. Let's have a respectful conversation - we are educational professionals and should act as such.

    2. My apologies, "outed." I may have jumped to a conclusion. The other teacher used the word "London" and I assumed. I'm so glad to hear that your employer has been generous in helping you adapt and has given you paid time. --KM

    3. Hmm. “Slandered Anonymous”...let’s talk about “educated professionals”. I am one. I presume you to be one. So I’m sure you realise that the issue is not about “paid time”, nor “more support”, nor more “nonteaching time”. (What Do You mean by supportt? Really, I’d like to know - more “trainer” involvement and overseeing? More third rate “resources”?) As an “educated professional”yourself aren't you questioning the professionalism, expertise, experience, and suitability of the people who threw this rigamarole (PBLA) together in such an inept way that it NECESSITATES extra support, etc etc? Aren’t you questioning the DESIGN? (Has no one at IRCC and MCI heard of Empathy Design?) Aren’t you astounded that erroneous assumptions were made about the complexity of all the variables in this experiment. Professionalism? That’s what this Portfolio Based Language Assessment trial project lacks.
      Slander? Now there’s a strong word. Sounds like you take the criticisms personally instead of using a detached critical (professional) approach to the feedback. Could it be that the implementation process is flawed? That the approach is misguided?No matter how hard you try to meet the expectations of IRCC and MCI if the premise is false, so is everything else?
      And IRCC and MCI? They are not God. Although they sure sound like they are beginning to think they are.

    4. to anonymous June 3rd. I will feel more like being respectful (and I am at all times to everyone I meet unless they disrespect me - and even then I try) when I feel that I am being respected as the educated professional that I am. As an educated professional with a master's degree as well as TESL and a bachelor's degree and decades of experience teaching at all levels , I feel that no amount of support in "helping us to adapt to PBLA" will be sufficient, because I do not believe in PBLA. I wish I were allowed to respectfully agree to disagree and make my own choices regarding what I know to be the best thing to teach in the classroom. We are being hugely disrespected in so many ways. I don't want to be helped to adapt. I want to be freed of this and still keep my job. I want to smile when I go to work again.

    5. Dear "Want to Smile Again,"
      That's how I feel. I am glad for the teachers who don't have to suffer the hell of a ill-conceived coast-to-coast framework on top of administrators who are out of touch, unresponsive, and lacking compassion or common sense. But it still doesn't address the core problem: The conception and roll-out of PBLA are both essentially flawed and we frontline workers are paying the price, being tasked with implementing regardless of the cost in terms of our time, energy, mental wellbeing, work-life balance, and on and on. --KM

  4. Question about time requirements of PBLA

    Has anyone's employer put in writing that they expect staff to work outside of paid time? Is it an explicit command or is there high pressure being put on employees without the employer trapping themselves by writing down the dictate? Both are bad, but the pressure is worse because the employer isn't being transparent.

    My employer has the PBLA leads inform employees that the work "has to be done" because "we ( the PBLA leads) had to do it in the training". ( an aside, our leads trained when PBLA was less onerous) The PBLA leads are now called mentors...and are available to "help" us but I wonder why it has become so "hard" and "onerous" to teach ESL. This is non-credit ESL/LINC. IT seems to me that the pressure being put on INSTRUCTORS not TEACHERS is too much; and that someone somewhere along the way has lost their mind.

    I have been pressured at work to conform to the EPG and that is onerous enough but I heard at a recent conference that one school board has an "instruction manual" that is being amended again this summer to be ready for the FALL. How much pressure is that before the end of the year? Why have that hanging over people's heads before the summer break? It seems to me that some people are a little out of control when it comes to policing PBLA. Does anyone else agree?

    I have talked to enough people in different areas of Canada to know that Ontario is a very hard place to teach using PBLA probably because of the forums that the PBLA leads and administrators sign in to. The power in numbers approach means that they can collect the worst practices and easily share. I have a suggestion: maybe administration needs to back off a bit, acknowledge that they are working in a non-credit environment with hourly employees who make very little money and adjust the work day to fit the reality of the pay. And trust that people will slowly improve their skills. The second suggestion is for administration to look at the materials that have been published to support PBLA...there are none so that tells me that publishing companies think that PBLA is a bad bet.

