Understanding the Employment Conditions of English as an Additional Language Instructors of Adults in British Columbia

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by Sherry Breshears

[This article was first printed in the Winter 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

Introduction

This year marks BC TEAL’s 50th anniversary, and the present newsletter is dedicated to reflecting upon the past few decades of our professional practice. This is a time to reflect back on where we have come from and consider where we might take the profession in the future. At this landmark moment, I propose that we take up a theme that has permeated the dialogue about English as an additional language (EAL) teaching for years: the problem of poor working conditions for a significant segment of teachers in our field.

I became interested in the topic of EAL teachers’ working conditions early in my teaching career, and have explored the issue from various perspectives. I have taught in both the public and private language education sectors and have seen first-hand the work-related struggles that many adult educators experience. For several years I volunteered for the union at my workplace, and my master’s thesis focused on unionization among EAL teachers in the private sector (Breshears, 2008). In my current doctoral work, I am looking at work insecurity in EAL teaching through a labour studies lens, in particular through the lens of precarious employment. Precarious employment is a framework for understanding the complexities of work insecurity and includes an examination of the factors the come together to create precarious work situations.

In recent decades, a body of empirical evidence has emerged to support the sentiment that EAL teaching for adult learners in North America is, in large part, insecure work. The evidence shows that EAL teaching for adults involves a high reliance on part-time and temporary work, low wages, a high proportion of unpaid work, limited access to benefits, and a lack of professional and administrative support. Reports also suggest that such problematic working conditions affect teachers’ abilities to serve their students. As claims about difficult employment situations for teachers of adult EAL learners have emerged, so too has the concept of precarious employment, but there has been little intersection between them.

I propose here that we begin to think about what employment conditions are like for educators of adult EAL learners in British Columbia. Which EAL educators are most likely to experience precarious employment, and why is this so? What are the consequences of teacher working conditions for the sustainability and quality of adult EAL educational practice? These are the questions I hope to answer as I begin the research segment of my doctoral journey.

Previous Research: Employment Concerns for EAL Teachers in North America

In the 1990s in North America, several practitioners and scholars began to express their frustration with the unstable employment conditions and lack of professional status of the EAL field. In the early part of the decade, Elsa Auerbach, adult EAL literacy teacher and scholar, wrote:

A fact of life for [EAL] educators is that we are marginalized; college [EAL] instructors are often hired as adjunct faculty on a semester by semester basis to teach non-credit preparatory courses in academic skills centres. Elementary [EAL] teachers teach in pull-out programs, travelling from school to school and setting up shop in closets, corridors, and basements. Adult educators teaching survival [EAL] have to work two or three jobs in order to survive; jobs with benefits, living wages, and any measure of security are few and far between. (Auerbach, 1991, p.1)

Over the years, several surveys that examine the employment situations of teachers of adult EAL learners have been conducted by professional organizations, unions, universities, and other research organizations throughout North America (Power Analysis, 1998; Sanaoui, 1997; Smith & Hofer, 2003; Sun, 2010; Valeo & Faez, 2013; Valeo, 2013; White & Naylor, 2015). Although these reports vary somewhat in their focus, they consistently find that EAL teachers for adult learners often experience insecure employment conditions and that this has both personal and professional implications. I highlight here a few of the primary employment concerns identified by teachers across the surveys. 

A central issue for EAL teachers of adults is the lack of permanent positions in the field. For example, two large surveys of EAL teachers of adults in Ontario found that only about a quarter of respondents have continuing contracts, while all others are casual or limited-term (Power Analysis, 1998; Sanaoui, 1997). Another key problem for teachers is the lack of full-time work. Four different studies reported that a majority of respondents are part-time (Power Analysis, 1998; Smith, Hofer and Gillespie, 2001; Sun, 2010; White and Naylor, 2015). Further to this, temporary and part-time employment could lead to a situation where a teacher held multiple jobs in order to protect against job loss or to make up for a lack of adequate work (eg. Sun, 2010; Valeo & Faez, 2013).

In addition to job insecurity related to temporary and part-time employment, teachers in the reports expressed dissatisfaction with their salaries. The sufficiency of the income package is best understood in view of both paid and unpaid work time. Some surveys highlighted the fact that teachers of adult EAL learners often put a large proportion of unpaid time into lesson planning and preparation, grading, administrative duties, staff meetings, and meetings with students. For a number of teachers, this non-teaching time brought their total work load to above fifty hours per week (Crookes & Arakaki, 1999; White & Naylor, 2015). Other complicating factors that add to job insecurity included working shifts or teaching at multiple sites or in multiple programs (Crookes & Arakaki, 1999; Sun, 2010; Valeo & Faez, 2013). Taken together, these common characteristics of EAL teachers’ employment may be the reason that Sun’s (2010) survey of over 1000 adult EAL teachers indicated that 43 percent of respondents felt that job insecurity was their primary employment concern.

Such difficult working conditions affect teachers’ physical and mental well-being. In their study of over 100 adult educators in the public school system in B.C., White and Naylor (2015) found that teachers “spoke of their fatigue and, in some cases, ill-health because of their reports of ‘doing more with less’, constant lay-offs, and lack of prep time” (p. 8). Another concern is the relationship between challenging working conditions and life outside of work: “I really try to keep my work down to 40 hours a week. I want a quality personal life” (Crookes & Arakaki, 1999, p.17). Survey authors noted that work insecurity not only influenced educators on a personal level, but also “undermine[ed] the professionalism of the field because many educators have to contend with juggling several jobs, receiving low pay, and being prevented from improving their instructional practices or keeping abreast of current research” (Sun, p.142).

Over the decades, it seems that the concerns expressed by EAL teachers about their job conditions have not changed. And while the empirical evidence strongly suggests a prevalence of precarious work conditions in the EAL education sector, there is little critical assessment of the factors that contribute to employment insecurity in the sector. I suggest that we look to labour research for tools that can help to illuminate the conditions that contribute to precarious employment.

