In the spring of 2020, as Covid took hold, I watched my class get smaller and smaller. By the middle of March there were only about 3 people who came to my lessons. They all sat apart trying to follow this new “social distancing”. I remember standing in front of the classroom and saying, “Well, looks like we are some of the bravest people still willing to come to class.” Then one student quite astutely said, “Or we are the stupidest.” That was the last day I taught inside a classroom.
As we all hunkered down in our houses, my work offered online learning. I enlisted some friends and family to be my practice online class. All was going well until we entered the breakout rooms. My 11 year old son thought he had to “break out” of this room so spent his entire time trying to escape. A few days later with my real beginner ESL class, things were going well until I created the breakout rooms. I joined virtual room #1 and no one was there. Until I figured out how to automatically send my beginner ESL students to the breakout rooms, I kept turning up in virtual rooms all by myself.
Confined to a Zoom Box
Next on my list of things to solve was how to teach while stuck in a Zoom box. Since people could only see my head and not much more, my usual technique of walking around a room trying to act out explanations was out the window. My miming and hand gestures were now confined to a small box only showing the top third of my body. Once a student asked what “crossed legs” meant? I demonstrated by crossing my fingers, pretending they were legs. This is the new normal – teaching in a square box.
Miscommunications happen to the best of us but throw in beginner ESL students with sometimes limited computer skills and it’s certainly no picnic trying to get everyone to follow instructions. I found the best way to combat this problem was to take screenshots or photos to demonstrate what needed to be done. For example, I showed everyone that you need to click on the white dots/View in the upper right corner to select Gallery View, if you want to see everyone’s faces. In the old days I could have pointed at my smartboard and showed everyone what to do. Now I’m stuck on the other side of the computer screen unable to help like I used to.
So my usual bag of goodies with hands on materials: flash cards, games and anything involving dice is a distant memory. However, although online learning has been forced upon us, it’s not all bad. I no longer have to battle with my nemesis: the photocopier which always seemed to run out of paper whenever it was my turn to use it.
How has your teaching changed since teaching online?
Bio: Sarah Barr immigrated to Canada in 2015 from Christchurch, New Zealand. She started teaching ESL over 20 years ago and has worked in England, New Zealand and Canada. Currently Sarah works at the North Shore Multicultural Society and volunteers at North Shore Emergency Management giving presentations on how to be prepared for emergencies.
[This article was first printed in the Winter 2019 issue of TEAL News.]
According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education (2018), Canada is considered one of the top five countries for higher education by international students. The latest statistics note that there is a total of 494,525 international students holding a valid study permit in Canada as of 2017. British Columbia ranks second in the country, after Ontario, as a destination, with 24% of Canada’s study permits (Canadian Bureau for International Education, 2018). In fact, enrollment in B.C.’s post-secondary system has almost tripled over the past ten years (Heslop, 2018). As international students predominantly originate from countries where English is not the primary language, English as an Additional Language (EAL) services have become integral to British Columbia’s universities. For example, writing centres are a resource to which EAL students can turn for assistance with writing assignments. However, tutoring sessions with EAL students may differ from other tutoring sessions in a variety of ways, including the teaching style (Thonus, 2004), communication styles (Moser, 1993), and students’ concerns (Winder, Kathpalia, & Koo, 2014). Despite these differences, few studies have examined the unique aspects of tutoring sessions with EAL students from the tutors’ perspective. The goal of the current study was to determine students’ expectations and tutors’ identified competencies and challenges in working with EAL students.
The current qualitative study included a sample of 12 undergraduate and graduate writing tutors at a research-intensive public university in Western Canada. The tutors worked at a writing centre whose goal was to help both EAL and non-EAL students improve their writing skills by clarifying arguments, grammar, and teaching proofreading strategies. Tutors completed an online questionnaire designed by the research team. After questionnaires were completed, tutors’ answers were coded by two researchers, working alone first and then in collaboration. Data was examined for units of meaning as well as emerging themes.
Unique Aspects of Tutoring Students Using EAL
Differences between tutoring students using EAL and other students vising the writing centre arose in terms of the session focus, communication styles, and teaching pace. The most common was the focus of the tutoring session. The majority of advisors noted that the session focus with EAL students would predominantly be on grammar as opposed to other topics. Aptly summarizing the differences, one advisor wrote:
With English speakers, I critique the structure of their papers and the evidence they provide. Often I don’t have time to get this far with EAL students; we get stuck on the small stuff.
Advisors also noted that often the communication style would differ in appointments with students using EAL. One advisor stated “I may slow down when talking and try not to use many idioms or slang words…” Furthermore, the pace of the appointment itself would also slow down to accommodate the students, with one advisor writing “I do find myself working slower and more carefully with EAL students. I want to make sure we are working/learning together.”
Participants felt that students expected them to be editors, take a leading role, and provide expertise during a tutoring session. The predominant theme that emerged above all others in the participants’ responses was related to editing. One advisor wrote: “[EAL students] often seem to have expectations that I’ll correct their paper for grammatical mistakes myself and then give them back a corrected version.” Many of the participants’ responses that focused on students’ expectations of advisors editing their work specified that the editing pertained specifically to grammatical errors. For example, one participant stated that students using EAL expect “micro-edits” in their appointment. Furthermore, several responses that hinged upon editing also hinted that students using EAL expected to be passive participants in the tutoring sessions, as opposed to active ones, with one advisor writing “[EAL students] expect me to ‘fix’ their paper for them, in the grammar sense.”
