Thursday, December 10, 2020

Asking for a Little Help

I hope you all, if there is still anyone reading, are doing well and surviving online teaching, something you've had to do with zero forewarning that this was what would be expected of you.

Because Weebly just docked me another $100 USD for a year for a premium account and the domain registration, and because I am currently unemployed, I decided to put a donations button on the web site. I'm hoping to be able to break even. Because I have a premium account, I've never had to worry about how many documents I uploaded for teachers to download.

I'm happy to say that after posting this on the FB page yesterday, I'm already 1/4 of the way to my goal for the year. You guys rock.

Donation or not, I hope you'll use the comment box to let us know how you're doing these days.

--Kelly P.S. The "Buy Me a Coffee" button is at the top of the most frequented pages.

tip jar
Photo by Sam Dan Truong on Unsplash

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Update from Yuliya Desyatova - Nov 2020

 I may no longer be in the field, but the field is still in me.

Last week I got to participate in an independent focus group designed to gather feedback on PBLA from various stakeholders, and my departure was recent enough that my participation was considered valuable in a unique way.

I just heard from Yuliya Desyatova regarding the next phase of her Ph.D. / PBLA research. I have posted that letter on my website's PBLA Activism page. Scroll down until you see the words November 2020.

I continue to receive communication from teachers across Canada. This week one teacher told me that the other instructors at her agency have quit. She's the only one left standing.

And so it goes.

I miss you all.


Weary woman holding drawn smile up in front of her mouth

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Yes, You May Turn My Materials into Liveworksheets

A teacher reached out to ask if I'd considered turning my activity packs into Liveworksheets. I told her that I have left the field, but that she is welcome to do that. 

All my activity packs were released under a Creative Commons BY NC-SA 4.0 International license. You may create derivative works as long as you share those works freely with others and do not charge for them. I'm not worried about credit, but please always respect Bow Valley College's copyright over the readers upon which most of my activity packs are based. Those are not in the public domain but remain the property of Bow Valley College, though BVC does allow them to be freely downloaded for classroom use.

If anyone would like access to the Google Slide file in which I did the original layout and design of an activity pack so that you can edit, grab a single image file, etc., just give me a shout and I will make that file available as a template that you can carry over to your own Google drive.

Some activities could also be moved into other online interactive platforms for learning, such as Hot Potatoes, etc. I'm fine with that.

The page below is from a vocabulary building activity in the Food from Home activity pack, based upon a literacy reader by that name that is available for free download or online reading with audio from Bow Valley College School of Global Access.

Update: Joanne Hogeveen has turned the Lien Buys Food matching activity into a Liveworksheet HERE:

Saturday, July 18, 2020

A Good Run

Ten years is a good run. It is longer by five years than the length of time I had ever stuck with one employer. I am sad to be leaving a good organization, a team of wonderful colleagues, and my beloved students, but recognize that my teaching was stagnating. The wind had gone out of my sails.

The combination of PBLA and its sickening effect on our field, a need for new horizons, and the call of filial duty has made for the perfect storm.

Learning to teach English to newcomers is without a doubt the most satisfying calling I've ever found, a most perfect fit for my skills set. I leave with a treasure trove of precious memories, many of them memorialized on this blog and on my two classroom blogs.

I am starting life over in Arkansas, having downsized my earthly possessions until my life fits into a small guest bedroom in my mother's house. Wish me well, please, as I learn anew how to navigate life in the US, life in the South, and begin to seek my next livelihood. I will be thinking of all of you as you try to adapt to teaching in these very different times.

Do reach out if you find a broken link on my website or are desperate for a particular sort of resource. Who knows, I may just be able to help.

Don't forget me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

COVID-19 and Our Livelihood (and PBLA Update)

Hey, teachers!

Long time no blog, eh?

I am posting from my mother's home in Arkansas where I travelled for spring break without thinking ahead to the possibility that I might end up remaining longer than a week. I did not bring my sewing machine or good sewing scissors nor any patterns. I did not bring anything connected to my work as a settlement English teacher. I did not even bring my good chef's knife, as I forgot that my mom lives with a houseful of tools dulled from years of using them for other than their intended purpose. The good cast iron dutch oven is just as likely to be used as a saucer under a Boston Fern out on the back deck as it is to remain in the kitchen. The wooden spoons often migrate to the art studio to be used in burnishing woodblock prints. Nothing is safe from my artist mother's "form follows function" mind and wabi-sabi heart. Wherever I may have gotten my OCD and need to alphabetize the spices, it wasn't from her.

Last week my employer notified us all that face-to-face classes are cancelled until further notice, but that we will be paid through the end of our contract year with IRCC (March 31st) with the expectation that we continue to work remotely. One objective is to engage our students online. Can't wait to see how that turns out! Our manager is meeting with us in virtual team meetings as well as individually. We fill out work trackers to account for how we spend the hours for which we are being paid.

