Sunday, September 15, 2019

Everything Old is New Again

Miracle of miracles, my prayers have been answered. I had been dreading returning to work. I was, as any regular reader knows, racking my brain trying to come up with a way to make teaching fun again as I hit the middle of my tenth year at this job, almost all of which have been spent teaching the same two classes. Two students in my seniors class just remarked that they have been with me since 2013!

I am not sure exactly which lifestyle change to credit for this (though I have an idea), but when I stepped back into the classroom on September ninth, it just felt new. I'm feeling a renewed capacity ot be in the moment, be in Flow. I've got my old excitement and energy back.

I've been doing a lot of work on myself in Jungian analysis AND have also begun medically prescribed and monitored treatment of my Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder with CBD oil. That only started September 1, so it's a bit early to know if my new and improved outlook and uncharacteristic ability to let things roll off me is the oil or just the usual summer chill not yet worn off. I'll be sure to let everyone know in a few weeks.

This week was all about the needs assessment. My literacy class is almost FULL right now. I hope it stays that way. There is such wonderful energy with a group of around ten that just isn't there when numbers drop below eight. As they were milling around on Wednesday asking each other, "What do you want to study?" while recording classmates' answers on the peer survey forms, it occurred to me that there is no classroom chaos quite as sweet as peer survey chaos in a literacy class.

The new guy, F, is policing his classmates since I admonished them for trying to "cheat" by simply shoving their papers under each other's noses for names to be copied. I told them they have to ask, "How do you spell your name" and have to listen as a classmate does so. I hear them correcting each other and patiently repeating: No J, G. No E, A. They are negotiating meaning! This is what I live for.

peer survey chaos

Also this week we received a reminder from the PBLA lead to get "About Me" sections in order in all student binders. One of the items on the checklist says: inventory sheet filled out and dated by students, not by teacher. Well, let me tell you about that. When it comes to the four skills sections of the binders, my literacy learners do fill those out in their own hand. Each Tuesday, which is task pass-back day, we all open our binders together to the correct section. I put all the info on the board and everyone copies. It takes a long time, longer for some than for others, but we patiently wait until everyone has it.

But for the About Me section, that would have meant having them copy phrases like "program agreement" and "conference report." They would have had to copy six lines of such words that are not level appropriate. So I just made an executive decision to rebel against that one little aspect of my PBLA lead's directive. Literacy learners in my class do not have to copy those six lines of big words onto the inventory sheet for the About Me section. I pre-printed it onto the sheet for them. I added a note to any future auditor regarding my small act of rebellion.

How about you? How was your week?

Saturday, September 7, 2019

What's the Standard Where You Work?

I received an email this week from a reader who is doing her best to advocate at her place of employment for reasonable PBLA expectations in the face of plummeting morale. She wanted to know if the submission of weekly module plans or lesson plans was required at my service provider organization (SPO). I answered her and asked if she wanted me to pose the question to you readers of this blog since I have no way of knowing what goes on at other agencies. She said she would like to see such answers, and I'll bet we all would like to know what the majority is doing.
page 1 of 2

For an example of what is meant by a module plan, see Immigrate Manitoba's samples.

Since we are almost all posting anonymously, I suggest we answer the question after providing some basic minimal (yet still not identifying) info about the employer. For example, you could say which province you're in and/or whether you work for an IRCC-funded program or for a public school board, which would be provincially funded. We could also add whether we are unionized, though I'm not sure that's relevant. I'll start.

I teach at a community agency in a federally funded LINC program in Ontario that is not unionized. At my workplace, teachers spoke up in a unified manner at a team meeting and pointed out that module plans are: tedious, very time-consuming, not of great value to every teacher, and are in fact more of a hindrance to those teachers who like to remain flexible and in tune with student needs through the week. We pointed out that they are NOT one of IRCC's non-negotiables. We stressed the point that in light of how stressful, time-consuming and burdensome PBLA is, our admin should have us do only the bare-bones minimum as required by the funder and NO MORE.

Though it wasn't easy, we eventually won that battle and now do not have to submit module plans. We also do not submit lesson plans in writing at this point in time, though there has been discussion back and forth over the years regarding this. We do, however, submit monthly reports that encompass theme, topics, learning goals for the module(s) as well as objectives for each skill, resources used, methodology, challenges and success stories.


Friday, August 23, 2019

Squeeze, Squeeze, Squeeze

This morning there is a hint of fall in the air.

The plane (I hope) my mother boarded this morning is in the air as I write this and sip my daily green smoothie. Soon I will go out to the car, power up the GPS, and cross under the Detroit River to pick her up at DTW. She is to visit for ten days, and we are both very excited about it.

Since I've been inside my classroom weekly this summer, driving up there each Thursday for the newcomers' Sewing Club that I co-host, I'm expecting my re-entry anxiety to be a bit softer this year. But there's no doubt in my mind that I am floundering inside. I've never stuck with a job (nor with a marriage or romantic partnership) for this many years. Next spring I'll get my ten-year pin. I feel desperately in need of novelty. I have a good employer and good benefits, but our aging, leaky-roofed building is depressing to me. Our search for a new location has been going on for at least two years.

I absolutely do not want to go into a new school year with a blah attitude, counting the hours and minutes until the end of a workday. My students deserve better and I deserve better. No, I won't live like that. I must find ways to re-energize myself. I have SOME ideas, but I'm hoping you'll give me a few more. Here are some things I have thought of so far:

  • change my parking location in order to save money and get more exercise, a change of scenery
  • do more this year with art; students may be able to help me with ideas
  • if my employer will spring for a copy, read and implement ideas from Conti and Smith's new book on teaching listening
  • take students on field trips, as always, but change it up somehow
  • schedule more guest speakers, ones that are interesting to me as well as to the Ss
  • ???
For me school starts again on September 9th. I have a wee sliver of summer left and I plan to squeeze all the juicy goodness out of every single day between now and then. My mother, at 88, is still one of those people who seizes every day as if it were her last. She is a wonderful role model to me in that sense. She inspires me and helps me see beauty all around. She is a basically trusting person who is quick to see the good in others. I'm so looking forward to having her here with me.

It's time to set off for the airport.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Open Thread - Summer Miscellany

I love that you guys feel comfortable enough here to ask for what you want. A comment came in from a reader:

Hi Kelly, 
I just had an idea. I'm wondering what you think of setting up an open summer "forum-like thread" on your blog . People could discuss whatever they like, including PBLA (let's face it, probably PBLA). Just a summer miscellany. I see it as a place that would be easy to find (no need to search through all the other topics and posts to see what people have to say). What do you think? 
Interested in what people are thinking/experiencing/discovering about PBLA
That's easy enough! Feel free, everyone, to pull up a Muskoka chair and share what's on your mind lately.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Important Contribution to the Struggle

I know I'm supposed to be taking a break from blogging here, but an important comment came in last night on the post The New Disconnect that I think warrants special attention. To read the entire thread of which this comment is a part, go to that blog post's comments section.