Work Insecurity for EAL Teachers: Part of a Growing Trend in Precarious Employment in Canada

There is an increasing trend toward work insecurity in Canada. Accompanying this trend is a growing dialogue about the diminishing quality of jobs. The term “precarious employment” has emerged as a way to conceptualize work that is uncertain in one or more ways. It generally includes temporary, part-time, and low-paid work, as well as work with minimal benefits and work that lacks union representation.

Precarious employment is best understood in contrast to the “standard employment relationship” which is conceived as “a stable, socially protected, dependent, full-time job” (Fudge, 2009, p.132). The standard employment relationship is what we typically think of when we talk about a “good job,” or at least this is what we used to expect. The standard employment relationship involves a work arrangement that is full-time and permanent. It likely includes benefits and may be unionized. It’s something one can build a career around. In contrast, precarious employment is based on a flexible model. It responds to the short-term, market-oriented or funding-dependent needs of the employer rather than an employee’s need for stability. Since the 1970s, there has been an overall decline in work characterized as standard employment, an increase in precarious forms of work, and an erosion of the social safety net. Precarious employment can have profound effects on an individual’s life, on quality of work, and on families.

The Usefulness of the Precarious Employment Framework for Understanding the Work of EAL Instructors

There are clear parallels between precarious employment in the general labour market and work insecurity in EAL teaching. But what is the usefulness of applying the framework of precarious employment to EAL teaching in B.C.? Several aspects of this framework can help shed light on EAL teachers’ work experiences beyond an education perspective, but with implications for educational practice.

First, aligning an analysis of adult EAL teachers’ work with common characteristics of precarious employment provides a language for understanding work insecurity in an educational context and provides a new level of analysis. Once precarious forms of work are identified, we can start to see how one form is entwined with other forms, creating a cumulative effect. For example, if a person works part-time, they may be ineligible for employment insurance benefits. This leads to a situation where a teacher is more likely to stay in a “bad job” because they cannot afford to leave it.

The precarious employment framework also helps to clarify that work insecurity in EAL teaching is part of a broader trend in industrialized nations where companies and governments are shifting financial risks to workers by “flexibilizing” employment relationships. Current employment laws involve much fewer obligations on the part of the employer than they once did, and employers are thus less likely to retain workers on a permanent basis. Additionally, we could also examine the landscape of education policy that shapes the field. The shrinking of publicly funded language education for newcomers to Canada along with the simultaneous growth of international education for full fee paying students is currently having an effect on the field. This shift has played out in the recent layoffs at local colleges and school boards and may have other yet-to-be-identified consequences for teachers’ work.

A final consideration is that the concept of precarious employment offers a framework for distinguishing how employment practices in EAL line up with those in other occupations and to link such practices with identifiable characteristics of an occupation. For example, research shows that there are more women than men in precarious employment (Vosko, 2006). Similarly, the studies about the work of EAL teaching referred to above on average show that 85 percent of EAL teachers are women (eg. Sun, 2010). This may lead to explorations of EAL teaching as a gendered occupation.

Conclusion

The issue of employment conditions for EAL teachers of adult learners is an important one for organizations like BC TEAL who are committed to upholding professional standards and advocating for teachers. The framework of precarious employment offers a new lens for understanding the complexities of work insecurity in the field. As we come to understand the unique contours of EAL employment, we can start to recognize how to better support teachers so that teachers, in turn, can provide quality learning experiences for students.

References

Auerbach, E. (1991). Politics, pedagogy, and professionalism: challenging marginalization in ESL. College ESL, 1(1), 1-9.

Crookes, G., & Arakaki, L. (1999). Teaching idea sources and work conditions in an ESL program. TESOL Journal, 8(1), 15–19.

Fudge, J. (2009). The new workplace: Surveying the landscape. Manitoba Law Journal 33(1), 131-149.

Power Analysis Inc. (1998). Study of ESL/EFL services in Ontario. Retrieved from http://atwork.settlement.org/downloads/linc/ESLFSL.pdf

Sanaoui, R. (1997). Professional Characteristics and Concerns of Instructors Teaching English as a Second Language to Adults in Non-Credit Programs in Ontario. TESL Canada Journal, 14(2), 32–54.

Smith, C., & Hofer, J. (2003). The Characteristics and Concerns of Adult Basic Education Teachers. NCSALL Reports# 26. National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL). Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED508605

Smith, C., Hofer, J., & Gillespie, M. (2001). The working conditions of adult literacy teachers: Preliminary findings from the NSCALL staff development study. Focus on Basics, 4. Retrieved from http://www.ncsall.net/index.html@id=291.html

Sun, Y. (2010). Standards, equity, and advocacy: Employment conditions of ESOL teachers in adult basic education and literacy systems. TESOL Journal, 1(1), 142–158.

Valeo, A. (2013). The TESL Ontario member survey: A brief report. Contact Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.teslontario.net/uploads/pinterest/contactarticles/Survey_Valeo.pdf

Valeo, A., & Faez, F. (2013). Career Development and Professional Attrition of Novice ESL Teachers of Adults. TESL Canada Journal, 31(1), 1–19.

Vosko, L. F. (2006). Precarious employment: Towards an improved understanding of labour market insecurity. In L. F. Vosko (Ed.), Precarious employment: Understanding labour market insecurity in Canada, 3-39. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

White, M. and Naylor, C. (2015). Chapter Four: Working conditions and workload issues in adult education. Retrieved from https://bctf.ca/uploadedFiles/Public/Issues/Worklife/AdultEd/Chapter4.pdf

Biographical Information (From the Winter 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter)

Sherry Breshears is a PhD Candidate in Education with a Labour Studies focus at Simon Fraser University. Her research interests include language and literacy education, the employment conditions of EAL teachers of adults, and international education in British Columbia. Her work draws from methods that consider how policy contexts shape everyday lives in educational spaces.

