All About Me Texts

We had an amazing literacy class yesterday. We (Clare and Lydia) along with the student teachers in our P/J and J/I literacy courses shared our All About Me texts. As a class we meet weekly in a designated classroom on campus, but this week class was extra special, as Clare graciously invited us into her home to share our texts in a more personal space. The student teachers engaged a rich array of storytelling formats including – playbills, a message in a bottle, interactive ABC books, puzzles, dual language texts, a personal timeline plotted out with illustrated cityscapes, e-books, comic strips, Pokémon cards, nesting boxes housing artifacts documenting developmental milestone – to share aspects of themselves to an attentive audience of their peers. The depth of thought and creativity communicated through their texts was truly impressive and inspiring. I’m sure the children/youth they’ll be teaching in their upcoming placements will enjoy these texts as much as we all did. It was a truly enjoyable day. Thank you to all the student teachers in our literacy community!!



Teachers Speak Up on Work-Life Balance

Earlier this year the Canadian Teachers’ Federation conducted a survey to gain insight into the obstacles teachers face trying to achieve a work-life balance. The survey found sources of stress for teachers both inside and outside the classroom. In total, 8,096 teachers responded.

Inside the classroom, 95% of teachers felt that they had the “inability to devote desired time to individual students.” While outside of the classroom, 88% expressed they did “not have enough time with own children.” Other school related stresses included: interruptions to teaching by students; student absenteeism; and students’ home life and health related issues.

The five actions recommended to relieve some of these stressors are familiar suggestions. Since I have been in the field of teaching I have heard demands for all of the recommendations given. They include: reduced class sizes; improve support for children with special needs; give more time for planning and preparation; reduce demand of non-teaching related activities; and improve resources. Most of these suggestions require money, and a lot of it. Are these recommendations realistic? How else can we think about promoting better work-life balance for our teachers?

Read more about this issue here:

teacherstressctf14Take a look at this graphic which complies information gathered from the survey:

Teacher collegiality: A priority in education

Teachers and Teacher Educators alike, I (Yiola) hope you have had a good start to the academic school year. By this time a productive learning environment is in the works, students are settling into routines and relationships and all wheels are in motion. Teaching and learning in classrooms is a complex enterprise. I believe we spend huge amounts of time thinking about and preparing our students for the classroom yet little time is spent on developing safe, supportive, resourceful environments for ourselves as educators.

Enter the social world of teaching for teachers. From novice classroom teachers to veteran teacher educators, research literature clearly shows that the conception that educators perform better when working together professionally is supported by organizational theory models… Such conceptions view authentic teamwork as an essential characteristic of the successful organization as its members interact regularly to share their ideas and expertise and develop common understanding of organizational goals and the means to their attainment (Shah, 2014).

See full article here:

teacher collegiality

Integrated classrooms, full day kindergarten teams, division teams, departments, staff and faculty and informal professional learning communities (PLC), require teamwork, moral support, and encouragement between educators.  What better way to engage in teacher preparation and teaching than feeling supported, appreciated and valued.  What are the key characteristics of collegial work environments?

The research literature indicates considerable consistency in the key characteristics of teacher PLCs. Participants working together regularly over an extended timeline, shared values and vision, practical activities focused on student learning, taking an inquiry stance, being reflective and collaborating and sharing experiences, are characteristics which are consistently highlighted (Susan Owen, 2014).

See full article here:


A supportive work environment, collegial atmosphere, shared vision, shared workload, appreciation and affirmation of colleague contributions, and genuine interest and commitment to the school/program make a significant difference to educators’ work. While the structure and environments are often built from the top down (i.e. principals or program leaders), much can be done within organizations to foster strong PLCs. These are messages I share with my student teachers as we consider how teachers work with early childhood educators in the kindergarten classrooms, and how the special education teacher communicates with the regular classroom teacher, and how teachers communicate with parents. Exploring how to work collaboratively and how to deal with conflict are important considerations for good teacher practice.

Teaching, service work, and research are approached with interest, enthusiasm, and care because of the collegial work environments that have been established within the PLCs. Below is a picture of wonderful colleagues and my cheering team. I am extremely grateful for the wonderful professional learning communities I am part of at OISE.

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Left to right: Prof. Gisela Wajskop, me, Prof. Clare Kosnik

Front and centre: Sylvia Clare and Gallaway

Toronto Marathon

On this blog I (Clare) have shared the many accomplishments of our team memberTony and Clare s — some academic, some personal, and some professional.  Today my brother, Tony,  ran the Toronto Marathon. He is an amazing runner and completed the 26 miles in 3 hours and 16 minutes. I was the chief cheerleader.

