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Matthew Douglas, 40, a high school teacher at Western Technical-Commercial School in Toronto, has spent the past two summer’s teaching ESL programs with the Toronto District School Board.
Matthew Douglas, 40, a high school teacher at Western Technical-Commercial School in Toronto, has spent the past two summer’s teaching ESL programs with the Toronto District School Board.

school’s not out for summer

A summer ESL teacher on the joy of learning and studying abroad Add to ...

Matthew Douglas, 40, a high school teacher at Western Technical-Commercial School in Toronto, has spent the past two summer’s teaching ESL programs with the Toronto District School Board. The program is directed at 12- to 17-year-old international students, coming from places ranging from South America to Eastern Europe to Spain and Italy. As part of our “School’s not out for Summer” series, we spoke with him about what summer ESL programs are like and why studying abroad is so important.

The goal of the program is to teach global citizenship and environmental awareness to those who aren’t from Canada. And we get to showcase Canada, or at least Toronto, for these students.

We spent two days in the classroom … and more or less every two days we went on a field trip somewhere. We went to the aquarium, the CN Tower, Niagara Falls and Canada’s Wonderland.

We spent three days at an outdoor education centre in Orangeville, Ont., and what was so wonderful is that we could tie what we were doing in the classroom with what they were seeing out in the field during these outings.

I’m a practitioner of what’s seen, what’s called content and language-integrated learning. We had a lot of English-based conversations on topics – in our case environmental awareness or global citizenship.

And as an English instructor you hit them with vocabulary, so I had various games where they’d learn words and maybe read a text and then talk about the text. And then we’d actually go to the place. For marine animals, we learned before we went to the aquarium. We learned words about marine biology and read a text about different ecosystems in and around Toronto and Ontario, and then went to the aquarium and saw some of the species there that are indigenous. We did the same thing at the Royal Ontario Museum or even the University of Toronto.

The buy-in is larger when you’re abroad somewhere. I just found that the students were more ready to learn and ambitious, so that’s always a nice difference. It’s learning for the sake of the joy of learning instead of learning for the students to get marks because we didn’t award marks. They got feedback on how well they’re doing and how they’re speaking English or how they’re writing in English and so on. They got quite a lot of this so-called formative feedback, but besides the assessment test at the very beginning of the program, it’s learning just for the joy of learning and that’s the key difference.

I think it’s important to get an international perspective in one’s studies. At university, I studied abroad and it really widened my horizons. In fact, I lived in Germany for 10 years. I’m back in Toronto now but it really enriched my life just travelling abroad and learning a second language. So I like that other students are able to do that as well. It gives people an international perspective or just a different perspective and I think that’s important, not just to have the one narrative, but to look around and see what’s happening in other places in the world and how different cultures are approaching certain challenges and so on.

That’s why I think it’s so important for students to study abroad.

As told to Ellen Brait.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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