Enriching Language Learning With Authentic Local Interactions

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by Yukie Ueda

[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.

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Ueda, Y. (2019, Winter). Enriching language learning with authentic local interactions. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/TEAL-News-Winter-2019-v3.pdf

Exploring Tutors’ Work with English as an Additional Language Students in a Writing Centre

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by Maya Pilin

[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 Study

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.

The Findings

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.”

Student Expectations

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.”

Identified Competencies

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…

Identified Challenges

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.

Conclusion

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.

References

Canadian Bureau for International Education. (2018). International students in Canada. Retrieved from https://cbie.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/International-Students-in-Canada-ENG.pdf

Heslop, J. (2018). International students in BC’s education systems. Retrieved from: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/education/post-secondary-education/data-research/stp/stp-international-research-results.pdf

Moser, J. (1993). Crossed currents: ESL students and their peer tutors. Research and Teaching in Developmental Education, 9(2), 37-43. Retrieved from: https://www.jstor.org/stable/42801897

Thonus, T. (1999). How to communicate politely and be a tutor, too: NS-NNS interaction and writing center practice. Text-Interdisciplinary Journal for the Study of Discourse, 19(2), 253-280. https://www.doi.org/10.1515/text.1.1999.19.2.253

Winder, R., Kathpalia, S. S., & Koo, S. L. (2016). Writing centre tutoring sessions: Addressing students’ concerns. Educational Studies, 42(4), 323-339. https://www.doi.org/10.1080/03055698.2016.1193476

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Pilin, M. (2019, Winter). Exploring tutors’ work with EAL students in a writing centre. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/TEAL-News-Winter-2019-v3.pdf

Pushing Boundaries: From Chile to Canada

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By Claudia Marroquin Pinto

[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.

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Marroquin Pinto, C. (2019, Winter). Pushing Boundaries: From Chile to Canada. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/TEAL-News-Winter-2019-v3.pdf

Pushing Boundaries: Notes from the Field

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by Cindi Jones

[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:

What does it mean to push boundaries?

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.

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Jones, C. (2019, Winter). Pushing boundaries: Notes from the field. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/TEAL-News-Winter-2019-v3.pdf

BC TEAL, WORKING FOR YOU

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By Jenn Peachey

Like you, the people who dedicated their time to BC TEAL struggled through the uncertainty and anxiety of everything 2020 threw at us. It was a hard year all around! At times, it was a struggle for board and committee members to stay engaged, but we did. We felt our positions were more important than ever because BC TEAL is about keeping us connected: to our friends and colleagues, to our professional development, to our students, and to our jobs or studies. For this reason, and because you may have missed it, we wanted you to know that we are, and will continue to be, working hard for you, the BC TEAL MEMBERS.

The highlights from 2020*

Here’s what BC TEAL did, achieved, created or shared in 2020:

  • Created and shared a collaborative One-Year plan for a goal-driven approach 
  • Started implementing our very important Respectful Interaction Guidelines
  • The Vancouver Island Regional Conference (in person!) 
  • Meet-Ups in January and February 
  • Implemented a COVID19 membership strategy (free for unemployed due to covid19, until March 1, 2021). Find more details here.
  • Offered great PD for the age of covid: What’s Working with Remote Language Training in BC; The Emerging Pandemic Intercultural Work Environment
  • The Employment Skills Webinar 
  • Our first on-line AGM
  • Coffee Times and Happy Hours 
  • The Back to School Boot Camp 
  • The LINC Reboot
  • The Inspiring Speaker Series: Laura Baecher (see the video here), Ness Murby (see the video here), Ismaël Traoré (see the video here)
  • Shared a number of job postings, invitations to participate in research
  • Partnered with AMSSA, SIETAR, and others to bring remote learning to our members
  • Brought in new benefits: Black Bond Books, Learn Your English
  • Implemented surveys to get to know you better
  • Encouraged more members to take on leadership roles by joining committees
  • Developed onboarding for new leaders (committees, regional reps)
  • Created and filled the Regional Rep position of Lower Mainland
  • EAL Week, October 2020, with some regional events
  • Created Terms of Reference for the various committees
  • Upped our game on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: featured membership benefits blitz, event announcements, free resources, and more TCF promotions
  • Reinvigorated the BC TEAL Blog 
  • Created Best Practices for video sharing
  • Awarded and disbursed thousands of dollars in funding for instructor PD, language projects and materials development, and refugee education through the TCF
  • Created a Benefits of Membership promotional video for events and TESL programs
  • Supported the admin staff with a work-from-home office, and closed the commercial office
  • Started work on streamlining the understructures of the office to make services more efficient
  • Said good-bye to our Administrative Manager Jaimie as she moved on to another adventure, and hello to Tanya Tervit, her replacement
  • Said a sad good-bye to Alison Whitmore, a dedicated member of BC TEAL.
  • Saw the development of another free resource: Indigenous Peoples and Canada
  • Had a Spring 2020 and Fall 2020 Newsletter
  • Saw the publication of the Vol. 5 No 1 (2020) BC TEAL Journal

