Seniors’ Storytelling Class


                                                                                           All great literature is one of two stories;                                                                     a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.
― Leo Tolstoy

Two weeks ago Learning Exchange’s Seniors Thrive initiative added one more project to the portfolio. It’s called Seniors’ Storytelling Class and its goal is to supplement regular conversation program with speaking and writing activities that scaffold storytelling for seniors who are learning English as an additional language. I am leading the project together with my university buddy Zhaoying, who is a master’s student at our faculty.

We meet once a week for 75 minutes during which we read stories and articles about the value of storytelling, share our life stories, favourite fables and fairy tales from all over the world. After each session participants get a prompt to take home and are asked to write a story based on the prompt. Some stories are five sentences long and some are five pages long! As the project progresses we plan to add multimodal storytelling – pictures and photos to supplement the texts that participants are sharing.

When I was conceiving this project, I found these two resources: a step-by-step guide for teaching storytelling  from Storytelling Arts of Indiana and a curriculum on learning about race and racism through storytelling and the arts from Barnard College. Both resources have served as a great inspiration and encouragement that storytelling is a powerful tool to address complex issues. They show that by recognizing the power of a story and valuing the stories that learners choose to share, educators can not only advance their own understanding of the lived experiences of the learners, but also empower the learners to challenge status quo and create a better future for their communities.

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of creating knowledge and one of the most accessible vehicles to spread this knowledge around. When working with immigrants, especially senior immigrants who harbour myriads of experiences, memories, and testimonies, storytelling becomes a way to value the wisdom that these learners bring to the class. Thus, the learners are recognized as knowers and producers of new knowledge. They shape the progression of the class by sharing their stories and building upon each others’ narratives. Thus, learners take charge  and grow as agents of their own learning.

Our project is in its early stages and we have a long way to go. In the end, we will publish a chap book of our stories and present it along with the photo story of our storytelling journey!

Conference season is here

Spring is conference time. When the flowers begin to bloom, so do the creative ideas that lead to innovative projects! Conftesolerences are fundamental to professional development, especially graduate students who are just entering the field. I am heading to TESOL to present a paper on a research project we did at the Learning Exchange in 2015.  In this talk I argue that ESL programs should encourage peer-to-peer interaction through engaging learners as facilitators in conversational groups.

I am also attending Doctoral Research Forum at TESOL to see fellow graduate students present their work and join mentor roundtables. But most importantly I will see my friends and colleagues from Russia and the US. I can’t wait! We live and work so far apart now, that reconnecting  at conferences is such a rare treat.

Right after TESOL, I am heading to AAAL, another huge conference in applied linguistics. I am fortunate to have Victoria – an amazing scholar and friend – as my collaborator and co-presenter this year. aaalWe will be presenting in the research strand – a new strand that AAAL opened this year. For a long time, as a student I would feel that the research process is a treasure that colleagues didn’t like sharing with each other. It would be so hard for me to find articles/ and presentations that describe not only the results, but the stages, ups and downs of getting to it. That is why I am thankful that AAAL has opened research strand and gave us the opportunity to present our bilingual  interview-based study. Victoria and I interviewed same people both in Russian and English and we will be going through the whole process. I printed 20 copies of our transcripts (hours of transliteration!) and look forward to the roundtable discussion of these data.

Two conferences in a row, double the excitement!

ESL Drama Club: project and enunciate!

With only five weeks to the day of our performance at the New Perspectives on Learning in the Downt2016-03-22 11.19.34own Eastside: A Community-University Conference our club has moved on to active rehearsals.  So today everyone was busy projecting and enunciating.

Tong-twisters are a great way to warm up the muscles and prepare for the long recitals.

To make sure that the actors are heard across the room, we did some projection exercises. This is a great activity for any ESL class, because it helps learners to overcome shyness and encourages them to speak louder and more clearly. To do a projection exercise, choose a shorter tong-twister to start. Try Stupid superstition! it has emotion, some sass and it is also conveniently short. Then, ask the learners to stand facing the wall and practice speaking into the wall. At this stage they need to get comfortable with the text and feel how the sound travels through space. Matt called this stage “bouncing the words off the wall”. After the learners  get comfortable, the next step is to ask them to imagine there is a person on the other side of the wall who needs to hear the tong-twister. So practice, practice, practice.

Interesting thing, once we finished the projection exercise, we all continued speaking as if we were still talking to the wall. So it really works, give it a try!




ESL Drama Club: Rehearsals are underway

Look Matt getting ready for the first big rehearsal and blocking exercises in the Drama Club! Last week we assigned the 2016-03-15 10.28.43roles to the learners and  taught them vocabulary relating to the ten  parts of the stage. All to prepare them for today.

