Monday, 24 November 2014

Transferring skills beyond the walls of the classroom

Our ultimate goal as teachers is to enable learners to make use of the skills that they develop in the classroom beyond its walls in their real lives. Adult ESL literacy learners may need initial support in order to connect the dots between what they are doing in the classroom and how these knowledge and skills may be transferred in their real lives. Once they are able to do it, their learning experiences will become more meaningful and enjoyable.

 This month, I facilitated a webinar at ESL Literacy Network, “Self-discovery activities in a learning-centred classroom”, in which I looked at the classroom activities to build self-awareness in adult ESL literacy context focusing on the needs assessment, goal-setting, self-evaluation, and learning reflections. The webinar recording is here: 

| ESL Literacy Network

Teaching with the learner’s real life in mind is often a two-way street. On one side, adult learner’s life experience is a valuable resource right there to be appropriated in successful classrooms, but on the other side, we may need to explicitly teach learners to utilize the strategies rehearsed in the classroom in their real-life circumstances. Below, I’d like to share some possible ideas of scaffolding the transfer of the strategies and skills developed through self-discovery activities in the real-life context.


To encourage strategy transfer in the areas of the needs assessment and goal setting, talk to the students to identify what their life concerns are at the moment, try to see whether there are needs other than communication that require immediate attention, and encourage them to use needs assessment techniques learned in class in appropriate real life situations. For example, some of the needs that have been previously identified in my class were the need to buy a new bed for a child, lose weight, and get more exercise, etc. Once the needs have been identified, encourage learners to use goal-setting techniques practiced in class for their real life needs.  Thus, the need to buy a new bed for a child may result in a goal to save a certain amount of money by a certain date and can be supported by keeping a record of the savings. Similarly, the need to lose weight may be turned into the goal of reducing sugar and salt intake, and therefore checking food labels more carefully and possibly recording sugar and salt intake in a personal diary. The need of getting more exercise may lead to identifying appropriate opportunities such as taking stairs and walking to school, etc. In my class, I had one interesting case with a young mother of two children age 4 and 2. In a discussion about daily routines, we (the teacher and the classmates) surprisingly found out that the children were put to bed at 2 a.m. (partly because she had too many errands to run, her husband worked shifts, and they put the children to bed together after he arrived home past midnight). We all agreed it was not acceptable: next year her older child was going to school and needed rest appropriate for his age. Everybody pitched in to create an action plan to help this mother in setting an appropriate sleep and bedtime routine.

Finally, always take time to debrief and follow up on the learners' accomplishments, cheer them up when necessary, celebrate with them, and encourage them to set a new goal.

Seeking language learning opportunities in the community and SELF-EVALUATION

Suggest and elicit existing real-life learning opportunities in the community (for example talking to a shop assistant, pharmacist, bank teller, librarian, etc.) and gently encourage learners to take those risks and report back to you on how it went. Support leaners by teaching them to plan for a task that they have to complete in their daily lives (grocery shopping, cook dinner, banking, filing an application form) by writing a to-do list.  Show learners how to make sure that the task has been completed successfully and that they haven’t forgotten anything by going over the previously made to-do list and checking off the things that were done. Assign learners to notice and record language that they encounter in their daily lives and bring language examples in the classroom to discuss.


Keeping little logs of daily expenses, nutrition, symptoms, and new things experienced in their new life in Canada are just a few examples that can serve many of the learner’s personal goals and come in handy while coping with the pressure of the settling in a new country. Encourage learners to give you a call (if appropriate) in case they are not able to come to class, or write a short note or fill in a template if they know that they have an appointment coming up and will be missing their classes.

If you wonder, where to take time for all these, the truth is that ‘Good things take time’, and it’s always a matter of what’s important to our learners and us and what’s appropriate in our teaching context.

If you have more ideas on integrating real-life in the classroom, I’d love to hear from you!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Professional Development for Practitioners With a Passionate Attitude

At the TESL Ontario Conference 2014 (#TESL2014), I was a part of a wonderful session: “Free Professional Development for Practitioners With a Passionate Attitude (#passionatti)”. I’d like to share the story that preceded this collaboration.

