As I watched my literacy students doing, or, in several cases, trying to do, a formal assessment task recently, I thought of that old joke: schools are places where students go to watch teachers work. I questioned my competence. We’d spent over a week doing skill building activities, spiralling back to skills and activities, reviewing, repeating, repeating, and repeating. Oh, the repetition. I checked comprehension. Checked again. The students nodded. They did well in the lessons. Then the task. Back to square one.
The stronger students finished first, of course. However, instead of sitting quietly waiting for the others to finish, some of them did what they’ve been doing in class: helping their weaker peers. This being a formal assessment, my first impulse was to stop this helping, or as the academic term has it, cheating.
In my very first TESL Ontario blog post, I shared an activity to help teachers remember their students’ names.1 It also happens that the activity helps students learn each other’s names and, as a result, helps to build community. By addressing each other by name, students are more likely to build bonds and feel valued. Building community is a process, however, and although this activity is a good start, teachers can incorporate other activities throughout the term or academic year to make the process memorable.
The following activity is one I use to help strengthen students’ sense of community by letting them share something about themselves that highlights a positive attribute. This activity also gives the teacher the opportunity to do the same.
As the streetcar lurched toward George Brown College, I gazed at the familiar storefronts, churches, and coffee shops that lined the route. How could everything be the same when it felt so different? I was nervous, panicked even. After all, I hadn’t taught in-person for close to three years. I berated myself for checking off the box to teach on campus. Wasn’t it easier to stay enclosed in my basement lair? I rechecked the supplies in my backpack and pulled out the instructions sheet for the tenth time. Offices have moved here, photocopiers are now there; do this if you need to print something, do that to access the computer system. Ughh.
TESL Ontario’s 2022 conference, which marked the organization’s 50th anniversary, brought forth current perspectives, reflections, and suggestions related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This post highlights takeaways from six talks about fostering inclusion, advancing accessibility, and supporting newcomers.
Guest Contributors: Allyson Eamer, Amea Wilbur, Katie Crossman, Jennifer Allore
If you are a LINC or ESL instructor, there is a good chance that you have taught learners who have experienced trauma. Syrian, Afghan and now Ukrainian refugees, for example, have been arriving in Canada in large numbers and are increasingly part of our classrooms. Although you are not a mental health specialist, you are often the first point of contact for many students. They likely see you more often and for longer blocks of time than they see their settlement workers or other professionals in their lives. Your students undoubtedly view you as quintessentially Canadian and very much a part of “the system” that directly impacts their lives and futures in Canada. Because you work hard to be a caring instructor and to build trust in the classroom, you are likely to witness the effects of trauma on student learning, and/or to have trauma disclosed to you by a student. You are therefore an important, if unwitting (and likely unprepared, we will argue), key player in responding to trauma.
I asked TESL Ontario educators to record their thoughts on the question “What are one or two ways that you incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion in your teaching practice?” This post shares their recordings (see link below) and synthesizes their responses, which highlight the importance of infusing criticality in classroom texts, talks, and tasks.
We were three months into an online class and just past a spike of on-boarding new learners. At this point, and counting the newer learners, about half of the class relented to turning their cameras on. It was Monday and I had a new grey tie. I really wanted to show off my new necktie, so I wore – uncharacteristically – a black shirt.
Learners arrived and turned on their cameras, saying “Good morning. How was your weekend? Are you feeling any better?” and all that. One of the first was a lovely woman, a retired teacher and a dedicated student – one of those learners who is, besides punctual and respectful, eager to please and who quietly but assuredly defends the soundness of the instructor’s pedagogical choices. Let me call her Harmony.
When we went back to class in March, my students appeared larger than life. More human, tangible. Lots of smiles, welcoming faces, laughter, and excitement. They had a willingness to learn and interact with each other, as well as with the teacher.
I was curious to see how teaching would function in a “post-COVID-19” period. I was happy to see them in class.
I developed a learn-as-you-go approach. I didn’t know who would attend on a day-to-day basis and hoped more students of various backgrounds would join.
Like many others in the field, I am always looking for new ways to improve my teaching. My research as a PhD student at York University led me to examine teaching from a critical pedagogical approach. The guiding principle of this approach is to construct equitable and democratic classrooms with a goal to positively transform students’ lives (Canagarajah, 2005).
While I was doing my research in an ELL classroom, I uncovered many ways in which ELL environments contradict the goals of critical pedagogical approaches. In many cases, planning and preparing ahead to foster a classroom environment that supports critical learning can overcome these challenges, but at times, there may be a dynamic need to shift classroom spaces towards empowering teaching and learning. I have developed a strategy I call critical pivoting to address this problem and would like to share it with you.
As we continue with online teaching and learning, I think all of us have discovered the importance of building community in the online spaces in which we spend so much time. I suspect that we have all also discovered that it’s more challenging to build a community in an online environment than in a face-to-face class. #CdnELTchat hosted a Twitter chat to talk about this ongoing challenge.