Congratulations Tony on a superb run. He is a great supporter of my work and I am happy to share his good news of his accomplishment. Here is a photo of us post race.

10 things your child’s teacher wants to say to you

I (Clare) came across this “open letter” to parents by by Lyndsi Frandsen which I found very interesting. As many schools gear up for Curriculum Night where teachers meet the parents of their students for the first time, I thought this article very relevant. As teachers we so often are misunderstood.Below is the full letter and here is a link to the website>

SALT LAKE CITY — Teachers can be a misunderstood breed. A lot of times we find ourselves taking the blame for anything and everything. Your child failed a test? Blame the teacher. Your child got pushed down on the playground? Blame the teacher. You’re having a bad hair day? Blame the teacher.

But have you ever thought about what your child’s teacher would say if the teacher could speak openly and honestly, without any backlash? I interviewed dozens of my fellow teachers and colleagues. Using their comments, I compiled what I hope will be a helpful list of suggestions to improve the parent-teacher dynamic.

Now, before you call an emergency neighborhood meeting and start writing “1,000 things parents wish they could say to their child’s idiotic teacher,” take a step back. Give these teachers the benefit of the doubt, and know the educators who weighed in on this are wonderfully talented, kind, educated, adoring teachers who love what they do.

(On a side note: As I was reaching out to teachers, I felt like I should title this “The help: teacher edition.” It took a lot of coaxing and reassurance in order to get them to talk.)

“Thank you for sharing your child with me each day. … Thank you for trusting me with your most prized possessions. Thank you for helping me create the “magic” that is learning, educating and inspiring.”

1. I can’t do it alone

I am here to tell you that whatever is accomplished during the long school day can be completely undone in just a few hours at home. I am only human. I can’t snap my fingers and get your child to the target reading level. Will I try my hardest? Yes. Will I ever stop trying? No. But if you aren’t actively engaging with your child and reinforcing learning at home, you are robbing your child of opportunities otherwise. I am giving your child the best hours of my day. Please be willing to give your child minutes of your day to spend on homework, reading, etc.

2. I never stop thinking about your child

Even when I am finally home and able to focus on my own little ones, I am still thinking about yours. I am constantly thinking about how to help them overcome educational barriers. I am continuously brainstorming how I can cater to their various learning styles. But it doesn’t end there. I lose sleep thinking about the much-too-heavy-burdens of life their tiny shoulders carry around. I worry about their future and the scary world they will grow up in. I love them fiercely and they are always on my mind.

3. Yes, I am saying your child is lying

I am an adult. I am not a mean, petty, immature teenager who makes up rumors to make your child look bad. If I tell you your child called a classmate a name — then your child did. If I tell you your child refused to complete work — then your child did. Please believe the 30-year-old adult and not your 8-year-old child.

4. We are all cheering for the same team

I know this may come as a surprise to you, but I am not the enemy. Like you, I love your child. Like you, most days I invest more time and money in the children, than I do in myself. Like you, I want what’s best for them. So, when you feel tempted to tell me all the reasons why I treat your child unfairly, or am out to get your child, please remember that. When I hold your child accountable, I’m not treating your child unfairly. When I challenge your child academically, I am not out to get your child. The end.

5. We really don’t think every child needs medication

One teacher (and mother) I talked to learned this lesson firsthand. After her own child was diagnosed with a processing disorder, she realized he just might need medication to help him focus. It was a hard fact to swallow: that the medication she had been so against was the missing piece of the puzzle. Her words: “You would not consider keeping a child from their asthma medication because it would change who they are, so why would you consider keeping a child from medicine that would help them to be their best self?

Medication is not a death sentence. It does not mean that they are dumb or out of control. It does not mean they are ‘one of those kids.’ ” Teachers observe every type of child on a daily basis. Being receptive to their observations and opinions just may pay off for your child. Parents need to advocate for their children. Sometimes, they don’t know how or where to begin. And that’s where we come in.

6. The way you speak about education directly influences your child’s opinion

If you place great value on learning, your children will. If you speak kindly about their teacher, they will. If you tell them they have test anxiety, they will. If you treat school as a chore, they will. If you have high expectations for them, they will.

7. Your child doesn’t have any friends because he is unkind

I understand this isn’t a fact 100 percent of the time. But generally speaking, if your child is kind, compassionate and friendly, then other children will want to be your child’s friend. Funny how that works, isn’t it? It is your responsibility to teach your child how to be a good friend. If your children are hearing you gossip, belittle and exclude others, chances are they will be the same kind of friend you are.

