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The Value of Lifelong Learning

  • The Value of Lifelong Learning

The following blog post was written by Dara MacKay, a faculty member at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement. Every two weeks Dara has blogged on her experiences in the ESL literacy classroom. This is her last blog post in the series. Make sure to check out her previous blogs.

I’d like to conclude my blog series by summing up what I learned this term.  Reflection is one of the most powerful tools a learner can employ, and as an instructor, I have a responsibility and passion to be a lifelong learner.  One of my goals in writing this blog series was to reflect on my teaching practice, so I could learn through it, both from my own examination and from the conversations started with other practitioners.  What I have found is that this process has allowed for an immense amount of growth in me as a teacher, a professional, and a person. 

So, what have I learned?  As my bio says, I am relatively new to the ESL Literacy field, and there is nothing like being in the classroom, interacting with learners every single day, that helps me learn better.  I have had to do a great deal of trial and error, reading, preparation and reflection.  Here are some of the biggest things I have taken away from my class this term.

  • Literacy students do not read to learn, they are learning to read.  Texts must be very carefully adapted to suit their literacy needs and levels.  Texts that are too hard are discouraging and frustrating.
  • Literacy students want to learn! Many of my students this term have expressed to me what a freedom it is for them to be able to read.  In fact, a great deal of them have told me many times that they absolutely love school and feel so thankful for the ability to come.  This basic right I have had since I was born was something I took for granted.  I can say for certain that I don’t anymore! 
  • Literacy students learn in a different way than I do.  I learn by reading, listening and writing.  They learn by doing, experiencing, practicing and simply trying things.
  • There are no textbooks that work for my learners.  Bits and pieces are helpful, but they almost always need to be adapted.
  • If it is not personally related to the students’ lives, it has little meaning for them.  Concrete, real-life things are an ideal vehicle for teaching language.
  • Literacy learners are resourceful.  They are smart.  They have an amazing array of life experience. 
  • Literacy learners (and all learners, period) appreciate being treated like adults.  They pick up on condescending tones, in any language.  They want, and deserve to be treated with respect.
  • Literacy learners need a collective, safe, family-like classroom environment.  When there is an environment that allows them to take risks without the fear of embarrassment or failure, they can thrive. 

I absolutely love my job.  Seeing these people grow, struggle and succeed and the example of strength, love and perseverance they live daily is the most inspiring experience I have ever had. There is no other job I’d rather have right now, and I am thankful to my students for allowing me to be a part of their learning process.

There are so many more things that I have learned in the past four months, but I’m afraid it would take me way too long to express it all.  This is just a snapshot.  I want to thank everyone who read and contributed to the blog and the discussions it created.  I appreciate all input and feedback from such esteemed colleagues.  I look forward to continuing to grow and learn as a teacher, and to better my practice as I do so.  I will leave you with one more question for discussion:

What things about ESL Literacy learners have you noticed differ from mainstream ESL learners?