Friday, July 27, 2012

I had some leads but unfortunately they fizzled.  I guess, I fizzled a little, too.

I'm not interested in being paid for this; I'm also not interested in teaching somebody English from the ground up.  What I want is to make the transition into English more engaging, rewarding, self-gratifying and - at least - more interesting, by helping ESL students practice their English with creative writing tools (reading great English literature and International literature in English translation, and writing their own stories and poems.)

I'm trying to learn Spanish & French myself right now and the same is true.  The basic lessons do NOT make good reading.  Some of the sentences and conversations these lessons have me practicing, while they may be useful for me to practice certain words and verb tenses, are the stupidest conversations and stories I've ever heard.  Example: "Are you an elephant?"  "Ah no, of course not, that's ridiculous.  I am not an elephant."  They do not do their languages any honour.  

So after that rant, I had a new idea today.  I don't want to do this alone anymore.  I'm not getting anywhere and I and the idea are becoming more isolated and lonely.  Remembering that this is as much a literary project as well as a service for newcomers to Canada to practice ESL, I decided to develop an ad to ask other literary writers to get on board with me.  Once I have friends, I'll feel better, I'm sure.  :-)

Then, we, the writer/teachers, will agree on a general frame for the lessons/workshops.  Then, we'll place another ad to get students.  Maybe go back to the Y.  We'll start really small: one student per writer.  I'll book one room at a library in a central location.  We all meet together and separate with our respective students.  If things go well, we'll increase the ratio to two-three students per writer and so on.

It might seem strange to meet all together to just separate into smaller groups however, meeting as a larger group, we get to start and end with a larger community around us.  The smaller group sessions allows us to really work our lesson plan for it's effectiveness.  

Well, that's my aha for today.  Let's see if I come back with anything ...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Road blocks force new direction

I have encountered a few road blocks since initiating this idea of teaching ESL to newcomers to Canada, using the literary arts.

My hope to be trained as a volunteer ESL tutor with either the Toronto Public Library or/and the YMCA Newcomer Centre has fizzled.  I misunderstood their volunteer programs.  Their volunteer literary programs are for adult literacy and does not include ESL for adults.  I had hoped that once I became more familiar working with either organizations, I might find people more willing to hear about my concept for an ESL literary/literacy class.  I valued the idea of being supported by a well-known institution rather than working as an independent risk. 

I continued researching for a volunteer ESL program but they all appear to be paid programs with paid teachers with formal certification.

I researched the process of certifying myself (in just ESL ;-).  And either I'm being lazy or it really does feel like it's leading me astray from my goal.

The difference is that I am not interested in making income from ESL tutoring.  Helping newcomers refine their English language skills using the literary arts would be as much a benefit to me as to them. It would be very mutual.  I would be able to share my love for the English language in a beneficial way.  We'd also have an opportunity to try to write and share our stories with each other.  Stories with a class of international students?   Stories from a class of international students already so sensitive to their choice of words and their possible translations?  What more could a writer ask for? 

And the lesson concept is so simple it does not need certification.  We just pick damn good examples of what English literature is about and read it to each other.  And then we write about it, express our opinoins and ideas based off the reading, using different tools of creative and non-fiction writing (journals, letters, short fiction, poetry, song, drama).

The literature and the writing are the teachers, not me.  I'd just be a mediator.  Somebody to turn to for questions on pronunciation and spelling.  Maybe I can offer an idea or two from my own experiences in English literature and writing, as well, but as a writing peer.  Somebody who will orchestrate a safe and comfortable time and a place for these students to practice this form of English language exercise. 

A slow and personal approach to ESL.  Already I know this description will lose a good percentage of newcomers to Canada who need to refine their English Language skills to help them settle into their new lives in Canada.   A promise, by me, that this method will enrich them beyond better English speaking and writing skills may turn them off even more.  Who the hell I am, right?  Some crazy writer who isn't currently backed by a Newcomer or New Immigrant organization.  To those who have never written creatively, or thought that they could, will think I am even crazier. 

Three major road blocks in my way:

1. no formal training.  Just a crazy, wishful writer.
2. no feedback for my queries
3. a difficult concept to prove without proof.

