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."

Monday, January 21, 2019

New Activity Pack, Revived Newsletter

Last week I said I was only going to blog every other week, yet here it is a week later and I'm blogging. Go figure.

Over the weekend I got my graphic tablet and ArtRage software up and running again with the new laptop. Did you know that I completely BLISS OUT when I am sketching on my Wacom Intuos Draw? I do. And it was the perfect weekend to stay inside and create materials. When I stepped out just to the store for soup ingredients, I instantly regretted it. Once I had the soup stuff, I was content to sit by the window and work on the Andres Needs Gas activity pack.

I'm not planning to make worksheets in MS Word anymore. I've noticed that older activity packs in Word do not maintain their formatting well when opened in subsequent versions of Word. Also, there can be an issue with fonts, particularly KG Primary Penmanship font, required for penmanship lines. A document created in Google Drawing, on the other hand, is very easy to set up and save as a PDF. Every once in a while, I'll get a request from a teacher somewhere out there in the world who wants me to open the Google doc for editing. In that case, I just point out that it's not necessary for me to share editing privileges with them. Anyone can go to FILE - Make a Copy. I learned all of this from Tony Vincent.

How many of you are enrolled now in Tony's spring course, Classy Graphics? I still use what he taught me weekly if not daily.

Not only am I having second thoughts about limiting my blogging to biweekly, I'm also thinking I may continue the newsletter. When I sent out a farewell edition, I got feedback encouraging me to continue. It doesn't take much for me to reconsider. A little positive feedback goes a long way.

With that said, here is what I worked on this weekend. You will notice I am not as stuck in perfectionist mode as before. Once upon a time, I felt that all images had to be in the same style. I would never mix clip art with photos with my own sketches. This time I did. I don't like it, but I'm going to live with it this once because a) I needed the activity pack this week and couldn't wait for perfectionist Kelly to spend an hour on every sketch; b) do the uncomfortable until it feels comfortable.

You can download the Andres Needs Gas reader from Bow Valley College School of Global Access website. You can grab my activity pack from - Literacy - Transportation. I also linked to it under Literacy - Community because Andres visits many places around town: the library, bank, grocery store, etc. In fact I think I will follow this reader with my "Around Town" unit.

If you know someone who would like to receive the monthly round up and reminders of free resources created that month, point them to the SUBSCRIBE link in the sidebar. ---->

I guess I'm getting a second wind!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


The topic on tonight's #CdnELTchat on Twitter is Resolutions in English language teaching (ELT). I could stay up long enough to join in, but then again, that would be breaking one of my personal resolutions. Last fall I decided to make an earlier bedtime a part of my self-care plan. Bedtime for screens is an hour before that, something my naturopathic doc recommended.

The Twitter chat topic is, nevertheless, a great one for me to steal borrow for this week's blog post. I'm taking it in an unusually personal direction.

My life is going through some big shifts right now. A few months ago, I had what Carl Jung once referred to as a "big dream." I've only had about five such dreams in my lifetime. The meaning of the dream was clear. I was giving birth to a new me. This new Kelly is going to be able to state her needs like never before; she will be able to go after what she needs to be healthy and whole.

Shortly after this dream and the reverberations through my psyche, my six-plus-year relationship with my beau fell apart. It had been coasting on fumes for a while, but we had the long overdue conversation that ended it.

Two more events have recently impacted my life. I feel like a planet being pelted by one asteroid after another. The shake-up is good! First I met someone new, someone who is modelling excellent self-care and clear, no-nonsense communication. Second, I got a session with a Jungian life coach (there isn't such a thing; I made that up to describe my gifted friend) that has helped dissolved a complex that had been crippling me for decades. Since the lifting of this complex, I've found myself free from my usual anxiety, once diagnosed as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and beginning to feel much freer of perfectionism, which has also plagued me my whole adult life.

Yeah, I know. I don't usually get this personal on a professional blog, do I? But this tangent is going somewhere, I promise.

Things are shifting in me. Everything is starting to feel healthier, but I don't think this story ends well for my blog or newsletter or cute little MOO cards that I once passed out at conferences.

Six months ago my laptop broke and I couldn't afford at that time to replace it. I discovered that there is life beyond ELT and the hours I was putting into my prep and extracurricular activities. In the beginning, I felt anxious and guilty much of the time. But after a few weeks, I discovered that my students enjoy and benefit from lessons that include more 'Back to the Well' and fewer worksheets. I thank my lucky stars that seniors are not expected to do full-blown PBLA and that my other class consists of just eight CLB 2L learners. That is to say, PBLA is not crushing me the way it is so many of us.

On a personal level, It feels now as if I'm teetering on the brink of something (potentially) very big. A different life is calling me (though not necessarily a different job). My new direction involves art, and not just illustrations for ESL booklets.

I want to give myself space to figure out what is calling to me. That sounds like a great resolution. I hereby resolve to give myself space to hear the still small voice. I also declare this blog a bi-weekly publication. I won't be surprised if it is one day a monthly publication. I'm not steering right now so much as being carried along. It feels amazing.

How about you? Did you participate in this week's #CdnELTchat on Twitter? Do you feel yourself at a crossroads of any sort? Do you have resolutions for this year, professionally or personally?

Monday, January 7, 2019

How to Deal

In December, Claudie Graner made a comment on the "Where's Our Ally?" blog post asking the following:

Kelly, I was wondering for the start of the new year if you wouldn’t mind creating a practical blog post about ways to deal with the perpetual stress and tension, especially in those minute by minute interactions we have (“The binder failed?Whaaat!” “The assessment was no good? Why?”) Invite others to share. I’m going to need something as we start “implementation”....Being in constant PBLA crisis mode is unhealthy for us all...
I agree that being in constant PBLA crisis mode is unhealthy.

While we are all in the same boat, some of us have life jackets while others don't. Each of us is at a different point in the roll-out of PBLA. We belong to different cohorts. How our respective administrative teams enforce PBLA varies wildly from one agency to the next. I know of more than one place of employment where teachers are completely stressed out trying to please a micromanaging supervisor. One SPO director is--rumour has it--even using artifact quotas to create a bottleneck to keep classes full. At the same time, I have also been told about a college where the supervisor, someone who understands how stressful this entire mess has the potential to be, has said, "I am not going to check any binders." This supervisor has made an executive decision that I think is ethical and admirable. Hopefully this person is also advocating on behalf of staff whenever the opportunity arises. Most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

Claudie is asking for all of us to chime in with ways to deal with the stress and tension, the overall stress but also with the day-to-day difficult interactions with students around those artifacts, binders, progress reports, and progression decisions.

I will get the ball rolling by sharing what I do while acknowledging that what I do will probably not work for someone in one of the more dire situations.

To begin with, I do my best to put my self-care first. If I am not taking care of myself, I'm going to be stressed and come across as stressed. I'm going to break in front of students or perhaps even snap at them. If that day comes, I'm in the wrong job.

In order to lessen the probability that such a scene could manifest, I am authentic with my students. They know exactly how I feel about the binders and they know they are free to have their own opinions about this assessment framework. Some of them may like it or even adore it, and that's fine. (I haven't met that student yet, but my learners understand that there's room for all opinions.) Some of them may not like it or may not have an opinion, but we all understand that for now the government could take away our funding if we don't do it. So we make the best of it and make artifact collection as painless as possible.

Besides eating well, exercising, meditating and getting enough rest nightly, one thing I do to ensure PBLA will not drive me to a nervous breakdown is to stay organized. In my file cabinet I have folders labeled: About Me, Inventory Sheets, Goals, Needs Assessment, etc. In each folder I keep plenty of copies of each form. When one type of form is running low, I always replenish after school rather than letting myself get caught without a needed form while class is in session.
Staying Organized - OCD helps ;)
One of the best decisions I ever made was to compartmentalize and corral PBLA so that I'm not continuously interrupting the week's lessons to pass back marked papers, etc. My students know that binders must be at school every Tuesday and only Tuesdays. That's when I pass back marked assessments. I keep two file folders in my valise: orange for literacy and blue for seniors. Things to be marked go into those two folders all through the week, but I always know I have until Monday night to complete my marking.

Because paper pass-back is always on a Tuesday, students get used to the ritual. Even literacy students can follow along. Once they have binders open on their desks, I first announce the skill and write it on the board in the corresponding skill colour. We have colour-coded our binders, so this is helpful for literacy learners. Next, under the skill, I write the date and assessment title for students to copy onto their inventory sheets, e.g., "January 7, 2019 | Call 9-1-1". I also tell them which box to tick of the four competencies. As I come around the room and pass back the artifact with rubric stapled to the top, I point out the date on the rubric and the task title on the rubric. They are the same as what I've written on the board. So everyone is copying the same info at the same time. After some months, this becomes a really a calm and orderly process. Once everyone has finished filing that assessment in the binder and is giving me his or her full attention, I erase what's on the board and we start the whole process over with the next skill. At the literacy level, I really don't have any issues with arguments over scores or progression. Those not ready to move on almost always know it and don't want to move. Those making good progress toward promotion generally know it and are not stressed.

Higher levels are another story altogether.

I know that many CLB three and 3/4 teachers are having a very difficult time with students who are stressing over that magic level 4 achievement for citizenship. I cannot offer suggestions for how to defuse these confrontations. I know colleagues whose students have threatened them or become violent. Someone else will have to speak to that.

How about you? Do you have any wisdom to share with fellow teachers just now starting to implement PBLA, or to those who have been doing it for a while but are struggling with the questions Claudie posed above? Let us know in the comments.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Year, New Focus

Happy new year, readers!

To start 2019, I have finally followed through on a very old intention to provide us all with a central location for email addresses and internet links that may be useful to us in giving feedback to those in positions of power to alter the course of the implementation of PBLA. It is my hope that by making ourselves heard at the top of the food chain, we might be able to persuade the powers that be to pay attention to the research of Yuliya Desyatova and Terry Vanderveen.

I have changed the name of the page from Canadian Experiment to PBLA Activism. There you will find a new section at the top called CONTACTS. Please send me suggestions for additions to this list. I would especially appreciate it if you would first do the leg work and find the actual address, email address, or telephone number that you suggest be posted there.

By the way, the penultimate blog post, Where is Our Ally?, has garnered 52 comments to date. It's a powerful dialogue, I think.

What will your focus be in 2019?