Reflections on Canada’s 150th birthday – creating unity in diversity

Over the years, I have always found it interesting that the first three words many of my students have seemed to master by day one are peace and safety. Oh, the third? – double-double, or so it seems. I’ll get back to that in a moment. Most of my students come from places where conflict and corruption create an environment that lacks peace and safety, two things that we as Canadians often take for granted. So, when asked why they come to Canada, these two words form a neat summary without needing much grammar. Sometimes they say or write: Peaceful and Safety, or Peace and Safeful, but we get the idea.

And though they certainly did not come here for the double-doubles at Tim Horton’s, considering many left behind the delights of Turkish coffee and various forms of baklava, or real tea brewed in pots, this is the comfort Canada offers them so they take it. This is also, sadly, (unfortunately, embarrassingly) along with busy, buck-toothed beavers and cranky Canadian Geese, the Canadian icons we offer them, so they embrace them and become Timmy’s newest fan base, posting photos with Tim’s cups and the cranky Canadian Geese they encounter in the parking lot on Facebook. Who are they to question the icons of this perfect paradise of peace and safety? Like one of my students joked after winning yet another free coffee from his “roll-up the rim to win” cup, “Peace and safety and Timmies, that is all I need!”

Well, I could think of a few more things, and a double-double is not one of them, but freedom, education, healthcare, human rights, acceptance of diversity and democracy come to mind. Maybe this is a chicken and egg question, but from my many student’s perspectives, peace and safety are foundational, so much so, many chose to start a new life in a strange land to get them. Without this foundation, the human rights, the democracy, the freedom, healthcare and education and our acceptance of diversity would not be possible. With Canada’s 150th this year, we know that what we have here is worth celebrating, but we also know we have more work to do.

Canada’s best years are not behind us, they are before us. There are cracks in our social fabric that a shared double-double cannot seem to heal. The anti-immigrant/refugee sentiments bubbling near the surface lately, the islamophobia, the unrest within Indigenous communities because of hundreds of years of unresolved grievances, all point to a country that still has a lot of work to do. Canada, though largely tolerant and accepting and seen as a beacon of light in this regard globally, has an undercurrent of historic racism and intolerance that has been inherited by the sins of its colonial past. As Justin Trudeau recently reflected after visiting the Indigenous protestors who erected a Teepee on Parliament Hill for the Canada 150 celebrations, “…it is difficult to get out of colonial structures.” As instructors, we know this intolerance, this systemic racism, is not just a Canadian problem, a colonial problem, or even a Trump problem. We witness intolerance and racism in our own classrooms, inherited from historic and current conflicts around the globe. What Canada is experiencing is not unique, it is indeed universal.

But how do we keep and sustain what we still have, despite the cracks? This is the question for our next 150 years. We can’t sustain this peace and safety without a lot of work inside our classrooms, our homes, our neighborhoods and our workplaces. Peace is taught, just as conflict and racism are taught. As we build peace and tolerance within our classrooms, we build a nation of peace and tolerance.

We, as instructors, are nation builders, like all of those before us who have built this country. Yes, our primary job is to teach English and Canadian culture, but part of that culture is the idea of belonging to a diverse nation. How do we sustain what we are celebrating this year? Maybe Timmy’s magnetism for Canadians and newcomers alike holds the secret. It is a place where differences dissolve over a shared love of maple dips and double-doubles. That is it, isn’t it? – seeing our similarities first, before our differences.

What are your experiences with creating a unity in diversity in your classroom? We’d love to hear your thoughts on these issues.

Marcella Corroeli Jager grew up in the Niagara Region as an immigrant’s daughter who can relate to her student’s children and shed light on ways they are embarrassing their kids. Joking aside, she has been teaching English at the Centre for Skills Development and Training in Halton for 7 years in a LINC/ESL classroom. As a PBLA Lead for cohort 1, she has been delighted to see how clearly communicated expectations and specific feedback have enabled students to take charge of their learning, despite her disappointment that this did not free up more time while her students were busy taking charge.

 

POST COMMENT 12

12 thoughts on “Reflections on Canada’s 150th birthday – creating unity in diversity”

