Monthly Archives: February 2016

Digital literacy conference in teacher education



I (Yiola) am excited to share news on a technology conference hosted in the Child Study and Education program at OISE/UT last week.  The conference, Technology for Learning, was designed for our first year MA students. To develop the conference, we surveyed the students to better understand their knowledge of technology use in the classroom. We discovered that while most students were users of technology, very few used technology in the classroom and very few were familiar with educational approaches and applications for the classroom. The survey was helpful in developing the structure and content for the conference. We then carefully examined which technology based topics and themes  were covered in program courses and from there we decided which areas would be best for the conference.

Students expressed they lacked knowledge in, and seemed most interested in, applied uses of technology in educational settings so we decided to host sessions on: blogging, online literacy, assessment, social media in the classroom, gaming, formal and informal learning sights, coding, assistive/adaptive technologies. For a complete list of the sessions and their descriptions click on the website we designed for the conference here:

Students signed up for the conference via the website and after significant planning, emails and bookings,  we were set to go.

Ready for student registration. There were 77 students in attendance.

The full day conference included: an introduction, 2 one-hour sessions, lunch break, a 3rd one-hour session, student led poster presentations, Q & A and closure. The introductory session led by myself and Heather (co-designers and hosts) set the stage for the day. I introduced the notion of digital citizenship, its themes and local resources and Heather introduced theoretical frameworks for thinking about technology in education. She shared 3 frames: 1) T-Pack  2) Ed Tech Quintet and, 3) SAMR.  Each framework was explained and examples were provided. We left students with the suggestion to select one theme from digital citizenship and one framework that resonated with them and to think about them in relation to the 3 sessions there were about to attend.  Here are some pictures from the day:

We worked hard to include a variety of presenters, from a variety of settings. Included were the Director of OISE library, a lab school Teacher, Professors from the university, a Teacher from the public school board, and Doctoral students.The images above show some of our amazing presenters.

We provided a lunch where the presenters along with Department Chair Professor Earl Woodruff and Program Chair Professor Rhonda Martinussen gathered to share ideas regarding technology for learning.


After lunch there was one more set of sessions followed by student-led poster presentations (see images below for student led poster presentations). Students submitted proposals which were reviewed and returned with feedback. The poster presentations provided a wonderful opportunity for students to share their expertise and knowledge in an academic setting. It was a moving and motivational part of the conference.The following 4 images show examples of the student-led poster presentations.



We closed the conference with a Q & A and an unplugging of technology through the fun and fitting picture book “Good night iPad”.


It was a wonderful day. The informal feedback from students has been positive. We plan to send out a post survey about the conference to deepen our understanding of student learning and to improve our own practice in the area of digital literacy teaching. For more information about our conference please feel free to contact us via our blog.

Anxiety And Depression In The Classroom: What Educators Can Do To Assist Students

I (Clare) have been involved in a number of discussions re: children and anxiety. I thought I would share with you this upcoming event. For those in the Toronto area you might consider attending.Image_CECflier


Teaching with Technology- A Constant Challenge



trust technology1


This cartoon reminded me (Cathy) of an incident from when I was teaching grade four.  The math problem for the day was:

A man went to bed at 11:00 p.m. and got up at 7:00 a.m. the next day.  How many hours did the man sleep?

One of my students just couldn’t figure it out it.  He usually didn’t have problems with mathematics, but he just couldn’t “see it”. In an effort to guide him, I told him to draw a clock and count the hours in between 11 and 7.

Sometime later I noticed he was sitting at his desk just staring at his notebook.  I walked over to see what he was staring at. This is what he had drawn:11


I guess my technology wasn’t matching up with his technology.  It’s a constant challenge!

Rethinking Positive Thinking, in Life and Education

I (Clive) know that self-help books are not everyone’s cup of tea, but given the interest in well-being these days (see Clare’s February 6 posting) they appear to have an important place. Recently I came across a rather impressive one called Rethinking Positive Thinking (Current/Penguin, 2014) by psychologist Gabriele Oettingen.

Oettingen agrees that learning to think positively is essential, but feels that writers on the selfiesubject have gone too far. Just focusing on the positive can result in frustration, failure, and un-happiness. As the saying goes, perfection is the enemy of the good. She recommends instead what she calls “mental contrasting,” which involves thinking about both the positive and the negative aspects of a situation, and of life in general.

As well as being helpful at a personal level, Oettingen’s approach seems to me to have application to teaching and teacher education. It supports being realistic about the challenges of teaching – and so not caught off guard by them, as many beginning teachers are – while also reminding ourselves of its many satisfactions and rewards. It calls into question over-the-top government and school district “targets” that promise to “transform” schooling, if only teachers would adopt the latest set of edicts. Mental contrasting can keep us aware of what we need to work on in teaching while taking comfort in the current successes of the profession.

Finnish Schools Breaking All the Rules

I wanted to share this op-ed piece written by William Doyle, a Fulbright Scholar and author who enrolled his 8-year old son in a rural school in Finland. Throughout his essay, he describes the practices and pedagogies of his son’s fourth grade teacher, Jussi Hietava.

