My Experience of Learning to Read and Write Farsi as L1 and English as L2: A Long-haul Journey to Bilingualism

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By Raheb Zohrehfard

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

As an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) and English as an Additional Language (EAL) teacher, reading and writing constitute an essential part of my daily professional life. Yet it is baffling how I first acquired these skills. In an attempt to write this narrative essay, I intend to review and delve more closely into my literacy practices and educational endeavor as a learner of English. Doing so also gives me an opportunity to describe the obstacles I have conquered and the successes I have accomplished throughout the years. My current status as a graduate student in a university in Canada as well as my position as an EAL teacher in a language school requires me to engage in learning about current theories about Second Language Acqusition (SLA), reading and writing academic papers, giving presentations and teaching EAL to adult speakers of other languages who come to Canada for all kinds of reasons. As such, my present reading and writing activities gravitate more toward English than Farsi and more toward academic than non-academic texts. Currently, I have little time to read for pleasure and except for texting telegraphic messages, I do not write to friends and family. Although the predominant language that I use now is English, I am more adept at and more comfortable with reading and writing in my first language in general. This is perhaps thanks to the fact that all my reading and writing activities from elementary school to high school were in my first language. However, interestingly enough, when it comes to reading science or literature books, I am a more fluent reader and writer in English. This is perhaps because I majored in English language and literature, and I read and analyzed many demanding works of literature as part of my course assignments as a bachelor’s student back in my home country, Iran.

I received my primary, secondary, and tertiary education in Iran. My educational background may not be largely different from what most other peers of mine experienced in the 1980s. In fact, there is a large population of people my own age who are still sharing some nostalgic memories of the past- the kinds of stationery we used, the storybooks we used to enjoy reading, and our favorite characters we used to talk a lot about at school. Not only did I engage in various reading and writing activities at school, but I was also surrounded by a very rich environment for literacy at home. I began to study EFL when I was in the seventh grade (the second grade of junior high school) and I continued to take English courses until I graduated from a four-year program at a university in Iran. However, it was not until four years ago, when I had a chance to take the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and more recently September 2014 when I immersed myself in an English-speaking environment, that I continued to develop advanced oral and written skills in English. Although this was a late start to develop advanced second language (L2) proficiency, I believe that the first language (L1) literacy at home and in school served as a foundation for my acquisition of L2 literacy.

My L1 Literacy Development

My experience in reading and writing began as I entered a public elementary school in my city Shiraz in 1986. When I was a child, my mother and my older sisters used to read to me children’s books with colorful illustrations. My sisters read bedtime stories of which “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “The Rolling Pumpkin,” as far as my dim and distant memory serves, were my favorites. There was no formal instruction in reading and writing when I was in kindergarten for a year, but I do remember my teachers reading stories to us. My formal education in reading and writing is still very vivid in my mind. It all began by introducing the Farsi alphabet in very short contextualized stories, followed up by much writing practice. As we proceeded to the following chapters, the stories became longer, and we were also introduced to contemporary Persian poems along with new vocabulary and word family exercises after each lesson. The eight-year war between Iran and Iraq broke out when I was three months old, and by the time I was in grade 2, my education was interrupted. During this time, the education I received was mainly through television programs. Farsi language learning in elementary school included mechanical exercises. Writing reports on scientific observations in elementary school and science labs in middle school and high school were also another part of the education I received where the scientific and linguistic accuracy of the reports were tested. Writing was an important part of my education in both essay exams on a number of subject matters such as social sciences, history, biology, geology, as well as Farsi dictation.

My Experiences of learning English as L2

The English language instruction that I received from the seventh grade in a public school through to my undergraduate program was probably no different from what most other students experienced during the 1990s. As a seventh grader, I had already developed a significant level of L1 literacy and metalinguistic awareness, which I think facilitated my learning of L2. However, since the instructional emphasis in English classes tended to be on grammar and vocabulary and there were only a few opportunities to use English for real purposes, my English proficiency developed very slowly during the middle school and high school years.

My level of motivation kept oscillating. On the one hand, I was very motivated to learn English and become a fluent speaker, and on the other hand I did not feel I was making progress. My excessive desire to learn English pushed me to work twice as hard as other students as I always imagined myself to be a professional English speaker living in North America. I now realize how notions of investment, agency, and imagined identity (Norton, 1995; 2011) played significant roles in my learning experience. I started using the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary and in less than six months I learned how to use the dictionary, grasped the phonetic rules, and was able to use vocabulary definitions in English. Reading, grammar, and vocabulary were the primary focus, and writing was mostly practised through translating isolated sentences from Farsi to English or vise versa. Having entered university, I was fortunate to work as an English teacher for a local private language institute. This was the time I started to develop a passion for teaching English. Drawing on my past experience as a learner and meanwhile reading Larsen Freeman’s (1986) Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching as part of the bachelor’s program at my university helped me delve into issues of teaching and learning and served as a basis for determining my future identity and community, of which I am still an active member.

By the time I completed my first degree in English language and literature, I already had four years of teaching experience in an EFL context. However, whereas I was enjoying teaching English, I was still grappling with theories formulated around teaching while I was acquiring quite a taste in understanding how theories can be put into practice as well as how practice can be theorized (Kumaravadivelu, 2005). My interest in and gradual predilection toward theory made me decide to take a fast-track training course called CELTA in Chiang Mai, a northern city in Thailand, hoping I could face more challenges in both evaluating my English in a native-English speaking environment and simultaneously deepening my insight into the practical side of theory. Surrounded by English speakers from England, the U.S., Australia and Scotland, I learned the principles of effective teaching (Scrivener, 2011), gained a range of practical skills for teaching English to adults as well as young learners, and got valuable hands-on teaching experience for different teaching contexts. I also realized that teaching EAL would be more rewarding for me and beneficial to others.

Conclusions and Implications

As a child who grew up in Iran during the 1980s and 1990s, I had a rich experience in L1 literacy, both at home and in school. I was always surrounded by books and was given ample opportunities to express myself in writing for both academic and social purposes. A foundation for academic literacy skills was built through language activities in elementary, middle, and high school, such as extensive reading, report writing, and copying from text books, which might have helped me develop metalinguistic awareness for analyzing structures of written language and discourse.

In theory, I would have been able to transfer my L1 literacy skills to L2 while I was growing up. However, I did not develop my advanced literacy skills in English until later in my life because of a lack of immediate needs for using English. What helped me develop L2 literacy in reading and writing were immersion experiences in the target language where immediate needs were present. Arranging get-togethers in coffee shops and in places before and after classes definitely helped me enhance my fluency in both speaking and writing. Reading literary works such as novels, short stories, and literary criticism, and writing comments and analysis as group activities and course assignments paved the way for the development of my academic reading and writing skills. I believe that learning is a long-haul journey, and I believe that my proficiency and fluency hinges very much on the degree to which I manage to socialize myself into academia (Duff, 2010; Kim & Duff, 2012), and the feedback I receive in terms of style and mechanics of my written production. Reflecting on my own experience as both a learner and a teacher, I learn much better from my mistakes and repetition of the correct forms.

References

Duff, P. A. (2010). Language socialization into academic discourse communities. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 30, 169-192.

Kim, J., & Duff, P. A. (2012). The language socialization and identity negotiations of generation 1.5 Korean-Canadian University Students. TESL Canada Journal, 29(6), 81-102.

Kubota, R. (2001). My experience of learning to read and write in Japanese as L1 and English as L2. In D. Belcher & U. Connor (eds), Reflections on multiliterate lives (pp. 96-109). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2006). Understanding language teaching: From method to postmethod. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (1986). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford, UK: OUP.