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Breshears, S. (2017, Winter). Understanding the employment conditions of English as an additional language instructors of adults in British Columbia. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/TEAL-News-Winter-2017.pdf

#CdnELTchat summary for February 9, 2021 (What should we keep doing in #ELT? )

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#CdnELTchat summary for February 9, 2021
Jennifer Chow

It’s been almost a year since many ELT educators have had to make a sudden shift to online teaching. Students and teachers have had a range of feelings and experiences from being overwhelmed and exhausted to finding resilience and compassion. For the past year, we’ve experienced challenges, changes and opportunities. We’ve learned to use new ideas, perspectives, methods and technologies. As we move forward, we should consider how we want to harness the positive changes. What changes have me made that we should continue to do and build on post-pandemic?  

Thank-you to the educators who shared their thoughts about the things we should keep doing in #ELT post pandemic. Here are the questions that guided the #CdnELTchat we had on February 9:

Q1: Are there tools and approaches that you used to use in the F2F classroom that have been successful in the online environment?
Q2: Are there new tools or approaches that you have tried during the shift to online that you will definitely continue going forward? 
Q3: What new knowledge have you gained that you will carry forward in your practice? What would you say is the most important part of teaching and learning in online spaces? 
Q4: What has been your most profound learning during the shift to online? 
Q5: What have you learned about doing assessments online that you want to continue to do post-pandemic?  

We’ve collected the tweets from our chat in Wakelet, but here are some of the highlights from our discussion

  • Students have been able to practice digital skills through blended teaching/learning, and that will be more important as the nature of workplaces change. Students will want to continue studying and collaborating online post-pandemic.
  • Integrating #UDL guidelines by giving students the choice of text, audio, or video responses should continue.
  • Using instructional design by laying out outcomes, inputs, learning activities and assessment for each chunk of course strengthens f2f classes as well.
  • Spending more time establishing relationships and building rapport are important in any environment.
  • Attending to cognitive load for teachers and students by choose a few versatile tools that work for a range of purposes is something to keep in mind post-pandemic.
  • Continue to teach with compassion. Being fair doesn’t mean treating everyone the same. What’s fair is not having the same due dates, but that everyone has a due date that takes into account the differences in unchosen realities. 
  • Teaching/learning online has allowed us to create more flexibility in how we assess, when we assess and what to assess, which allows students to discover their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Covering everything in the curriculum doesn’t not mean rushing through everything to cover all the material. It’s more important to focus on learning outcomes. 
  • It’s important to build on the ideas that emphasize learning over assessing, trust over proctoring and effort over achievement.

We hope #CdnELTchat can provide the space for #ELT educators across Canada and beyond to continue to reflect on what we’re learning, what we’re finding challenging and what solutions we’ve tried, especially during this time. Use the hashtag #CdnELTchat anytime to connect and to share information of interest to the #CdnELT community. 

#CdnELTchat is a collaborative effort that we hope will lead to more reflective practice for all of us involved in ELT. If you are interested in joining our team, or have any ideas for topics, please send @StanzaSL, @EALStories, @Jennifermchow, or @ELTAugusta a tweet. Our Padlet is also always open for your questions and comments. 

Jen Bio Pic

Jennifer is passionate about learning how technology can empower her students. After experiencing how technology enabled her to stay connected as an educator, a parent and an active citizen, she is motivated to find the same opportunities for her students. Twitter: @jennifermchow

#CdnELTchat Summary for January 26, 2021 (What should we leave behind in #ELT?)

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#CdnELTchat summary for January 26, 2021
By Bonnie Nicholas

What should we leave behind in #ELT?

Whether we were ready or not, since last spring COVID-19 has forced almost all of us to become online teachers. For many of us working in ELT, the move to online teaching was a giant leap out of our comfort zone. As the pandemic enters its second year and mostly-online teaching and learning continues, we have an opportunity to think critically about our practices and to reflect on what we should maybe leave behind. This was the theme for the January 26 #CdnELTchat; the follow-up chat is on what we should keep going forward.

These are the questions that guided our discussion: 

  • The pandemic has been called “the great pause”. As we pause many of our habitual activities what have you learned? What don’t you need as much as you perhaps once thought you did?
  • With many of us working from home, we may have abandoned our work spaces. What have you perhaps left at your workplace that you now realize you don’t need to be an effective teacher?
  • Are there any teaching practices that you have left behind? Were you surprised that these practices weren’t as effective as you thought and that you really didn’t need them?
  • Are there things that you would like to leave behind but can’t because of program or funding requirements? How can you reconcile this?
  • Are there attitudes towards learning that you will leave behind after the pandemic ends and we return to a new normal (whatever that looks like)? 

You can read the collected tweets from this chat on Wakelet or by searching Twitter using the hashtag #CdnELTchat. Here’s a list of suggestions that were offered during the chat for what we can think about leaving behind when the pandemic is over:

  • the need to control everything
  • all the paper we thought we needed – and all the photocopying!
  • working so many long hours
  • a physical classroom / a physical workplace
  • rushing to “finish” a course or “cover” the curriculum at the cost of learning
  • the worry that we are not teaching students enough tech skills for workplace success
  • Sunday 11:59 deadlines
  • widespread proctoring and the belief that students must be trying to cheat
  • forcing students to have cameras on
  • teaching without sensitivity or compassion for students’ lived experiences

Do you agree or disagree with this list? What would you add or take away? What is something you know you should leave behind but find difficult to let go? What habits do you need to change? 

Our hope is that connecting through a social medium like Twitter will lead to more reflective practice for all of us. We invite anyone to continue the conversation asynchronously by using the hashtag #CdnELTchat. We hold chats on a wide range of topics every couple of weeks, usually on Tuesday evenings. We’re always looking for people interested in sharing their passion for a particular topic in #ELT by co-moderating a chat or by joining the team. Reach out to Jennifer Chow (@jennifermchow), Augusta Avram (@ELTaugusta), Svetlana Lupasco (@StanzaSL), or Bonnie Nicholas (@bonniejnicholas).

zAB6NaOy_400x400Bonnie Nicholas (@BonnieJNicholas) is an enthusiastic participant in the bi-monthly #CdnELTchat as well as a member of the #CdnELTchat team along with Svetlana Lupasco (@StanzaSL), Jennifer Chow (@jennifermchow), and Augusta Avram (@ELTAugusta). Bonnie teaches LINC at NorQuest College in Edmonton.

