Using Life-Writing with Newcomers in the Classroom
Life-writing and narrative pedagogies are sites EAL instructors can explore with newcomers to Canada in the classroom, allowing for students to examine their backgrounds and find commonalities and community through shared life experiences. For many newcomers who were former writers, the opportunity of embarking on a narrative project offers a chance to explore the English language through the medium of creative nonfiction.
The Stories from Newcomers to CanadaProject
Stories from Newcomers to Canada is one such BC-based creative non-fiction initiative. Started by Adult Educators and EAL instructors, the program helps newcomers author their own stories of migration in a forthcoming book, Geographies of the Heart: Life writing from Newcomers to Canada.
The project began in February 2020. The group had two meetings before Covid-19 hit in March, and then moved online. As a result, most of the writing process has taken place remotely via zoom, and the community has met regularly over this platform throughout the year.
The stories from this community of newcomers represent the multiplicity and complexity of experiences that are often ignored in narratives of immigration and forced migration to Canada. Understanding a range of experiences is especially important in a media landscape which continues to struggle against presenting one single narrative as “the” story of immigration.
The Podcast: Hosted by UBC Centre for Migration Studies
Six of the authors from the forthcoming book are featured on the Global Migration Podcast, which is hosted by the UBC Centre for Migration Studies and was recently released online:
You can get a sense of the project and authors by listening to these short ~30 minute episodes featuring different themes on the topic of settlement and migration.
Take a Listen!
Episodes 1-6 are currently on the website, with more episodes on the way!
Episode 1: Stories about Gathering Stories is about how the project was started by Raymonde Tickner, Amea Wilbur, Zahida Rahemtulla and Kerry Johnson.Episode 2: Stories about Mentorship focuses on the experiences of two Kurdish newcomer writers, Ava Homa and Shanga Karim and the experiences of minority writers, and Episode 3: In Stories about Exile and Displacement we hear from Albino Nyuol and Muhialdin Nyera Bakini about their exile from South Sudan. Episode 4: Stories of Risk looks at the experience of exiled journalists Akberet Beyene and Diary Xalid Marif from Eritrea and Iraq. Episode 5: Stories of Disruption focuses on the post-settlement experience of Malena Mokhovikova, and Episode 6: Stories of Belonging and Exclusion takes a closer look at ongoing experiences of discrimination faced by racialized newcomers with Camille McMillan-Rambharat.
All episodes are hosted by Mohammed Alsaleh, acclaimed international speaker and advocate.
These episodes will be an interesting listen for anyone interested in bringing narrative pedagogies and life-writing into their classrooms, migration, and the fantastic stories from newcomers all around us.
More Information on Stories from Newcomers to Canada
Zahida Rahemtulla is an emerging writer and graduate student in Postcolonial Literature and Translation. She has worked in Vancouver’s immigrant and refugee non-profit sector for several years in the area of housing, employment, and literacy. From 2017-2020, served as coordinator of The Shoe Project—a storytelling program for newcomer women coached by established Canadian authors.
Amea Wilburis an Assistant Professor at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV). She developed a trauma-informed English as an Additional Language (EAL) program at Pacific Immigrant Resources Society (PIRS) that received national recognition. Amea speaks and writes on the topics of literacy and trauma, and co-authoredThe 6 Principles For Exemplary Teaching of English Learners.
[This article was first printed in the Winter 2019 issue of TEAL News.]
This summer, I had a chance to participate in a university course to learn about additional language acquisition. Throughout the course, the question of what makes language learning effective repeatedly arose, making me stop and look back on my own experiences. Reflecting on my history of learning English and Danish as a student, and also my history supporting international students as a student counselor in Japan, what came up in my mind as a key component in language learning was the involvement in local communities through interactions and cultural experiences. These interactions and experiences seem to speak not only for me but the majority of students who I’ve met. Many students often find their learning further enriched when they have more interactions with local people through various activities. This interaction also promotes intercultural understanding, which is typically one of the reasons people learn a language. So here, I would like to introduce my story of learning languages through local experiences as well as the various activities which have helped international students I’ve worked with in the past.
I started studying English at the age of 13 at a junior high school just like other Japanese kids. The English class was delivered in a traditional lecture style, focusing mostly on grammar and reading comprehension. I enjoyed the class, and without any other chance to study English outside the classroom, I thought this was the way people learned a new language. This view was completely broken when I went to Denmark as an exchange student during high school and participated in English classes in the local school. Once, I was given 10 pages of an article discussing the topic of genetic engineering. I had never read that long of an article before, so it took me a whole night just to look up new vocabulary and manage to grasp the gist. During class, I was proud of myself having read the whole article, waiting for my teacher to ask me about the grammar used in the article. Finally, I was picked, but then the teacher asked me to present my opinion about genetic engineering. I froze. Not only because of my English limit, but also because I had never thought about giving my opinion. For a long time, understanding the grammar and story had been the final purpose in the English classes I had attended. While I struggled in producing a word, my classmates started an active discussion. It was a shocking experience, but at the same time, a transformative moment for me, giving me a real drive to learn the language and communicate my ideas with others over the barriers.