English Online Inc. - Your English Language Learning Network 

It is not a surprise that many of us may feel disconnected in our professional lives. Teaching once was called an egg-carton profession – it is a well-known metaphor introduced by Dan Lortie (1975) to suggest that teachers are often isolated in their practice inside their own classrooms without interacting with each other similar to egg cells in a carton. Simultaneously, unique teaching experiences and wonderful discoveries are happening inside these classrooms day by day, but unfortunately they may never be shared with our colleagues. It may be lack of time that prevents us from collaborating with each other, or our busyness, pace at which teaching is happening, lack of support on behalf of our colleagues, lack of space, etc. Thinking of your own workplace, does it allow for collaboration with other teachers (do you have any PD hours provided, do you have space where you could meet with your colleagues, etc.)? In my own case, being an adult ESL Literacy instructor, I found myself fighting a never-ending battle in the classroom in an urgent need of someone’s expertise and support. But how, when and where?

I decided to look for PD online. I attended a webinar led by Tyson Seburn (an exceptional teacher educator and TESL Toronto’s president) with a self-explanatory title “Globalizing the Staffroom: Social Media for Language Teachers”. I watched it for a few of reasons: to learn how to use social media in order to connect with like-minded teachers, support my colleague, and to see what it was like to lead a webinar session (I was sort of thinking of doing one by myself, but obviously was to scared to make it happen). In the chatbox, I noticed that a few people were particularly active, knowledgeable and interested in connecting with other teachers. They shared their Twitter ID’s and this is how I met @yvetteinmb, @countmein2805, @mbjamieson.

I started using social media mainly to be up-to-date with what was happening in our profession, stay in touch with practitioners that I met online or face-2-face at professional development events (often we meet someone at a conference, but then never get to see, call, or email each other again). What I instantly noticed is that teachers are generous in sharing their discoveries, practices and reflections. Connecting with like-minded professionals has in fact influenced me in more ways that I expected. Imagine a dedicated teacher spending a few hours a day of personal time on professional development sharing aha moments and practical insights with you. Then, multiply all these hours, work, knowledge, and insights by hundreds of other committed teachers who may be a part of your professional network doing the same thing. I have realized that the best resource that teachers have is each other and without collaboration we are limited to our own perspectives (a quote from Robert John Meehan).

In the beginning, my online activity was limited to scanning through resources that seemed relevant or interesting and then reposting or re-tweeting things that I found valuable or worth sharing.  As I became a bit more comfortable with technology, my perspective shifted to delving into practices and strategies that looked relevant to my own classroom reality, implementing ideas, trying out things with the learners, and very soon I found myself capable and eager to talk about my own learners, my materials, lesson plans, things that worked and made a difference in my own classroom. As many other teachers, I started a blog – which I have envisioned as a space for reflection, sharing best practices in adult ESL literacy and collaboration with other educators in Canada and beyond.

Natalia Aleko contacted me wondering whether I would be interested in doing a webinar with the EnglishOnline team. Honestly, I had been thinking about it for quite some time, but never had the courage to go for it. Natalia, on the contrary, had every confidence in our success: she had encouraged me and, in a way, enticed me by offering her full support and any training I would have possibly needed. During our first Skype conference call with Natalia and Yuliana Bagan (@BaganYuliana), I presented a few ideas (in very general lines), the team connected my theory with their practical experience of moderating multiple webinars and made their suggestions. I came up with a topic and the outcomes of the webinar that later became known as “Self-discovery and language learning in adult ESL Literacy classroom.” And the work began.

I put together a PPP. Yuliana supported me a lot. She edited it, made her suggestions. We had a 2-hour run-through session to boost my confidence and skills using the BigBlueButton during which we laughed, talked, discussed the slides, questions, and shared our own experiences. It was a lot of fun!

On the day of, I was extremely nervous. I connected half an hour before; both Yuliana and Natalia were there to assist me. A few people from my own professional network came to watch the webinar live and support my presentation. It wasn’t perfect, but it went well. There quite a few things that I realized I needed to work on, but other than that it was an incredibly valuable experience. I would say a massive professional development!  I became more observant and reflective in the classroom while trying to collect the comprehensive examples to support the ideas in the presentation, I enhanced my PP skills trying to create visually appealing slides, upgraded my digital skills by learning to use a new platform (BigBlueButton), worked on my public speaking skills, confidence, and ability to foster meaningful professional development conversation among adult ESL professionals. And most importantly, I met an amazing #passionatti team, dedicated to our profession and working together for the best interest of all adult ESL learners in Canada.

In September, I did my second webinar, this time it was in collaboration with TESL Ontario, and I was able to utilize the skills I gained from EnglishOnline. If you are thinking of doing a webinar yourself, but not sure whether you have enough material or confidence to do it, there is something that I’d like to share with you. Those professionals who come to your session are there to support you. Who else would be able to understand how much work you have put into your presentation (not just the hours of devising a PPP, but years of experience you gathered to accumulate the knowledge that you are sharing with your audience) if not teachers? Who else would want you to succeed on your task more than teachers do? Once you start sharing your experiences and thoughts, you may be surprised how many other teachers may be interested or may benefit from it.

