Monthly Archives: February 2014

Walking for the Brain

To further our theme from earlier posts on well-being and schooling, I (Cathy) looked up the right time to exercise to help your brain.  These tips were suggested:

  • In general, anything that is good for your heart is great for your brain.
  • Aerobic exercise is great for body and brain: not only does it improve brain      function, but it also acts as a “first aid kit” on damaged brain      cells.
  • Exercising in the morning before going to work not only spikes brain activity and prepares you for mental stresses for the rest of the day, but also      produces increased retention of new information, and better reaction to      complex situations.
  • When looking to change up your work out, look for an activity that incorporates coordination along with cardiovascular exercise, such as a dance class.

These all made sense, but none of them identified when or why I like to exercise for my brain.  When my mind is somewhat numb after a few hours of academic writing, I need to push the refresh button.  I achieve this walking by the lake.  I am sure it is good for my lungs, my joints and my heart, but I really head to the water to recharge my neuro cells and feast my eyes.  The scenery renews me as much or more than the exercise.  Maybe just seeing what I saw yesterday will refresh your neurons…

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Teaching Music Literacy – It Ain’t Easy but Must be Done

Young people spend so much of their day listening to music, yet it’s barely addressed in school. Something needs to be done about that – but it won’t be easy. I remember my (Clive’s) grade 5 teacher telling us that Bing Crosby couldn’t sing, he was just a crooner. He probably thought he was “educating” us about music, but he fed into my early prejudice against popular music.

In France there’s a lot of “music appreciation” in schools, which is great because music-making shouldn’t be all we teach. However, again the stress is on classical music.

One of the teachers in our longitudinal study (Candice) recently became a music specialist in her school and established a wonderful approach. In her seventh year she said:

I’ve become keen on the Orff method: it emphasizes improvisation and creating your own music, and leads in the teen years and adulthood to more of a jazz approach…. My focus is on teaching children in such a way that they can create music, understand it, and participate in it. So when they’re listening to pop music they understand what instruments are used, how the music is made, and what mood it creates.

But is there still too much emphasis here on performance?

A respected Toronto columnist recently wrote a rather negative article about popular music. He asked how much of interest could come from a genre where everything is a sentimental song about 3 minutes long in 4/4 time? I asked a musician in my ITE class about this and he said there’s an enormous variety and depth of structure and rhythm in popular songs. We noted that a similar argument could be made against English literature on the ground that it uses just 26 letters and a few punctuation marks (see the quote form Neil Gaiman in Lydia’s recent blog).

Teaching music literacy in schools has many pitfalls. Like the Fiddler on the Roof, teachers will have difficulty keeping their balance. But a way must be found – in many subject areas – if schooling is to be relevant.

Picture Books

arrival_02Clare and I (Lydia) routinely integrate picture books into our pre-service literacy methods courses. We often begin each class with a read aloud from a picture book. The feedback we have received from student teachers suggests they appreciate this practice because it introduces them to a variety of texts they can use in the classroom, and it models storytelling and read aloud techniques. We have often used the creative and compelling picture books of author Shaun Tan in our literacy courses. I wanted to share a quote from Shaun Tan in which he comments on the “visual language of illustrations”.

“the word illustration is a little misleading, because the best illustrations do not actually illustrate anything, in the sense of describing or illuminating. My own narrative images, and those of my favourite artists, are actually far more concerned with deepening the uncertainty of language, enjoying its ambiguous references, exploiting its slipperiness, and at times, confessing its inadequacy.  My own aspirations as an illustrator – using that term advisedly – is to simply present the reader with ideas that are essentially silent, unexplained, and open to very broad interpretation”.— Shaun Tan

(Quote taken from an essay originally written for ABC Radio National’s Lingua Franca.)

The Power of Believing

Building on Clare’s blog from yesterday and the notion of connecting well-­‐being to schooling, I (Yiola) feel compelled to share with you the story of Simon Marcus. He is a member of my extended family and one of Canada’s top athletes in the sport of Muay Thai. In fact, Simon is a 5 time World Champion.

Simon’s story is not uncommon: a Black, male disengaged with traditional school. As a child, he was an active boy and excelled in sports but had very little patience and interest for learning inside the classroom. He has shared his schooling story with me numerous times and the story has been consistent, “It is not that I was not capable of doing the work, I just had no interest or motivation”. As his schooling years progressed he found himself deeper and deeper in spaces of alienation and low expectation for successful schooling. And then, he met Master Suchart, a Master teacher of Muay Thai.  Through a pedagogy that engaged him (physical literacy), a teacher that knew how to connect to his well-­‐being, and a developing belief in himself as a learner and a winner, Simon went from detentions and failure to being on top of the world. The one statement that rings in my ears about Simon’s journey to success is this turning point, “I knew Master Suchart believed in me. His belief in me made me believe in myself”. The ideas of well-­‐being, trust, care and belief paved the way to Simon’s success. A teacher’s role in the well-­‐being of a student is key: the social conditions created in a classroom, the relationships fostered and the pedagogical decisions a teacher makes are key.

From my own experiences as a Muay Thai fighter, I can say it is much easier to prepare for and pass a science test at school than it is to prepare for and step into a Muay Thai ring and yet the big questions worth exploring are: how did the teaching and learning at the Muay Thai school connect well-­‐being to schooling success? What process took place for Simon to connect with the learning, embrace the teacher and believe in himself? Perhaps the kinesthetic element of the pedagogy, perhaps the content, perhaps the teacher as role model and unconditional supporter, perhaps the challenge and, very likely the overheard whisperings of his teacher: “see that  boy over there, he’s my future champion”.