Norton, B., & Toohey, K. (2011). Identity, language learning, and social change. Language Teaching, 44(04), 412-446.

Norton Peirce, B. (1995). Social Identity, Investment and Language Learning, TESOL Quarterly, 29(1), 9-31.

Scrivener, J. (2011). Learning teaching: The Essential Guide to English Language Teaching, Third Edition. New York, NY: MacMillan.

Biographical Information

From the Winter 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Raheb Zohrehfard is an MEd (TESL) graduate from the University of British Columbia. Having come to Canada as an international student, he completed his Master’s degree while working as an EAL teacher in the International Language Academy of Canada. His sphere of interest lies at the confluence of sociolinguistics and immigrant language learning and integration.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Zohrehfard, R. (2016, Winter). My experience of learning to read and write Farsi as L1 and English as L2: A long-haul journey to bilingualism. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BC-TEAL-Newsletter-Winter-2016-FINAL.pdf

 

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My Experience with English: The Game of Chutes and Ladders

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By Natalia Balyasnikova

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

Drawing inspiration from Suresh Canagarajah’s article titled: “Teacher development in a global profession: An autoethnography” (Canagarajah, 2012) in this article I examine my own journey from an English language classroom at a Russian school to a Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) doctoral program at the University of British Columbia (UBC). I see my academic life experiences as a process of socialisation to various communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991) that shapes who we are and what we do.

At the start

It seemed that the rigor, efficiency and devotion to quality I had so admired in 1989 had been undermined” Rosabi (1991).

I started learning English at the age of 11, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. As I was learning new strange sounds and words, the country around me was changing. Perestroika brought new hopes and excitement for the people, along with the confusion and loss of all existing social and educational paradigms. English was not among my favourite subjects in school. I was not a good student, and my teachers had nothing nice to say to me. “She will never speak a foreign language because she doesn’t understand the rules,” I overheard one of my teachers telling my mother. The teaching methodology heavily relied on the grammar-translation method, with very little emphasis on practice. Even younger learners memorized densely worded grammatical rules formulated by Soviet linguists, and failing to repeat the rule word by word resulted in low grades. Very little attention was paid to students’ individual learning styles, visual support, group work, and creative tasks. The results of this teaching philosophy for me were devastating: after completing six years of English language courses in school, my proficiency was limited to memorized dialogues, poems, and short monologues about my family, my hobbies, and myself. I felt zero confidence in speaking because I was terrified of making a mistake. The label of “not capable” has become a part of my learner identity and I have struggled to prove otherwise.

Going up a ladder…

In 1996, my mother took me to the USA, where she was working as a visiting professor at Brown University. I arrived in the US without any background knowledge about this country. Because of my limited English language proficiency, I attended special classes with other ESL students. Our classes were nothing but fun, and I enjoyed coming to class. It was a safe space, free from direct judgment. In contrast to my previous experience, this community was democratic and free from “negative labelling” (Labov, 1982). This is where I learned the power of positive reinforcement and a collaborative learning environment, where everything from posters on the walls to stickers used for grading were designed to increase students’ interest and motivation. This pedagogical model had its own impact on me. While I felt like an outsider during the lunch break, I thrived in my ESL classes and saw this education as a fun after school club where we played games and sang songs.

…or down a chute?

My return to Russia was traumatic: I came back with an accent in my native language and giant gaps in my theoretical knowledge about the English language. All those games and songs left me completely unprepared for the exams required to graduate from high school and enter university. I could speak, but I had a hard time with writing, spelling and grammar. I again felt incapable. I had to hit the books and cram for entrance exams. Has anything changed since I was in elementary school? Not much. This transformation from a fluent speaker to a struggling student wasn’t easy and unfortunately my experience is not unique. Many returning students have to learn how to adapt to different educational systems and expectations and they have to do so very quickly.

Climbing up…

“A contemporary teacher of English in Russia is less educated theoretically and more pragmatically oriented” Ter-Minasova (2005)

When I graduated from university, brand new diploma in hand, I was a trained teacher. What that really meant was that I was, as Canagarajah writes, filled with a “blur of confusing terms and labels” (Canagarajah, 2012) of theories, methods, and approaches all mixed in together with extensive knowledge in literature, linguistics, history of the UK and the USA, comparative pedagogy, but little teaching practice. For me, having a solid theoretical knowledge in linguistics, psychology, theories of language acquisition, approaches to teaching, and classroom techniques was crucial to becoming a teacher. Recently, however, the increased mobility of many Russians, the possibilities of travelling to English speaking countries, and the influx of native-speakers have weaken the positions of theoretically trained, but less proficient professionals. This brought other issues to light, such as the quality of materials used for teaching, native-speaker privilege, and high labour turnover. I had two jobs: as a university instructor and as a teacher at a private language school. At the private language school where I worked, my students explicitly expressed that they needed to learn “survival English” for communicative purposes. I had to play the role of an English speaking, ever-happy entertainer, and a guidebook for tourists. At university, I had to project an image of a serious, scholarly, reserved lecturer. Important lesson here – while the private sector of the EFL world in Russia was moving towards a client-service provider model in education, the formal education sector still valued “correct” British English, a “correct” way of teaching, and teachers’ authority in class. Learning to navigate between these two diverse communities was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I have lived through the turning point in English language teaching in Russia and had to learn to navigate from the periphery to the centre of the community of practice at the same time when the community itself was undergoing a major change.

…and starting over

After 12 successful years as a teacher of English in Russia, I decided to come to Canada for a doctorate degree. I left my job, family, and friends to start a new chapter of my life in one of the best universities in the world. And again I am learning: new words, new literacies, and new ways of being. This learning process brings new questions. As a former teacher, I wonder if those of us, who return to the “battlefield” of teaching practice will ever be recognized for trying to implement all of our complex theories in their classrooms. Nevertheless, I am hopeful. I have been fortunate to experience different teaching systems, styles, and methods. The fact that as a child I had been exposed to different styles of teaching, allowed me to develop my own teaching practice by calling on all my lived experience. Therefore, my learner’s story can provide yet another argument in favor of the exchange of experiences and the collaborative search for best practices. Had my teachers been exposed to other teaching philosophies or given freedom to experiment with alternative approaches to teaching, my learner’s identity would have been formed in a very different way. However, years of formal training in linguistics, history, and literature are helping me in my studies in graduate school. This is another message I am hoping to send by sharing my story: learn from your students; talk to your colleagues, especially those who come from other countries, and most importantly don’t be discouraged if you find yourself at the starting point again. Never stop learning and this transformation will be a ladder you can use to climb up again.

References

Canagarajah, S. (2012). Teacher development in a global profession: an autoethnography. TESOL Quaterly, 46(2), pp. 258-279.

Labov, W. (1982). Objectivity and commitment in linguistic science: The case of the Black English trial in Ann Arbor. Language in Society, 11(2), pp. 165-202

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Rossabi, M. (1991). The ball keeps rolling. Independent School, 51(1), 25.

Ter-Minasova, S. (2005). Traditions and innovations: English language teaching in Russia. World Englishes, 24 (4), pp. 445–454

Biographical Information

From the Winter 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Natalia Balyasnikova was a doctoral student in Language and Literacy Education at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada at the time of this article. Originally from Russia, Natalia moved to Canada in 2013 to pursue her degree in TESL with a focus on adult education, community-based research, and intercultural communication.

