The Surprise Pandemic Journey

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By Amy Ve

Moving back to Canada from teaching in Korea in the midst of a pandemic was a whirlwind experience of emotions. I had an idea in my head that I was going to finish my contract, say goodbye to my students, and then plan my organized return to Canada to head into the next chapter of my career. That didn’t happen. I didn’t get to say goodbye to my students. They were all still at home and had yet to return to school for in person classes, and I had to end my contract a month early as a result of the border closures. My planned transition of finishing up one chapter of my life in one country, then coming home and continuing the same style of career was disrupted. 

My planned transition of finishing up one chapter of my life in one country, then coming home and continuing the same style of career was disrupted. 

The Disappointment & Decision 

After I was able to get home and finish my two week quarantine I slowly began to realize that I wasn’t going to be able to find a job teaching EAL like I had hoped I would. There weren’t many EAL teaching jobs available that I was qualified for, so I made the decision to return to a job I had done before so that I could pay my bills. I have worked in the customer service industry for most of my working life before getting into teaching abroad. There’s comfort in being able to build connections with the people you serve in any job, and it was a great comfort to be able to return to something I was familiar with. However, something still felt like it was missing. I wanted to find something more meaningful in terms of really being able to help people in a purposeful way. 

The Search & Support 

Getting back into job searching was not as easy as I expected it to be. There were many jobs still available, but not many that I really wanted to do, or the ones that I did want to do I didn’t seem qualified for because I had little formal experience. A friend referred me to reach out and try an employment services organization that helps people find work. You can work with a case manager (or independently) and access supports that help you with finding a job that is sustainable and (hopefully) meets your needs.  Through these job searching supports, I ended up applying for and getting a job as a job counselor. The very same job that helped support me in discovering a potentially new and permanent career path. 

A New Chapter 

It was very surprising for me, but as I experienced being supported in this way while looking for work, it made me realize that I really wanted to find a job like this. Now, I want to help people find the kind of job where they can feel like they are working with purpose, or even just one that gives them the job security they need to be able to pay their bills. To me, being able to assist people in that journey to employment, is amazing.

Bio: Amy Ve is currently working as an Employment Counselor and previously spent time working as an EAL Instructor in South Korea. She holds a Bachelor of Social Work and TESL Certificate from Thompson Rivers University.

Questions:

Did you leave the EAL field due to COVID-19? What are you doing now?

Navigating the New Classroom

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By Tanya Cowie

Let’s take a deep breath, be flexible

and find joy as best we can.

Tanya Cowie

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

Being Mindful

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

Handling Tech Stress

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

Learning Technology for Students with Disabilities

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

Finding Joy

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

Surviving Covid

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

Further Study

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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


Putting it to You

What are you doing to make your new classroom work?

Share your ideas in the reply section below! 


“Pandemagogy”

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By Linda Peteherych

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

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

Ups and Downs

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

The Ups:

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

 The Downs:

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

Face to Face Again

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

Strategies for Remote & Blended Teaching

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

#1.  Use Images, Audio and Videos

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

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

#2.  Add Visuals to E-mails

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

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

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

#3.  Video Conferencing

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

#4.  Homework

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

#5.  Links for extra practice and learning

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

To Sum Up

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

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