Monthly Archives: October 2014

Happy…October 31st!

I (Cathy) was delighted by the dancing Jack-o-lanterns that greeted me this morning from my Google home page.  It captured the celebration of fall and harvest and only hinted at the October 31st celebration that haunts many Ontario schools now as they struggle with Halloween.    Last year many schools in the Niagara School Board (in southern Ontario) banned the celebration of Halloween.  This year, in an  Port Colborne elementary school, a memo was attached to the monthly calendar requesting  students wear orange and black clothing in favour of “a more inclusive Spirit Day.”

When North Ward School in Paris, Ontario banned any celebration of Halloween in the school this year, the parents were outraged and demanded to know why. The answers they were given varied,”it interferes with children’s learning”, “teachers don’t want to put make-up on 30 children.”   When the parents asked if they could set some rules in place like, “no make-up” and “only celebrate in the afternoon” the parents were directed to Wayne Baker, the superintendent of education at Grand Erie District School Board.  On Monday, 2 parents had a two hour meeting with Baker. In the end, the parents  were simply told that the situation was a human rights issue.  It was unfortunate that the parents  were not told this from the beginning.  It was also unfortunate that the parents were not included in  the decision making process.   That’s what parent councils are for-  to be inclusive of and serve the community.

I asked a young mother yesterday (from the Halton School Board in Ontario) if her children were dressing up at school.  She smiled and answered, “Yes, but we have rules now.  No fake blood, no make up, no masks and no fake weapons.”

These rules made sense to me.  I understand that parents may want their children to celebrate the same special occasions that they did as a child.  But our society is changing and sensitivity and understanding will be needed on both sides of the Halloween fence as we adapt, especially in our schools.

On a personal note, my house is decorated, cupcakes are made for the local children (who know me) and the big basket of (my favourite) potato chips is at  the front door waiting for the  little trick-or-treaters who still celebrate- after school that is.

Happy Halloween if you celebrate. If you don’t, have a wonderful fall day!

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League

I (Clare) read a view in the New York Time of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Jeff HobbsBrilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League. I was fascinated by the review because it described how Robert “escaped” his impoverished neighbourhood through a scholarship to Yale. (He was brilliant). He graduated from Yale but did not “make it.” This book is essential reading for ALL teachers and teacher educators because it shows how complex and challenging it is to overcome your childhood and cultural norms. Yes there were people who helped Robert but …
The book is written by Jeff Hobbs )pictured on the right) who was Robert’s college room mate. It is beautifully written but incredibly painful. Over and over I kept hoping that Robert would make better choices, use his gifts …. And Jeff Hobbs helped me appreciate how difficult life can be. Here is a video link of Jeff talking about the book.

Here is a synopsis of the book taken from:

 A heartfelt, and riveting biography of the short life of a talented young African-American man who escapes the slums of Newark for Yale University only to succumb to the dangers of the streets—and of one’s own nature—when he returns home.

When author Jeff Hobbs arrived at Yale University, he became fast friends with the man who would be his college roommate for four years, Robert Peace. Robert’s life was rough from the beginning in the crime-ridden streets of Newark in the 1980s, with his father in jail and his mother earning less than $15,000 a year. But Robert was a brilliant student, and it was supposed to get easier when he was accepted to Yale, where he studied molecular biochemistry and biophysics. But it didn’t get easier. Robert carried with him the difficult dual nature of his existence, “fronting” in Yale, and at home.

Through an honest rendering of Robert’s relationships—with his struggling mother, with his incarcerated father, with his teachers and friends and fellow drug dealers—The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace encompasses the most enduring conflicts in America: race, class, drugs, community, imprisonment, education, family, friendship, and love. It’s about the collision of two fiercely insular worlds—the ivy-covered campus of Yale University and Newark, New Jersey, and the difficulty of going from one to the other and then back again. It’s about poverty, the challenges of single motherhood, and the struggle to find male role models in a community where a man is more likely to go to prison than to college. It’s about reaching one’s greatest potential and taking responsibility for your family no matter the cost. It’s about trying to live a decent life in America. But most all the story is about the tragic life of one singular brilliant young man. His end, a violent one, is heartbreaking and powerful and unforgettable.

