Wednesday, December 11, 2019

My TESL Ontario Conference Experience

Ah, lovely Toronto. In the summer of 2009, I impulsively quit a job that had turned hellish under a psycho supervisor and ran off to CCLCS to get my OCELT, draining my savings account to do so. During those first seven weeks lodged in a dorm with six very young women on Bloor Street, a seven week break, and second seven-week term lodged in a so-called homestay for international students in the Italian / Portuguese neighbourhood that required me to ride a bus up and down Dufferin to the subway, I learned my way around what I will always think of as one of the world's most beautiful cities.

A colleague and I shared a taxi from Billy Bishop and soon I was tucking myself under clean white sheets and a puffy duvet with alarm set for 5:30. I've always liked to have a slow, leisurely breakfast and still be first in line for my attendee's package. I already had two floor plans printed out, one for each day, with workshop names and arrows to help me jump quickly to my second choice should the first one fill up before I got a seat. Oddly, that measure proved entirely unnecessary this year.

Of course I could not miss U of T's Jennifer Burton and Yuliya Desyatova's Learning English with PBLA: What LINC Students Say. I must admit I did not know how this would turn out because I wasn't sure a satisfaction type of survey could capture the circus that PBLA is in reality, wasn't sure students across Canada were picking up on the failings since they might not know why PBLA was dreamt up in the first place.

But because these two researchers had the forethought to provide students with an open comment box after each question and because Jennifer took the time to sift through them and find the commonalities, we can see that students ARE indeed picking up on the same things that make us want to hang our heads in shame for what this profession is becoming, or leave it altogether.

We already know what those common threads are. We live them daily. But here are some slide snippets anyway:

At the end, during the Q and A, Karen Alexander stood up and spoke her truth bravely. Peers encouraged her to attend the next morning's panel discussion and say what she had said once more, this time into a microphone. She did, and I'm proud of her for doing so. She said to me Thursday night when we were both seated at Trios what many of us concluded long ago: a field dominated by men would never have stood for this treatment, this nonsense, nor with being loaded down with a stressful load of extra work without pay.

At 9:50 I attended Recognizing and Accommodating Alternately Abled Students, Part 1 with Eliza Garland of ISANS. She is an occupational therapist and goldmine of information and insights to help us better understand Universal Design for Learning and how it can benefit not only our many students with undiagnosed learning disabilities, but the rest of the students as well--hence the name. This was one of the most valuable workshops I've attended ten years of conferences, and I look forward to seeing her slides posted on the website for all to peruse. From Eliza I learned about proprioception, sensory seekers and avoiders. I think what I gained from her session is even going to make me a better First Day School teacher, as some of the kids in my Quaker Meeting are very wiggly!

At 11:20 I joined Marijke Wertheim's Teaching without a Net because not since Ken Lackman's C.A.T., a framework for dogme has there been a dogme-focused session at this conference. Since I am a huge dogme believer, I could not miss this session. Marijke did an excellent job of bringing dogme to life, and I wish I could have stayed for the full two hours. Alas, I had to slip out for...

Yuliya was back at it in the same room at 12:40 with more research results in Leading and administrating PBLA: "Champagne on water wage." Here are a couple of slides I found to be most telling:

I liked that Yuliya put these quotes up without the "Learner," "Teacher," and "Admin" labels on them and had us first GUESS who we thought each quote had come from. I love the acknowledgment that a teacher can produce a beautiful binder without it being a reflection of learning.

This is a fantastic revelation. There is a negative correlation between length of time implementing PBLA and feeling the increased teacher workload is justified. Yes! I know many teachers AND a couple of leads who started out with an open mind and one who even started out as a cheerleader but who now say, "It looked good on paper" while shaking their heads.

One slide I thought was very telling was the one demonstrating that the closer one is to the frontline, the less optimism that person reported having toward PBLA. In other words, top admin feels the best about it, teachers themselves the worst, with lead teachers in between the two.