Here is the comment without the rest of the conversational thread, with hyperlinks and a bit of reformatting by me:

Anonymous7/15/2019 6:54 PMOvertime and 18-24 months pay (as after many years of service, without any notice, they changed the terms of our contract and I was told to leave if I didn't sign). Well, I was directed to see a lawyer and come back in the afternoon to sign so I could teach. Two lawyers saw my contract and said this is constructive dismissal (a kind of termination). 

Employers think that when you are given a series of contracts (yearly in our case), we are contractors. That's not the case. If there are less than ninety days between contracts, you are an employee in the eyes of the law. Employers cannot change the terms of employment overnight with no notice or severance. And severance is not based on provincial employment standards. Those are our minimum entitlements. According to common law, employees are entitled to much more based on years of service, age, position and salary. Therefore, you have the rights and entitlements of an employee. 

I cant explain everything, as I am not a lawyer, but we have rights. Employers can't just let people go or cut hours without the appropriate severance and/or notice. And they can't demand all this extra work outside of our teaching hours without pay. 

Watch the program I mentioned, it explains everything. In fact, this past Sunday they referred to this scenario....teachers signing yearly contracts. However, if you are a member of a union, your union must pursue your rights and entitlements. I think teachers in LINC programs in BC and Ontario should contact the lawyer on the program. The lawyers name is Lior Samfir. The program is 'employment hour in 30' on global Toronto or on internet. I learned a lot as I found myself going to work one morning, with lessons prepped, first day of semester instead driving around the city looking for a lawyer so I could return in the afternoon because as you know, we are not paid if we don't teach. 

My colleagues had signed because they were afraid or too intimidated to refuse. EI, no income for me all of a sudden. By the way, that is a reprisal as you have every right to refuse to sign something if you don't understand it or agree to it if it is different from your original agreement. Back to the lawyer on the show, he is representing Uber drivers in a class case as they have been misclassified as contractors as well. 

Finally, check out the severance pay calculator. Once people inform their employers what their entitlements are, they might just have to figure something out with the funder. Quite often service providers are not aware of the difference between an employment contract and a contract (that you have with a plumber or IT consultant). I am not saying people should cause problems, but service providers need to know how things work legally. I have seen many colleagues lose hours (that would amount to a decrease of 30 to 50 percent of their salary) or 'laid off' with no severance. They are just given their record of employment for EI with just a couple weeks notice. And they think that's okay because our employers have had cuts in funding or classes cut. It doesn't work that way. Anyway, check it out and spread the word to others, if not to know your own rights, to teach your students about their rights.

Note from Kelly: I have added this lawyer's contact info to the PBLA Activism page of my website: Also to note is that about a week ago I emailed Debbie Douglas, Executive Director of OCASI, about why I think PBLA is a matter that should be taken up by OCASI since it negatively impacts our most vulnerable clients. She has promised to take my email both to the funder and to her planning meeting and keep me posted.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

On Summer Break

I'm taking a break from posting on this blog for the summer. The end of this semester found me closer to burnout than I've ever felt before. I have GOT to find a way to make it fresh for myself again. But if a change is as good as a rest, an actual rest is even better, and I welcome this one.
a watercolour by Dottie Morrissey, my mother
On teacher-student conference day, I received a bit of a boost to my tired soul. Several students in my morning (seniors) class expressed appreciation for my teaching style, my patience and kindness, and the topics we were able to explore in depth. I had though that my module on diagnostic imaging had dragged on too long and that it had, in the end, been too dry and too difficult. But several students said they are glad I did not abandon it when some students could be heard moaning toward the end (okay, actually just one student who is given to audible yawns except on days when she gets her way) because they felt that by the end of the enormous module, they had reaped many benefits in the form of stronger communication skills and retention of key vocabulary. One man said he is so glad that he can now read any requisition form. ***BOOST***

One student said she found the courage to go to a medical appointment by herself for the first time since her arrival in Canada many years ago. She felt confident explaining her symptoms to the doctor and understood much of what was said to her. ***BOOST***

Even though I was feeling like a failure because I had not managed my usual morning smile or pep in my step during the last weeks, several students gushed about my pleasant nature and how I always greet them with a smile. One woman, alone with me for the meeting and the door shut for privacy, grasped my two hands and broke down in tears because she's getting her citizenship and won't be back in our class this September. Our class had been there for her when her husband died. Joining our class saved her from being alone all day in her apartment with her overwhelming grief. ***BOOST***

This sort of feedback helps, but I am still desperately in need of rest. We pour our hearts and souls into this work, but self-care needs to come first.

This summer I am cutting way back on the things I usually do so that I can concentrate on two things that have taken higher priority. One of those priorities is spending time with my mom, who will turn 89 at the end of this year. She is far more active than I am with neighbours who drop in for her hospitality once a week, artists with whom she generously shares her outdoor art pavilion, and shows in which she enters her work. She is my best friend, my soul mate. I cannot fathom life on this planet without her, but I know that even with the longevity that runs in the family, every moment counts these days. We have two visits planned this summer; first I'll go to her and then she'll come to me.

The second priority is a project that should result in a new resource that could be used across Canada as well as in public schools--if I can pull it off!

How about you? Are you working or off this summer? Will you have a chance to rest and recharge at all?

Monday, June 10, 2019

A Smidgen of Teacher Empowerment? by Claudie Graner, guest blogger

Last weekend I started getting a link to, and questions about, an IRCC PBLA “survey” that was being circulated. Had I received it? Was it legit? What about anonymity? Although it promised anonymity it asked for province and service provider organization (SPO). There is a list of 129 SPOs + an “Other” field. 

I wouldn't worry about anonymity in big school boards in Ontario.

It looked legit although it seemed constructed to “shoehorn” us into telling them what they want to hear. There were no questions about the real issues – and no “comment space” to expand or explain concerns. I answered the questions about the usefulness of CLB, PBLA, Tutela, LearnIT2Teach with “not useful”.

So - finally a GREAT anonymous (more or less) opportunity to tell the government what we have learned about PBLA and the CLBs, and other related projects?

Not so fast...

Many instructors (myself included) have not received it from their SPOs. Why not?

An obvious answer is that the SPOs are afraid of being blamed and their egregious behaviour being exposed. But seems to me that SPOs were taken by surprise, as we were, and simply wanted to know more.  Time will tell.

An anonymous comment posted here (6/07/2019) mentioned that their “SPO won't let us do the survey”.  “What is going on?” 6/08/2019 10:19 replied, “the funder requested the survey link be forwarded to “ALL LINC/CLIC instructors. (emphasis added to ALL)”.  The irony of Administrators who countered every attempt to discuss the flaws of PBLA with the mantra “The Funder Wants This” not complying with the funder request is remarkable.

There is no “Confidentiality “ note on the survey, no “Please do not share” note. I sent it to my union president. She waited till the weekend then sent it out to all instructors. She said it was an opportunity to send an “anonymous unfiltered message to IRCC about the impact and ramifications these initiatives have had on the teaching and learning experience of ESL, not to mention the non-compensated excessive workload.”

