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?


  1. The only way PBLA can be revised is if there are specific guidelines for each LINC level. These guidelines would include PBLA for students with learning disabilities, students who are illiterate in their native language, seniors, students who only want to work, the list can go on and on. To accomplish this the creators of PBLA would have to admit it is a failure, I don’t believe we will see this in the near future. I believe the PBLA lead should be able to look through binders to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Most administrators do not have the time nor the energy to look through and ensure all teachers are on track. I hope this is the beginning of more concrete revisions.

    1. "I believe the PBLA lead should be able to look through binders to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Most administrators do not have the time nor the energy to look through and ensure all teachers are on track."

      As most organisations have hiring protocols, I would suggest that there is no need to "look through" the binders. Aren't instructors certified, and academically prepared in your workplace. It is unnecessary for binders to be "proofed". And as to being on the same page, the incredible number of possible goals and topics make it unlikely that anyone would ever be on the same page as another.

    2. Anonymous 7:09 pm
      What you describe in the first part of your post is “differentiation” - an educational buzzword from years ago and already established in any good learning environment.
      PBLA does not need to be considered a failure since guidelines could never possibly cover each and every student situation and that is where our good sense and teaching ability comes into play.
      I too have absolutely no problem with a lead looking through Binders. They have “borrowed” good teaching practice doing this and “share” with others. We are all in this together. I do wonder about those who do not want leads to look at Binders however.

    3. Anonymous 7:09 pm
      What you describe in the first part of your post is “differentiation” - an educational buzzword from years ago and already established in any good learning environment.
      PBLA does not need to be considered a failure since guidelines could never possibly cover each and every student situation and that is where our good sense and teaching ability comes into play.
      I too have absolutely no problem with a lead looking through Binders. They have “borrowed” good teaching practice doing this and “share” with others. We are all in this together. I do wonder about those who do not want leads to look at Binders however.

    4. Dear Anonymous3/27/2019 12:41 PM,
      Please identify yourself the next time you comment here. Thank you. Kelly

    5. Anon3/27/2019 What is it that you “WONDER” about those who do not want leads to look at Binders? I am curious. Do you think they have something to hide? Are not competent? Are not “doing PBLA ‘properly’”? Do not accept the “good teaching practices” of the Lead because they have better ones of their own? Reject the idea of a colleague “supervising” or “evaluating” them?

      MAKE NO MISTAKE FOLKS. CCLB can now declare that Lead Teachers - where did that come from?- or LINC Team Leaders (ditto) do not have supervisory or evaluating roles, nor should they be screening portfolios or artefacts but that’s their raison d’être.....WHY DID THEY JUST NOT GIVE TRAINERS THE GOLD WATCH AND THANK THEM FOR THEIR SERVICE? Why transmogrify them into Lead Teachers?

      The Lead Teacher role is fraught with issues. TDSB does not have Lead Teachers - because that implies a managerial role (where are we now in TDSB with PBLA Lead Teachers? I’ll have to ask the Union. Were the positions posted?)

      Perhaps 3272019 you work at a SPO or BOARD where there are Lead Teachers - and they took on the PBLA Lead Trainer role because of that. If you have a union they should look at the problems with “hostile and unkind leaders” because I would say that is the number one reason teachers do not want colleagues (Leads) interfering in their teaching practices

    6. Dear "I do wonder about those who do not want leads to look at Binders however.",

      Stop wondering and read:

      Administrator, Lead Teacher and Classroom Teacher Roles in the PBLA Practice Guidelines

      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.

      Instructors do not want "leads" to look at binders because they are not supposed to look at binders. It is that simple.

      There are programs where "lead teachers" are removed from classroom duties. They don't "do PBLA" but are monitoring the process of PBLA which they have never fully participated in, so the uninitiated are "tweaking" a process that they don't have to work in and advising a stream of events that they won't have to "implement". This is not good.

      All PBLA lead/linc mentors/instructors/facilitators need to work 25 hours per week. If they only have 5 hours of PBLA time a week they certainly wouldn't have time to review any binders. Let's make sure everyone reads the guidelines. And if you are a lead, maybe you will see the part about leads in the guidelines and understand why you shouldn't be looking at binders.

      Have super weekend.

    7. I’m confused. PBLA Leads are only given 5 hours a week to perform their duties. Are these teachers that you say don’t teach—are they living on 5 hours a week?? Or have they been given new roles with more hours in your organizations?

