The teaching contexts across Canada in which PBLA is implemented are characterized by a range of differences, including the following:
ESL and ESL Literacy learners
CLB Stage 1 learners and CLB Stage 2 learners
Homogeneous classes and multilevel classes
Full-time classes and part-time classes
Settlement-focused , skill-focused, and ESP classes
Consequently, there is no fixed way to integrate PBLA into the teaching/learning cycle. It is advisable, however, to introduce the Language Companion and PBLA separately, especially at lower CLB levels or in ESL Literacy classes. In this way, learners – and their teachers – can first become familiar with the Language Companion as a teaching and learning resource and then be introduced incrementally to PBLA. This minimizes the learning burden and confusion that can occur if too much is introduced too quickly.
This section contains suggestions for teachers to consider as they begin to implement PBLA. But they are only suggestions! While the key features of PBLA must be implemented appropriately and sufficiently for the learners’ CLB level, the specific activities that teachers employ will vary to suit the teacher’s expertise, personal style, and level and context of instruction. Teachers at higher CLB levels may find it easier to introduce and discuss concepts in greater depth; at low CLB levels, in ESL Literacy, or in multilevel classes, concepts and skills may need to be introduced and scaffolded incrementally. Dividing large classes into small groups may streamline the process and provide important peer support. Calling on experienced classmates to assist new learners in continuous-intake programs might also be a helpful strategy.
Introducing PBLA Concepts and Skills
All good teaching involves planning. Because PBLA is an integrated, essential feature of the teaching/learning cycle, teachers must introduce it as they would any other topic, such as a module on safety or job search. At every CLB level, it is essential that teachers take the time to develop the concepts and language skills that learners need in order to participate in PBLA. Effective modelling and skill-building practice are crucial. It is also helpful if teachers can connect the PBLA concepts and skills being learned by learners to contexts outside the classroom.
It is recommended that teachers begin by developing a module/unit plan to introduce PBLA. (A sample module plan intended for CLB 3 and a lesson plan to introduce PBLA are available on Tutela.ca.)
Depending on the CLB level of the learners, teachers might plan activities for the following purposes:
To raise awareness and activate prior learning
How was the learners’ learning assessed in their former countries?
How do learners think learning is assessed in ESL programs in Canada?
To introduce concepts (depending on CLB level)
The idea that a portfolio contains a selection of language tasks, not every worksheet completed by a learner
The use of portfolios in education and in some professions in Canada
Taking responsibility for one’s learning in education and training situations
Being active, reflective learners
The expectation in Canada of self-awareness, individual responsibility for performance, and initiative in workplaces and education/training
The importance in language training of demonstrating what one can do in English rather than what one knows (rules)
Some teacher have said that their learners want to put every paper or activity they complete into their portfolios. The ‘My Notes’ is the place for all the ongoing worksheets. ‘My Portfolio’ should only contain specific artefacts needed for PBLA.
To develop vocabulary and useful phrasesneeded to participate in PBLA.
The PBLA information in the preface of the Language Companion may be useful for learners with the requisite reading skills. For others, you may need to modify the content.
CLB, criteria, what to watch for, language task, skills, competency, assess, feedback, and so on.
To develop language skills for specific PBLA-related language tasks
Listening: Understand and follow directions from the teacher related to portfolios, such as Find this learning activity, Put your name (or the date) on the paper, Fill out the inventory, Put the learning activity into your portfolio, Put the paper in the “Speaking” section, Put this paper after the divider, and so on
Listening and Speaking: Discuss their needs and goals
Speaking: Talk about their progress in learning English
Reading: Read and answer information about the CLB or about PBLA. (See information about CLB and PBLA in the preface section of the Language Companion.)
Writing: Fill out a inventory for a skill section of their portfolio
Some situations in federal and provincial language-training programs may present particular challenges for teachers when implementing PBLA.
It can be a challenge at CLB Stage 1 and in ESL Literacy classes to communicate the intention and process of PBLA because of language barriers. This is similar to the experience of many teachers when introducing any new learning activity to beginning speakers of English. Usually, the first few times the learners do a new learning activity, they require considerable support and direction from their teacher. However, in time, they become increasingly comfortable and independent even if they do not entirely understand or appreciate the purpose of the activity. The introduction of PBLA may be similar. At first, learners may not understand what they are being asked to do or why, but familiarity will increase as the PBLA processes are modelled, especially if PBLA activities occur regularly and instructions and protocols are consistent. Nevertheless, learners from educational backgrounds that are teacher directed may require ongoing encouragement to take more responsibility for managing, reflecting on, and assessing their own learning. Learners with limited or interrupted formal schooling may need extended levels of support and reminders.