 

Navigating the New Classroom

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By Tanya Cowie

Let’s take a deep breath, be flexible

and find joy as best we can.

Tanya Cowie

As EAL instructors, we are used to dealing with intercultural challenges, such as students not wanting to work with each other and misunderstandings. This is stressful, and given we are now teaching and learning online, even more intense. Students are also dealing with tech stress and those with disabilities can have an even tougher time. I was fortunate to attend some online events that promoted mindfulness in intercultural communication and the realities of the new classroom, and wanted to share what I learned.

Being Mindful

Last October, BC TEAL/SIETAR BC’s Self-Studies in Language and Pedagogy included a webinar on Mindfulness and Intercultural Communication with Amea Wilbur and Taslim Damji. This was a great reminder to be mindful in all our interactions with students (and colleagues!). The key is to be aware of yourself and notice your physical sensations, your emotions and feelings, and your thoughts and behaviours. Follow this cycle in times of communication breakdowns: breathe, suspend judgement, take a step back, reflect on what happened, and then decide on a goal and how to get there. Many times, if we are mindful of our responses and find curiosity in the moment, we will handle things better. 

Handling Tech Stress

We especially need to be mindful of tech stresses involved with switching to online. Our students have not only had to learn new technologies, but getting the actual devices is also difficult for some. True inequalities are apparent. Some students can only use a phone to connect, some are without wifi, and many are without a video cam. In the webinar Digital Equity (a SIETAR/ Langara event), Dr. Suzanne Smythe recounted that the CTRC found that 31% of Canadians who earned less than $33,000 a year did not have access to the internet, and 37% did not have a working home computer. This includes many of our students.  I have to remind myself to assess English, not tech skills.  Being flexible helps. I give students multiple ways to submit assessments, such as sending videos via email or an app; I reset listening assessments if there are wifi interruptions and give extensions if possible. 

Learning Technology for Students with Disabilities

For students with disabilities, moving online can create even more difficulties with course materials and digital platforms. In another BC TEAL/SIETAR BC  self-studies webinar, Seeing Beyond Vision Loss, Anu Pala talked about students with vision loss navigating online platforms. Anu has complete vision loss, and due to this lived experience and her being tech savvy, she helps teachers and students learn what technology can be adapted. (Watch for Anu at our next BC TEAL conference!) 

Finding Joy

If you have not tweeted with #CdnELTchat you should! It is such a great platform for discussions about all things EAL and tech. While participating, I always feel inspired. Recently they had a twitter session on the stresses of teaching/learning online and we talked about finding joy in these difficult times. For me, teaching with my dog sleeping at my feet helps me to see some happiness in these times of the pandemic.

Surviving Covid

Acknowledging that we have extra stresses now, and being mindful of all our interactions, can build understanding. Let’s take a deep breath, be flexible and find joy as best we can.

Further Study

If you would like to take part in discussions on diversity and equity in the classroom,
come to the next BCTEAL/ SIETAR BC Self-Studies! 
Come tweet with #CdnELTchat.  

References

Smythe, S. (2020, April 21). Digital equity and community solidarity during and after COVID-19. Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://www.policynote.ca/digital-equity/

(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.a-nuvision.ca/

Author Jen, & Jen. (2019, October 04). #CdnELTchat Summary for September 24, 2019 (Self-care for teachers). Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://bcteal.wordpress.com/2019/10/03/cdneltchat-summary-for-september-24-2019-self-care-for-teachers/

https://www.bcteal.org/bcteal_event/self-studies-in-language-and-pedagogy-october-2020/. (n.d.).

https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/self-studies-series-2020-tickets-129064618749. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/self-studies-series-2020-tickets-129064618749

Bio: Tanya has been teaching EAL for over 25 years and teaches in the Pathways program at VCC. She is a lifelong learner and has interests in Intercultural Communication, Anti-racism, and EAL Pedagogy. Tanya has a certificate in Intercultural Studies from UBC, is an IDI Qualified administrator and is a SIETAR BC board member. Tanya currently works and resides on the lands of the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Stó:lō.


Putting it to You

What are you doing to make your new classroom work?

Share your ideas in the reply section below! 


Classroom Corner: Mixed Headlines

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by Edward Pye

[This article was first printed in the Winter 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

Tag Words:     Integrated Skills, Media, News, Current Events, Story-telling, Narratives

Time:              80 minutes

Age/Level:      Modifiable for different ages and levels, but better at higher levels and ages.

Numbers:        Three or more groups of two or four students

Skills:              Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking, Creative thinking

Mixed Headlines is an integrated task in which students weave different stories together. It works well when related to a topic like media and current events, but it can be customized to a variety of topics as well as a range of levels and ages.

Objectives:

  • Finding news/stories from various sources
  • Explaining the main “WH” details and narrative of a story
  • Writing a creative storyline
  • Narrating a storyline

Preparation:

  • In the previous class, give students the homework of finding a story. The type of story will depend on what topic you are studying. If it is general current events, then have them find an interesting current events story. If you are studying technology, then have them find a technology story. If you have younger or lower level students, have them find an interesting short story that they can understand and explain. The key is that the story must have a narrative. Instruct students to only choose short stories in which they can identify the main details (answer the six WH questions) and follow the narrative. Let them know that they will have to explain the story in the following class which should make them choose better stories.
  • Alternatively, this step can be done at the beginning of the class. I have students find stories at home because they usually have better resources and this step can take a while.
  • You will need several stations for this activity. Students will be in small groups and each will need a station, so you may need to rearrange the desks/tables.