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This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Balyasnikova, N. (2016, Winter). My Experience with English: The Game of Chutes and Ladders. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BC-TEAL-Newsletter-Winter-2016-FINAL.pdf

My Cambridge Delta Experience

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By Alex Inglis

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

Only now, a few months after completing the Delta am I fully able to reflect on what I learned and did, and now I am beginning to implement some of the new techniques I learned. It is a huge relief it is all over, but now I would like to share my experiences with those who want to learn more about the course or those interested in taking it. The Delta is a diploma in teaching English to speakers of other languages developed by Cambridge English Language Assessment, which is a part of the University of Cambridge. I won’t give a description of the course itself as this information can be found on the Cambridge English website (www.cambridgeenglish.org), but I will briefly describe what I learned, how my teaching beliefs and practices have changed, and give some suggestions for those interested in doing the course.

I took the course over a three year period from December 2012 to this past summer. One advantage to taking the Delta is that you can complete the modules in any order you want and you can take as long as you need. I completed modules 1 and 3 straight away while I was managing a local school in Vancouver. However, to be ready for the second module, I travelled and went back into the classroom. Two years later, I enrolled on module 2.

It is here where I got the most out of the course. This is not to say I didn’t get anything out of the other two modules. Module 1 gave me the opportunity to brush up on current research, methods, and theory. I also loved the textbook analysis aspect of the module. It was fun dissecting exercises and activities to learn about the aim and theory behind them. I also fell in love with pronunciation and discovered a new found appreciation for the IPA. Module 3 gave me the opportunity to design a course, which was both challenging and interesting. One thing it did teach me was that knowing your learners and completing a thorough needs analysis is vital to any successful course plan (and any class for that matter). Both modules 1 and 3 were tough but the toughest was to come.

Everything I had heard about Module 2 was true. It was a monster, and it certainly pushed me to my limits. I went in with my eyes wide open and was well-advised before embarking on the course to see this module as a process. Module 2 really challenged my ideas about my own teaching. I thought my teaching was learner-centered and that I created a supportive learning environment in which all students thrived. I thought personality, energy, and building rapport were hallmarks to good teaching. I thought I was flexible and able to adjust my teaching and lessons to the emerging needs of my students. I thought all these things, and they were true to some degree, but they alone were not enough. The Delta has a good way of pushing you beyond your comfort zone.

A portion of the course is dedicated to a professional development reflection paper. I found this to be a very rewarding process. It allowed me to see that my biggest problem lay in my ambitious planning and the quantity of material I wanted to get into a lesson. This had a knock on effect with everything that happened in my lessons. Because I planned too much, this made timing tight, which didn’t allow the students and I to study the language or skill with the necessary precision and depth. It also meant I rushed through activities, which meant I was not working at the pace of every student, but moving with the fastest ones. To compensate, I ended up speaking too much, thus shutting down potential learner contributions and emerging language. Doing module 2 forced me to both recognize and find ways to resolve these issues.

Upon completion of the course and after taking the above areas into consideration, I have tried various techniques in my lessons. I have tried to be more inclusive by asking for broader input from different students in order to stop me from moving on after the first response. I have also engaged the class in whole discussion sequences, where different responses and answers are discussed. I have noticed a slightly slower pace in my lessons, thus making sure the whole class moves as one. I have also tried to keep my instructions and explanations more concise by scripting these beforehand. Most importantly, I have tried to relinquish some control and lessen my role to slow down and focus on the learners’ needs as they are happening in the moment. To summarize, I have attempted to allow the learning to happen instead of forcing it to happen.

Revisiting my core beliefs as a teacher from earlier stages in the course, they have not changed too much, but the way I use these to inform my teaching has. I do believe teaching should be learner-centered, engaging, and dynamic, but how I do this now has become clearer. It means slowing down, not being over-organized, balancing participation among learners, but at the same time knowing when to intervene on behalf of the students to bring out their best and to demand more from them.

Finally, and most importantly, the Delta has taught me to look closely at why I do things in class and to always have a reason for doing something. I also try new things on a more regular basis. For example, Cuisenaire Rods and drilling are underrated teaching tools, and if done appropriately can add great value to any classroom setting. I certainly feel more confident in my teaching. My advice to anyone wanting to take the Delta is to make sure it is what you want. There will be some tough times and you will have to remind yourself as to why you are doing the course. Next, read, read, and then read some more! Also, be organized. And finally, build a network of family, friends, and people you know who have completed either the Delta or an MA. They’re most important and they’ll help you get through. I know they helped me!

Biographical Information

From the Winter 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Alex Inglis has been working within the field of EAL since 2008 and has experience in both teaching and management. He holds a M.Sc. in Comparative and International Education from Oxford University and has taught in Vancouver, the United Kingdom, Chile, and Uganda.  He is now teaching at a language school in Vancouver.

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Original reference information:

Inglis, A. (2016, Winter). My Cambridge Delta Experience. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BC-TEAL-Newsletter-Winter-2016-FINAL.pdf

Integrating Technology from the Ground Up—Making the Most of Technological Affordances

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By Brian Wilson

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

I have a confession to make. When talking about educational technology, I’ve used the words affordances, leverage and integration more often than I probably should have. In fact, I’ve even played “Meeting Bingo” with them. In my defence, however, I continue to use these terms because there often doesn’t seem to be a common, easily accessible vocabulary or set of practices when discussing instructional design, educational technology, and language learning. Too often when doing so, educators get bogged down in talking about the tools and how to operate them, instead of thinking more deeply about what students are to gain by engaging with the various technologies. It is possible to be swayed by the sexy, trendy, but perhaps not overly effective new tool or, conversely, to abandon a promising, if somewhat clunky, piece of software simply because it seems not intuitive or easy enough to use.

With that off my chest, let me be completely upfront in saying that I don’t think there is one must-have tool, technology, or even approach. Nor would I support the notion that new is always better. Sometimes paper and pen really is best. What I do support, however, is the idea that not only should educators take advantage of what today’s tools have to offer, but it must be done in a principled, pedagogically sound manner. In other words, integrating technology, and digital technology in particular, is more desirable than just simply using technology, and in order to make the most of that distinction, language educators need to be able to articulate why they have chosen to use the tools that they have. They need to be able to demonstrate alignment between the underlying pedagogy, the approach to language learning and the instructional methods employed when designing and delivering technology-enhanced lessons. The challenge is: How best can instructors do this?

The first question to ask when considering whether to introduce a new tool or technology into the classroom is: What will this enable me to do that I could not otherwise accomplish? There is little to be gained by simply replicating an existing method or activity unless an improvement in learning outcomes can be realized. This is especially true if the proposed tool or resource requires student registration, disrespects their privacy, or contributes to a digital divide. By identifying the particular affordances of a technology early, educators can then better design their lessons so the desired alignment between pedagogy, approach and methods can be realized. For example, if a set of stand-alone, online, multiple choice grammar questions is completed by students sitting individually in a language lab with little or no relation to the preceding or following lesson, it will be hard, if not impossible, for the instructor to argue that this aligns with a pedagogy that adopts a constructivist orientation, a communicative approach or a methodology that is task-based. If the instructor can’t justify why having students sit in a computer lab provides a better learning opportunity or contributes to a principled approach to language acquisition, then that particular technology may be a poor choice. It’s not that spaces like language labs or tools like online quizzes are inherently good or bad. Rather, it’s a question of identifying how that technology needs to be used in order to take advantage of what it offers. In the case of online quizzes, for example, as a means of fostering some self-directed study or providing focused, adaptive practice on a particular concept, they might provide an ideal means of supporting the learner and his or her particular challenges, but this can’t simply arise from the too often default position of using lab time simply because lab time has been scheduled.

