Delightfully Surprised

I (Cathy) was in the mood for a mystery thriller and happened upon a novel called The Passage by Justin Cronin.  As i like to be surprised, I didn’t read the book jacket.  Indeed i was surprised.  It was a horror thriller with characters akin to the Walking Dead zombies, but with more life, strength, and smarts.  In other words the human race didn’t stand a chance.  I admit when this was first revealed, I was a bit skeptical, however, the writing was suburb and the characters wonderfully rich and complex.  I ended up getting hooked and also listened to book two and three in the series, The Twelve, and the final book, The City of Mirrors.  All excellent.  It was after the first book I read a review:

“Read this book and the ordinary world disappears.” (Stephen King)

And he was right.  It was consuming until the very end. So, I think I’ll it start again!


Meditation instead of Detention

I (Cathy) was delighted to recently read about schools in the UK and the US that have replaced detention rooms with mediation rooms.  For Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland, this practice began through a partnership with the Holistic Life Foundation, (a local nonprofit organization) who set up a Holistic Me after school program.  The Holistic Me program was for children from pre-K through to the fifth grade. The children were taught practice mindfulness exercises and yoga as a means of managing their stress and anger.  The program had such effective results that children who were acting out in class were also trained in the various practices.  The results were so impressive, the detention room was eventually replaced by a meditation room complete with pillow, soft lights and gentle music.


“It’s amazing,” says Kirk Philips, the Holistic Me coordinator at Robert W. Coleman. “You wouldn’t think that little kids would meditate in silence. And they do.” Philips also reports that overall discipline in the school has improved dramatically in the school. “There have been exactly zero suspensions last year and so far this year. Nearby Patterson Park High School, also began the mindfulness programs, and reported suspension rates dropped and attendance increased as well.


Although mindfulness practices like mediation and yoga have been around for thousands of years, it has only recently become the object of educational studies and research.  It will be interesting to see where the research leads us.




Mobile Learning

Well, I (Cathy) changed mobile phone brands. I was an avid iphone user, but my son-in-law convinced me to switch  to an android.    I’m delighted to say the switch over  has been pretty smooth.  In truth, I see very little difference.  Both use apps.  Both are user friendly. Both take great pictures.  My messaging and contacts all remained the same. Mind you, I couldn’t answer my phone the first time it rang because I kept tapping the icon when I should have been sliding, and I didn’t set the alarm correctly the first time it used it and slept in.  But other than that, the learning curve has been quite minimal.  My favourite function of my new android  is the slide pattern security code.  So much easier than tapping numbers. Interestingly, I showed my new phone to an old friend the other day and she was horrified by the idea of not only switching phones, she wont give up her flip top. She said the new phones overwhelm her.  I’m relieved I have not been overwhelmed, in fact I am invigorated.  I’d like to try to use mobile phones more in my literacy class.  Yesterday,  I discovered our university does not have a class set of clickers for class feedback.  But on Google I discovered I can use an app called  Poll Everywhere for free with my class. 

The video assures me any mobile phone will work, even flip phones!  Next week, its use your cell phone in class day.  Just hope I set the alarm correctly and don’t sleep in!

A Listening Party for We Are the Halluci Nation

A Tribe Called Red just released their much anticipated album entitled, We Are The Halluci Nation. The Tribe Called Red is the Canadian-based music group comprised of First Nations members who merge electronic music styles along with contemporary powwow music. Their latest album features many artists (both Canadian and international) and focuses around the themes of decolonization and unification.

After listening to this powerful album several times this past weekend, I decided to incorporate it into my course Building on Reflective Practice. Since we have read some of Freire’s work about “reading the world” I thought analyzing this powerful and politically driven music would be an excellent way of tying together theory and practice. Students will be asked in pairs to “read” a song of their choice by analyzing, interpreting, and synthesizing.

Probe questions will be asked such as:

  • What story is being told?
  • How does the work compare with other similar works?
  • What cultural, economic, or political forces influence the work?
  • What historical forces influence the work?What can you do in your daily life/classroom to contribute to shifting the narrative of colonization?

This will be followed by a listening of the album interspersed with insights and discussion from the groups and whole class. Below I am including the official video for the first song off the album.

Good luck these first few weeks!

A number of my friends and colleagues experienced the scenarios depicted below.  Luckily, I  (Cathy) never did.  The transitions were smooth for us as parents and for our children.  As teachers, however, my husband and I would get anxious, whether teaching K or undergraduates: what will our students be like?; am I ready?; how will I get my classroom set up?; I don’t understand this new policy…  Parents I spoke to (that were not teachers) were surprised by this.  They assumed we had it ‘down pat’ and never even thought about it.  They didn’t understand that every year was a brand new set of challenges and joys and it would take a few weeks to get things settled in.