And Yuliya's recommendation? Make it optional. I love her list of advantages of making PBLA optional:

After a quick washroom break where I encountered a Joy of ESL fan who said she hoped to see me at the reception shortly, I ran off to Tapping the potential of conversation circles for integration by Tehreem Nathaniel, which was lovely and gave me lots of ideas. What a breath of fresh air it is to be in PBLA-free workshops! I was VERY satisfied to find at least one non-PBLA workshop in each time slot.

The reception catering was some of the best to date! I loved the artistic dessert. Sparks winner Susan Webb looked so cute in her dress and footwear, I thought. The next day she had on day-glo green Eiffel Tower earrings and an artsy dress that picked up on that colour. Suddenly, Susan, I feel I could almost forgive you for being on the PBLA bandwagon, as wobbly and small as that may be. One day, my sister, you may look back and see the error of your ways. Until then, keep rocking those unique outfits! (OMG, can you so totally tell that I have no more Fs to give?) And no, there is no alcohol and no THC in my system in this moment. This is all just Goddess Kali having her way with me.

Friday morning I discovered that the steel-cut oatmeal is better at Trios Bistro than at Hemispheres at the DoubleTree (did you know they changed their logo years ago because everyone thought the two entwined tree symbols looked like two entwined female symbols?), and they give you lots of fresh berries with it. But the absolute best steel-cut oatmeal in the conference hotel circuit is still Sheraton. They let you have nuts AND dried fruit AND fresh berries instead of making you choose just one.

In hopes of giving support to Karen Alexander, I sat down in the room where the panel discussion was to take place but was careful to sit close to the door since I would need to slip out for part two of Alternately Abled students. Yvonne Ferrer mentioned giving money to PBLA and caring about refugees in almost the same breath, and I wanted to follow her to the parking lot to ask her if she had read this article or understood that foisting born-of-a-colonial mindset 32-tests-a-term PBLA on newly arrived people from war-torn areas who don't yet know how to find their name in the stack of binders or hold a pencil is anathema to best practices in work with refugees and those with PTSD.


Knowing Karen would be great at the mic, I slipped out and made it to part II: Recognizing and Accommodating Alternatively Abled Students, which was as good as part I had been. Can't wait to synthesize my notes and share what I learned with my team.

I briefly sat down in Anne Hajer's PBLA Portfolio: ESL Literacy Considerations, but thought better of it. I sometimes have executive function / prefrontal cortex lapses when I'm tired, hungry, and/or emotionally aroused, so I thought it best to leave dear Anne in peace and spare her one of my angry outbursts. Instead I dashed out to Dundas station, bought three tickets (one for returning to Billy Bishop later), and headed out to Kensington to try the restaurant with the most rave reviews for vegan options on : Hibiscus! 

Anyway, you cannot visit Toronto without wandering up and down the feast for the eyes that Kensington Market area is with its murals and whimsical tin shapes welded onto the window bars of Queen Annes painted in a riot of bright colours. You just cannot.

Hibiscus was quiet and clean with built in bookcases housing interesting poetry collections and glazed ceramic pieces. I had and a cup of the sweet potato chickpea soup and a savoury crepe with pear slices and pecans in it. The fresh cilantro on top of the soup made me sigh with appreciation.

I didn't quite make it back in time for my next session, but I'm glad I went ahead and slipped in late anyway because An Innovative and Easy Approach to Corpus Analysis was fascinating, inspiring, and left me wanting to get her slides so I can fill in what I missed. It also made me want to teach EAP. Julia Williams of the U of Waterloo was a very good presenter! If I were an engineering grad student faced with writing my papers in a language I hadn't spoken as a child, I would want Julia there by my side. I wish I had snippets of her slides to show you. Here's hoping she posts them!

After a light dinner and even lighter flirting with someone seated at the bar, I got my bag out of safekeeping and used my last subway ticket to get to Union Station where I somehow managed to find the hotel with the flags and thus the free shuttle back to Billy Bishop.