Tutors generally felt competent explaining grammar, focusing on macro-level writing issues, and interacting with students, with prior experience playing a role in boosting tutors’ confidence working with students. The most salient theme was related to helping with grammar. Advisors felt comfortable assisting EAL students with various aspects of grammar, such as article use, tenses, sentence structure, and parts of speech. For instance, one participant wrote “I feel confident with teaching ‘how’ to use different parts of speech. For example, I have taught different students the use of definite and indefinite articles (a, an, the), when and where to use them.”
In addition to grammar, a large subset of advisors also felt comfortable teaching macro-level skills to students using EAL. For example, participants felt comfortable with teaching genre awareness, content, organization, and various aspects of the writing process. One advisor commented “Often, I find that tutoring earlier, during the planning process, results in a far more successful paper, regardless of grammar mistakes and surface levels problems.” Notably, some advisors who mentioned their comfort levels in regard to either teaching grammar or macro-level skills noted that their ability and comfort in the process of teaching in general played an important role in their comfort level.
Experience seemed to play a role in boosting participants comfort levels. For the advisors who felt comfortable and confident in tutoring sessions, prior experience played a large role in their comfort level. One tutor claimed, “I’m very confident, because I’ve been in their shoes, and I can show them some of the strategies that worked for me.” Often, advisors who were empathetic towards students using EAL due to personal second-language experience also felt confident in their tutoring skills, with another tutor writing
I’m very confident that I can tutor EAL students (given some training) because I speak multiple languages with noticeable differences, and I also understand how patterns and structures work for different languages, which means I can empathize with the EAL students and help them learn English from their perspective…
While some participants did report feeling confident explaining grammar to students, for the most part, the participants overwhelmingly felt that explaining grammatical concepts was the most challenging aspect that they encountered in tutoring sessions. It was also put forward that a lack of experience using an additional language might contribute to this challenge. Specifically, many advisors discussed struggling with explaining concepts that they understand intuitively as first-language English speakers. One advisor said “sometimes it’s hard for me to be very specific about why what someone has written is wrong. Reading it aloud, I can certainly tell when it sounds off and explain how to fix the issue. Actually explaining why though, can be very difficult.” Several advisors noted that they “don’t know” grammatical rules or would forget some of the rules. Moreover, one advisor mentioned finding it difficult to use the proper terminology to discuss grammatical concepts, stating that they find it challenging “explaining [grammar issues] using professional English technical language—e.g. oh, this is meant to be a ‘past participle.’” A possible explanation for the discomfort and lack of confidence in explaining grammar might be related to a lack of experience. One participant noted “sometimes I don’t feel that I’m clear enough with my explanations. Maybe I’ve never been in the opposite position, so it’s hard for me to know when I’m being convoluted.” Thus, both personal and prior professional experience played an important role in increasing advisors’ confidence levels.
Discussion and Implications
All in all, tutoring sessions with EAL students differed in a variety of ways; students came in with specific expectations, particularly regarding grammar, and tutors experienced unique challenges. While tutors noted some difficulties in working with EAL students, including communication and managing expectations, several key factors emerged as potential predictors of tutor comfort, including tutors’ own experience with languages other than English and tutors’ ability to pace the appointments well.
However, potentially the most interesting finding of the study is that tutors reported feeling both comfortable with teaching grammar and experiencing challenges in teaching this aspect of English. This discrepancy may be related to “grammar” being a relatively vague term for a field that includes many concepts, including punctuation, sentence structure, and parts of speech. In fact, what seemed to emerge from tutors’ answers was the idea that while tutors felt comfortable identifying errors in students’ work, they were challenged by the pedagogical aspects of the appointment. Specifically, tutors struggled to explain the reasons behind grammatical errors to students. The discrepancy between tutors’ comfort and discomfort with various aspects of grammar may prove to be a fruitful arena for further research.
Importantly, the findings of the current study provide the basis for the development of evidence-based tutor training programs. As tutors have now identified their challenges in teaching EAL students, evidence-based training should capitalize on this information to develop tutors’ competency in these areas of weakness. For example, training programs may focus on teaching tutors the vocabulary to discuss grammatical concepts with EAL students. Moreover, training programs should discuss the expectations with which EAL students may enter a tutoring session and how to properly manage these expectations. Finally, it may prove useful to have tutors with personal EAL or other additional language experience discuss students’ potential strengths and challenges from their point of view.
In conclusion, tutors experience unique challenges in working with EAL students. Future studies should examine these challenges in more detail, particularly tutors’ struggles associated with grammar, Furthermore, writing centre directors should consider incorporating training components that may help tutors struggling with some of these challenges into their tutor training sessions.
[This article was first printed in the Winter 2019 issue of TEAL News.]
As teachers, we try to push boundaries every day in our classrooms by taking a step out of our comfort zones, questioning the way we have been working for years, or travelling out of our home countries to look for answers and ways to improve our practice. It seems like a kind of “revolutionary concept” these days when there is a framework to follow and a protocol for almost everything teachers have to do. Sometimes, when the system pushes back, it is necessary to find a way to push forward.
I have been working as a teacher in Chile for 15 years, and I came to Canada last year to take a closer look at its educational system in regards to teaching English as an additional language (EAL) to students in primary and middle schools. I came up with this idea four years ago after I read in the newspaper about the growing number of immigrants that had entered Chile from non-Spanish speaking countries. I immediately thought of the children who would be enrolled in our classrooms with no idea of what their teachers and their classmates were talking about. I wondered about those parents trying to understand our educational system and struggling to support their children with all that it means to move from one country to another and adapt to new customs without knowing the language of the new land. Many questions came to my mind but only one answer was absolutely true at that point: we were not prepared to teach those children.