One thing that my PBLA lead has long wished for from all of us is for us to contribute to the bank of modules, materials, and assessments that we can all access via I have in the past been quite resistant to that for a number of reasons, not the least of which was how hypocritical it made me feel in light of the fact that I believe PBLA to be a pedagogically unsound sham and government blunder destined to die an embarrassing death at some point down the road.

But I have been doing the minimal amount of PBLA to cover my butt, i.e. have been creating assessments for my students' binders. Until recently, those pieces of paper had little connection to actual learning. I led two lives: I taught and assessed as I had always done--using common sense and a teacher's judgment along with consultation with my learners, including their input regarding their own confidence levels and feeling of readiness to move up. Meanwhile, we churned out an insane number of so-called "artefacts" for the binders that could not possibly be a true reflection of learning. They were shoved into the binders for the purpose of the government audits under the steady gaze of administrators who were not pushing back hard enough (if at all) against the insanity of the quotas or unsoundness of the new practice from a pedagogical perspective, not to mention from the perspective of best practices dealing with recently arrived refugees with trauma.

But now something has shifted at my agency. I still don't believe in the premise behind PBLA, BUT I have a new manager who is a sane and reasonable human being. She also is a literacy teacher. What a blessing! She has changed the expectations with regard to artefact collection. Recognizing that trying to collect 32 artefacts per term was counter-productive in so many ways, she has reduced that quota to six per skill for mainstream levels CLB 1 and up. Should we have a student who needs all 32 in order for a benchmarks to be changed in the system, we are encouraged to provide the extra two artefacts per skills in the form of anecdotal evidence or via an extra assessment delivered by the teaching assistant.

For literacy, the expectations are the same except that FINALLY it has been acknowledged that literacy students do not move from foundations to CLB 1 in one semester. So why on earth was the foundations teacher struggling to get 32 pieces of evidence into the binder while the CLB 1L and CLB 2L teachers also galloped in their respective hamster wheels trying to do the same? It was nonsense. Thanks to a sane manager, we are now allowed to pace the collection of those artefacts over a period of two semesters (Feb to mid-June; early September to end of January minus winter and spring breaks). This manager also listened to input from us on the frontlines and recognized that most of our literacy students already have the listening and speaking skills necessary for a mainstream level one class. It's only the need for reading and writing remediation that has landed them in our literacy classes. Therefore, our new artefact quota per literacy level is 4 R and 4 W per semester and just 2 L and 2 S per semester. Whew!

I cannot tell you how relieved I am to be able to have time to teach a module before giving learners the thing that will go into the binder--whatever you want to call that thing. The new pace allows me to put time and thought into that task, allows there to be an actual connection between classroom learning and that task. Mind you, the artefacts are still not "assessment for learning." They are assessment of learning (summative). I do true formative assessment daily in a way that is not visible to the government nor to my management; it is an essential part of good teaching and informs what I do next--by the minute and by the day.

All this is just a lead-up to what I came here to say to you today. I am spending some of my daily on-the-clock time preparing existing assessments for sharing with the rest of you across Canada. This week's item is a reading comprehension quiz meant to follow classroom use of the literacy reader from Changing Lanes called From Liberia to Nova Scotia. My students who have just arrived from a low to middling CLB 1L class spent about two weeks learning to read this story, receiving from me a few pages of the book every day or two. We didn't add more pages until we had mastered the first few. The book comes with vocabulary-building and revision activities for every few pages. Once learners could easily read and understand, talk about and personalize / expand on the entire story, I administered this quiz to check ability to get the gist and find key details in the reader.

The assessment has two versions so that no two students sitting next to one another have the same paper. I hope that after the global pandemic has resolved and we are back in the brick-and-mortar classroom, you find this resource to be useful. It can be downloaded from - Literacy - Weather.

How are you surviving the pandemic?

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Just in Time for Black History Month: an Abridged 'Life of Josiah Henson'

It's not as if I think Black history should be relegated to one twelfth of the year. Not at all. Black history is everyone's history and deserves a place in our classrooms at all times. Nevertheless, I know there are many teachers who will make a point in February of shining a spotlight on the topics of famous Black Canadians, the Underground Railroad, and other stories of the African diaspora that typically come to the forefront at this time of year.

In October of 2018, Irene Moore Davis spoke to my local TESL Ontario affiliate about incorporating local Black history in our lessons. She had a lot of great slides, and I was scribbling notes like crazy. But when I got back home and checked out all the links, I found mostly material that is suitable for K-12 classrooms full of native speakers of English and very little I consider to be suitable for the average CLB 3 or 4 LINC student. And that is when I had the insanely ambitious idea to create some myself. Boy, did I have a steep learning curve ahead of me.

When Irene graciously allowed me to pick her brain, I discovered she had written a chapter in the book A Fluid Frontier: Slavery, Resistance, and the Underground Railroad in the Detroit River Borderland. I checked a copy out of the library and read all of her chapter and much of the rest of the book. It is fascinating!

