All posts by Stacey Vandenberg

The Outrageous Refuse of PBLA

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If you work with PBLA, what does your program site do with the leftover Language Companion Binders?  What you are looking at in the picture are leftover PBLA binders at our location. Most are full of the quintessential “artifacts.”  We have tried to encourage students to take the binders with them when they leave the program, but the fact is that they are not wanted. Management and staff have discussed different strategies to facilitate binder departures, but so far most of our students just smile politely and say “no thank you” before exiting as fast as possible, lest we try to put it into their hands. Can you blame them? Who wants this huge awkward emblem of the past century filling shelf space at home, not to mention the weight when it is fully loaded?

What should we do with this precious plastic? We thought it would be best to take out the old artifacts and recycle the binders back into the classroom to be reused. This seems like a good idea but who is going to do this time-consuming job? Who will do the cleanup? Should the administrators or settlement workers be responsible? Perhaps those supposed volunteers that were frequently referred to but who never materialized will do the work.  As it is, teachers are still not being fully compensated for the time we spend on PBLA, so not us.

What about the ton of paper inside the binders? Those have to go into the recycling bin. The levity with which IRCC considers the environment is astonishing. In a time when many countries are banning plastic and using technology to reduce paper consumption, we are finding ways to increase its use.

The implementation of PBLA has been poorly thought out from the start. There is no fiscal plan for fair compensation, no environmental conscience, and no evidence that it is enhancing learners’ experience. Why are we still using it?


Who has the Final Say about Student Marks?

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Recently, we had a lively discussion at our school regarding who has the final say regarding student benchmarks at the end of the term – is it the teacher or the program administrator? 

When we look at the PBLA 2019 guidelines, it makes a number of statements like the following:“In all PBLA assessment practices, teachers’ professional judgments are central. From selecting or developing appropriate tasks, choosing or developing assessment tools, giving feedback on writing and speaking performance, to deciding when a learner is ready to progress to the next level, teachers make decisions based on professional interpretation and judgment” (PBLA Reporting, 2019, p. 31, emphasis added).

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Is your Time Being Fully Compensated as an ESL/LINC Teacher?

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How much work are you doing for free? Five minutes here and there, hours of PBLA prep time? The employees at our settlement company decided by a vote of 70% that we were going to unionize. I joined the collective bargaining team and found the experience quite an eye opener.

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PBLA: Can I See the Curriculum Please?

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I get asked this question a few times every year. My answer is always the same, “We don’t have one”. It’s true, we don’t have one. We have the Curriculum Guidelines, a badly named book that provides class activities of varying quality for different CLB levels. We also have CLB criteria for assessments, and, of course, PBLA, another assessment tool, but nothing to tell us how to achieve these outcomes such as what grammar to teach or what pronunciation to focus on at specific levels. That would be really helpful, especially if you are a new teacher or switching levels.

Even more annoying is that the Center for Canadian Language Benchmarks says, “Portfolio-Based Language Assessment (PBLA) is a teaching and assessment model designed to enhance nationwide consistency and standards of quality in English as a Second Language…” How can a series of tests that we are all creating individually standardize the material being taught? It is the role of a curriculum to provide a systematic structure. It would mean that Susan in BC is introducing gerunds in Level 3 and so is Mahdi in Ontario. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

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What about those Unexpected Fights?

A few years ago, I asked my students to do oral presentations about the geography of their native countries as a speaking test for LINC level 6-7. It seemed like a good idea, one that was more focused on English rather than research. The students prepared their PowerPoint presentations and when the presentation day finally arrived, the first up was Aisha from Pakistan.

She showed us several slides of Pakistan, pausing on the last one that clearly outlined the territory of the country. As Aisha explained the boundaries and its position relative to other countries, another student, Aryo, who was in the back row, jumped to his feet and pointed at the bottom border and said, “That’s wrong, that’s in Afghanistan!” I was still looking at the slide when he rushed up to the slide and traced the boundary he was referring to with his finger. “This is in Afghanistan, not Pakistan!” He kept repeating ever more loudly and stabbing his finger on the slide. I didn’t know it then, but there was a disputed border between the two countries where both were claiming the same land.

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