Thursday, 5 June 2014

A screenshot away from your own perfect worksheet!

Have I ever told you how much I love technology!? Well not the technology per se but the powers it gives teachers to create, experiment and share ideas and experiences. Over the months of my PBLA (Portfolio Based Language Assessment) implementation saga I have created hundreds (including countless revisions) of pages of tasks, checklists and other portfolio related paraphernalia:))) One of the reasons behind designing my own materials rather than selecting from the existing ones is that looking for something specific may take unreasonably long time. I do not mean to say that it is worthless: I usually find lots of great ideas instead of just one I have been looking for provided I have a bit of extra time. There are a few things that I have learned along the way and would like to share with you.  

Images can essentially enhance materials designed for adult ESL learners with literacy needs. However, we have to be mindful of the amount and quality of the images included in the teacher-made materials. The role of pictorial representation is to support the text not to replace it! Images need to be selected and used in a balanced way to scaffold a “reading path” for learners but not replace the need to read the materials. Overloading learning materials with pictures may result in learner distraction and may create  a situation in which reading words is unnecessary. On another note, images may convey different meanings and associations for different people. An image of a hospital (often used for healthcare representation in a needs assessment activity) or tent (camping in the woods) or a poppy (Remembrance day for some) may be perceived very differently by a local instructor and a refugee learner from a troubled part of the world. What I have learned while working with pictures is that reading images is a skill and itself and, not often but still, we may need to teach learners to navigate pictorial information especially if culturally or historically bound.  

In a worksheet I look for two things: a “reading path” to enable adult learners with emergent literacies to succeed on the task and real-life applicability. Teachers and learners are often constraint in time (life happens outside the classroom; learners need to grasp as much as possible in the shortest period of time to start living a fuller life in their new homeland), therefore every moment and every word counts in the classroom. Think real life! Does this worksheet feature the tasks or the language our learners are most likely to encounter in their daily lives? For example, in a lesson about Canadian provinces and territories, consider the form learners may encounter them in real life. Most probably, they will occur in the form of the abbreviations used on Canadian addresses, newspaper or television news and weather forecasts. Therefore, it will be most valuable providing learners with materials that will enable them to decode Canadian provinces and territories from the abbreviations used by Canada Post. To design such a worksheet we can use Google maps. Just type in a place or an address you would like to retrieve (e.g., a school near Toronto, Ontario or Canada Service near Winnipeg, Manitoba, or Public Library near Regina, Saskatchewan), choose a location and take  a screenshot of the address to use in the worksheet. Look at the screenshots below, similar image captures can be easily used to teach learners to navigate a Canadian address, scan for cities, provinces, postal codes, build a bank of sight words (library, school, ministry, Service Canada, etc.), recognize commonly used abbreviations, and many others. After completing paper-based tasks, as an extension activity, we could also ask learners to check these addresses on Google Maps. 




A consistent use of the same images could be an avenue to develop learners' awareness of language skills and tasks and enhance their efficiency in organizing and filing their work in portfolios. My two favourite free open-source websites are and 

Free Images - Pixabay 

Once you create something that you think is worth sharing do not hesitate to do so. Remember that often a worksheet that looks perfect on the screen or on the paper may not be as functional in the classroom. The best materials are those that have been tried and tested in learners’ hands and reviewed or revised accordingly. A wonderful video tutorial on how to design learning materials for adult learners with low literacy has been created and shared by Shelley McConnell. To watch, click below.
Best Practices for Making Worksheets for Low-Level ESL Literacy Learners

You can take a screenshot easily using your laptop (command+shift+4 on a mac). Do not forget to rename and store it appropriately if you think you might need to use the image again. I also like to use Evernote ( if you are not familiar with it, check it out, it is great for things like bookmarking, taking screenshots, editing screenshots, saving the images, sharing your resources) and it also allows us to slightly edit the screenshots and add any additional elements such as text or arrows (I have been using an Evernote tool called Skitch to take screenshots and edit them).