Yuliya Desyatova also sent it to the participants of her study as she saw it as an opportunity for those who had expressed the need for the funders and policy decision makers to hear their voices to give their thoughts to the funding ministry.

AND Kyle Lachini posted the link on the petition to Stop PBLA site. I hope the IRCC site was swamped.

Paula Rebolledo gave a brilliant IATEFL plenary talk “Teacher empowerment: leaving the  twilight zone”  Link: Very worth watching. The expression “cosmetic consultation” caught my eye. I hope this is not just a “cosmetic survey”.

What do you think? What did/would you say to IRCC?

Saturday, June 1, 2019

On the Horizon

Back in early spring I was feeling the burgeoning potential of the greening world around me. I was in a new relationship and feeling excited. I had an idea for a new project, too--something bigger than I've taken on before.

The relationship has ended, I'm sorry to say, but one of the benefits of dating a compulsive analyzer and sensitive communicator is that now I'm participating in a very helpful post-mortem.

The project, I'm happy to say, has not shrivelled on the vine. Rather, it just this morning entered a phase more concrete than conceptualization. My project partner met with me under the maple boughs on my lower deck landing overlooking a small tributary to the Detroit River. The person who graced my humble abode with her presence is a bit of a legend in these parts, and I'm still feeling high from her visit.

Also of interest to us all is a new book coming from Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti on teaching listening. This blog post is a small teaser.

What is on your horizon this week?

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The New Disconnect

Another semester is drawing to a close where I teach. Word on the street is that IRCC will be sending an auditor around to check our students' binders in June. Although the new PBLA guidelines prohibit the PBLA lead from coming round and checking my students' binders, there is nothing stopping my employer from simply shifting this task to the manager, which they have done.

There are two things that happen every five to six months at the school where I teach: 1) the end of one school semester and beginning of the next, marked by progress reports and student-teacher conferences and 2) performance evaluations of teachers by their manager culminating in the completion of a performance review and manager-teacher conference.

To get ready for the first of these semiannual rituals, artifacts, however you wish to spell that word, are tallied. During the semester, I enter every assessment--skill using or real-world task--into an Excel spreadsheet along with a mark that allows me to see whether the student received a beginning, developing or achieved score, or was absent. Calling on skills I acquired over years in clerical and quasi-technical roles, I have written formulas to do the math for me. It often feels as if I am becoming as much a statistician as language teacher. Having this tracking tool makes short work of the end-of-semester progress reports that we all must prepare. Some students will have collected enough artifacts--most of them successful--to have a benchmark changed in HARTs; others will not. In any case, it is the responsibility of the teacher to have provided students with about two "assessment opportunities" per skill per month.

As for the second of these twice-yearly protocols, the one I underwent last week marked the half-way point of my employment year. It is a time to check in with my manager regarding some non-negotiable goals tied to the IRCC contract and other goals that I was allowed to choose for myself from a list of the organization's core values.

Did I file all my reports on time? Yes, every month for the past nine years, my reports have been filed within 3 days of being due, and usually early. Are they slapdash reports? No. They have been held up as exemplary to newer employees.

Am I executing PBLA as mandated? Yes, my afternoon class was administered 32 assessments, all but one of them having been concluded before the onset of Ramadan.

How am I doing on my chosen value of "innovation?" Knocking that one out of the park, I'd say. Self development? Developing others? All my ratings were either satisfactory or 'excels.'

And yet...

Having brought one binder from each of my two classes to this meeting, I discovered alongside my manager that my wonderful student A, who worked for the federal government of her home country in a scientific role, had items in her "About Me" section that were not perfectly in the same order as listed on the inventory sheet. (This is the class that has been officially excused from "doing" PBLA, by the way; I have voluntarily done some PLBA with them just to keep abreast of how to do so with a higher level class should I ever need to dust off my resume and apply for LINC work elsewhere).

And so that is the goal assigned to me for the second six-month period: check every student binder, even if it means dedicating teaching assistant time to that, in order to ensure that every single paper filed in the binder is in perfect order according to the inventory sheet.

I know that this new manager is just doing her job. I know that she has already gotten an earful of how I feel about this, and I know that I've already received her pep talk about keeping it positive, especially in team meetings, more times than I can count. With a weak smile, I thank my manager for her time, sign the form, return to my classroom.

Driving home, I am already dreaming of the hours I can spend on a new project that has no connection to my next performance review. Once upon a time my passion and energy were connected to what happens in my classroom. Now there is a disconnect.

Few people seemed to understand why I posted the clip of the movie Cool Hand Luke, the scene in which he is made to dig and fill and re-dig and re-fill the same hole in the ground. The most demoralizing thing in the world is being forced to do something in which you see no value, no meaning. It's especially demeaning if you think the task you are being forced to perform is COUNTERPRODUCTIVE to your students' wellbeing.

How about you? Is your school year coming to a close or do you work through the summer months? Are you able to find meaning in your work?

Sunday, May 19, 2019

New Activity Pack - Jiadeep's Big Fall

I have just published my latest activity pack to accompany an ESL literacy reader from Bow Valley College - School of Global Access.

Before using this reader with my phase one adequate and phase two beginning literacy students, I use the emergency services materials from Toronto Police newcomer outreach program and also the "Calling 911" materials from the free e-book HandsOn!, each one for a week.** For this reason, I did not include fire, or police car in the new lexicon of twelve terms. Those three words are being recycled but are not novel at this point.

My new activity pack has:
  • label new vocabulary
  • gap-fill
  • text flash cards
  • picture flash cards
  • word unscramble
  • dialogue to practice for calling 911
  • true/false quiz
  • make the false sentences true
  • sentence unscramble
  • bingo game
Also available for download under LITERACY - EMERGENCY SERVICES is a word search puzzle. Enjoy!

**Teachers of higher levels can use the Toronto Police materials, as they go through CLB 5 and culminate in the viewing of a clip from the movie Crash along with an actual form for filing a complaint with the police.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Fun with Graphics

There is not much I enjoy more on a chilly, overcast day than to cuddle up in my corner by the window with my graphic tablet. I can watch the Baltimore Orioles stick their bills down into blobs of grape jelly, sip nectar, and pick the pulp out of orange halves while I work.

As someone who loves to illustrate learning materials, I think two of the best purchases I ever made were: enrolment in Tony Vincent's online course, Classy Graphics, and my Wacom Intuos Draw graphic tablet, which came with the free version of ArtRage software. I ended up upgrading to the premium version, but only for one feature that most people will not need.

Tony taught me how to create things in Google Draw. I have forsaken word processing platforms and usually use Google Draw to make worksheets like this one.

I can also use it to make board games.

Tony also taught me how to build any icon or illustration I need just using the SHAPES feature of Google Draw. The car in the picture below consists of about nine different shapes. This is a great ability to have when you just cannot find that perfect royalty-free image to illustrate a concept.

