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.


LINC Reflections: Transformation through Storytelling in an EAL Classroom


By Theresa Howell

[This article was first printed in the Winter 2016 issue of TEAL News.]

“…we live in story, we act in story, we remember in story; storytelling echoes our humanness.” (Randall, 1995)

It is through the telling of stories and the listening that I have learned about how important story can be for breaking down barriers. In my classroom, I have witnessed many adult lives from around the globe. As an EAL instructor for a federally funded settlement English language program, I have had newcomer students that range from recent refugees from war torn regions to skilled immigrant workers from first world locations. Within the refugee population, many stories have crossed my path that could rivet the average person’s attention and immobilize their senses. As a child from a diverse life of circumstance as well as being an empathetic human being, I have learned that listening with intention and no judgement is imperative. Years of training and work in the Child and Youth Care field mixed with an anthropology undergraduate degree has allowed me some background into what is required and needed within these storied disclosures. As counselors we were taught to be present and listen. Also as an ongoing anthropological practitioner, the incorporation of cultural relativism whereby a person suspends any ethnocentric judgement in order to appreciate and understand other cultures (O’Neil, 2013), is important. It is one of the main tenets in cultural anthropology studies. Therefore, I stand present in quiet resolve while holding no judgement allowing the stories to unfold. For me, as educator, this is critical.

As I say this, I reflect on an adult refugee student who came from Iraq via Dubai. I’m sharing her story here. Her name was Sherry. She was a pretty young lady with hazel coloured doe-like eyes. Her strawberry blond hair and petite stature hid a woman whose mental strength was twenty times her physical size. At the time we met, she was verging on twenty eight years old; two years older than my eldest daughter but many life time’s apart. Actually, she wasn’t in my class but the class level below ours. However, every Thursday we had a “Conversation Club” whereby the Level 4 and level 5 students would come together to talk about cultural events and other issues that stimulated them to speak in a more relaxed context. The instructors and local volunteers alternated weekly facilitation roles for these conversation circles. During these times, one of the two instructors would sit in with a group while the other instructor would float from group to group monitoring the volunteers’ involvement.

From previous interactions, I gleaned some specific information about Sherry via another instructor. “She is so difficult. She spouts up about being Christian when others are talking about their Islamic beliefs, it disturbs the other students.” This seemed to be the instructor’s way of saying she didn’t want any religious tension in her classroom. I realized in this moment that something was awry and started building bridges of trust with Sherry. Each day that she arrived to school, I would greet her with a smile and morning salutation to let her know her presence was appreciated and welcomed. As time wore on she took time to stop and hold some small chit chat before going into her classroom. However, it was the one Conversation Club day that really broke through the phantom barrier into a new sense of connectedness. We were in our groups; Sherry and four other students were in the one I was facilitating this particular Thursday morning. We were discussing the upcoming Remembrance Day holiday and its meaning. We opened up the discussion with questions for the students to ponder and reflect upon thereby initiating conversation. One of the questions touched on their opinion about war. As the responses moved around the table the majority of the students responded in the standard way of stating that “it is horrific and wished we could all live peacefully.” As it came around to Sherry, I could see her eyes gloss over with tears. She started to say, “Every day, I thank GOD I’m in Canada”. As a couple of tears found their way down her round, rosy cheeks, I grabbed the tissue box and quietly put it between us. Quietly, I responded with a reassuring “yes, we are all thankful you are here too, Sherry.” As she wiped the tears from her cheeks and eyes, she went on to tell her story of her last day in her small village in southern Iraq. Her family was locked inside their home. “My mother, father and brother were crouched down while the shelling and gunfire were ringing out in the streets outside our home. We were Christian.” A primary Islamic state was the desired preference. As the gunfire got closer, her father demanded that she run and hide. Being a respectful daughter, she obliged. As she shrunk and hid inside an underground dugout that their family had made, “I heard heavy footsteps above. Then, a flurry of screams and shots being fired rang out. This moment lasted forever” she said, “Once all the noise stopped, I looked carefully from my underground hideout. When I crawled out of the space from where I was hiding, I found my mother, father and brother lying dead in pools of blood that surrounded their bodies. I ran over to my mother and held her bloody head in my hands and cried to God. WHY!!??. Later on that evening, once the guns were silent, my uncle came by and whisked me away. We made our way southeast to Dubai.” As she unfurled her story, our group began to realize that none of us could reconcile with this set of circumstances thrust upon a young girl. As an educator/counsellor, I knew I needed to sit mindfully attending to this moment and that was the best action I could take. She went on to talk of how through many years of living in Dubai she soon learned to find her way independently. It was then that she had applied to Canada as a refugee. She knew if she was able to start a new life somewhere far away from the memory that haunted her, it would allow her some solace. She told us that when she was on the plane to Canada, she cried. She established that they were not tears of sadness but of happiness. She knew that she was given this gift as she said “from GOD.” No matter the reasons, she was finally finding happiness in a life that had its lion’s share of sadness. As she wound down, I pulled her close and gave her the biggest hug. The only thing I could think to say was “you are such a brave young woman. Your honesty inspires me. Thank you.” We were all stunned by the story. It reshaped our perspective. From that day onwards to the moment Sherry left the program, new bonds between students were formed. The Muslim students were especially empathetic and a group of them would surround her at breaktime making an effort to build back the broken trust created by others.