    Please SPOs...ease up. It is all too much really. I don't want to give up all of my time to deliver PBLA. I will do my best in my paid time (please no one compare me to a sessional college employee because I make less that $30 an hour and am paid for 5.5 hours a day). I need to work a second job to make ends meet. So PBLA creators; pay us more so that I can quit my second job, pay me for more hours per day so that I can deliver PBLA and call off the "PBLA police". When did Adult ESL become such a hard place to work? I hear that one SPO is steering the ship into the rocks so maybe OTTAWA needs to step back in and help. My work life should not suck so badly.

  5. My work life has become a hellish misery. I'm going to quit. Teaching for more than 20 years. I'm done with this. I only feel bad for my poor students who are stuck with it. I'm way beyond wanting PBLA leads and mentors and administrators to ease up. They couldn't pay me enough to continue with this nonsense. PBLA police indeed.

    1. Don't let them make you quit!

      Work your paid hours and just a little more to keep the PBLA police off your back and then go home. You are allowed to manage your time. There isn't an HR manager anywhere who would support your "boss" forcing you to work exponential time outside of your paid day. Get a calendar. Write down your arrival time. Write down your departure time. Do you work on a computer and that will keep track of what you do in a day. Plan your lesson, plan your "assessments" and then do your job. Don't allow PBLA to ruin your life. Don't allow PBLA to take your income from you.

      Talk to your MP and MPP. The provincial election will be over soon. Your MPP will have time to talk to you. Someone needs to listen. My MPP has been making phone calls to find out what has gone wrong with the implementation. He has found out what we know and that is that PBLA is being implemented differently all over Ontario.

      Nonsense. NO. ABUSE. SPOs are abusing people. They are asking way too much of us.

      The EPG says that instructors are to add to their PBLA skills as they they they grow. The implementation where I work hasn't been that way. It is brutish. Unkind. Unprofessional.

      Where are the surveys of the instructors? Surveys were promised. Give me a comments box and I will inform the PBLA funders what has happened. I truly believe that "the funders" had no idea how hostile the roll out of PBLA was going to be. They couldn't have foreseen how power would go to people's heads and that it would result in SPOs being so harsh to the employee.

    2. As someone NOT working in Ontario, I can say that PBLA is being implemented differently all over the country. We were promised standardization, and instead we have chaos. Enough!

  6. I can’t comment on other SPOs, but our admin seems to be doing all it can and uses every opportunity to share the huge workload and other issues with the powers that be. It’s the CCLB 8-10 requirement plus NO resources that is killing people. They should have foreseen that!

    Well, the whole thing is bound to implode. The use of the train the trainer model plus the unsustainable workload has led to HUGE inconsistencies in what PBLA assessments look like and how valid and reliable they are. Out of desperation, people are slapping things together and hoping for the best. I can’t blame them. Worst roll-out of a program I’ve ever seen.

  7. Dear Anon 31 May,4.45. I think you did well to decide to quit. To stop the music. It is over. You are better than they are. You will wonder why you did not quit earlier. Twenty years service eh? Thank you. Now go and shake the PBLA dirt off and enjoy your life. Good will come to you.

    Anon May 31 5.32. The funders know about the evil. The guilty among the many civil servants (IRCC, MCI) project leads, Leads, RCs, writers, Trainers, SPO managers, policy analysts, education managers, information officers, coordinators, fearful union reps, indifferent MPs, MPPs - the list of whom to blame is long) will get theirs in time. PBLA Hell.
    There are many of us like you who thought we could just work a few extra unpaid hours to fulfil requirements. We are now realizing that PBLA is greedy and will never be satisfied. Personally - I’m questioning my own Ethics in participating in something so clearly fraudulent and fake.

    Adding to “”PBLA skills”? That’s an oxymoron,

  8. COSTI is looking for a SUPERHERO.

    Note: Successful incumbent must complete online PBLA training within 3 months when training becomes available and finish LearnIT2Teach Stage 2 training by March29, 2019.

    This is a part time non-union position scheduled to work 15 hours per week
    (Monday to Friday 8:00 am to 12:00 pm)
    No classes during the following closure periods:
    December 24, 2018 – January 4, 2019
    March 11, 2019 – March 15, 2019

    Start date: September 4, 2018
    Salary: $36.99 per hour
    Location: 16655 Yonge Street, Unit 26, Newmarket, ON

    1. SUPERHERO job postingJune 2, 2018 at 6:29 AM

      The hours for this job posting don't make sense (aside from the superhero requirements): Monday to Friday 8 to 12 = 20 hours per week. Why are they posting for 15 hours a week? Typo?