Google Draw is also handy when I need props for role plays such as bank cards, the screens of the self-check machine at the library, and even an auto insurance card or speeding ticket.

But Google Draw has its limitations. For some jobs, I turn to the graphic tablet. For my mock Ontario driver's license, I first had to trace over a photo of a trillium. From that I made a tiny trillium watermark. Tony showed me how to replicate one very small image to create a background pattern on a page. Then I brought in my traced trillium and used the transparency tool to turn it into a big watermark. I enjoy all these fussy little steps!

The graphic tablet also comes in really handy for things like adding the face to this driver's license.  You CAN use Google Draw to make a face, but I find that for $99 CAD, the tablet was well worth it for all the fun I have with it. Oh, and Tony also taught me how to use a colour picker tool to find out the exact shade of green I had already chosen for the licence so I could repeat a shade of it behind the man's face.

Here is something I did entirely with the graphic tablet. I took a photo of my students sitting on chairs that we were using as an imaginary bus stop. In ArtRage I was able to trace the photo, colour it, then bring in a photo of a park bench, size it, and trace that so that it seemed to be under the men all along. 
If you've read this far, you deserve the reward. I've just uploaded the Andres' Speeding Ticket activity pack to my website under LITERACY - Emergency Services. It made sense to me to put it there instead of creating a section about the law for literacy learners. Stay tuned for more. I usually end up fixing a typo or two and adding a couple of puzzles when I use the pack in my own class.

How about you? Do you have the type of personality that is good for slow, methodical, fussy work like sewing? Or not so much?

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Spring Fever

The tulips in my yard are opening, the peonies are just starting to unfurl their shiny new leaves, and the grape hyacinth is in bloom along my driveway. My boyfriend loves seeking out the ephemeral wildflowers in the woods this time of year. I am a birder who enjoys catching the migrating warblers as they pass through as well as ticking off new species on my fern and wildflower checklists. Today he got Trout Lily, Red Trillium, White Trillium, and Spring Beauty while I craned my neck at the budding canopy where Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, and other warblers foraged.
photo by Grant Segall

At school, there is something in the air. Teachers can be overheard counting the weeks until summer break. In the hallways, I have seen more than one huddle around a crying student. Is it the sudden crunch of assessments and knowledge that there's only so much time left to make the grade?

With each April, the world is made to feel new again. After nine years in the same job--four years longer than I've ever stayed with the same organization or position--I'm struggling to find ways to make it feel fresh. I'm very fortunate that half my teaching day is spent with seniors; they are always open to adventure. To keep things from feeling stale, I rely on a steady stream of topics that are intriguing not only to the students but also to me. Each comes with the possibility of a guest speaker or field trip.

Last week the seniors and I hopped on a city bus and visited our local hospice for a tour. And no, my school does not receive any funds for field trips. We were able to go because every single student owns a bus pass. I paid my $6 round-trip fare from my pocket.
At the bus terminal
Another thing I do to make old topics feel novel, aside from leading field trips and hosting guest speakers, is to expand on or enhance previously used materials. This week, for example, I jazzed up a module on Vitamin D and calcium with a trivia game for the traditionally lighter fifth day of the school week. If you are using a lesson pack on calcium and vitamin D from the OPH-OCDSB Collaborative Team via, you are welcome to download my trivia game cards from

Literacy class is even more prone to feeling repetitive. In the back corner of the room stands the same grey file cabinet I've had for nine years. The second drawer holds all my literacy materials: master copies of handouts, picture flashcards, and all those matching games that took hours of early morning time to cut out and paper clip together for up to five pairs of students. So, as with seniors class, to keep myself from going mad, I find ways to make each iteration of the same module a bit different.

This past week the afternoon students were learning about minimum wage with the Laws About Pay materials from Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO). I'm happy to say that all but one of my students will be moving to the mainstream CLB 1 class in September, as they can now handle level one work such as this booklet from CLEO. This time around, I added a listening activity that brought in both numeracy and map skills by quickly grabbing a copyright-free colouring page from the internet.

First I led them through colouring the water so that it was easier to see where land ended and water began. We talked about the wiggly lines (coast) versus the straight lines (international border). Since Windsor is a border town, they easily got the idea that the straight line along the "bottom" of Canada is the U.S.A. After colouring the provinces and territories, which I hope will strengthen their growing ability to identify provinces and territories, I turned the map into a worksheet for a listening quiz. With a list of Canada's minimum wage amounts in front of me, I first had a strong student come to the board and write in the dollar amount as I dictated "Alberta's minimum wage is $15 an hour." He got it right. I then called on the second strongest student to write in an amount on another province. After three more demonstrations, I had everyone copy these five amounts onto their maps. I then dictated the last eight dollar amounts to the whole class as each student listened and pencilled in the remaining dollar amounts on their maps.

How about you? Do you have spring fever? Have you been teaching the same level for some time? How do you make the old feel new again?

Saturday, April 27, 2019

A Part-Time Job Activity Pack

I'm back to doing what I enjoy most: creating learning resources. Today I'm pleased to announce the publication of an activity pack to complement the School of Global Access ESL Literacy reader entitled A Part-Time Job. It's about a student named Fazil who looks in the newspaper for a suitable job ad. He finds an ad for part-time help in a clothing store. He goes to the store and fills out an application.

Because the idea of a simple search through the classifieds is a bit outdated, I decided to include references to three other methods of finding work: the Internet, networking (talking to people), and looking for signs in shop windows.

This book is actually a bit too easy for my current cohort, but I used it this week because Easter Monday made it a short week. I tend to save the more challenging stories for weeks in which we have the full five days.

The complement of activities I developed, however, is targeted to my students' slightly higher level of ability. I hope you'll still be able to make use of parts of the activity pack and that you'll let me know if you do. Don't wait till you see me at a conference; shoot me an email or leave a comment on the blog, why dontcha?

Responding to a needs assessment in which you readers took part, I made a point of including ten colour picture flashcards as well as matching text flashcards. It was tricky trying to depict the concepts "full time" and "part time" in images, but my students got the idea right away.

You can find the new resources on my website under LITERACY - JOBS, a new section under development. Cheers!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

A New Leaf

Whether you celebrated Nowruz a month ago, celebrated Passover this weekend, are celebrating Easter today, or celebrate nothing at all, I raise a glass in your direction and echo my partner's dinner table toast: to rebirth, to freedom, to spring.
Classic Southern Buttermilk Pie

Perhaps it is the longer days and emerging light green shoots affecting my spirit, but it does feel to me to be a time of fresh starts and beckoning freedom.

One of my colleagues is leaving us this week for the birth and early bonding with her second baby while another teacher prepares to fill her shoes while she's away. Some of us are using the new PBLA guidelines as a reason to purge file cabinets of forms no longer needed (sorry, trees!) and rethink our entire approach to complying with the government-mandated framework. Others hear freedom's call and are looking to broaden their horizons, seeking new opportunities and other ways to use their gifts, experience, skills, and education.