If your adult literacy learners are smartphone users (unfortunately in my class we have only two smartphones and one of them is mine), a great way to crowdsource language material is to ask learners to take pictures of the texts they encounter outside the classroom (an idea I borrowed from my PBLA mentor aka coach) and set a day when you could regularly work with and review materials crowdsourced by the learners. If your learners do not use smartphones, just ask them to bring in any flyers, notices, correspondence, make a copy (whitening out any private or confidential information) and similarly address these texts on a regular basis on a certain day. I am sure it can easily become the most cherished practice by the entire class. 

Language Experience Activities are a great way to build learners’ awareness about their learning and provide opportunities to think back and reflect on it. Take pictures in class while learners are working on learning activities (e.g., a reading/writing/listening task; group/pair/individual work), but do not forget to ask them for permission and explain what you are going to do with the pictures. In about two weeks, invite learners to review the work that they have done in the classroom by projecting (I’d say about 5 pictures on Google or Powerpoint presentation slides; it will enable you to add text and create a reader) and eliciting learner input about what they see and remember from the pictures, how they felt while working on the activities, whether they enjoyed them, etc. Help learners make correct sentences to express their ideas and record them in a log. Create a reader for learners to revisit it afterwards. Enjoy!

A few extras...

Google Maps

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Portfolio Based Language Assessment in the ESL Literacy classroom: on to the implementation

Since I started my training as a PBLA Lead teacher in January 2014, I have been busy exploring different ways of enhancing PBLA with the ESL Literacy learners. Learning about it turned out to be a journey of self reflection about my teaching beliefs and practices. Along the way I discovered that PBLA for me can not be anything else but instructional philosophy. While struggling to incorporate PBLA component into planning, curricula, agendas, schedules, I realized that it wasn’t the right place to start: it starts deeper than planning, it starts with my understanding of teaching and learning, my belief in its powers and importance for the learner. I have also come to understand that I won’t be able to and most importantly I do not have to for the best interest of the learner foresee everything. Instead, things will be happening in the classroom beyond my lesson plans and I will be right there to let them take us to new horizons.

I am certainly no stranger to PBLA. The difference is that now I approach it with more confidence and dedication: before I would plan to incorporate different parts of the PBLA within instruction but now I start with it to plan the instruction (hope it still makes sense:)). I am about to proceed with the implementation stage of the PBLA training. I decided that I will be sharing the resources that I develop during this process with my colleagues on my blog and Tutela. 

In the beginning of the year, we (my learners and I) tried to work on better learning management skills by setting up personalized binders. Therefore, the learners in my class already have their own binders and are familiar with the filing system. 

However, as you can see from the pictures taken sometime in September, the binders that we have established are a bit different in content from learner portfolios. Since now is the beginning of the new term for LINC classes, it is perfect timing to revise our binders and set new parameters for their content. I looked at a few samples of Learner Portfolio Inventories available on Tutela and put together an inventory that would best suit my learner group and my teaching style. It is available below. As an ESL Literacy practitioner, I am trying to be very consistent in terminology and symbols that I use for learning management. Pictorial representation that I use for skills, categories and instructions are reappearing on different  materials including inventories, check lists, learning logs, tasks and worksheets. I hope you will be able to see it once there are more samples to share. For example, we have been using the following coding:

About Me


I was able to use these lovely images courtesy of - an outstanding resource of free images.

The first step in the implementation process is the Needs Assessment and Goal Statement, therefore below there are links to my Needs Assessment package. They can be used as samples to create your own materials adapted to the needs of the learner group. I often revisit materials used in class to redesign and change them according to my observations. It is a part of professional development and growth. My methods are changing, I find new ways, I look at things differently, I discover things that I might have not been able to see before. 

To sum it up, there is a quote I discovered on Facebook that perfectly describes my experience with PBLA for ESL Literacy:

My Resources:

Friday, 21 March 2014

Fluency and confidence in reading

I’d like to share  an engaging reading activity we have been enjoying recently: a word snap game.