The following year, I received in my class a student from the United States of America who spoke little Spanish. When I interviewed his parents, they told me that he had failed the previous year in another school. They told me that the teachers were not supportive, did not like him to take notes in English, and did not take into account the differences in cultural aspects so sometimes the teachers thought their son was being rude just because in their culture they were used to being more straight-forward when speaking than Chilean culture. Even though he struggled with reading in Spanish, teachers used the same instruments to teach and assess him in Science, History, and Spanish Language Arts. He was not allowed extra time to answer tests or read books in his mother tongue. In other words, the school did not make any provisions to help him; he was asked to adapt to the school rules, and his struggles were considered a lack of commitment, interest, and skills.
It made me sad to think about him failing Grade 5 just because our school system did not allow teachers to make adaptations that took his linguistic and cultural differences into consideration, and I promised his parents to do my best to provide him with a different experience in this new school. Without having any training in multicultural education, I followed my gut to implement a support plan. It was hard at the beginning since other teachers saw these actions as “privileges” that the rest of students did not have. I did not have the theoretical knowledge to debate them, but in the end I convince them that we needed to support him. The plan included small things such as labelling the classroom with English and Spanish words, stating clear rules for behaviour with teachers and classmates, explaining the differences between the two cultures; allowing him to use his cell phone in class to look up for words and translate texts, and providing extra time on tests. He was also sitting close to the teachers and to the board, and was assigned a buddy who supported him in Science and History. Even though these actions worked, I had the feeling that there must have been infinitely more things I could have done if the school had allowed me. At that point, I felt frustrated with the school system, and I was absolutely sure that we were not prepared to teach these children. It was urgent to change our views of newcomers and our teaching strategies if we really wanted to help these students thrive in the Chilean school system. We were not prepared to teach “non-Chilean students,” and in order to change that we needed to look outside our borders, travel abroad if possible, and bring new ideas to modify and improve our practices.
I investigated the possibilities and found out that Canada was known as a multicultural country that had managed to take an ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse population into consideration as a natural process of globalization. Canadian educators had worked for many years to incorporate multicultural education and English language learning as part of the curriculum and provincial governments had provided schools with official guidelines, instructional plans, and language standards for English language learners. Canada appeared to be a country that had already experienced an increase in students from linguistically diverse backgrounds, and as far as I could learn, had succeeded in supporting them in schools. I managed to convince my husband and came with our daughter to experience first-hand what it meant to be a newcomer and to peek into their schools to witness the teaching strategies teachers use with these students.
What I have learned about teaching English language learners is a topic for a whole new article. I can only say that it has been worth the trip, and it has been a great experience so far. Now I have the theoretical knowledge I lacked a few years ago, and I can share this knowledge with other teachers when I go back to my country. I would like to make educators in Chile realize that part of being a teacher includes questioning our practices and reflecting on them; that part of being a teacher is to be curious and to look for new ways to improve; that part of being a teacher is to search for better ways to support our students, in spite of what school protocols say; and that part of being a teacher is to not stop pushing boundaries.
Which strategy do TESOL teachers choose to use? Do they prefer “top down” or “bottom up” approaches? Or do they use neither or both? I suggest choosing both, which means exploiting the synergy of the two strategies. Underlying my choice of both is the 2×2 matrix which shows the four choices visually.
What is the 2X2 Matrix and Why Use it?
The 2×2 matrix is also the key to my focus here and the basis of my active voice English tense-map (see the graphic at the bottom), allowing for a concise overview while giving some essential details. The matrix also synergizes the two important areas which involve appealing content and a concise verb tense system. In addition, the 2×2 matrix is a math formula, a universal concept understood by speakers of many languages, thus being a bridge for students wishing to learn English, both grammar and content.
The 2×2 as the Basis for the Tensemap
My starting point is the active voice tensemap. It is a combination of a 3×4 table shared by Betty Azar in her book called Fundamentals of English Grammar (Prentice-Hall, 1985) and a timeline. By some deep thinking and chance, I realized the 12 tense forms could be shown by a timeline using three 2×2 matrices, one for each of the three tenses: past, present, and future
The tensemap uses colours to help students see the patterns within and across the tenses. For example, in the graphic below, it is clear the combination of yellow (perfect) and light blue (progressive) gives dark green (perfect progressive). Grey is my obvious choice for the simple tense form (aspect). Furthermore, the tensemap allows the use of a quick and easy 3-step algorithm which students can use to identify the tense forms correctly by putting them in the appropriate quadrant.
The Tensemap can be Reduced to Uncoloured Symbols
Once the concept is understood, the tensemap can be visualized as the symbol +++. The ‘plus’ signs represent the four quadrants for past, present, and future. Students can use the +++ to show they understand the tense form in a text by underlining the verb, putting the +++ above the verb, and a dot in the corresponding quadrant.
To show the past perfect (I had eaten), I place a dot in the upper left quadrant in the + which is the one on the left of the three.
Use in the Classroom and at Home
A large version of the +++ (windows) can be put on the whiteboard where students can point to the corresponding quadrant when they hear a verb tense form in a sentence. This board exercise can become a Total Physical Response game for the whole class to participate in, a fun and less intimidating way than the usual verb tense exercises. At home students diagram the tense forms in passages of text that are interesting and appealing to them.
Bio: Howat Labrum holds an M.A. in TESOL from UBC. He worked as an EFL teacher in Thailand, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea from 1976 to 2014. Howat created his tensemap in 1990 and has subsequently added more features to it. He has shared his ideas on Twitter @Howie7951 since 2015. Go to letlearn2008 on YouTube for more.
Azar, Betty Schrampfer, (1985). Fundamentals of English Grammar, (1st Ed,), Prentice-Hall
A question for you:
Do you think this dynamic, colourful tool could be used in your classroom?
[This article was first printed in the Winter 2019 issue of TEAL News.]
