Holiday Drawings

As part of learning to draw, I decided to do three types of activities. The first was to find some general drawing lessons for beginners online and see what basic techniques I could learn from them. The second was to take a former student’s advice and draw something every day with a time limit of 15 minutes. He said that drawing every day would allow my skills to increase naturally over time and that setting a limit of 15 minutes would force me to draw faster and this would make my brain think differently about drawing. He also said that 15 minutes is a chunk of time that most people can find in a day and is less daunting than a long lesson or a class. The third type of drawing I decided to do is related to the topics my students are learning, and that’s what I’m going to focus on in this update.

Vocabulary is so much easier to learn with pictures, so my students and I regularly use picture dictionaries, online images, website activities, and handouts with pictures to learn basic English vocabulary. I decided that while it wasn’t necessary for me to learn how to draw everything that my students learn about, it would be fun to focus on some of the holidays or special days that happen during the year. To that end, I went on YouTube and found tutorials that I could use to practice drawing various images.

I started with Thanksgiving and found three items that I wanted to learn to draw: a cornucopia, a live turkey, and a cooked turkey. Here are photos of my drawings from my sketchbook.

Instructional Video: Art for Kids Hub

Instructional Video: Art for Kids Hub

Instructional Video: Draw So Cute

For Halloween, I was able to find a lot more pictures that I wanted to draw and I made a video that explains more about this set of pictures. Unfortunately, I turned the camera at one point and I can’t figure out how to edit the video to make all of the images show up vertically, so hopefully you’re watching this video on a tablet or phone so that you can easily turn the screen to see the image correctly. (If anyone knows how to edit a video filmed on an Android phone so that you can rotate some of the images without losing the audio, please let me know how to do this in the comments. I’d really appreciate it!)

Here are links to the videos I used to create these drawings: Jack-o’-Lantern, ghost, bat, mummy, tombstone, witch, vampire, haunted house, and Happy Halloween.

For Remembrance Day, I learned how to draw a poppy, a stylized one that’s different from the poppies that Canadians generally wear for this day.

Instructional Video: DoodleDrawArt

I used a variety of YouTube channels to learn how to draw these images and was able to complete all of the ones that I tried. However, I found that the videos where someone gave instructions while they drew and let you see what they drew before moving on to the next step were the easiest for me to learn from. These included the ones from Young Rembrandts, Art for Kids Hub, and Draw So Cute. While I was able to follow the videos that didn’t include instructions, I found that I needed to rewatch each part more often and the video often moved much farther ahead than I was since there wasn’t an audio signal that we were moving to the next part of the drawing. Something to remember if I ever make my own instructional videos.

Now that I’ve done some drawing on the board, I’m looking for ways to include my students in this project. One idea is for us to watch the same video and each draw the picture, which we could then put up on the walls and talk about. Maybe we could do this once a week and a different student could choose the video each week. Another possibility is having students who know how to draw (or who have another skill) teach the rest of us something. It’s a great way for everyone to learn a new skill and for my students to practice English.

I’d love to hear any ideas you have about how I can use drawing or other art-related skills with adult students learning English.


A Balancing Act: Social Activism Online

I’m a proponent of using social media to fight for changes that you believe in because it brings awareness of issues to a wide audience and can lead to changes both for individuals and society as a whole. The recent surge of the #MeToo hashtag has been very effective in showing how widespread sexual assault is and has led to the firing and/or criminal investigations of several prominent figures in the entertainment world, Kevin Spacey, James Toback, and Bret Ratner to name a few.

I imagine that it has also helped a lot of victims personally by providing a space for them to share their stories and not feel alone. A space where they can get emotional support from others. That’s really important. Hopefully, this is just the beginning and it will lead to widespread change in the entertainment industry and society in general. And that, I think, is where social activism becomes more difficult.