    8. Yep, I agree... we look at Binders together supporting one another.

    9. Some leads have more than 5 hours as prescribed to do PBLA . LEads should only "lead" for 5 hours a week and "teach" for the other 25. The problem begins when "leads" don't teach the 25 hours. There are no "new roles". Only two. Classroom teacher (teaching 25) and lead teacher (teaching 25 and leading 5 hours). There are issues when a lead teacher isn't teaching as they aren't experiencing PBLA the same way.

      Anonymous3/29/2019 8:47 PM
      If everyone is teaching then you can support one another. In some organisations, the lead teachers are not teaching. This is problematic.

    10. Huh. Interesting. Yet IRCC only funds 5 hours a week. Where are they getting funding for all these other hours?

    11. "Anonymous3/30/2019 12:43 PM
      Huh. Interesting. Yet IRCC only funds 5 hours a week. Where are they getting funding for all these other hours?"

      That is the question that so many people at one SPO want an answer for. CCLB, IRCC, MCI, PBLA folks: Does anyone have an answer for this question.

    12. We have lead teachers (at three organizations I have been teaching at) who teach full-time (25 hours per week), part-time evening (12 hrs/week at one school, 15 at another and 6 at another) plus 5 lead teacher hours.....and some of them do not use the principles of task based teaching which is really what this is all about. The focus is on the binder assessments instead of teaching practices. They are not leading by example, but using colleagues' work which has been scrutinized by them and adopted as being their own all in the spirit of forced sharing. That is the reason why people are feeling mistreated. The leads are making a lot of money doing very little to support colleagues....some teachers are trying their best, of course, but in terms of energy and time are very limited. A lot of of people have suffered.

  2. I don't think tweaking PBLA is the answer. There's too much wrong with it. The right thing to do would be to admit that it was a colossal mistake and put an end to it. If, as you highlighted in the 'new' guidelines (sigh more mumbo jumbo, it makes me so tired just reading it) our professional judgments are foundational, then I would like to use my professional judgment to say that PBLA is not working for me and go back to doing the right thing. Telling me to use my professional judgment but still forcing me to do the 8 tasks is no different. Of course I am and have been using my professional judgement all along to create the tasks I've been forced to create but we are all using our professional judgment and all of us have different professional judgement so there is no consistency so pass/ fail is irrelevant and pass / fail is the wrong way to teach ESL in the first place! I don't want any more PBLA support or workshops. I don't want to hear anyone championing PBLA. I don't want any more PBLA resources. I don't want the noose around my neck to be loosened, I want it removed so that I can teach again. Also doesn't the fact that they now have to tell PBLA leads to back off and stop screening and evaluating us - their peers - speak volumes? They should never have been supervising us in the first place. I don't want to be supported by a lead teacher (and I don't mean this in a cruel way) unless it means I can be completely honest and tell them that I don't want to do PBLA anymore because it isn't working. Talking to lead teachers has become much like talking to a boss and that is not right. They have been put in a position of supporting us but I don't want to be supported because I feel so strongly that PBLA is not a workable or intelligent system for teaching ESL. If I am now allowed to use my "professional judgement", I might ask exactly what that means. I mean much like the creation of tasks which has been left up to the instructors , using one's professional judgement is subjective; for me using professional judgment means moving my students when I know they are ready to move regardless of whether or not they have done the magical 8 tasks in all 4 skill areas. I don't want more PBLA support or resources unless it means someone is going to go back to the drawing board and create standardized tasks for each level so that the teachers and students know that they are all on the same page doing the same thing, but we cannot and should not use standardized tasks because of the diversity in age, educational background, length of time studying English, attitudes, time in Canada, continuous enrolment etc. etc. etc. of our student population. If they had provided us with several tasks that all of us were required to use and given us the option of using them, there would have at least been some consistency but telling us to create our own tasks means the passing of tasks is irrelevant to assessing the students' progress. They can't tweak PBLA. It's already a great big mess. If they tweak it to the point where it becomes consistent and manageable, they will be throwing out the baby with the bath water because forcing students to organize binders instead of learn English and pass 8 tasks regardless of who they are and what their goals are (also ironic that they are being asked to write all about their language goals when those goals have mostly become unachievable due to the time constraints and lack of consistency of PBLA) is not a good system for teaching ESL. Sheesh.