Please don’t use the blue sticky gum to stick anything to the walls. Do you know why? Because Exeter College is 700 years old, and when you pull the gum off, the building will collapse.—Adrian Underhill, Principal Tutor
I attended the Oxford University English Language Teachers’ Summer Seminar (ELTSS) in August 2019. For two weeks students live the Oxford University experience, navigate new geographies and friendships and study the practice of teaching English as an additional language (EAL). There were 69 students in this year’s cohort, coming from countries as diverse as the UAE, India, Bangladesh, Russia, China, Macau, Japan, Inner Mongolia, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Peru, Chile and Mexico. My studies in sociolinguistics did nothing to prepare me for so many kinds of English. It was exciting and fascinating! Cultural barriers you would expect from so many strangers could be overcome almost at once. We had the same passion for teaching and enthusiasm for learning. It was 68 instant friends with no Facebook required.
Living in residence at Exeter College is a uniquely amazing experience. The buildings and grounds are well maintained and I’m guessing unchanged for…centuries. The surrounding stone walls remind you that bloody intersections of knowledge, religion, and politics were once very real boundaries. I watched the moon passing between battlements every night until I fell asleep. Art and displays in each space evidenced untold generations of scholars, philosophers, theologians, scientists, writers and artists. Fast company for an EAL teacher from British Columbia, but it fully inspired me to study and learn as much as possible.
Classes are held in intimate, apartment-like spaces that hold approximately 12 people. On Monday morning, Jon Hird explained at the opening of Words, Clauses, Sentences, and Beyond that the English language only became a serious topic of orthographic study when Exeter College (along with the colleges of Cambridge University) was commissioned to write the King James Bible. It was here, in these walls, that scholars first studied the English language.
Hird’s lectures explored grammar at the word, clause, sentence, and text level. He offered a different perspective on grammar education that encouraged learners to find, manipulate, and practice patterns in engaging ways. His class was discussion-based with ample opportunity to practice adapting and exploiting texts, ask questions, and make connections to our unique classroom situations.
“Oh for the love of God, they’re waving”. Adrian Underhill halts his lecture and our small cohort of 12 students turn to find the ground-floor window is filled with tourist faces, all smiling, pointing, and waving. As if a maestro has cued, cameras appear, and we are all immortalized with disbelief on our faces.
Underhill drew on humanist philosophy and expert language teaching practices to argue in favour of connected, personal educator/student relationships that foster deeper learning. In his week-long series of classes, Affect and the Whole Person in ELT, he explained that the work of educators begins with self improvement in three qualities—empathy, unconditional positive regard, and the abandonment of role playing as the “perfect teacher.” He drew from the work of Carl Rogers, explaining that “an awareness that we are unfinished allows us to fall into situations of education,” and Underhill wanted us to continue being students as well as educators.
Underhill connected an educator’s emotional literacy with a student’s ability to learn deeply and retain meaningful skills. He introduced Mary Helen Immordino-Yang’s work on emotion, self-awareness, and education and explained that “you can’t remember something you have no emotion about.” His lectures introduced us to language education theorists, philosophers, and authors like Earl Stevick, Jim Scrivener, and Paulo Friere. Each day, Underhill encouraged us to situate ourselves as teachers in new ways and to determine new paths of connection with our learners.
Tuesday’s keynote address is underground, in the Saskatchewan Lecture theatre. I’m puzzling through how that name could possibly have become attached to this space when Anatoly sits next to me. He is wearing a thick wool sweater over a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, and a hat. He speaks with a Russian accent and asks if I’m cold in front of the air conditioner vent. I realize we are sitting alone in the front row, everyone else is at least two rows back. I tell him “Canadians love the cold,” which he accepts. Each morning a different member of the Russian cohort keeps me company at the front row.
John Hughes explained that “our goal is to get students where they don’t need us anymore.” His keynote lecture asked us to consider that language learners can use the creative tools we give them to actively learn a language beyond the classroom. Hughes underscored the 2019 Seminar theme which placed learners at the centre of decision making in adult language education, explaining “we need to encourage them to approach new texts by asking questions and analyzing their personal perspectives.” He asked us to “develop learner autonomy. Let students discover the rules, don’t just give it to them.”
Hughes argued for classroom practices that activate a higher order language acquisition. For example, “we usually just check for comprehension, removing the answer and asking a question which leads to ‘I don’t know!’” Hughes explained that a higher order comprehension comes when students are asked to underline words which show the writer’s opinion and ask questions like “Do I agree with the conclusion of the text (and) what evidence does the author use to support the text?”
This morning’s fire drill was announced twice yesterday, but there is still chaos and resistance to resident participation. Only half the students come to the chapel for roll call at 7:00 am and one woman from Chile has fallen in the pews and fractured her ankle. Everyone appears in the Great Hall for breakfast an hour later which makes me think if the fire drill had advertised croissants, coffee, and fresh berries it would have been better attended.
The first day in Imaginative Teaching in the Creative Classroom, Hanna Kryszewska was interested in classroom psychology, specifically group formation. She explained that it’s the educator’s responsibility to ensure students feel connected and co-operative with each other. Through the week she introduced an array of controlled and improvisational activities designed to engage the theory of multiple intelligences. Kryszewska’s lectures addressed the theory and experiences behind each activity she presented. Her buffet of visuals, objects, ideas, and potential resources were a treasure chest I couldn’t wait to bring home to Canada. Interestingly, this was not a uniform opinion of all students. Some class members appeared confused and even aghast at the presence of poetry, music, and improvisational theatre in language learning.