In a blog post, Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt discuss three types of digital citizens, based on Joel Westheimer’s framework of a ‘good’ citizen: personally responsible citizen, participatory citizen, and justice oriented citizen. I think that people generally find it fairly easy to be a personally responsible citizen by following the law and helping out in emergencies by donating. Online this occurs when people are made aware of situations by various social media campaigns, which then provides funds for organizations to do the work needed. People may also bring more awareness of these situations by retweeting or otherwise sending the message out to their followers. Being a participatory citizen, where people need to actively participate in organizations to create change, requires more effort and time but people can certainly get involved in organizations that exist online or perhaps start their own organizations to support those affected. A justice oriented citizen, on the other hand, tries to analyze more deeply to find the root causes of problems and change the systems that support the injustice so that it is eliminated. This is a lot of work and, in my opinion, most people don’t extend their social activism this far.

When I look at the #MeToo campaign, I see a lot of people participating as personally responsible and participatory citizens. Many are tweeting their own experiences and support, while some organizations are changing their practices to be more receptive to complaints of sexual assault and applying appropriate actions in response. However, it will take more than this to change society so that sexual assault is not so pervasive. It seems like it should be a simple thing: just don’t sexually assault people. How difficult can that be? Obviously, quite difficult given the overwhelming evidence of the #MeToo campaign. To reduce the number of assaults in the future will require a huge shift in how people use power to control others.

In fact, to create lasting societal change that would result in fewer sexual assaults requires us to analyze power structures in society, including the intersectionality of gender, race, class, and other marginalized identities, and work to change those power structures.

While intersectionality is essential to the process of making meaningful change across society, I’m going to briefly narrow this discussion down to sexual assault against cis women in general. Analyzing power dynamics in this case, means learning about and changing all of the subtle ways that sexism manifests, not just the obvious, clear cut, and easy-to-understand ways. I think that even though it occurs with great frequency, most people understand that assaulting women is wrong but what about other more subtle behaviours that show the power differential, like interrupting women when they’re talking, judging women (or men) for showing emotion, pitying women who aren’t married and don’t have children, and thinking that women have achieved equality, so feminism is unnecessary? These actions indicate a society where women are not as valued as men, thus leading to more toxic behaviour. The current #MeToo campaign, while not without its drawbacks, has forced some major changes but we need to find a way to change established thought and behavioural patterns in regards to power and gender if we want to make permanent changes that will lead to fewer sexual assaults.

So, how can I be part of the solution to societal problems? Looking at Westheimer’s framework, I realized that when I was younger, I was a participatory citizen but now I find that I’m mostly a personally responsible citizen. I feel that I need to move back towards being a participatory citizen and beyond that to a justice oriented citizen. That’s a personal choice but how do I do this without threatening my livelihood? And what is my responsibility to my students? Should I separate this aspect of my life from my work and my students or should I be an example to them, both online and offline? I’ve decided that it’s a balancing act and depends on what I’m focusing on. Food drives and anti-bullying campaigns likely won’t cause much backlash but I’m sure that the further I dig into the reasons underlying these social problems, the more likely I am to meet resistance and possibly censure for overstepping the bounds of my role as a teacher. How do I reconcile that with my desire to bring about substantial change and to teach my students how to participate in this process either in person or online?

So, let me ask you — how do you approach social activism online as a teacher?

Personal Responsibility in Building a More Positive World

One of the reasons I’ve been so hesitant to use social media of any kind is all of the negativity that it brings to the world. Of course, this happens offline as well but it seems to be intensified online where anonymity (or the semblance of it) allows people to spew all sorts of hatred and bully others in a way that I think many would not dare to do in real life. I don’t want any part of it, so I’ve stayed away from using social media, both in my personal life and in my classroom.

However, I know that social media is also used positively and can make a huge difference in people’s lives.



For instance, it allows you to maintain and strengthen connections with family and friends who live far away or who you just don’t have time to see regularly. Not only does this provide you with ways to share your life with them, it provides you with support and love when you need it even if you cannot see them in person.



You can also use social media to connect with others who have the same interests as you or work or study in the same field as you and thus make new friends, learn from others, and network. Building connections and relationships with others on social media can be as fulfilling as the relationships you develop in person. 