EnglishOnline is great place to start. You can learn by watching tons of great sessions they have already recorded for us, by joining a live session and supporting a presenter by responding to the prompts, initiating meaningful conversations in the chat box, or presenting yourself and benefiting from the training and support from an awesome team.
Webinars - English Online Inc. TWT Webinars - English Online Inc.

My journey has still miles to go. Hopefully! I have been working on my next project in collaboration with the Adult ESL Literacy Network.

Six years ago, I found myself in a situation (which I am sure many of us here have encountered): I had to start all over again from scratch. Today, I am happy to be a part of a network of adult ESL practitioners in Canada and beyond generously sharing their practice and knowledge for the best interest of our learners and profession in general. It has been possible because I said yes in the first place even though I was scared, I learned, and as Chuck Sandy (a great mentor, committed teacher educator and an amazing person) would say: “Yet, I’m nobody special” (talking about himself). "Anybody could say yes.” I hope that my story will inspire some of you to say those “Yes’s” for the first time, and many more times to come.

Connect, share, collaborate!

REALize! Forum 2015 - English Online Inc.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Scaffolding a learning path

Adult ESL literacy is a learning-centered classroom – learning to learn is crucial for success of the learners with the literacy needs! 

The teacher’s role is to establish a partnership with the learners and equip them with the tools (in our case – learning strategies) that will allow them to grow more independent in their learning and succeed on the language tasks. Instructors will have to select or develop learning activities and provide scaffolding in the way that learners are able to achieve their goals and apply their skills in real life. 

There are a few things to consider while designing learning tasks for the literacy group. 

 1. Choose tasks that provide opportunities for collaboration. I often rely on peer support and tutoring. I strongly believe that adult ESL literacy learners are perfect tutors to each other, but the ability to work with a learning partner, learning management and socio-affective skills must be developed and nurtured consistently over time to bring in results. Therefore, my favourite tasks are those that require learners to ask and answer something with a partner. 

 2. Before introducing written text, make sure that there is a lot of oral practice: drill, chant, sing, clap, move the bodies as much as necessary. Hand-in the written text when the learners are quite familiar with it orally, and you may see how much easier it will be for them to acquire it. 

3. Build confidence by helping learners to interact with as many classmates as possible; transfer their learning outside the classroom; encourage them to use their skills with the learners from a different class; arrange inter class activities, etc. 

4. Set measurable outcomes. When thinking of a task, see whether you can identify real life communication, language and literacy outcomes. This will come in handy during the performance evaluations. 

 5. Select tasks that allow for heterogeneity, that can be easily adapted to different levels of complexity to support learners with lower literacy and challenge those who are self-directed. 

 And a few examples to peruse (please be aware that it’s work in progress; my intention is to give you a few ideas to build on): 

 Dialogue frames 

 This is a simple dialogue, it can be introduced as a dialogue frame where you start with the prompt, elicit the answer, drill it orally, record it on the w/b, and then hand-in the worksheet. I’d like to point out a few features present on this sample: I try to consistently use certain images to build learners’ understanding of the tasks that they work on in class. You can see here two images that stand for the speaking and listening skills, and an image of two stickmen having a conversation for the dialogue. I repeatedly use the images accompanied by the meta-language to point out the skills and learning management involved. For example, before proceeding to the task, I would elicit what the skills are, how many people are involved, and what they are doing. I have noticed that in a very short time learners build a small bank of language learning words that they are able to recognize instantly such as ‘listening’, ‘speaking’, ‘reading’, ‘with a partner’, ‘ask and answer’, ‘questions’, and so on. 

 If the learners achieve their task, you can celebrate it with them, or you can take a step further by increasing the difficulty if appropriate, possible or desired. 

 Enabling collaboration

This is an example of a transfer activity build on the previous dialogue frame that encourages collaboration among learners and involves language and literacy skills. 

It can be revisited with an additional task.

Filling in a form

This task definitely allows for heterogeneity and you can easily make it more sophisticated by adding more information to the form or slightly formatting it. 

 And finally, let learners observe themselves and others learning successfully. 

I’d like to thank wholeheartedly Jennifer and Natasha for recording this precious series of videos that I use with my learners to observe how the teacher interacts with the learner and alongside the language build their confidence and motivate them to take charge of their own learning. 