I think my first step is to try to seem less crazy.  Maybe if I draft a set of six lesson plans describing how this class would go off, might give this idea more credibility.  I have a few acquaintances who teach ESL who I can run the ideas by.  Although, does it make me crazier to just want to keep it simple.  Read English. Write English.  And let's go from there.  Well I guess I'd complicate things a little more and say:  Read Great English.  Write Great English.  (we wouldn't want a class spent reading milk cartons or something ....)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

a refined, but not yet shorter, pitch

Alright, I think I got everything I want to say about this program in the refined pitch.  At this point, I need a second opinion from somebody on what people don't really need to know immediately. 

I have sent out an inquiry to the Mennonite New Life Centre in Toronto (c/o of Dale Sproule) who have great resources and supports for newcomers to Canada.

The Refined Pitch:

My purpose is to develop and launch an adult literacy program for newcomers to Canada with a slight difference to the standard type of ESL or TEOL class.

Like most other ESL or TEOL classes, this program will develop English reading, writing and speaking skills -- with specific goals in resume writing, interview skills and, if desirable, preparation for any English skill level tests. The lesson plans will develop these skills by practicing reading English text aloud and communicating through verbal and written conversation.

The difference in this program is it will use the literary arts to reach its goals.  This program does not wish to simply teach English as a useful language with text that does not inspire any love for the language.   This program wishes to teach English as a multi-faceted useful tool and art-form. 

We would read aloud great works of Canadian and International (in English) literature including fiction, poetry, songs and drama. The better the piece of writing, the more engagement I hope to achieve in the students, encouraging them to practice other skills such as presentation, self-awareness and confidence. I would also be promoting a love for reading and great literature. We would dispel any myth that great literature is an elitist sport.

We would also write letters to each other about the pieces and then respond to them in order to practice English conversation. Thus further developing an understanding of the readings and slowly moving towards creative writing tools and practices (journal writing or memoirs, fiction or drama, poetry or song). They will move from other people's stories and voices and bring this reflection back to their own stories and their own voices.

It's my hope that this method of ESL will have the same time frame and goals as any other ESL class however its results will be more effective in its interest and engagement, teach greater skills other than English language skills and also serve as a way to make newcomers to Canada more comfortable in their new lives. They would know how Canada, especially our most revered Canadian writers, are full of the immigrant story. Creative writing naturally makes a home out of your own body.

Another key and unique aspect of this literacy/literary class is even though I am teaching them practical skills in English communication, I will always encourage them to embrace their native languages first. For written assignments I would let them write first in their native language and then translate it into English. I firmly believe that a person's sense of identity and their writing voice stems from the language they are most comfortable with; everything else is subject to translation. They will know exactly what is lost and gained in the process of translation.

I hope this idea has perked some interest for you and I would value your opinion on this.

The development of this idea was partly inspired by an Artist-Educator course I took with the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. It's mandate is to teach artists to use their preferred art-forms to teach other everyday skills. Mine was the literary arts.

I have taken this further by researching the YMCA and Toronto Public Library to be trained as a volunteer English Literacy tutor. I am also a freelance and creative writer with a BA in English Literature from York University. For more information about me as a writer, please visit my web-link at:  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Refining the Pitch

This morning Dale Sproule of Canadian Newcomer magazine graciously offered his feedback and advice on the English literacy/literary class idea.  It's important that I create a program that will be interesting and applicable to newcomers to Canada.  He offered some contacts that I could pursue and I came to realize that I needed to simplify and refine my pitch.

Questions that came to me during the interview:

1. Would newcomers, needing ESL classes, be turned off by the idea of learning English reading and speaking skills using great fiction, poetry and drama? 
2. How would I define for them the use of literary arts in this class. 
3. What does literary arts mean?
4. Would they be more turned off by the idea of learning English writing and communication skills through creative writing exercises? Would they consider this to be an off-track method? 
5. How would I pitch this idea so that I get the chance to convince them that this method will teach English as fast as any other ESL course and so much more in terms of overall communication, confidence, self-awareness and easing them through the transition of leaving one story behind them and starting this new one in Canada? 
6. Also, I have to understand that this is just a theory at this point. How do I prove it -- even to myself?
7. i also don't want to lose sight of my secret wish for this class: that my course might help develop a great new writer in Canada.

I need to continue garnering support for this project as I did with Dale Sproule.  He set a new dimension to my project's goals.  This project is now at a fledgling stage.  If I can successfully launch the project and engage a class or two, it would then be at a stage that I might pitch the class again to Dale for a story in the Canadian Newcomer magazine. 