In addition to offering new and varied ways of tackling ongoing language acquisition challenges, what makes many of the tools currently available so enticing is that they enable educators to transition their classrooms from that of being a walled garden into a networked public. The real power of Web 2.0 and social media is that it enables both the students and the instructors to develop interactions that are primarily relational, instead of informational. That is, the relationship developed between members when using these tools is often more important than the nature of information that a social network contains (Ito et al., 2008). This enables educators to better integrate technology by considering how the students will interact rather than what information they will acquire. Take Twitter for example. Simply having students engage in an ongoing dialogue with each other on a variety of topics is likely to have more benefit than either simply transmitting information from teacher to student or by focusing on accuracy at the expense of (digital) fluency or literacy.

The Pedagogy of Multiliteracies (The New London Group, 1996) provides a useful pedagogical foundation upon which to integrate technology choices with instructional methodology. Central to this theory is the assumption that 21st century learners operate in a multi-modal, multi-cultural, and multi-media environment and that “curriculum is a design for social futures” (The New London Group, 1996). In other words, as fundamentally and unequivocally important as traditional concepts of literacy are, students now live in an era when also being digitally literate can make the difference in a student’s ability to successfully navigate between various forms of language and multiple modes of expression. In fact, it can also have a direct impact on career and employment opportunities. It is no longer adequate for students to gain proficiency only in the traditional areas of reading, writing, speaking and listening – they are necessary, but not sufficient, for students to thrive. The four pillars of multiliteracies are: situated practice; overt instruction; critical framing and transformed practices. While a full discussion of multiliteracies is by no means possible here, these pillars do provide salient questions for the instructor to ask before choosing a particular tool or technology.

  • Situated practice: Will the students be immersed in authentic experience and engage in meaningful practice, including those from the students’ everyday lives, workplaces and public spaces?
  • Overt instruction: Will students gain a systematic, analytic, and conscious understanding what is being learned? Will they develop the metalanguage necessary to do so?
  • Critical framing: Will students be able to gain mastery, thereby extending and applying their knowledge in new and enriched contexts?
  • Transformed practice: Will students, through application and reflective practice, be able to transfer their meaning-making capacity to other contexts or cultural sites?

To help put the concepts of affordances, networked publics and multiliteracies into context and provide a wrapper for holding them together, Garrison, Anderson & Archer’s updated model for a Community of Inquiry (Garrison, 2011) provides three key questions to ask when considering the instructional design of a technology-enhanced course: How will it impact the social presence? What is the instructor presence going to be? What is the cognitive presence required? If a technology is able to leverage any one of these domains more fully, not only will the interactions between students, instructors and technology be more intentional, but in all likelihood, learning outcomes can be improved, but for that to happen, instructors need to make sure that any adoption of technology can address any or all of these domains while still aligning pedagogy, approach and method.

Once educators have considered how they will design their courses, what technologies and activities will enable their students to reach the desired learning outcomes more effectively, and how a community of inquiry can be fostered, they can then use their chosen instructional methodology (e.g. task-based, PPP, TTT) to decide how best to structure their lessons. Every technology comes with its own inherent logic, cultural and political assumptions, and impact on its users, and the “tool” itself cannot be separated from these. In fact, it would be an oversimplification to try to separate the function of a technology from its form. Therefore, it is extremely important when choosing technologies that educators don’t become complacent and simply try to emulate existing face-to-face classroom practices. For example, in Mobile pedagogy for English language teaching: a guide for teachers, Kukulska-Hulme, Norris and Donohue (2015) introduce the mobile dimension into the existing challenge of integrating technology in an attempt to help instructors bridge their existing expertise with their desire to take advantage of the possibilities that mobile learning offers so that instead of asking students to turn off their phones and put them away in frustration, instructors can develop a framework through which they can better make use of the tools while still creating an active and engaging learning environment.

In How Learning Works, Ambrose et al. (2010) argue that the seven principles of good teaching (knowledge, structure, motivation, mastery, practice, climate, metacognition) are rooted in cognitive science, and that these principles support a set of strategies and provide a checklist of sorts that can be used as a reference against which an instructor can determine the likely success of a particular set of activities. For many experienced educators, these seven principles and the resulting strategies will seem like common sense, but they are worth remembering if only to remind ourselves that above all, pedagogy and good teaching must provide the foundation for our informed choices in technology, not the other way round.

Resources

The pedagogy of multiliteracies:

Community of Inquiry:

How learning works primer:

Using technology vs. integrating it:

Mobile pedagogy:

References

Ambrose, S., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C., Norman, M.K., & Mayer, R.E. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Garrison, D. R. (2011). E–Learning in the 21st century: A framework for research and practice (2nd ed.). London: Routledge/Falmer.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning. (2008). Living and learning with new media: Summary of findings from the digital youth project. Chicago, IL: Ito, M., Horst, H.A., Bittanti, M., Boyd, D., Herr-Stephenson, B., Lange, P.G., Pascoe, C.J., & Robinson, L. Retrieved from http://digitalyouth.ischool.berkeley.edu/report.html

The New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review. 66(1), pp. 60-93.

Kukulska-Hulme, A., Norris, L., & Donohue, J. (2015). Mobile pedagogy for English language teaching: A guide for teachers. London: British Council.

Biographical Information

From the Winter 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Brian Wilson is the Curriculum Manager at UBC Vantage College. Before this, he was an Instructional Designer/Project Manager at the UBC Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. His areas of interest include educational technology, blended and mobile learning environments, and program design. Brian holds an MA TESOL from the University College London, Institute of Education, and has been involved in EAL since 1990.

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Original reference information:

Wilson, B. (2016, Winter). Integrating Technology from the Ground Up—Making the Most of Technological Affordances. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BC-TEAL-Newsletter-Winter-2016-FINAL.pdf

Applying Principles of Team-Based Learning to the EAP Classroom

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By Amber Shaw

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

When looking to push into new transformative teaching experiences, a good conference is always a sound place to start. I was very fortunate to be able to attend the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) conference this past summer in Vancouver. The theme of the conference was “Achieving Harmony: Tuning into Practice.” My biggest take-away was the realization that in order to have more transformative experiences for myself and for my students, I need to purposefully create those opportunities for transformation.

There are many things that get in the way of me creating these opportunities though. True transformative experiences usually involve a certain amount of risk. I had to ask myself: How much risk am I willing to take as an instructor? How much risk is my institution willing to take? What about the students? In the end, I decided to face my fears and try something new.

Background: General Information about Team-Based Learning (TBL) can be found at the Team-Based Learning Collaborative (2013). I became interested in TBL after going to a STLHE workshop by Jim Sibley and Ernesto Ocampo Edye entitled “Team work that works: An introduction to team-based learning”. I left wanting to give TBL a try in my English for Academic Purposes (EAP) setting. I was particularly interested in the larger group work model used in TBL, which uses groups of between five to seven students (Sibley et al., 2014). My students are all taking first year university classes with integrated EAP courses as part of their first year program. Each class has approximately 25 students and meets for 50 minute weekly blocks.

Risk Taken: The incorporation of some of the principles of TBL into one of my courses involved risk. This risk included getting over the fear of using permanent large groups instead of rotating small groups in my class. Small group work has always been a part of my classroom, and I was unsure about switching to this new model.