I introduce [learners] to the CLB and the Essential Skills using the posters in my room. We look at their learner cards and their current scores. I use a number line to indicate where they are in each skill area. I stress to them that their portfolio will be a collection of tasks they are learning and that by keeping their portfolio they will be able to see how much they are learning.
– Mary Jean Davis, Winnipeg School Division
Adult EAL Program, EAL Literacy Phase 2
Continuous intake presents a range of challenges to ESL teachers every day. Learners arrive at different times throughout the term, and in some programs, throughout the week or even throughout the day. These learners need to be brought into the “community” of the classroom. Teachers constantly need to find time to determine what the learners can do and what skills they need to address. PBLA both assists with these challenges and presents others.
One benefit is that a learner arriving from another class or program implementing PBLA should arrive with a Language Companion and portfolio of work done previously. A scan of the content can tell a teacher a lot about the new learner’s proficiency, strengths, and difficulties.
A learner newly referred by an assessment centre will need to be oriented to both the Language Companion and PBLA. A needs assessment and other baseline info will need to be collected. Several strategies can make this process easier:
Have packages of forms and tools ready to use with new learners.
Wait until later in the week to give all the new learners that week their Language Companion and to provide orientation.
Recruit volunteers to your program to support Language Companion orientation. Provide the volunteers with guidelines on how you want the Language Companion introduced.
Work with a colleague so that once a week one of you provides orientation to the Language Companion and PBLA while the other leads a joint activity with both classes.
Partner the new learner with an experienced learner for support while doing initial PBLA-related activity.
Learners in continuous-intake classes will not have the same contents in their portfolios. A learner arriving partway through the term will only have contents from their arrival onward. Teachers will review the new learner’s portfolio at the end of term along with the other learners’ portfolios. While evidence may show that the learner has made progress, there may not be sufficient evidence to indicate that the learner has attained a new CLB level.
The Multilevel Class
Many adult ESL classes are multilevel, combining several CLB levels or types of learners (e.g., ESL and ESL Literacy). For a fuller discussion see Integrating CLB Assessment into Your ESL Classroom. (2016). Chapter 5: Adapting Assessment for Multilevel Classrooms. Implementing PBLA in multilevel classes is facilitated by the following strategies:
Recruit volunteers to support instruction and PBLA in the classroom.1
Group learners together for learning activities and assessment tasks.
For a particular task, use the same text but differentiate the activity according to level, or use different texts and have learners do the same activity. For example, for a CLB 2-3 task that involves writing about a class event, group 1 completes sentence stems and group 2 writes complete sentences. Use similar prompts for reflection activities.
Develop assessment tasks that span several levels: that is, tasks that address criteria from several CLB levels.
Assess different groups of learners on different days.
The 2010 Evaluation of the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) Program reports that “teachers who placed work-like expectations on their learners tended to have learners more committed to attending and being on time….Teachers who had lax standards … had learners who were more likely to show up late and take long breaks” (p. 15).
Another challenge for teachers and learners is regularity of attendance. Learners who are frequently absent may not have the particular artefacts that the teacher wants included in the portfolio or may not collect enough material in their portfolios to assess for CLB outcomes. Learners who frequently arrive late or leave early may also have insufficient material for assessment. Programs without policies for attendance and arrival and departure times may need to introduce and enforce clear guidelines. Teachers may need to remind learners frequently that their portfolio will be used to determine their CLB level at the end of the course. If learners have insufficient data as a result of irregular attendance, the teacher won’t be able to make a CLB decision.
Some learners may be focused on attaining specific CLB levels that are required for admission into a post-secondary program or for occupational training. They may initially think that maintaining a language portfolio and participating in the discussions and reflections on learning that are integral aspects of PBLA takes away from their language learning. It is helpful to tell them that these activities have a proven track record for promoting learning. It is also useful to emphasize that being able to set appropriate language-learning goals, monitor their own progress, and adjust their learning plans based on assessment feedback are very important skills in academic and workplace settings. Learners may need to be reminded that the contents of their portfolios will be the basis for determining their CL B outcome level. Therefore, they cannot opt out of PBLA. However, experience has shown that once engaged in PBLA, learners find that the ongoing feedback enhances their learning and is motivating.
Learners take their lead from their teachers. The 2010 Evaluation of the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) Program notes that teachers “who were enthusiastic had learners who were enthusiastic” (p. 15).
1Volunteers are not responsible for instructional decision-making. They should work under the direction of the teacher to support instruction. Volunteers should not assess learners.