Moving forward

Some of the 2020 initiatives happened behind the scenes, so you may not have noticed them. Others we offered for specific sectors of our membership. Regardless, if you participated in, or contributed to any of these achievements, we want to thank you, and hope that you will continue to join in. Some of the projects will continue into 2021, and we will also continue to create new opportunities for you. That’s where YOU come in. 

BC TEAL needs to know what you would like to see happen in 2021. We can only work toward something if we know it is needed. What do YOU want?  And would you be interested in working toward a specific goal as part of a committee? Do you have skills and ideas just waiting for a place to share them? BC TEAL is only as good as the people who dedicate their extra time and energy to make it work. Imagine what BC TEAL can achieve in 2021 if we all work together for our mutual benefits, for our community!

Write to admin@bcteal.org to share your ideas and suggestions for 2021.

*All these initiatives were made possible by the hard work of the BC TEAL staff and Board, as well as the regional reps and committee leaders.

Bio: Jenn retired from her position as Head Instructor, EAP Pathway Advisor, and Global Competence Certificate Facilitator at Global Village Victoria in 2019. After a year of travel and adventure, she is back on Vancouver Island and happily involved with BC TEAL again.

Professional Self-Development for Teachers: Have a Plan, a Clear Intent, and a Way to Sustain

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by Li-Shih Huang, PhD

[This article was first printed in the Fall 2015 issue of TEAL News.]

“The best professional development is participatory and connectivist.”—Lee Bessette

The invitation to contribute a piece about professional development in this issue could not have been more opportune. Since taking the position of an elected director of professional development for TESL Canada this July [2015], I have noticed I am looking at the professional development of teachers with renewed interest and a different perspective. In my own work as an ELT professional on the one hand, and as a trainer of future ELT professionals on the other, my approach to professional development has been mainly through connecting at professional gatherings with like-minded researchers and practitioners who also have a strong interest in linking research to practice; engaging in practitioner research; attending webinars and conducting workshops; and devoting a portion of my writing to practitioners’ interests. But what about the majority of ELT professionals, who work in various institutions, schools, and cultural contexts where resources and opportunities might pose greater challenges for development?

For any ELT professional interested in professional development, a quick Google search of terms like “teacher training,” “teacher education,” “teacher development,” “(continued) professional development,” and “professional self-development,” to list just a few, will turn up an overwhelming number of articles and resources and amount of information on professional development, both within the context of ELT and in the broader field of education. Recent articles, such as “Do-It-Yourself ELT Professional Development” (from TESOL Connections’ special issue dedicated to professional development), “3 Ways for Teachers to Use Social Networks for PD,” and “3 More Ideas for PD on Social Networks,” have appeared just in July of this year alone. The 2012 handbook put together by the British Council, although situated in the U.K. context, contains applicable ideas about a wide range of continuing professional development activities, including conferences, groups, magazines, materials, membership, mentoring, observations, reflection, training, workshops, and so on.  Also, not a day goes by without mention on Twitter or Facebook of free or at-cost webinars, face-to-face workshops, or courses offered locally or across the globe. These sharings of highly practical tips about ways for practitioners to engage in professional self-development further highlight the need and importance of this aspect of our professional careers, no matter our career stage. Using social media such as Twitter, Google Hangouts, Facebook, webblogs, and the like to build PLNs (personal/professional/personalized learning networks), hold regular chats (common hashtags include #AusELT, #KELTChat, #ELTChat, #ELLChat) moderated and participated in by practitioners, and create teacher inquiry groups has also become a great means for practitioners to connect professionally in ways that transcend time and geographical boundaries.

