Lens Blog and Visual Thinking Strategies

When developing the photo essay assignment for my course, I came across an excellent resource for teachers and students. The New York Times has started a blog entitled Lens: Photography, Video, and Visual Journalism. The topics covered in  the blog posts touch on several critical issues such as immigration, race, and class. The photos  captured in each of the photo essays serve as a great entry point into rich discussion. When using the Lens Blog in my classroom I find myself drawing on skills I developed during workshops many years ago.

When I was a public school teacher, I participated in a fascinating series of professional development workshops called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). By analyzing carefully selected images, students were able to develop critical literacy skills as well as visual literacy skills. Teachers were facilitators in this process and asked three open-ended questions:

1. What’s going on in this picture?

2. What do you see that makes you say that?

3. What more can we find?

I found myself using the VTS approach when presenting students the photo essays from the Lens blog. Students in my class really engaged with the photos and rich discussion took place as a result. I will definitely be using this blog for years to come in the classroom.

Below are some powerful images from photo essays on  the Lens Blog.

Photo Essay: Garifuna Immigrants in New York
Photo Essay: Garifuna Immigrants in New York
Photo Essay: Connecting with Syrian Refugees
Photo Essay: Connecting with Syrian Refugees
Photo Essay: One Year Later, Remembering Eric Garner
Photo Essay: One Year Later, Remembering Eric Garner

Link to VTS site: http://www.vtshome.org/

Link to NYT Lens: http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/

Blending old and new world literacies: Storytelling and Technology

I (Cathy) was recently asked to give a storytelling workshop for a third year Early Childhood Education Class. The professor felt the experience might broaden her students’ concept of literacy.   As a practitioner of multiliteracies (New London Group, 1996) I felt compelled to blend “old world literacy” which in this case would be storytelling (it is the oldest form of entertainment for our species), and new world literacy, which in this case was an online interactive learning system called Today’s Class.  (I have mentioned Today’s Class in an earlier post.  Today you get to hear how I put it into practice).

Initially, the students (a broad range of ethnicities, ages, and English language proficiencies) shared they had never previously experienced storytelling.  They had been read to and assumed this was the same thing.  Most admitted they had never heard of Todays’ Class either, but were game to give it try.  I warmed them up by delivering an old folktale (old world style, just me, them and their imaginations) which blew them away.  “I could see the story!”, and “I was captivated” were some of the responses.  The class was then arranged into small groups of three, each group having a lap top with access to the internet.  Each group was “invited” into the Today’s Class site and asked to give their group a “nick name”.  On the large screen at the front of the room, I posted questions about the storytelling experience for them to consider.  After some deliberation, the groups posted their responses, using only their nick names for identification.  I was intrigued by their reactions as the team responses popped up on the screen.  They were highly engaged.   I could have heard a pin drop they were so intent on reading the other groups’ answers.  When I used to do this kind of activity, the groups used chart paper and markers to record their answers and these were posted around the room.  I usually read out the answers because the printing was often not legible across the room.  Also, I often filtered what I read aloud, instantly deciding what the key points were and only sharing those.   However, with the big screen, it became each students’ responsibility to do the reading and the  filtering. The accountability and engagement levels were higher.

As we moved through the workshop, experiencing different forms of storytelling, the groups returned to conferencing at their computers, analyzing the responses and discussing the salient points.  Both my students and myself were delighted with the results.  Storytelling and technology were a perfect fit.  The students left with a much deeper understanding of an ancient literacy form, many vowing to use it in their child care centers, but also left with a much broader view of the usefulness of modern literacies.   Old and new world do blend.   I couldn’t help but wonder how Aesop might have felt about Today’s Meet.    I think he would have liked it.

New London Group. (1996) A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures.  Harvard   Educational Review,1, 60-89.



Funding for Private Schools

Image Flag AustraliaClive and I (Clare) are still in Australia where we are having a great time. On Friday, July 17th I was reading an article in The Sydney Morning Herald by Eryk Bagshaw about funding for schools. Australia has a significant number of private (independent) schools – approximately 35% of pupils attend private schools. From my Canadian perspective this number is staggering! Having so many children in private schools impacts on the viability of public schools. Unlike Canada private schools in Australia receive government funding – substantial funding. Eryk Bagshaw reports that by 2020 the average public school student could receiver $100 less a year in state and government funding than a similar independent school student. Just wondering why private schools are receiving any funding let alone more funding than public schools.