  3. Hi Anonymous 3/23/2019 8:14 AM,

    You stated that, "PBLA implementation is a process in which we are working toward PBLA". I'm afraid that this is no longer true. All co-horts are now fully implementing PBLA, thus we have moved from "emerging practice guidelines" to "practice guidelines". We are all required to fully implement PLBA. There's no more "working toward". This has been confirmed by the CCLB.

    Other than dropping summaries (thank goodness--such a waste of time!) and the autobiography (what an invasion of student privacy that was!), I don't see any significant changes. Well, actually, they did also drop the "Change Cycle" and the term "laggards" in reference to teachers. But, that was always a no-brainer...when is it ever professional or even courteous to label your colleagues in that way? We chose not to share the "Change Cycle" for precisely this reason.

    So, students still need to accumulate the same huge number of artefacts and all skill-building, skill-using and assessment development still falls completely on the shoulders of instructors. This is all dictated by the CCLB and what managers have to "conform to". Nothing has changed. The workload has not changed and neither has all the excess time students now need to put in before their benchmarks can change. The stress-filled testing environment is still the same. Who should I complain to about all this? The CCLB? The very organization responsible for all this stress and huge amounts of unpaid work? They are so out-of-touch with what's happening on the ground, it's hard to believe. The CCLB has lost all credibility.

    I'm all for formative assessment, which we've all been doing all along. Why must it all be on paper? Why do our schools need to become testing centres? Why can't we have standardized tests that cover a range of benchmarks so students can be efficiently placed in the correct levels? We don't need to throw out formative assessment while integrating summative standardized (and consistent! Reliable! Valid! Field-tested!) assessment. Why can't we have a hybrid? The best of both worlds? Why does it have to be one or the other? Or no other as it stands now. The CCLB "Professional judgement" comment is another way of trying to justify the workload. Instructors must do all the development work as their "professional judgements are assessment practices". I don't think my dentist has to fabricate all his own tools to perform his job effectively.

    There is a worrisome trend towards increased multi-level assessment that is going to make PBLA a zillion times harder. We haven't seen anything yet! The CCLB wants us to eventually assess each student according to his/her individual benchmarks. So if a student comes in with 5543, you will need to assess at benchmarks 6, 5 and 4 for that particular student. Multiply that by 23 other students to see how the workload will become exponentially higher. Surely, they will see the insanity of this??

    I'm tired just writing all this. How helpful is to learners to have exhausted teachers in their classrooms?


    PS: You noted the following: "Advised by legal counsel prior to writing this piece." What kind of legal counsel did you consult and why did you feel the need to do so? Just curious.

    1. Norma, Nothing will change until this Portfolio BIASED Language Assessment Protocol is cancelled. It exploits teachers AND Leads. Instead of paying trained experts to create resources and assessments and trained Consultants to deliver the training material IRCC exploited us and got our colleagues to do the dirty work of enforcement.

      PBLA needs to be cancelled and the error acknowledged. BTW - PBLA came in under Harper/Kenney. Too bad the Liberal government (then) of Ontario sent millions of dollars to CCLB for its implementation. Look at the Financial Reports of the CCLB

      It muddies the waters when agendas are political and not educational. The teaching and assessing of English or French as a Second Language should go to Ministries of Education.


      Cancel PBLA because Administrators and Managers are just as hamstrung working under a kind of "Change Cycle" intimidation mentality themselves. "Your funding will not be renewed if you do not implement PBLA" (A smart providers was able to resist and get alternate funding).

      How many have heard administrators/managers say they don't agree with it but that they have to do it because they want to protect people's jobs?

      Have you heard "We need to do this in case the inspectors come"?

      There’s no answer though as to WHAT the inspectors are looking for when they come with checklists to check (doctored) binders...? Managers are fearful - we can feel that - but of what?

      It is not all about intimidation though - there ARE managers who say "This is a way we can see what the TEACHERS are doing”. They do believe that “PBLA” will help teachers’ work “better”. They do believe some teachers are lacking skills and PBLA will fill in the gaps.

      HOWEVER if you have "human resources" problems, skills missing problems, hiring errors - those are Managerial issues. Deal with them in house. A hundred PBLAs won't fix them.All the “Guides to how to Do PBLA” the SPOs post on the Internet won’t solve those problems.

      Just as there is talk of teachers who need to brush up on their teaching skills there sure are managers who need to learn updated managerial skills and techniques. MAYBE there are some managers with less knowledge and experience in ESL/EAL and the Canadian Workplace practices.

