Monthly Archives: December 2013

Happy New Year

 Today is New Year’s Eve and newspapers are full of descriptions of resolutions for 2014. I am not one for making resolutions (maybe because I know that I will not keep them) but this year I am motivated to make a few.


  • ·      Keep blogging. Much to my surprise this has been a fabulous activity. I hope that our readers are enjoying the blogs as much as we have enjoyed writing them.
  • ·      Do not push myself so hard – in other words, relax a bit. Everything does not need to be done ASAP. Emails and work can wait.
  • ·     Keep learning about digital technology.  Time to take a few more steps integrating DT into my teaching.  Time to learn how to use Twitter!
  • ·      Stay connected to family, friends, and colleagues. They keep me grounded.

Best wishes to all of our readers for a happy and healthy 2014. Clare

Is Alternative Certification Really an Option?

Our blog has included a number of posts about our longitudinal research on teachers. All of the teachers in our study completed a full teacher certification program yet many faced real struggles. Although we know that teaching is a very demanding profession, the clamor for Alternative Certification programs seems to be increasing. Alt Cert programs are flourishing in many countries which to me defies reason. I read a really interesting blog about a young teacher who was part of Teach for America (TFA) corps – her TFA program had 5 weeks of training. The title of the blog captured my interest: Tell-All From A TFA and KIPP Teacher: Unprepared, Isolation, Shame, and Burnout. Here the link to it:
The blog by reflections, video clips of TFA recruitment, and some stats. It is really interesting.  Here are two excerpts from the new teacher’s reflections which I found heartbreaking:
Unpreparedness for the Classroom
The 5-week summer session at Rice University was a fast-paced, well-run training session, but it was not enough to prepare me to lead my own classroom in my first year.  While I learned valuable techniques and tools to become a teacher, it certainly did not equip me for creating systems in my classroom, writing unit plans, and creating valuable assessment. Five weeks was not enough to create the type of magic that Teach For America describes in its vision.  Training was like leading us to the top of a cliff before we had to jump off into the reality of our own classrooms. All I can say is the mountain was high and the fall was hard.
Shame has a terrible place in this organization.  I never believed that shame would become a motivator in my Teach for America experience, but shame holds onto the necks of many Corps members.  Placing young college graduates in some of the toughest teaching situations with 5 weeks of training has negative repercussions on the mind, body, and soul of Corps members.  The message is “If only I were stronger, smarter and more capable, I could handle this. I would be able to save my students.”  Unfortunately, TFA intentionally or unintentionally preys on this shame to push Corps members to their limits to create “incredible” classrooms and “transformative” lesson plans. Would these things be good for our students? Of course.  Is shame a sustainable method for creating and keeping good teachers in the classroom? Absolutely not. It is defeating and draining.

Thanks Julian for your blog. After reading the blog can anyone actually say, that Alt Cert is a viable option? I think not. Clare

What To Do Until the Evidence Arrives

A common refrain internationally today is that teaching should be evidence-based, and certainly, that is the ideal. However, it will be a long time before all the evidence is in. It can take millions of dollars and many years to test the impact of just a few teaching strategies; yet teachers must daily use a large repertoire of strategies. So what to do in the meantime?checkmark images

Teachers must rely largely on their judgment about what is most likely to have a positive impact (drawing of course on their training, PD, and years of experience). This isn’t ideal, but it’s better than waiting until the evidence is complete.

We commonly use our judgment in evaluating teachers and teacher candidates. We say things like “So and so is one of the best teachers I’ve seen,” without having detailed student outcome data. Equally, we must let teachers exercise judgment about what and how to teach. We should give them our advice, evidence-based or not; but it should build on their current judgment and practices. Clive

Teaching in a Digital Age

Facebook Logo As an instructor of literacy methods courses in preservice teacher education, one of the challenges is remaining current. I feel that I must have current knowledge of research on literacy and literacy development, current knowledge of curriculum resources and government initiatives, and be current with ever-changing social media trends. The last point is one that is often overlooked but equally important. To prepare my student teachers to be effective literacy teachers, I need to know them and this entails knowing the social media they are using. If I do not have some working knowledge of their communication patterns they might view me as a dinosaur which in turn can create a barrier to me understanding where they are coming from. Also, both student teachers and I need to know what pupils are using if we want to connect home and school literacy practices. Not having a teenager makes it difficult to stay current – many adolescents are far more in tune than me. So what to do? I found this website which is helpful. I am not sure who sponsors it but there is a treasure trove of info for those of us trying to figure out what adolescents and young adults are using. One page that was very useful lists11 sites that kids go to after Facebook . I liked the thumbnail sketches of each site and the pros and cons of each site.
Another page identified top digital citizenship bloggers.
These bloggers identify issues that are often invisible to me.
Knowing popular culture I feel is essential to being a literacy professor. Clare