So long for now, Toronto. For me you will always be the crazy frugal Italian house mother at my homestay who locked up peanut butter and toilet paper, murals and head shops in Kensington, Honest Eds, stopping on Queen St West to sniff Johnny Fluevogs, lunches at the Queen Mum, being sold a dime for $2.75 by a panhandler who tricked me into thinking it was a subway token, Martine my TESL prof with her elegant ballet dancer body, the sudoku puzzle in the free Metro newspaper that helped me pass the time en route to my suburban practicum, indie movies on nights when assignments were not due the next day, and learning how to walk a labyrinth.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Using Linguistically Appropriate Practice by Roma Chumak-Horbatsch, a Review

If you are an educator or childminder in a program where newcomer children are tasked with learning the school language, this book is for you. If you are a program director or school principal where even one child arrives needing to learn the school language, this book is for you.

Having read Chumak-Horbatsch's new book Using Linguistically Appropriate Practice: a Guide for Teaching in Multilingual Classrooms, I am left convinced that this book and the LAP approach are key to the wellbeing, healthy self-concept, happiness, sense of identity, and optimal development of newcomer children (emergent bilinguals) across Canada, the United States, and the globe.

Before watching my review, it will be helpful for you to first view the author's own introduction to the concept of LAP here. (

Saturday, November 23, 2019

PBLA Survey

This one has an open text (comment) box in each section after the qualitative questions. Yay! Make your voices heard, LINC teachers.

Thank you to Martyne Farris for tackling this.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Those Missing Resources from Queen's Library English for Your Health Adult Literacy Program

A reader commented the other day to lament the fact that Queen's Library has completely revamped their website and the adult literacy resources can no longer be found.

There is some part of me that recognizes those "too good to last" things in life--like the full ride scholarships we used to get to attend the annual conference, and my gut told me that one day all those free resources would disappear. I downloaded them, printed them out, hole-punched them, and organized them in a huge three-ring binder.

It took me a while to locate the right thumb drive in the tangle of the I keep in my desk drawer at home, but find it I did. I don't think ALL the lessons are here, but many are, including audio files. Mind you, I did TRY to contact Queen's, but their contact form only works if you have an email address identifying you as part of their faculty or student body. Sigh.

So if you know how to get access to the full body of that collection, please let me know. If you work for Queen's and want to sue me for copyright infringement, um... let me know. Otherwise, here is a zip file with everything I managed to preserve before the site disappeared.

Sunday, October 20, 2019


Today in the meeting for discussion that took place before the Meeting for Worship of my group of Friends just five minutes across the Detroit River, the topic was gifts. How do we find out what gifts each attender or member has and how those gifts can be brought out to the benefit of the Meeting?

I love the question.

Yesterday I was listening to This Jungian Life podcast series, which I only recently discovered. One of the most intriguing episodes for me was the one about the Shadow. The three analysts delved into what Shadow is: the parts of yourself you unconsciously cut off because you cannot bear to face that they are part of you. This is usually a dark side, but Jung also recognized a Golden Shadow, meaning good parts of the psyche that can get severed and lost beyond consciousness. The analysts also made a point of distinguishing between Shadow and something else: undesirable traits and qualities that have been socialized out of us but from which we are not completely cut off and which we are not totally unaware. An example of this might be my bitchy side. I have been socialized to tone it down and hide it, but I'm very aware it exists. The same can be said for positive traits: some get completely cut off (Golden Shadow) and some are just kept in check by societal and cultural rules while still being in one's conscious awareness at least some of the time.

Throughout my life I've sometimes found it tricky to express my gifts in group situations, especially in jobs. Sometimes you find yourself working for someone who isn't as bright or competent as you are. Such a manager might find his or her underlings' gifts to be a threat to his/her ego instead of a help to the team. Even fellow teammates and classmates can contribute to our being socialized to hide our gifts. An example of this that seared itself into my memory in high school was when my test score set the curve for the grading, and other students gave me the stink-eye. When I taught Japanese to grade six students at Gibbs Magnet School in Little Rock, I noticed a very bright girl who was mixed race but who--like almost all racialized children in the South--chose to hang out with other Black kids. When I would call on her, she pretended not to know the answers to questions. I knew she knew the answers. I could see it in her eyes. She was shutting down a part of herself to avoid being teased and perhaps even completely ostracized by her peers in a sub-culture that equates raising your hand and giving the answer with "acting white."