I am in Ohio today with a group of rowdy, mostly extroverted men who are quickly endearing themselves to me. They are beginning to feel to me like family. It's good to know that one can begin again at any stage of life.

How about you?

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Quiet Subversion

More and more these days, the topic of discussion around me seems to be compensation and fairness.  This week's blog post by Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy is an interview with Angela Watson, founder of the 40-hour Teacher Workweek Club, and it's a good read (or podcast, if you prefer to listen).

Before the days of PBLA, I might have clucked my tongue, shaken my head, and thought, "Those poor overworked public school teachers!" Now I find myself nodding as I read along, agreeing with the proposed strategies, agreeing with statements such as the following:
We will work dozens of unpaid hours every week, we will make our materials from scratch, we will spend money from our own pay checks. We’ll neglect our health, our relationships, our home, even our own kids because we need to do whatever it takes for students.
Another idea from the interview that resonated with me was number three under "ways to push back." Actually, all the strategies named by Angela could also help us in our professional settings. If you have time, listen to or read the transcript of the interview and tell me what you think.

As for me and my professional world, it was an interesting week. Here is a list of just some of the loosely related things that happened to me or were observed by me recently:

  • Was asked by my supervisor if I would be willing to sit down for a mediated discussion with a student. I agreed to do so only if it could be done on paid time (i.e., not on my lunch hour nor after 3:00; that leaves my two 15-minute paid breaks).
  • Received a request from someone in another city. S/he is in need of copies of collective agreements in force at SPOs implementing PBLA. If you have one handy, send it my way and I will see that it reaches that person.
  • Heard a PBLA lead teacher say that s/he is way behind in his/her marking because his/her son/daughter has exams right now. Son/daughter has promised to do all the marking in a few more days, after midterms.
  • Learned of yet another person who is leaving the field because of PBLA.
What about you? What's happening in your world this week?

Sunday, March 31, 2019


Less than a month ago I was writing here about my conversation with Paul Chislett about worker rights and organizing, and here I am to relate some news I just got that a federally funded service provider organization (SPO) in Windsor just voted to unionize. There is, of course, no connection between my blog post and the timing of that. The person who started the ball rolling began calling around to various unions back in October of last year, I learned earlier this week. The vote was narrow, but the employees at Windsor Women Working with Immigrant Women are now in the Unifor fold. Congratulations to those across all departments, not just language skills, who fought for that. With Unemployed Help Centre, that makes two union SPOs that I am aware of; UHC is with CUPE.

I don't have much else to say on that topic now, so I'll finish out this blog post with bits of news on other topics.

My Twitter feed is abuzz with colleagues' preparations to attend BC TEAL's annual conference. Yuliya has been presenting again, this time edging into the subject of student feedback on PBLA. I'll update you on that when I can, or you can follow her on Twitter

After using my own resources The Library and accompanying activity pack in my literacy classroom for a week, I ended up publishing a longer version of the activity pack with more matching words to pictures, more picture flashcards so that every text flashcard has an image to go with it, as well as two new dialogues for role plays. The librarian's role will have to be played by the teacher or a T.A. The following week, I published a resource that is a facsimile of my local library's self-check machine screens. I stuck the pages (screens) into the cello sleeves of my old classroom bank machine made from a cardboard box. That worked out great; everyone seemed excited to learn how to check out their own materials without going to the circulation desk. Whether that translates to an actual ability to do so during our field trip this Wednesday is yet to be seen! The bonus extension resource is on the website for free download.

That's it for me for this week. I'm enjoying the rest of my visit to Shaker Heights, Ohio today where the grand mature trees that shade the boulevards are beautifully blanketed in snow this afternoon.

How's life in your neck of the woods?

Sunday, March 24, 2019

New Guidelines: Do They Matter?

Do the new PBLA guidelines matter? That depends on whom you ask and how you finish that question. Whether they matter may depend on one's goal or focus in the ongoing battle over the fate of our profession. A couple of readers have taken the time in the last few days to leave very well reasoned and clearly worded comments on this topic. They do a better job than I can presenting solid arguments around this question.

Here is a comment from a teacher who doesn't see the revision as being all that meaningful in the larger scheme of things.

Anonymous3/23/2019 1:46 AM 
Well I suppose it's a step in the right direction,(?) but the reality is that there are several factors in many ESL programs (mine for example), that make PBLA simply an unsound and wasteful practice. a) many of our students are middle aged or old, women leaving home for the first time with babysitters and daycare and sick kids at home or visitors here for a short time, and really don't care about writing tests and changing benchmarks so all the time spent doing this is simply wasted on them, not to mention the time wasted organizing binders b) the binders themselves are cumbersome and a great waste of paper and material full of redundant stuff and in many cases students don't even take them with them when they leave (we are constantly collecting old binders in my school - dozens of them) which is shameful in this day and age c) there is no consistency from teacher to teacher in what constitutes a 'task' which makes a pass or fail more or less useless (my tasks for example are markedly different from my co-workers' tasks ) d) real life 'modules' can only be done for so long and when the actual focus of language learning is no longer 'language' students end up in higher levels lacking the ability to write sentences with no concept of grammar which is , after all, the basis of language - funny I feel like PBLA has embraced the opposite of what we should be doing. I think we should do some real life stuff for a few students who would like to learn about banking etc. but should mostly focus on fluency and using proper grammar and how to write well d) students are still held back by the need for 8 'artefacts' in all skill areas. If you have two full classes, as I do, the time required to create, deliver, mark and tabulate the tasks is unreasonable e) there is so much focus on test writing that many ESL programs have lost sight of what it means to teach ESL f) many ESL programs have continuous intake which means new students on a daily basis so no matter how good their language skills are, rather than a quick brush up on skills which is what many of the younger students need, they are forced to stay in their level until they finish 8 tasks in all skill areas and this simply cannot be done in a short amount of time so classes are jammed up, nowhere to go until everyone 'passes' (and pass - fail - test is not a good way to teach / learn English) and everyone feels discouraged. Morale is at an all time low. Finally, the people we are dealing with need compassion and kindness. They have lived difficult and stressful lives, and PBLA only adds to the stress. Oh and no more fun.
And then there is this response, with focus on the difference that the revision can make in some of our work lives.
Anonymous3/23/2019 8:14 AM 
Point C is interesting. YES, we are all different-staff and students included. 
It sounds as if you work at one of the SPOs that were trained by a leaders that were developed in a certain cohort. Please remember that the new 2019 guidelines have been created with abused staff in mind. Some SPOs have caused undue stress and workload because they acted as hostile and unkind leaders. The new guidelines need to be presented to administration, boards of directors or agency heads so that balance and respect can return to the workplace. 
Everyone, and I mean everyone, did the best that THEY could do for their learners before PBLA. If employers are concerned about their workforce, then they should implement better hiring practices for future program development. No agency should discipline, or discouraged an employee who has "struggles" implementing PBLA because it is clear in the new 2019 (and all past documents )n that PBLA implementation is a process in which we are working toward PBLA. 
Anyone who experiences anything else can now approach their local labour board. Do not work beyond your paid time. Offer the resources that are available to your students. Enjoy your job. Do what you can. IF anyone is harassing you at work, tell your supervisor and if it is your supervisor then contact the CCLB. I have been informed that we should please contact François Bélisle, Executive Director, at 
He wants to know if SPOs are still abusing people with PBLA. By the way, the CHANGE CYCLE has been removed as it was the document that encouraged the abuse. The labour board of Ontario advised that the inclusion of the Change Cycle document opened up the CCLB for charges. It would be good for any employer to understand that harassment and abuse are no longer going to be tolerated by labour boards, unions or boards of directors. 
The pertinent aforementioned documents are linked below. Enjoy your Saturday colleagues. Managers, make a cup of tea and read where you went wrong and where you need to improve. Prepare your apology and maybe hand in your resignation if you aren't willing to conform. 
Advised by legal counsel prior to writing this piece.
Here are a few of the passages I find to be most pertinent in the struggle some of us have been facing in getting admin and lead teachers to stop abusing their roles. The yellow highlighting is my own.