Requirements: The addition of a new learning outcome to my class was a requirement. The additional learning outcome was framed as the course helping students to learn through intercultural group work and communication. This new approach also required fronting a lot of the prep work for the semester. Planning and organization was critical, and in the end, was well worth it. I also had the support of my director and colleagues.

Transformations: The use of large groups created mini-classrooms with dedicated leaders and assigned student roles. Students took control of their own learning, and most of the groups monitored their own behaviours, deadlines, and progress. Overall, students used English more often than in my traditional small group activities. As diversity was built into the large groups, English became the common communication tool necessary to complete the assignments.

Payoffs and Advantages: Using TBL groups allowed me to give more formative feedback to a large number of students. I also seemed to learn the students’ names faster as I interacted with them in their stable teams. Another advantage was being able to ensure that there was more linguistic diversity within each group than I was previously able to accomplish with the use of small groups.

Disadvantages: The only disadvantage I can identify is having to move the classroom tables into group configurations, which can take a couple of minutes of class time. However, after the first few classes, the students got faster at helping to move the tables at the beginning and end of class.

What I would do differently next time: I would spend more time introducing the importance of the new group work learning outcome. I would also make the groups spend more time and effort selecting an appropriate group name that reflects their identity as a learning community.

Reflection: This was definitely the epitome of me “doing something different” by allowing students to take control of their own learning. Students took the group assignment quite seriously. Many of the groups set up Facebook pages, booked meeting rooms and had meetings outside of class time. They also utilized many of the online tools available to them through our university’s online learning system. Having four groups of six to seven students each, created cooperative learning spaces within each group while still producing a competitive atmosphere overall between the groups. This seems to have motivated more students early on. Some of the groups that I worried about the most, in the end had the most success, as early setbacks seemed to have driven the groups to succeed.

Unexpected Issues: Even though most of the students were very good at utilizing social media to complete their group tasks, there were many groups that struggled with basic technology and information literacy skills. This was the first time I had realized that students half my age were not necessarily as tech savvy as I am. My own technology literacy has been a new fear for me in the past five years as I continue to age, while the students stay 19 forever. While I was troubled to see some of the students struggling with basic technology skills, I have to admit that I felt more empowered to integrate a scaffolding of these skills into the assignments.

Conclusions: I found the application of many of the principles of TBL for language learning quite successful. It allowed for more scaffolding, tasked based learning, and improved motivation and student buy-in. While I have not applied all of the principles of TBL to my classroom, I will continue to expand this model in the coming semesters. I am also curious to know what other instructors’ experiences are with using TBL in a language learning classroom.

References

Sibley, J. & Ocampo Edye, E. (2015, June). Team Work that Works: An Introduction to team-based learning. Workshop presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Teachingand Learning in Higher Education, Vancouver, B.C.

Sibley, J., Ostafichuk, P., Roberson, W. E., Franchini, B., Kubitz, K. A., & Michaelsen, L. K. (2014). Getting started with team-based learning (First ed.). Sterling, Virginia: Stylus.

Team-Based Learning Collaborative. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.teambasedlearning.org

Biographical Information

From the Winter 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Amber Shaw holds a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics from Old Dominion University. She has spent the last eleven years teaching EAP, TESOL, and Linguistics. She teaches in the Academic English Program at UBC Vantage College in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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Original reference information:

Shaw, A. (2016, Winter). Applying Principles of Team-Based Learning to the EAP Classroom. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BC-TEAL-Newsletter-Winter-2016-FINAL.pdf

LINC Reflections: Transformation through Storytelling in an EAL Classroom

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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.

References

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.

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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

Language and Culture in the Classroom: Transforming Teachers’ Perceptions of Arab Students

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By Zahrae Al-Zaim

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

Canada is a multicultural society in which most immigrants and refugees eventually integrate and share a set of Canadian cultural values. By the time the second generation of immigrants comes to the classroom, they will have undergone the Canadian educational system and will likely be able to participate and contribute in class as their teachers might expect them to do. However, that may not be the case for international students, including those from an Arab background. Often, they are here for a certain amount of time and are to leave after getting their degrees. They are typically not here to integrate. They bring different cultural baggage to the class which may surprise, astonish or even shock their teachers sometimes. The purpose of this article is to look at some of this cultural baggage from a new perspective. Arab students come from a world far removed from Canada, and without being able to understand their cultural and educational backgrounds; it becomes more challenging to assist them as educators.

First things first, before moving on to their educational backgrounds, let’s define an Arab, Arab culture, Arabic, Ramadan, and Eid.

Arab: An Arab is anyone whose parents are from the Arab world even if she or he was born outside an Arab country. In the Arab world, where a person’s parents are from determines nationality. For example, my parents were born in Syria, so I am considered Syrian and not Saudi Arabian although I was born in Saudi Arabia.

Arab Culture: Arab cultural practices are not limited to one set of cultural standards; they may differ from one city to another and not just from one country to another. There are some major trends that pervade the whole Arab world, and this article can only attempt to cover a few. There is a thin line between religion and culture, and for many people that line does not exist. In reality, although religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam have influenced some of the Arab cultural practices, many of the customs practiced today are not derived from religions.

Arabic: The Arabic language consists of 28 characters that are written in cursive form and from right to left. There are two kinds of Arabic: Standard Arabic (Fus-ha) which is used in all print forms, to write tests, and the news, and spoken Arabic which is used to text, chat online, and communicate verbally. Every country has its own variety, and each city has its own dialect. Not all Arab countries understand each other’s varieties. For example, A Jordanian may not understand a Moroccan’s variety but will probably understand the Egyptian one.

How important is religion?

Religion plays a big role in the lives of many Arab students. Since about 80% of Arabs are Muslims, knowing about Ramadan and Eid is important.

Ramadan: From a religious viewpoint, Ramadan is a time of spiritual rejuvenation; people focus on their spiritual needs rather than bodily ones by refraining from eating or drinking from dawn to dusk for one lunar month. Culturally speaking, Ramadan has become a social event. The more devout will spend the night in worship while the less pious will stay up all night socializing. In either case, one can imagine the big change students face when they spend Ramadan in Canada without the Ramadan spirit or family support. Although teachers cannot alter the local lifestyle, they can still support students in a different manner. Teachers can avoid asking students questions that may make them feel judged or unaccepted, such as: are you tired or hungry, do you like fasting, isn’t it hard to fast in the hot summer, and don’t you feel thirsty. Instead, it would be more supportive for teachers to actually experience fasting for a day and having iftar (break fasting) with the students in an attempt to try something new and help students feel a little less lonely.

Eid: Ramadan is followed by Eid Al-Fitir which is typically a three day celebration in most Arab countries. About 65 days after Eid Al-Fitir, Muslims celebrate another Eid – Eid Al-Adha. Giving the students a day off on each Eid will give them a chance to attend the congregational prayers and celebrate with their communities.

Working with Arab Students

Having covered where the students are coming from, this article will now focus on what occurs inside class. It might happen that while a teacher is having a conversation with a student, the student shuts down for some mysterious reason. It is quite common to have experienced this at least once in a teacher’s career. She or her may start asking themselves: what happened? What did I do wrong?

Here are a few issues to take into consideration when working with Arab students

For many students, their image is everything. Addressing any of their undesirable classroom behavior in the presence of others is considered humiliating. It is recommended to have a one-on-one talk with the student after class. In most cases, she or he will respond better to a teacher’s requests and rectify her or his actions after a private chit chat with the teacher.

