Ode to Children’s Writers

I (Cathy) finished my third Kate Morton novel yesterday, The Forgotten Garden. Intriguing style. Here is the synopsis shared on http://www.austcrimefiction.org

When thirty-eight year old Cassandra Ryan discovers her grandmother Nell’s secret – that she was not the biological child of her parents, but a foundling – she is intrigued. Inside the suitcase found with the abandoned child at the Port of Brisbane in 1913 Cassandra finds a package of letters, a children’s storybook, and a coded manuscript belonging to Eliza Makepeace Rutherford: the Victorian authoress of dark fairy-tales who disappeared mysteriously in the early twentieth century. And so begins the quest to solve a century-old literary mystery.

I found the story line more interesting than some of Morton’s other books, partly because it was about a woman- Eliza Makpeace (Authoress)- who wrote fairy tale stories for children. The stories were included in the novel as chapters: The Cuckoo’s Flight, The Crone’s Eyes, and The Golden Egg. I particularly enjoyed the Crones Eyes. Deliciously dark!

As a collector and teller of traditional folk lore (I love the collections of Lang, Grimm and particularly, Jacobs), I found her stories strikingly similar to the old folk tales of Europe- frightening and heroic. People often died in those, not like in the Disney versions of today (e.g., in the original Andersen version of The Little Mermaid, the mermaid dies). As I was mulling this over, I happened to come across Morton’s acknowledgements:

I would also like to pay tribute here to authors who write for children. To discover early that behind the black marks on white pages lurk worlds of incomparable terror, joy, and excitement is one of life’s great gifts. I am enormously grateful to those authors who’s works fired my childhood imagination and inspired in me a love of books and reading that has been a constant companion. The Forgotten Garden is in part an ode to them.                                               Kate Morton

I was warmed by this acknowledgement. I think the stories of our youth live in us forever. If you enjoy traditional lore as much as I, I highly recommend reading The Forgotten Garden. For my part, I plan to write to Kate Morton’s publisher to obtain permission to tell them. They would make a delightful set at a festival and would hopefully fire the imaginations of the children (and adults) who listen.


Support for Teachers from the Field of Medicine

At last someone has linked the problems of inappropriate use of testing in education with Doctorthose of the prestigious profession of medicine. Robert Wachter, Professor of Medicine at UCSF, has written a book titled The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age in which he argues that measurement has gotten out of hand. In a New York Times article “How Measurement Fails Us” (Sunday Review, Jan 17, 2016, p. 5) he states:

“Two of the most vital industries, health care and education, have become increasingly subjected to metrics and measurements. Of course, we need to hold professionals accountable. But the focus on numbers has gone too far.”

In the article Wachter notes that “burnout rates for doctors top 50 percent” and he says recent research has shown that “the electronic health record was a dominant culprit.” He then draws a parallel with teaching.

“Education is experiencing its own version of measurement fatigue. Educators complain that the focus on student test performance comes at the expense of learning.”

Wachter maintains that what is needed is “thoughtful and limited assessment.” “Measurement cannot go away, but it needs to be scaled back and allowed to mature. We need more targeted measures, ones that have been vetted to ensure that they really matter.” We also need to take account of the harm excessive measurement does. Again he compares the two professions: research has shown that

“In medicine, doctors no longer made eye contact with patients as they clicked away. In education, even parents who favored more testing around Common Core standards worried about the damaging influence of all the exams.”

With this welcome support, we in education need to consider how we can keep measurement within limits and focused on key matters, so it does not undermine our profession. When is measurement useful, and when does it do more harm than good?

The “Google generation”

Many of our learners have grown up with access to all sorts of search engines, namely Google which has quickly turned from a noun to a verb: “Just Google it.” With access to Google, many of our learners have instant answers that are just a few clicks away.

There has been an ongoing debate on whether Google is harmful or not to our ability to critically think about texts. Tan (2016) from Mindshift recongnizes, “with the advent of personal assistants like Siri and Google Now that aim to serve up information before you even know you need it, you don’t even need to type the questions. Just say the words and you’ll have your answer.” However, there are ways to ensure questions/inquiries in the class are “Google proof.” A former Kentucky middle-school teacher suggests re-thinking our instructional design is key in making work Google proof. He says, “Design it so that Google is crucial to creating a response rather than finding one…if students can Google answers — stumble on (what) you want them to remember in a few clicks — there’s a problem with the instructional design.”

I envision project-based learning and inter-disciplinary approaches as a way into creating Google proof material. Any suggestions? What have you tried/created/heard about?



Field trips in Teacher Education: Connecting teachers with student teachers in teacher education courses

In a recent article our research team wrote about the complex work of experienced literacy teacher educators.

Kosnik, C., et al. (2014). Beyond initial transition: An international examination of the complex work of experienced literacy/English teacher educators. English in Education. 48 (1). 41-62.

The findings show the complexity of being the “linchpins of education”  where on the one hand literacy teacher educators negotiate their evolving identity as classroom teachers and on the other hand are navigating the university professorial landscape.

