Monthly Archives: May 2015

Public Art: Treasures in Our City

Public Art 1

In this blog we have had many postings about literacy, the changing nature of literacy, ways to teach literacy, issues around the teaching of literacy …. This past week I (Clare) experienced another form of literacy – one that has been on my doorstep but I did not even notice it was there. With my amazing book club we did a tour of public art in Toronto. I was truly shocked at the number of pieces scattered through the city. Many I had walked by many times but was wholly ignorant that they were art. On the tour the guide pointed out pieces of art in public spaces, explained the significance of each, described the materials used, and provided some background to the author. It was an amazing trip. I know that I will never be so inattentive to my surroundings again. So readers look around your city to find some public art. Here are some photos of what we saw in Toronto. Our guide told us that there are many more in the city – I just need to look for them. In addition to stopping to smell the roses, I am going to also stop to enjoy the art.


Intrigued by “The Farmerettes”

I (Cathy) attended a very interesting book launch recently at the Different Drummer Book Store in Burlington, Ontario.   Author, Gisela Tobien Sherman, (top left in photo) released her new book The Farmerettes.  The book was inspired by storyteller, poet, Sonja Dunn (bottom right of photo) who was a Farmerette.  At the book launch, the story of the inspiration for the book was shared.  Gisela, Sonja and a few other members of the  Canadian Society for Childrens’ Authors, Illustrators, and Performers (CANSCAIP) were having lunch together.  Sonja, now 84, (yeah, doesn’t look it!) shared one of her experiences as a Canadian Farmerette during the Second World War. Apparently during the war, with all the young men away fighting, there was not enough labor to work the farms, so teenage girls were rounded up and sent off to live on farms throughout the province.   Sonja, was one of these young women, boarded in a barn with five others.  They were taught and expected to carry out all  the heavy farm work on a daily basis.  Sonja talked about how the experience changed them.  Sonja’s story struck a chord with Gisela and she began to research this fascinating part of our history.

sonja dunn

At the book launch were three other Farmerettes (all in their 80’s), who looked quite pleased to have their stories told.  Plus, a fascinating collection of photographs,  depicting their lives during this era of Canadian history were displayed.  I was intrigued by the stories shared at the launch and deeply touched by the pride of the Farmerettes.  I bought several copies of the book to give away, and of course, one copy for myself.  Today, I will lay on my chaise lounge and treat myself to reading The Farmerettes, Second Story Press, by Gisela Tobien Sherman.  Can’t wait.

Reblogged: The Becoming Radical: Beware Grade-Level Reading and the Cult of Proficiency

I (Clare) am surprised/shocked/unsettled by the trend of  using levelled readers in classrooms. This is such a mechanistic way to approach reading. Yes we wants pupils to have success with reading but levelled readers have become the “diet” for many children. I found this article by Thomas really interesting. Here is the link:

Few issues in education seem more important or more universally embraced (from so-called progressive educators to right-wing politicians such as Jeb Bush) than the need to have all children reading on grade level—specifically by that magical third grade:

Five years ago, communities across the country formed a network aimed at getting more of their students reading proficiently by the end of 3rd grade. States, cities, counties, nonprofit organizations, and foundations in 168 communities, spread across 41 states and the District of Columbia, are now a part of that initiative, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

However, advocating that all students must read at grade level—often defined as reading proficiency—rarely acknowledges the foundational problems with those goals: identifying text by a formula claiming “grade level” and then identifying children as readers by association with those readability formulas.

This text, some claim, is a fifth-grade text, and thus children who can “read” that text independently are at the fifth-grade reading level.

While all this seems quite scientific and manageable, I must call hokum—the sort of technocratic hokum that daily ruins children as readers, under-prepares children as literate and autonomous humans, and further erodes literacy as mostly testable literacy.

So who does this grade-level reading and proficiency benefit?

First, lets consider what anyone means by “reading.” For the sake of discussion, this is oversimplified, but I think, not distorting to the point of misleading. Reading may be essentially decoding, pronouncing words, phrases, and clauses with enough fluency to give the impression of understanding. Reading may be comprehension, strategies and then behaviors or artifacts by a reader that mostly represent (usually in different and fewer words) an accurate or mostly accurate, but unqualified, restating of the original text.

