THE NEW NORMAL – LEARNING TO TEACH ONLINE

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By Sarah Barr

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.

Figuring Out Zoom

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.

Crossed-legged.

Screenshots Galore

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. 

Screenshots

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.

Question:

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.

#CdnELTchat summary for March 30, 2021 (Teaching and Learning Vocabulary in #ELT)

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#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? 

To guide the discussion, we posed questions that #CdnELTchat community members contributed on our Padlet, https://padlet.com/BonnieJean/CdnELTchat:

Q1: How do you address vocabulary development in your classes? What vocabulary teaching strategies do you use? #CdnELTchat 

Q2: What is the role of lists in teaching and learning vocabulary? How do you decide which words from the unit or activity you are teaching to include? Is there a tool you use? #CdnELTchat

Q3: What strategies can students use to turn passive vocabulary into active vocabulary? Do you have any favourite activities you use with your students? #CdnELTchat 

Q4: How can we support independent vocabulary learning strategies?  #CdnELTchat 

We’ve collected the tweets from our March 30th chat in Wakelet, but here are some of the highlights from our discussion:

  • Use a vocabulary notebook, index cards or Quizlet to encourage autonomy
  • Get students to notice and use collocations, lexical chunks, and patterns 
  • Provide repetition and rich input in context to increase vocabulary retention
  • Use word lists, like the General Service List (GSL) and the Academic Word List (AWL), as a tool to help students prioritize and focus on words and expressions that have high currency
  • Provide opportunities to personalize vocabulary to increase retention by creating an emotional connection

Thank-you to our participants for sharing so many useful resources and tools that support vocabulary development. These have been collected in a Google Doc, Resources for Vocabulary Development in ELT

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

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

Jen Bio Pic

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

 

Meet Ms. Unicorn and her Class of Stuffies: Creative Teacher Education Practices for Pandemic Times

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By Christie Fraser      

I am a “teacher of teachers” and that is extraordinary! When you teach teacher candidates (TCs), EVERYTHING is a teachable moment. TCs watch your every move—every word—as guidance for when they are in their future classrooms. But what does exceptional teaching look like in virtual course delivery? How do I model teaching strategies for my TCs from behind my computer screen? How do my TCs practice new teaching strategies when they are alone? How do I prepare teachers for teaching in a classroom when they are not currently able to do so because of pandemic restrictions?

The Inspired Idea

Last summer as I sat at home planning for the pandemic term, something caught my eye. In my daughter’s TV show were little children role-playing with their stuffed animals. That’s when it occurred to me: why not create a virtual classroom of stuffies that I could use to model instructional strategies? Et voilà! (“And there you go!” in French): meet Ms. Unicorn and her class of stuffies. 

Ms. Unicorn and her class

This modeling epiphany was a game-changer in my virtual teaching practice. I was able to use the stuffies to demonstrate teaching strategies and to role-play the various parts of what teachers can do in the classroom (and how students might respond). I recorded myself and posted these videos in my asynchronous virtual course. Click HERE for an excerpt from one of my videos.

The Inspiration That Followed

What happened next was really where this practice took off. In an activity that followed, the students were asked to record themselves reading a story as they might to a class of students. My expectation was that I would get just that – a view of the TC and their chosen book, reading to the camera. But what happened was amazing. The students took the strategy they had seen in my video and ran with it. I met classes filled with all kinds of stuffies! I also met live cats and dogs, small plastic animals, a blow-up giraffe, a gigantic stuffed rabbit, GI Joe figurines, and even a whole class of pumpkins all named “gourd” and a Lego school. I modelled and they followed!

Learning from Ms. Unicorn

There are so many pieces to what I have learned from this experience. I learned that it really isn’t about how a course is delivered, classroom or virtually. It is about how you teach in that delivery. I was reminded again of the value of taking risks and being vulnerable in teaching. I certainly felt very silly playing with the stuffies and recording myself the first time around! And finally, maybe together isn’t always better? Well maybe it is, but this practice can be the next best thing when we can’t be together. 

Great teaching requires opportunities for creativity and taking risks, both of which have been presented for myself and my students in virtual course delivery. With great risks can come great rewards in learning and teaching, even during a pandemic!

Bio: Dr. Christie Fraser has been an educator for over 20 years. Currently, she is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at Thompson Rivers University in beautiful BC. 

Questions

Have you taken new risks in your classroom because of the COVID19 pandemic? How have pandemic restrictions unexpectedly inspired your practice? Leave your comments below.

References

Woolfolk, A., Winne, P., & Perry, N. (2020). Educational Psychology: 7th Custom Canadian Edition. Toronto: Pearson.

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

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#CdnELTchat summary for February 9, 2021
Jennifer Chow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jen Bio Pic

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

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! 


The Revealing Shift to Online Tutoring

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By Kari Karlsbjerg

An Eye-Opening Experience

At Vancouver Community College’s (VCC) Learning Centre, answering student questions is our business, and ever since the abrupt move to online instruction last March, our students have had A LOT of questions. Overnight, our usual focus on providing English, job-hunting and study-skills assistance for our students dramatically expanded to include answering questions about the new logistics of accessing their classes, questions about their kids’ schools, plus listening to their fears about the daily rising COVID-19 numbers and worries about the future. The hundreds of hours of online one-on-one EAL tutoring sessions we have done with VCC’s students over the last eight months has truly been an eye-opening experience. We have discovered firsthand the isolation of so many of our immigrant students, the challenges of the deepening digital divide, and the substantial changes required to effectively tutor students in an online setting.