Learners work on developing a sight word bank of personal information form cue words (e.g., first name, last name, address, date, signature, postal code, phone number). Sounds dull?! Not anymore!!! Each learner has a set of personalized flashcards (cue word/personal info). They display the flashcards in front of them on the desk (either side, it depends what is being practiced) and have to identify the word as quickly as possible when the teacher or a classmate calls it out and raise it in the air. This activity has proven to be a great way to develop the speed and sight word recognition at the early stage of reading instruction. 

While working on this activity I have been thinking on the ways to create more opportunities for learners to read with speed and confidence. In this post I’d like to brainstorm a few ideas. Your input is more than welcome.

Developing automaticity

Automaticity in word recognition is an attribute of fluent reading. However, automaticity is developed over time through massive exposure to reading that is not always possible or is the case with adult ESL learners. Indisputably, learners must be encouraged to read as much as possible in class and outside the classroom, but in our context when learners easily get tired and often do not have extra time at home due to family responsibilities, more realistic ways need to be considered. An efficient practice to develop automaticity often used in the ESL Literacy classrooms is word-recognition exercises. 

Word recognition exercises

These are fairly easy to design: teachers pick up some key words from the text (usually three per story) and line them up with the words similar in spelling or misspelled words. Students are asked to identify and circle the target word. What I have not done yet, but look forward to trying out, is timed word and phrase recognition exercises. I think that by introducing the timing feature will allow literacy learners understand that reading involves rapid recognition of words. I hope to engage learners in keeping the records of their progress and allow them to repeat the same exercises over time to notice the difference. 


I think that both pre-teaching vocabulary explicitly in the pre-reading phase and discovering new words and their meaning while reading the text are desirable. 

Pre-teaching vocabulary

Show a picture then elicit the word, then try to elicit the spelling of the word using fingers or by drawing a number of lines corresponding to the number of letters in the word on the white board; when the word is written invite students to read it out loudly; if necessary model the pronunciation of the word. When the students are able to read and spell the word without assistance, elicit some simple sentences with this word, also using fingers or drawing lines/boxes on the white board. Invite learners to read and copy the sentence in their notebooks. Once the new word is introduced in this way it is added with a matching picture to a set of flashcards that students have to match as a part of their morning class routine. At the same time, the word with the picture can be added to the word wall, or word book, or word ring, anywhere where students may repeatedly access and review it.

There is a video recorded by my Japanese colleague Mikako featuring a similar technique: Vocabulary for Literacy

Word labelling activity 

In the early stages of reading instruction, try to select the stories with one or more pictures featuring the content, and use the pictures to teach target language by labelling different items on them. 
I think that it is best to use word labelling activity in the final stage of vocabulary instruction when learners can label the vocabulary items with more comprehension and confidence.

Creating a word rich classroom

Try to set a word wall but do not overwhelm learners with it add or update words on it. I would suggest displaying the most common/relevant/important words for students to review. Remember, once it is up on the wall, there will be learners using it. 

Create word rings (I picked up the idea from the ESL Literacy Network) and personalized flashcards. Today is so easy to print out all sorts of customized flashcards ( Set a practice of working with whole class sets and personal sets. I usually give my students envelopes to elite their names, date, topic and store their flashcards.


Despite the decades of criticism of the reading-aloud practices, I think it is a very useful practice in the ESL Literacy classroom if used meaningfully. A small remark should be made here, what ESL literacy learners tend to do is to read aloud to themselves or to the teacher more often than practice silent reading. Therefore, silent reading is often an indication that the learner has developed the ability to read independently. However, this limitation of the literacy learners should not be confused with a carefully guided activity of reading aloud or repetitive reading. I have been using reading-aloud with my learners and would like to give a few suggestions to make it meaningful in the classroom. Dedicate the first hour of the class to reinforcement reading activities (e.g., students in pairs, small groups or one to one with the teacher work on reading the stories aloud and giving feedback or making corrections where appropriate). As ‘progress in reading requires learners to use their ears, as well as their eyes’ (Williams), encourage learners to listen to texts including listening to the teacher, recordings, and a classmate. It can be easily done when learners are working in pairs with a stronger reader, or read while listening to the teacher in small groups or as a whole class activity. Today’s technology allows teachers to record their readings as fast as in a couple of minutes and use these recordings in a variety of ways in the classroom. Students in my class often ask me to record a story that they want to learn and post it on the internet (on our class blog). During the time in the computer class they enjoy reading while listening to the soundtracks over and over again at their own pace. An example what you can do with a blog and soundcloud is here: My Home