Steps:

  1. Groups (2 minutes): Put students into small groups and give each group a station. This activity works best with at least four groups. They will be split up later in the task, so there needs to be at least two students in each group. The ideal number for this task is four groups of four.
  • Warm up Questions (5 minutes): Write the following questions on the board: “Has your friend ever given you the wrong information? What happened?” “Do news companies ever give incorrect information? Why?” Have the students discuss. Go over the answers together briefly.
  • Explain your story (20 minutes): Have students take out their news stories and have them explain them to their group members. Tell them to go over the main details of each story:
  • What is it about?
  • When and where does it take place?
  • Who is it about?
  • How does the story unfold? What happens?
  • Why does it happen? What were the events that caused this story?
  • Make a new story (20 minutes): Once everyone has explained their story, have them combine the details of each story together to create a completely new story. They should write the story down on a piece of paper making sure that it has all the main details.
  • Divide Speakers & Listeners (3 minutes): Once the stories are finished, take the pieces of paper from each team, split each team in half and have the two halves play rock, paper, scissors. The winning half gets to choose between speaking and listening. If they choose speaking, they will stay at their station and explain their new story. If they choose listening, they will rotate around to the next station and listen to the next group’s story.
  • Rotate (1 minute): Once the speakers and listeners have been determined, rotate the listeners to the next group where they listen. Speakers stay where they are and wait for incoming listeners. Make sure to rotate the groups in an orderly circle so that students eventually rotate back to their own station.
  • Story-telling (5 minutes): Have the speakers explain their story while the listeners listen. Tell the listeners to listen carefully because they will be explaining that story next. Listeners can ask questions for clarification if they need.
  • Alternate Rotation (1 minute): Once all the speakers have finished explaining their stories, rotate the teams again, but this time, the students who did not move last time (the speakers) will move. So, speakers move to the next station where they will reunite with their original team. However, now the roles are reversed. The incoming speakers will become listeners and the remaining listeners will become speakers.
  • Story Re-telling (5 minutes): Have the new speakers give the details of the story that they have just heard (the story always stays at the station even though the students rotate through). Again, tell the new listeners to pay close attention because they will be explaining this story in a short time.
  1. Repeat (Varying time): Repeat the alternating rotation process. The listeners stay at the station and become speakers, while the speakers move on and become listeners and then alternate the next rotation. Do this until every team has been to every other station.
  1. Check the stories (10 minutes): Stop the rotation when the teams are at the station just before their own. Bring the class back together and have the teams explain the story of the station that they are at. Have the team from the corresponding station listen and check if they have all the right details. Because this is a high-pressure information sharing activity, the details of each story will change as they get passed through different teams which will be met with great hilarity by everyone.
  1. Follow Up: Once this is all done, explain the importance of listening carefully and getting the correct details. You may even want to go over some listening strategies or discuss why it is important for media outlets to report correct details.

Biographical Information (From the Winter 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter)

Edward Pye is a New Zealander with an English literature degree from Otago University. Before moving to British Columbia, he taught in South Korea for eight years. Since then, he has worked as an Educational Programmer and EAP instructor on UBC’s Okanagan campus and as an EAL instructor at Okanagan College.

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Pye, E.  (2017, Winter). Mixed headlines. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/TEAL-News-Winter-2017.pdf

An Ear-Opening Experience

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By Alysha Baratta
(Culture Cafe participants)

We Are HuH (Humans Understanding Humans) is a platform run by Options Community Services that offers activities and resources to connect people together, break down stereotypes, and create & strengthen multi-cultural communities. We design activities and resources that we hope groups all across Canada will utilize. One of our activities is called Culture Cafe which is an online community gathering for people of all ages and English language abilities. On the surface, it’s a weekly Zoom meeting that involves a presentation and then cross-cultural 1-on-1 breakout room conversations. Some humans come to practice English conversation, while others come to socialize with people from different cultures. At its heart, it’s a place where growth happens. What kind of growth? All sorts, in all different directions, for everyone involved.

-Farhan from Syria, Culture Cafe participant

“I know a little bit about so many people and countries now. Connecting with people of different cultures removes the hatred and bad feelings against each other. It’s not people’s fault what politics does and because of politics people have misunderstandings about each other.”

Grow your ears

Dr. Vijay Ramjattan researches accentism and the workplace barriers that racialized people face in Canada. While they’ve been told their accent is the barrier, it’s actually everyday racism. Perpetuating the idea that a  ‘neutral accent’ exists is thinly veiled coding that centers whiteness as the goal. Dr. Ramjattan discusses his work in this podcast, (around the 38 minute mark, but listen to the whole thing!) He makes the point that ‘accent reduction’ classes aren’t the answer to this problem. Rather, the responsibility lies on the listener to improve their listening skills. I’ve been privileged as a white teacher to never experience microaggressions questioning my expertise in English, and I’ve also gotten the chance to hone my listening ear over many years. Culture Cafe can offer this opportunity for growth. While this group can’t single-handedly undo the institutional racism that’s baked into everything we do, it can help confront the assumption that talking like a white person is the right way.

Grow your wealth

If you happen to live near a long-numbered house in Surrey, did you know your neighbour walked over 4,000 kilometers across China in the 1950s to collect soldiers’ stories? Of course you don’t – you’ve never had a chance to talk directly with her, but you’d be richer if you had. By now you’ve probably picked up that I’m not talking about monetary wealth. I’m talking about the richness of glimpsing into someone else’s life. Culture Cafe offers bilingual conversation prompts to elicit stories and other personal memories. Often I click “leave meeting” feeling humbled by these snippets of histories, and honored that someone has chosen to share them with me.

Pandemic or not, we aren’t the best at knocking on our neighbour’s doors and getting to know them. Although we’re excited to make real the post-Covid potluck plans, Culture Cafe will always have an online component. It’s a model of low-barrier community gathering to consider even after things “get back to normal”.