Some Background

For some background, VCC students can sign up for three 30-minute online tutoring appointments every week. We provide English, career and study skills tutoring to any VCC students taking English courses from LINC to Pathways to University Transfer and all the career programs, like Hospitality. To ensure that our students received a continuity of support, we moved all tutoring services online in mid-March. We shifted to using the WCOnline video tutoring platform, which allows us to have video chats with students while simultaneously looking at their questions and papers posted on the shared Whiteboard. 

Isolation

The blurring of boundaries that naturally resulted from the location shift from campus to private online meetings in our homes resulted in students sharing far more about their lives. As the months went by, a concerning issue came to the forefront – the deep loneliness of many of our immigrant students who had few local connections and felt cut off from their homeland. It was not uncommon for us to hear that speaking with us was the only conversation they had in a week besides their limited online classroom time. On the lighter side, online sessions in their homes also lets student show us other aspects of their lives and personalities by showing us their beloved pet or special piece of art or decoration in their home. 

The Digital Divide

Online tutoring also exposed the two vastly different digital worlds of our students: one group accessing our services through the latest expensive devices using speedy Wi-Fi connections and the other group struggling to access our session using ancient used computers and unreliable, dodgy internet connections. Unfortunately, the second group rarely signed up more than once for online tutoring sessions as it was just too frustrating and discouraging for them and almost impossible for us to give them any meaningful assistance. In addition, many low-level students simply lacked the basic English skills required to book an online tutoring session. As a result, the change from face to face sessions to online ones has meant that we have sadly lost much of our LINC four and lower level students. 

Adapting

Online appointments have resulted in a few changes to our regular tutoring practice. One of the most significant is in the way we start our sessions. In person, we could incorporate body language and indicate our welcome by smiling and pulling out a chair for the student while making small talk. However, online, it is harder to give a warm and personal welcome, and it feels so cold and robotic to directly move to asking how we can help them. Therefore, we make a point of looking directly in the camera and give them a smiling welcome using their name. We use the reader-response method of tutoring writing and insist that the students make their own edits during the discussion, but their slow typing speed can make the process frustratingly slow in the online setting. On the other hand, online video chat tutoring has been revolutionary for tutoring EAL students with their pronunciation and speaking skills. The private nature of the sessions completely removes any of their previous embarrassment of practicing sounds and doing minimal pair drills in a public library setting and there have been some stunning improvements as a result. 

The Final Word

All in all, online tutoring is working out and the English tutors have been fully booked since March. We are grateful that we can continue to be the backdrop of support for our students as they progress through their years at VCC. 

A Question

How has your institute dealt with transitioning online? Share your ideas in the comment section. Let’s work together!

Kari Karlsbjerg has been an English Tutor with the VCC Learning Centre for over 12 years. In addition, shenew best-selling bilingual guidebook, Everyday Vancouver (https://everydayvancouver.ca/) which contains practical cultural information about regular daily life that Korean newcomers need to feel at home here in Vancouver. Previously, she wrote similar books on everyday life and culture for Chinese newcomers that were published in both Canada and China in: “My New Life in Vancouver “and “Vancouver 365” which are also  bilingual (English and Mandarin).

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

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#CdnELTchat summary for November 10, 2020
Jennifer Chow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#CdnELTchat

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

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

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

Jen Bio Pic

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

 

#CdnELTchat summary for September 29, 2020 (Supporting the Continuation of Learning and Teaching during COVID-19)

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#CdnELTchat summary for September 29, 2020
Jennifer Chow

For many of us, we are in our second term of remote learning. What are the successes and unique challenges #ELT instructors have had? How can we create and maintain a sense of community with our colleagues and students during this time? What kind of support do we need in order to foster a sense of well-being?

Thank-you to everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to participate in #CdnELTchat’s discussion on Supporting the Continuation of Learning and Teaching during COVID-19. 

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

  • It’s important for teachers and instructors to think about our mental health and sustainability, especially since the future is still uncertain. Creating online content while teaching is exhausting for many teachers, so we don’t need to perfect. Good enough is good enough.
  • Equity is still a big problem as some students don’t have access to the necessary technology and/or digital skills to engage in online learning. 
  • Focus on building relationships to establish trust between teachers and learners. Start with essential digital skills and add to them slowly over the term. 
  • Use ready-made online materials that are available on @TutelaCanada. Many teachers have embraced using @H5PTechnology
  • Respect student privacy by not forcing them to turn their cameras on. Use polls and breakout rooms to foster interaction. Provide prompt feedback, virtual office hours, and use Q & A forums to increase engagement.
  • Provide weekly drop-in times for colleagues to connect and socialize. Organize online reading or research groups for professional development. 

We encourage everyone to continue the conversation using the hashtag #CdnELTchat. Here are the questions that we used to guide our chat. 

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.

During the chat, @KraseNetzel shared with us how @DawnTorvik started a WhatsApp teachers’ group and regularly inspires colleagues to share victories and problems. We hope #CdnELTchat can provide the space for #ELT educators across Canada and beyond to do that too. We’ll be doing some informal chats between our scheduled chats as a way to check in and support each other. 

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

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

Jen Bio Pic

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