Mapping Global Internet Connectivity

A world map created by the search engine Shodan displays Internet access across the world. The image graphs the use of devices that are directly connected to the Internet. While it is important to note that “some of the dark spots on the map could be attributed to low population density in those areas,” the map does point to disparities in Internet access world wide. Pamela Engel reporting for the Business Insider explains, the “different colors indicate the density of devices – blue indicates fewer devices and red indicates more devices at a given location”.




Expectations for Teachers in the 21st Century

Between working in a time of increasing digital technology, high-stakes testing, diverse classrooms, the 21st century teacher needs to wear more hats than ever before. Jeff Dunn from has put together the following chart outlining 8 essential characteristics for teachers of the 21st century.


Dunn emphasizes that teachers do not have to embody all of these characteristics all the time. Rather, he explains: “What you do need to do, though, is be able to pull from experience and be a leader, a collaborator, a communicator at a moment’s notice. That’s what (to me) a 21st century teacher does.”

Are there characteristics you think are not included? Is it realistic to expect all teachers to be experts in multiple areas? To be able to wear multiple hats at any time? And wear them well?

Technology in the Classroom

A short video clip that demonstrates how technology is being used in a local high school. Interestingly the purpose for the use of technology is connected with well being and class participation.

I (Yiola) am currently preparing a “technology day” conference that will emphasize and highlight the use of technology is classrooms for our student teachers. I like the examples shared in the clip. I will be sure to share the experiences of technology day that will take place next term.

They Made Me Eat My Words!

Each fall and spring I (Clive) invite the students – 65 this year – in my teacher education Clive Beckcohort program to an evening potluck at our house. Most of them come, some with their spouses or significant others, and we are deluged with food – especially desserts! It is a great opportunity for them to get to know each other better and for me to finally learn all their names. It also models the type of community building and teacher-student relationship that I think is so important in any school or university class.

We had the fall party a couple of weeks ago just after our fourth class together, which was on practice teaching and the theory-practice relationship generally (sounds dull I know). One thing I had discussed with them was the importance of bringing our theories about life and education down to earth, using practical ideas that we remind ourselves of in the heat of the moment. I told them how one of the teachers in our research project was having difficulty with her class last year, so she wrote “don’t take it personally” in capital letters (DTIP) on her wrist and found it helped.

Two of the students with special IT talents arranged to have a slab cream cake made, decorated with a photo of me in blue along with three of these sayings: another was “you can’t do and be everything.” They brought the cake to the party and put it on display, and we all hoed in when dessert time came. I didn’t mind having to eat my words, they were delicious!

First Class: Tracking wellness

I (Clare) am following this amazing new blog Eureka Research: Exploring Wellness through digital techniques:
This recent post is about the guidance counsellor who is working with secondary school students to track their wellness and well-being using a number of on-line tools. Wow! This is an amazing use of technology and from the photos it seems the students are very much engaged. I look forward to reading updates on the work and study of the on-line tools.

eureka research

I am in the middle of running my five classes on using a website to track moods, goals, tips, etc.  The website is called and what I like about it is that it is hands on and interactive. Students explored for parts of the site:  Journal, Wellness Tracker, Wellness Plan and Wellness Book (Tips).  This took almost the full hour to explore.  Students wrote for 5 minutes in the online journal – some where very engaged and some struggled quite a bit. I did catch a couple of students reading a book on their laps!  I did also have a couple of students asking if they could have more time to write 🙂

For the Wellness Tracker, I had them focus on three aspects – Well-being (track daily), Symptoms (track daily and weekly) and Lifestyle (track daily).  What I liked about this section, is that there were a lot…

