September 10, 2019

A Professional Development Resource for Going Beyond the Classroom: An Interview with Brett Fischer & Danielle Viens

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

Thanks to a grant from ECQ (Entente Canada-Québec), a professional development resource for ESL (English as a second language) teachers who are interested in creating learning experiences outside the classroom is now available for the Quebec college network. I recently interviewed Brett Fischer and Danielle Viens who collaborated to create a private YouTube channel where teachers would share their innovative ideas for going beyond the classroom.

Brett and Danielle taught high school before becoming ESL teachers at the college level. Brett has taught for 10 years at Cégep André-Laurendeau and Danielle has been at Cégep du Vieux Montréal for 7 years.

Brett, what led you to look into the possibility of going beyond the classroom?

Brett: 3 years ago I went to China and ran into another English teacher there. She said it must be such a joy teaching English in Québec because there are Anglophones at your doorstep. I started wondering who are the CEGEP teachers who take advantage of these opportunities and how do they go about it.

I created a workgroup to answer this specific question. The group (Brett Fischer, Cégep André-Laurendeau; Danielle Viens, Cégep du Vieux Montréal; Elizabeth Plaxton, Collège Rosemont; Diane Rondeau, Cégep Lévis-Lauzon; Catherine Turgeon-Gouin, Cégep Marie-Victorin) decided to interview some teachers that were quite innovative in what they were doing.

Teachers in the college network are able to listen to and draw ideas from the interviews that are kept on a private YouTube channel. Teachers can also leave comments or contact the presenters by email to ask questions. The workgroup hopes the YouTube channel will generate some dialogue about how to create, more easily, learning experiences outside of the classroom. Hopefully, this resource will kick off a community of practice around those ideas.

We hoped to make this easier for teachers who are interested in going beyond the textbook, who want to take language learning into the community and incorporate the world outside the classroom.

Brett Fischer

How did you go about the interviews, Danielle?

Danielle: We did 2 rounds of video interviews. The first round of group interviews was organised with between 2 and 5 participants in 6 different colleges. We filmed the interviews and then chose one individual teacher from each of the 6 CEGEPs. Then members of the workgroup went back and did more in-depth interviews, one-on-one, with that teacher. We asked the teachers from the 6 CEGEPs how they developed these practices, why these practices came to be and how they are maintaining the practices now. Teachers discussed cultural outings and tours, bringing guest speakers into the classroom, internships, interviews and vox pops, study abroad, volunteering, language monitors, resource centres and self-access centres, tandem learning, tutoring, language villages, and using social media to connect with communities of practice.

Ten capsules, in both French and English, are ready now on our YouTube channel. Of course, they are useful for ESL teachers however the ideas can be adapted to other courses. There are also some capsules for Spanish teachers.

10 capsules, in both French and English, are ready now on our YouTube channel. Photo attribution: Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

More specifically Brett, what are some of the community projects the students created?

Brett: In one capsule, a teacher discusses examples of meaningful learning activities that engaged students within their community. Nursing students went to a hospital and interviewed some of the nurses about job-related stress in their profession. The students then thought it would be nice to go back to the hospital to bring flowers to the nurses and support staff to brighten their day.

Other students visited residences for the elderly to entertain them for an afternoon by playing video games such as Wii exercise games for seniors. Food and clothing drives have also been popular.

Some of the requirements for the ESL classes were:

  • Students had to base their projects on texts that they had read or videos they listened to in English.
  • They had to target a real, specific Anglophone community.
  • They also had to have some kind of online presence (Facebook or Instagram page) so that other people could comment, reach out and interact.

These activities helped the students to improve their second language, of course, but also helped them see that they could make a difference in their community. They felt empowered. Students also had the opportunity to make contacts for their future professions.

Final Thoughts?

Brett: With the goal of developing a community of practice by reaching as many CEGEP teachers as possible, we presented the project in the spring of 2019 at the MeLT (Meeting on Language Teaching), at the colloquium of the RASCALS (Regroupement au service des CÉGEPs, anglais langue seconde) as well as at the AQPC (Association québécoise de pédagogie collégiale) symposium. These are all excellent opportunities for professional development, unfortunately however not all teachers can attend.

We would like teachers to have professional development at their fingertips for free. The advantage of our 10-minute capsules is that teachers can watch a video whenever and wherever. The beauty of the project is that it allows teachers to follow up with the person afterward. They can write the person who appears on the video directly with questions.

10-minute professional development capsules that teachers can watch whenever and wherever. Photo attribution: Photos for

Editor’s note

Teachers are welcome to contact Brett to be added to the YouTube channel. As this is a private channel for CEGEP teachers, to sign up you must use your CEGEP email address. The more people who sign up, the better the community of practice will be.

About the author

Susan MacNeil

She has had a busy career in education. With a M.Ed she taught all levels from kindergarten to university. However, most of her career was spent at the college level teaching ESL. She gave Performa courses, lead workshops at SPEAQ, RASCALS and l’AQPC. She served at the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur where she contributed to the evaluation of the general education components. She received grants from L’Entente Canada-Québec for various
research projects. Susan is also the recipient of the AQPC Mention d’honneur Award. Having retired from teaching she became a contributor to Real Life Stories of education technology integration at Eductive. Chinese ink painting helps her relax and travel keeps her energized.

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