  1. I related to the plea for reflection and tolerance (open mindedness) in Marcellas’s charming presentation until I came to her bio and read about her “delight” “as a PBLA Lead for cohort 1. Then I became confused that after ” child of immigrants” (lol – as an immigrant myseIf I embarrassed my children on more than one occasion) she chose to present herselfas an enthusiastic proponent of the Canadian Portfolio Based Learning Assessment experiment. I wondered why she did this. To give her credibility? Brownie points? To show how she supports PBLA ( in spite of her caveat).? You see for me, coming from a country that balkanised education and controlled who got taught what the Canadian Portfolio Based Learning Assessment is an expression of the same “colonial” mentality that she criticises. It is a “we know what is best for you” government mandated policy stance that embodies disrespect for both students and teachers. It treats students as unschooled individuals that need to be shown how to “organise” and learn; it takes away their freedom of choice ( even of what binder they should use!!). It shows disrespect for teachers knowledge,experience, autonomy in that it positions itself as showing teachers how teaching should be done in a “one size fits all” and a my way or the highway” &”no “negative feedback” approach. If they “resist” (feedback is seen as pushback”) they may be fired. To me – this is undemocratic. To date the Canadian Portfolio Based Learning Assessment project has not produced empirical evidence to show students learn more English than they did before this newly created “artefact collection” SLA teaching and assessment methodology was invented. Most puzzling is the mantra ” The funders want it” , “IRCC is committed to this”. Which brings me back to my claim that this IS the same mentality that created the Residential school system. Well, I am just expressing my opinion as a “nation builder”. Wishing everyone a happy productive school year with lots of the joy of ESL.

  2. Hi Claudie,
    I can appreciate what you are saying. Language learning is a different process than learning a subject, and it is not as easy to capture their ability to use language in the real world through in-class assessments. Nor is it easy to enforce a system that is not a great fit for everyone’s teaching and learning styles. PBLA is not perfect, and hopefully specific feedback will enable its evolving. But PBLA is an attempt to standardize English language assessment across Canada and to enable students to have the tools to self-evaluate and improve with specific feedback. I find it less patronizing and more liberating for the student in that they become more participatory in the learning process – this acknowledges their ability to self improve and set goals based on accessible, standard skills indicators for the next level.

    That being said, I am not a personal fan of the binder/portfolio format as I too find it can be patronizing. On the other hand, I also find many teachers and students find it liberating – different approaches/preferences to learning abound. For example, I try to accommodate the students who find it a burden for notes and allow them their own innovations – diary styled notebooks often, which enables them to learn their own way with their notes and use the binder as an organizer for everything else. I make some compromises to make it work for different students and myself.

    Compromises must be made as long as the intent of PBLA and good teaching/learning is honoured. The intent is an accessible, non-arbitrary, standard of proficiency levels (as best as we can form them) that literally helps students and teachers be on the same page as partners in learning. This is empowering for both students and teachers as they are accountable to and referencing the same thing – the CLB. This makes the classroom far more democratic.

    Does it stifle innovation and personal choice? Only if you let it. PBLA is just a tool that is intended to enrich and customize feedback to target specific improvements the student can more autonomously apply. Use it for its benefits as an assessment tool only. Don’t allow it to be anything else. Your classroom is more than PBLA and you have the freedom to make it so.

    Cheers Claudie!

  3. Hi Marcella, Love that blogs allow for a serious and respectful exchange of ideas! This just came through my Twitter feed https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mYWR3nW_Es0&t=5s
    (It is about UDL approach ” the expert learner” ) I think you will enjoy it.
    A trainer write to me “You can’t talk about doing PBLA with anyone from other locations because everyone is doing something different”! So much for standardisation and “an accessible, non-arbitrary standard of proficiency levels”. I question the validity, reliability, and consistency of the teacher created assessments. Apparently there are three thousand instructors” implementing” the Canadian Portfolio Learning Assessment experiment! (btw I write it in full because -as you rightly point out it references the Canadian Language Benchmark frame of reference (model) as opposed to the CEFR (Common European Frame of Reference). (Also – think of the costs in time, effort and money!)
    When the new 2012 CLB document was released we were supposed to get familiar with it through a Train the Trainer model but most got very little time to work on it. The first part of PBLA is a chance to get more familiar with the CLB document.-I agree many instructors appreciate the PD they received (but many of us were familiar with the CLB, did NA, planned using the Benchmark, assessed using rubrics, helped students set goals, reflect. I always kept ( keep) folders/portfolios of samples of student work (in a file box holder IN the classroom -given to the student when they leave) and students were (are) expected to keep classwork/handouts organied in a binder (of their choice!). NOTHING new here folks – all standard teacher practice. What is “new” are the teacher created assessments and complicated,mandated “finite number” artifact collection for high stakes purposes. This is what makes this new “learning assessment methodology” unique -and in my view -suspect!!
    A big collegial hug!
    Claudie

  4. Hi Claudie,
    I liked the video link you sent – thanks!

    Suspect of…the need for accountability to our funders? 🙂

    1. No – suspect as in “questionable” validity of the assessments created by teachers (we are not trained assessment creation experts) . How can three thousand teachers/amateur assessment creators creating 32 tests a session produce a “standardized” reliable, consistent, valid English language assessment system across Canada? I question the validity (and ethics) of using these portfolios with (mandated ) x-number of artefacts for high stakes purposes like advancement/promotion or not . Portfolios are valuable teaching tools but there are problems when a portfolio consisting of artefacts collected over an extended period of time is the sole abiter used for promotion. There are issues with standardised tests too – but I have to say the 5-10 Exit tests are brilliant! (Especially when they are kept under lock and key and used correctly!) so – better to have a combination maybe? Adjust many of the PBLA requirements? Use oortfolios as a teaching tool?