I've done a lot of shutting down of parts of myself over the years.

As I sat in the discussion group this morning participating in the brainstorming part of the meeting and anticipating the break-out into smaller groups for an activity in which we would each be asked which activities bring us joy, I began to daydream and think back to the jobs I've enjoyed most. The thread connecting them all is obvious to me. I've been happiest when my employer gave me the freedom to wear the hats I wanted to wear and contribute my gifts in ways that made me feel fulfilled.

At the public library in Little Rock, I took over the job of making attractive monthly thematic displays. I got to sneak into the supply closet of the Children's Department and borrow their die-cut machine to make perfect letters and shapes out of brightly coloured cardboard for these displays.

As systems specialist at a mid-sized mutual life insurance company in Waterloo, I was allowed to wear many hats. I taught myself a programming language and developed apps to solve my department's problems and turn processes that had once been riddled with human error into idiot-proof processes as the result of my having designed graphic user interfaces that made errors impossible. I was on fire and in heaven. This company's management had the same sort of vision as those at the top of Google who came up with 'genius hour,' and it paid off.

When I first entered the field of teaching English to refugees and immigrants, I was over the moon to get to bring so many of my gifts to the table. I used my love of the English language, my passion for all languages and linguistics, my artistic ability, and my aptitude for technology. My patience was appreciated, as was my compassionate heart. It's all in there. But more and more lately I am feeling called to lay this down a while in order to see what else I might have inside me.

My old friend Olivia once told me about a concept she called fallow time, which can be a very tough one for those of us who always need a project on the go. The idea is to stop doing and just BE for a while, just as farmers sometimes leave a field unplanted for a season in order to let the soil recover.

What I'm getting at is that I'm going to be letting this blog and my website rest in the very near future. In fact, there is just one more thing I've committed to doing that is standing between me and TESL blogger retirement, and that is to give you a review--probably on video--of a book sent to me by a publisher. They sent me two copies so that I can raffle off one copy to you all and keep the other. I'm looking forward to that; I am about halfway through the book.

How about you? Do you feel your gifts are being properly used by your employer? How does that feel?

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Grateful Heart

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend and day. At my school this coming week is a three-day teaching week, so I thought it was the perfect time to host a little get-together with the class next door. I think we will colour and cut out fall leaves to decorate the door. On each leaf we can write what we are thankful for. We can make invitations for the students in the other class to join us for pie and cider. They can learn how to RSVP to an invite.

I don't have any family in Canada and I'm not dating anyone right now, but I still plan to have a lovely Thanksgiving by myself. If I want a big traditional meal with all the trimmings, I will go to the Market Buffet in the basement of Caesar's Windsor, which is what I did last year. Otherwise, I will gladly spend the day resting and catching up on chores with the door open to the fresh fall air. On second thought, I probably cannot keep the door open because the resident squirrels are very cheeky and will come right in to ask for the peanuts they know I have on hand for them.

I feel like reflecting on three things for which I am thankful tonight. I'm limiting the list to three because otherwise I could go on for pages. I have a grateful heart.

  1. I am grateful that my mom, at almost 89, is still very active and that she's super fun to be with. 
  2. I am very thankful to have re-found my spiritual home in the form of Detroit Friends Meeting (Quakers). Every First Day (Sunday), I cross through the tunnel to be with them for an hour or two. Many times I bring treats I've baked in my oven.
  3. I'm very appreciative of my employer and the team of people with whom I work. They have helped me grow a lot as a person and as a teacher over the past 9 1/2 years.
How about you? Did you do or are you going to do something with your class for the holiday? Do you feel like sharing reasons you feel thankful?

