Category Archives: Pedagogy

Can’t handle the truth?

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image source:www.bigstockphoto.com

Something that I have struggled with for the last ten years as an ESL teacher has been whether or not to properly inform my students about the implications of studying a new language. There seems to be a prevalent preconception among many ESL students that learning to speak English is easier than say, learning the subjects in a college level math course.

To many, abstract subjects like theoretical mathematics or computer programming are obviously more difficult than linguistic subjects. There may be some truth to this concept. However, these courses are often very specific in scope, last anywhere from thirty-two to ninety hours, and require students to simply “remember” and maybe “apply” what they learn. Even though it is a common practice to segment English language programs by level of ability, say levels 1 to 5, or like the CLB, 12 levels in total, these courses are often far from adequate in providing enough time to properly “learn” the content of these levels. Continue reading

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3 Teaching Hacks That Are Going to Blow Your Mind!

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Image source: www.bigstockphoto.com

*Warning: This post contains snarky and in-your-face concepts to shake up the teaching world as we know it!

Hey friend, grab your favourite beverage, find a comfortable spot to relax in, and prepare yourself for 3 teaching hacks that are going to change the way you give activity instructions.

Have you ever put loads of work into planning an activity and made wicked materials, only to see the activity fall flat on its face in the classroom? Continue reading

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Bridging the Great Divide

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I have been teaching in an EAP program for the last six years. The goal of our program is to prepare international students for the experience of studying in a post-secondary program alongside their domestic peers. Understandably, competence in their use of English is paramount. However, I am constantly struck by the fact that domestic students and international students, regardless of their ability to speak English well, remain largely separate on campus, both in and out of classes.

My students often comment that they don’t know how to make friends with Canadian students, and they are worried about the quality of their English and how they will be received. In an effort to bridge this ‘great divide’, I recently had the opportunity for my students to participate in a communicative activity that, for a change, did not involve their own classmates. Working alongside a wonderful colleague and professor in another discipline*, I was able to offer my class of twenty students a chance to meet and converse with the very Canadians they had been worried about meeting (and intimidated by) for a long time. Continue reading

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Trauma + Second Language Learning = Alternative Pedagogy

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Image source: www.bigstockphoto.com

Imagine you are in a doctor’s office being told that you have a serious, life threatening condition. Blood races through your veins, heartbeat pounds between your ears, breath is shallow, and you can feel your clothes sticking to your skin. Your body is in a heightened state of arousal. Do you recall the term “fight/flight/freeze” from science class? This is it — you are in what is called “survival mode”. By the time you get home, you realize how many questions needed to be asked but were forgotten while in the doctor’s office, and you barely remember what was said. This is an example of the psycho-physiology of trauma.

If you can relate to this scenario, (or one like it), then you can understand how difficult it is to function normally in this heightened state of arousal. It’s understandable that this state of anxiety can occur during a traumatic or highly stressful experience, but what you may not be aware of is that it can also persist for long periods after the traumatic event.

Why is this important now? With the refugee influx coming into Canada, you may encounter a surge of students in your classroom displaying symptoms related to post traumatic experiences like violence, displacement or loss, which will have an impact on how they learn. As a teacher, you may see a trend of problematic behaviours or students’ lack of progress in the traditional learning environment. Continue reading

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A tip of the hat to Hattie

Best Practice - Business Background. Golden Compass Needle on a Black Field Pointing to the Word "Best Practice". 3D Render.
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As an ESL teacher, my first priorities are the linguistic development of my students and the attainment of their language learning goals. As an educational researcher, my first priority is to study and develop extremely effective teaching and learning strategies to get students to where they want to be. Students might not like it too much, but research is really starting to show that the ball is almost entirely in their court.

As Thomas Carruthers said, “A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary”. Ignoring how this might make us feel about our paycheques (insert chuckle), it is important to mention just how accurate this is, especially in terms of in-class strategies. Our students want to improve their English language ability, so they should be doing all the talking, reading and writing The effective and simultaneously “unnecessary” teacher is one who is more of a learning experience designer, who spends most of her time designing learning moments and strategies outside of class time, reflecting on student difficulties and successes when not in class, and using these as beacons in the dark when planning the next class. And now, we finally have confirmation that we teachers are useless – well, almost. Continue reading

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“Hey! Only English in my class!”

Group of teenagers over the background with the many words from the different languages (language school concept)
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It happens across the board. It is a pervasive notion that seems to have been adopted with little to no research. It is somehow implicit in most English-learning environments, explicit in many course outlines and used as an evaluative tool in measuring the efficacy of language instructors. I have actually been refused employment because of my “renegade” attitude towards this ill-researched tenet of TESL. However, it stands in complete opposition to evidence-based educational research in second-language acquisition; not to mention a panoply of related motivational issues.

We’ve all heard it, said it and even followed it. “Only speak English in my class!” I used to insist. “Hey, you guys in the back, no Spanish!” was another one. “Stop translating everything! Focus on English!” I used to believe, only to my students’ dismay of course.

By doing this, we inadvertently omit how the brain works from our teaching and learning strategies. Continue reading

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What is the Right Blend?

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image source: www.bigstockphoto.com

With the ever-increasing availability of technology in education, and ever-shrinking institutional budgets, there seems to be a lot of movement towards online learning.  Blended learning combines face–to-face and online activities, and is much better suited to language learning than online learning alone. The opportunity to use language in real-time situations is important for developing good communication skills. Well-developed blended courses provide an experience for the student where the face-to-face and online parts work together to support the learning in an integrated way.

From an institutional point of view, online and blended courses have the ability to provide more revenue with less overhead owing to the cost savings realized by potentially allowing for delivery of the course to a greater number of students, while at the same time freeing up physical space.  Pedagogically, students are not only able to learn how to use a language, but also how to use technology.  A blended set-up looks like it is beneficial from many points of view.  But how do students and teachers feel about blended language learning? Continue reading

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Centred and Balanced

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image source: www.bigstockphoto.com

What is student-centred learning?  There are many facets to this idea.  It can be lessons based on students’ needs.  It can mean choosing topics based on students’ interests.  But one of the concepts that is most commonly related to student-centred learning is learning through discovery.  When someone learns through discovery, they are given enough autonomy to interact with materials and consequently discover how things work (think figuring out grammar rules implicitly).  On the other side of the coin you have teacher directed learning where knowledge is transferred from teacher to student (think explaining how grammar rules work). Continue reading

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To Err is Progress

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Fear of making a mistake or asking a stupid question is a legitimate problem. Sir Ken Robinson in his TED talk: “How schools kill creativity” talks about how the education system makes people fear being wrong. This fear of being wrong can squash our creativity. If we always keep ourselves in check, so that we don’t make mistakes, we will never take chances. He states we need to be prepared to be wrong.

I often say to my students “There is no such thing as a stupid question!”  I’ve said this many times.  However, when I put myself in the position of student, I sometimes feel like my question might be stupid.

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The Power of Disorientation

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As ESL teachers, we all know that the techniques we need to employ while teaching adult learners differ from those techniques used with children.  Jack Mezirow, a well -respected theorist in the field of adult learning, suggests that adults need to experience a disruption as a catalyst for the learning process.  In his theory of transformative learning, he lays out the steps in the process which result in learning.  The first step toward adult learning comes in the form of a disorienting dilemma.  This dilemma provokes a period of critical reflection to help us make sense of the disturbance.  As a result of our examination of what is happening, we grow.

In my experience as an ESL teacher, most of the participants attending the classes I teach have experienced a lot of Continue reading

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