Writer’s Block

Many of us who write frequently have at one time or another had to cope with the dreaded writer’s block. Through a simple web search one can uncover various strategies recommended to avoid or cope with writer’s block, such as, engaging in a free write, brainstorming ideas, talking out the ideas, concept mapping or the bride/reward yourself technique. A friend of mine finds it helpful to cover her laptop screen with a towel and then proceeds to free write any ideas that come to mind. The inability to see her computer screen prevents her from trying to edit her work as she is trying to get the ideas down. Her mantra is “editing is different than writing, the processes are separate.” Any of us who have experienced writer’s block might find it interesting to hear what some established writers have to say about how they deal with writer’s block: http://www.clickhole.com/article/6-worlds-greatest-writers-explain-how-they-deal-wr-2748?utm_campaign=default&utm_medium=ShareTools&utm_source=facebook For example, Neil Gaiman notes, “the secret to writing is just to write. Write every day. Never stop writing. Write on every surface you see; write on people on the street. When the cops come to arrest you, write on the cops. Write on the police car. Write on the judge. I’m in jail forever now, and the prison cell walls are completely covered with my writing, and I keep writing on the writing I wrote. That’s my method.”

The Power of Photo Essays

I have just started teaching a unit on media, specifically social documentaries. So far we have studied the important work of American photographer Dorothea Lange related to the rise and significance of “concerned photography” (also known as “compassionate photography”). Students have engaged deeply with the photos and answered questions adapted from New York Times Critical Lenses guide such:

  • What feelings does this photograph create for you, the viewer?
  • How personal/impersonal is this photo? What elements make it this way?
  • Why do you think this photograph was taken?
  • Is this photo timely? Does it have a timeless quality? Why or why not?

Photos of Lange’s we analyzed in class:

Migrant Mother, Photographed By: Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother, Photographed By: Dorothea Lange
Richmond, CA Photographed By: Dorothea Lange
Richmond, CA Photographed By: Dorothea Lange

Beyond studying the background of photo journalism, students will learn  the basic principles of photography (e.g., rule of thirds, movement, lines, etc.). Following this, students will have the opportunity to create their own social documentary in the form of a photo essay. Students are still thinking through topics, but they are to tell an “untold story” from their lives. Topics which we have brainstormed so far have included: The shifting landscape of the Regent Park neighbourhood in Toronto, Canada; Cultural traditions of the First Nations people in Ontario, Canada; and A Day in the Life of the Pan Am Games 2015.

I am looking forward to seeing what stories students decide to tell. I will keep you posted on the process! I am learning so much along with my students!

Teacher Education Reform Trends

Image Univeristy of SydneyClive and I (Clare) are doing a presentation at the University of Sydney on reforms to teacher education. Along with Lin Goodwin we wrote a chapter for the upcoming Handbook on Teacher Education edited by Loughran & Hamilton (to be published by Springer). We surveyed the literature on teacher education from many countries and identified the following trends:

  • Explicit Standards
  • Minimum Requirements
  • Research Based
  • Assessment + Accountability
  • Alternative Routes
  • Subject Knowledge
  • Theory and Practice
  • Continuing PD

We did mini case studies of England, Canada, U.S., and Singapore – England where they seem to be dismantling university-based teacher education to Singapore where the government, universities, and schools work collaboratively. This research was so enlightening because we looked an many countries beyond the usual big “players” like Finland, the Netherlands …. . We included information on less reported countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Chile, Scotland, and Norway. Will keep you posted on the publication of the handbook.

Supporting the Pan Am Games

This summer Toronto is hosting the Pan Am Games. I took a break from my studies yesterday to support the incredible athletes competing in the rowing events. It was amazing to cheer on the Canadian women’s single sculls, the women’s lightweight double sculls, and the men’s quadruple sculls as they each won GOLD medals. Well Done!!


Classroom management: Beginning teachers’ challenge

An interesting article I (yiola) found on classroom /behaviour management.


I believe that until you experience teaching it is hard to fully understand what it means to build a safe, secure learning environment that builds intrinsic motivation and confidence in children.

I believe, in teacher education, we teach all that the article describes, yet students do not always see this out in the field. There are many reasons for this theory/bridge gap. Regardless of the gap, it is important that in teacher education we continue to prepare our teacher with best practice and provide them with both the “how” and the “why” of it.

What I love is that we do not even call it “classroom management” at all… at the lab school it is only about building a learning environment that focuses on engagement, safety and securing of the individual.  The idea of “managing” children is counter productive to the philosophy of building creative, innovative, independent and confident children.

Australian Teacher Education Association Conference: One Mob Different Country

IMG_0484We (Clare and Clive) are at ATEA in lovely Darwin. The conference has been so interesting because we are learning much about teacher education in Australia. There is a heavy emphasis on Indigenous education.

The conference started with a welcome dance by One Mob Different Country. The dancers were IMG_0486incredibly talented and set the stage for a wonderful conference.
One Mob Different Country is a program that operates out of the Berrimah Correctional Centre. The program allows low-security Indigenous prisoners to take part in performing traditional Aboriginal dances at events. The dancers have been given permission from the Elders of the Beswick and Burunga communities to perform certain dances and songs from that region. The name One Mob Different Country refers to the fact that the dancer themselves may come fom different communities (different country) but they come together as a group to dance (as one mob).