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Teaching Seniors but Were Afraid to Ask

Today I received an email from some nice educators at a very good service provider organization in Ontario saying they were toying with the idea of starting a seniors class but had no idea how one would handle PBLA in such a classroom. They wanted to know how I do it. In attempting to compose a response, I realized I have volumes and volumes to share with the world on the topic of teaching seniors. It also crossed my mind that I've been at a loss for what to blog about lately. Thus was born the world's longest blog post about the tiniest ESL niche in history: newcomers to Canada who are over the age of 50.

When I took over the seniors class in 2011, it was eight students, and in the beginning they were all men. Bernie dropped out due to his deafness and a couple joined. Finally we had one woman in the mix. Back in those days, we had a car mechanic, a truck driver, an electrician, a courier, and a ruby diver by trade. Two of the students were still young enough to want to look for work.

Even though he felt too uncomfortable continuing classes with his hearing impairment, Bernie spread the word in his building that I was a good teacher. Very soon, with the government cap of 10 seats for this special demographic, I had a waiting list.

At some point my admin requested two more seats. IRCC approved that, but again I had a waiting list. They asked for three more seats, and today I am allowed up to 15 in the class. That's all the room will hold, anyway. The makeup of the class with regard to average age and background has changed a lot over the years. This was the class in May of 2019. We were headed out on a field trip with our bus passes.

At one point the average age was 73 and my oldest student was 86. The youngest was 69. In more recent years, professions represented have included doctors, a nurse, a pharmacist, many engineers, a chemistry professor, a high school physics teacher, a banker, a vaccine biologist, and the head of a famous hospital specializing in contagious diseases. We often joked that we could open our own clinic.

Seniors are an absolute JOY to teach. They don't arrive late, they arrive early. They look forward to Monday as much as most of us look forward to Friday. They are sassy and funny and brimming with ideas and wisdom to share.

At one point the class makeup was mostly Chinese, and during that time I had a lot of trouble navigating our cultural differences. They were private, formal, and insisted on copying down every single word I wrote on the board. They had difficulty with the concept of a needs assessment or a show of hands to find out how many wanted to go to the computer lab on Fridays and how many didn't. They just did not "get" classroom democracy, as I call it. "You are the teacher," they said. "You decide." I told them that's not how it works in a student-centred model. Finally, after weeks of trying to get everyone to put a hand in the air to show a preference for one option or another during votes, they got it. And when they finally caught on and felt the power they held quite literally in their hands, there was no turning back. They became downright bossy.

Teacher, can you give us a lesson on XXX? The teacher at our last school couldn't explain it. Teacher, can we YYY? Can we go slower? Can we each have a copy of that? Can you make the font bigger? Can we watch a movie? Can you print out all the words to the movie? The list was endless, and I gave them every single thing they asked for and more. About that time my waiting list got even longer.

Here are some tips I've come up with for anyone considering teaching seniors:

  • Do a series of needs assessments to ensure you are always tailoring the class to their needs: do they even want reading and writing? Grammar? Do they like games or dislike them? Field trips? Guest speakers?
  • Provide frequent opportunities to get up and stretch; old bodies get stiff quickly.
  • Ensure your classroom has seating with cushioned seats; old bony bums get sore on plastic chairs.
  • Make sure all handouts are in 24 pt font or larger.
  • Keep a box of dollar store reading glasses in a box - various strengths.
  • Keep a lighted magnifier and other magnifying tools for students to borrow.
  • Keep the pace very, very, very slow and provide lots of opportunities for reviewing and recycling (John and Chirawibha Sivell's 'Back to the Well' is compatible with seniors' way of learning.
  • There's no need for PBLA since seniors do not change classes or care about benchmarks.
  • Teacher of seniors class will need a first aid and CPR certificate and will need to keep it current.
  • Have the class learn together about the AED in the building and how to use it.
  • Partner with local agencies who can send in guest speakers on topics such as advanced care planning, how to make a will, etc. (Yes, you may think this is morbid, but you could be surprised how older adults want and need to learn about these things. One of my most successful modules with filed trip was on hospice.)
  • Expect students to vote to study health A LOT; as they age, they find themselves having to communicate with health specialists more and more. While the family doctor may speak their first language, all the technicians and specialists do not.
  • Seniors are often on fixed incomes and can be frugal; they like to learn about all free services in the community.
  • Take lots of field trips to help seniors connect and feel part of the community as well as to learn how to navigate and be part of it.
  • Explore 'free things to do' in the community: parks, library, art centres; my group took a field trip to discover a free outdoor ping pong table.
  • Seniors are just as keen as young folks to learn to use an iPad, open a FB account, open an email account, send and save photos of grandchildren, etc. Digital literacy should not be overlooked.
  • Seniors have a wealth of knowledge to share with others; tap into this for special projects and presentations!