“Are you teaching listening, or are you using listening to teach language?”—Sinead Laffan
Sinead Laffan showed a 2016 video clip of brothers Gary and Paul O’Donovan who had just won an Olympic gold medal. Not a single person in the class understood the men’s interview except Laffan, who hails from the same part of Ireland. She used the clip to remind us what our learners are actually hearing in class, and in the coming days, explored the skill of listening using terminology and ideas uniquely “Laffan” like “match the mush” for decoding word boundaries and “the greenhouse, the garden and the jungle” as a visual concept for separating speech into teachable categories. Her lectures and perspectives were anchored with a week-long progression of listening skills development that focused on real texts.
I sat at a long wood table surrounded by fellow students and faculty in the Dining Hall and waited for Professor Dumbledore to appear. He didn’t show, but another delicious meal was served, and we all chatted and laughed. I felt safe and welcome at Exeter College, inspired by its considerable past and informed by the people who were present. No sorting hat, but you know that was just a fantasy. Instead, I snapped a picture of JRR Tolkien’s head where it sits behind the chapel door. Bronze, of course. A hobbit told me where to look.
[This article was first printed in the Winter 2019 issue of TEAL News.]
As English as an additional language (EAL) teachers, we ask our students to try things they are not comfortable with to push their boundaries. Which begs the question, are we modelling risk taking in our own lives? What have we done to push our boundaries? And how can we help our colleagues as they are learning and growing? To answer these questions, I reached out to the community of EAL professionals. I spoke to people from a variety of backgrounds and different perspectives. A big thank you to everyone who took the time to talk to me and a special thank you to:
Andrea Heald M Ed, Instructional Specialist and Instructor
Cari-Ann Roberts Gotta. Academic Upgrading & Development Instructor and Program Coordinator Selkirk College
Let’s start with a definition of what we mean by pushing boundaries. It includes doing something that we are not comfortable with and reconsidering our expectations of ourselves and of others or doing something “out of our comfort zone.” Whatever language is used to describe the boundary, it has to do with fear. We recognize this type of fear in the student who is mysteriously absent for every presentation, or who refuses to answer questions in front of the class. But, do we recognize it in ourselves when it comes to doing something creative? Or when we are faced with a task that requires doing math or using a new program? Or any of the other challenges that we avoid or dread?
As Andrea pointed out, “Fear is a boundary that has to be negotiated on a daily and personal basis”. It is that fear that makes us uncomfortable and overcoming the fear that can lead to growth. Our students face this every time they produce work, fail, and grow. The consensus among those I spoke to was that whether the boundary is physical, professional, social, pedagogical, or psychological, pushing boundaries is necessary for growth, innovation, development, and can be a demonstration of leadership.
How have you pushed boundaries?
The EAL professionals I spoke to are constantly pushing their limits and always trying to grow. Some of these changes are self-directed as in the case of Cari-Ann who moved from EAL to Adult Basic Education (ABE) by demonstrating how her skills from EAL teaching were transferable to ABE, and how her experience in EAL was of significant value to ABE students, many of whom are also EAL.
Also demonstrating a self-directed change, Andrea recently earned her MEd, while continuing to work, and has been pushing boundaries by exploring her potential as an academic and a teacher. She did this by following in the footsteps of her mentors and welcoming creative criticism from those more experienced. She found that the journey was not as scary as imagined with the guidance of mentors who had gone before.
Those who had been successful in their own journeys.
For Paul pushing boundaries this year has been moving from teaching full-time to part-time so he can develop a series of EAL videos. These videos have a growing audience and a dedicated group of volunteer assistants and actors. In addition to pushing him to learn new skills, Paul sees this as a leadership opportunity: “If teachers can imagine themselves into being a filmmaker … students can similarly imagine themselves into being an actor.”
For others the impetus for growth is top down when a program is reorganized or shut down. Joy found herself in this situation when, after 15 years at the same school, it closed its doors unexpectedly. She found herself pounding the pavement for subbing opportunities and cultivating a variety of sources for work. She now works in multiple great environments and has developed increased resiliency.
I also spoke to instructors and leaders in Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) programs who have seen top down change implemented through shuffling of roles and reorganizing. This has led to uncertainty and sometimes necessitated stepping into new and unfamiliar work environments. Roles that require a different skill set and working with people from other sectors of the work force.
What was the most important factor in you being able to push those boundaries?
In order to push boundaries many people cited the necessity of support from family, mentors, and colleagues. As with Andrea’s journey, mentors show the way and prove it is possible to reach the goal.
Also, as one might expect from teachers, the importance of learning was stressed. Training from the organization when one is moved into a new position helped with the skills needed for that position and with learning about the new workplace culture.
We take courses, online and in classrooms, watch webinars, listen to pod casts, and we read. We read a lot! We value education and use it to equip ourselves for the changes necessary when venturing into new territory. And, we are not shy about sharing our newfound knowledge with our peers.
The most difficult aspect of change is the psychological barriers. Boundaries are mental constructs. They exist in our minds and our perceptions. They require courage to overcome. For this the support of likeminded colleagues, friends, and family can be invaluable for their ability to keep you on track and help you find your way through and over barriers.
Your allies can also help you identify the frame you are using to categorize a situation and help you find a new way to look at it. We know this when we are talking to students who won’t speak in class. We help them reframe mistakes. When students try and make mistakes, we help them see this as the path to learning rather than failure.
Sometimes having an ally look at a situation which we are framing as a huge problem, will give us the objectivity to reframe the situation as an opportunity, an opportunity to learn new skills and grow, and the ability to see our growth rather than beat ourselves up for not being perfect.
My big take away from these conversations is that we as an EAL community have the skills and the expertise to help colleagues who ask for our assistance to push beyond any boundary they might be up against. And, if we ask for help, we are in a community that will offer their support.