I think I will alter the pitch thus: I need to market it as an ESL program with a set number of goals and acheivements for a specific period of time -- and THEN I can add that there is a little twist.  So start by sounding common and practical -- and once I establish that I can add this small but significant difference.

And keep it short-er than my usual long-windedness -- and sweet.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Project: Teaching English as an Other Language

This will be a project blog.  My goal is to develop an adult literacy program using creative writing tools and the literary arts.

I am currently enrolled in an Artist-Educator program.  This program is teaching me how to use my preferred art-form, the literary arts, to teach other skills in everyday life.

But this isn't the first time I have considered using creative writing skills and literature to teach literacy.  I've been playing with this idea for a few years.  A friend showed me a book that his English literacy class was using to better his English communication.  The text was entirely functional with no love for the English language.  It was teaching English as a useful language whereas I prefer to see the English language as an art-form.  And just as useful that way, too!  English is more useful, in fact, when you think of it as an art-form.  I would love an opportunity to prove this theory through the course of this project and this blog.

About two years ago, I offered to help tutor another friend who needed to improve his English.  I started him reading aloud fiction to me.  On a basic level, I helped him build his vocabulary and be more precise in pronunciation but my hope was to inspire an interest in creative literature and reading.

Moving him onto poetry and song lyrics had a wonderful effect because, reading aloud, he was also exercising a little performance.  It's impossible to read good poetry without some feeling.  I also helped him to analyze the fiction and poetry without the fear of being 'wrong'. 

We then began writing short emails to each other based on the readings, thus working on his English writing skills.  I let him write in Spanish (his native language) and then translate to me in English.  I firmly believe that a writer's voice comes from the language which he/she is most comfortable.  It was important for both of us to see this conversation first in the language which he spoke most comfortably.  We both got to see what was lost in translation -- or gained.

Although my lessons with this student have long since ended, along came this Artist-Educator program, in Sept 2011, that helped me evolve the idea into developing creative writing skills -- to eventually help my potential students write their own stories, poetry and experiences.  I felt this type of lesson would be most empowering for newcomers to Canada -- people who have probably just came from a great story and are embarking on a new one.  All stories that I would love to hear, as a writer myself. 

I would not teach anybody how to write. I can teach English reading, speaking and writing skills but I would not teach anybody how to write. I still need teaching myself.  It's a life-long journey in my opinion.  I would help them to let the writing itself teach them how to write.  

Here, I came to one of the most profound things I discovered during the Artist-Eductor program:  the great thing about art is that it is a teacher in itself.  I think all art forms, just by the act of practicing them (music, dance, painting), can teach the student practical and personal life lessons.  If you give writing the time, patience and practice, it will eventually help you see yourself in wonderful new perspectives -- like a very good friend.  There seems to be that risk of over-teaching and not giving the art its proper space and time.

During this Artist-Educator program, I began to see a real use to using creative writing for more than just English language skills.  It is a wonderful vehicle for overall communication, confidence-building and self-awareness. 

So my goal is to finish the development of this program and possibly end this blog with a launch.  Although, at this stage, it's hard to say what the outcome will be.  Maybe learning English this way is not interesting to anybody else. Maybe it's too slow a method.  Maybe it's too weird.  I have learned that I need to be trained, first, on the standard methods of teaching English as an Other Language.  

I wrote a poem about this when I was teaching that student.  During this time, I wondered if I might make a good ESL teacher for adults.  So when I researched courses I could take I found that there are different names for ESL classes depending.  ESL, ESOL, EFL, ESD.  I particularly took to the term English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)  because i always thought the term 'Other Language' sounded funny in an existential sort of way.    I adjusted the term to suit me to: English as an Other Language.  Maybe I'll share it once I gain some more ground.

Right now I see this project going thus:

1. Start a blog and shame myself into completing this project sooner rather later.
2. Fine-tune program idea.  Fine-tune the working theories.  Fine-tune goals.
3. Research practicality and public interest by interviewing outside sources.
4. Be formally trained to teach English to newcomers.  Both the YMCA and Toronto Public Library have volunteer training programs.
5. Re-work program, theories and goals with new information.
6.Go back to sources.

And then I guess we'll see if it's a GO.