There are also many social media sites that use positive thinking and actions to change the world for the better. People who participate in Operation Beautiful put positive messages on Post-it Notes or other pieces of paper and place them where others can see them. AdiosBarbie focuses on body image through such lenses as “race, gender, LGBTQ, dis/ability, age, and size.” The Kindologist spotlights “good people and organizations doing great things and spreading kindness.” The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation also promotes being kind and treating others well. focuses on how we can be happy and has a mobile app that is a social gratitude journal connected to a larger community of people who are positive in their outlook. Social media sites like these can help make people feel better about themselves, which in turn leads to a more positive world.

Social media also creates hope by providing ways for people to respond to disasters. Digital responders use their technological skills to sort through the massive amount of information from people posting on various sites so that humanitarian organizations can use it effectively and quickly. Another example of people responding to disaster comes from my co-worker, who is from Dominica. After Hurricane Maria passed over the country, it knocked out most of their communication systems and it was difficult to get to the island because of all the debris in the water.


Roseau, Dominica. Photo taken by Lionel Chamoiseau / AFP – Getty Images. Via NBC News

It took about two weeks before she was able to talk to anyone in her family but she did see a picture of her mother alive and well on Facebook just a few days after the hurricane. It had been posted by one of a group of people who were travelling around the country taking photos of everyone they came across and posting them so that their loved ones could see that they were alive. This photo provided her with some comfort while she tried to find a way to contact her family, who all survived the hurricane, thankfully. Another ray of hope for those affected by disasters and tragedy are crowdfunding sites, like gofundme and kickstarter. I came across one for Ron Wedrick and his son Evan, who were injured while helping to fight a grassfire in near Tompkins, SK. These fundraising sites are not only a way to provide financial support to those affected but also allow them to see the support and caring of others.

So, social media certainly has a positive influence on the world.

BUT it all starts with the personal. How people react to others online is key. You need to make a choice. Are you going to be like the conspiracy theorists harassing the victims of the Las Vegas shootings or are you going to be someone guided by kindness and thoughtfulness when posting? How can you help your students make good choices about what they post and think about how these choices might affect others positively or negatively? 

The Digital Divide in My Classroom

I’m old enough to remember when there were no computers in schools or people’s houses.

Yeah, Keep Reliving Your Old Technology Past

via flickr

Well, maybe not quite that old. I started using them regularly in university to write papers. Then someone showed me email and the internet, and now all of that is commonplace. I’m comfortable using computers, my tablet, my phone, and the internet both in my personal life and for work and I can learn new technology easily enough but I am hesitant to incorporate technology into every aspect of my classroom and the main reason for that is the digital divide that exists among the students that I teach.

Part of this is access to technology. While most of my students have cell phones, not all of them do, and they range from fairly new to older or very basic models. Some have computers at home and some don’t. A few have tablets but most don’t. Some can use the other devices in their home for long periods of time but some need to share with others. Some of them have Wi-Fi in their homes and some don’t. Most have email but a few don’t and are reluctant to get their own email account for a variety of reasons.

via Giphy

This means that I’m limited in what I can ask of my students both in the classroom and outside of it in regards to using technology. For instance, my students were practicing how to call 911 the other day and I considered having them actually call each other to roleplay the activity but decided against it because many of my students buy minutes rather than monthly plans and I didn’t think it was fair to force them to use their precious minutes for a school activity, especially as some of them can’t afford to buy more. Instead, I asked them to do the activity back to back and to record the activity on their phones. Even there I ran into difficulties. Each student was supposed to record on their own phone so that they could listen to it individually afterwards, but one group ended up with only one cell phone recording all three conversations because one of the students didn’t mention that she doesn’t have a cell phone and another one couldn’t figure out how to record on his phone and didn’t ask for help. This then caused a problem for them with the next activity.

