Give me land, lots of land


A sad fact of living in a large country such as Canada is it’s cheaper, and takes less time, to fly to other countries than across this one. As a result, many Canadians are more familiar with Punta Cana beaches than the shores of the Canadian Atlantic.

My opportunity to visit Saskatchewan was fortuitous; I was invited to the SK TEAL/ TESL SASK Conference as a speaker, and am grateful to have had the opportunity to visit the province for the first time.
Flying in and out of Regina, I chose the view rather than the in-flight entertainment, provided for me by Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism.  The myriad of lakes across the landscape create a paisley fabric, and each square has been branded by a tractor/combine: some patterned, some striped, some plain, some with no discernible pattern, but captivating as a foil for the careful checkerboard surrounding it. I won’t tell you anything new when I say the prairies are flat, so flat. Coming from YYZ, the open stretches of graphic farmed land are in sharp contrast to the developed suburbs I live in. How we tame the land to make it work for us, not against us, defines us regionally, I think. However, the 4-patch quilt that is Saskatchewan evoked what’s bred in the bone; a farmer’s daughter feels a connection to the land wherever she is.

The people I met were friendly, open, generous, and happy. My cab driver humoured me and took me on a scenic tour of the city, no extra charge. A volunteer, Anna Edoo, ferried me from the conference and back, insisting on taking me to Shoppers Drug Mart so that I could purchase some necessities to feel comfortable in my hotel. And she kept me company both days, ensuring I wouldn’t sit alone. My time with the TESL Saskers/SK TEALers ended with a lovely dinner at Rock Creek Grill. The conference organizers made me feel part of their conference – I did not have to try to fit in, because I found my place. The other presenters, the keynotes, touched on topics that may not be the issues which face Ontario language teachers, but gave me a history lesson of English language teaching in Saskatchewan within the framework of national language policies.

Ontario’s heritage language program, now called the International Languages Elementary Program, still receives funds for families to educate children in their mother tongues. Ontario is home to 6 out of 36 communities which have “an existing Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) Service Provider Organization (or Quebec equivalent) in place to provide immediate and essential specialized services for refugees.” (Government of Canada, Map of destination communities and service provider organizations).
Saskatoon and Regina are also two of these 36 chosen communities, yet this year, the government of Saskatchewan pulled funding for their heritage language program, a total of $225 000. This on the heels of 200 Government Assisted Refugees from Syria arriving in the school district of Regina where I visited, in a city of just over 100 000.

Teachers are concerned with supporting these new families without the necessary support workers in place. They are ready for the task, but the task is great. Dr. Jaswant Guzder, who spoke about the importance of creating cultural safety, acknowledged the stress of hearing stories of trauma, but encouraged educators to play the role of a mother …”You are not trauma workers, and you shouldn’t be. Look at your role as that of a mother: when they come to you with your stories, you do what a mother does and you must hold that story for them, close to your heart.”

What could Ontario learn from Saskatchewan? The Ministry of Education, the Honourable Liz Sandals, ought to take a few pages from the policies and hearts of Saskatchewanian educators and start putting solid policies in place which recognize the history, the rights, the challenges First Nations Métis Indigenous peoples face in Ontario. The conference began by acknowledging that the site of our professional development sat on Treaty 4 land. Each classroom contained posters and art featuring Cree and FNMI symbols. Sessions included how to deal with the influx of refugees as well as how to incorporate FNMI into 21st century classroom practices. Every conversation I had touched on the importance of acknowledging and supporting indigenous students in schools.  The Attawapiskat community reels from its tragedies, but their needs were in our periphery for a just few days, then forgotten again.

I left Regina with a bigger heart and an open mind. That open prairie sky, so big, can make you feel small, insignificant. But small people can accomplish great things.

References: Government of Canada, Map of destination communities and service provider organizations. Retrieved from


Bringing it (All) Together

Sometimes it takes a small thing, or a series of small things, to make connections for us.

A random post by someone in a chat yesterday inspired today’s blog. The comment in the chat was about profiles on Twitter, and how this individual didn’t see the importance of having one. The reasoning behind it was: she uses Twitter for professional, not personal, reasons, so doesn’t want to share anything on Twitter that’s about her.

Last week, I responded to a personal post from our Ontario maestro, Doug Peterson. The reason: someone was eating pączki on the “wrong day” and I noticed that the Polish translation of Tłusty Czwartek in a newspaper article had been incorrectly presented as Fat Tuesday. A conversation ensued with the end result: my posting the recipe for Polish pickle soup on his FB page. I didn’t think non-Poles knew of it or would even like it, but he does.

