Reflecting on the 2016 TESL Ontario Conference

Recognizing Abilities & Possibilities

“Strong language skills help immigrants succeed. …We want immigrants to reach their potential and this investment strengthens their ability to get meaningful jobs, advance their careers, or pursue higher education.”

—Laura Albanese, Minister of Citizenship & Immigration

We have just returned from Toronto after a successful TESL Ontario conference. ESL Library was a proud sponsor of the 44th annual event, which took place at the Sheraton Centre during English as a Second Language Week. Our team had two main goals for this year’s conference.

Goal #1: To share our plans for 2017 (including a test run of our digital platform)

Our CEO, Ben Buckwold, presented two sessions during this year’s TESL Ontario conference. The first was titled Integrating Technology Without Interrupting Learning. During this session, Ben unveiled the digital version of ESL Library that will be launched in beta mode at the beginning of 2017. Instead of printing out every lesson, subscribers will soon have the option to push content to their students’ devices.

In the second session, Filling the Gap – ESL Materials for Canadian Teachers, Ben did a live demonstration of ESL Library, focusing on some of the major changes we’ve made in the past year or two to make ESL Library more accessible for Canadian teachers.

Both sessions were a big success (despite minor technology glitches). With standing room only, we couldn’t have been more pleased with the attendance and enthusiasm.

Goal #2: To learn everything we could about PBLA and the needs of Canadian teachers

My role as ESL Library’s head writer was to attend the sessions and learn everything I could about portfolio-based learning assessment. I also wanted to gather feedback from our current subscribers about how our recent additions and changes (tools, assessment tasks, sorting features) are working out for them.

Interestingly, one of the most important things I learned about PBLA was having a positive attitude. The teachers who are able to embrace change and realize the positive aspects of this challenging program are having the most success with it (and so are their students). And thanks to Liset Rieger’s session Why I Love PBLA, I came away with the attitude that I too can learn to love this approach and implement it successfully in our relevant ESL Library sections.

TESL Ontario Conference Takeaways

Of all the conferences I’ve been to over the years, TESL 2016 was the most encouraging. After a variety of informal meetings, sessions, and chats, we came away knowing that we are indeed on the right path and have an important role to play in ESL instruction in Canada. We are meeting our main objective of saving teachers time while keeping learners engaged. Above all, we were grateful to hear that so many students love ESL Library lessons.

And yet, like any library, we are a work in progress. The TESL conference helped us narrow down the work we need to do in the coming year.

Materials we need to develop/add to/edit in 2017

Sitting around a table in my ESL Library T-shirt waiting for a session to begin was where I got the best suggestions from attendees. Here are some of the things teachers asked for:

  • ready-made rubrics (criteria for success) for our assessment tasks (now in progress)
  • materials for literacy
  • more visuals in our lower-level lessons
  • more lessons that focus on soft skills
  • podcasts with real conversations
  • real photographs for newcomers
  • more templates, such as a portfolio/binder contract
  • more lessons on following instructions
  • reading/writing lessons that focus on real-world tasks (community/work/study themes)
  • a chickpea flashcard that doesn’t look like a little bum (fixed, and thanks!)

Considerations for our digital platform

During Ben’s demo, teachers made a number of requests and suggestions for the digital version of ESL Library. Teachers want students to be able to:

  • return to the readings while doing the tasks
  • highlight words and see definitions
  • listen to and read one paragraph at a time
  • upload personalized avatars
  • upload audio/video responses

Teachers are also hoping to drag flashcards onto the screen, record scores, and upload their own content to our platform. E-portfolios are also on teachers’ minds as PBLA will undoubtedly go digital in the next few years.

ESL in Canada

Overall, this year’s TESL Ontario conference was a successful experience for our team. We learned valuable information from the speakers and attendees, and we were overwhelmed by the positive feedback and support from current ESL Library subscribers.

When MPP Laura Albanese spoke at the dinner reception about the importance of Canada’s ESL industry to the successful settlement of newcomers, I think all of the attendees including teachers, administrators, assessors, and materials developers experienced a similar sense of pride. We are doing important work. Let’s continue to recognize the abilities and possibilities of our learners!


PS. Stay tuned for an upcoming review of a fantastic session I attended on authentic speech.


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