Thursday, 28 August 2014

“What’s the weather like today?” or a digital task-based lesson plan at a glance

This is a lesson plan I have devised for adult ESL low literacy learners at Phase 1 and 2 (CLB, 2000) aiming at developing digital, literacy and language skills for life by completing a real-life task online in a non-threatening environment supported by the instructor when necessary. While it can be argued that checking the weather online is not the most critical life task for adult learners, I believe that this lesson has some advantages for engaging and motivating them to work with technology: adults are naturally curios about the weather, it is a common topic for discussion that learners from around the globe would understand, it is often covered by the adult ESL curriculum (beginner levels), it has a great potential for transfer and offline use and it provides a rich diet of comprehensible input.

3 hours (regular time for hour classes) including 2 ten minute breaks
What’s the weather like today?

Real life task:
Use the web to check the weather (on the weekend or next 5 days) in the city where you live

By the end of the lesson learners will have
- checked and recorded current temperature in Toronto;
- checked and recorded weather conditions (e.g., sunny, cloudy, showers) in Toronto;
- watched and confirmed their recorded temperatures with a weather forecast video;
- checked and recorded the weather in their hometown if other than Toronto;
- discussed their notes with a classmate;

- getting things done
- comprehending information
- comprehending instructions
-sharing information

Digital Skills:
- locate and open a web browser
- access a website
- locate necessary information based on text, numbers and pictures
- use tabs to browse through text
- launch, pause or replay a video

Literacy Skills
- reading sight words (e.g., Toronto, weekend, Sat, Sun, cloudy, showers, sunny)
- navigate formatted text
- record information in a chart
- knowledge and understanding of the calendar

- understanding of temperature
- degrees C


Learners can use the same digital reading path to check the weather in different cities, at different times, outside the classroom, at home, teach their children how to do it by making a fun game, play a game with children at home, use when needed before planning a trip, etc.

Self-assessment checklist
Instructor’s checklist

Learners have already turned on the computers.

Learning activities:

10 mins
Activity 1: whole class, explicit instruction
Project the computer screen and ask learners to locate a web browser. Double click on the browser to open it. If used double click check with learners if they now how many times they have to click the mouse to open the browser. Ask learners to locate the search box. Ask them if they remember or have recorded somewhere the class website ( Ask them to spell it while you are typing it in the search box.  Direct learners attention to ‘.ca’ in the web address, ask for its meaning, and elicit ‘Canada’. Once the blog opens, ask learners to locate the weather box (on the right, blue box, a number, a picture, etc.). Prompt with questions and the cursor to elicit as much information as possible (e.g., What’s the weather like today? What is the city? What is the country? What is the current temperature? Is it sunny, cloudy, rainy, cool, cold?).

20 min

Activity 2 (Individually with instructor’s support):
Distribute the worksheet with digital task 1 (see attachment #2). Ask learners to follow the steps and fill in the chart individually. Support where necessary. Encourage learners to check their notes with a classmate sitting next to them.

10 min
Activity 3: whole class explicit instruction
Run open class feedback on the previous learning activity. Get learners attention to the screen. Follow the steps from Digital task 2.

20 min
Activity 4 (Individually with instructor’s support):
Distribute the worksheet with digital task 2. Ask learners to follow the steps and fill in the chart individually. Support where necessary. Encourage learners to check their notes with their neighbours or a learning partner.

10 min
Activity 5: whole class explicit instruction
Run open class feedback on the previous learning activity. Get learners attention to the screen. Follow the steps from Digital task 3.

20 min
Activity 6 (Individually with instructor’s support):
Distribute the worksheet with digital task 3. Ask learners to follow the steps and fill in the chart individually. Support where necessary. Encourage learners to check their notes with their neighbours or a learning partner.

25 min
Activity 7 (Pair work with instructor’s support):
Ask learners where they are from (hometown or country). Elicit the spelling of hometowns and write them on the w/b for reference. Ask if learners know what the weather is like back home. Instruct learners to work in pairs. Distribute the worksheet with digital task 4.

25 min

Extension Activity 8 (Individually with instructor’s support): Run open class feedback on the previous learning activity. Project the screen. Show the play video icon. Elicit what it means. Instruct learners to play the video as many times as wanted. While watching, learners pause the video and take notes of familiar words and numbers. After watching the video, they share their notes with a neighbour or learning partner and then with the whole class. Distribute worksheet with Digital task 5 for additional support.