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Learning to be a Teacher

Today I supervised a group of my  student teachers presenting lessons to small groups of children in preparation for teaching a whole class.  These student teachers  had never worked in inner city schools before.  As a result, a lengthy discussion ensued about the nature of the children at the school and what they needed.  I was both impressed and touched by the depth of caring and desire to improve their skills to reach the children in their classes.  I left the school feeling very reassured and hopeful about the future of education.  quote

All About Me Books: Power of Writing Your Story

IMG_3099In yesterday’s blog post, Lydia talked about the All About Me book celebration we had with the student teachers in our literacy methods courses. I (Clare) want to add my comments/reflections on the activity. The “assignment” is unusual in that it is ungraded (pass/fail), there is lots of choice, and the finished product is shared with all of the other IMG_3100students. It is not just me, the professor, who reads the assignment – all of the students have an opportunity to learn from their fellow students’ work. The sharing is a wonderful way for them to learn about their fellow students and to learn about many ways to tell a story. Initially, the students are bit resistant to the assignment commenting (complaining!) about it not being graded so why should they do it or that they are not creative so they cannot do it or they cannot see how doing a book about their life will help them learn to be a literacy teacher. The process of writing their books and sharing them transforms IMG_3145their views – they come to understand the power of story, the demands of the writing process, and the importance of audience. Many commented this was the best class they have had in their university studies. One student noted: “I recognize the courage and vulnerability it takes to showcase our own work and know that without a Professor who harnesses this safe environment we wouldn’t have become such a comfortable cohort in our short weeks at OISE.”IMG_3121

All wanted to know when we were going to do “something” like this again. You will notice in these photos that the students are truly happy and engaged. Like Lydia, I was impressed with their books – their creativity was astounding, the care they took with writing their books was impressive, and their ingenuity humbled me. I learned so much from them and feel so lucky to be teaching such fine individuals.

For the literacy teachers and literacy teacher educators who follow this blog we thought we would share the assignment description with you.

IMG_3152All About Me Books

The creation of this book about you fulfills a number of purposes:

* it celebrates who you areIMG_3140

* it provides your colleagues with an opportunity to get to know you

* it celebrates the diversity of individuals in our class

* it allows your creativity to emerge and through exploration may prove new potential to you

* it provides a good resource for you to use with your students as an artifact, a way of IMG_3138introducing you to your students, a good lesson to use with them and ….

* it allows you to come to understand first-hand the complexity of the IMG_3128composing and publishing processes and it allows you to consider how various literacy formats/genres can be used with students

* it introduces you to children’s books in another way

* it is fun


  1. Meaning

The All About Me text must communicate in some way who you are – it could be descriptive, autobiographic, a metaphor, …. but it must say, “This is me!” It is important to identify your intended audience; therefore, the book must match your intended audience. If, for example, you are writing it for young children, the pictures are very important and the text must be simple and IMG_3119accessible to them. If on the other hand, you are writing it for an audience of adolescents, the tone, structure and theme would be very different. Use a structure/format appropriate for the age group you choose as models.



IMG_3114The All About Me book must be:

* illustrated in some way (use your imagination and ingenuity here).

Any format is fine – text based, artifacts, digital …..IMG_3113

* durable for use in the classroom

* well planned

* well written (adhering to the convention of grammar and spelling)

IMG_3142Possible formats and genres for your book…IMG_3135


Accompanying Story on Tape Shape Books
Fairy tale, mystery, make believe Poetry Book
Banners Pop-up Books
Shape Book Wheel Book (using paper fasteners)
Accordion Book Picture Books
ABC book Books with Bookmarks
Books with Pictures and Clipart Book in a box
Books with Photographs Puppet Books
Characters from a Movie or Novel Chart Books
Dioramas Flip Books
Graphic novel/story; Comic format Television Box
Newspaper Momento book
Series of memos Menu
Series of photographs with captions Counting book
I Book Poster
Prezi Powerpoint
Video Other ….. (e.g. rap, song)



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!!