Grow your approach to language

I know from my own life that language learning is more effective when tied to personal experiences. When I close my eyes and think of Spanish, I feel a warmth from within. Everything is shades of burnt orange and crispy plantain yellow. I think of my Chilean host mom’s red tinted hair and bright matching lipstick. The Czech language tastes like slightly melted and refrozen snow. It’s refreshingly coarse, just like my friend Honza’s dry zingers. The language-learning app Duolingo has increased my Arabic literacy tenfold, but the lifeless, mechanical voice does little to solidify new words and meanings in my mind. But when my Syrian foodie friend tries my biscotti and, with raised eyebrows, says  a “tayib!” (delicious!) of approval – it’s stored in my visceral vocabulary forever.

So, who’s burning English into your students’ brains? Where are they finding memories and sentiments to attach to their expanding vocabularies? One Culture Cafe chatter told us that throughout 5 years in Canada, the only person they had ever spoken English with was their teacher.  It showed. Not because their speech was unintelligible – it wasn’t. They had serious doubts and low confidence. While not underestimating the importance of an engaging teacher, that’s not how this human’s journey should be. 

The human connections that Culture Cafe chatters experience make language memorable, and the friendly, listening ears breed confidence in English learners. We all know that language is more than stringing words together, but we so rarely have a place to put ourselves out there and use our words meaningfully.

Grow your practice

As you can see, I think the Culture Cafe we host at Options is pretty rad. But beyond our single gathering, we think the model and tools can be transformative for people looking to start new kinds of conversations with people they’ve never talked to before. Ready to open the ears of everyone you know? If you’d like to catalyze the storytelling, exchange, and learning in your community, check out www.wearehuh.com or e-mail hello@wearehuh.com to learn how.

Alysha Baratta is a learner, educator, facilitator, geographer, puppy mom, and stress-baker. She currently works from home on the unceded traditional territories of the Katzie, sc̓əwaθenaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsawwassen), səl̓ilwətaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsleil-Waututh), S’ólh Téméxw (Stó:lō), Qayqayt, Kwantlen, Stz’uminus and Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) peoples for Options Community Services. This project is funded by IRCC’s Service Delivery Improvement fund.

“Pandemagogy”

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By Linda Peteherych

One LINC Literacy Instructor’s Experience with Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT)

While many LINC teachers have been incorporating an online component into their courses over the past few years, I have felt that it would not be a good idea for my LINC 1 literacy learners.  After having been forced to teach literacy solely via the computer for 4 months, I can say that my suspicion about face-to-face teaching being far superior for literacy students was correct.  However, I have also learned that low literacy students not only can learn to use e-mail and online learning but that they should, and I will continue to incorporate computer literacy into my curriculum.

Ups and Downs

Having to do emergency remote teaching so suddenly, without the skills, and with students who did not have the skills, was what made it so difficult.  At times it felt impossible.  There were ups and downs, but some good did result from my experience with emergency remote teaching.

The Ups:

  • My students and I learned new tech skills.
  • Most of my students became more independent and made noticeable progress in all four skills.
  • We completed 7 assessments.
  • I learned that my students and their support networks could take on more responsibility.

 The Downs:

  • At the onset, a lot of time was wasted obtaining correct student e-mail addresses.
  • I spent far too many stressful hours learning new technology that would enable me to send some useful content to students each day.  The time spent preparing, replying to e-mails, and record keeping was too great relative to the amount of effective teaching time.
  • As many literacy instructors experienced, teaching writing via ERT was very difficult.  Effective reading and writing instruction for literacy learners involves moment to moment careful observation, skilled eliciting and prompting, and allowing learners time to figure things out by themselves using the skills you have taught and modeled.  I could not do this with groups of students during video conferences.  
  • Also, teaching printing was out of the question because I like to watch my new printers carefully to ensure they form letters correctly instead of fossilizing bad habits.  This may not sound important, but correct left to right directionality during writing does help with beginning reading.
  • Worst of all, a few students had to abandon online learning because nobody in their households had the skills to help them. 

Face to Face Again

My students and I were very happy to begin a blended learning format this past September.  Instead of two classes of 10 students, I now have four groups of 5 students: 3 LINC 1Literacy groups and a Foundations group.  Each group of 5 is in the classroom two days a week and learning via e-mail on the other two days of our 4-day school week.  Masks, visors, sanitizer, cleaning products, and a daily COVID 19 survey have kept us safe so far.

Strategies for Remote & Blended Teaching

Literacy students need to be taught to use a balance of: reading for meaning; using an awareness of correct English sentence structure – or what ‘sounds right’ ; and noticing the details of the print itself.  In order to teach these skills, the following strategies work well for both emergency remote teaching and blended learning:

#1.  Use Images, Audio and Videos

All literacy lesson content needs to be taught with images.  During ERT and blended teaching, images as well as videos and website links are necessary for ensuring students understand the meaning of the target language and can master it in listening and speaking before reading and writing.  I made a number of videos using either my camera or PowerPoint.  For those who would like to make PPT videos, see this helpful YouTube demonstration.  Short PPT videos can be attached to e-mails, and regular videos can be uploaded to a private YouTube channel and sent to students via a link.  I also found some useful listening and reading practice activities at Learning Chocolate.  Videos can be so wonderfully helpful for practicing new language that I will continue making videos and e-mailing them to students for homework after this pandemic is over.

If you use vocabulary practice websites and videos to skill-build new vocabulary, make sure to spend most of your teaching time helping students use the new language in complete sentences so that learners develop an awareness of correct English structure.  When students begin to learn what ‘sounds right’, they can use that to predict words while reading.

#2.  Add Visuals to E-mails

I help students understand the meaning of my e-mails with icons, symbols, and photos.

I use full sentences that my students have become familiar with, in order to build structural awareness.

I also use double spaces between all words in my e-mails and handouts to help students notice the details of print.