From the section on ACCOUNTABILITY:

Lead Teacher Role The Lead Teacher is responsible to the administrator for assisting teachers in PBLA implementation. Responsibilities include
  • Provide PBLA orientation, and support to new teachers. 
  • Advise administrators on needed supports such as PD or resources. 
  • Complete an annual self assessment using the PBLA Practice Review framework and identify and complete an action plan. 
The Lead Teacher also plays a valuable role in supporting colleagues, using strategies that might include the following:

  • Facilitate informal small-group discussions or learning groups to address common concerns using classroom teachers as resources for one other.
  • Offer workshops related to PBLA implementation, such as the CCLB Professional Learning Sessions.
  • Observe teachers and provide feedback and/or suggestions as a peer and colleague.
  • Team teach or team plan on occasion.
  • Give demonstration lessons. 
If you are a lead teacher, you have an important supportive role, but should not be supervising or evaluating colleagues or screening portfolios or artefacts from colleagues’ classrooms.
I appreciate this paragraph at the end of the section on the teacher's role:
In the end, PBLA builds on the understanding that ongoing, effective assessment provides learners with feedback that they can use to improve. It also recognizes that as a teacher, you are best situated to observe and assess learners’ language proficiency related to CLB expectations, and your professional judgements are foundational to the reflective teaching and assessment practices that best support learners in their learning journeys.
In some ways, I see the new guidelines as nothing more than rearrangement of the deck chairs on the titanic. So you've given Cool Hand Luke a long-handled shovel instead of a short-handled shovel. (You can always depend on me to mix my metaphors. Lol.) The way we have to execute the nonsense that Norm Friesen says was "born of a colonial mindset" just became easier?

On the other hand, if you are my friend who has been on the brink of mental and emotional collapse while s/he tried to figure out how to continue to make a living in the face of unbelievable bullying, the new guidelines matter.

What do you think? Is the publication of these revised guidelines consequential in the long run? If so, are there other sections that have drawn your attention? Are there challenges that are not addressed by the new guidelines?

Let's keep it respectful no matter how much we may disagree, eh?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Cool Hand Luke

This week I have a little of this and a little of that for discussion.

First I want to share Yuliya's update on the state of PBLA research. Here is her recent missive.

Dear Colleagues,

Here is a very brief update on our PBLA implementation research and a new project invitation for literacy teachers, from a colleague at theUniversity of Birmingham.

I continue to present on the project that you participated in order to stimulate further discussion, more research, and, ultimately, policy changes.
Three major conferences are approaching: Metropolis National Conference in Halifax, BC TEAL, and ACLA/CAAL 2019 in Vancouver. Hoping to see you there if you are close to any of the conference sites.

Good news is that other research projects on PBLA are underway, and both are researching PBLA impact on beginner language learners: Dr. Marylin Abbot is working with learners of refugee background in Edmonton, and Esther Karasova is inviting literacy teachers to share their experiences with PBLA implementation at pre-CLB and lowest CLB levels.

If you could share the invitation below with your colleagues, it would be very much appreciated. Insightful and practice-relevant research can not be conducted without teachers' input. Esther’s survey is short, focused, and can be completed in about 10 minutes.
Thank you for your consideration!

Best regards,

Secondly, I'm happy to announce to literacy and low-level ESL teachers that I've just published a new ESL literacy reader with activity pack. It's aimed at about a high CLB 1L to 2L or a CLB 1 class and is called The Library. You can download the PDFs of the book and activity pack from - LITERACY - School and Library OR you can click either the book image or the activity pack image on that site to go directly into the Google file in order to edit it before use. The book itself is not city-specific, but the activity pack does have Windsor street names and our late fines. So the activity pack would need to be edited before use by teachers in other cities. Please email me if you find a typo or have any feedback.

Lastly, I would like to address myself to those commenters whose comments have not made it past the new screening process in the past week or two--not that any of you would be back here to read another blog post! The rule as is stands, having been put to a vote by readers, is that the anonymous commenting feature is intended to be used only by those whose comments could get them fired or blacklisted. If you want to take potshots at the PBLA skeptics and critics, use your name. If you want to call us whiners and wallowers in negativity, do so under your own name. If you want to make the point that the issuing of new PBLA guidelines means we now have no excuse not to all jump back on the bandwagon, shut our traps and just put the damned pieces of paper in the binders, you may say that; just sign your real name.

I think that is where a lot of debate is going to centre now. What do the new guidelines mean for everyone? For some, it could mean an end to a lot of bullying and power grabbing by supervisors who had been using their twisted version of PBLA to make teachers' lives a living hell. That's yet to be seen. But for some of us, the new guidelines do little to change our stance. I don't have Claudie's gift for spelling things out; I'm fond of metaphors and allegories.

My PBLA lead teacher, after a round of inspecting binders in anticipation of a visit by an IRCC binder auditor, said to me: "I don't know why you have such issues with PBLA. You know how to do it. You're doing it fine." She said something to that effect. I responded, "Just because I can follow some steps doesn't mean I think it's in the best interest of stakeholders. You could set up a ladder and ask me to climb to the top and back down 17 times. I could execute that perfectly. It wouldn't mean I agreed with having to do it."

Suddenly a scene from an old movie came to mind.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Worker Rights and Organizing in Windsor, Ontario

The questions of the week are whether an employer can pay a full-time ESL teacher and a part-time teacher at a different rate of pay, whether the employer must reveal the wages paid, and where to turn for help with such issues.

You may know more about this than I do. Please use the comments section to educate me if you do. To find answers to these questions, I turned to the Internet and to my friend Paul Chislett of the Windsor Workers Education Centre on Ottawa Street in Windsor. If you happen to lunch at Taloola Cafe on a Sunday, you are likely to see him there with his wife Mireille Coral, founder of WWEC's sewing cooperative.

Going online, I found out that Ontario has a Pay Equity Act that covers pay equity between men and women doing the same work. But that wasn't what I was looking for. I was trying to find out whether employers are legally required to pay part-time teachers the same as full-time teachers if they are doing the same job.

Interestingly, between April 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018, there was a law requiring equal pay for equal work regardless of employment status! It looks like Premier Doug Ford repealed that provision. However, this website says that one may still file a claim if one's employer did not follow the law while it was in effect. You may have back pay coming to you, if nothing else.

While researching, I discovered the Collective Agreements e-Library Portal, which is where you might look to find the pay scales for various positions at a given institution if your employer refuses to reveal what others are paid.

Paul Chislett was happy to meet with me to talk about steps teachers can take when employers break the law. You can just imagine how quickly the conversation turned to PBLA.

In most cases, Paul pointed out, everything depends on status. "How are you classed? Are you classed as an employee of the organization or as a contract worker? That is key," he said. Employees may fall under a collective agreement while contract workers do not.

Paul is not a lawyer and neither am I, so we cannot give legal advice. The Windsor Workers' Education Centre does, however, educate workers on how to organize as well as referring people for legal help. One such lawyer who has helped WWEC referrals in the past is David Deluzio, whose office is on Goyeau. If his caseload is too full, he can refer clients to another lawyer. Paul remembered one such case in which the worker had to travel out of town to meet with the lawyer, but the outcome was positive in the end.

"What do you think of asking someone from the Ministry of Labour to speak at one of our PD events?"

"That's a great idea," Paul said, adding "I've always had good experiences with employment standards officers." Paul said they have an office right here in town, though it tends to be understaffed.

"Of course, they can't advocate," Paul started.

"But they can inform, educate..." I said.


Mireille returned to the cafe after a walk around the block in gale-force winds to find that our conversation had turned to the broader topic of adult education and PBLA.

"It's not by accident that ESL and related activities are crippled," Paul said. "Because the next step [after empowering students] would be critiquing the system, and the ruling classes are not interested in letting that happen."

If you are interested in learning more about employee rights or cooperativism, you can follow @chislettshakeup on Twitter or drop into the Windsor Workers' Education Centre at 2034 Ottawa Street.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Assessment Successes and Challenges, Eh?

Claudie Graner brought our attention to this address by Anne Senior of the Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks. If you don't have time for the entire thing, Claudie thinks the following points are especially interesting for those of us questioning the validity of our PBLA artifacts as a means of deciding progression, among other reasons:



Sunday, February 24, 2019

Resources for Black History Month in Canada

Barely squeaking it in before the end of February, I have just updated the LINKS page of to include the resource links that Irene Moore Davis gave to attendees of her presentation to TESL Windsor, "Creative Strategies to Teach Black History in ESL Settings."

Hopefully we will all remember that they are there when February rolls around again in 2020. Or perhaps we won't limit ourselves to only covering African Canadian history one month of the year!

Do you have any good resources to add to that list?

Friday, February 22, 2019

Two Project Ideas

Is this Monday's post four days late? Or did I miss that one, in which case next week's is early? In any case, ...

I have a couple of interesting projects on the horizon and want to get your input on one of them before I dig in.

I did not do anything with either of my classes for Black History Month this year. I do, however, plan to cover local Black history in some form or other before this term is over. The reason I did not want to study Black history with my students in February is that I want to go on a walking field trip to the Tower of Freedom Underground Railroad Monument in downtown Windsor as part of the unit. Neither my students nor I wish, however, to navigate treacherous sidewalks to get there. We will go when the weather warms up a bit.

Did you know that Windsor has one half of this international monument? The other half is in Hart Plaza, Detroit. At a recent TESL Windsor PD event, Irene Moore Davis told us that the sculptor designed the monuments so that the companion sculpture's pointing hand lines up perfectly with our sculpture in Windsor! You can prove it with a laser beam.

The day of our PD event, Irene Moore Davis provided us with a handout that includes links and references to a lot of good material. My problem is that this material is a bit beyond the reading ability of my class. I would love to create something for LINC teachers in the Windsor area to use with their students. It looks like I am going to be able to do that. I plan to write and illustrate something biographical with tie-ins to the monument and to people such as Mary Ann Shadd Cary. I am bad about biting off more than I can finish in a month or two. But I would rather do something really nice and not have it ready this school year than to do a rush job.

My question to Windsor area teachers is this: what would a booklet and activity pack need to contain in order for you to use it with your class? Would you use a level three text if the accompanying activity pack included level-appropriate activities for higher CLBs? Or should I publish three versions of the same book: CLB 1/2, 3/4, and 5 plus? Please leave me ideas in the comments.

The other project on my plate--one I can begin this Sunday at Taloola Cafe--is to interview Paul Chislett and get his ideas regarding the steps a teacher can take if he / she suspects an employer is not compliant with the new legislation that requires equal compensation for equivalent work regardless of the employee's full- or part-time employment status. I will post that interview on this blog soon.

What are you up to this week?

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

A Troll Poll

Here are the characteristics of an internet troll.

To take the Troll Poll, you do not have to leave your personal info or email. I am relying on the honour system and the assumption that teachers are far too busy to go around sitting at multiple computers just to skew results.

Multiple times over the past two years or more,  I have wanted to set a rule for this forum so that only those whose opinions could get them fired or reprimanded are to use cover of anonymity.
The only reason I ever allowed for anonymity in commenting is that this blog is the only forum in Canada where teachers are free to express their opinions of PBLA without fear of reprisal. I never intended the anonymous commenting feature to enable PBLA defenders to snipe without revealing who they are, which in turn  would reveal any conflicts of interest or ulterior motives for coming here. There are plenty of other venues where we can go if we feel like being attacked on an uneven playing field. If it's up to me to make the decision, I will not publish comments from PBLA proponents who do not identify themselves.

But it's not just my blog, it's your forum. So I'm leaving this decision to you all. I hope you'll take the one-question survey.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Food for Thought

I don't have a specific topic for you this week, but there's a lot of food for thought swirling around right now.

For one, there is the discussion that has taken place in the comments on New Reader Has Lots to Contribute.

I thought that one of the most telling comments was from a PBLA Lead who signed herself "Norma." She addressed herself to a former school teacher who likes the structure PBLA provides:

Linda, if you’re still reading, I’m honestly interested in what you have to say. I was a strong advocate for PBLA—until I was introduced to the CCLB’s grossly inadequate and unprofessional training materials (I’m a PBLA Lead) and to add insult to injury, we were told that THERE ARE NO RESOURCES to implement this thing. This is contrary to what is explicitly stated in their own practice guidelines that “sufficient resources” will be provided. Due to the number of “artefacts” required, classes have become testing centres and stress has increased exponentially for both learners (especially refugees—unforgivable!) and instructors. PBLA implementation has been a negative experience for every teacher I’ve met. You are the first that I know of who has spoken so positively of it. That makes me curious. It is demanded of us that we be “Champions of PBLA”. If this methodology is so wonderful, why does it need championing? It should speak for itself! Why are those who raise valid concerns in an objective and professional manner labeled “laggards”? Why are there NEVER anonymous surveys of instructors and learners? What is the CCLB afraid of? That the emperor has no clothes is my bet. PBLA takes a heavy toll. I sincerely wish you good luck in keeping your head above water. How can it possibly help learners to have exhausted unhappy teachers? How can it help them to push through 32 assessments or they languish at the same benchmarks. Incredibly badly thought out flop of an experiment with disastrous consequences. Please tell me how you’re able to do three assessments a week? Is this a full-time class? —Norma
Other food for thought this week came in the form of two things Yuliya retweeted. One was this article in The Atlantic by Rahm Emanuel about education reform.

