16 Sep 2016

Lesson Download: Terry Fox, Canadian Hero

The road at the bottom of our street has had the signs posted for days: SPECIAL EVENT.

The Terry Fox Run has been a part of my life since the early 80's, running in school runs and then, joining my sons in theirs. Stretching and warming up on the basketball courts at the front of the school—the principal shouting through a microphone that nobody could hear while the kids shook out their sillies and challenged each other to 100 laps. To me, hands down, Terry is the Great Canadian Hero, not least because he continues to inspire and motivate generation after generation of young Canadians.

I almost fell off my chair one spring when a class of Chinese students from the Maple Leaf school network in China out-fact-ed me on Terry Fox. Guess what: these kids have been running for Terry too. For years. For Terry. (For Cancer). In China.

Because the Maple Leaf schools use British Columbia's curriculum (a unique and special partnership), these middle and high school students not only knew about Terry, but deeply respected him. We had some fun that week! To you, Terry. Thank you.

An oldie-but-goodie blog post about Terry can be found here: Fiona's Other Blog and the ESL lesson I developed for that class can be downloaded here:

(Even if you aren't teaching ESL, it's a great blended-learning lesson that incorporates some very moving listenings from CBC and a YouTube video that will have you reaching for your tissue.)

29 Mar 2016

Out of Office Reply

This month marks the four-year anniversary since I stepped foot in an ESL classroom. One day I was a teacher and then. Well, then I wasn't.

I felt sick one Friday afternoon.

So. There I was, not a teacher, but a patient. A scared, medically-illiterate newcomer patient who no one had time to teach. There was no time.

And then I was a recovering patient, in isolation at home for weeks and months, starting to walk again, trying to digest what I'd been through. Angry for what I had and had almost lost. Grateful for my life but mostly angry. Angry because the doctors had failed in their duty. Angry because the life I had known was altered forever. But mine isn't a story of loss or anger. Nor is it a story of new beginnings. It is a story of starting something fresh and different from a familiar foundation—seeing and doing from a new perspective.

When the anger fog cleared and my strength improved, I still wanted to teach, but, more than anything: I wanted to unite my students with their community. The missing link for me as an adult educator in a domestic ESL environment was that the wealth of cultural and global knowledge my students possessed and shared was locked behind the classroom door at the end of day. My students had so much to give to the community and no one was listening—or took the time to listen.

The safe, inspiring, creative space we had built together allowed so much. Confidence. Language acquisition. Skill development. Cross-cultural awareness (if you've never seen a true example of multicultural diplomacy and negotiation, just watch a group of students from 6 different countries/cultures/language groups complete a project together). I've said it before: the ESL classroom is the shiny pearl of the Great Canadian Multiculturalism Project. It is no accident.

But the Project isn't complete and that inspiring space lacking if it doesn't touch the wider community. As I write this, I think: I'm an evangelist. And that's o.k. You see, when the fog cleared, I decided to bring the stories of these gifted, brave, multi-faceted, skilled, educated "ESL students" to the community. I decided to help them speak and write their knowledge and experiences (in English, of course—I'm an ESL instructor for goodness sake!). I decided to take everything I knew and the incredibly massive amount of things I didn't know—graphic design, publishing, marketing, public relations...the list goes on—and create a new space beyond the classroom door. A space where newcomers and immigrants can say: Hey! I'm here, and this is my story, my background, my culture, my knowledge. And a space where those more established in Canada can say: Welcome! Let me tell you a bit about me, what I know, and about our community.

That awesome space is HERE! MAGAZINEand I'm proud to say that not only has my classroom door burst wide open, but the students are leading the lesson. Just as it should be.

*launched in 2013 from the impossibly beautiful city of Victoria B.C., Canada

10 Nov 2015

Lesson Download: November 11 - Remembrance/Veterans/Armistice Day [RE-POST]

The day is almost upon us and regardless of what you call November the 11th or how you commemorate it, it is an important day of reflection. In the adult ESL classroom, the subject of war can often be considered taboo, as our students have come from such diverse backgrounds. Some of our students have done obligatory military service in Korea, Brazil, Mexico, or elsewhere. Some of our students have been victims of war and endured horrors we can only imagine and that have scarred them and their families forever. Some of our students still bear the pain and, somewhere deep, the grudges of their parents or grandparents who fought in the World Wars. Some students may be reluctant to engage with peers who hail from countries that were once (or may still be) considered bitter enemies of their own country. It is a complicated topic, fraught with landmines of fear, pain, and distrust. Every once in awhile, though, it's important to open the door to discussion, to conflict, to the taboo, if only to take a look and see if we're ready to go there. To grow a little. To understand ourselves and each other a little better. Peace is up to us.

With that, I leave a lesson on November 11, Canadian-style. It's meant to open up discussion and give us all food for thought. I didn't include discussion questions for the song and cloze because I thought it might be nice just to let the students do a private journal reflection after the song. You might get the students to create their own doves at tagxedo.com. Enjoy the lesson - copy it, share it and let me know how it went and what reflections emerged!

If you are curious about the poppy (pic above) and Canadian customs around the poppy, here's my blogpost: "What to Wear - The Poppy (Red is the New Black)"