Teaguen gives us a lesson ‘Onn’ the independent study program at our ESL school

CultureWork students, teachers and staff mingle through the independent study poster presentations in the Andy@Helen Spriet Learning Commons at The Darryl J. King Student Life Centre on the King’s University College campus. Photos courtesy of Peter Choi.
CultureWork students, teachers and staff mingle through the independent study poster presentations in the Andy@Helen Spriet Learning Commons at The Darryl J. King Student Life Centre on the King’s University College campus. Photos courtesy of Peter Choi.

Teaguen Onn is a teacher, a good one as a matter of fact. That does not make him one of a kind at CultureWorks. It’s a talented group from top to bottom.

If some of his teaching philosophies may be unique, however, they may have started with his two favourite studies in school, history … and philosophy.

Degrees in education and English literature at Western and Waterloo, respectively, and international teaching time in South Korea helped to round out his background. And being a CW teacher since 2011 doesn’t hurt either.

Teaguen Onn has been a teacher at CultureWorks since 2011.
Teaguen Onn has been a teacher at CultureWorks since 2011.

Teaguen sat down recently to talk about the independent study course outline, a path he has guided students along many, many times since joining CultureWorks. It is something he enjoys doing and where the teaching uniqueness comes into play.

What students can expect from the independent study course at our ESL school

In short, here is what we are talking about, using the course description as a guide.

Students work in pairs to propose, research, conduct, and report on a project of their choosing. This project will take the entire eight weeks of the term. Throughout the term, students will be responsible for meeting project milestones. They will be required to reflect on the project weekly and to produce a final learner portfolio explaining their contributions to the project and reflecting on their own learning throughout the process.

At the end of the term, they have created a show-and-tell poster presentation that they share with the teachers and fellow students.

“The main focus would be in using all the skills learned from all the other core subjects that we teach at CultureWorks,” Teaguen said in outlining the ESL program.

“So we are looking at listening and speaking, the reading, and then the writing as well. And I am also doing research. All of this is kind of rolled into one package… and it gives them more freedom to express these different skills, outside the parameters that we would normally assign to them with those specific classes.”

The poster presentations and the road to get there begin with their first days at our ESL school, Teaguen said.

“This is their chance to show kind of a final product, I guess, from what they have learned throughout their time. And I don’t even think this is necessarily cumulative just from a Level 7 or Level 6, but really from whenever they started in the CultureWorks program.

“To show ‘I’ve come this far and this is my end product. This is my big finale’.”

CultureWorks independent study teachers Paul Findlay (left, Level 6) and Teaguen Onn (right, Level 7) assess student poster presentations.
CultureWorks independent study teachers Paul Findlay (left, Level 6) and Teaguen Onn (right, Level 7) assess student poster presentations.

Allowing students to learn English as a second language in a more authentic way

Level 6 and Level 7 students take this eight-week program, with the expectations higher for the final-term students. Teaguen has the Level 7 group this term; fellow CW teacher Paul Findlay has the Level 6 group.

“With the Level 6, it is more of a rigid structure. With the Level 7, it’s more of about what can you do outside of the structure and how can you get people interested and engaged in your topic. That is the goal.”

The students’ subject choices cover a wide range and environmental subjects seem to top the list. But you may also find the proper way to operate a hot-pot restaurant in London, Ontario!

“The reason we introduced this program initially was we were trying to look for some more authentic ways for people to express the skills and the things that they have learned throughout the time of the program,” Teaguen said.

“They are supposed to be feasible and realistic solutions to these problems. So in that sense, it is an authentic assessment of what would you do in a real world like this.”

The benefits of completing the independent study course

Teaguen said the full-term project helps the students in many ways.

“It gives them a sense of working on something throughout a term. That’s important because when they do get into university, there will be some assignments that require bigger presentations, bigger reports, bigger essays. They will need sustained focus and concentration in order to be successful.”

Now back to Teaguen’s teaching philosophies. Some involve the ongoing teacher-student relationship in the independent study program.

“I would say it is a different relationship, because it allows me to not be the — for the lack of a better term — the all-knowing teacher preaching from the front of the room, telling people what is right and what is wrong.

“It’s me facilitating; it’s me closer to a peer — obviously not a peer — but closer to a peer and being able to communicate with them on a different level.

“It’s me working with them, discussing with them about the problem. It’s just a different scenario where I actually feel more comfortable doing that because I actually think it’s more helpful to talk people through things and feel that they can learn a lot more. It’s actually a different way in giving them feedback.”

Brian and Ruby, two current CultureWorks students, share some thoughts on the independent study program

At the end of the day comes satisfaction. Not always, however.

“With that sense of satisfaction can come with some dissatisfaction, depending on the experience. I am not going to lie. But the opportunity for the ultimate award is there.”

More often than not.

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