As a teacher educator I (Yiola) can relate to the tensions expressed by our participants. To address some of the tensions I have developed a model that brings together the schools and student teachers through my university courses. My work as the “linchpin” is to make the theoretical and scholarly connections with the student teachers. In this post I give an example of the relationship between the schools/teachers and one of my teacher education courses.

I teach a curriculum course that explores the arts (Visual Arts, Music, Drama and Dance) and Health and Physical Education. In a very short period time teacher candidates are expected to have competence and confidence in teaching these subjects across the elementary grades. I have designed a course that explores the literature, both content and pedagogy, and that provides opportunities for exploration and experience. To achieve the exploration piece I have reached out to exemplary teachers in the community seeking their participation in the course. Each and every teacher I have reached out to has been keenly interested to share insights into their practice. We have gone to school gymnasiums and experienced a physical education class and also observed a teacher teach children in the gym. We have gone to a “ballet” school to learn more about movement competence and what that means, and we have visited classrooms to learn more about teaching the visual arts.

Last week our class “set up shop” at the Fraser Mustard Academy for Early Learning where teacher Niki Singh  shared her expertise on teaching visual arts in the early years.



Here our learning was brought to life. She spoke about the school’s philosophy, key elements of the program, and connected the curriculum to practice. This discourse alone cannot be achieved through academic readings and discussion. Then, we were invited to observe a one-hour class in action. From observing the classroom set up, materials, learning environment to watching the opening procedures and capturing the nuances of teachers’ language, tone, pace, and rhythm. We then toured the classroom as children engaged with the arts. We observed; we interacted; and we explored. Hearing the sounds, seeing the sights and capturing the details of a day in the life of what Niki calls “The Living Gallery” was a worthwhile learning opportunity. Here are some images of the experience:



Student teacher begins working with one child who has an interest in string and letters. She encourages him to cut the string and create letters. After some time a crowd of curious students gather and join in the process: cutting, lines, and literacy through the exploration of the arts.



Exploring materials and how they are set up and utlized by the children. Art, culture, child development and curriculum all working in harmony for the student teachers to observe.



Watching children problem solve in the arts. Here two students are creating fashion designs using a variety of textiles. How to combine fabrics? How to make them fit?


Examining documentation and understanding how assessment in the visual arts can take shape was another area explored. In the picture above we see children’s work along with their talk about the art, capturing their understandings.

There is mutual benefit to the student teachers and the school community when the university comes together. Teachers are able to share their knowledge and student teachers are able to gain understandings outside of their practicum obligations.

I end this blog with an observation so inspirational that it cannot be felt through a text or screen but that can only be understood when seen in the context of the school. Niki, the visual arts teacher brought nature, the outdoors, into her classroom when she gathered fallen branches in the community into the school. The children created a “Rainbow Forest” where they wove colourful wool around the branches and sculpted a beautiful forest inside their school. We were able to see the children’s artwork and the language around the artwork. Children talked about diversity and how difference stands united. Here we see the commitment to diversity and inclusion.


The student teachers enjoyed the experience. I see their engagement by the ways they are involved, the questions the ask, the thoughtfulness and effort placed on connecting scholarship to the experience. The teachers have often shared that they feel re-inspired after listening to and sharing with the student teachers. The relationship between schools and the university is beneficial and is one way I am able to reconcile some of the tensions I feel as a teacher educator.


Well-Being – How are we doing?

I (Clare) recently discovered an extremely interesting research study. How are Ontarians Really Doing? by the Canadian Index of Wellbeing

The concept of well-being is near and dear to my heart. In my doctoral thesis I wrote that well-being should be the ultimate goal of schooling. Even if you are not from Ontario I think you will find this study interesting because it goes beyond traditional and typical ways of measuring how well a country is doing. Below are some excerpts from the document and here is the link to the entire document.https://uwaterloo.ca/canadian-index-wellbeing/

What is wellbeing? Image_InfographiconWellbeing

There are many definitions of wellbeing. The Canadian Index of Wellbeing has adopted the following as its working definition:

 The presence of the highest possible quality of life in its full breadth of expression focused on but not necessarily exclusive to: good living standards, robust health, a sustainable environment, vital communities, an educated populace, balanced time use, high levels of democratic participation, and access to and participation in leisure and culture.

The United Nations and the OECD agree – the true measure of a country’s progress must include the well being of its citizens.

While the most traditional metric, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), measures all goods and services produced by a country, it has two critical shortcomings. First, by focusing exclusively on the economy, GDP fails to capture areas of our lives that we care about most like education, health, environmental quality, and the relationships we have with others. Second, it does not identify the costs of economic growth — like pollution.

To create a robust and more revealing measure of our social progress, the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) has been working with experts and everyday Canadians since 1999 to determine how we are really doing in the areas of our lives that matter most. The CIW measures overall wellbeing based on 64 indicators covering eight domains of vital importance to Canadians: Education, Community Vitality, Healthy Populations, Democratic Engagement, Environment, Leisure and Culture, Time Use, and Living Standards. The CIW’s comprehensive index of overall wellbeing tracks progress provincially and nationally and allows comparisons to GDP.

