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: