The second course in the Post-TESL series has been successfully piloted to a group of more than 30 participants from across Alberta. The Post-TESL courses, made possible through the generous support of the Alberta Government, are a series of professional development courses intended for ELL practitioners already working in the field. The courses are offered online. They are 12-hour courses delivered over four weeks. Each course focuses on a specific area of ELL instruction and provides a chance to engage deeply with a topic.
Strategies for Teaching Refugees explored teaching refugee learners. The course material was offered through webinars, readings, film, video, and podcasts, and participants completed a number of assignments and activities. There was also a very active discussion board for people to connect, respond to material, and discuss their ideas.
My instructional skills have improved, because I have learned how to identify predictable triggers for trauma, the effects of trauma on learning, and how to use trauma-informed practice. I feel that now I have the necessary tools to better teach refugee learners.
There were four modules in the course, and each module focused on a different area:
- Recognizing the Needs of Refugee Learners in the ELL Classroom
- Creating a Learning Environment
- Approaches in the Classroom
- Supporting Instructors
The course discussed the possible experiences of refugee learners in their own countries, during flight, and in Canada. Participants learned about some of the effects of trauma, the ways in which the brain forms memories of traumatic events, and the potentially lasting impact of trauma on learning. The rest of the course focused on trauma-informed practice and ten strategies for teaching refugees:
- Making a safe physical space
- Basing classroom expectations on an awareness of the conditions of learners’ lives
- Building community
- Creating routine
- Opening up the opportunity for choice
- Connecting learning
- Encouraging creativity
- Choosing effective themes, topics, and materials
- Knowing the limits of what an instructor can do
- Practicing self-care
I feel more confident now that I have greater awareness of triggers and trauma and I have better strategies to deal with them.
The last two of these strategies focus on supporting instructors as they work with refugee learners. Participants learned about burnout, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and secondary traumatic stress, as well as strategies for care on the individual and institutional level. Some of the participants in this pilot course were program coordinators and reported that they were working to implement these strategies in their programs with all of their instructors.
Strategies for Teaching Refugees was an effective and successful pilot project. The instructor and course participants were able to build a real community with each other. Participants were deeply engaged with the work and many moved to implementing strategies with their classes within the four weeks of the program.