#3.  Video Conferencing

 The students met me on Zoom twice a week during emergency remote teaching for instruction, student questions, practice, and eventually assessments.  I did not give out paper packages.

#4.  Homework

I gave homework assignments each school day.  Along with studying videos and links, my students were usually required to write on paper, photograph their papers, and e-mail the photos to me.  There were some keen students who did the homework immediately, others had to wait for family members to help them, and some only submitted about half of the assignments.

#5.  Links for extra practice and learning

I often sent links to easy digital readers, such as some of the easiest books from  Unite For Literacy .  I hope to be using the Reading A-Z website soon. For a general knowledge and family literacy activity, I often sent Mystery Doug video links and instructed my students to watch the videos with their children. 

To Sum Up

The COVID 19 pandemic and the resulting online teaching and learning forced my students and I to learn some valuable skills.  I will continue to communicate with my students via e-mail, to send them links, and to make videos that help them practice our target language.  However, online teaching should not become the new normal for literacy learners.  There are a growing number of wonderful educational websites, but teaching basic reading and writing is far more effective with face-to-face instruction.  For this reason, I look forward to the day when we are addressing the root causes of these viral pandemics.  Whether it is COVID 19, the H1N1 Swine Flu, SARS, or Ebola, vaccines will not protect us from new versions of these viruses.  However, real hope can be found in improved worldwide literacy and science education.  Whether we teach face-to-face, in a blended situation, or – as a last resort – fully online, literacy instruction is an invaluable and rewarding job that is becoming more necessary in our interconnected world.

Linda Peteherych is Burnaby School District’s Literacy Lead and a LINC 1 Instructor. Over the past 27 years teaching LINC, Linda has become a skilled adult ESL literacy instructor. She recently audited a 2-year in-service course for elementary school teachers in a reading and writing intervention program for grade 1 learners. Linda applies this to her LINC literacy instruction with great success.

#CdnELTchat summary for November 10, 2020 (Time-Saving Tips )

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#CdnELTchat summary for November 10, 2020
Jennifer Chow

How do we complete everything we need to do at work AND find time to practice self-care? It has always been a juggling act for educators to find enough time to do all their work, meet the demands of their personal lives and take care of their physical and mental health. It has been even more difficult to manage time during COVID-19, as the boundary between work and home becomes increasingly blurred. 

Thank-you to the educators who shared their time-saving tips and tricks during the November 10 #CdnELTchat. We hope you find strategies, resources and advice that will help you become more productive and efficient. 

We’ve collected the tweets from our chat in Wakelet, but here are some of the highlights from our discussion: 

  • How to stay organized for teachers: keep a routine for teaching to ease anxiety, use a month-at-glance paper calendar, use an e-calendar to block off time for breaks and tasks, use Google Keep to keep track of to-do lists

  • How to stay organized for students: teach social emotional learning skills and self-regulation skills, provide consistent structure for students when sending announcements etc., encourage students to prioritize tasks at the of lessons, establish email and file naming for students

  • Beginning-of-term short-cuts: clean up documents that you need to reuse, record a welcome video, record instructional videos for LMS navigation before the term starts, set up e-calendar, check for broken links in LMS, plan assessments and assignments for the term so they are spaced out, create Google slide templates for breakout rooms, reuse announcements from the previous semester, create a Google Classroom to store links and files to resources 

  • How to mark smarter: do one question/page in batches to save time and to help intra-rater reliability, use digital rubrics that populate the grade book, use dual monitors to mark online assessments, customize feedback and create a drop-down list of them in a Word doc rubric  

  • Time-saving tips for teaching online: do a time audit of how much time you’re planning and prepping, establish boundaries to reduce stress and build resilience, use keyboard and desktop shortcuts to save time and avoid ergonomic hazards, split videos into segments in Google slides
  • Things you should let go: let go of things that students won’t notice, avoid checking emails after a certain time, skip any optional work activities that don’t bring you joy, consider how much time a commitment will take away from your family or personal time before you say yes, evaluate how much time you spend scrolling social media sites

We encourage everyone to continue the conversation using the hashtag #CdnELTchat. Here are the questions that we didn’t get a chance to discuss during the chat. 

#CdnELTchat

We hope #CdnELTchat can provide the space for #ELT educators across Canada and beyond to do that too. We’ll be doing some informal chats between our scheduled chats as a way to check in and support each other. 

#CdnELTchat is a collaborative effort that we hope will lead to more reflective practice for all of us involved in ELT. If you are interested in joining our team, or have any ideas for topics, please send @StanzaSL, @EALStories, @Jennifermchow, or @ELTAugusta a tweet. Our Padlet is also always open for your questions and comments. 

Use the hashtag #CdnELTchat anytime to connect and to share information of interest to the #CdnELT community. 

Jen Bio Pic

Jennifer is passionate about learning how technology can empower her students. After experiencing how technology enabled her to stay connected as an educator, a parent and an active citizen, she is motivated to find the same opportunities for her students. Twitter: @jennifermchow

 

Practical Gamification in The Online Classroom

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By Cindy Leibel

There is a common perception that gamification involves a time-intensive process of changing your entire class into an elaborate game-like product, sweeping the students along in wonderment. To the average instructor already swimming with new responsibilities, this could feel like a lofty target. I don’t disagree! However, if you are facing issues engaging your students through computer screens, gamification is a great strategy for helping enhance your teaching. The purpose of this article is to bring gamification down to a more accessible level, attainable with minimal effort. In fact, many of us are already implementing it without knowing. My goal is to help us simply become more intentional in its use and perhaps provide some new tricks to bring into our repertoires.

Defining Gamification

At its core, gamification is about applying game-like features to enhance existing activities (Centre for Teaching Excellence, n.d.). Applied carefully, it can lead to improved motivation, better attitude and in-class engagement, and consequently, increased cognitive achievement (Rahmani, 2020). There are many game-like features that you can use: see this gamification taxonomy for an example of some features.

