Editor’s Note

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This is my last issue as editor of TESL Ontario’s Contact magazine. My heartfelt thanks go out to all our readers. You are literally the raison d’être of the magazine. And of course, all the writers who have contributed their ideas and research are its life force. It has been my pleasure to connect these two groups, to put you, if I may, in contact.

In 2012, I took over the editorship from Tania Pattison, who served as editor for a year after the untimely death of Clayton Graves in 2010. Clayton was editor for seven years before that. I am grateful to them and to the other editors who went before for their vision and stewardship.  Continue Reading →

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Hacking the ESL student workbook

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In our Technical Trades Program (TCP), we were challenged with designing and creating student books and interactive Learning Objects (LOs) for our foundation students. The foundation program trains English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students in trade-specific terminology and provides hands-on workshops. It is essentially a bridging program designed to prepare trainees for their programs, which consist of Process Operations, Mechanical Technician Program, Electrical Technician Program, and Instrumentation, all including a common Safety component. The majority of our students are male Qatari nationals whose first language is Arabic.

The Challenge

The first challenge was to find materials that motivated our students and that were at our students’ language level, which was CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) A1 Breakthrough or beginner.  Continue Reading →

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Knowledge mobilization in TESL: Teachers as interpreters of research results

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There is a longstanding criticism that academic research is not sufficiently utilized in language teaching. This so-called gap between research and practice is well documented. For example, Borg’s (2009) study with English language teachers from 13 countries identified a low level of research utilization. Many teachers participating in Borg’s study reported that a lack of time, inaccessibility of published research, and a lack of practical relevance of research results were among the key reasons why they did not turn to academic research for professional learning and development. Borg concluded that research utilization by teachers was a rarity in the field of English Language Teaching (ELT). Since the time of Borg’s study, we have seen many initiatives to make research more accessible to teachers.  Continue Reading →

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Engaging students in speaking assessment to increase their participation in speaking activities

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Teachers sometimes find it challenging to engage students in speaking activities. Some students shy away from the task because they do not have the confidence for public speaking especially in the second language, or they simply find the tasks inauthentic and thus find little value in participating. However, researchers claim that there is more to students’ poor participation in class speaking activities than the above. Juzwik, Borsheim-Black, Caughlan, and Heintz (2014) maintain that while student-led and student-centered talk should be the ultimate goal of any educational assignment, teacher talk tends to dominate. Teacher talk is necessary and often required as an organization tool, but when it dominates, it robs students of the opportunity to participate and to improve their speaking skills.  Continue Reading →

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Lexical borrowing among Francophones in the Greater Toronto Area

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The French language in Canada has historical roots extending back to the 1600’s. Today, many Canadians are French speakers. In fact, nearly 12% of Canadians speak only French, and nearly 18% of Canadians speak both English and French (Statistics Canada, 2017). In Ontario, where the current study was conducted, 622,415 Francophones comprise 4.7% of the population (Office of the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario, 2016). The current project examining the language practices of adult Francophones takes place in this minority language context.

This project examined lexical borrowing and code switching among ten adult Francophones in the Toronto, Ontario region. In-depth individual interviews were conducted during which the participants were asked to tell a story or describe an activity of personal interest.  Continue Reading →

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Compulsory professional development policy for ESL instructors: A literature review and personal insight

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Even though there has been a growing interest in teacher professional development (TPD) on the part of educational researchers and practitioners in the last decade, research on English as Second Language (ESL) teachers’ perceptions of mandatory professional development at private language centers (visa schools) remains fragmented and scarce. In the Canadian context, particularly in Ontario, initiatives for a sustainable, practical, and professional teacher development, whose target is to curtail teacher attrition and strengthen teachers’ professional profiles, remain random and without a proper practical application. The Ontario Ministry of Education sets standards and creates policies that concern public schools; the district school boards stipulate sets of policies to be implemented in their schools, too. Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) is a government-funded program that employs teachers with a TESL Ontario certification,  Continue Reading →

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Why teachers need to care about self-care

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“Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel”. -Eleanor Brownn

Teaching is a profession that requires giving of one’s self to make a difference for students. The chronic use of empathy and depletion of emotional resources are strongly associated with emotional exhaustion and/or professional burnout (Maslach, Schaufeli & Leiter, 2001). Also, challenges such as student behaviour, precarious work, multiple workloads or administrative responsibilities can add to the pressures of this demanding profession.

There is a growing interest in the area of student well-being but everyone must flourish, including students, teachers, and administrative staff. Research studies suggest that learning happens best when teachers and their students are well but the added benefit is that as teachers flourish,  Continue Reading →

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The nature and impact of portfolio-based language assessment (PBLA)

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Abstract

The nature and effects of PBLA were investigated. I examined LINC program evaluations, government-solicited assessment reports, PBLA research, and other PBLA-related documents. I discuss the features of PBLA and its reported effects on language outcomes and teacher and student attitudes. I found that the government did not provide a rationale for PBLA and that the results of research did not support the introduction of PBLA. I also found that PBLA is neither standardized nor portfolio-based as claimed. It is costlier, more time-consuming, and appears to have more teacher pushback than the approach it replaced. Regardless, there is no evidence that the LINC program has improved students’ language skills before or after the implementation of PBLA

In 2010,  Continue Reading →

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Self-assessment for language teachers

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Students are very often encouraged to engage in self-assessment in the belief that this allows them to take ownership of their learning and contributes to the development of learner autonomy. Similar arguments apply to teacher self-assessment: by reflecting systematically on their competences, language teachers can become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses and take more responsibility for their own professional development. In recognition of its value, teacher self-assessment is promoted in several education systems around the world; for example, the General Teaching Council for Scotland offers teachers a tool called a self-evaluation wheel. In other educational systems, such as Chile, teacher self-assessment is a formal component of teacher evaluation. In recent years, a number of frameworks have emerged which can support the use of self-assessment specifically for language teachers.  Continue Reading →

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Migration, trauma and mental illness: Implications for language learning

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The number of international migrants (people living outside their country of birth) reached 258 million in 2017. That is more than 3% of the earth’s population (United Nations General Assembly International Migration and Development, 2018). Who are these 258 million? How and why have they left their homelands behind? Did they depart for faraway places voluntarily or under duress? North(ern) America has been host to 22% of those international migrants, meaning that as many as 56 million people have had to learn—or are still learning—English when settling into their new lives in Canada or the U.S.

At this point, it would be good to remind ourselves that many of the migrants who have arrived on North American shores,  Continue Reading →

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Students at the margins

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Since 1980, the number of university-bound students has more than doubled. The expectations that parents and youth have around attaining post-secondary credentials has become a taken-for-granted reality. No doubt that you have heard that “a university degree is the new high school diploma.” Extensive university and college expansions have occurred in all areas across the country to accommodate this growing desire. The 2016 Federal Census revealed that Canada has the highest proportion of university and college graduates in all of the OECD countries, with more than half of adult citizens between the ages of 25 and 64 having such a credential (Statistics Canada, 2017).

There is widespread perception that it is only possible to get a good job by attaining post-secondary education.  Continue Reading →

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Race and employability in private language schools

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What racial identity do you need in order to be considered a competent English language teacher? This question may seem absurd because race seemingly has nothing to do with one’s ability in English language teaching (ELT). However, in a small study examining the experiences of 10 teachers of colour looking for work in various private language schools in Toronto, Canada (see Ramjattan, 2015), I found that these teachers came to understand from employers that being white meant that one was better qualified to teach English. Therefore, the opposite message was that people of colour lacked the competence to teach the language.

These employer sentiments do not exist in a vacuum. Rather, they should be seen as ongoing manifestations of racist,  Continue Reading →

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