Comparing the CIW and GDP between 1994 and 2010 reveals a chasm between our wellbeing and economic growth both nationally and provincially. Over the 17-year period, GDP has grown almost four times more than our overall wellbeing. The trends clearly show that even when times are good, overall wellbeing does not keep up with economic growth and when times are bad, the impact on our wellbeing is even harsher. We have to ask ourselves, is this good enough?

Some of the topics addressed are:

  • Progress in education, community vitality and healthy populations
  • Decline in leisure and culture
  • Decline in the environment
  • Lagging far behind in living standards

Second Wave Change

Every once and a while I check online to see if my favorite literacies scholar, Allan Luke, has presented something new I can learn from.


Although not ‘new’, this time I happened upon a  short and poignant video called Second Wave Change.  It’s a succinct  explanation of  the kind of substantive content our students need to be discussing and thinking about to change our world.  This is a perfect video for student teachers.

So worth watching, but Allen Luke always is.



Is Texting Killing Language?

Image_JohnMcWhorterOn Sunday Clive posted a blog Short or Long Form Writing? I (Clare) also wonder/worry about our new forms of communication and what is happening to “English.” John McWhorter did a fabulous Ted Talk  asking is Texting Killing Language. http://www.ted.com/talks/john_mcwhorter_txtng_is_killing_language_jk

It is truly worth listening to because he gives us a different perspective. He notes:

We always hear that texting is a scourge. The idea is that texting spells the decline and fall of any kind of serious literacy, or at least writing ability, among young people in the United States and now the whole world today. The fact of the matter is that it just isn’t true, and it’s easy to think that it is true, but in order to see it in another way, in order to see that actually texting is a miraculous thing, not just energetic, but a miraculous thing, a kind of emergent complexity that we’re seeing happening right now, we have to pull the camera back for a bit and look at what language really is, in which case, one thing that we see is that texting is not writing at all. What do I mean by that?

Casual speech is something quite different. Linguists have actually shown that when we’re speaking casually in an unmonitored way, we tend to speak in word packets of maybe seven to 10 words. You’ll notice this if you ever have occasion to record yourself or a group of people talking. That’s what speech is like. Speech is much looser. It’s much more telegraphic. It’s much less reflective — very different from writing. So we naturally tend to think, because we see language written so often, that that’s what language is, but actually what language is, is speech. They are two things.

What texting is, despite the fact that it involves the brute mechanics of something that we call writing, is fingered speech. That’s what texting is. Now we can write the way we talk. And it’s a very interesting thing, but nevertheless easy to think that still it represents some sort of decline. We see this general bagginess of the structure, the lack of concern with rules and the way that we’re used to learning on the blackboard, and so we think that something has gone wrong. It’s a very natural sense.

Short or Long Form Writing?

There is a lot of enthusiasm today about the potential of short form communication – SocialMediatweets, blogs, etc. – to facilitate inquiry and professional development. At the same time, books and long articles continue to be published in huge numbers. Which medium is likely to have greater impact? An obvious response is that we should use both; but when forced to choose (either as reader or writer), which should we opt for? In my (Clive’s) view it depends on the context and how we go about it.

Teaching is such a complex process that individual tweets or blogs about it may be of little use. However, if they are part of an ongoing conversation (literal or metaphoric) they can be very valuable. It is the same with articles and books: they must respond to the concerns and thinking in the field if they are to be helpful.

Wittgenstein once said (according to Iris Murdoch – NYT, January 24, 2016): “One conversation with a philosopher is as pointless as one piano lesson.” So much for short form communication! But it depends on the context. For a serious pianist, a single interaction with another pianist can have a big impact. And equally, if an academic is willing to dialogue rather than just lecture endlessly about their theory, one conversation can be very helpful.

Whether short or long, communication should as far as possible “keep the conversation going” (to use Rorty’s phrase) so people learn from each other and there is a cumulative effect. We cannot always have an actual conversation, but if we listen to what others are asking and thinking we can make a contribution.





Professional Learning in Top Performing Systems, part 2

I (Clare) thought you might find this blog interesting about high performing schools. Not sure I agree with all of it but food for thought

International Education News

PDinfographicv2The National Center on Education and the Economy’s (NCEE) Center on International Education Benchmarking has released two reports on professional learning environments in top performing systems: Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High-Performing Systems and Developing Shanghai’s TeachersTo explore and share the findings of these reports, the NCEE held a conference last week featuring presentations and panel conversations with the leading voices in education from around the world. This conference was also streamed live and can be viewed online. Moderated by Marc Tucker, president and CEO of NCEE, speakers included Ben Jensen (author of Beyond PD) and Minxuan Zhang (author of Developing Shanghai’s Teachers).

Ben Jensen began his presentation with the questions, “What is at the core of high performing professional learning systems? What is the strategy to ensure effectiveness?”

Jensen argued that we need to move past the idea that there is a single answer…

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