Another practice that I have been using that proved to be successful with the learners is re-reading the stories over a period of time. I have re-written  quite a few stories that have been covered in class on craft sticks (one story consists of 10 sticks/sentences). Whenever learners are tired or want to relax they can retrieve a set of sticks and work with a story that is familiar to them instead of attacking a new reading. I have noticed that students particularly enjoy working with sticks both alone and with a partner. It is said that rereading familiar texts is one of the best ways to develop reading fluency that has been often ignored in L2 reading classrooms (Grabe and Stoller, 2012). Each time the students are offered the opportunity to reread familiar texts they get additional fluency and vocabulary practice. 

Creating opportunities for success

Do not forget that the most important thing is to provide opportunities for learners to experience their success. Do not aim for quantity, instead let learners work with the texts that are familiar to them so they can enjoy reading fluency and comprehension and thus sustain their motivation to learn to read. Let them enjoy their achievements in reading and keep track of them!!!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Building confidence in the ESL Literacy classroom


ESL literacy learners in both separate programs and mainstream classrooms come with a great need for motivation, developing self-esteem and confidence as a result of a poor previous learning experience or the pressure by surrounding mainstream learners who master reading skills much quicker.

In this post I am going to talk about some activities that I have been using in class to build the confidence in the ESL Literacy learners.

Authentic tasks

Offering learners authentic tasks to practice in class gives them confidence in the world outside the classroom. Calling in sick is one of our favourite activities. It can be adapted in lots of different ways such as calling the doctor’s office, the government’s office, the bank, pizza delivery, and a friend. All you need is an authentic dialogue and two phones. After having practiced it enough times in class in pairs, groups, with the teacher, individually, etc., the learners are ready to make a call. One student finds a quite place outside the classroom and then calls a classmate. In the beginning, there is a lot of confusion, hesitation, dropped calls, but gradually I can see how their confidence grows, the class feels with laughter and excitement. I ask them to call the office every time they miss a class. I believe it is a great way to motivate them to use the skills that they learn in class.

Songs - Good morning

The idea to use songs came from the observations I made while learning nursery rhymes with my daughter. I noticed that my own reading fluency of nursery rhymes improved while singing them. I have also come across a couple of articles saying that sing- and read-along activities are beneficial for improving reading fluency. I did not want to go with nursery rhymes as I personally think that many of them are so complicated even for me:) ... and also not to give my fragile learners a wrong impression that they are treated as children. However, my daughter and I have a favourite youtube channel where I find my inspiration: CHILDRENLOVETOSING So, I decided to adapt some of our favourite songs to the adult audience. This way, now we are singing songs thematically. Our first song was “Good morning”. You can see the handout here. I understand that not everybody may be keen on singing. Therefore, I approach it very cautiously. I think that for my class ideal is introducing one new song every month or two. We practice once or twice a week, half an hour each time. This has become one of the activities that is filled with happiness and enthusiasm. Together with my class, we have discovered that we sing better if we move our bodies. I have also noticed that singing songs in class is also a fun way to introduce metaphors, develop abstract thinking and an initial awareness of language and culture. We have learned about "shiny grins", "a thousand things to share", and "I can't wait for the day to begin". While listening to students practicing the song, I realized how singing alone can improve their ability to retain sight words, read with speed, connect words, chunk, feel the rhythm of the language. It didn’t take long to see it working. When learners got a new hand-out with the phone conversation, the first phrase they noticed and identified was “Good morning…”. Singing also works so well for demonstrating students that there are stressed and unstressed words, weaker and stronger forms! “I’ll be home for Christmas” is just perfect for it. Try it out!!!