Blocking exercises allow learners to transition from reading the script to being on the stage. We don’t have a stage, but since we will be performing in a classroom, we outlined the floor and made it look like a stage.

Through actors’ moving across the classroom, their characters leave the pages of the script and  come to life. It is very important to add movement to any lesson for many reasons, but for our club blocking has served two purposes. First, it is helping the learners to break away from being overly attached to the pages. Second, it will encourage them to memorize the scripts faster.  The idea of memorizing the play and performing it in front of an audience might be intimidating, so we are trying to set up all our activities to ensure that the learners are confident on the big day of the performance.

Another thing that Matt asked the learners to do was to read their character’s lines at home and imagine what these characters  would look like: what would they be wearing, what props they would need, what emotions they would be feeling. This, we hope, will help learners be more comfortable with their roles since they will have the lead in bringing their characters to life.

In order to make the text of the play more accessible, we encourage the learners to highlight the words that seem difficult and find synonyms that they find easier to read. We are currently on the fourth version of the play and I have a feeling it will be evolving until the day of the performance. We are fine with seeing this play as a living text, because not only it will help the learners to feel more comfortable, but it also develops their reading skills and builds their vocabulary. As a language teacher, I am excited about this outcome of the Drama Club!

Next week we will continue rehearsals, hopefully with costumes this time!


Be dramatic in your ESL!

We are halfway into the production of our ESL ethnodrama  at the UBC Learning Exchange. I have been too busy and abandoned this blog for a while, but this project is too fun not to share!

In 2015 my colleague (and friend) Spring and I co-wrote a short ethnodrama “Fear, Courage, and Joy: Three Conversation at the Learning Exchange.” Ethnodrama is an arts-based research method that generates or presents data through the process of creative non-fiction writing, such as playscripts. Sometimes ethnodramas evolve into performances and full productions. 12142421_1668469386761104_1027521979_n We based this piece on a research project with volunteers at the LE, observations, and our personal reflections. We went on to present our work at the University of Victoria and I read it at my department during a Research Seminar series. While both times the feedback on the ethnodrama was extremely positive,  we thought this would be as far as the project could go. We put it on the back burner for a while and focused on other projects. However, the universe works in its own way and in January we got a wonderful opportunity to take our ethnodrama  one step further.


2016-03-08 10.48.39


As a part ESL programming within  Seniors Thrive initiative our ethnodrama is now going into the full production  and I could not be more excited!  We’ve got amazing graduate students Matt and Sarah  on board! Matt is an experienced director and and actor. Sarah is a playwright, an actor, and a storyteller.  Well, Spring and I are there too. We’ve got super talented and engaged learners signed up and rehearsing their roles every week. And next week Matt, Sarah and I are going to check out the venue for the performance. Our performance is scheduled for May 3rd this year!
I will be updating this blog weekly to keep track of our progress and will be sharing some activities with you. Our Drama Club is both an ESL class and a Drama Class; a combination of both is promising to be extremely beneficial for senior learners. Stay tuned!


Studying belonging

proposal titleThis is the first slide of my dissertation proposal presentation. A presentation, which has permanently occupied all of my days and crept into everything I have been doing for the past month.

The thirst for knowledge runs through generations before mine,  and without any doubt I was given educational opportunities that exceed those that my ancestors had. A newcomer to Canada myself, over the years I have developed immense regard for the seniors who have created a space for belonging here, and the stories that they have shared with me inspire my whole dissertation. But in addition in a way through this project I am allowing myself to reconnect with my family’s history and I take time to recognize all the sacrifices my grandparents and parents had to make in their lives. With gratitude, by undertaking this project I am speaking to their experiences, their challenges and struggles in search of recognition and belonging.

As I said, my research questions jump at me from every corner and take many shapes and forms. Yesterday I went to The Rennie Collection, located in Wing Sang building in Vancouver’s China Town to catch  the  Winter 2015: Collected Works exhibition.
2016-02-06 11.38.57 HDRAmong many powerful works of art this 
shattered neon piece I Belong Here by Tavares Strachan resonated with me the strongest. 

For many people belonging is this neon sign, an alluring image desired from afar. Come closer and you see that the sign is shattered, the light is blinding, the buzz of the lamps is maddening, the text is illegible, and the message disappears. It takes immense strength to put the shattered pieces together and claim I belong here, hear my voice, listen to my story. Sometimes it is impossible. This is a visually striking metaphor for my research project as I am trying to answer Where is home? and where do I/we belong?

Now on to finishing those slides.