8. It’s OK to let your child struggle

This is how we learn and grow. I understand your overwhelming desire to intervene at the drop of a hat. I understand it is hard to watch your child go through hard things and sometimes fail. I don’t like to watch your child struggle either. But if we do everything for them, they will never be able to do anything for themselves.

9. Your appreciation goes a long way

We don’t want you to feel bad for us. We chose this profession, and if we could go back and do it again … we would be doctors. Just kidding. We would do it all over again. Teachers just want to feel valued and appreciated. Our payoff (clearly) doesn’t come in the form of a check. It comes with watching your child grow and develop a love of learning. Parents who express their gratitude underestimate how far that really goes. So, write a thank-you note every now and again, tell us what a good job we are doing, and spoil the living daylights out of us during teacher appreciation week. (Kidding … sort of.)

10. Thank you

A well-known teacher that has a wonderful reputation with students, parents and colleagues said it perfectly:

“Thank you for sharing your child with me each day. Thank you for taking an interest in what he/she is doing. Thank you for caring about your child enough to let them fail from time to time, but being there to pick them up, brush them off, and help them grow from the experience. Thank you for investing time in your child. It is the most valuable gift you can give them. Thank you for taking time away from your phone or your computer to really be there for them. Thank you for teaching your child responsibility. Thank you for helping them realize that the choices they make are their choices and the consequences, good or bad, are not because of someone else. Thank you for letting me be a part of the ‘village’ that gets to help raise your child. Thank you for the opportunity I get to make a difference in their life. Thank you for trusting me with your most prized possessions. Thank you for helping me create the “magic” that is learning, educating and inspiring.”

Lyndsi Frandsen is the creator of the Facebook page For All Momkind and author of the For All Momkind blog. She has many titles, including wife, kindergarten teacher, sister and her favorite title, Mom.

Assessing a Course

I once asked a high school class to anonymously assess the course I was teaching. I asked them to write down how I could, in their opinion, improve my instruction. The first response read, Lose the scarf. The second read, Lose 10 pounds. The rest of the evaluations were not much better. At the time, I decided these students were perhaps just too immature to assess a course effectively.

As a university instructor, I assumed my students would be mature enough to assess a course effectively.   Last week marked mid-term at my university. In the interest of gauging how my students were feeling about the course, I encouraged my students to assess the course using a response format. I chose to use a Start Stop Continue. I explained to them that this was an anonymous response format in which they write down what they would prefer I Start doing in the course (that I am not doing), Stop doing something that they do not like, and Continue doing something they enjoy or are learning from. Most students admitted they had never been invited to use a response tool to evaluate a course.   The following is a small sampling from the three classes I invited to respond:

Start serving snacks                                                                                                                                                      Start treating us like adults                                                                                                                                     Continue treating us like adults. I love that you ask us what we need.                                                                         Stop using instruments to get our attention                                                                                                              Continue using all the instruments to get our attention. I love it.                                                                                                                                                                             Stop giving us silly activities to do that I learn nothing from.                                                                                  Continue giving us so many creative tasks to do in class. I hate lectures.                                                             Continue being passionate about learning and teaching.

I was fascinated. The responses represented such a range it was hard to determine what I should address. In the end, I decided to hold an open-circle discussion with each class to discuss the responses and what these could mean to us as teachers. The response to the responses was remarkable. My students could see how helpful or unhelpful the comments could be. Some found the responses amusing, while others were annoyed by them. I shared one insight I received from the comments: that the student who identified the tasks I set up for them as “silly activities” probably didn’t understand the theories and purpose behind the tasks. And that, I acknowledged, was my fault. As a result, a very intense discussion ensued in which we dissected many of the tasks and activities we engaged in.

In the end, we all learned from this experience. And it was not the assessment tool that provided the learning- it was the assessment of the assessment that mattered.

Can Reading Comprehension be Taught?

I (Clare) recently read in Teachers College Record a fascinating commentary about reading comprehension by Daniel T. Willingham & Gail LovetteCan Reading Comprehension Be Taught?

For those of you who teach literacy in elementary school or teach literacy methods courses in teacher education programs you might find their analysis of why teaching comprehension very interesting. In my local school districts teaching specific comprehension strategies seems to be the latest bandwagon. On one level I think direct instruction on how to comprehend/make sense of text can help struggling readers.

On the other hand, one of my issues is with the way these strategies are taught. These comprehension strategies are listed on a poster and students are expected to use those specific 8 strategies. They are drilled over and over and over on them. If a student does not “get them” the first ten times of drilling will they ever get them?