Personalized reading lists - snaps

This is an idea I picked up from our placement student Kalim. We all know that students read better the words they understand. One way to boost their reading confidence is to make a personalize list by eliciting the words that they already know. It could be a list for each student or a list for the whole class. The teacher can easily type them in a bigger font and print out for each student. Learners can review their lists in the morning upon arriving to school.  A fun way to practice sight word recognition is a “word snap activity”. Print out individual words or short phrases on flashcards, place them randomly on the table, learners sit or stand around the table, they have to touch/grab/point to the word pronounced by the teacher or a classmate ASAP. 

Spelling words

Learners often ask for spelling practice. But not all of them can spell the words. There is one way that we have been doing short dictations on a regularly basis. When learners have practiced target vocabulary long enough to feel comfortable pronouncing it, I am doing a small dictation exercise (max 6 words) on the sticky notes. I attach a sticky note right on the hand-out with the text, story or just a vocabulary list. I also have the words previously written on the board. I do not ask them to cover anything or not to look in their texts. Quite the opposite in this class! During the dictation, some of the students will retrieve the spelling of words from their memory, others will be able to find them in the text, a few will look at the whiteboard. I am happy when everything of these happens. I think that it is much more important to be able to find necessary information in the text than to remember the spelling. A step forward would be asking a student to choose and dictate the words to class. When I tried peer dictation for the first time I was surprise with the word choice the lead students made. Their word choice was much broader and included more complicated words that I would ever ask them such as “the”, “wonderful”, “off”. Learners in my class showed me that they are not afraid of challenging words. 

Feedback for learning and teaching

It is a common practice to check learners’ listening/reading comprehension with YES/NO questions. We usually do it in a whole class feedback sessions.  Learners responses give me an understanding where we are at and what is still needed. It all sounds good in theory but in practice we have to consider a couple of things to set an efficient activity. In the whole class sessions students may get conditioned by other responses (the brainstorming effect), they may be inhibited by the outspoken ones, be afraid of giving a wrong answer, or disengage and daydream. When we started working on this kind of YES/NO comprehension check, I decided to use coloured paper circles attached to craft sticks similar to traffic signs (red is NO/ yellow is NOT SURE or MAY BE, and green - YES). When I ask students a question they all have to raise the colour according to their understanding. There are no right or wrong answers here. They are free to say “NOT SURE” as many times as possible. This way I know each student’s level of comfort with the target material. I will also hope it is the first step in teaching them to express their opinion. 

Utilizing students as resources - peer tutoring

I am a huge believer in the power of learner autonomy and self-directed learning. At the ESL Literacy level, these are the milestones of learner’s progress. I also know that we can not expect learners to know how to learn by themselves especially in some particular contexts and cultures. The good news the research has been telling us is that metacognition can be trained through strategy instruction. Once the learners enter my classroom the strategy training begins. I start with socio-affective strategies: I teach them how to work with a partner, the value of pair or group work, I try to show them how helpful they are to each other and gradually identify learners ready to become peer tutors. The best part about utilizing learners as the instructional resources for one another is that it is a fantastic confidence building tool. For example, different learners at different stages of ability can successfully tutor other classmates. I have  a student who can not read but she knows the alphabet very well and can read the keywords associated with each letter, so each time I have  a new student in class without ABC knowledge she is my first resource: the chief ABC tutor.  Needless to say how proud she is to be the one. It gives her confidence in her own abilities and her role in class. I have also noticed that I often do not have to ask her to tutor: when she sees that someone needs help with the ABC’s, she just jumps in and as the result of strategy training does it in a very unobtrusive way. There is another student with multiple challenges, but a couple of days ago working on a simple exercise where students needed to handle change in Canadian money (numeracy), she happened to be the only one very good at it. I have immediately assigned her to be the peer tutor. As a result, the level of her confidence in class has grown exponentially. And of course, those who have been successful in using a range of learning strategies, I am hoping to train them to provide peer assessment and support that triggers learning.