  • Okay, now for the big question: How did we get out of having to do PBLA? I approached the PBLA lead; at that time she was also site supervisor. I said I thought seniors should not be subjected to PBLA. I was told to submit a proposal in writing. I took my time and poured my heart and brain into it. Permission was granted.


    Because my other class was literacy, I was afraid of the professional consequences of completely skipping PBLA with this multilevel class, as that might leave me without the ability to tell a potential future employer that I knew how to "do" PBLA at a level higher than literacy. And so over the past two years we have cherry picked and modified PBLA in a way we --the students and I-- find to be suitable to their way of learning, as follows.

    >> We do a needs assessment; I have believed in the importance of doing needs assessments since getting my TESL training, which was long before the advent of PBLA. Even when I was 95% sure I already knew what the learners needed, I did it. Going through the process of consulting them causes them to become more invested, for one thing, and that is nothing to sneeze at.

    >> We do learning reflections at the end of each module so that I find out whether their needs were met and so that they can reflect on the language, skills, and knowledge they've gained. Mind you, a module often lasts four times longer with seniors than it might with younger learners. Don't worry about boredom. Remember the six strategies for effective learning. We employ interleaving. That is to say, we may interrupt a three-week module on our LIHN to do some urban foraging then come back again to the module on the LIHN. Three or four weeks on one subject can be broken up nicely through interleaving AND you're increasing the chance of long-term retention to boot!

    >> We do use the inventory sheets at the beginning of each skill section. Since the students do not progress to other teachers, we are now on our third or fourth inventory sheet per section, having filled our binders to overflowing several times over. We remove artifacts that are over a year old, but we keep the inventory sheets as a 'cover our asses' insurance policy just in case my management should turn over and new administrators not believe me when I tell them we've been exempt. There's the proof we've been (sort of) doing PBLA all along.

    >>Two years ago, when I needed to prove to myself that I could do this thing called PBLA, we filled each section with senior versions of assessments as much as possible considering it is a widely ranging multilevel class. If I tried to explain all the ways I've attempted to create and execute valid assessments over these two years, we'd all be here till Christmas. None of it, in my opinion, has been valid. All the ways in which my assessments are an exercise in futility is material for another day's blog post.

    Now that I feel that I'm as well versed in rubric creation as I'll ever be, the pace has slowed and the expectations have softened a lot. When I say senior versions, I mean that we decide together what the criteria will be and they always have the option to take the "test" home if they want to. It is always up to them how often they are assessed, what competency and skill they want assessed, and how they wish to be assessed. For example, many times they mark their own papers and give themselves the scores. Other times, for receptive skills in particular, they fill out a self-assessment (4.25" by 5.5" sheet) stapled to the artifact and circle whether the task was easy, so-so, or difficult. This translates to a mark of beginning, developing or achieved.

    More than anything, I've tried to get them to assess themselves based on a personal goal that is really none of my business. I encourage them to record their progress in the binder so that we all cover our assess should a government inspector come sniffing around. But in the end, the choice has been theirs to make. Needless to say I do not expect octogenarians to cart the heavy binder back and forth daily. Their binders live in our black cabinet nine months out of the year and get taken out on artifact pass-back days--about one or two Tuesdays per month. They are required to take the behemoths home for summer break and take them upon changing classes or schools.