Another aspect of the digital divide that makes it difficult to use technology in the classroom is the gap in knowledge and skills between the students. Some students, like most of the Chinese and Korean students in our program, had easy access to technology in their own countries and developed a high level of transferrable skills, which allows them to learn how to use programs in English quite quickly. Other students have had less exposure to technology before coming to Canada, especially those who lived in refugee camps and/or extreme poverty. Sometimes these students are familiar with cell phones due to the increase in cell phone use among refugees in recent years, but I still regularly get students who don’t know how to turn on a computer, can’t control the mouse, and don’t know where any letters are on the keyboard. In fact, one started my class in September and another in October. This makes it difficult when asking students to use technology in the classroom because some are struggling with the basics while others are impatient to learn what they need to so that they can get started. In addition, when asking them to practice at home, some are very comfortable with it and others can’t do the activity because they need assistance with every step.

Despite these difficulties, however, it’s essential that my students learn to be comfortable in a digital world. Many aspects of daily life involve using a variety of digital technology. Just think how the process of banking and applying for jobs has changed in the last 20 years. I’m not doing my students any favours if I restrict classroom activities to pen and paper and don’t teach them how to use computers and smartphones to navigate their world. How can they be comfortable in their new lives here and achieve success, whatever their definition of that is, if they can’t use the technology that everyone around them is using?

via Harvard Business Review, originally from BBC

So, how do I help them in this process? First, by making sure they have access to technology at school (computer lab, my old smartphone) or outside of school (public libraries). And then by giving them time to use this technology in class where they can get some support if they need it. For instance, in computer lab the students practice typing and use a variety of programs, websites, and games to supplement what they’re learning in the classroom. Over time this familiarizes them with using desktops and laptops with English keyboards as well as how to open and use various programs and navigate a variety of websites. It also helps them learn about how websites are organized, such as recognizing advertisements versus content of the page and using tabs and drop-down boxes to navigate to different areas or pages of the website. I also try to do this with cell phones in the classroom so that students can learn how to download and navigate apps on their phone and also how the layout differs on a phone, tablet, or computer.

Learning these basics in English allows them to become more independent of the teacher and start to “move from knowledgeable to knowledge-able” as discussed by Michael Wesch. It’s difficult to become knowledge-able in the digital age if you don’t know how to use computers and aren’t familiar with the conventions of various programs and websites in English.

Watching Wesch’s video, I found myself agreeing with him that change in media leads to a change in relationships. People communicate in all sorts of ways on social media. It can be a powerful way to connect, organize, share, collect, collaborate, and publish. And in this, my students are way ahead of me. They use all kinds of social media apps to stay in touch with their loved ones who are far away while I stick to the phone, text messaging, and the occasional Skype chat. Even most of my students who don’t know how to use computers know how to use the social media apps they feel are necessary to them. I see them during breaks (and sometimes in class) connecting and sharing with others. They are moving into these new ways of building and maintaining relationships and creating meaning more readily than I am and it makes me wonder if I’m doing enough to facilitate that move as they learn English.

Learning and Letting Go of Perfection

Well, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks getting started in sketching. I did a bit of sketching and learned a bit about myself…mainly that I need to ignore my streak of perfectionism. It’s a lesson that I need reminding of every once in a while.

The first thing I did was go out for dinner with Martha (my stepmother and the artist that I mentioned in my last post) to get an idea of where to start learning. She explained that when drawing, I need to see things as they are and not draw what I know or think I know. She demonstrated what she meant by sketching the empty table next to us while explaining every step. It was a little square table but she said that I couldn’t just draw it as square with 90° angles and a leg in the middle. I had to look at it and draw the angles that I saw. Then she did this step by step and by the time she was done, I understood what she meant. There were no 90° angles in what I was seeing; they were only in my head. Later, I found Matt Fussell’s article, How to Draw – In a Nutshell, where he expands on this and states that “drawing is at least 50% observation.” Since then, I’ve been trying to spend some time every day looking at what’s in front of me as it actually appears, not as I think it should look.

After eating supper, Martha and I both got out our tablets and started finding websites I could use to help me learn to draw: through the Regina Public Library,, Betty Edward’s website and various YouTube videos. It was handy having an expert help me sort through what might be of use to me and what I don’t need at the moment and can learn about later, like shading.