Arab males can be very sensitive but proud as well. They may try to hide any feelings of vulnerability: depression, sadness, or hurt, and choose a passive aggressive mode to cover them up. Some words that may hurt their feelings are: grow up, you’re such a baby, stop acting so childish, and don’t be silly. Some may take these expressions as a joke and some will not. It all depends on how much trust the educators have established with their students and how they say them.

Arab women are sometimes seen as weak and/or dependent. When it comes to their academic performance, teachers may notice that some Arab women are better able to deal with their frustrations and will rise above their failures, while their male counterparts may not want to try again, fearing failure. The women feel empowered by their strong will, and it is the same will that they rely on with their male relatives when they feel like it. One thing that may frustrate them is having to prove over and over again that their perceived dependence is not a sign of weakness. Women and men have split the roles between them and in most cases a woman feels content that she can count on someone when she wants to.

Understanding Arab students’ cultural backgrounds and how that impacts their performance in class will give educators an idea of how to work in order to help them achieve their educational goals. Teachers may all be aware that the educational system Arab students underwent in their home countries differs from the Canadian one, but to what extent is the question. It is worth mentioning that the educational approach is changing in some countries, such as the United Arab Emirates. That being said, most of the students that teachers encounter in their classes today have undergone the traditional educational approach.

There are five things teachers need to know about the educational system in most Arab countries:

  1. Students are expected to memorize everything in order to pass classes and eventually move on to the next grade.
  2. Students are expected to sit with their backs straight, in rows and look towards the front, trying to absorb as much they can of what the teacher is saying. They are not allowed to take any initiative. They have to wait for the teacher to tell them exactly what to do and when to do it.
  3. Students’ grades get deducted for making mistakes. Questions are not greatly encouraged. If they ask any, either their classmates make fun of them or some teachers do not know enough about the topic or do not care to answer.
  4. Participation means raising your hand whenever you know the answer. There is no place for guessing. Outstanding students are the ones that shoot up their hands the most and answer all the questions correctly.
  5. Their final grades are split into 20-30% for homework and participation and the rest for quizzes and tests. There is no project, pair, or group work. Some disciplines, but not all, introduce presentations in the first year of university.

Most Arab students have had a tough time at school. Unless they have excellent memorization skills, they probably feel like failures in education, and that puts them one step behind other students. Lack of confidence is one of the roots of their demotivation. Teachers’ encouragement and support is crucial to help build their confidence.

Not being allowed to show any kind of initiative in class explains why they seem laid back and need a reminder to take their pen and paper out (if they have any) and start taking notes (if they know how). Instructors need to teach them how to take the initiative. It will take them time to start knowing when and how to take the initiative.

Since they are used to an educational system that does not encourage mistakes or guessing, that explains why some may think twice before speaking in class. They will not offer any answers unless they are 100% sure that what they know the right answer. If they make a mistake, they will feel very conscious about it and apologize.

Now that their idea of participation is understood, Canadian teachers can understand why Arab students sometimes love shouting out answers that they are sure of and keep silent when they are not.

Some teachers may believe that Arab students do not do their best in class, thinking that they seem to be lazy or passive at best. Since Arab students were likely never graded for classwork, the concept of classwork grades is foreign to them. It would be helpful if teachers invested more time into explaining exactly how assessments happen in their class and what pair work, group work, or presentations entail. Teachers sometimes assume that all students comprehend what these mean. Teachers may forget that they have come to college or university classes with 12 years of practice while Arab students have probably not had any until the day they arrive in the Canadian EAL classroom.

After having become more familiarized with the educational system backgrounds of Arab students, one question may come to mind…

How can educators give them extra support?

Like with all other students, it is important to set the boundaries early on in the relationship. Teachers can tell them what is expected of them early on in the course and reintroduce the topics throughout the course. Teacher can also remember that Arab students probably do not mind having strict teachers as long as they are engaging and dynamic.

Teachers can also introduce time management and study skills tips into the curriculum. The life style of Arab students was probably very relaxed, so they do not know how to manage time or prioritize. Since they are used to memorization, they may not know how to study, or what preparing for a test in a Canadian class entails. Teachers can teach them something of learning styles, share their personal experiences on how they used to prepare for tests, get the whole class to share with others, bring in former students who were successful in school, and get those successful students to share their personal experiences.

Last but not least, I could not stress the effectiveness of using positive reinforcement with this group of students enough. Teachers should praise them for all their stronger skills and encourage them to work on their weaker ones. Arab students usually work harder when they get praised. It helps them believe in themselves and gives them a push forward. Teachers should try not to forget to follow up to see how they have progressed.

As educators working with students who come to Canada from all over the world, it is fundamental to understand the cultural background and educational system that made them the students they are today. I believe it is incumbent on teachers to transform their perception of Arab students in order to be better able to assist and support them on their educational journey in Canada.

Biographical Information

From the Winter 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Zahrae Al-Zaim has taught at Global Village Vancouver and has worked as an IELTS instructor in the Medical English for Healthcare Program at Sprott Shaw College. She has over seven years of ELT experience overseas and in Vancouver. She has also worked as a student counselor with Global Village and a casual settlement worker at Diversecity.

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Original reference information:

Al-Zaim, Z. (2016, Winter). Transforming Teachers’ Perceptions of Arab Students. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BC-TEAL-Newsletter-Winter-2016-FINAL.pdf

Reflections from Graduate School: Bridging Two Communities

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By Melanie M. Wong

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

For most PhD students, life is very much like a balance beam; it is difficult to maintain an equilibrium as it is a never-ending cycle of work. My academic thoughts often occur while doing mundane activities such as taking a shower, walking the dog, or navigating traffic. For this PhD Candidate and Kindergarten to Grade Twelve (K-12) educator, it is a constant juggling act to maintain two different identities (Norton, 2013) and be a member of these two Community of Practices (CoP) (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Initially it was quite natural to participate in a K-12 educator CoP although I have found that as I have been away from this CoP, it has become inherently difficult to relearn the discourses and social practices. When I reflect on the process of academic discourse socialization (Duff, 2010), it becomes apparent that becoming an academic does not come easy. There are often moments when I feel like an “imposter” or when I don’t quite fit in. However, as I have begun to realize, in all of the CoPs I belong to, I am constantly negotiating language and social practices in order to participate.

When my academic journey began, I was already a K-12 educator. As a practicing teacher, I was comfortable discussing pedagogy and best teaching practices, but coming into a doctoral program I had to “flip my switch” to discuss theory. Unfortunately, it was not as simple as it sounded to “flip a switch.” When we consider English Language Learners and teaching these individuals, the reality is everyone is a learner of “English,” whether you are a native or a non-native speaker of the language. In my own experience, academic English was a new language. Problematizing and discussing the abstract was a discourse I was not familiar with. As a K-12 educator, we wrote report cards and lesson plans. The language required for these tasks were familiar. I have often referred to my past educator experiences as “putting on a pair of very comfortable shoes.” Being an educator was something I knew. In my humble opinion, over the last four years since entering the PhD program, I have been learning a new language, a new way of expression, and discovering a new identity. Learning academic English has been a personal struggle. Some individuals may find it interesting that I have had difficulty learning academic language considering that I am a native speaker of English. However, my experiences learning to be an academic has taught me that the ways that we use language to express ourselves differ significantly from the language I utilize when teaching elementary school or speaking with school board colleagues.