Perils of Proofreading

We had a wonderful Christmas and now back to work. Clive and I have the proofs for our upcoming tClive and Clareext Growing as a Teacher: Goals and Pathways of Ongoing Teacher Learning. This step of the publishing process is mixed: it is so exciting to see the page proofs but then there is the painstaking step of proofreading. Clive is the best proofreader – me, I am the worst. I think this is because I read so quickly that I skim over the mistakes. I just do not pick them up. When I was a classroom teacher, I used to teach my students strategies for proofreading knowing full well that there are readers like me who just do not see the errors. Thankfully Clive is such a careful reader that he spots each one. Next we will place electronic post-it notes on the manuscript flagging each correction. This step I find nerve-wracking because this process is quite finicky. Sometimes I get the post-it note placed in the exact spot, other times, I fiddle and fiddle with the placement of it.

We want to give a shout-out to Sense Publishers are publishing this book. This is the third book that I have done with them and they are an absolute joy with whom to work. Consistently, they have great project managers and the page proofs tend to be fairly clean. Wish us luck! Clare

Ice Storm

Our blog has been a bit quiet for the last few days because I did not have internet. Southern Ontario and thCar with tree limb resting on it e east coast of Canada and US have been hit by a huge ice storm. The storm raged for a few days which knocked down power lines and has devastated some communities. Attached is a picture of a tree limb that fell on a car parked in front of our home. Luckily, we had power but no internet, phone, or cable TV. Interestingly, when our system went down, I stood in the kitchen and just looked around, somewhat like a lost soul. The internet is so integrated into my daily life, I felt like part of me was missing. I do not want to say that I am “dependent” on the internet because that seems to have a negative connotation; rather, digital technology is just part of my day to day life. Wanting to check the progress of the storm, remaining current with the advisories from the government (re: power outages), and being able to check on family and friends were suddenly not available. Eventually, it dawned on me to switch my phone and IPad over to 3G which I did so I was semi “back in business.” But the experience reminded me how much my communication patterns have changed in just a decade. We need to be preparing teachers and students for 21st century communication processes and patterns. For those of you who experienced this major ice storm, I hope that you are safe and that your home was not damaged. Clare

Informal Teacher Learning. Teachers as Experts.

This past week we’ve been writing a paper on ongoing teacher learning, based on our 9-year longitudinal study of 42 teachers. What has struck me is the amount teachers learn after their initial preparation, mainly through experience in their own classroom and other informal means (e.g., chatting with colleagues, professional reading, searching the internet). As Marisa said at the end of her sixth year:

 When I started teaching, I soon realized there was so much I didn’t know. The first couple of years I struggled, and had to work really hard on my programming. But over time I’ve become more confident…I try new things, work with other teachers, and use what I learn to improve my program.

External input by formal means is potentially very important, but at present not much happens. And if and when we finally get around to it, it has to be done in dialogue with teachers, building on the approach they have already developed. Teachers are truly key experts, perhaps the main experts, on teaching. Clive




I saw the movie Philomena and was blown away by it. The story is powerful, the acting strong, and the direction very subtle. In the movie the main character, Philomena, is sent to a home for unwed mothers run by Catholic nuns who arrange for her son to be adopted by an American family.  50 years later she decides to search for her son. Having gone to Catholic elementary and secondary school, I was quite interested in the “Catholic aspect” of the movie That aside, I felt that the movie addressed so many issues which I think that we should be addressing in schools. As Clive noted in an earlier blog post about relevance, including popular culture in our curriculum can allow for discussion of issues which students face. This movie raises questions about power (institutional power), societal norms, religion, and relationships. When do we forgive and forget? When do condemn and expose? When should we question the power of religion? When should we keep a secret? Who has the right to decide what is “right”? After the movie my book club  and I had a spirited discussion of some of the dilemmas that Philomena faced, the decisions that the nuns made (in whose interests were they made), and the relationship between Philomena and the journalist who helped her.  I highly recommend the movie (it requires two hankies) and would love to hear your views of the movie. Should a movie like this be included in our secondary school curriculum? Clare