    Did I mention that these guys all have more university education than I have? From day one I knew that I was not going to stand over them and impose upon them any Mickey Mouse secretarial exercises. They already know how to take notes, organize their notes, study, etc. PBLA workshops endowed me with a set of protocols I found to be embarrassingly patronizing to the learners, and I did not follow through as instructed. I came to class and was utterly transparent. I told them about my PBLA training and how it was a government mandated experiment being carried out all across Canada. I explained to them the parts I disagreed with and the parts that even I thought could be useful. I told them I had no expectations from them either way--to like it or join me in rolling my eyes at it. I simply informed them of each element and gave them choices. For some things I told them, "I need to learn how to do this, so bear with me while we do it a few times." 

    At the beginning one woman told me she had nightmares the night before assessments. That's when I realized we needed to have a talk. I said, "Think about this. What happens if you do poorly on every assessment? What happens if you do very well?" My beloved student Huarong spoke up from the back, "Nothing."

    "That's right. Nothing happens. You still come back next term to this same classroom and this same teacher no matter whether your benchmarks have all plateaued and never budge one inch. Even if you can't remember what we did yesterday, this is our class where you are all welcome to keep coming back to semester after semester. We know we're learning. These papers are just for the government and to keep my manager happy." Wink, wink.

    They relaxed again after that and we went back to the business of learning.

    So that's it. That's pretty much everything I know about teaching seniors and surviving (or faking) #PBLA with them.

    Saturday, September 28, 2019

    National Curriculum

    Did you receive an invitation recently to answer a survey regarding a national curriculum? I did and cannot remember where I got it! Perhaps it popped up when I logged into Tutela. Or maybe someone sent me the link. Hmmm.

    I would love to hear from anyone who has received this, especially if their memory is better than mine. Lol. Unless someone else says they have seen this survey, I am going to start to think I dreamed it.

    How do you feel about the creation of a national curriculum?

    My feeling, which is what I responded when asked, is that I like resources to be organized according to settlement theme and then by level because that's how I teach. It makes sense to me that if I need a module package on the flu versus the common cold, I would look under HEALTH and would then go to the level appropriate for my learners.

    I also responded in an extra comment box that I liked and used the heck out of the LINC 1-4 and 5-7 Classroom Activities with audio files and all of that, but that they are in dire need of updating. I would love to have a fresh, modernized set like that again.

    What say you?

    Sunday, September 22, 2019

    Fall Equinox

    Tomorrow is the fall equinox.
    New England Aster
    I don't have anything to say this week, so I want to pose a question or conversation prompt.

    Would each reader share a favourite classroom activity with other readers?

    I'll start.

    In my literacy class, I especially like forming small reading circles with one strong reader in each group. I circulate the whole time and am often beckoned to one group or other to clarify the pronunciation of a word. We usually don't attempt such peer-supported reading groups until the class has been reading the same book for two full days. This past week we read Sado Goes to School, a reader from Bow Valley College School of Global Access. I love watching students help each other.

    In seniors class, we have a new activity we are trying out for the first time, and it's Show and Tell. Yes, I admitted to them that I stole the idea from my kindergarten teacher, but added that I think it's very transferable to an adult classroom. I started it off by bringing in a sewing project I'd accomplished over the summer: a fanny pack. A student followed suit by passing around photos of the biggest fish he caught over the summer; he reported having pulled a 10-pound channel catfish out of the Detroit River!

    I started a new page of our classroom blog called "Show and Tell Gallery." I'll be posting photos there as the students take turns with this new idea.

    Okay, YOUR TURN!

    Wednesday, September 18, 2019

    Another PBLA Research Project!

    Hi, all!

    I just saw in a comment on the TESL Ontario blog that Nwara Abdulhamid is looking for teachers to participate in her research into our experience with PBLA.


    I'll add it to the PBLA Activism page of the website (

    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?