This section covers scheduling and organizing topics for considerations before introducing PBLA in your classroom.
Planning with the End in Mind
With PBLA, the instructional cycle is one of plan, teach, assess, and reflect. Ongoing assessment as an integrated aspect of instruction is fundamental to PBLA and key to enhancing learning.
You can facilitate regular assessment throughout the instructional cycle by planning at the module level as well as the lesson level. This means that when you are planning a particular a module, such as “Going Shopping,” you begin by establishing the following:
The language tasks you will teach
The CLB competencies that will be addressed in those tasks
The skills that will be required for learners to carry out the tasks.
The information learners need about the social context
The tasks you will assess at the end of the module
How you will assess those tasks
For more information about planning for assessment, see Holmes (2005), available from the Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks.
I teach 10 hours/week so modules can run for two weeks to a month. I usually teach a module for several weeks and assess interspersed throughout the module – though if it is a very new topic and a significant amount of skill-building has been necessary, then I will assess at the end.
I try very hard to assess all four skill levels for a module. Before I begin teaching I map out what the final assessment pieces will be and then how to get there. Occasionally a skill that I was hoping to assess is still too raw, and I will transfer the skill to the new module theme and work on/assess it there.
I assess tasks formally. Throughout the process, informal assessment happens between peers and self-assessment. I try to 1) teach the skill; 2) practise the skill and have learners self-assess/peer-assess with some teacher feedback; 3) formally assess and give feedback.
– Jennifer Loewen. Winnipeg Technical College EAL Program
Organizing time for PBLA
As has been stated, PBLA is an integral aspect of the teaching/learning cycle and therefore cannot be treated as an add-on. The teaching day will not be lengthened to accommodate PBLA, and accelerating one’s instruction will have negative consequences for everyone. Teachers need to adjust their lesson plans to accommodate PBLA activities appropriately and effectively. Some other practices may need to be modified so that PBLA can be implemented effectively to the benefit of learners and teachers.
Integrating Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategies and including an assessment and feedback phase into lesson plans may require more instructional time than teachers devoted to a module before they began using PBLA. A module that once took three days to teach without an assessment component and portfolio activities may now take a week.
This means that teachers may not be able to cover as many themes or modules as they might have prior to using PBLA. That is okay. The benefits of incorporating PBLA and the valuable Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategies it employs outweigh any reduction in thematic content.
“No time to give and use feedback” actually means “no time to cause learning.”
– Grant Wiggins (2012)
(Leading authority on AfL)
It is recommended that teachers schedule a regular time each week to do portfolio management activities, such as putting artefacts into the portfolio, filling out the inventory, etc. so learners (and their teacher!) become accustomed to the practice. These portfolio times could be used for some of the following activities:
Give back an assessment task that you had collected for marking.
Have learners reflect on the feedback.
Have learners work in groups to share strategies for practising or improving their English or to make an action plan.
Have learners correct errors, writing the correct answers beside the original rather than erasing the original.
ESL Literacy or CLB 1-3 learners will likely need some direction from the teacher when they put artefacts in their portfolios. You might have learners work in groups to identify the skill section for the task or to record artefacts on the inventories. Learners might be asked to reflect on their language learning that week for their portfolio and/or to complete a self-assessment activity.
For PBLA to be effective in enhancing language learning, it must be a regular part of the teaching/learning cycle. Regular PBLA activities help both the teacher and learners become comfortable with the routines and expectations. Planning becomes easier. Many teachers in classes that meet five days a week start out scheduling a PBLA time once a week. Most, however, find that because PBLA is good teaching practice, it becomes a part of their everyday activity. Learners, too, begin to use their Language Companion binders every day to store their work or to find settlement information and helpful vocabulary.
The schedule that teachers decide to follow depends on the frequency with which classes meet. For classes that meet five days a week, some teachers schedule a 30- to 45-minute period on Friday afternoons for learners to do PBLA management activities. Others like to schedule a PBLA time at the beginning of the week to review the previous week’s work. They can hand back assessment tasks, discuss feedback, have learners put the artefacts into their portfolios, complete the inventories, and do a learning reflection. Try out different schedules to find out what works for you.
For classes that meet only two or three times a week, teachers might schedule 30 to 45 minutes every two weeks for learners to put artefacts into their portfolios, or may incorporate a PBLA-related activity, such as a short learning reflection, daily. Again, try out different schedules to find out what works for you and best engages learners in PBLA and their language learning.
PBLA Activity throughout the Term
Below is a table showing the PBLA key activities required during a program term. Scheduling will vary depending on a variety of factors, including the length of the program.
At the Beginning
Introduce Language Companion
Familiarize learners with binder sections, uses of binder and expectations
Develop language learners will need, such as instructions like “Put the paper behind the divider”…
Introduce the CLB and PBLA
Set up Portfolio
Collect baseline data for “About Me” (e.g., entering language levels, needs assessment, goal statement, autobiography) and baseline language samples
Begin collecting language tasks for the Portfolio
During the Term
Have learners add artefacts to their portfolios and record the artefacts on their portfolio inventory (during regularly scheduled PBLA time)
Continue collecting language tasks for the Portfolio
Have learners do learning reflections and self-assessments
Consider a periodic review of portfolio by teacher and dialogue with learners about progress
At the End
Review of portfolios to complete Learner Progress Reports or Learner Conference Summaries
Continue assessment tasks, if appropriate, and regular portfolio activity
Discuss progress report/learner conference summary in context of portfolio review during teacher/learner interviews
Keeping Track of Portfolio Contents
Teacher’s Master Checklist
Keeping a master checklist of the artefacts that learners add to their portfolios is essential. The checklist also helps you to monitor PBLA and to ensure that you have administered a sufficient number of assessment tasks in each skill area and that the full range of competencies has been adequately addressed.