10 min

Checklist: Project the checklist on the screen. Complete it together. Discuss how learners can apply what they learned outside the classroom. Suggest ideas (e.g., show your children how to check the weather, make it a fun game at home, check the weather before planning a trip).

FLEXI stage: time permitting or for more advanced learners

Learners practice weather terms, questions and answers using online flashcards ( posted on the blog:


Adult learners bring their own beliefs and perceptions about the use of technology in the classroom that certainly play ‘a role in how effective that technology will be in enhancing the individual student’s learning’ (Stewart, 2008:3). The lack of digital learning skills often leads to negative self-perception and disengagement in adult ESL literacy learners (ibid: 4) but can be ameliorated if these skills are explicitly supported and taught for learners to become efficient online (McLoughlin and Marshall, 2000: 2).  It has been found that the most gains in adult learning using technology happen when it is integrated with offline learning activities; the teacher is present and facilitates learning; and efficient routines ‘for shifting in and out of technology use’ are in place (Means, 2010: 287).
Learning activities (1, 3, 5) focus on the whole class explicit instruction of the steps learners have to follow in order to succeed on their tasks tracing a so-called digital ‘reading path’ to facilitate learning. Offline worksheets are also provided for learners to support them in individual activities and they can be taken home and used independently outside the classroom. From my own experience, learners enjoy reviewing the worksheets with a partner and due to their emergent reading skills use them as reading activities. While learners are working on the individual activities  (2,4,6,7), the instructor is expected to circulate around and provide support to learners who encounter difficulties one on one (Ibid: 293).
Scaffolding is a form of support that helps learners perform a ‘task that would normally not be possible to accomplish by working independently’ and it ‘engages the learners actively at their current level of understanding until the point’ where the support is no longer necessary (McLoughlin and Marshall, op cit: 3). Therefore, the teacher who provides appropriate scaffolding supports learners’ ability and confidence in completing the online tasks independently. The instructor is also expected to release the support gradually providing more opportunities for learners (activities 6, 7, 8) to engage in online tasks independently and ask for help when it is needed. In other words, learners “need to be empowered by the technology, not overwhelmed by it “(ibid: 5); therefore there is a need of a balance between support and autonomy. 
Balancing teacher scaffolding and learner autonomy is often a delicate issue but it can be achieved by carefully designing learning environment and materials that are based on the features of communication appropriate for the learners’ level of literacy and language proficiency.  While designing the offline worksheets (see attachments below) I followed the recommended features of communication (CLB, 2000) for adult ESL literacy learners such as font (size 14, Comic Sans MS), plenty of white space, a few simple instructions (3-4) supported by clear realistic images (screen shots). Goetze and Strothotte (2001) in their approach to help functionally illiterate people with graphical reading aids arrive to the conclusion that text has to be explained but not replaced by images. It is even recommended not to exaggerate with the image use in order not to create a situation in which reading becomes unnecessary (ibid). Learners can always ask the instructor, volunteer, librarian, a more advanced classmate or a family member to read it for them. I have included an image of a person sitting at the computer that has been consistently used on all the offline worksheets with the goal of developing learners’ understanding of the nature of tasks and gradually build their awareness of a variety of skills involved in digital, literacy and language learning. I have also tried to incorporate an element of collaboration where learners have to work in pairs to check and discuss the weather forecast in their hometowns (activity 7). I planned for a greater number of shorter activities based on my experience working with adult ESL literacy learners who often require a richer diet of activities in order to stay focused and engaged during the class. The purpose of the final checklist is to introduce a metacognitive practice and develop learners’ ability to think about their learning in the computer lab, evaluate their own performance and assess the value of skills that they develop.



#5 and a Checklist

Hope it comes in handy for some of you!


Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks and Government of Manitoba, 2000, Canadian Language Benchmarks 2000: ESL for Literacy Learners. [Electronic]. Available at: [18 May, 2014].
Goettze, M. and Strothotte, T. (2001) An approach to help functionally illiterate people with graphical reading aids. [Electronic]. Available at: [May 18, 2014].
McLoughlin, C. and Marshall, L. (2000) “Scaffolding: A model for learner support in an online teaching environment”. In A. Hermann and M.M. Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching, Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching and Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. [Electronic]. Available at: [19 May, 2014].
Means, B. (2010) “Technology and Education Change: Focus on Student Learning”, JRTE, 42:3, pp. 285-307. 
Stewart, D.P. (2008) “Technology as a management tool in the community college classroom: challenges and benefits”, Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 4:4, pp. 1-11.

#LINCchat turns two!

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