Take one of the most commonly chosen PD activities—attending a free webinar. If you have attended one of these webinars in the last six months, let’s sit back a moment and take stock of what you have been doing PD-wise. Ask: To what extent did the content have an impact on your own day-to-day teaching practices? How transferable, with or without the facilitator’s help, have been those insights, whether from research or real-world teaching, to your own teaching contexts? As synthesized by Avalos (2011), at the core of PD “is the understanding that professional development is about teachers learning, learning how to learn, and transforming their knowledge into practice for the benefit of their students’ growth” (p. 10; emphasis mine).  The thing is, professional development, like anything worth pursuing in life, is personal and situated, complex and difficult to do well.

Rather than developing this piece as another article collecting a list of resources or ever-changing tools for PD (refer to the suggested open-access readings section for some recent coverage), I want instead to focus on a few personal reflections that have been percolating in my mind since they delve into the heart of issues about teachers’ professional self-development. In approaching my own professional development, I have asked myself: Do I have a PD plan that carefully considers what I get out of any PD activity in which I choose to participate? When I do decide to participate in a PD webinar or workshop, do I have a clear intent as to how the session will match my needs and, in turn, the follow-up action(s) I will need to take? Have I been able to sustain my PD endeavours consistently? If, like me, you have answered “no” to any one or all of these questions, then I invite you to read on.

1. What are the key modes of learning/PD in your plan? Help make your individualized plan more concrete with ingredients that meet your personal needs, career stage, and goals. Clearly, the multi-faceted, inter-related individual and contextual factors involved in PD mean that no single approach, method, or tool can determine what constitutes effective PD. Evaluate how each mode of learning helps you develop professionally, and be mindfully selective of tools that duplicate or serve the same or similar functions. Whether formal or informal, institution or teacher initiated, whether oriented to learning collaboratively or independently, each learning activity possesses affordances and constraints, and each takes place through different configurations of time, space, and people. What area of PD does the workshop attend to? Subject-matter knowledge related to English and language teaching? Pedagogical expertise? Self-awareness as a teacher? Understanding learners or curriculum and materials? Career advancement? (See Richards & Farrell, 2005, pp. 9-10; Farrell, 2014, pp. 18-19 for more.) The key is to figure out a combination of modes of learning or PD that will overcome relative constraints and create possibilities.

The following chart lists some examples:

Mode Function
Journal articles (e.g., ELT Journal, Language Teaching, and trade publications from professional associations) Discuss with colleagues or blog about how you can connect the readings with your own practice.
Social media Stay informed about free PD events, connect with other practitioners, and participate in ELT chats.
Attending/running PD events (online or in person) or professional gatherings Keep abreast of current issues and evidence-based best practices, connect with peers, and explore collaborative opportunities.
Engaging in practitioner research Empirically examine your own practices, share findings formally and/or informally.
Your turn

2. What do I hope to get out of a workshop I decide to attend? It’s important to attend workshops with a clear intent. Perhaps the most commonly chosen PD action is attending a one-time workshop, webinar, or conference to learn a new tool (or list of tools) or a new teaching method, but, as we all know well, impact beyond the session is often limited. Unless the tool or session is solving a specific problem that you can personally relate to in your teaching to make a difference to learner outcomes (Timperley, 2011), ownership of learning and subsumption and integration of what one has learned into one’s practical knowledge or teaching repertoire rarely occur. Upon reflection, is there one insight gained from attending the workshop that you could transfer to your own teaching and experiment with? If you are selecting from self-directed online workshops or courses, think about what you want to improve in your own classroom, and make a conscious effort to link what you are learning with practice through real-life experimenting that will help transform knowledge into practice. As Timperley (2011) put forward, for teachers to develop professionally requires a transformative, rather than an additive, change to teaching practice. Unlike teachers-in-training, for practicing professionals, Freeman’s questioning of how well a one-off workshop transfers still rings true more than two decades later: “Teaching is a social practice . . . where one cannot learn about it; one must learn through it” (Freeman, 1992, p. 16; emphasis mine). Individually and collectively working to examine our own practices, reflecting on outcomes, and articulating our experiences and learning to others can further provide the catalysis for transformative professional growth (Mezirow, 2000).