From my experiences working as a teacher educator in a K-12 setting, there is often a disconnect between theory and practice. It is not that teachers do not care about the theory, but classroom teachers are juggling additional factors that require immediate attention and often the day to day is about survival. When I speak with some teaching colleagues, there is still a strong sense that at the university there is an “ivory tower” and unfortunately this creates barriers between practice and theory. For example, teachers want “things they can take home and do the next day” during professional development sessions rather than listening to “research findings.” In the K-12 educator CoP, experience matters. If you have taught, you are usually respected. Many teachers I have met have the misconception that professors do not understand their field or have had any teaching experience. However, often teachers do not realize that many professors have had vast teaching experiences (whether in K-12 or beyond) prior to entering into academia. It is these experiences that fuel their curiosity to engage in research. Perhaps what perplexed me further from my personal experience is how some educators deny the importance of research, yet it is research that often drives innovative teaching practice.

My discussion above illustrates some of the challenges of belonging to these two CoPs. Although there was personally a familiarity with the K-12 educator CoP, since being away from this CoP, there have been changes and challenges to re-learn the social conventions. Alternatively, being a member of an academic CoP has presented a number of additional challenges, including learning the language and feeling a sense of belongingness. My question is “How can we “bridge” these two CoPs?”

After reflection, I have three suggestions that could potentially help to bridge these two communities further. First, I believe it is important to have opportunities for knowledge exchanges to occur between both school boards and universities. School boards and universities need to create an ongoing “open dialogue.” These dialogues should include leaders, classroom teachers, and classroom researchers. Many of the misconceptions and misunderstandings can be resolved just by maintaining open communication channels. It is also an opportunity for both CoPs to mutually support each other.

Second, at the beginning of my reflection I elaborated on both my difficulties learning the academic language and the disconnect between theory and practice. Unfortunately both academic language and academic journals are not often accessible to many teachers. Most teachers are not reading the latest research because of these barriers. A simple solution might be for researchers to consider publishing in teacher journals or other forms of text (e.g., blogs, etc.).

Third, extending on my last suggestion, rather than just presenting at academic conferences, professors need to consider presenting their work at teachers’ conferences. Venues such as teachers’ conferences promote knowledge exchanges between academics and educators. It allows for an open dialogue to start to occur and continue.

Bridging these two dominant CoPs in my life has not come naturally for me. However, it becomes apparent that this is not an individual effort but rather one that takes a community of people to accomplish.

References

Duff, P. (2010). Language socialization into academic discourse communities. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 30, 169-172.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Norton, B. (2013). Identity and language learning: Extending the conversation (2nd ed.). Toronto, ON: Multilingual Matters.

Biographical Information

From the Fall 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Melanie Wong is a doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia (UBC). She is a K-12 educator working for the Calgary public school district, and she has taught undergraduate classes at UBC. Melanie is passionate about language learning and educational technology. Find out more at her website: http://melaniewong.ca

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Original reference information:

Wong, M. M. (2016, Fall). Bridging Two Communities. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BC-Teal-Newsletter-Fall-2016-Final-2.pdf

Metanoia and Additional Language Learning in the EAP Classroom

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by Samantha Ranson

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

Metanoia and additional language learning: How do these two topics intertwine? When I was working as a teaching assistant in an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) program at a university in the interior of British Columbia, I suddenly had an epiphany in that it seemed as if students coming from different social and cultural backgrounds, while speaking English as an additional language, were not necessarily recognizing their full potential or communicating it as such. I also noticed that many EAP students did not seem to recognize their accomplishments until well after the fact. I wondered if this was related to the concept of metanoia, and this realization prompted me to complete a Master’s thesis on the topic of the relationship between metanoia and additional language acquisition within a post-secondary EAP environment. I did this in hopes that the results of the study would promote a stronger awareness of the positive relationship between metanoia and acquiring an additional language.

What is Metanoia?

To initially understand my study and the issue at hand, I needed to fully understand the concept of metanoia, especially as the connection between metanoia and additional language learning has rarely been made. When I first heard about metanoia, it inspired me to understand the why behind transformative learning and growth that occurs within additional language acquisition. Metanoia is a originally a Greek term that can be defined as an “after thought, change of mind” (Cuddon, 2013, p. 432). Senge (1990) further defined it as a “fundamental shift or change, or more literally transcendence…of mind” (p. 12). Building on these understandings of metanoia, when considering additional language acquisition, metanoia can be thought of as the conscious realization of a subconscious moment of learning. This conscious realization is important when discovering the moment in which a learner becomes aware of the evolution of new knowledge in an educational environment.

Metanoia does not have to be a huge learning achievement. It can also be small as it is about gaining awareness and empowerment within the learning process. This awareness and empowerment allows for individuals to become more knowledgeable about themselves, their limitations, and their abilities within the learning process. When metanoia occurs, an individual generally becomes more enlightened and sees the world through a different lens, learning from his or her experiences, and in turn becoming more educated. Senge (1990) clarified the relationship between metanoia and general learning with the understanding that “to grasp the meaning of ‘metanoia’ is to grasp the deeper meaning of ‘learning,’ for learning also involves a fundamental shift or movement of mind” (p. 13). Metanoia is a transformative process which changes both a person’s learning abilities and processes, assisting in growth and identity change while acting as a catalyst for additional language learning. It is a conscious realization of the changes and learning occurring subconsciously within a learner, and it can be a process of discovery and exploration that facilitates learning. When this awareness, recognition, realization, and reflection occurs; it becomes a process of identity change; and it also prompts discovery and exploration that seems to facilitate additional language acquisition.

Moments of Metanoia in English as an Additional Language Acquisition

Throughout my MA thesis project, I experienced some observations of powerful moments of metanoia for current or previous students within an EAP program. This was important twofold: First, it seemed to demonstrate that moments of metanoia were transforming the lives of participants, and secondly it seemed to demonstrate that participants felt it was important to spread the word about learning English, improving the EAP experience, and sharing their lived experiences as language learners within EAP.

Additionally, certain participants brought up experiences that caused me to experience metanoia; they taught me about aspects of culture, communication, and life that I personally take for granted every day while communicating within my first language (English) within the country and community (Canada) that I have lived in the majority of my life. This realization surprised me as I personally have lived in other cultures and settings where I was not only the minority, but English was not the dominant language. It reminded me that in many instances, but not necessarily all, an individual can so easily transition back into their own culture without hesitation nor difficulty.

As an example of the relationship between metanoia and additional language acquisition, one participant discussed how he regularly expanded his listening skills and communication abilities by turning off his music and electronics, pretending they were still on. Meanwhile he eavesdropped on conversations on the bus, allowing him to observe via listening how others communicate and learn from each other. He clearly has experienced moments of metanoia through this activity as he finds it to be an effective learning tool and continues to do this on a regular basis. He explained how he had a sudden realization that he learned language not only from the pronunciation, grammar, and verbal language of the other people on the bus; also from their body language and mannerisms.

Expressing positivity and learning within positive environments also helped many participants experience moments of metanoia during the additional language acquisition process. One participant stated experiencing negative feelings until introduced to programs and resources around campus offering support. After taking part in specific programs as a newcomer to the university and after experiencing this learning moment of metanoia (after gaining support), this person wanted to make a difference in other’s lives thus enrolling as an assistant in a program to help other language learners the following year.

Metanoia can occur through multiple processes in additional language learning. It appeared that the participants in my MA thesis research project were glad to express their personal opinions and bring awareness to the benefits, advantages, and areas that needed improvement within EAP. I believe this process of sharing might have taken place because they had such strong moments of metanoia that they want the same success, positive environment, and growth for other English language learners coming to a new cultural and educational environment.