What have you been doing to build confidence in learners? Please share your wisdom!!!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Words on grammar...

There are many differences between ESL Literacy and mainstream ESL. One of them is that majority of ESL literacy learners do not have any previous grammar learning experience to build on. This certainly poses a number of difficulties and questions in grammar instruction to learners with interrupted or no formal education. Two questions that particularly have interested me is WHEN and HOW to teach grammar in the ESL literacy class?

According to Tricia Hedge, the timing and practice of the grammar acquisition is influenced by the idea that the 'intake and eventual automatization will only occur as and when students are ready'. It is also said that the 'premature practice can actually confuse rather than facilitate the intake of grammatical features'. Therefore, I personally support the arguments such as in Ellis in favour of 'delaying the teaching of grammar until learners have developed a basic communicative ability'.

While working with the ESL literacy learners and observing teacher trainees in my program, I have noticed what works and what doesn’t in grammar teaching. It is a fact that explicit grammar instruction is not something that Literacy teachers should begin with. I think that the best way to approach grammar  in this context is to start with developing learners’ ability to notice language features in written or spoken texts, in other words, gradually build their language awareness. I am usually very optimistic about  my learners’ potential to notice some similarities, differences and salient features of the language while reading as I believe that we are born with the natural ability to acquire grammar.

So this is how grammar discovery (at least an adaptation of it) looks like in our classroom. While learning to read, learners are exposed to a great deal of comprehensible input which, according to Stephen Krashen's hypotheses, is responsible for both fluency and accuracy. Although I am a huge believer in Krashen's theories about 'comprehensible input i+1', I do not support DE-emphasizing 'explicit learning of rules'. When the students develop the basic communicative ability and show the first signs of readiness to learn grammar, I proceed with the grammar discovery approach and top it up with the explicit teaching. I consider a good practice to provide additional explicit explanation of the grammar rules to reinforce the acquisition and benefit those who were not able to comprehend the form from the task.

Another question here is how the teacher knows that the learners are ready to acquire grammar. I know that this is a good time to proceed with grammar when students start noticing particular language features. For example, they notice and point out that 'he' refers to male gender, 'she' is used with female gender and 'they' refers to both in plural, or students start pointing out and asking each other about the difference in “I go...” and “she goes”, etc. As soon as tit happens, I design tasks focused on the form noticed by the learners. Usually it is a one page hand-out based on the story that we have been reading in class and focused on a particular language feature. Here you can see some examples. I also try to provide an opportunity for learners to revise grammar during hours in the computer lab. I used a combination of Quizlet flashcards for studying and Google forms for production. Some examples can be seen here: Possessive Nouns; Am, is, are; Personal Pronouns. All students enjoy the flashcards and learn from them in different ways (this is an advantage of the computer class; they can learn at their own pace and in their own ways). Certainly, not all of them are able to fill in the forms (the advanced can), but we are are working on it.

I think that grammar discovery approach is not only appropriate but also useful for beginners. Provided that the learners are ready, they will be able to compare or contrast different structures, notice the difference and similarities and come up with a grammar rule by themselves. I believe that ESL Literacy learners need to start reading to learn as soon as they start learning to read.