Simon’s victory in Buenos Aires, Argentina against Argentina’s #1 fighter.

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Simon with his teacher, celebrating a victory together.

Well-being and Skills Go Hand-in-Hand

We have had many blog posts about teaching for relevance. I (Clare) was reading a chapter in Martin Seligman’s book Flourish: A Visionary new Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being.
Here is an excerpt from Chapter Five.

  • Question one: in one or two words, what do you most want for your children?
  • If you are like the thousands of parents I’ve polled, you responded “happiness,” “confidence,” “contentment,” “fulfillment,” “balance,” “good stuff,” “kindness,” health,” satisfaction,” “love,” “being civilized,” “meaning,” and the like. In short, well-being is your topmost priority.
    • Question two: in one or two words, what do schools teach?
      • If you are like other parents, you responded, “achievement,” “thinking skills,” “success,” “conformity,” “literacy,” “math,” “work,” ‘test taking,” “discipline,” and the like. In short, what schools teach is how to succeed in the workplace.
      • Notice that there is almost overlap between the two lists. The schooling of children has, for more than a century, paved the boulevard toward adult work. I am all for success, literacy, perseverance, and discipline, but I want you to image that schools could, without compromising either, teach both the skills of well-being and the skills of achievement. I want you to image positive education.

I found his perspective refreshing and inspiring. In my teaching, I need to be mindful to address both well-being and skills and to talk to my student teachers about the need to do both.

Canadians Will Be Cheering Their Canadian Hockey Team

On Sunday, many Canadians will be cheering the men’s hockey team who are playing Sweden for the gold medal at the Olympics. For those who are not following the Olympics, the Canadian women’s hockey team won the gold medal on Thursday. It was a very exciting game with Canada coming from behind. In 2010 when Canada played the US for the gold medal 27 million Canadians (population 33)  million watched the game. Thought you might enjoy the cartoon below. Clare

Men's hockey team being told to play like girls.


On Saturday a number of us from our research teams presented at the Ontario Teachers’ Federation/Ontario Association of Deans of Education conference. We did two papers:

·      Teaching Student teachers How to Teach for Relevance, Integrating Curriculum around Big Ideas and Key Values

Clive Beck, Clare Kosnik, Shelley Murphy, and Elizabeth Rosales

·      On-going Learning for Literacy/English Teacher Educators: Examining Four Spheres of Knowledge

Clare Kosnik, Pooja Dharamshi, Cathy Miyata, Lydia Menna, and Yiola Cleovoulou


Click on the link Publications and Presentations to see our powerpoint presentations. (Clare’s ppt can be found under Clare’s presentations; Clive’s ppt can be found under Clive’s presentations.)

Semiotic Linguistic Quiz

Saussure   Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913)

As of late, I (Cathy) have been exploring semiotic linguistics to further  my understanding of multimodality (Jewitt & Kress, 2003). Ferdinand de Saussure is considered to be one of two fathers of 20th century semiotic linguistics.  He described semiotics a as a system of signs that are created within a cultural context.  Sausuure defined a sign as being composed of:

        • a ‘signifier’ – the form which the sign takes; and
        • the ‘signified’ – the concept it represents.

On the internet I stumbled upon these diagrams which are intended to illustrate the meaning of signifier and signified.  Do you think they are both correct?



A multitude of communication resources


When I saw this comic it made me chuckle.  I enjoyed the comic’s gentle reminder that children/youth routinely engage with and expertly navigate a variety of communication tools. Clare and I (Lydia) conducted a two-year collaborative self-study of our efforts to incorporate various technological resources (e.g. a wiki) into our pre-service literacy methods courses. This research helped us identify both the challenges and successes we encountered along the way.  Our research efforts also made us more mindful of why we chose to incorporate certain technological resources into our pedagogical practice — questioning for what purpose and to what end.   Through the analysis of our efforts we realized that we had initially seen technology as an end in itself, not as a tool to support learning. In the second year of the study, we focused much more on student learning and became more systematic in our efforts. Over the two years of the study, our identities as teacher educators shifted as our pedagogies became richer, our use of technology more fully integrated into our literacy courses, and we received validation from others and from each other.

“The Secrets of Sugar”

I (Pooja) watched an eye-opening documentary on CBC’s Fifth Estate. The documentary sugaruncovers some frightening facts about the effects of sugar and the sugar industry. Most of us are eating way too much sugar on a daily basis. Surprisingly, sugar is added in food items such as ketchup, yogurt, soy milk, and salad dressings. There was one alarming segment in particular in which I couldn’t help but think about the effect of sugar on children in school. Research was conducted on a sample of lab mice to observe how they reacted when their sugar consumption increased. The results were disturbing. Before any sugar consumption, the mice were alert and able to navigate through the set-up maze. However, as sugar consumption increased, their alertness levels decreased significantly. They moved sluggishly through the maze, bumping into the walls along the way. Some could not even make it to the end. This made me think so many of our young learners who consume high levels of sugar from their school cafeterias, vending machines, convenient stores, and/or home. Although in the past decade there has been a push towards healthier food for our school-aged children, there is a need for a deeper awareness around all the places where sugars are hidden.

Learn more about “The Secrets of Sugar” here: