Journal — Quote #4

Journal Entry: Quote #4

“… the overriding goal of educational institutions at any level would be to learn how to learn, since specific content becomes obsolete in a fast-changing society.” (Merriam, p.84)

Image from E-Portfolios for Learning.

Image from Ian Fox, as discussed at E-Portfolios for Learning.

This quote, paraphrased from Robert Smith’s work, argues that schooling ought to be less structured than most current educational options — people should have control of a self-paced, learn-as-you-need set of organically adaptive curricula (84). We are beginning to see global efforts to offer free materials online — MOOCs, for instance, mirror semesters of traditional learning with videos of lectures and open source course readings through efforts. An example is this free online John Hopkins University class called University Teaching 101. However, it is unlikely that completion of free web-based offerings will be recognized by academic institutions and employers to the same degree (pun intended) as traditional, tuition-based proof of graduation complete with seal and signature from a major university.

One of my self-assessed strengths is challenging students to engage a variety of paradigms. Whether I’m working with an immigrant having difficulty with an almost mathematical, one-for-one translation approach to language, or a Canadian-born EI recipient struggling with addition and subtraction of fractions, or even a person who immediately blurts out the correct answer but cannot explain how they have reached it, I ask the student to back away from the problem at hand and examine the ideas behind it from several points of view. Sometimes, this approach is met with an exasperated sigh, or even refusal to do the exercise. Often, however, students find this exercise helpful; they are able to attack the problem from a new direction, and achieve more success in this way.

My efforts to have students explain not just their answer, but how they have gotten it, are based upon a general idea that they should own their education. If they are less dependent upon the teacher at a given step in the learning process, they will be more empowered to learn more things, more often — in particular, they will need less assistance to move forward, and be less emotionally dependent upon the approval of a teacher or authority figure for feelings of well-being and success. The exercises I have espoused, however, dwell more deeply in the concept of developing self-reliance than I had previously realized. “To become self-directed learners, students must learn to assess the demands of the task, evaluate their own knowledge and skills, plan their approach, monitor their progress, and adjust their strategies as needed” (Ambrose, 191).

Sadly, my Aha! moment here is a direct result of the political thimblerig played by the provincial and federal governments with post-secondary funding dollars. Information (“specific content”) is outdated (“becomes obsolte”) by technological developments (“in a fast-changing society”); similarly, skills (such as teaching ESL) can be suddenly determined less valuable (largely defunded) by policy makers with no relevant knowledge or experience.

In the past, I have attempted to console those worried about a perceived loss of expertise or excellence — told “I was a writer before I moved here”, I might coach a student to designate alternate goals, or to determine a course of action that might allow them to establish themselves in a similar role here in Canada.

Having experienced governmental interference in my career path several times in the past few years, I understand the feelings of hopelessness associated with what some students perceive to be a useless act. What is necessary is the feeling of control. Current anti-education political will suggests that my efforts to improve as a teacher are a waste of time; what needs to appear is a reasonable positive outcome in order to motivate further action, further introspection.

As an instructor, I must not only give students the opportunity to see things from a different point of view, but a motivating reason to do so. Students chasing a correct answer — like a teacher working paycheque to paycheque or tax return to tax return — might gain short-term results. To build adaptive ability, and thus long-term success that is not reliant upon maintenance of the status quo, requires a desire to establish success through self-evaluation, reflection and the achievement of reasonable goals as opposed to outside measures. Students must be introduced to the process of self-analysis: how they think, how they learn, and how they measure their own successes and failures.

Specifically, I will ask learners what specific skills they are trying to build. Then we will together determine what measures of success are true predictors of ability, knowledge, performance or improvement. This introduction of metacognition may translate into a little more work for me in amassing (or translating) test scores and grades, but it will deliver a more satisfying result to my students.


Ambrose, Susan A. How learning works: seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010. Print.

Merriam, Sharan B., and Ralph Grover Brockett. The profession and practice of adult education: an introduction. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1997. Print.

Journal — Quote #3

Journal Entry: Quote #3

“… historically, immigrant education has been used as a means to promote conformity to ‘mainstream’ society.” (Merriam, p.93)

2008 Figure from Statistics Canada: Study — Canadian Immigrant Labour Market.

Figure from Statistics Canada: Study — Canadian Immigrant Labour Market (2008).

While some look upon education as the exercise of opening one’s mind to new ideas, there are others who criticize programs that merely indoctrinate students to a given set of norms. Whether imparting information, language and cultural mores to immigrant populations, or renovating patterns of thought and behaviour within conquered peoples, powers that be have long used schooling of various methodologies to expand and extend a sort of home court advantage. Indeed, just about any passing of information can be used as a type of indoctrination. Schools enforce learning parameters through grades and awards; sports direct physical and motor skills to be used within set rules, with penalties and fouls for breaking them.

By invoking Carlson’s idea about mainstreaming immigrants through education, Merriam reminds us that some forms of normalizing someone’s knowledge and behaviour can be justified — through an insistence upon behaviour modification as a measure of a prisoner’s ability to fall in line with societal expectations, the justice system aims to bring troubled citizens into a position where they can become productive members of society — but others, such as Canada’s tragic history with residential schools, are an important case of education in the wrong hands being used in all the wrong ways for all the wrong reasons (CBC).

As a teacher, I must consider each reference, intentional or not, to individual cultures, genders and beliefs. Even acknowledging the stereotypical strengths of student backgrounds, such as grammar study in Asia or oral skills in Latin America, can activate a student’s perception that he or she is being judged negatively based upon a stereotype. As Susan Ambrose writes, “the way we frame the material and the task matters–and it has implications for learning and performance” (176).

Framing must take into account not only the students’ backgrounds, but their purposes for learning. Working on a set of information or skills ought to have a statement of purpose other than the fallback position of ‘you have to, that’s why.’ Whether they come on the say-so of a parent, a teacher, a supervisor or a society, variations upon ‘just because’ are not satisfying; in fact, they are discouraging, even disheartening.

Especially in upper level classes, I emphasize the fact that writing and speaking professionally are areas that native speakers have trouble with. In the past, I have done this to empower my internationally-born students — if someone who was born into an English-speaking family uses Toast Masters for public speaking or college preparatory classes for academic writing, then people for whom this language is secondary or tertiary will almost certainly need similar help. I have relied upon stories of students from southeast Asia whose school systems traditionally focus upon learning by rote, for example, and told anecdotes of Canadians learning English grammar rules from ESL.

For many students, these anecdotes help them envision themselves on an equal footing with native speakers, something that often appears on their list of dreams or goals for English language study. However, I will consider wording to see if it is possible to establish this self-image while avoiding references to specific languages and/or cultural backgrounds.


Ambrose, Susan A. How learning works: seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010. Print.

CBC News. “A history of residential schools in Canada.”  CBC/Radio Canada, 7 Jan. 2014. Web. 6 Mar. 2014. <>.

Merriam, Sharan B., and Ralph Grover Brockett. The profession and practice of adult education: an introduction. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1997. Print.

Journal — Quote #2

Journal Entry: Quote #2

“… the most effective adult learning is achieved through dialogue.” (Merriam, p.157)

This is not the discussion you're looking for.  Original source unknown -- image from Stacey O'Neale's Site.

This is not the discussion you’re looking for.
Original source unknown — image from Stacey O’Neale’s Site.

The quote above is excerpted from a portion of the book that discusses giving voices to long marginalized audiences within the educational process. Where classical learning involved an aged expert or scholar imparting a specific portion of knowledge upon a student, the emerging concepts of critical and engaged pedagogies have some suggestions for more successful learning. Critical pedagogy demands that learners have some input regarding the material’s form, content, delivery method and purpose. Engaged pedagogy asks instructors to leave behind the lazy reliance upon “do as I say, not as I do”. Walk the walk, essentially. (ibid.)

I was recently asked to teach an academic prep course, which involves far more planning and marking than other English classes. This quote, along with the passage it comes from, have made me consider the power of modelling as an instructional tool. We emphasize scheduling, planning and organization as study tools, but often scramble to put class notes and exams together for our students. We trumpet flexibility as being paramount, but sometimes refuse to budge on assignment parameters or test procedures.

Just as a piece of vocabulary or specific writing format can be improved through the provision of examples and models, so too can a methodology of instruction effectively beget results from pupils and students. Even with my three-year-old daughter, there is success to be found in engaging her in discussion. “You don’t want to do xyz, sweetheart? That’s fine. What would you like to do?” Assuming her response is within reason, it can be used to build a compromise (“Can we do abc when we finish up with xyz, then?”), strike a bargain (“How about you do abc while mommy and daddy finish xyz?”), or determine a different course of action altogether (“You know, xyz isn’t that important anyway.”)

In adult classrooms, as Wlodkowski suggests, the dialogue ought to be a two-way street. Although the process might be intimidating at first — as the above cartoon attests, teachers can appear standoffish, unapproachable, or even rude; other times, the student’s original culture might warn them away from starting conversation — students have a responsibility to ask questions, both of their peers and their instructors, about class criteria, expectations, etc. They should take the initiative to converse with their teachers, acknowledging that they are, in fact, human beings as well as educators. At the same time, teachers should spend some time learning about their students’ personal goals, expectations, hopes, etc. They must build trust, and project an image that allows students to approach without fear of reprisal or punishment (57).

As suggested in my previous section, my ‘Aha!’ moment was related to my experience as a father. It goes without saying that adult instruction and parenting are two completely different animals. However, I have witnessed extremely similar scenarios where student and child each bristle when confronted with unfettered authority as they attempt to learn a new piece of information or gain comfort with a new skill. In both situations, a simple conversation can determine the true inspiration for their anger: perceived lack of control. By engaging learners in conversation, adult educators and parents both can negotiate, cooperate, or adapt in order to move the process forward. Students and toddlers, however different they may be, share the completely valid desires to voice their concern, to have their voice heard, and to be a part of creating a tenable solution as they learn, practise and master the target material.

Obviously, my action item will not be to treat my students like toddlers. I will, however, spend more time listening to students’ opinions about marking rubric and course design. In English instruction, we encourage students to talk and write about all manners of topics, from politics to parenting, from global issues to tips for avoiding sleep deprivation during a course of study. We even elicit student expectations and learning goals at the beginning of courses, and perform occasional check-ins to revisit progress towards individual and group goals. When it comes to evaluation, marking and correction, however, discussions are often short and/or one-sided. This exercise has me considering ways to include student ideas in the actual rubric of the classes I teach.


Merriam, Sharan B., and Ralph Grover Brockett. The profession and practice of adult education: an introduction. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1997. Print.

Wlodkowski, Raymond J.. Enhancing adult motivation to learn: a comprehensive guide for teaching all adults. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, 2008. Print.

Journal — Quote #1

Journal Entry: Quote #1

“… adult learning should be about developing critical thinkers who examine assumptions and the world in which they live.” (Merriam, p.255)

Rodin's famous sculpture of The Thinker has spawned more jokes than revolutions, but there is no arguing its staying power. Photo from

Rodin’s famous sculpture of The Thinker
has spawned more jokes than revolutions,
but there is no arguing its staying power.
This photo of a kitchen-sized replica

The quote above appears in a chapter of the book devoted to unspoken and invisible elements of adult education, or education in general, for that matter: social change. This paradigm helps explain the objective of some students. Both international and domestic students often lead with the question, “Will this be on the test?” Their studies are focused on satisfying course requirements, rather than the satisfaction of mastering the materials. I don’t remember this being so prevalent when I was in school — of course, it was there, but there was more time for delving into material, and less emphasis on testing, testing, TESTING.

The change is largely driven by governments, who mandate curricula for administrators, who in turn demand teaching outcomes. Over the years, it has led to the apathy of our country; despite massive political shortcomings in Ottawa, the electorate in Canada is, as a whole, rather docile and apathetic. Ditto Victoria and BC. This quote suggests that to truly exercise democracy — broken down as “empowerment, transformation, and emancipation” here (ibid.) — it is the teachers who must encourage their students to think not just outside the box, but whether or not a box is even in the picture.

When I approach western-style ‘Critical Thinking’ in class (caps used purposely here for emphasis),  I’m usually trying to impart some form of cultural awareness; to integrate with English-speaking co-workers more successfully, international students should learn how we think. For example, some educational approaches excel at teaching memorization of words, or plugging data into formulae, or extreme specialization. Others, like the Canadian system, focus more upon the scientific method, questioning of common wisdom, and digging for deeper meaning in a broad range of topics. In Canadian schools and workplaces, we value the transfer of information from one situation to another, and the inventive use of analogy. We call them ‘leaps of logic’, but for some immigrants (and let’s be honest, some more linear-thinking native speakers of English as well — I have a cousin who cannot for the life of himself wrap his head around the concept of irony), these connections can seem random and/or ridiculous. Perhaps there is another level beyond teaching a man to fish. If you leave a man at the edge of the water with a stick and some twine, he’ll invent fishing out of sheer necessity. What comes with that kind of learning through discovery is indeed empowerment, transformation and emancipation.

I’m reminded of a longstanding squabble I had with my wife. It started almost immediately after we met twelve years ago. As a Canadian, I had spent much of my life hiking, backpacking and camping; a Mexican, she was utterly disinterested in joining me. We compromised, but neither of us was really happy. I significantly reduced my outdoorsy activities, but she still gritted her teeth whenever I did go up into the mountains. It was a couple of summers and my enrolment in a Latin American History course at UBC that helped us figure out where the schism came from: I had grown up in the extreme, sheltered comfort of Vancouver’s middle class, completely removed from my grandparents’ Depression- and WWII-era struggles. My wife, on the other had, had toughed her way out of a much more difficult lifestyle in suburban Monterrey. Growing up, I’d never wanted, and only worked when I decided to; she’d had little, and had to scrape and scrimp for every bit of luxury she ever experienced.

Given our backgrounds, then, our tension made sense — if your ancestors have spent decades climbing out of the dirt, and you yourself have worked tooth and nail to gain a decent standard of living, you probably don’t want to walk for seven days in the muck for fun, with your house, clothes and food slung over your shoulders on your holidays. If you have never experienced true desperation or hunger, but rather have had a warm bed followed by breakfast every day of your life, you’re more likely to volunteer to spend a few days wearing the same socks and eating Mr Noodle around a campfire.

Who knew a history course could identify the impetus behind a minor (yet irritating) marital rift? It was only through critically examining each other’s viewpoints that my wife and I were able to understand the tension. Now, when I head for the hills, she’s not upset. And I most certainly don’t hold her anti-hiking preferences against her.

In response to Merriam & Brockett’s quote, then: when a light bulb goes on for a person in my classroom, it might not be illuminating this grammar point, or that communicative approach. There’s a chance it’s not related to the topic we’re discussing, or the class in any way, shape or form. That flash of understanding on a student’s face could be their brain building a new way of seeing their bank statement, or reinterpreting a childhood memory, or contemplating action in response to some high-profile blunder in Ottawa. It could just be that they just remembered that there’s a pastrami sandwich waiting for them after class — not that there’s anything wrong with that. Or it could be that the student has come to an understanding of their spouse that they didn’t have yesterday.

In my approach to the classroom, I will attempt to acknowledge more perspectives from around the box. I have long encouraged my classes to jump out of the box, but rarely have I challenged them to turn it upside down, unfold it or even throw it away. Much as this quote and this blog post have led me on a rambling, meandering path through bureaucratic, domestic and civil politics, I hope to set my students loose on some seemingly aimless journeys to self-discovery.


Merriam, Sharan B., and Ralph Grover Brockett. The profession and practice of adult education: an introduction. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1997. Print.

Lesson Planning — Media

Mignon Fogarty has carved out an online niche for herself as Grammar Girl, deliverer of grammatically correct podcast goodness. Photo from Grammar Girl.

Mignon Fogarty has carved out an online niche
for herself as Grammar Girl, deliverer of
grammatically correct podcast goodness.
Photo from Grammar Girl.


Nearly every level of English language instruction is desperate for authentic, relevant listening materials. One resource that enables English learners to share their experience with native speakers is the Grammar Girl podcastIt’s written and recorded for native speakers who wish to improve their language accuracy, comprising a range of topics such as etymology, register, word choice, common errors, pet peeves and punctuation advice. Until now I have simply advised students to use GG as self-study. I plan to adapt several episodes into multimodal learning tools — for listening, reading (each podcast includes a script) and structural exercises and quizzes.


Fogarty, Mignon. “Grammar Girl.” Quick and Dirty Tips. Macmillan Holdings, LLC, n.d. Web. 7 Mar. 2014.

Lesson Planning — Motivational Techniques

Whoops. Photo from Chicago's Worldly Tastes.

Whoops. Photo from Chicago’s Worldly Tastes.

Motivational Techniques

Judy Pollak and Paul Freda discuss some of the effects — good and bad — that humour can have in education. They write about middle school students, but there are elements that apply to just about any classroom. Many of these rapport and self-esteem suggestions already see regular employ in my lessons; I plan to add a formalized demonstration of the powers harnessed by “trial and error, [and] stumble and recovery”. As the title of this blog suggests, I strongly advise learning from one’s mistakes. In order to learn from them, we must feel free to make them!


Pollak, Judy P., and Paul D. Freda. “Humor, Learning, And Socialization In Middle Level Classrooms.”Clearing House 70.4 (1997): 176. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Feb. 2014.

Lesson Planning — Characteristics of Adult Learners

Characteristics of Adult Learners

Malcolm Knowles’ work in forwarding the concept of andragogy (the teaching of adults, as opposed to pedagogy, the teaching of children) is not new to me. I use many of these concepts and assumptions about adult learners already. However, the Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit page include some quality reminders that can be worked into daily interactions with students.

I plan to explore the difference between traditional views of pedagogy and andragogy in the course introduction next term, in hopes it will encourage students to more quickly claim ownership of their own educational path. At the very least, it will inspire a discussion about differing expectations, teaching styles and learning preferences.


“The Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit.”Adult Learning Theory and Principles. Queensland Occupational Therapy Fieldwork Collaborative. Web. 5 Jan. 2014. < >.


This chart from Educational Technology and Mobile Learning might make for an interesting discussion on the first or second day of term.

This chart from Educational Technology and Mobile Learning might make for an interesting discussion on the first or second day of term.

Lesson Planning — Assessment

"Adding the assessment of multimodal skills, and attempting to  prove links between multimodality and literacy skill development amid these other factors, is, I contend, akin to opening Pandora’s box" (Pandya 181). Image sourced from Myths and Legends.

“Adding the assessment of multimodal skills,
and attempting to prove links between multimodality and
literacy skill development amid these other factors, is,
I contend, akin to opening Pandora’s box” (Pandya 181).
Image sourced from Myths and Legends.


It seems as though language instruction in BC — and across the country for that matter — is moving toward portfolio-based assessment. Articles such as Jessica Zacher Pandya’s Unpacking Pandora’s Box suggest that expanding portfolios to include multimodal content (audio, video, etc.) as well as traditional writings and test results will both empower and energize students who face the unenviable task of proving college-level literacy in a non-native tongue. I spend a lot of time trying to build my students’ confidence; I will consider adding a pairs’ podcast or team videocast assignment to each term.


Pandya, Jessica Zacher. “Unpacking Pandora’s Box: Issues in the Assessment of English Learners’ Literacy Skill Development in Multimodal Classrooms.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 56.3 (2012): 181-185. Academic Search Premier. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Lesson Planning — Bloom’s Taxonomy Action Verbs

Bloom’s Taxonomy

As instructors, we sometimes fall to give clear instructions. Despite telling students to avoid general verbs like do, give, have, get and make, we tend to use them ourselves for the sake of brevity: do this homework, we say, or complete this exercise. The Clemson University Office for Institutional Assessment offers this worksheet, breaking down Bloom’s Taxonomy into six areas of assessment, and providing more robust instructional verbs. I will use these in two ways: 1) to better outline how student work is assessed, and 2) to encourage students to produce clearer theses and/or statements of purpose.

“Bloom’s Taxonomy Action Verbs.” Office for Institutional Assessment. Clemson University, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2014. < >

This graphic from the blog Keep Calm and Solve It is an easy reference to keep scaffolding of tasks in mind. Assessment of students should be fair — this requires fairness of assignment as well as judgement.

This graphic from the blog Keep Calm and Solve It is an easy reference to keep scaffolding of tasks in mind. Assessment of students should be fair — this requires fairness of assignment as well as judgement.

Reference review — Gateway Tools

I’ll be honest: I’m not a huge fan of technology in the classroom. Whether I’m enrolled in a class or teaching it myself, I find that all too often, smart boards and video screens distance the instructor from the student. Frequently, and especially in private ESL schools, where instructors are not always career-focused, professionally motivate teachers, videos and websites are used as last-minute time-savers and lesson plan replacements, as opposed to enhancements to the learning process.

So it is that I chose to read Gateway Tools: Five Tools to Allow Teachers to Overcome Barriers to Technology Integration by Laren Hammonds, Lisa H. Matherson, Elizabeth K. Wilson, and Vivian H.Wright.

The Luddite Laptop, by Big Time Attic.

The Luddite Laptop, by Big Time Attic.

Hammonds et al  write, “Having grown up immersed in technology, the students of today are digital natives, but many of their teachers are often playing catch-up because they are digital immigrants” (36). They cite numerous examples of teachers being uncomfortable with technology in their pedagogy, especially where the instructor lags behind students in the understand and usage of said advances. Hammonds et al suggest that the impetus behind true integration of a given tool in the classroom should not come from students; it should be student-centred, sure, but it needs to be led by an enthusiastic, engaged, computer-literate teacher to be successful.

More after the jump.

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