      1. Claudie,
        I agree, assessment creation certainly requires a multi-layered skill-set that takes time to develop, with some teachers being more adept at it than others as their skill-sets are in other areas. This does lend to questioning the validity of such assessments for high stakes purposes. However, at this time, there are no learning institutions that take CLB levels from ESL schools on par with IELTS or CELPIP etc except for Citizenship applications. At this time in our evolution of PBLA, it would obviously be unwise to do so.

        Having a high stakes test outside of the classroom still seems ideal and realistic, while having the classroom align, as much as it can, with the same benchmarks, so there are no surprises when testing is done. Perhaps PBLA has plans for future high-stakes arrangments, but it may be advisable then to have a new set of standardized exit tasks/tests to accompany PBLA as well as standard assessments for real world tasks.

        Yes – I also love the CLB 5-10 Exit tests and there is an allowance to use them as one of your artefacts which I do. I also like using it to give my perception of benchmarks a tweek. We could use a revised version as I believe it adheres to an older version of the CLB.

        Which brings up my last point and your’s too – there is also an allowance for teacher’s to use their professional judgement when looking at a portfolio of artefacts collected over time. If there is a pattern of consistent progress towards the final goal of completing (I use a system of Beginning, developing, completing for each level), with the most recent work reflecting a consistent proficiency at a completed level, only then I can verify a completed level. But yes, as a human system, it is still more arbitrary than standardized testing and cannot replace it entirely.

        1. For student promotion from one level to another IS often high stakes -emotionally (Literacy to Level 1, Level 1 to 2 etc.) . and often procedurally as they cannot be admitted to this or that programme ( SLT, OSLT, TOEFL, IELTS…) without the requisite benchmark. Not to mention the necessity of having Benchmark Listening and Speaking 4 even to qualify to apply for citizenship. Can’t think of anything more highstakes than that.

  5. Claudie – as the subject we’re on is not exactly related to my blog post :)) anymore, we could email eachother if you wish. I enjoy discussing/learning about PBLA with colleagues from different centres:
    jagerm@thecentre.on.ca

    1. Yes, definitely. I look forward to hearing your take. And to hearing more about your Centre. I’ll DM you on PBLA.
      I teach LINC 6/7 for a wonderful Settlement Agency in a high needs area in Toronto. We instructors are all on the same page wanting to provide newcomers with the keys to being part of those best years ahead of Canada. As I welcomed new and returning students on Tuesday and yesterday and we set about “Getting Acquainted” I listened to the students working in groups and sharing thoughts and opinions, asking each other questions -and looking at their colleagues/classmates with respect, admiration and friendship. In spite of vast differences in background, education, social status, English ability the magic of LINC and ESL classes is that here is a shared space where students have a chance (as one student wrote to me in a thank you letter) not only to learn English but “to learn to love this country”. Another told me that she was “singing ‘O Canada’ with her mouth, but not her heart.” I told her I understood. It took me a few years to truly love Canada. (Like I do now, passiinately!!!) So that’s what I keep in mind in working with such a diverse group. Some will take to Canada like ducks to water. Others need time to learn to fly.
      I am so privileged to be part of their journey.

      1. Claudie,
        I agree, assessment creation certainly requires a multi-layered skill-set that takes time to develop, with some teachers being more adept at it than others as their skill-sets are in other areas. This does lend to questioning the validity of such assessments for high stakes purposes. However, at this time, there are no learning institutions that take CLB levels from ESL schools on par with IELTS or CELPIP etc except for Citizenship applications. At this time in our evolution of PBLA, it would obviously be unwise to do so.

        Having a high stakes test outside of the classroom still seems ideal and realistic, while having the classroom align, as much as it can, with the same benchmarks, so there are no surprises when testing is done. Perhaps PBLA has plans for future high-stakes arrangments, but it may be advisable then to have a new set of standardized exit tasks/tests to accompany PBLA as well as standard assessments for real world tasks.

        Yes – I also love the CLB 5-10 Exit tests and there is an allowance to use them as one of your artefacts which I do. I also like using it to give my perception of benchmarks a tweek. We could use a revised version as I believe it adheres to an older version of the CLB.

        Which brings up my last point and your’s too – there is also an allowance for teacher’s to use their professional judgement when looking at a portfolio of artefacts collected over time. If there is a pattern of consistent progress towards the final goal of completing (I use a system of Beginning, developing, completing for each level), with the most recent work reflecting a consistent proficiency at a completed level, only then I can verify a completed level. But yes, as a human system, it is still more arbitrary than standardized testing and cannot replace it entirely.

        Well – talk to you via snailmail Claudie ! Best of luck in the new year!

  6. Our sponsored refugee arrives today. ” Some will take to Canada like ducks to water. Others need time to learn to fly.” We will see how he does. Do good while you can is a good motto to live by.

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