The master checklist helps keep you on track so that at the end of the term, there is no sudden discovery that too few listening tasks were included or that assessment tasks only assessed information competencies. A master checklist also facilitates the portfolio review process. These can be as simple as keeping a “teacher’s version” of the Portfolio Skill Inventories.
Portfolio Skill Inventories
Inventories for each skill section help with the process of monitoring the learners’ progress. Learners need to maintain a dated inventory for each skill section of their portfolio (refer to examples in Part B: SUPPLEMENT: Portfolio Forms). A quick scan of an inventory reveals the artefacts that the learner has added to that section of the portfolio. The inventories should record the tasks and competencies addressed. An overview of all of the inventories helps both the teacher and the learner to see the scope of completed tasks and to identify gaps.
Maintaining an inventory is a useful transferable skill. It not only contributes to the overall organization of the portfolio, but it also has relevance in other home, school, community, and work contexts. For learners with little education, maintaining and using an inventory is a very helpful metacognitive skill to acquire.
Reviewing Portfolio Contents
Periodically, it is important for teachers to take a look at the learners’ portfolios to ensure that they are being maintained and kept organized. The Portfolio is housed in the Language Companion (see the section Language Companion for further information). At this time, teachers can offer feedback to their learners on the progress that is reflected in the portfolio. Teachers may need to continue to remind learners of the importance of PBLA to their language learning. Learners may also need to be reminded of their PBLA responsibilities. Generally, however, teachers using PBLA have found that effective use of Assessment for Learning strategies motivates and encourages learners.
One learner in a Winnipeg School Division ESL Literacy class said he can use a Table of Contents now to find papers in the work binder at his job because it is like the inventory in his Language Companion.
– Mary Jean Davis
The Learning Curve
For some reason, patient, supportive, and excellent adult ESL teachers who always scaffold learning activities so learners are not overwhelmed by the learning burden often do not do that for themselves. They set demanding professional standards for themselves and often have unrealistic expectations of immediately being able to integrate all the aspects of PBLA into their instruction. These conscientious teachers can all too quickly become anxious and stressed out because of the changes to which they are trying to adapt and their expectation that these changes will occur immediately.
Taking It Slowly
Real change takes time! Teachers are encouraged to take it slowly and to expect a period of uncertainty.
Rather than trying to do everything at once, you can phase in PBLA one key feature at a time. You might begin by introducing the Language Companion and using it regularly in class for a week or so, just for information about settlement topics or language learning and for storing worksheets and handouts. Then, as learners become accustomed to using their Language Companion in some way every day, begin to introduce other aspects of PBLA and “About Me” activities one by one over a period of time. Encourage learners to put each artefact as it is completed into the portfolio and record it on their inventory.
When learners are comfortable with that routine, try an assessment task. For the first instructional module using PBLA, you might plan to assess one skill only. After doing the task and discussing feedback, have the learners date the task, file it in the appropriate portfolio section, and enter it on the portfolio inventory. At the end of the week (or on Monday, as a review), learners could do a learning reflection and add it to the portfolio. Following this pattern, add more aspects of PBLA incrementally as you gain confidence.
Some items for the “About Me” section, such as a needs assessment or goal statement, need to be done early in the term. Others might be addressed in various modules throughout the term. For example, in a module on the community, learners might discuss similarities and differences between their new community in Canada and their previous community. This could be followed by an activity focused on prioritizing skills that they think they will need in their new community or job in Canada and a self-assessment of those skills. The results can be dated and included in the “About Me” section of the portfolio. Throughout the course, other language samples related to the CLB outcomes are added to the portfolio.
Developing Familiarity with Processes
When you first begin doing portfolio activities with your learners, you will probably need to go through the process step by step. You might have to be quite directive, depending on the CLB level. For example, after a module on health, you might say:
“We did a lot of work on health this week. Think about what you learned about health and about the activities you did. Write a short message about what you now know about health that you didn’t know before, what language skills you learned, when you used or will use your new skills outside the class, and what your favourite activity was.”
It is important to keep in mind that most learners entering language training will be unfamiliar with PBLA and may not initially perceive the benefits to them and their language learning. There are likely to be growing pains – awkward times when problems develop or something does not work out as planned.
Adjusting to Change
Typically, teachers report feeling more comfortable with practice:
In Term 1 – They feel hesitant, confused, and frustrated at times. Everything is new, and every practice takes adjustment and trial and error. Some teachers say they feel less competent.
In Term 2 – They begin to feel more in control as they find effective practices and strategies. More activities become routine, although there are still new responsibilities to implement, which can cause initial uncertainty.
In Term 3 – They find a rhythm and way of working that seems effective. They are beginning to repeat the PBLA cycle and are able to do so more effectively and with increasing confidence. They still have many questions but are beginning to refine their practice to enhance learning for learners.