What is the connection?

I follow Doug because of all the things he shares about technology, education, and his support of Ontario educators in all our shapes and sizes, but the only times I’ve engaged him on social media is when something non-educational that he shared has captured my eye: flying turkeys, Toronto millionaires’ mansions for sale, or children enjoying Polish donuts on the wrong day. Does Doug know I appreciate him for his expertise if I reply only to the sidebars?

Julie Szyj co-moderates the New Teachers to Twitter chat on Saturdays #NT2T. I never thought to connect with her directly outside of the chat until she posted a photo last year that felt so familiar, yet unfamiliar, to me. Turns out, her father comes from the same part of Poland my father was from, and they would have been approximately the same age the year her photo was taken. I noticed the word “gardener” on her profile and we exchanged some tips and information about that as well.

Yesterday, Naomi Epstein’s blog caught my eye. I connected with Naomi originally through #ELTchat. She has been posting about family photos and letters she has received about relatives in Poland (Belarus by today’s boundaries) and she’s trying to piece the story together from the 1930s to 1940. Her request to decipher Polish handwriting inspired me to chat with her about our families’ wartime experiences. She said something that stuck with me.

I set aside some time today in my busy life and have pulled out all my father’s old documents he kept from the war onwards. Julie is exploring her roots; my father only shared his experience with me once before he died, but left me all his documents. Naomi hasn’t finished telling her family’s story, but has hinted at unhappy times. My father’s unhappy times are recorded in the old attaché case where I keep these:

I took photos of these three documents because they tell my father’s story starkly: his identity card for ex Prisoners of War, the proof that he was kept in a concentration camp, and his landed immigration card, stamped by Canadian Immigration in Halifax, N.S., on May 28, 1950.

Doug issued a challenge to Ontario educators: challenge others within our education circles to submit “Bringing IT Together 2016” proposals, to be held in Niagara this November. I challenged a friend, she challenged me back, and I’ve seen other challenges come up in my feed ever since. I am connected to Doug, to Julie, to Naomi because I use Twitter for professional reasons, but the connections I have are personal, and it’s because they’ve all shared a piece of themselves that made me want to connect with them more. And they brought this all together for me.




iPad Project – Week 2

The second week with iPads has ended with my students and I think everything has gone well.

I enjoyed seeing the absorption in tasks – everyone has their heads down and is working on task – this is great to see.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the engagement with students.  What I mean by that is reaching out to me and telling me how much they’re enjoying themselves:

Arantxa iPad


And their social media photos:

Finally! iPads

I’m also impressed that the iPads are not ruling the classroom.  I try to go half and half, but sometimes, especially when annotating or peer editing, students are opting to use pen and paper, and others are interested in using inote for annotation, but then deciding to go the pen/paper route. Not sure if it’s the adult aspect, but we are definitely selecting the appropriate tool for the task, and not choosing tech for the task.

The activity that went very well was my New York Times lesson on plagiarism in a digital age. Even though the activity is meant for teachers as a lesson plan, I thought it would be beneficial for the students to address the text from the perspective of: who is the intended audience, what is the message, who are the authors, and why did they write this. It’s a task we do with all our reading texts. After the activity, many commented on the fact that they enjoyed seeing how lesson plans are developed for teachers and how teachers approach topics for classroom content. I want to devote tomorrow’s blog post to the whole activity.

The NYT plagiarism activity was a success for me as a teacher, and an even larger success for the students. I polled them informally about the process and asked them what worked/didn’t work. One interesting, recurring comment was the annoyance a group member might have toward another member because he/she didn’t do her part. “I was relying on that information, it’s not fair that it wasn’t included,” she stated. Accountability for an unassessed in-class activity, and I’m not the one making the point. I couldn’t ask for more.

Another positive comment from the students: “I didn’t think I would spend this much time reading and preparing for the next day; I know people would rely on me, and I was interested in the types of research I found.” Perhaps the technology was the reason for the motivation amongst students. I’m interested in exploring this notion more in the coming weeks.

All in all, an excellent two weeks. I am looking forward to our vocabulary apps and collaborative space in Edmodo for our next task of comparison essay writing. Tomorrow, I’ll post about the New York Times plagiarism activity.

Creative Problem Solving: What’s the Point?