During my time in Denmark, I was given many opportunities to get to know the community and its people. There were locally organized events every two months, meeting local people and other exchange students from different countries, sharing food, playing games, and watching movies. Most exchange students, including myself, knew only a few words in Danish when we arrived, so when we saw each other at these events, we always checked out who had improved their Danish the best. There was an idea among exchange students that all of us would improve our Danish dramatically over the Christmas holiday. This belief was because each student spent most of their time with their host family and friends, preparing for Christmas together and joining in parties. In fact, I had no time to stay in my room alone, and I was always out either in the kitchen or living room, learning how to cook roast duck and Christmas sweets, preparing mulled wine, and making handcrafted Christmas decorations, which I had never experienced in my home country. These experiences were the cornerstone of my time in Denmark. I felt my Danish was improving day by day. Moreover, as I started to have more common things to do and talk about, I finally felt I was speaking the same language as my family and friends, becoming a part of them.
After graduating from university, I started working as a coordinator at a worldwide non-profit organization which promoted international exchange programs for high school students. Some distinctive characteristics of the organization were that the programs were designed to promote intercultural understanding among youth, and local volunteer-staff played extremely active roles in organizing cultural learning activities. For example, they organized cooking clubs to show students how to cook sushi, and in exchange, learned about the students’ home food. The students also celebrated traditional seasonal events such as Japanese New Year, rice-cake making, and calligraphy together with local kids. Some students visited a ramen noodle museum or joined a ninja tour to learn about local industries, and others experienced a Japanese tea ceremony with traditional confectionery that they had made. Similarly, when I was working in a team at another job at a university that organized study programs for students from the United States, various field trips and activities were merged with Japanese language classes, offering students opportunities to learn about Japanese culture, history, and traditions. The students visited a Noh theatre (Japan’s oldest form of theatre), played traditional musical instruments, and also visited temples to experience Zen culture by participating in meditation and other cultural activities.
Throughout my work in the education sector, I have received a lot of feedback from both Japanese students studying abroad and international students visiting Japan, saying that those experiences helped them understand the places they visited and local people in breadth and depth. Especially, participating in those activities together with local people enabled them to gain different perspectives on the place, often changing the stereotypical ideas they had before. Students also gained a stronger sense of belongingness to the community as they had more authentic interactions with locals, which further promoted their integrative motivations to acquire the language. Observing those students, language development seemed to be inseparable from sharing common experiences and knowledge and for gaining deeper cultural understandings. The reason for additional language learning must differ from one person to another and everybody has different preferences about how they learn. However, I cannot overemphasize the values and pleasure that authentic interactions and cultural understanding can bring to learning an additional language.
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.
#CdnELTchat summary for March 30, 2021 Teaching and Learning Vocabulary in #ELT Jennifer Chow #CdnELTchat brings together #ELT enthusiasts to discuss topics of interest twice a month on Tuesday evenings at 6 PT / 9 ET. On March 30, we had a chat about “Teaching and Learning Vocabulary.”
Vocabulary development is one of the most important components of language learning. Knowledge of vocabulary enables us to understand and communicate with others. What are some effective approaches and strategies that help learners with vocabulary acquisition?
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.
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
[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.
#CdnELTchat summary for March 16, 2021 By Bonnie Nicholas
A little over a year ago, on March 11, 2020, our lives were upended when the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Most schools and learning institutions in Canada closed to in-person learning soon afterwards, and many of us found ourselves teaching online classes for the first time. As we left our workplaces, I suspect few of us thought that we would still be in the midst of the pandemic a year later.
#CdnELTchat has continued throughout the pandemic, though not just as usual. During the first weeks of the pandemic, we held chats on emergency remote teaching, as well as weekly check-ins for people to drop by and stay connected. As living in the pandemic and teaching online became our new normal, we returned to chatting on a variety of topics. Now, as we enter the second year of pandemic teaching, we took some time to reflect on what this past year has meant to us and and think about the direction of ELT in the future.
We used Wakelet to collect and archive the evening’s chats, Reflecting on one year of pandemic teaching and learning. You can also find the tweets by searching for the hashtag #CdnELTchat on Twitter. As always, we collected questions in advance of the chat on our Padlet and Jennifer Chow tweeted them regularly throughout the hour of our chat. Jennifer Chow posted questions and those participating in the live chat tweeted their replies.
Q1: Do you recall when the WHO first declared that COVID-19 was a global pandemic? Do you remember what your initial reaction was when you first heard that you would be pivoting to online teaching?
Q2: What is one experience that has impacted you the most during this past year? Q3: How has this year changed your teacher identity and/or teaching practice? How has the pandemic changed the student experience?
Q4: What have you been doing to maintain your learners’ and your own wellness?
Q5: How do you feel about returning to the classroom in September? What are you worried about? What are you looking forward to? How do your students feel about possibly returning to the classroom in September?
We remembered how fast we all had to shift to a new way of teaching. Some people are finding that they enjoy online teaching, while others are waiting for a return to a F2F or blended option. All of us have felt some physical and mental strain from the long hours being “on” and on our devices. We discussed the compassion we feel for our students who were forced into a new way of learning, fraught with uncertainty. Most of us felt the stresses of that uncertainty and fear in our own lives as the pandemic continued unabated, while at the same time we felt gratitude to the support offered by our employers and workplaces. Being offered empathy has meant that we are better able to meet our students with that same compassion. While the online environment has opened up spaces for students (especially those who have young children and no childcare), the shift to online has also highlighted issues of equity and access. These are important issues that cannot be forgotten. Working from home has also blurred the boundaries between the workplace and our home lives. Self-care will also be an ongoing issue.
We didn’t get to our final question, but this needs to be addressed, both at a local and a global level. It also invited a larger discussion, what will be the future of #ELT?
Q6: What guidelines should be in place as we start thinking about returning to the classroom in September?
Bonnie 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.
[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.