      One of my colleagues said to me, "I could be a good curriculum developer or I could be a good assessor or I could be a good classrom teacher, but it's impossible to be all three at once." Yet this is what PBLA demands of underpaid LINC instructors all across the country.

      Shame on you, IRCC. Shame on you, Canada.

    2. Yes. You read it correctly and that is why I posted that COSTI is looking for a SUPERHERO or MAYBE an AVENGER.

      This shit needs to stop.

    3. Anonymous Avenger to Anonymous TSN2S

      I am applying for job.
      (Signed). God

      Read the job description...try to keep from laughing. Or crying.

      Hmm...What are “the Revised Canadian Language Benchmarks2012 ESL for 6-8”? COSTI does not know that the 2012 CLB document contains the revised CLBs (or have they been revised again?)
      And what’s this “ESL for 6-8” ? Where can we find this. Sounds great. Will help with lesson plans - mixed level class....What is it? Where is it?

    4. Only God could complete all the requirements to the job:

      Design, implement and instruct English as a Second Language classes in a LINC program
      Design PBLA based module plans as well as daily lesson plans following the Revised Canadian Language Benchmarks 2012 ESL for Levels 6-8
      Conduct on-going needs assessments with learners, assist them to set learning goals and develop lessons accordingly
      Design assessment tasks for on-going evaluation of learner’s progress based on the Canadian Language Benchmarks and PBLA guidelines
      Assist learners in organizing and updating the PBLA Language Companions (learner portfolios) as evidence of their learning progress
      Prepare learner’s conference summary and progress reports. Conduct one-on-one interviews with learners to provide feedback on learning progress
      Provide computer-assisted instruction using language learning software and MS Office programs where appropriate. Integrate online resources and delivery tools such as LearnIT2Teach in a blended training approach
      Maintain attendance records and other documentation as required
      Organize special events to enhance learners’ participation and cultural experience
      TESL certificate from an accredited institution recognized by TESL Ontario
      Minimum 3 years’ experience teaching English as a Second Language to adult newcomers. Preference will be given to candidates who have experience in teaching CLB 6-8
      In depth understanding of and experience using the Revised Canadian Language Benchmarks 2012, the LINC Curriculum Guidelines and Canadian Language Benchmarks
      Preference will be given to candidates who have completed PBLA (Portfolio Based Language Assessment) and LearnIT2Teach Stage 2 training
      Experience providing adult instruction using software associated with the LINC Program (i.e., Ellis, Clarity and Explore Canada) as well as Microsoft Word, Excel, Email and the Internet
      Ability to adapt teaching methodology to the needs/skill levels of individual learners
      Excellent English communication and interpersonal skills
      Experience working in a multicultural environment
      Demonstrated sensitivity to the needs of adult immigrants and refugees
      Ability to work independently with excellent organizational and time management skills
      Note: Successful incumbent must complete online PBLA training within 3 months when training becomes available and finish LearnIT2Teach Stage 2 training by March29, 2019.

    5. Here's the sad and ironic part: many SPOs' job postings look like this since the imposition of PBLA because they must. The funder is watching. But once the instructor comes on board, he or she will find out that either the employer is attempting to get teachers to adhere to the letter of the PBLA law, in which case employees there are stressed out, miserable, at their wits' end. OR, the new hire will discover that: the PBLA lead teacher is a mentor, not a police officer; that instructors are expected to do only as much as they can reasonably be expected to accomplish on paid time and are not punished for not being superhuman. In the latter case, this job description is misleading. It is there for the funder, not as a true description of what one will actually end up doing. We have, ladies and gentlemen and others, a pan-Canadian charade. Consistency? As each employer struggles with the decision of whether to try to impose the impossible or just turn a blind eye while instructors pay lip service or fake it, things have never been this inconsistent in the world of settlement English language course delivery in Canada. --KM

  9. I am writing this post from the position of watching good friends disintegrate from the trauma that PBLA imposes on people. When asked to do impossible tasks, people will resort to a cycle of trying to fill the gaps. PBLA doesn't give gaps, it gives a bottomless pit.