Then it was time to get materials so I could start actually drawing. I started off by going online to check out what kind of sketching materials I should get. I read a few articles and got lost in the myriad of stuff. I found myself wanting to get the perfect tools to start off my journey, as if that would help me become perfect at drawing. Or maybe it was just procrastinating to put off the time that I would actually have to start drawing…and making mistakes. I find that hard to do. Oh, I know that people learn from mistakes and I work very hard to instill a culture of learning from mistakes in my classroom. After all, if you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t learning anything new. But it’s so hard to let go of aiming for perfection! Then I came across Karen Mead’s comments on this in her blog, Tiny Buddha, and I’ve decided that I need to aim for “the joy of just okay.” I love the freedom of that idea!

In the end, I took my stepmother’s advice and went to a store with limited art supplies for a sketchbook and plain HB pencils.

Even then, I got sidetracked by a sketching set but I managed to resist. I came home with just a basic sketching book and a set of HB pencils.


And it’s a good thing I got a set because it turned out I didn’t have a pencil sharpener in my home anymore! I hadn’t realized how little I use pencils now.

My copy on the left and the original on the right.

Then it was time to start drawing. Martha had given me a couple of drawing tasks from the book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. They’re meant to get you using the visual, perceptual part of your brain instead of the verbal, analytical part. The first one is drawing Picasso’s Portrait of Igor Stravinsky. However, you aren’t supposed to copy the picture as you would normally look at it. The task is to turn the picture upside down and draw it as shapes and lines in spatial relation to each other, not thinking about hands or face or tie or chair.


Original on the left and my copy on the right.

The instructions say that it should take 40 minutes to an hour. It took me just under an hour and I was exhausted by the time I was done. Several times I just wanted to give up. Thinking about it later, I realized those were the times that I was thinking about the object I was drawing rather than the lines and shapes and that I was also thinking about how what I was drawing didn’t look the way it should. Looking at the picture after I was done, I could see that reflected back at me. When I was drawing the head, I was thinking about the lines and shapes and the spacing between them but when I was drawing the hands, I kept thinking that they didn’t look like hands rather than focusing on the lines and curves. And the head looks better than the hands. Interesting.

It was a good start but then I got sidetracked by life (and that mild but persistent perfectionist/defeatist streak) and only read and watched videos about drawing without actually doing any drawing. I’m about to try the second activity that Martha gave me and then move on to the items I found online. I’ve also decided to take the advice that I regularly give to my students – do a little bit every day, even 5 minutes. To that end I’m going to draw something every day with an average time limit of 5-15 minutes and share it with my students the next day. I’m hoping that this will help keep me motivated and on track. Wish me luck!!

Sharing student work publicly

Since I work with adult newcomers to Canada who have a high beginner/low intermediate level of English, my first thoughts when considering students sharing their work with the world were that it would be a great way for them to prepare for using social media in their everyday lives in Canada and to express themselves in English. We live in a world where social media is used everywhere – businesses, community organizations, schools, friends, family, and on and on. Knowing how to use social media appropriately is becoming more and more essential and requires different types of skills than writing a letter or an essay. Of course, there’s still the requirement of putting together sentences and vocabulary to get your meaning across, but how you write a tweet is significantly different from writing an essay and it requires practice to become good at it. Using social media in the classroom would help my students learn how to communicate in different formats and to recognize different kinds of social media symbols as well as increase their ability to function in this new home of theirs. All really useful to them.

However, I’m also concerned about backlash and bullying online. Some of my students come to my class after only being in Canada for 2 weeks, so they have very little idea about the culture/norms and sometimes say things that might offend people, for instance, asking how old someone is or stating that a woman must be married and have children to make their lives complete or things that are racist or homophobic. In the classroom, they might offend me occasionally but these are a teachable moments and involve (mostly) calm and rational conversation. Online, though… I’m concerned about the vitriol that might come their way if they offend people…and then there are the people who don’t need a reason to be offended and the racists (sometimes one and the same). Some of my students are already traumatized from their experiences before they arrived here, so I’m concerned about placing them in a situation that could lead to further trauma.