The other  was this meme, which I also saw retweeted by @YuliyaESL.

I hope everyone is surviving winter.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Amplify, Amplify

I've deleted my post about Back-to-the-Well and PBLA Survival. Other things are more pressing right now.

There are two items this week that we can all mail off to the folks on our PBLA CONTACTS list. One is Yuliya Desyatova's latest publication, a brilliant article in the TESL Canada Journal. The other is a news article that appeared two days ago in The Star.

Yuliya Desyatova's latest article is "Batting the Piñata and Swallowing Camels": Teachers Learn to PBLA in the Absence of Dialogic Interaction in TESL Canada Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2 (2018): Special Issue - The Shifting Landscape of Professional Self-Development for ELT Practitioners. Reading it helped me understand why I feel the way I do about PBLA, the training model and so-called PD we have received and continue to have shoved at us to date. Brava, Yuliya! This is your heftiest work yet.

The news piece, posted to Twitter, is entitled, "Refugees Hoping to Become Citizens Face High Bar to Achieve Language Benchmarks." It was written by Sarah Schulman for the Toronto Star. Schulman, a sociologist, brings up many points that I believe spell out discrimination. We are erecting barriers to citizenship for those who will never--no matter how hard they try--be able to reach that magic status of achieved CLB four.

Shouldn't OCASI and other organizations advocating for refugees' rights have an interest in the way PBLA is affecting refugees' wellbeing? There are so many ways PBLA is damaging, especially when you consider factors such as trauma and learning disabilities.

Let's add OCASI to the list of contacts, shall we? But I don't want to be guilty of being Ontario-centric. Do you know of a similar organization in your province that might take up our cause?

Monday, January 28, 2019

New Reader Has Lots to Contribute

I had a blog post up this morning, but I decided to hit 'revert to draft' and save it for next week. This week a new reader (or perhaps more than one?) left a comment on each of several posts, and I found the insights to be worthy of a blog post. Here is what this teacher, who recently quit due to a toxic PBLA training and enforcement environment, has to say:

Hi Kelly, thanks for your great work. You are brave in the toxic atmosphere created by PBLA. I am happily no longer teaching PBLA after many years of experience teaching English. The people in charge of this charade have not only caused untold amounts of stress for those remaining, but have chased many professionals out of the field. I decided that I would no longer tolerate being insulted and in essence told to shut up when I had even a minor criticism of PBLA. I don't need to work in a toxic workplace where I am disrespected every step of the way. Especially when I don't think those who made this monstrosity were teachers at all, or not good ones, that's for sure!

Hi Kelly, interesting that one of the notes on your blog by a former PBLA teacher said that she got out of pbla due to 'an integrity thing.' Wow, that is exactly what I have thought about it. It is actually unethical to waste huge amounts of taxpayer money to achieve poorer results now than we used to pre-PBLA. I was looking at some notes for an old class of mine and I realized that I am using a textbook for CLB6 that I used to use for CLB3!?! Shocking how poor PBLA is in teaching students to speak English! Many of my students in CLB6 still struggle with the basic verb tenses and yet, I've been yelled at by incompetent administrators for teaching grammar, even though my students beg me to teach grammar in every needs assessment. PBLA is a failure, pure and simple! on Where is Our Ally?

Unfortunately, there are some administrators and lead teachers who are hardline pbla believers and accuse others of being unprofessional while treating teachers with disrespect. In one of our staff meetings, both leads and the coordinators attacked a sweet teacher who dared to question the orthodoxy. Having been attacked the week before, I had vowed to not say a word, but I was ready to walk out, though I knew that I would be done if I did (both she and I have left the worst school I have ever worked at because of PBLA). I believe PBLA is actually unethical in that plenty of money is wasted on achieving poor results (students don't learn very much compared to real teaching). I call it fake teaching.

The creators of PBLA should be held accountable and must account for the mess." Isn't that just Joanne Pettis? Hear, hear! Someone definitely should be held accountable for this disaster (Pettis, Holmes, etc.). If what was done before was 'loosey-goosey' then why were the results better then than now with PBLA? Pre-PBLA I was using materials with my CLB3 classes that I now use with my CLB6 classes! To me, the bottom line is that PBLA is a miserable failure on teaching students how to speak English!

When I complain about PBLA around PBLA true believers, they always say things like, "Well, it's better than what we had before. We need accountability." But the fact remains that PBLA is less effective than the old way. A study by a researcher named Watts from about 10 years ago, claimed that it typically took 250-300 hours to move from one benchmark to the next. Nowadays, it takes 400-500 hours or more for benchmarks to change, thus requiring students to remain in each level for 2 or 3 semesters. I also find that students now are much weaker in the levels they are in than before (my school used to do TOEFL readings in CLB5-absolutely impossible now). That sounds like failure to me. It cannot be 'fixed'. It needs to be scrapped and teachers need to be able to teach as they know how. I have never in my life learned anything 'the PBLA way'
I've talked to several teachers in the regular school system who were forced at one time to teach pbla. They all roll their eyes and say the workload was ridiculous and they are certainly happy that that failed experiment was finally ditched

I enjoyed the comments from the person who says they just teach the way they know how and hide that fact from the PBLA police. I've tried to do this, because I truly want to help the students improve their English, but unfortunately, my school monitors what we teach in the classroom and freak out if the students happily say they are learning grammar and love it! The lead teacher goes in and talks to the students behind our backs to find out what we are doing. Needless to say, the atmosphere at my school is toxic!

I have learned almost nothing from any of the pbla training events at my school because the leads don't understand it either. Even 5 years in, they stumble around like Keystone Kops, or at my other school, they are Nazis who follow what they claim are the rules, to a 't'

My school definitely weeds out those who are not perfectly pbla compliant (actually they weed out anyone who even questions it mildly). You are attacked in meetings and thus, most who undergo such treatment quit. Or you are undermined by the administration and leads who tell the students behind your back that you are not a good teacher (one of my favourite students warned me that the lead would speak to certain students when I was on break who would thereafter be hostile to whatever I tried to do in class). It is an effective way to get rid of people without having to fire them. I was furious, but I had no direct proof that she had undermined my teaching.
Whoever you are, I hope you'll leave a comment to give yourself a pseudonym. Otherwise, I'll refer to you as "Got Out."