But reading may also (I would add should) be critical literacy, the investigating of text that moves beyond comprehension and places both text and “meaning” in the dynamic of reader, writer, and text (Rosenblatt) as well as how that text is bound by issues of power while also working against the boundaries of power, history, and the limitations of language.

In that framing, then, grade-level reading and proficiency are trapped mostly at decoding and comprehension, promoting the argument that all meaning is in the text only (a shared but anemic claim of New Criticism).

This narrow and inadequate view of text and reading (and readers) serves authoritarian approaches to teaching and mechanistic structures of testing, and more broadly, reducing text and reading to mere technical matters serves mostly goals of surveillance and control.

Consider first the allure of formula that masks the arbitrary nature of formula. Plug “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams into a readability calculator—first in its poetic format of lines and stanzas, and then as a grammatical sentence.

As a poem, apparently, the text is about 4th grade, but as a sentence, nearly 9th grade.

The problem is that readability formulas and claims of “grade level” are entirely the function of the limitations of math (the necessity to quantify and then the byproduct of honoring only that which can be quantified)—counting word syllables, number of words in sentences.

Reducing text to numbers, reducing students to numbers—both perpetuate a static and thus false view of text and reading. “Meaning” is not static, but temporal, shifting, and more discourse or debate than pronouncement.

“The Red Wheelbarrow” is really “easy” to read, both aloud and to comprehend. But readability formulas address nothing about genre or form, nothing about the rich intent of the writer (for example, poetry often presents only a small fraction of the larger context), nothing about all that that various readers bring to the text.

And to the last point, when we confront reading on grade level or reading proficiency, we must begin to unpack how and why any reader is investigating a text.

As I have detailed, we can take a children’s picture book—which by all technical matters is at primary or elementary grade levels—and add complex lenses of analysis, rendering the same text extremely complex—with a meaning that is expanding instead of static and singular.

Text complexity, readers’ grade level, and concurrent hokum such as months or years of learning are the grand distractions of technocrats: “it is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing” (The Tragedy of Macbeth, 5, 5).

Grand pronouncements about grade-level reading and proficiency, then, benefit politicians, textbook companies, and the exploding testing industry. But not children, not literacy, and not democracy.

Leveled books, labeled children, and warped education policy (grade retention based on high-stakes testing) destroy reading and the children advocates claim to be serving.

Thus, alas, there is simply no reading crisis and no urgency to have students on grade level, by third or any grade.

The cult of proficiency and grade-level reading is simply the lingering “cult of efficiency” that plagues formal education in the U.S.—quantification for quantification’s sake, children and literacy be damned.

Revisiting Mysteries in Canadian History

A project entitled Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History, engages inquiry-based pedagogy to encourage students’ critical thinking and research skills. The project, based at the University of Victoria, the Université de Sherbrooke and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, has developed a collection of websites, which invite high school and university students to examine primary source documents, photographic evidence, archival material and historical interpretations, in an effort to solve a historical puzzle (e.g. the mystery of the doomed Franklin expedition; the mysterious death of artist Tom Thomson). John Lutz, University of Victoria history professor and one of the founders of the project noted, “history is too important to be boring, and these mysteries are too intriguing to be left to historians alone.”  All the materials and teachers’ guides are free. Link to project site: Link to the CBC article:

High Levels of Stress, Low Levels of Autonomy

The Washington Post recently reported on a survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) of approximately 30,000 teachers. Survey results reported teachers felt high levels of stress and low levels of autonomy. The rise of government initiatives such as the Common Core Standards were identified as a source of stress for teachers. The article reported: “Teachers said they feel particularly anxious about having to carry out a steady stream of new initiatives — such as implementing curricula and testing related to the Common Core State Standards — without being given adequate training, according to the survey. “


The AFT website reports some key findings from the survey:

  • Only 1 in 5 educators feel respected by government officials or the media.
  • Only 14% strongly agree with the statement that they trust their administrator or supervisor.
  • More than 75 % say they do not have enough staff to get the work done.
  • 78% percent say they are often physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day.
  • 87% percent say the demands of their job are at least sometimes interfering with their family life.
  • Among the greatest workplace stressors were the adoption of new initiatives without proper training or professional development, mandated curriculum and standardized tests.

Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, noted stress could be a result of teachers wearing multiple hats in the classroom:

“We ask teachers to be a combination of Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr….We ask them to be Mom and Dad and impart tough love but also be a shoulder to lean on. And when they don’t do these things, we blame them for not being saviors of the world. What is the effect? The effect has been teachers are in­cred­ibly stressed out.”

Read more about this issue at:

Why teaching Shakespeare is Important

Who out there remembers reading Shakespeare in school? I (Yiola) remember starting Shakespeare in 9th Grade, Advanced English. I will be honest and share that I did not find reading Shakespeare plays enjoyable… the plays were hard to read… I could not understand the text let alone the sub-text… and quite frankly, reciting lines I could hardly read was humiliating and boring. Then… in 11th grade I had a teacher who took us to Stratford to watch the plays… but before she did that she talked to us about Shakespeare and his plays. She gave insights to the story and allowed us to explore the narratives in a variety of ways. Once I understood the story I could play with the script, recite sections and imagine the story unfolding on stage. Once I had access to Shakespeare I grew to love his work and more importantly I gain a deeper level of access to language.

There are many reasons to teach Shakespeare. One reason is for access. To have access to language is to have power. Knowledge is power – Language is power. Shakespeare’s work, apart from brilliant, has provided the English language incredible context for thinking, speaking, acting, and being. To know this and to have access to this language is powerful. This does not suggest that one must embrace Shakespeare, but to know it is to own a significant piece of the English language.

I have observed 2nd graders explore Shakespeare comedies. The Laboratory School in Toronto has developed an incredibly colourful and creative approach to teaching Shakespeare that includes graphic organizers, visual arts, storytelling, drama, reading, writing, and a number or language based activities that empower students. Students explore, read, listen, act, and play with Shakespeare’s work and they develop a sense of ownership. All students deserve that sense of ownership…its about owning language”.


Then and now

I (Clare) found this post so interesting and relevant. In my university dissemination of research is strongly encouraged so I have tried to make better use of social media — this blog! With 26,000+ hits and counting our website has certainly helped us disseminate our research in ways we could not do with traditional print (e.g., peer reviewed journals).

The Research Whisperer

Photo by Jeff Sheldon | Photo by Jeff Sheldon |

In the last five years or so, I’ve completely changed my attitude to communicating research.

Guess how much I used to do before?


I published in journals and scholarly books. I presented at academic conferences and ran a research network. I dutifully applied for research funding. I thought of myself as a good, productive academic.

And that was it. I wasn’t really on Twitter and I blogged about our network activities – but only really for our members. I didn’t do community forums or write for other non-academic publication outlets.

Don’t believe me? Read on!

View original post 744 more words

61 Years Later…

Sunday marked the 61st anniversary of the landmark case in the U.S.:  Brown vs. Board of Education. The supreme court case declared segregated schooling unconstitutional. However, 61 years later many schools remain separate and unequal. Often students in low socio-economic neighbourhoods, which tend to have a more diverse population, remain at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts in more affluent neighbourhoods . Rebecca Klein, author at the Huffington Post, put together six powerful graphs which illustrate how far we still have to go for a truly equitable educational system. Below are a couple graphs from Klein’s article:



To read the entire article click here:

Happy Victoria Day

For our Canadian readers, Happy Victoria Day! For our international readers, Happy Victoria Day! and let me (Yiola) tell you about our federal holiday.

Since 1845 (which is before confederation!)Canada has recognized Victoria Day. Queen Victoria’s (of England) birthday is celebrated here in Canada; in fact we are the only country to celebrate her birthday as an official federal holiday. Following her death in 1901, the holiday was made to be known as Victoria Day, a day to remember the late Queen who was deemed the “Mother of Confederation”.

We now informally call Victoria Day “May 2-4” and this holiday marks the beginning of our summer. Locally, people begin their gardening, cottagers open their cottages, and fireworks abound. It is a happy time and great way to welcome the coming of a new season.

This year, Monday May 18th marks the holiday which left me confused because May 24th is a Sunday… and so I wondered why May 2-4 was not celebrated next Monday? The link below explains why:

I hope where ever you are, the sun is shining and there are fireworks in your soul. Enjoy today!

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