Fostering an Environment that Supports Metanoia

It is important to foster an environment for additional language learners to obtain and experience moments of metanoia. To achieve this, the student can be taught as a “whole” learner in which the instructor or institution pays attention to the social, academic, cultural, and emotional needs of the student. How can this environment be fostered to obtain moments of metanoia? By teaching with the awareness and goal of promoting metanoia, an English language instructor can get creative and come up with some interactive activities such as journaling or cultural contact assignments.

First, students can be encouraged to recognize moments of metanoia in a journaling or diary activity in which the students create their own journals or diaries (this can include artifacts, writing expositions, and art) to represent the growth and change occurring in their language learning process. Throughout the process they can work in small groups of students and discuss casually the changes they are going through. The instructor would then have the option to assess this, or could use this as an opportunity to gain the students’ trust, observing their personal language learning patterns. This could also be perceived as a learning opportunity for instructors, allowing them to experience moments of metanoia or awareness as they learn from observation of the students’ work how to instruct and communicate more effectively with English language learners.

Secondly, a cultural contact activity could be included in the curriculum to create a rich language learning environment that fosters moments of metanoia. For example, students could be asked to enjoy a potluck meal; however, they would have to bring a popular dish from their culture. To find out what is the most popular food item from their culture in the local community, students could create a survey. Once they have created the survey, they could go to different environments such as the university campus or in the downtown part of their city. Here students could communicate with different people by asking them in a survey format what their favourite dish was from the students’ home culture. After gathering this information, the students could take this back to their class, presenting their findings and answering any questions on the type of food, it’s significance, possible reasons for its popularity, etc. The students would then apply this knowledge, creating and preparing the food, bringing it to the potluck.

These are just a couple of ways that metanoia can be fostered in the additional language learning environment. The key is to have instructors aware of this process and for students to be learning and working within a calm emotional state and welcoming environment.

References:

Cuddon, J. (2013). Dictionary of literary terms and literary theory. Birchwood, M., Dines, M., Fiske, S., Habib, M. & Velickovic, V. (Eds.). Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Senge, P. (1990). Give me a lever long enough…and single-handed I can move the world. In Grogan, M. (Ed.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership (3-16). United States of America: Jossey-Bass.

Biographical Information

From the Fall 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Samantha Ranson recently completed her Master of Arts in Education at UBC’s Okanagan campus focusing on metanoia and second language acquisition.  She has a Bachelor of Arts (English) and a Bachelor of Education (Elementary Education and Teaching English Language Learners).

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This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Ranson, S. (2016, Fall). Metanoia and Additional Language Learning in the EAP Classroom. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BC-Teal-Newsletter-Fall-2016-Final-2.pdf

Welcoming through Volunteering: Reflections on a Selkirk College Volunteer Class

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by Tyler Ballam

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

Tell me and I forget

Teach me and I remember

Involve me and I learn

–Benjamin Franklin

I am sure most of us are familiar with the quote above and can agree with the message conveyed. However, as educators, we quite often are able to address the first two lines but have difficulty actualizing the last. The ideas of experiential and transformative learning have seriously gathered steam in the post-secondary world and the concepts of community involvement and volunteerism are (finally) taken quite seriously. Many institutions have begun their own initiatives created, in part, by the students themselves demanding more “real-world” experiences which can help them prepare for life after college or university. As with most things in the world of academia, English as an additional language (EAL) professionals have traditionally been ahead of the curve. I would like to share a story about how my colleagues at a small rural college assisted a group of post-secondary gerontology diploma students from India to adjust to life in Canada through volunteering. I hope that this simple story may provide some ideas to help other institutions develop similar programs to welcome newcomers to Canada while at the same time providing them with opportunities to further develop their skills in a new country.

Firstly, some context is needed. The Selkirk College International department has been running a volunteer class for over 15 years. Throughout the years, our students have been put in various places throughout the West Kootenay Region. These places range from senior-care homes, hotels, bookstores, elementary schools, hospitals, restaurants, and cafes. The concepts behind this class are threefold: provide the students with an experience where they can meet members of the community, gain an opportunity to practise English in a workplace setting, and develop the soft skills needed for future employment.

In May of 2014, we had the opportunity to help a cohort of recently arrived students from India. Although they were not EAL students, the International department was able to bring them into the volunteer program. As nurses in their home country, we soon realized that they had a skill-set already in place, which we had to respect and consider. The choice was made to connect them with senior-care facilities in Nelson and Castlegar. They were to volunteer once a week and their duties were to be explained and defined by the volunteer coordinator at each facility.

Since this course was for credit, assessment requirements were needed to “grade” the students. This was done through weekly journal entries where the students were given a chance to reflect on their experiences. These journal submissions allowed the instructor to see how things were going as well as check on any grammatical hiccups the students may have had. This model of formative assessment was one which met the needs of this particular course while, at the same time, helped to actualize the principles of experiential learning since reflective observation is a key component to Kolb’s (1984) experiential learning cycle.

Before delving into the triumphs of this class, however, some of the challenges must be mentioned. A long list of logistical considerations was needed prior to sending the students to their placements. Firstly, students had to figure out the bus schedules that allowed them to arrive and leave on time. Buses in rural B.C. do not run as frequently as they do in South Asia (or in Vancouver for that matter), so that challenge proved to be the first test. Secondly, the instructor responsible for the class had to set up the initial meetings with the volunteer coordinators in order to clarify the expectations of each institution. As can be expected, this took up some additional time outside of classroom time. Thirdly, since many of these students would be volunteering with those in need of care, RCMP criminal background checks were required. Finally, there was the off-chance that the students themselves would not show up to volunteer and therefore tarnish any relationships the college had with those institutions. Thankfully, the vast majority of the students showed up, flourished, and built stronger relationships between our institutions.

It became evident quite early on that the students were professional, motivated, and engaged. What had happened was that they were in an environment which respected their professional backgrounds and made them feel more welcome in their new communities. Through this experience, the three parties involved (the students, the college, and the senior-care facility) all managed to learn from one another, and it helped to pave the way for future endeavours. One of these future endeavours included the students themselves being willing to continue to volunteer even though the class had finished. They had managed to build up meaningful relationships with the staff and guests of the homes and wished to carry on. Another positive result of this class was that the college’s nursing department created their own volunteer class to be built into the overall post-graduate gerontology diploma program. Through these classes, a template is now in place to help welcome students into the community, respect their backgrounds, and provide them with opportunities to succeed in their studies.

The connections that can be created between students, the college, and the West Kootenay community may have been somewhat easier to facilitate since Selkirk College is in a small, rural area with a low population base. However, I feel that this class concept can be transferable to other colleges and universities in larger areas provided there is the will on the institution’s behalf to help welcome new students (and potential citizens of Canada) to their communities. Although there may be some logistical challenges at first, I have personally seen how the long term benefits of a class of this type have helped the students feel more comfortable in their new surroundings and succeed academically in their courses. My hope is that our story can stimulate more discussions on how we can help involve students in learning. Thank you.

Reference

Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Biographical Information

From the Fall 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Tyler Ballam started his teaching career in Seoul, South Korea in 2002. He has taught EAP in Kangnam University, EAL in large multinational companies including Samsung Electronics, and TESOL professional development to English teachers in the Kyunnggi-do school district. In 2012, he started teaching at Selkirk College in Castlegar and went on to instruct students from all over the world.

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This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Ballam, T. (2016, Fall). Welcoming through Volunteering: Reflections on a Selkirk College Volunteer Class. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BC-Teal-Newsletter-Fall-2016-Final-2.pdf