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Pilot Projects
February 9, 2015

This morning I woke up thinking about the pilot projects I've been a part of.  Why I was thinking about that, your guess is as good as mine.

One of the first major pilot projects I was a part of was way back in my Istanbul teaching days.  One of the schools I was working at was piloting the CEF - that's the Common European Framework of Reference. Some time prior to that, the school had been enlisted to help create some of the "Can-Do" statements.

Coming up with "can-do's" turned out to be a source of amusement for my colleagues, and they came up with some real winners.  One that stands out involved something along the lines of "Can effectively use standard pick-up lines and improvise new ones, depending on the circumstances...".  Another one was "Can recognize and deflect prattish behaviour...".  Keep in mind, I was the sole North American at the site; everyone else was British or Australian.  All joking aside, we did end up contributing to the actual Can Do's now currently in use.

Being part of the pilot project was useful, because we were forced to look at the (then) arbitrary "levels" of English-language competency.  What's the difference between what an "Intermediate" learner can do and what an "Upper-Intermediate" learner can do? 

I like being a part of piloting a new concept or idea, because I can do some trail-blazing and create something useful for learners and colleagues.  At the very least, I can give some recommendations on what *not* to do. 
I've been test-driving different pilot projects since I've been working where I'm currently working.  I've been able to help create an integrated curriculum for my SLT retail program and test it out on the SLT learners with definite positive outcomes (many of whom are employed at their co-op placements).

The SLT program was also fortunate enough to be given the LearnIT2Teach training and support.  Learning Management Systems, whether they be Moodle, Edmodo, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, or whatever else exists out there, are beginning to take shape and to become a part of the repertoire of tools that an ESL instructor has at their disposal. I've been curiously studying what works and what doesn't for our adult learners with an LMS.  I can talk about *that* in a different blog.

Another pilot project that I am currently a part of is the PBLA.  I've already written about this, and I've said it's not bad; granted, that's not a roaring endorsement, but keep in mind, I'm still trying to figure it out.  To me, it's like my CEF pilot project has come full-circle.  I see many connections between it, and our CLBs, and the PBLA.

To Pilot, or Not to Pilot?
I've heard it said, if it's not broke, don't fix it.  But there is more to it than that; how can we figure out exactly what isn't working, how to narrow that down and then decide what to do next, exactly, that will overcome the shortfallings of the current system, or approach, or methodology? What can we do to help further our learners along their paths of language enlightenment?  In pursuing pilot projects whole heartedly, do we risk throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater? Is there a way to work within our current pedagogy to seek improvement in a way that does not mean entirely recreating the wheel?

I think there is.  Why not ask currently practicing instructors?  There's a novel idea...  What about a self-directed PD program that uses and explores talents of our teachers?  Ask us what the challenges are for our learners.  Ask us how we would propose to address said challenges.  And then listen.  Also, take notes. 

Pilot projects are not simply the first round of implementation.  Whatever it is that is being piloted, classroom technology, a new teaching concept or method, it doesn't matter what, so long as the experiences of the teachers and the learners are being heard, and the project is adjusted accordingly.  Pilot projects are often the launching point of new-age thinking, of paradigm shifts.  But pilot projects are not all successful, either.  

If PBLA has one thing going for it, (and it does have many good things), it is that its designers have been clear that the rate of change must be manageable for the instructors.  They are listening to the original pilots in Ottawa, and elsewhere, and it has been tweaked.  

I do wonder one thing, however, and that is, if a group of instructors had been asked to create a Portfolio Based Language Assessment, how differently would it have been imagined?



On Thursday, April 9, 2015, Susan Stitt said
Jen, I enjoyed your comments and observations, particularly the last question you presented for reflection. I imagine that the resulting PBLA would have been very different if ESL instructors were involved. After all, who knows the learners better?



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