“Barriers” 1st day warm up activity Photo credit: Anna Bartosik, 2015

The new year brings resolutions, or at least the intent to make them. In January, gyms are full, people are chewing gum furiously at their desks, a proliferation of kale salads permeates the formerly brassica-free work place, and everyone is still on target.

What we never achieve, however, is changing how we approach our resolutions.

How many of us were at this very same place this time last year, resolving to quit the various habits we wished to break? And how many of us were successful?

Sorry to be a downer.

That attitude is what limits us. The “what is the point” approach to our work situations. “What can you do? Nothing.” is the question/answer I grew up hearing. Accepting limits because we’ve never been able to move past them is the most paralyzing attitude anyone can have. It is often not the real barriers, but the perceived ones, which prevent us from progressing.

At this time last year, I was in the process of conducting information interviews to help me focus on a direction. I approached many individuals, but I made sure to only ask for 10 minutes and limit the meeting to 5 questions. These answers stayed with me:

  1. Assume you can do it until someone tells you that you can’t. At least then you’ll know where the real barriers are.
  2. Look for passive opportunities. They are everywhere, but no one is taking advantage of them.
  3. I only accepted this meeting because I have been waiting for a faculty member to approach me with this type of request, and you’re the first one who’s done it.

These pieces of advice helped shape 2015 for me. To begin 2016, I enrolled in a creative problem solving workshop. It was 3 days out of my down time before classes begin this week. Precious time wasted, someone observed. Why would you go back to work before you have to?


  • It was the first time this workshop was open to part-time faculty
  • I needed to ease myself back into work without actually “working”
  • I like networking with individuals from other disciplines at the college; we don’t have these opportunities often
  • The school slogan is “Get Creative”
  • I thought this workshop would provide a different perspective
  • It will look good on my CV

All honest reasons, but the last one is the most honest. I wasn’t prepared for the results, however. This is what I got out of it:

  • New connections at the college
  • A better understanding of how I approach problems and where my strengths lie
  • I don’t like being pigeon-holed so I work extra hard to demonstrate different abilities
  • I don’t agree with how others perceive me, and this was a common theme amongst many at the workshop
  • My problems are the same as everyone else’s
  • Perceived barriers are just that
  • Vulnerability is not a bad thing; it’s real
  • The language we use creates barriers as well

And the unexpected benefits:

  • A possible opportunity to make use of my skills
  • A “real” chance to work a client through the creative problem solving process less than 48 hours after I completed the workshop
  • The generation of ideas for one of my own problems
  • A determination to plan for 2016 on paper, so I can see it and refer to it

Creative problem solving. There is no point to it. There are many.


Beginner’s Guide: Week 1 of the iPad Project

Week 1 of the iPads and I’ve become used to people cutting in front of me in the hallways as I squeak my way to class with the IKEA back-wheel drive cart. The iPads were received well in class. After the jokes about students not having $600 for replacing one of them if they have drinks spilled on them, that is.

My challenges last week were to find the right balance between using and abusing the tablets in class. How much is too much? The tendency to play with technology for no other reason than to play with technology is real. I conducted a pre-project and midweek poll with my students through Google Forms, made available to them via my LMS. No logging in was necessary, so feedback was completely anonymous.

Some of my questions for the students and their responses:

ipad survey 1

There was a steep learning curve in the beginning, especially getting used to logging into each app as we used it for the first time. Google Docs was particularly frustrating, since it bears little resemblance to the desktop version. Everyone is helping each other, however; I rarely have to walk over to a student to assist because I’m projecting my iPad’s screen on the projector, and the students can follow along.

ipad survey 2

There are a few students who are not very connected with their devices, but I do not have anyone in the class who is unfamiliar with a smart phone or how a computer operates. The class is an advanced reading/writing English for Academic Purposes group, so providing assistance with verbal instructions should not be an issue. Some teachers have asked whether it would be a good idea to use them with students at lower levels because of their lack of comprehension; I say take the opportunity to transform process of operating the iPads into a lesson on listening and following instructions.

ipad 3

For all that talk about digital natives, I have yet to encounter a student who uses technology extensively to study English. From the information in the bar graph above, the students mostly use their phones solely as dictionaries or laptops for doing homework. So much for digital natives knowing more than the teacher. Myth: busted.

ipad 4

This question I was a little concerned about, but no one hates the idea. I can deal with the nervous but willing.

ipad 5

I’m glad someone responded with collaboration, because that is one of my main reasons for using the iPads. I also like the additional benefit one student mentions – he/she will learn something about technology as we study reading and writing. The student who says “this process will be boring” means the process of learning English can be boring, I think!

ipad 6

The two surveys I’ve done – one pre- and one halfway through the week – show that everyone is on board and is ready to get to work. Their concern is, for the most part, not that we are using iPads, but how it will assist them in learning. I will pay attention to the 20 percent who think we use too much edtech in the classroom and provide a balance or options in most cases.