      As Anon 3/23/2019 8.14 wrote on Worker Rights and Organizing in Windsor: “If employers are concerned about their workforce then they should implement better hiring practices for future program development."

      Norma - You asked why that comment included “legal counsel”? I think the message to all of us was the Labour Board (Ontario) was consulted. IOW - that's not just Norma or Claudie's opinion...the counsel given in that post has legal support. "Do not work beyond your paid time." (As I noted above - PBLA is dependent on unpaid teachers' time...) Offer the resources that are available to your students" - IOW - you do not HAVE to create ASSESSMENTS/RUBRICS etc.

      We are waiting to see how this gets translated in the field - because what happens in that workplace will be a precedent for other workplaces. Hopefully across Canada.

    2. Hmm. Interesting. Of course, it will only work if we all take a stand and refuse to work unpaid time.

  4. I should add that I’m sorry if I’m raining on your parade. I’m just so disappointed to see that there are no meaningful adjustments in the new “guidelines” (we all know they’re more than guidelines, right?). It’s as you describe, Kelly, the chairs have been rearranged on the Titanic.


  5. "Both studies found that the task design process was key to reliable assessment. Designing the task gave teachers a deep understanding of learning goals and criteria, and this understanding was in turn key to task and assessment validity.For this reason, Harlen argues that programs should support teachers in the development of tasks and criteria, rather than merely developing standardized assessment tasks (Harlen, 2005, p. 267).PBLA Guidelines 2019, p.7

    Translation: They want us to do all the work. Again, manufacturing his own tools may help give my dentist a fuller understanding of the tools, but he'll be one busy and exhausted guy! Like a lot of LINC teachers I know. :(

  6. "Undoing" - making something "Un-happen" - sounds like CCLB is activating this psychological defence mechanism? Create the problem then step in to "solve "it?

    At this point I think it is time for all the members of CCLB Board to resign. Far from creating in PBLA a "legacy to the ESL profession" they have damaged the profession, put it back light years, and betrayed the trust that we put in them to steer the ship in a principled and professional manner. They have known about the fail and the abuses for years.

    1. Claudie,
      I read these very words this morning in an article about capitalism. It "takes us to the brink of crisis only to credit itself with bringing about solutions." --KM

  7. I come here to feel I'm not alone3/27/2019 6:33 PM

    Thanks again for this forum, Kelly. I read everything here but I need my job.
    Has anyone done the math? Some of the suggested PBLA templates end up being 4 pages for a single task. The minimum number of expected artefacts is 8 - 10 per skill. Let's say 20 students x 8 artefacts x 4 skills x 4 pages = over 2500 pages. Seriously?? Who can ever review 2500 pages with students at the end of term. What CLB 5 or 6 student can manage over 100 pages in a portfolio?
    I want to be a teacher, not a paper pusher.

    1. Dear "I come here,"
      No worries. You are not one of the commenters whom I would ever ask to add a real name. I get it. It's the ones insinuating that we must be lazy or bad teachers or negative Nellies who need to self-identify. --KM

  8. Yesterday an older gentleman in my morning class told me that his MP came to his door last weekend and introduced himself. Out of the blue he said, "I wanted to tell him about these binders and the waste for our environment and Earth Day coming soon too! " I told him he could have, and should have and thought to myself later, I wonder what kind of an impact it might have if the students, obviously of their own volition and obviously those at a higher level, made some noise? A conversation with the other students in class followed and the comments I heard were quite strongly against the whole PBLA mess. "Why testing testing all the time!?" "These binders are heavy and such a waste! Look at all this paper? I thought Canada had new technology!" Sigh. I don't like my job anymore. I've lost all desire to teach and it's too late in the day for me to change careers. PBLA has killed the joy I once had in teaching. My students are no longer happy either. It's kind of like when a mother is suffering from burn out and tries to make her children happy. I'm drained. Also re: previous comments about leads. Ever notice what power does to people? Once given a position of (perceived) authority it's pretty hard to let go. I'm not comfortable in the same room despite management's attempts to convince us we are not being supervised. The damage has been done. Someone could still fix it though and trash the whole experiment. Some of the best inventions were made by people who were able to own up to their mistakes and start over again.


Thank you for participating in this forum. Anonymous commenting is available, but is not intended to shield those taking pot shots at those of us challenging PBLA. If you are here to do that, please use your name.