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?


  1. It's beyond ridiculous. At our school we're allotted a certain amount of funds per teacher every year for books. I heard that one teacher wanted to order a grammar book and it was denied because it's not PBLA. In another instance a teacher was told they couldn't order a pronunciation book because it is not PBLA. What? If people cannot understand our students then THEY CANNOT SPEAK ENGLISH. How is this in any way okay? I'm embarrassed . Who's running this circus?

    1. There aren't many PBLA books because publishers don't take on failed government projects as a revenue stream. The PBLA books that are published and the resources that have been posted on the PBLA Practice Guidelines are not allowed as "valid" where I work but must be tweaked and recreated to reflect our "PBLA way"...hahaha, make the time, take the time. PBLA has ruined our resource room as leads have emptied out every tried and true resource. When PBLA dies, there won't be any good resources in the resource room as all the good stuff has been given away to students.

      Yes, I said when PBLA dies because it will end. The Doug Ford government wants to save money, and so will the federal Cons when they are elected in the next election. Good bye binders, PBLA leads, learning support leads, mentors , grief and misery.

    2. I thought nothing about PBLA could shock me anymore, but both your replies did. Thanks for replying.

      Book cleansing? Totalitarianism.

      This shocked me too. I’m on a supply list for TDSB...I received a message that TDSB and the union (CUPE4400) will COVER THE COST OF ONLINE PBLA training for supply teachers if they register by end June. I’m tempted to do so just to see what valid test creation skills and tools this online so called “training” gives instructors.

      All PBLA “assessments” are by nature invalid BECAUSE THE CLBs AND PBLA ARE INVALID. But imagine the agony of supply instructors as they try to create “Real World Task Assessments” after an even more superficial training in valid test creation than that we received (Oh, and they’ll have to PAY for it? Insult upon injury).

      By now maybe we are spending somewhat less time “creating” assessments because we have a "bak" we recycle or we just grab any old thing, because, who cares so long as we have “an artifact”. You should see the garbage in incoming binders - including from Leads - we finally get to see their “assessments”. Gag. But supply instructors who have not had to "do PBLA" (the reason many instructors decided to quit their classes and go on the supply list) will now have to "do (the impossible) PBLA" - which means hours and hours of unpaid work.

      CUPE4400 PAYING for “training” that they KNOW has to lead to uncompensated work hours? Really? Why? I’ll have to ask.

      Along with the book burning (cleansing the book room tantamount to this) both moves are typical of repressive regimes. The Harper government launched PBLA...but the Liberals sent millions of dollars to CCLB. (I calculated $16 million at last look at CCLB Annual Reports over a year ago - but it is probably more) I didn't hear any understanding when I went to see my Liberal (for now) MP. But I don’t look to the Cons for succour either. Nor now to unions.

      Nor do I pin any hopes on the “survey” (which will be reported in “aggregates”. ) What will that tell of the frustration and stress of newcomers. I’ve just been told of another student who wants to leave class because of the stress of tests. The teacher was visibly upset. She is one of the kindest, most caring, most successful teachers I know. She's distraught at the stress this causes to the learners.
      And at the nonsensical nature of "the new methodology".

      NEWCOMERS are the ultimate victims of this futile experiment.
      And our profession as a whole.

  2. What do I think? Not all heroes wear capes.
    Kelly Morrissey, Claudie Graner, Yuliya Desyatova, Norm Friesen - thank-you for speaking truth to power and giving voice to what so many of us are thinking but are afraid to say.
    And here's what I'd say to IRCC, if asked beyond a cosmetic consultation:
    1. There is little to no robust research backing PBLA.
    2. Teachers have not been given the tools and materials they would need to implement this already-suspect initiative, leading to unacceptable workload for teachers, stress, and burnout.
    3. There is no standardization. None. Zip. Zero.
    4. PBLA is being administered in wildly different ways in different jurisdictions and in different SPOs.
    5. The students hate it.
    6. The binders are useless.
    7. PBLA is summative assessment. Stop pretending this is assessment for learning, when every task for the binder counts towards the final CLBs and progress to the next level.
    8. The whole structure of PBLA is predicated on disrespect for the professionalism of LINC teachers.
    9. Admit you made a mistake.
    10. Apologize to LINC teachers across the country.

    1. The heroes are people like yourself who keep the flame burning under awful conditions. Who keep posting truth. Thank you

  3. 11. Wrap it in duct tape and throw it in the trash bin.

  4. I appreciate the opportunity to share my input--but once again it's definitely NOT anonymous. You need to indicate who you work for. Another way of identifying which organization(s) is not playing along??

    1. Anonymous 5.33PM. IRCC already knows exactly who is playing along and to what degree there is "PBLA compliance". Administrators are in that hard place...The funders have punished those that did not comply by threatening to withhold - or actually withholding funding.

      I'm glad the survey was eventually forwarded to us - with a 36 hour window in which to complete.