3. How do I sustain PD endeavours? Sustaining PD efforts is one of the greatest challenges in teachers’ professional self-development, especially while operating or competing against individual-, resource-, and context-related constraints. Look for inspiration within your unit and beyond by joining or forming professional learning networks tailored to your own needs or to shared needs and interests. PLNs are plentiful; the key is to find one where you feel a true sense of a community of learners (Rogoff, 1994), or a self-initiated, professional learning community with non-judgmental, shared support of each other’s professional development (Falk & Drayton, 2009; Kelly & Cherkowski, 2015) and where development is conceived “as transformation of participation rather than . . . either a product of transmission of knowledge from others or of acquisition or discovery of knowledge by oneself” (Rogoff, 1994, p. 209). Typically we board a bus because of where it is headed, but the path can often be unpredictable, and a change of direction can easily end a sense of belonging. If we get on a bus by first paying attention to who is on the bus, then the problem of fueling the bus to keep moving forward becomes less of an issue. Once you have carefully selected a network, take turns assuming a leadership role in your chosen network at the group, school, or association level, and find a framework for how and what the group wishes to develop in helping teachers come together to talk about and reflect on their work.

Taking the initiative to assume a leadership role in promoting a culture of professional inquiry will transform your own participation and empower you through empowering others. Many board members in our professional teaching associations are fine examples of practitioners who have taken on leadership roles to become agents of change. Within a professional learning community, one may draw on Reilly, Vartabedian, Felt, and Jenkins’s (2012) work about key principles that sustain a participatory culture: providing opportunities for (a) the exercise of creativity using a variety of tools, (b) co-learning where those involved pool their skills and knowledge, (c) heightened motivation and engagement through meaningful pedagogical experimentation, (d) learning that is deemed relevant to the interests of those involved, and (e) creation of a so-called “learning ecosystem”—that is, an “integrated learning system” that builds connections between home, school, community, and beyond (p. 5).

However one chooses to define “professional development” and what that entails (see Farrell, 2014), a teacher’s professional self-development becomes increasingly important at all stages of his or her teaching career. It’s a continuous and complex process, requiring the intellectual and emotional involvement of teachers both individually and collectively. Whichever mode(s) of learning teachers choose, depending on their needs and objectives, they must be willing to examine openly where they stand and actively pursue appropriate alternatives for change that are bound within a particular institutional culture that may or may not be conducive to learning. I echo Bessette’s statements that “the best professional development is participatory and connectivist,” and that it must be “driven by the needs and interests of those [participating] and allow for collaboration [among interactants] and beyond” (¶ 3). Whether you are at the receiving or giving end of a PD activity, an approach that is goal-oriented, purpose-driven, and people-centred will guide you through navigating the terrain of PD activities, resources, and tools available to you so that you can chart a course that suits your needs in any area or combination of PD areas, as first put forward by Richards and Farrell (2005).

What do you need to do, and to whom do you need to reach out to renew your PD endeavours? Do it now, and share your PD needs, discoveries, triumphs, and challenges here so that as members of our professional community, we can continue to energize one another and grow professionally.

References

Avalos, B. (2011). Teacher professional development in Teaching and Teacher Education over ten years. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27, 10-20.

Bessette, L. (2015, June 30). Arrested (professional) development [Blog post]. Retrieved from: http://learning.instructure.com/2015/06/arrested-professional-development/

Falk, J. K., & Drayton, B. (Eds.). (2009). Creating and sustaining online professional learning communities. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Farrell, T. S. C. (2014). Reflective practice in ESL teacher development groups: From practices to principles. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Freeman, D. (1992). Language teacher education, emerging discourse, and change in classroom practice. In J. Flowerdew, M. Brock, & S. Hsia (Eds.), Perspectives on language teacher education (pp. 1-21). Hong Kong: City Polytechnic of Hong Kong.

Kelley J., & Cherkowski, S. (2015). Collaboration, collegiality, and collective reflection: A case study of professional development for teachers. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 169. Retrieved from: https://www.umanitoba.ca/publications/cjeap/pdf_files/kelly_cherkowski.pdf

Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as transformative: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Reilly, E., Jenkins, H., Felt, L. J., & Vartabedian, V. (2012). Shall we PLAY? Los Angeles, CA: Annenberg Innovation Lab at University of Southern California.

Richards, J.C. & Farrell, T.S.C (2005). Professional development for language teachers. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Rogoff, B. (1994). Developing understanding of the idea of communities of learners. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 1(4), 209-229.

Timperley, H. (2011). Realizing the power of professional learning. New York, NY: Open University Press.

