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 Tutela.ca. 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 www.kellymorrissey.com - Literacy - Weather.

How are you surviving the pandemic?


  1. Hi Kelly,
    This is a very interesting article, thank you for sharing. I stumbled upon your blog while searching online for ESL blogs in Canada. We have recently started an ESL school in Edmonton and would benefit from your posts. Additional information about our school can be found on www.ktienglish.com

    1. By blog is no longer active, but I wish you luck with your new school.


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