And this makes me think about the fact that some of my students are here due to persecution and war in their home countries and being active on social media could lead to further problems for them and their family or friends who are not in the relative safety of a country like Canada. Some students in our program have concerns about just recording themselves in a roleplay, for instance, making a doctor’s appointment over the phone…and by recording I mean just audio recording. How can I possibly ask someone with these kinds of fears to go onto social media? Obviously, I can’t. And then what are the logistics of using social media with some of the students in the class and not others?

I think it could be done, but I would need to be flexible about it. For instance, I could show them this blog post and ask them for their thoughts. They could then respond to my post on paper and those that wanted to could actually post what they wrote during computer lab. We could also practice writing tweets with the option to create a Twitter account and actually post the tweet. I’d need to become more familiar with the various sites before trying this out in class but it’s a possibility. Anyone have any other ideas about how I could incorporate social media into my lessons without forcing everyone to use it?


My plan when I signed up for this course was to apply what I was learning about technology in my classroom, so my first thought about the major digital project was to use social media in the classroom as a way for my students to learn English and, for some, to become more computer-literate. Not only would we all learn something potentially useful to our lives, but my students and I would have the opportunity to collaborate with and teach each other in the learning process. Since many of my students come from countries where classes are almost exclusively instructor-focused, this would give them a chance to experience working with their instructor as a learner like themselves rather than as expert who knows all of the information and imparts it to them.

However, when I spoke with my students about using social media, I discovered that while they all have Facebook accounts, none of them were interested in using Twitter or blogs. There were a variety of reasons given but the most common ones were that they felt it would be too difficult at their current English level (high beginner) and they didn’t feel that it was immediately relevant to their lives.

Having determined that social media wasn’t the way to go, I considered starting to incorporate LearnIT2Teach/EduLINC into my classroom. This is a website funded by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) that teachers can use to work with their students at different levels of the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB). It’s based on Moodle and can be used in the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program for face-to-face, blended, and online classes. My school has one blended class and is moving towards adding more of them at different levels. While my class isn’t going to one of those, it would be useful for me to know how it works and helpful for my students to be exposed to it so that they can make a more informed choice about whether a blended class is a good option for them or not at higher levels. When I checked further into this, I decided to put it off until January because there are four stages to implementing EduLINC into a classroom and each stage has time limits and restrictions on how much instructors can control. The first couple of stages are fairly restrictive, so I wasn’t sure that I would be able to fulfill the requirements of this assignment.

So, I decided to move on to Option B and learn something new. After brainstorming, I came up with three options: photography, singing, and sketching. They’re all things that I’ve thought of doing since I was a teenager and I even started learning each of them at some point, sometimes more than once, but never stuck with it. I debated about which one to choose and decided that sketching would be the best one at this time. I often get a cough over the winter months, which would hamper my ability to sing, and I don’t really like the idea of spending lots of time outside in chilly weather learning to take photos of nature but sketching – that I could do anywhere. File:Sketch-book.jpgPlus, I could use it in my classroom. I often use images on the internet to show my students what something is but it’s annoying when I need to do it for very simple things that would take 10 or 20 seconds to draw on the board.

I did a quick Google search for websites on learning to draw the basics and there were 42.5 million results, so there are lots of resources available. The difficulty there will be in sorting through them and finding the most relevant ones. Last night, I mentioned this project to some friends and they suggested Craftsy and Picassohead, so I checked them out. Craftsy offers a variety of online lessons and while Picassohead won’t teach me how to draw, it was fun to create a sketch of a head in Picasso’s style using a digital art tool.

Then I called my stepmother, Martha Cole, who is a professional artist, and told her about my idea. She was thrilled and said she’d be happy to give me some guidance. When I reminded her that it wouldn’t be like traditional lessons because I needed to use online sources and wanted to use various types of technology to gather information and instruction, she responded enthusiastically that we could do some of it over Skype and Facebook (if I would just get an account) and that she’d like to follow my blog. She’s excited about expanding her technological knowledge, too.

I’m not sure exactly what path my learning project will take me on, but I plan to spend some time every day learning and practicing. By the end of the semester, I would like to be able to draw some simple items easily and incorporate that skill into my lessons. I’m looking forward to it!