I wish all the teachers out there, elementary, secondary, and higher education a great start to their year.  May it be as smooth and fruitful!

All the best,



Happy Back to School!

I (Pooja) have just joined a university as a new faculty member. Getting up this morning I, as many people were today, was filled with several emotions ranging from excitement to fear. I am looking forward to this new chapter in my professional life, and sharing new and interesting experiences with the wider teacher education and research community through this blog.

To all the educators, learners, and parents out there, I wish you a successful and memorable new school year!


Defining Literacy

One of my (Cathy’s)  favourite first tasks for my new teacher candidates is to have them define the term  literacy on paper- written or drawn- no right or wrong.  I tuck this away for them and then give it back on the last day of our literacy course so they can it to compare their (hopefully somewhat)  altered definition.  For some the definition changes a lot and for some not so much.  The differences represent the teacher candidates  prior knowledge of literacy and literacy practices; their ability  to make adjustments; their open mindedness; and their ability to accept change.  Reshaping ones definition of literacy is a process and its actually quite demanding.

Every year I look for new academic, scholarly, or institutional definitions of literacy, or as I prefer to  refer to it- literacies- to share with my TC’s as their definitions shift and grow.  This year I will include the definition below.  It is from the Ontario government’s document Focus on Literacy (2013):

LITERACY – Kindergarten to Grade 12 Literacy is … the ability to use language and images in rich and varied forms to read, write, listen, speak, view, represent, discuss and think critically about ideas. Literacy enables us to share information and to interact with others. Literacy is an essential tool for personal growth and active participation in a democratic society.

Literacy involves the capacity to:

• access, manage, create and evaluate information

• think imaginatively and analytically

• communicate thoughts and ideas effectively

• apply metacognitive knowledge and skills

• develop a sense of self-efficacy and an interest in life-long learning

The development of literacy is a complex process that involves building on prior knowledge, culture and experiences in order to instill new knowledge and deepen understanding.

I especially like the last line.  I hope my TC’s do to.



Researching Teacher Education

Most recently we are reviewing the data from a study that explores graduates’  impressions of their teacher preparation from one teacher education program. The participants are graduates from 1999-2014 and we have well over 200 respondents. A survey was conducted that included qualitative responses. So far, the responses have been incredibly interesting. As we work through the data I gain more and more excitement for the possibilities of understanding teaching education and improving not only my personal practice as a teacher educator but also the potential for improving the structure and programming of teacher education.

As we review the current data I keep in mind the many findings and recommendations of past research.  For example, in 2009 Clive Beck and Clare Kosnik along with a strong team of graduate researchers published their findings from a qualitative study on classroom teachers’ understandings, perceptions, and explanations of their practice and teacher education experience. Their book, Priorities in Teacher Education: The 7 Key Elements of Pre-Service Preparation, is the first of several from what has become longitudinal study (13 years and counting) of teachers work and development.  In Priorities of Teacher Education Beck and Kosnik identify seven priority areas for teacher areas:

  • program planning
  • pupil assessment
  • classroom organization and community
  • inclusive education
  • subject content and pedagogy
  • professional identity
  • a vision for teaching


These priorities are coming up in several interesting ways in our current research and I look forward to analyzing and writing up the findings in the months ahead.  More so, I am excited to be thinking about research-based considerations for improving our teacher education program and my personal practice.

Developing Visual Literacy Skills

As I (Cathy) prepare to teach my primary literacy class in teacher education at Laurier University, I have been reviewing the need to address visual literacy. Visual literacy is interpreting and evaluating images, animations, words, and symbols while also integrating sensory experiences. As students from K to 12 are constantly bombarded with images, it is essential that we incorporate visual literacy into the curriculum to allow students to develop comprehension and critical thinking skills that are specific to visual literary.

Sankey (2002) states:

Visual images are fast becoming the most predominant form of communication. Visual genres and mediums now dominate communication; photographs, television. film, video, the internet, cartoons, posters, t-shirts, comics, multimedia presentations and computer simulations.

The following diagram effectively highlights why visual literacy should be incorporated into our primary curriculum:



Personally, I find cartoons a wonderful source of meaning making and came across the following diagram supporting Blooms and cartoons.

blooms and cartoons


I also find cartoons useful in establishing a particular atmosphere in my university classroom and incorporate them weekly into my power points. I’ll use this one on our first day to introduce the topic of visual literacy and how 21st century classrooms may be somewhat different than what we experienced as children.