Suggested Open Access Readings on PD for ELT Professionals:

Breland, T. (2015, July 1). Do-it-yourself ELT professional development. TESOL Connections: Professional Development Special Issue, July 2015. Retrieved from http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolc/issues/2015-07-01/2.html

Crowley, B. (2014, December 31). 3 steps for building a professional learning network. Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2014/12/31/3-steps-for-building-a-professional-learning.html

Davidson, G., Dunlop, F., Soriano, D. H., Kennedy, L., & Phillips, T. (2012). Going forward: Continuing professional development for English language teachers in the UK. The British Council. Retrieved from http://englishagenda.britishcouncil.org/sites/ec/files/B413%20CPD%20for%20Teachers_v2_0.pdf

Haynes, J. (2015, July 2). 3 ways for teachers to use social networks for PD [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blog.tesol.org/3-ways-for-teachers-to-use-social-networks-for-pd/

Haynes, J. (2015, July 16).  3 more ideas for PD on social networks [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blog.tesol.org/3-more-ideas-for-pd-on-social-networks/

Pascucci, A. (2015, July 1). 5 easy steps for creating an online PLN. TESOL Connections. Retrieved from http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolc/issues/2015-07-01/3.html

Wilden, S. (2012, Spring). What is your CPD plan? International House Journal. 32. Retrieved from http://ihjournal.com/what-is-your-cpd-plan-by-shaun-wilden

Biographical Information

From the Fall 2015 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Dr. Li-Shih Huang is an Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics in the Department of Linguistics, and Learning and Teaching Scholar-in-Residence, Learning and Teaching Centre, University of Victoria.

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Original reference information:

Huang, L. (2015, Fall). Professional Self-Development for Teachers: Have a Plan, a Clear Intent, and a Way to Sustain. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BCTeal-Newsletter-Fall-2015-Final-2.pdf

 

 

Reflecting Back, Moving Forward: BC TEAL Turns 50

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[Article reprinted from the Winter 2017 BC TEAL Newsletter]

BC TEAL is Canada’s oldest English as an additional language (EAL) professional association, and 2017 is an important year—BC TEAL turns 50! Over the past five decades, BC TEAL has served countless EAL teaching professionals at conferences, professional development workshops and sessions, and many other events. 50 years is a significant milestone and is a good time to reflect back.

What started as a small group of dedicated professionals who came together and founded the association has grown in ways they may scarcely have imagined. As I think about that group of founders, I feel indebted to the commitment and energy they had in creating BC TEAL.

I imagine that the folks who started BC TEAL 50 years ago, such as Patricia Wakefield, BC TEAL’s first president, would be ecstatic and proud to see such a vibrant and involved professional community. Much like those who founded the association, the heart of BC TEAL remains the same—it has been built by a community of like-minded individuals who volunteer their time, ideas and energy.

2016 ended on a particularly high note for BC TEAL with several projects, initiatives and opportunities of note. In the fall, BC TEAL formally took over the assets—financial, physical, and intellectual—from LISTN (Language Instruction Support and Training Network), had a wildly successful (and fun!) interior regional conference held in Kamloops, and held many events facilitated by regional groups throughout the province as part of BC TEAL’s EAL week celebrations. These events were on top of many other successes in 2016, such as the BC TEAL Refugee Project.

Wanting to continue building on the work of countless board members and volunteers over the past five decades, the BC TEAL board of directors held a visioning and strategic planning retreat in October. Using survey feedback from members and volunteers and building on the past work of the association, what emanated from the retreat was a diverse and impressive set of priorities and plans for BC TEAL going forward. Watch out in 2017—there are some exciting plans for the year!

In particular you don’t want to miss the BC TEAL Annual Conference which will be at Vancouver Community College May 4-6 with three amazing keynote speakers: Andy Curtis, Penny Ur, and Jill Hadfield. Our 50th anniversary conference will be an amazing celebration.

As always the newsletter includes many engaging and meaningful articles including ones on employment conditions, teaching Syrian refugees, IELTS, and education through ethnography. That is just a sample of some of the wonderful articles in this issue. I also thank the many contributors to this newsletter and BC TEAL’s Publication Chair Scott Douglas who not only edits the BC TEAL newsletter, but who also serves as the editor of the BC TEAL Journal.

Importantly, thanks go to the many BC TEAL volunteers— past and present—over the past five decades. They have made BC TEAL what it is.

Sincerely,

Joe Dobson President, BC TEAL

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Joe Dobson is the president of BC TEAL. He is a senior lecturer at Thompson Rivers University. His research interests include educational technology, teacher education, and intercultural communication.