Then I found out that Irene was hard at work on her own book Our Own Two Hands, which has recently gone through the advanced readers phase, resulting in much additional content of value being contributed to her research, content that will be included in the published volume.

My dream of having an entire series of profiles ready for February of 2020 was a lofty one; I did not succeed. But I have finished an introductory profile which is meant to give learners an idea of what the freedom seekers were fleeing when they travelled here from bondage in the U.S.

N.B. Canada was not the blameless, angelic state we like to believe her to be: freedom-seeking took place in both directions across the Detroit River. If you don't know what I mean, read A Fluid Frontier and Irene's new book as soon as it's available.

The introductory profile is that of Josiah Henson. I read his (now in the public domain) autobiography and managed to condense it to just 16 pages in a rather large font. I've inserted whatever public domain illustrations I could find in order to help our newcomer English learners visualize some of the concepts. I hope you will use the book and the suggested activities on the web page where it is hosted as well as the suggested extension ideas on the last page. I expect a high CLB 3 class to be able to handle it; certainly a CLB 4 class should have little difficulty if it is taken in chunks over a period of one or two weeks.

Bear with me as I continue to build this new page and add profiles.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Jan 2020 Update from Yuliya

Dear Colleagues,
I hope the New Year has been off to a good start for you.

I have exciting news to share: another article on the research project you contributed to has been published this week. Here is a link to the journal website, and a pre-print copy attached for those (most of us) who do not have access to an academic library.

Unfortunately, the journal is not open access, but it is a reputable one, with a focus on critical theory and pedagogy, as is the article itself. The paper took over a year of blind peer review and revisions, so I hope you find the final product worth taking a look at.

As with the previously published article, I have just started uncovering the very tip of the PBLA iceberg, and more of it will be described in the dissertation, which will take another year or two. I understand that many of you may want to see more tangible results much sooner.

Below is a brief overview with links to a few previous and upcoming presentations continuing to explore PBLA from different angles. The presentations were well-attended, including representatives from IRCC and the CCLB.

I am grateful to each and every one of you for your contributions! I am also thankful to my colleague, Jennifer Burton, who joined me in this large, time-consuming, but exciting project.
Collectively, we make it known and well-documented how PBLA has been experienced by LINC/ESL practitioners in Canada.

Looking forward to sharing more milestones with you in the future.

Best regards, 


P.S. You can always let me know if you would like to be removed from this mailing list. 
Alternatively, if you know anyone who may be interested in receiving these infrequent updates, feel free to share my email with them.
Thank you!

Yuliya Desyatova
PhD Student

Centre for Educational Research on Languages and Literacies
Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning  | OISE

Twitter: @YuliyaESL

Publications on PBLA:

Critical Inquiry in Language Studies – When Inquiry is Seen as Resistance to Change: Expert teachers' experiences with the implementation of portfolio-based language assessment

TESL Canada Journal - "Batting the piñata and swallowing camels”: Teachers learn to PBLA in the absence of dialogic interaction

Presentations on PBLA:

Desyatova, Y. & Burton, J. L. (2020, March). Examining learner autonomy in portfolio-based language assessment: Adult student experiences. AAAL Annual Conference. Denver, Colorado.
Desyatova, Y. (2019, December). Leading and administrating PBLA: “Champagne on water wage.” Paper presented at the TESL Ontario Annual Conference, Toronto, ON. Available from the TESL Ontario website – presentation slides & summary hand out
Burton, J. L., & Desyatova, Y. (2019, December). Learning English with PBLA: What LINC students say. Paper presented at the TESL Ontario Annual Conference, Toronto, ON. Available from the TESL Ontario website – presentation slides & summary hand out
Desyatova, Y. (2019, June). Newcomer language teaching and learning in Canada: Perspectives on recent policy changes. International Metropolis Conference. Ottawa, ON.
Desyatova, Y. (2018, November). Teacher learning in PBLA: A critical analysis. (Published later in the TESL Canada Journal) TESL Ontario Annual Conference. Toronto, Ontario. Available from the TESL Ontario website – slides & hand out 

Calling Edith!

If anyone knows how to get in touch with Edith, please let her know that I'm awaiting her mailing address, as she did win the book in the draw.

Also stay tuned for an update from Yuliya. My SPO had their visit from our IRCC overseer yesterday, and my manger asked him if he had heard of my website and blog. He had not and appeared very open to feedback to send up the chain, so she will send him links. Before that happens, Yuliya will post an update on her latest research, which I will post here and on the PBLA activism page of the website.

Stay tuned.

P.S. At my SPO we just learned we are losing yet another seasoned, committed, gifted teacher. Sigh.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Wanna Be There for the Draw?

Okay, I have capped the draw at these six people:
Cheryl, Tiff, Gaby, Sarah, Siddiqa and Edith. I am just checking now to make sure that the free Zoom account allows screen sharing. If it does, I'll invite ya'll to hop on Zoom with me when I spin the wheel. You won't have to be present to win.