Moving back to Canada from teaching in Korea in the midst of a pandemic was a whirlwind experience of emotions. I had an idea in my head that I was going to finish my contract, say goodbye to my students, and then plan my organized return to Canada to head into the next chapter of my career. That didn’t happen. I didn’t get to say goodbye to my students. They were all still at home and had yet to return to school for in person classes, and I had to end my contract a month early as a result of the border closures. My planned transition of finishing up one chapter of my life in one country, then coming home and continuing the same style of career was disrupted.
The Disappointment & Decision
After I was able to get home and finish my two week quarantine I slowly began to realize that I wasn’t going to be able to find a job teaching EAL like I had hoped I would. There weren’t many EAL teaching jobs available that I was qualified for, so I made the decision to return to a job I had done before so that I could pay my bills. I have worked in the customer service industry for most of my working life before getting into teaching abroad. There’s comfort in being able to build connections with the people you serve in any job, and it was a great comfort to be able to return to something I was familiar with. However, something still felt like it was missing. I wanted to find something more meaningful in terms of really being able to help people in a purposeful way.
The Search & Support
Getting back into job searching was not as easy as I expected it to be. There were many jobs still available, but not many that I really wanted to do, or the ones that I did want to do I didn’t seem qualified for because I had little formal experience. A friend referred me to reach out and try an employment services organization that helps people find work. You can work with a case manager (or independently) and access supports that help you with finding a job that is sustainable and (hopefully) meets your needs. Through these job searching supports, I ended up applying for and getting a job as a job counselor. The very same job that helped support me in discovering a potentially new and permanent career path.
A New Chapter
It was very surprising for me, but as I experienced being supported in this way while looking for work, it made me realize that I really wanted to find a job like this. Now, I want to help people find the kind of job where they can feel like they are working with purpose, or even just one that gives them the job security they need to be able to pay their bills. To me, being able to assist people in that journey to employment, is amazing.
Bio: Amy Ve is currently working as an Employment Counselor and previously spent time working as an EAL Instructor in South Korea. She holds a Bachelor of Social Work and TESL Certificate from Thompson Rivers University.
Did you leave the EAL field due to COVID-19? What are you doing now?
[This article was first printed in the Winter 2017 issue of TEAL News.]
Mario Andretti, a famous racing driver, once said: “If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.” The last 3.5 years of being a doctoral student in Australia have certainly been spent in the fast lane. Like most PhD students would attest, balancing research, teaching, marking, research assistant work, publishing, and family life can be challenging. Yet, being able to balance all these different factors can also be tremendously enriching and, dare I say it, fun! Instead of just summarizing my last 3.5 years, I thought I would use the BCTEAL acronym to guide my discussion about key aspects that have helped me navigate—as well as survive, enjoy, and complete—the fast-paced adventure of being a doctoral student.
B for BEING PREPARED. Going into my PhD well prepared was critical. Prior to my doctoral studies, I often questioned the wisdom of living in Surrey and working at the downtown BCTI campus in Vancouver. Now I know, however, that this long commute was an important preparatory stage because it allowed me to read extensively on the train. Having read (and summarized) most of the key literature and research on pronunciation pedagogy provided me with a valuable head start, and it enabled me to begin my PhD confidently, knowing that I was familiar with the literature in the area of my proposed course of study.
C for CONNECTIONS. Networking with people face-to-face as well as online (through Twitter and several Facebook groups) to discuss research, publications, work, teaching etc. has been informative and inspirational. Moreover, presenting at various conferences (AILA, TESOL, AAAL, Face of English, LED, Mekong TESOL) in several different countries (Canada, Vietnam, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand) has been beneficial in that it provided me with opportunities to engage with the language teaching and research community. Connecting with people has been one of the most important factors in my doctoral journey because it inspired me to keep working on my research.
T for THANKFULNESS. Reminding myself occasionally that being a PhD student is a real privilege helped me push on and move forward! I was fortunate to have been offered two scholarships by the University of Wollongong (UOW); hence, I was getting paid to do a PhD. Being aware of this privilege allowed me to maintain a positive outlook when things seemed to spin a bit out of control.
E for ELASTICITY. Being flexible to adjust to unexpected circumstances was a critical element throughout my PhD journey. Upon enrollment I realized relatively soon that I had to change the focus of my initially proposed research in order to collect data in a pronunciation teacher preparation context. That also meant that I had to write and defend my proposal within five months (PhD students are usually given 12 months to complete this process at UOW). This was not what I had expected; yet, I had little choice but buckle down and get the proposal done. Towards the end of my candidacy, flexibility was required again, as my wife and two of our three children suddenly had to return to Japan for several months due to a family emergency. My oldest son and I remained in Australia. Even though it was wonderful spending all this time with him, turning overnight into a full-time dad delayed the submission of my thesis by several months. These instances helped me better understand that life takes its course, and that flexibility is a useful means to navigate through stormy times.
A for AUTHORSHIP. Having to write an 80,000 word dissertation (or thesis as it is called in some universities in Canada and Australia) was perhaps my biggest concern at the beginning of my PhD. I lacked confidence in my ability to write and craft convincing, empirically based arguments. Subsequently, right at the beginning of my doctoral journey, I decided to write on a daily basis; it did not matter whether that was a sentence, a paragraph, or an entire page. This turned out to be a good decision, even though I did make the occasional acquaintance with the infamous writer’s block. Composing regularly (as well as receiving excellent feedback from my two supervisors) resulted in a gradual increase in confidence and writing skills. Oddly enough, I now find writing to be an interesting and empowering, almost liberating process, and I’m currently working on several manuscripts that I hope to get published in the not-so-distant future.