Stay tuned for the next installment, Week 2 – when we examine a difficult reading task and use the iPads to assist and enrich our understanding of the text.


How to Source 25 iPads with No Money

iPad B and W

This week l began using iPads in my English for Academic Purposes (EAP) ESL reading and writing class; we’ll have them for the next seven weeks. My intention is to reflect here on my blog about what we’re doing and what’s working/isn’t working.

Some Bonuses

Most of the students know me, so they’ve been exposed to my techie enthusiasm and had to deal with it. They’ve dealt with it. Period.

I have access to an ID support staff member for iPad reimaging and technical issues.

I got around the “no extra funds” issue by buying some styluses with petty cash funds.

The variety of free iPad apps is super.

How I use the iPads is up to me. No conditions except a debriefing afterwards.

The librarian doesn’t have to come during a mutually-agreeable scheduled lab to deliver her “Using the Library Database” workshop. Sweet!

The Purposes               

To provide an EAP advanced reading and writing class access to iPads, used for collaborative writing, reading, and vocabulary activities

To see if using technology (a personal device) influences student motivation to do things they don’t usually enjoy doing

To observe whether edtech provides learners with the ability to manage linguistically challenging material successfully, with some teacher guidance

The Objectives

  • incorporate iPad use in the classroom to enhance classroom learning
  • replace some of the need for textbooks by using online sources for reading
  • offer alternatives to paper-based writing tasks
  • provide collaborative spaces for students to read, write, and share research synchronously and asynchronously
  • foster motivation in learning by employing iPads
  • develop research methods through the use of iPads for essay writing
  • use sketchnote apps to annotate and illustrate reading texts (this will be a blog entry on its own)
  • empower students by showing them how to develop their own study tools through iPad apps.

The Apps

The Google Drive “suite”


  • gFLash+
  • Flashcards
  • TOEIC vocabulary
  • Dictionary


  • Paper 53
  • iSketchnote
  • Notepad+

Test Prep

  • TOEIC Vocabulary
  • IELTS Skills


  • Nearpod
  • Socrative


  • Nearpod

Collaborative Writing

  • Zoho Writer
  • Evernote
  • Edmodo


  • EssayBuilder
  • RefMe


  • Padlet
  • Popplet
  • Simplenote
  • SimpleMind+
  • Stickyboard
  • OneNote

Good-to-haves in Anna’s Class

  • ThingLink
  • NPR News
  • EnGrammar
  • Poll Everywhere
  • Pocket
  • Voice Record
  • Twitter
  • Skype
  • Audiobooks
  • Oxford Books
  • Kindle

I’ve given the class a pre-project survey and plan to check in with them once midway and again at the end to get some anonymous feedback.

One sad note: these iPads have been sitting untouched, in plain sight, for six months before today. No one else asked to use them. I have decided to think of this positively and put it out there as a message of encouragement for teachers; there are opportunities lurking to use mobile devices and technology in educational institutions even when there is no money for additional funding. All that is necessary is a set of observant eyes and the right question:

“Can I use these in my class?”

Stay tuned as I report back periodically about my experiences.

Smashing Breaking News Generator Tool with Capzles, an Online Timeline

Following our successful edtech PD event at work; a summary of my presentation

App smashing refers to the process of using two apps together because, even though everyone says “there’s an app for that,” in edtech, gaps often exist between what can be done and what a teacher wants to do.

This was the case when I came across these two apps as my advanced reading and writing class was reviewing tenses. I had been thinking of digital timelines, but wasn’t motivated to try one until Breaking News Generator and Capzles showed up separately in my Twitter feed one morning.

I began the activity with my class in the computer lab that day.

Breaking News Generator

Breaking News - blog example template
Breaking News Generator Template

This is a how one of three screens in Breaking News Generator appears. It is a static tool that you can personalize to suit your needs. The screen capture news page changes as you type your desired content on the left side of the screen. Images can be uploaded and positioned as well, although I have had a lot of fun keeping this particular image and using it for examples. The “date” information is key, since it will be used to arrange the news stories later on.