Figure 1 https://slejournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40561-019-0106-1/figures/2
(Toda et. al, 2019)

The Gamification Process

As an instructor, I use gamification whenever I feel that students are starting to become disengaged from routine activities. From a practical perspective, I recommend incorporating one or two low-effort elements into your activities at a time. Try applying them to regular activities such as filling out worksheets or practicing dialogue.  Take an activity where students are practicing giving advice to each other, with some of my favorite elements listed below:

  • strategic choice: students must choose one piece of advice from their partner to disagree with
  • overwriting social rules: students must give really bad advice
  • challenge: students cannot use the word “should”
  • achievements: if students can perform a 1-minute dialogue in front of the class, they unlock a bonus advanced exercise on additional phrases to use
  • chance: without looking, students must pick one of the scenarios from an online flashcard deck or roll a die to decide if the advice will be good or bad

In online forums, rather than photos, avatars can be used (https://avatarmaker.com/ or https://getavataaars.com/), which can be helpful if students are self-conscious about their appearance.

Challenges

However, gamification is not without its challenges. Some key goals that I strive for when gamifying my activities are practicality (avoiding sweeping plans that create more work than they’re worth) and relevance (keeping a deliberate connection to objectives rather than focusing too much on delivery). There are some elements of gamification that I recommend against due to their increased labour and resource-intensive nature. These include:

  • narratives
  • rewards
  • points systems
  • leader boards
  • themes

Getting Started

To gamify your classroom, I recommend starting by completing an inventory of the elements you already use; you likely have some up your sleeve already. Next, experiment with new game mechanics gradually, keeping their use selective. Finally, abundant use of self-assessment would be beneficial after incorporating an element: students having fun does not mean that it was successful in achieving the learning objectives, while a quiet classroom does not mean that they aren’t engaged.

References

Centre for Teaching Excellence. (n.d.). Gamification and game-based learning. University of Waterloo. https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/educational-technologies/all/gamification-and-game-based-learning 

Rahmani, E. F. The Benefits of Gamification in the English Learning Context. Indonesian Journal of English Education, 7(1), 32-47. doi:10.15408/ijee.v7i1.17054 

Toda, A.M., Klock, A.C.T., Oliveira, W., Palomino, P. T., Rodrigues, L., Shi, L. Bittencourt, I., Gasparini, I., Isotani, S., & Cristea, A.I. (2019). Analysing gamification elements in educational environments using an existing Gamification taxonomy. Smart Learning Environments, 6(16). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40561-019-0106-1 

Biography

Cindy Leibel has been teaching English as an Additional Language since 2008, with a Bachelor of Education from SFU and a Master of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from UBC. Her interests include gamification and classroom technology, vocabulary instruction, and academic speaking. 

Building your professional experience (even during a pandemic!)

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By: Vera Ziwei Wu

Teachers are no strangers to contracts, jumping between jobs, and giving more than what is asked of us to support learners in various settings. As we get so caught up in our daily work, slowly, we become more isolated in our jobs, which challenges our mental health and limits our imaginations. This happens more often now with COVID isolating us from others. 

On the other hand, trying to attend a virtual conference or webinar is becoming increasingly difficult. In addition to not having enough time, we are so overwhelmed with the amount of work we invest in virtual communication, learning and teaching, as well as safe in-person teaching whenever possible, that we rarely want to stay at a computer when we don’t have to. How do we stay connected through small ways to ease our professional isolation while continuously developing ourselves in the profession? I have a few ideas for you.

Engage with your colleagues

You don’t have to do the work all alone! Instead, provide the opportunities for your colleagues to help you by starting a conversation and brainstorming new ideas together to address shared concerns or issues. I have met so many amazing teachers, administrators and people who work in leadership roles supporting teachers through BC TEAL events, and they have been, and still are, my inspirations to stay engaged and support others.

Building a circle of support around you and sharing resources, ideas, and opportunities within the group is a great way to share the workload, stay connected and have fun. Don’t have enough supportive colleagues around you? You can join BC TEAL (for FREE till Mar 1, 2021 if you’re currently unemployed) and get connected!

Present your resources to others (it can be informal and fun!)

If you are a BC TEAL member, you might have already been attending some of the amazing free webinars. The webinars can be almost anything relevant to TESOL, from resources to advocacy, from learner wellbeing to teacher support. Presenters have told us they were terribly scared at the beginning but felt incredibly good after working with us and making the session happen for their colleagues. It’s also zero-cost professional development that you can include on your CV!

BC TEAL can be easily reached at admin@bcteal.org. If you have an idea and are not sure if it will be a good fit, please do connect with us, as we may be able to help with further developing the session and support you with the technical part of the webinar – what better place to start? 

Join a committee 

Why do you feel so good after a productive meeting? It’s the constructive work, as well as the connection and the community for a cause you care about. You may or may not have been very engaged in a committee before, and the idea of joining one might be intimidating. If this is how you feel, try and start with a BC TEAL committee. 

If I have successfully persuaded you, here is the good news: Many of our committees are currently looking for new leaders! Check out our Facebook page and Instagram for posts with more details on the committees, and leave a comment if you have any questions. If you’re not sure which committee is the best fit for you, try this survey and we’ll help you find the right one!

Contribute to the BC TEAL Blog and TEAL News

Writing for the BC TEAL Blog and TEAL News is another place where you can share your resources, experiences and stories with others. This recent newsletter might give you an idea of the diverse topics and styles of writing we may include. No research is required, and all we need is you with ideas on classroom activities, anecdotes and stories about your experiences, or reports about talks, seminars, or conferences that you’ve attended, reflections on English language learning or anything else your fellow colleagues should know about! Got an idea? Email the editor, Scott Douglas, with your ideas at editor@bcteal.org now!

Teaching during a pandemic can be very challenging, so let BC TEAL make professional development easier for you. All you need is a BC TEAL membership that provides you access to resources, connections and opportunities. Join or renew now at https://www.bcteal.org/register-now/