L for LIFE. Sometimes I had to tell myself that there were more important things in life than doctoral studies. Having my family with me definitely helped me in this regard. The Illawarra region – of which Wollongong is the main city – is an incredibly beautiful place and there are so many things to do. Thus, every few months we would rent a car, load up the kids and all the camping equipment we had shipped from Canada, and take off to explore a national park, caves, a costal town or a nice and quiet beach. These little adventure trips were refreshing. They allowed me to spend time with my family and get my mind off research (although my children would occasionally look at me and ask: “are you thinking about your research again?”).
Compartmentalizing the experience of doing a PhD in a foreign country into six neat “boxes” is, of course, a bit of an artificial exercise. Throughout the past 3.5 years, these six components (as well as a multitude of other factors) were interwoven in interesting ways, but they did play a critical role in helping me complete my doctorate. I submitted the final/revised version of my thesis last October, and some of you may now be wondering about the actual focus of my PhD. So, here is a quick summary.
My thesis is a collection of four journal articles that are book-ended by an introduction/methodology chapter and discussion/conclusion chapter. The study examined the process of 15 student teachers learning to teach English pronunciation during a postgraduate course on pronunciation pedagogy; an area in additional language teacher education that lacks empirical research. To obtain a thorough understanding of this process, I triangulated several instruments to collect data: two questionnaires (one at the beginning and one at the end of the course); observations of all the weekly lectures (13 in total); four focus groups that were held three times during the course; students’ assignments; and one-on-one interviews with seven of the 15 participants. The amount of qualitative data was overwhelming (remember the Andretti quote?) but collecting this mountain of data was necessary in order to really understand what learning to teach English pronunciation entailed.
Once the initial data analysis was completed, the findings were divided into four journal articles, with each article exploring pronunciation teacher preparation from a different perspective. The first paper examined the general impact the pronunciation pedagogy course had on participants’ cognition (thoughts, attitudes, knowledge and beliefs; Borg, 2006) about pronunciation instruction (Burri, 2015a). The effects participants’ linguistic backgrounds had on learning to teach pronunciation was the focus of the second paper (Burri, 2015b), while the third paper investigated the connection between participants’ teaching experience and learning to teach pronunciation (Burri, Baker, & Chen, accepted). The last article then examined the relationship between student teachers’ cognition development and their identity construction (Burri, Chen, & Baker, under review). The objective of the discussion chapter was to amalgamate all of these findings and form a theoretical model of what constitutes learning to teach English pronunciation. I am going to present this model—the first of its kind—at the TESOL Convention in Seattle next March. It would be great to see some of you there!
Besides presenting at the TESOL conference, I have been offered a 2-year full-time lecturer position in the School of Education at UOW, starting February 1, 2017. I am delighted to have been given this opportunity, as it will allow me to gain valuable experience in a familiar environment. This means that my family and I will be staying in the Wollongong area for at least another two years. I am not sure what is going to happen afterwards, but one thing is certain, the past 3.5 years have been a truly life-changing experience down under.
Burri, M. (2015a). “My perspective changed dramatically:” A case for preparing L2 instructors to teach pronunciation. English Australia Journal, 31(1), 19-37.
Burri, M. (2015b). Student teachers’ cognition about L2 pronunciation instruction: A case study. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 40(1), 66-87. Doi: 10.14221/ajte.2015v40n10.5
Burri, M., Baker, A., & Chen, H. (accepted). “I feel like having a nervous breakdown”: Pre-service and in-service teachers’ developing beliefs and knowledge about pronunciation instruction. Journal of Second Language Pronunciation.
Burri, M., & Chen, H., & Baker, A. (under review). Joint development of teacher cognition and identity through learning to teach L2 pronunciation.
Biographical Information (From the Winter 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter)
Michael Burri is a lecturer in TESOL at the University of Wollongong. Prior to his move to Australia, he got his MA in TESOL from TWU (2008), worked as instructor/program coordinator at BCIT (2008-13), and enjoyed being the BCTEAL PD Chair (2008-10). His professional interests include pronunciation instruction, L2 teacher education, teacher-based assessment, and contextualized pedagogy. He tweets about L2 teaching/learning/research at @michaelburri and some of his publications and conference presentations can be accessed on his website at www.michaelburri.weebly.com.
I am a “teacher of teachers” and that is extraordinary! When you teach teacher candidates (TCs), EVERYTHING is a teachable moment. TCs watch your every move—every word—as guidance for when they are in their future classrooms. But what does exceptional teaching look like in virtual course delivery? How do I model teaching strategies for my TCs from behind my computer screen? How do my TCs practice new teaching strategies when they are alone? How do I prepare teachers for teaching in a classroom when they are not currently able to do so because of pandemic restrictions?
The Inspired Idea
Last summer as I sat at home planning for the pandemic term, something caught my eye. In my daughter’s TV show were little children role-playing with their stuffed animals. That’s when it occurred to me: why not create a virtual classroom of stuffies that I could use to model instructional strategies? Et voilà! (“And there you go!” in French): meet Ms. Unicorn and her class of stuffies.
Ms. Unicorn and her class
This modeling epiphany was a game-changer in my virtual teaching practice. I was able to use the stuffies to demonstrate teaching strategies and to role-play the various parts of what teachers can do in the classroom (and how students might respond). I recorded myself and posted these videos in my asynchronous virtual course. ClickHEREfor an excerpt from one of my videos.
The Inspiration That Followed
What happened next was really where this practice took off. In an activity that followed, the students were asked to record themselves reading a story as they might to a class of students. My expectation was that I would get just that – a view of the TC and their chosen book, reading to the camera. But what happened was amazing. The students took the strategy they had seen in my video and ran with it. I met classes filled with all kinds of stuffies! I also met live cats and dogs, small plastic animals, a blow-up giraffe, a gigantic stuffed rabbit, GI Joe figurines, and even a whole class of pumpkins all named “gourd” and a Lego school. I modelled and they followed!