Encourage students to think of a historical event, a story that is in the news at the moment, and a possible news story that might take place in the future. For demonstration purposes, I found it best to begin with a familiar  event that is recognized by students. Show students creative commons sources for images, and demonstrate how to find images according to topic by using the search option on most websites. I have used in the example below, but other sources can be found in my Live Binders under the tab Stock Images for Videos and Presentations. As you circle the lab, you can assist students by showing them the difference between writing sentences and writing news headlines/tickers, such as grammatical changes and word omissions. Remind them that, even though they might be writing about past events, their news stories should be written as though they are “new” news; for example, a headline about the Great Wall of China might read “Wall running through China finally completed,” and dated 1644.

Students produce examples that they can then download as images, save and share with you. Students can send these images to you via email or in a shared environment, such as or in Google Docs. You now have a collection of these news stories that can be used for the second part of the task.

Breaking News - blog example
A completed Breaking News Generator Story Example Photo Credit

How to adapt this part of the lesson for multi-level classes or tech-novice students:

  • Give students a number of news stories to create. The quicker students will create more stories than the ones who are not as adept at using technology, but everyone produces at least one news story (the teacher can circle the lab and assist learners in this process, but oftentimes, classmates willingly help their neighbours)
  • Challenge the students who have grasped tenses faster to generate news stories that have, for example, repeated over the course of history; this way, you have student-generated content that can be used as present/past perfect examples for the writing portion of this task later

I liked this news generator tool a lot, but needed to augment it to review of tenses with my advanced English learners. For lower levels, using this tool alone might be enough of an activity to review past, present, and future time. You could share each image with the class and have students compose statements about the news that they see using the present continuous, since the news is always reported “live.”

I need to meet several outcomes in my course, and combining outcomes into a task is more relevant to students than solely producing assignments. I wanted to combine a review of tenses with writing narratives and exposing my students to the concept of blogging and collaborative writing. Enter Capzles.


Capzles is a virtual timeline. It is free and requires registration, but beyond a user name and a password, little else is mandatory. Once you’ve created an account, you can begin to build your timeline:

Capzles screen capture
Creating a New Capzle

You can be as fancy or as simple as you like. A title and description are a good idea, but tagging your Capzle is optional. These will be public Capzles unless you change your privacy settings. The content part is exciting: photos, video, audio, and text can be added. You can select from different design templates and add background music as well. For the purposes of my lesson, I uploaded the news images chronologically and then shared the link with my students by clicking “Share Your Capzle” and copying the link provided.

Groups of three students work well. Each group is responsible for writing a narrative paragraph by summarizing events in the Capzle within a past, present, or future time frame. The students work collaboratively to compose the paragraph on paper, in Word, or asynchronously in Google Docs, according to your time/lab restraints, or access to technological tools. The final draft needs to be a typed text.

You can:

  • share the user name and password with your students and have them upload their text as a blog on the timeline; or
  • have students email you the paragraphs and you can upload them as individual blogs on the timeline

How much prep time is involved?

I found both these apps on the same day, got inspired, and used them in my lab that very afternoon. We were able to create all the necessary Breaking News Generator stories in the lab within an hour. I assigned the narrative paragraphs as work to be completed outside the classroom. The completed Capzle was available to the class two days after we had begun the activity.

Why I liked it:

  • all the content was student-generated
  • it was a task-based activity that combined tense review, narratives, and collaborative writing
  • I found and was successfully able to use these apps on the same day
  • students wrote some funny news stories – they started getting creative
  • I met a number of my course outcomes in a way that was meaningful to the learners
  • I was available for assistance, but students were drawing on collective knowledge to work through this task
  • everything did not have to be completed in class on the same day; it was easy to break up this task into parts
  • it is adaptable to different levels and abilities

I can see this working:

  • in a business communications class when students have to develop resumes – Capzles would allow students to track their past accomplishments in a chronological manner and they can add to the timeline when they recall another event
  • as an artefact for an ePortfolio if students develop the timeline with their own personal words and creations
  • as a review of tenses when students are contrasting two or more tenses in lower levels
  • to unscramble a narrative and post the correct order of the story in a Capzle
  • to plan a narrative paragraph or essay using the blogging tool in Capzles
  • to curate an online memory book of a class’ progress throughout the semester; this can be captured with text, photos, field trips, videos of guest speakers, etc.

I hope this inspires you to try some, or all, of this in your classroom. Maybe you can do some smashing of your own.