More ideas regarding some techniques that I have been using in class are in pictures below. These are just some ideas that can be used with a variety of topics. Let your imagination go wild!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

A Sleeping Beauty or Needs Analysis with the ESL Literacy Learners

As you probably know, I teach ESL literacy and low beginner class in Toronto. Not long ago, I taught at two very different programs: a TESL class for foreign university students who came to Toronto for one year (I would call it advanced academic) and an ESL Literacy. Needs Assessment was very different at these two levels. At the advanced level, I performed an ongoing needs assessment and self evaluation with some pauses for reflection every six weeks. In general I wish to think of myself as a teacher who encourages and boosts self-reflection and metacognition in the classroom. The first day of class always started with discussions, on a friendly note students were prompted to share some background information about their previous studies, experience and why they chose the program. They also were often asked to close their eyes and describe a perfect classroom situation. Then, followed a more formal part where students were invited to think about five goals they wanted to achieve in the following six weeks. They usually had to do it on their smart phones using an app (Evernote) that could be easily shared with the teacher. After the goals were set up, students were asked to think about what they needed to do to achieve these goals and then record their responses using the same app. I was able to see their written goals and listen to their responses on how they thought they were going to achieve those goals and make some notes regarding their writing and speaking difficulties as well as learning needs and styles. Every week, usually on Fridays, students were given half an hour to work on their journals (we used Google Docs, again they shared them with me so I could easily comment on their work). In their journals they had to talk about class experience, the things that they learned and how they did it.  After six weeks, learners had to complete a written assignment (usually 6 questions) entirely based on their performance in class (I'd like to note that this was actually used as their midterm or final evaluation). They were asked to review the notes in their journals. Some of the questions were:
What was the most valuable unit learned in class and why? What was new for you? What was challenging? Name one moment you were proud of yourself? Name one instance you felt frustrated? What could have you done better? What are your goals for the next 6 weeks and so on...
I taught at this program for three years and consistently used this approach to communicate with the students regarding their needs. Considering that learners came from a culture where they did not find it possible to speak freely about what they liked or disliked in class and teaching, it greatly enhanced the classroom management, class rapport and our (my and the learners') understanding of what learning and teaching involved.
However, in my Literacy class things are very different regarding the NA. I have to say I do not like questionnaires. I tried to use one that I found somewhere in a book and as a result all my level 1 students answered yes to all the questions. Of course, they thought they did not know anything and wanted to learn about everything. I did not see much use in that. So I decided to utilize a co-worker who spoke the same language with the majority of my ESL Literacy learners to help them complete a similar NA in their language. No luck either. The majority of learners did not have previous educational experience and simply could not answer those questions in their own language. Of course, how would they know?! They needed training to be able to do it. So, the NA in my Literacy class has been sleeping for a while now . I based my planning primarily on my understanding of Canadian society and its requirements to fully engage in life here, my own experience as a Canadian immigrant and also the observations about the students. I was thinking that now in January, when we are doing our report cards with students, would be perfect timing to give it another shot. Therefore, I designed these two tools to use in class: ‘Needs Assessment’ and ‘My Week in Class’. I think that now in the middle of the term, majority of the learners will be able to understand  the NA and complete it with a bit of help. They will also enjoy reading and re-reading it. The second tool,  MWIC, will take time to implement. For weeks and maybe months, students will need a lot of help and guidance, but provided a consistent approach, I am sure some of them will master it and will be able to assist their classmates. Let's see!

Learners are working in pairs on their Needs Assessment reading activity:

Learners are labelling the pictures to aid retention and enhance reading fluency:

I’d love to hear from YOU. How do you do Needs Assessment in your classroom?

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Using technology in the language classroom

On January 18th, 2014, TESL Toronto presents 'Technology for Teachers' - a one-day mini conference featuring a line-up of great workshops to help ESL practitioners embrace technology in language teaching and learning. While the spots are filling in extremely quickly, there are still some spaces available. If you haven't registered yet, it's time to HURRY UP to be able to attend the event. The conference brochure is available at TESL Toronto's website to download. Click HERE. 

As an introduction to my workshop at T4T - "Teacher friendly tools for blended learning in the LINC classroom" - I'd like to publish a phone conversation I had with Rob McBride, the Project Leader at LearnIT2teach, about the role of technology in ESL Literacy instruction. Check out LearnIT2teach podcast page to listen to a series of fantastic interviews with ESL professionals about their experiences in teaching with technology. Click HERE to access the PODCAST page.