So I found Willingham and Lovette’s explanation informative on why this approach can work interesting:

The funny thing about reading comprehension strategy instruction is that it really shouldn’t work, but it does. This commentary seeks to provide insight into how it should work and guidance on effective strategies for implementation.

They provide reasons why teaching comprehension strategies work:phone1

Here’s our interpretation. The vague Ikea instructions aren’t bad advice. You’re better off taking an occasional look at the big picture as opposed to keeping your head down and your little hex wrench turning. Likewise, RCS encourage you to pause as you’re reading, evaluate the big picture, and think about where the text is going. And if the answer is unclear, RCS give students something concrete to try and a way to organize their cognitive resources when they recognize that they do not understand.

 RCS instruction may be at its best in telling students what reading is supposed to be. Reading is not just about decoding; you are meant to understand something. The purpose is communication. This message may be particularly powerful for struggling readers, whose criterion for “understanding” is often too low (Markman, 1979). One of us works extensively with struggling adolescent readers who frequently approach the task of reading as getting to the last word on the page.

I think one of the ways to go forward is to provide students with many comprehension strategies. I know that when I read I use many more than 8 strategies. If you want to read the entire commentary (which is not too long) here is the article. I will definitely use this article with my teacher education students.Can Reading Comprehension Be Taught



Working to Make a Difference

A GTA first grade teacher, Asa Schoondenbeek, is one of 35 recipients of the Prime Minister’s Awards for Teaching Excellence. Mr. Schoondenbeek began a lunchtime reading club for first and second grade boys at his school. During his lunch hour he dresses up as a superhero and reads to boys who choose to be in the club. One of the young boys in the club told CBC News that the reading program is fun because “you get to read and you get to pick any book we want to read.” Parents and the school’s community council nominated Schoondenbeek for the award because they appreciated his efforts and commitment to students.

Link to the CBC news story:

An Infographic of Finland’s Education System

Much has been said about the education system in Finland. For the past decade or so Finland’s PISA scores have been at the top in both literacy and mathematics. Many studies have been conducted on their exemplary system. Some of the characteristics which set the education system apart:

  • Student- Teacher Ratio is better than in North America
  • Standardized testing and homework is kept to a minimum
  • Teaching is a highly respected profession

Below is a beautiful infographic outlining Finland’s stance on teaching and learning (Lepi, 2014). Lepi concludes the infographic with, what she believes, is most critical to Finland’s success: “Finland knows good teachers are essential.”


Teacher Education, Schooling and the Teaching of Holidays

Today is Canadian Thanksgiving. For many Thanksgiving is a holiday of rest. A long weekend for a quick getaway or time to gather with friends and family to feast on turkey and pause for a moment to reflect on one’s blessings. For many, it is a happy holiday, not associated with historical ties or religion.  For others, Thanksgiving holds alternative feelings and reminders.  As a teacher educator I do not mention the holidays in my class nor do we discuss possibilities for addressing the holidays in the classroom. Now I am thinking maybe I should… not for the purpose of generating teaching ideas and strategies but for the broader more philosophical discussion of what should be considered when raising the topic of holidays in the classroom?

I remember Thanksgiving celebrations at school; we decorated autumn wreaths, coloured turkey pictures and shared what we were thankful for with one another. But, is that what Thanksgiving is about? To some, it may be just that. But is it something else? What are the perspectives? The history? And how do we share that information in ways that are inclusive and safe? In fact, how do we share any holiday content with children in our classrooms? I am interested in unraveling the embedded practices that are based more on tradition (doing what we’ve always done) and thinking more about the students in our classrooms and how the stories and histories and significances of the holidays may or may not touch their lives.

Quick searches online led me to inconsistent explanations of the origins of Thanksgiving in Canada. So I am left to share a simple wikipedia here:

There are significant differences between Canadian and USA Thanksgiving, far beyond the different date.

And then of course there is the perspective taking on the holidays. Thanksgiving is one where Aboriginal perspectives, for example, weigh heavily in my thoughts and move me to contemplate how best to approach the discussion of the holiday in schools.

There are several online resources available and people to talk to about the varying perspectives. Information can be found. Yet I am still left with the questions, how do we approach this in the classroom? Do we continue to colour in turkeys and refer to a ‘harvest’ that many 4 – 10 year olds cannot quite imagine and have children share what they are thankful for? Do we tell stories and share multiple perspectives on the past and present? Do we do nothing at all?

I’m interested to hear from teacher educators and teachers about what you are doing or have see done in teacher education and in schools.  An interesting discussion with many angles and points of view.

Sending warm wishes to those who have celebrated and enjoyed the holiday this weekend.