O’Neil, Dennis (2013) Glossary of terms: Cultural relativity. What is Anthropology? Retrieved from http://anthro.palomar.edu/intro/glossary.htm

Randall, W. (1995). The stories we are: An essay on self-creation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Biographical Information

From the Winter 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Theresa K. Howell has been a LINC Instructor at ISSofBC for over eight years. At the time of writing this article, she was in the process of achieving her MA in Arts Education at SFU. This piece is from her thesis “Storied Lives; Storytelling and Change” and all names have been changed to protect people’s identities.


This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Howell, T. K. (2016, Winter). Transformation through Storytelling in an EAL Classroom. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BC-TEAL-Newsletter-Winter-2016-FINAL.pdf

How to join a Twitter chat


If you have been following this blog, you have probably noticed a number of posts with #LINCchat in the title. These posts are summaries of a bi-weekly Twitter chat for LINC instructors. This is when people can come together for one hour on Twitter to discuss a particular topic and share ideas and resources. It is an excellent way to connect with others working in settlement language and get the support you need to grow as an instructor or administrator.

For some of you, Twitter chats sound interesting, but you are not sure where to begin. Here are some ways in which you can participate without having to leave your house.

Get a Twitter account

While you don’t need a Twitter account to read what has been shared, you won’t be able to participate without one. Twitter is free and you don’t need a smartphone to use it. You can use any computer with internet access.

Make sure your account is not set to Private

When you set your account to Private, only those to whom you give permission will be able to read your tweets. This is tough in a chat since anyone can join. If you tweet, even with the proper hashtag, some people will be left out of your conversation.

Don’t forget the hashtag

When the time comes to start the chat, all you need to do to join is to tweet using the hashtag. Take #LINCchat for example. When the time comes to join the chat, the moderators will share questions and comments using #LINCchat in their tweets. You can answer those questions or give your own comments by tweeting with #LINCchat in the tweet. Be aware, make sure to leave a space before the # in #LINCchat, but there shouldn’t be a space between # and LINCchat. You can put the hashtag anywhere in the tweet. Here is an example:

Follow the hashtag and join the conversation

This is where the conversation happens. To follow a hashtag means to search a hashtag while the chat is happening. There are a few ways to do that.

Mobile app: The Twitter mobile app is not that great for Twitter chats, but it can be used as long as you follow a few steps.






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Tweetdeck: Often overlooked, Tweetdeck is a great tool for twitter chats. Tweetdeck is owned and run by Twitter, so you don’t need to register for anything since you already have an account. Simply go to https://tweetdeck.twitter.com and sign in with your Twitter account. Once you are there, here is what you can do to make it easier to chat.





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  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. That is one of the reasons we have moderators.
  • Feel free to “lurk” (in other words, watch without tweeting) for a while to get the hang of things.
  • Don’t be afraid to only tweet once in a while. You don’t have to comment on everything. We realize new people might find the chats overwhelming at first.
  • Moderators will post questions using the Q+number format (ex. Q1). To help others know what you are answering, try to use the A+number format in reply (ex. A1). Here is an example:

  • Follow others who participate in the chat. This is a great way to build you personal learning network (PLN) with like-minded people.
  • Have fun!