This is a transcript of my phone interview with Rob McBride, project manager at LearnIT2teach.
Q 1: Can you tell me a bit about your teaching? How long have you been in ESL and what kind of teaching do you do?

A. 1. I have been teaching adult ESL for 9 years. 3 years ago I started working with the ESL literacy students. Little did I know that my practices would change forever. Since then my teaching has evolved: it has become more student-driven, I wish to think - more creative, and more authentic. I have been motivated by finding solutions to the classroom challenges and providing more learning opportunities for the students. I have never stopped learning myself and have also started educating other teachers about ESL literacy principles of instruction by mentoring TESL students, blogging, tweeting and presenting...

Q. 2. Teaching ESL Literacy, what are some of the special difficulties of that?
A. 2. Majority of students that arrive in the ESL Literacy classroom are learners with the interrupted formal education or no formal education at all. In the context of the classroom this means that these students lack those critical learning strategies and this hugely affects their ability to succeed in the mainstream ESL classroom. Developing learning strategies and metacognition can be a very lengthy process. Without some feasible practices in place ESL literacy instruction can be very frustrating for both: teachers and  learners.

Q. 3. What role do you see for technology in teaching Literacy? Is it a helper?
A. 3.  Technology is a great tool in a teacher's hands. While working with some educational technology at the ESL literacy level I have been able to observe how beneficial it is for my class. There are multiple advantages for the learners who are developing their initial reading skills. They can work on their own pace, fully participate in all the activities, develop their learning autonomy, choose from a variety of exercises addressed to different learning styles, read interactively, learn in a safe environment and work with the students-generated content. ( such as (1) individualized instruction, (2) encouraging full participation, (3) developing learner autonomy, (4) addressing different learning styles, (5) encouraging active reading, (6) creating safe learning environment, (7) generating student-driven content. )

Q. 4. Were you able to find online ESL Literacy materials to use in your program?
A. 4. Yes and no. In the beginning, I though that there isn’t anything that can be used for adult ESL literacy instruction, but, along the way, I discovered  some outstanding online resources.  By the way, All of them are listed on my course with a short description. The problem with the resources is that they are very  limited, and, as you know, the majority of them are designed for early literacy and aren't practical in an ESL literacy classroom where adult students need English for their survival in Canada. I did use children's literacy resources but with a different approach. I have been motivating students in my class to enjoy those games, videos and songs together with their little ones at home. Once accomplished, this is a great way to learn English while bonding with children.

Q. 5. What motivated you to create your own blended online course?
A. 5. I started working on designing a blended online course for my ESL literacy class more of the classroom management considerations and the need to provide extra learning opportunities and practice for students with reading difficulties. I started with the idea of creating an online support for the classroom curriculum. ESL literacy classes, especially in the computer room, can be very difficult to manage, looking up resources online can take a very long time, therefore I wanted to create an online space where I could have all the resources in place that can be easily accessed and transferable from classroom instruction to self-study at home.

Q. 6 What motivated you to do the LearnIT2teach training?
A. 6. First time I learned about the LearnIT2teach project was at the TESL Toronto conference in May 2011. It was a fantastic opportunity for me to grow professionally and develop my teaching skills at a new level. I was thrilled with the idea of being able to create my own online activities.
It was free and I could do it in my own time (I will be honest with you, the majority if the assignments I completed when my family was asleep). Indeed, this training has opened many doors for me professionally and socially. I am so grateful to my mentors who have provided the training and support way beyond and above all my expectations. A special thank you to one and only John Allan!!!

Q. 7. What is Ms. Lana’s Literacy?

A. 7. Ms. Lana's Literacy is a free open source blended online course that I have been creating for my ESL literacy learners. It targets at all four language skills with a special focus on developing initial reading skills in adult ESL students with reading and learning difficulties. I used Blogger as a platform for my course to make it easily accessible by ESL literacy learners in the computer lab and at home with their children. The activities on the course reflect the needs, interests and language that emerge in my literacy classroom. It is open for anybody and I am constantly updating it with new links and activities.