Learning from Ms. Unicorn
There are so many pieces to what I have learned from this experience. I learned that it really isn’t about how a course is delivered, classroom or virtually. It is about how you teach in that delivery. I was reminded again of the value of taking risks and being vulnerable in teaching. I certainly felt very silly playing with the stuffies and recording myself the first time around! And finally, maybe together isn’t always better? Well maybe it is, but this practice can be the next best thing when we can’t be together.
Great teaching requires opportunities for creativity and taking risks, both of which have been presented for myself and my students in virtual course delivery. With great risks can come great rewards in learning and teaching, even during a pandemic!
Bio: Dr. Christie Fraser has been an educator for over 20 years. Currently, she is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at Thompson Rivers University in beautiful BC.
Have you taken new risks in your classroom because of the COVID19 pandemic? How have pandemic restrictions unexpectedly inspired your practice? Leave your comments below.
Woolfolk, A., Winne, P., & Perry, N. (2020). Educational Psychology: 7th Custom Canadian Edition. Toronto: Pearson.
[This article was first printed in the Winter 2017 issue of TEAL News.]
Adequate English language proficiency is a critical prerequisite for people studying in English medium universities. English language proficiency tests, such as the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), are increasingly playing the role of gatekeepers to a globalizing world of higher education. For example, IELTS has been adopted as a means for ensuring baseline levels of English language proficiency required for entry into perspective programs by many universities in more than 120 countries. This test plays an important and critical role in many students’ lives, and it can be useful to think about factors that impact the IELTS test’s score.
The IELTS test is comprised of four test components, namely Writing, Speaking, Reading, and Listening. Candidates must complete all four components in order to receive a score. IELTS is not meant to certify whether candidates have passed or failed the test. Instead, institutions must determine the minimum selection band score for entry into their programs and courses. As an international student in Canada, providing my English language proficiency proof was an essential part in my application process. I chose to take the IELTS test and received an overall band score of 7.0, with every section 7.0 except for the speaking section. Thanks to my IELTS score, I was able to enroll as a graduate student in a Canadian University. After about one year’s study and living in Canada, I took the IELTS test again and received an overall band score of 7.5, with every section improved except for the writing section. My score on the writing section decreased from 7.0 to 6.0. As a result, I started to think about my experiences related to acquiring English as an additional language in Canada and its evaluation by the IELTS test.
Reflecting on my approximately one year’s learning experience in Canada, I think that interaction, natural acquisition contexts, and practice were the most important factors that have affected my English acquisition. Language development seems to occur as a result of social interactions (Vygotsky, 1978). Thus, it is beneficial to me to study within natural acquisition contexts in which I am exposed to English since they provide me with more opportunities to interact with the social environment, practice, and gain more comprehensible input (Krashen, 1982; Long, 1996). My study environment, requirement to use the language, and learning process have contributed a lot to my English acquisition. I have a good academic record at university, and I believe that my English has improved since I arrived in Canada. However, the score on my writing section decreased from 7.0 to 6.0 after one year’s study in Canada according to my IELTS reports, which made me wonder what the IELTS academic writing module’s scores mean.
The academic writing module consists of two tasks, which take 60 minutes in total. For Task 1, candidates write a report of around 150 words based on a table or diagram, and for Task 2, they write a short essay or general report of around 250 words in response to an argument or a problem. After over one year’s academic learning in Canada, my English level should be enhanced based on my positive language learning experiences. The decrease of my score on the writing section seems unlikely if it indicates that my writing in English has become worse. I wonder what is the main reason for the decrease on my writing test score. In my opinion, the reason might lie in the writing topics I received for Task 2 in the IELTS tests that I took. In my first IELTS test, the topic was about culture and education. I was really interested in and familiar with that topic. However, the topic in my second IELTS test was about politics, and I would have had nothing to say about that topic even in my first language. Therefore, I think the score candidates receive in the writing section is largely related to the topic in the test. It might be that the decrease of my score on writing is due to the topic I received rather than my real English level. This leads to the question of whether all topics are equal when testing English language proficiency. I wonder if all the topics for the IELTS writing section Task 2 come from a common knowledge base that can be accessed by all students from culturally diverse backgrounds to make sure that candidates’ performance on writing shows their real English level.
Many programs in Canadian universities have their own specific requirements related to IELTS, not only regarding the overall band score but also the score of every section. For example, one teacher education program in British Columbia requires candidates to have not only an IELTS score of at least 7.0 overall, but also 7.0 on each of the writing and speaking sections. IELTS scores are valid within two years after the day the test taken. However, students cannot use two IELTS reports together that both have at least 7.0 overall, one with 7.0 on speaking section but 6.5 on writing section and another with 7.0 on writing section but 6.5 on speaking section to apply for the teacher education program in question, which means applicants need to spend time and money on taking the IELTS again and again until they meet all requirements at the same time. Considering the issue of varying topics and how unfamiliar topics may impact IELTS scores, I wonder if the rules could change to allow students to combine two tests to demonstrate English language proficiency.
Long, M. (1996). The role of the linguistic environment in second language acquisition. In W. Ritchie and T. Bhatia (eds.) Handbook of Second Language Acquisition. New York, NY: Academic Press, 413-468.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard university press.
Biographical Information (From the Winter 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter)
Tian Li is a graduate student in Faculty of Education on UBC’s Okanagan Campus. She has five year’s teaching experience as a math teacher. Her areas of interest are content and language integrated learning, additional language acquisition, and mathematics education.