      However I was very disappointed in the (IRCC language projects) "survey".
      It was superficial, had completely unrelated participants (LINC Instructors, ELT instructors, Conversation Circle managers) and in some places was poorly written.

      There were only two open ended comment sections, and most of the provided answer choices were constricting (presumably to give IRCC what they want to hear?) In some case the language was not clear, and the survey asked many questions that the ordinary instructor could not possible have data for. Who designed this effort?

      None of the "given answers" described what I felt. If you are only given a three point Not Useful Somewhat Useful scale there is no way of nuancing positive or negative opinion: "Somewhat", I presume, will be read as "positive". So I answered not useful to PBLA (well that was a given for that completely bogus sham project) but I felt unhappy saying "not useful" to LIT2T. Although I DO think it missed the mark and does not give teachers real access to computer skills and "edtech" knowledge and training. (As the PTCT ACE Language Teaching and Technology Parts One and Two courses that I took did. A combination of the two would be great!)

      LIT2T was promoted initially as a vehicle to use some of the "courseware" (LINC 5-7 activities) I did use it and Edulinc for a class - it has potential - but it did not give enough ROI for the effort. I certainly appreciate the effort and intention of the developers and the creators and the hardworking crew. I learnt from them (Moodle). The LIVE Chat is amazing. I liked using EDULinc. But the project as a whole and the assumptions about what is needed to help instructors become more computer and edtech savvy did not fill my expectations enough for me to even click "Somewhat".

      It is important to remember that LIT2T as as much as victim of "PBLA" Dogma and Doctirine as we are - watching LIT2T professionals (who I respect greatly) twisting themselves to try to make LIT2T "PBLA" compliant was painful. It was never designed to serve as a tool for "PBLA". Ditto for Quartz.on (a PROVINCIAL INITIATIVE). Even ESLlibray and the other publisher have to rush to make sure they have "PBLA" artificially included in their resources because without the "PBLA" reference they have no chance of having their projects/resources "approved" (see comment above).....

      For those deluded, often self serving, ambitious individuals and organisations who rush to write detailed lists ,protocols, resources about how to "do PBLA right", and start blogs and publish "PBLA" materials to "support" and "help" their "struggling" colleagues I have nothing but contempt. My question is "Which part of PBLA as a whole being not valid, not reliable, not consistent, not effective, not practical, not ethical, not fair, not appropriate, not a proven SLA methodology, not true, do you not get? One day smugness will turn to embarrassment as people realize how deluded and far off the mark they were, and how much pain and havoc they caused. (See 'Tragic Comedy's" comment on The New Disconnect post)

      I wonder if we will ever be given the "aggregates" - or will we have to use the Official Secrets Act to get them....(IRCC does not have to publish).

  5. The survey has flaws for sure. And I stand by my view that people will be less than honest in their answers out of fear there will be repercussions for their organization and thus their jobs. Why don’t they make these things anonymous for goodness sake?!

  6. After 5 years of implementation, pbla is still a disaster. Almost everybody hates it but only admit it in whispers because dissent is not wanted. I don't trust surveys because in the past, I did not do a particular 'anonymous' survey about the program and was later questioned as to why I hadn't done it. How would they know this if it were anonymous? So I was suspicious of this survey, but did it 'cautiously' and put 'somewhat' in a few places, which they will likely take to mean 'everything is ok' (as a previous poster noted). After all this time, pbla is still a pile of crap. The enormous flaws that were blatantly obvious to me from day one have not been corrected and in fact have become worse. And we are treated like we don't know what we are doing! Pbla is merely settlement, NOT English teaching. As English teaching, it is a poor, amateurish, incompetent, ineffective, inefficient joke. The people who created this monstrosity do not know anything about teaching English!

  7. I have taught English to predominantly intermediate and advanced LINC students for over 25 years, and have prided myself in providing an interesting, and relaxed learning environment where students learned the fundamental principles of pronunciation, grammar, and sentence structure. These essential principles are not considered actual skills in the monstrous pedagogical farce called PBLA!!! Having been subjected to endless PD days on module development, strategic competence, real world task development, context information focus and other ludicrous PBLA terms, I have often been brought to the point where I feel that my classroom as become a very sad version of what it used to be. Endless assessments, evaluations of learning and clumsy binder management make the classroom into some nightmarish bureaucratic joke. I spend all my time devising modules and corresponding assessments, and very little time interacting with students on any meaningful level.Most ESL teacher do not make a lot of moneyy and cannot afford to lose their jobs, so most of us have been rendered mute out of fear of retaliation. We are reminded all the time that the PBLA inspectors are looking for complete adherence to this fruitless system, and any failure to do so will result in losing funding for our institutions. this stress creates a great deal of mistrust and resentment within the teaching community but we must tow the line to protect our jobs.I muddle through all this knowing that at some point in the hopefully near future this bogus approach to language acquisition will be abandoned, not for its inefficiency,and incompetance, but for its shocking cost. I want my classroom back.


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.