    If something doesn't change, the trauma of having to "do" the "undoable" may cause someone to self harm. In this day and age of looking out for our own and others mental health, I call on CCLC/IRCC/MCI and THE ADMINISTRATION/FUNDER to look at the reality of PBLA. It is time to stop saving face; it has all gone on too long really.

    No one can do PBLA. There, I said it. I "do" PBLA without doing it "all" because "it" can't be done.

    Again, CCLC/IRCC/MCI and THE ADMINISTRATION/FUNDER please look at what PBLA is doing to people. If you don't do something, people are going to break. PBLA is not worth breaking people.

  10. I agree. People are already breaking down and broken. Enough is enough, now stop the madness! We've been used as guinea pigs in this farce for much too long already.

  11. Dear everyone,
    I'm late to this conversation because for some unknown reason Blogger stopped sending an email to my inbox when a comment is posted here. For a week I have thought that I had suddenly offended all my readers; not a single reader wanted to comment. I'll see if I can go fix that. Meanwhile, wow, what a dialogue!
    Claudie recently had a good idea. I need to curate the best 20 or so comments of the past year and put them together in one blog post so that any bureaucrat visiting this site over the summer can easily find them. A lot of the best are on this post.
    I have to say I do understand those who say they've had enough and are about to quit. I think that were it not for my life partner--who is rooted to Detroit by the job from which he will retire in another five years--and my irreplaceable upper duplex on the river, I would already have started submitting resumes to schools overseas.
    I'm okay where I am now. I don't have to "do" full-blown PBLA with seniors and the version of it that I squeak out with literacy students is not onerous. My employer does give us paid PBLA time, at least for now. But I've been teaching the same two classes for six or seven years now. I sure would like to spend some of the rest of my career teaching level 3 or 4. I have gifts that are going untapped; I would love to share them with a higher level class for at least a year or two. But I don't dare step out of my PBLA-light safety zone and out into a work life weighted down by the responsibility of creating piles of module plans, course content, materials, real-world tasks, assessment tools, and the hours of marking that goes with all of that.
    Something needs to give. --KM

    1. I like the way Claudie thinks! That’s a great idea. Can I suggest that “oatmeal eater’s” post be included in your top 20? I really feel for her and think her experience is, unfortunately, representative. I really hope she’s OK!

    2. I agree. That is one of the most powerful. --KM

  12. New Operational Guidelines for PBLA

    to replace

    The Old Operational Guidelines

    which says:

    "Artefacts may include both formal language
    assessment tasks (often summative at the end of a unit)
    and informal (skill-building) assessments. "


    "in courses that run for the full school year from
    September to June, instructors would be expected to work toward collecting 8-10 demonstrations per learner for each of the four skill areas in a course and vary the types of assessments to allow learners to demonstrate multiple
    competencies within each of the four skill areas."


    " Formal language assessment tasks may include tasks, tests, quizzes or assignments that evaluate a learner’s grasp of established learning outcomes, often at the end of a unit or lesson series. Informal assessments allow instructors to track learners’ ongoing progress more regularly and often. Informal skill-building assessment
    tasks occur more regularly and are designed to inform instruction by determining how and whether learners are learning, as well as to help learners better
    understand the progress they are making in their language acquisition. Examples may include peer- and self-assessments or small scale language tasks assessed using
    instructor skill checklists. "

    So, if this is what the funder wants, how did it become such a time consuming black hole? It seems to me after reading the 2017 version of the Operational guidelines, so how PBLA implementation went off the rails. How can we get back to the "less complex" method of assessing students so that The Joy of ESL can return?

  13. I'm curious.... what was wrong with the way Thames Valley implemented PBLA? if it was so awful, why were some folks referring to it as the "gold standard"? I might be moving to that area so I want to know what I may be in for!

    1. Hi, Belinda,
      Would you mind emailing me or messaging me privately? Since what I have to share is only hearsay, I don't want to make it public. You can see social media icons at the top of this page. One is email, another is Twitter. Take care, KM

  14. Hi, colleagues. Just sharing that at our working place experience with Lead teacher didnt work, so for the second year we do not have one. Ans employer has hired 3 new instructors without any pbla training, some are without any teaching background. And NOONE is held accountable. So, all these stories that IRCC looking and checking....I personally am very sceptical. Never witnessed... IRCC trusts employers...and the later do whatever they wish....they can back up themselves with their internal policies, visions and you name it...