Monday, December 17, 2018

Winter Break for Literacy Class

My literacy class this semester is pretty high. Usually they can handle an ESL Literacy Reader in the range of levels C and D from the School of Global Access. It takes us five days to get from vocabulary introduction to fluent reading of a book. But this teaching week has only four days, one of which will be eaten up by special activities on the last day before winter break.

I asked students if they would like to tackle a very low level book and practice that language for three days. They agreed, so I printed out the newer version of my Winter Break book, which can be downloaded from

Today we did warm-up activities to activate schemata and prior knowledge. Basically, that means we had a big chat and wrote words on the board, pulled up images from the internet, and got oriented to the concepts. We talked about the fact that there is free outdoor public skating downtown and that one can borrow skates at the church across from the skating rink. With that discussion as a springboard, I segued into projection of the images in this book. We talked about each picture and began to formulate sentences about each one. Finally, I gave each student a copy of the 8-page book (it requires only two sheets of paper) and started to print our co-written sentences on the projected version on the board for them to copy. I guess most students are ready for that break, as they did not opt to create long sentences or anything extra.

I'm glad that I left some images without colour. By passing out boxes of pencil crayons, I provided fast finishers with something to do while they waited for slower classmates to finish copying the sentences.

A tool I could not teach without is SpellingCity. At the start of the week, I load our 10-12 new words and customize the sentences so that learners encounter the same words and sentences in all the games. They are the words and sentences from our reader of the week. Once I've invested that time in loading the sentences, I can pull up games in the classroom, assign spelling tests and games to be done in the lab on lab day, and print a variety of worksheets all week long--such as word unscramble, sentence unscramble, missing letter, and a worksheet for matching sentences with missing words.

Tuesday we will conduct a peer survey to find out how everyone plans to spend the 17-day break. Here is the peer survey template in case you would like to have it on your own Google Drive to print or edit.

Our usual routine is to follow a peer survey by making oral sentences about each other. This is when we get practice with third person singular and plural, negative and positive statements. Finally, students turn their peer survey forms over to find that I've provided them with a page of blank lines on which to write sentences. Together we come up with sentences that summarize our peer survey results, always making sure we have at least one example for third person singular positive and negative, and at least one for a plural subject, positive and negative. Language is so much easier for the brain to retain when we personalize and talk about ourselves, not about Kim and Ben in some far-off place called Hill Street (though I do appreciate those books, too).

For the rest of the short week, we will continue to read our little book in a variety of ways. Sometimes we'll read chorally or repeat after the teacher. At other times we will read silently or in a small peer reading circle. By the end of the week, most students will be ready to volunteer to read entire pages aloud for the class. Nobody is ever forced to. It's always okay to pass.

In years past, I have been very ambitious. Once the class even made gingerbread! Not this year.

How is your class gearing up for winter break?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Where is Our Ally?

Well, that's pretty embarrassing. Last week I accidentally posted to my classroom blog instead of here. Oops. This is what I'd written last week:

Sunday I took myself out on a date. I dressed up and everything. As I sat down to enjoy my fig yogourt shake and bakery item by the sunny window in my favourite cafe, the woman at the table behind me stood up and came over.

"I know you're Kelly," she said.
I remembered having seen her at local PD events over the years. She said she had gotten out due to PBLA. "An integrity thing," she said. Was I still teaching, she wanted to know. Yes, but also advocating. I mentioned the newest research.
"What can I do to help?" she asked.
What do YOU readers think this former teacher with some time on her hands can do to help? Can we put together a page of names and contact info for people to refer to when they have time to write letters? What else could be helpful?
But perhaps it all worked out for the best, because we continued to get powerful testimony in the comments on the previous post. I find it alarming that one school board or service provider organization (SPO) can follow the spirit of the law when it comes to the PBLA support coach's role (and LIMITS of that role) while others can get it so wrong.

Putting aside for a moment the fact that I believe PBLA does more harm than good to our profession and students, at least I can be grateful that at my SPO the PBLA support person / coach is just that. She helps us figure it out. She is there if we need ideas. She is there for us if we have questions. Yes, she checks a sampling of our student binders (they are not even true educational portfolios, we now know thanks to researchers like Yuliya Desyatova), but the result of that checking is just "you are doing great" or "you have this, this and this down; next term you can shoot for mid-term goal check-in." It's coaching. It's support. It's not someone else passing or failing my students' binders. It's not being threatened with firing.

Good Lord, what sort of Frankenstein have we let loose on the TESL / TEAL world? Petty bureaucrats are full of themselves, having been given a bit of power to use well or abuse. How many are abusing it?

And the bigger question: what can we do? Sure, let's put together a page of email addresses. But that probably won't prove any more effective than the petition. How can we band together to make our voices heard when we are in various unions and no union?

A colleague of mine in a different part of Canada sent me this video because s/he feels like the lion. But where is our ally? (Trigger assessment for animal lovers: it ends well for the lion.)