Doyle addresses several trends in educational reform in today’s world, including control, competition, stress, standardized testing, screen-based schools and loosened teacher qualifications and describes how Finnish schools do the exact opposite.

Below is an excerpt from Doyle’s essay. I highly encourage anyone interested in educational reform matters to take a few moments to read the essay in its entirety.


Here, as in any other Finnish school, teachers are not strait-jacketed by bureaucrats, scripts or excessive regulations, but have the freedom to innovate and experiment as teams of trusted professionals. Here, in contrast to the atmosphere in American public schools, Hietava and his colleagues are encouraged to constantly experiment with new approaches to improve learning.

Hietava’s latest innovations are with pilot-testing “self-assessments,” where his students write daily narratives on their learning and progress; and with “peer assessments,” a striking concept where children are carefully guided to offer positive feedback and constructive suggestions to each other.

Link to the op-ed piece:

The Digital Divide Persists


As educators we often believe we are living in an era post the digital divide. Everyone has access to the internet, right? If we see our students with Smartphones that must mean they are connected, right? Wrong. A distressing article from the New York Times reminds us the digital divide still persists. Although this article is written about the U.S. context,  I have to believe many claims are true for Canada as well. Cecelia Kang from the New York Times writes,

“With many educators pushing for students to use resources on the Internet with class work, the federal government is now grappling with a stark disparity in access to technology, between students who have high-speed Internet at home and an estimated five million families who are without it and who are struggling to keep up.” 

While trying to prepare students for the 21st century world, we as educators post homework and assignments online, ask students to post blog entries or participate in educational chat groups, and become active on social media in generative and meaningful ways. However, while we upgrade and innovate our pedagogies, we may inadvertently be leaving several pupils behind. How do we prepare our students for working and living in the 21st century, which is so digitally driven, while ensuring our most vulnerable students are not being left behind?

Read the full New York Times article here:

International Literacy Association

The International Literacy Association (ILA) has its annual Conference coming up in Boston in July. An inspiring organization that works to build global capacity in the area of literacy, pre-service and experienced teachers alike have much to gain from learning about ILA and attending the conference.

Check out the website for more information and be inspired!

I am inspired by the advocacy piece:

From local issues to global issues ILA provides resources for professional development.

Check it out!



Teacher Education for High Poverty Schools

Jo Lampert and Bruce  Burnett have recently edited an amazing text,Teacher Education for High Poverty Schools. The text is available from Springer.

This volume captures the innovative, theory-based, and grounded work being done by established scholars who are interrogating how teacher education can prepare teachers to work in challenging and diverse high-poverty settings. It offers articles from the US, Australia, Canada, the UK and Chile by some of the most significant scholars in the field. Internationally, research suggests that effective teachers for high poverty schools require deep theoretical understanding as well as the capacity to function across three well-substantiated areas: deep content knowledge, well-tuned pedagogical skills, and demonstrated attributes that prove their understanding and commitment to social justice. Schools in low socioeconomic communities need quality teachers most, however, they are often staffed by the least experienced and least prepared teachers. The chapters in this volume examine how pre-service teachers are taught to understand the social contexts of education. Drawing on the individual expertise of the authors, the topics covered include unpacking poverty for pre-service teachers, issues related to urban schooling as well as remote and regional area schooling.

Our (Clare) research team contributed a chapter to the text which focused on six literacy teacher educators who purposefully prepare student teachers to work in high poverty schools. Here is the chapter: TchingforHighPovertySchools

Entering a new communication paradigm

I (Cathy) have recently found myself in a new communication predicament. Diagnosed with vocal cord nodules, I have been instructed not to speak for 8 weeks. So here I am, and after only two weeks into my ‘treatment,’ I have observed some interesting things about peoples’ communication patterns.

  1. Since I can’t talk, people often whisper to me. I’m not sure why, but they do, or…
  2. They get MUCH LOUDER. I can hear just fine, but for some reason this is the reaction.
  3. People gesture wildly. Again, I can hear them, but they clearly need to emphasize what they are saying.

I could theorize about the reasons why they do this: a need overcompensate for my sake; empathy perhaps; or they are just plain uncomfortable with the situation. But wait, there is more…

I started carrying a note pad to write messages to communicate and discovered these patterns:

  1. If the message is longer than two sentences, people get restless. The common quip is “Are you writing a novel?”
  2. Once I start to write an answer, if they don’t want to wait, they answer their posed question for me! I am always fascinated by ‘my response.’
  3. Some people prefer me to print as opposed to write, so I have to rewrite/print the message. My son actually told me to “just text him” at the dinner table. (BTW, my handwriting has improved dramatically due to the necessity of being understood)

In an effort to be more current and efficient, I started using the “speak feature” on my iPad and iPhone, but this has its own set of complications:

  1. The response process: typing, highlighting the text, and then tapping the ‘speak’ feature, takes less time than it does for me to write a note in longhand, yet people are less patient with the electronic process. I suspect they feel it should be immediate.
  2. Most people have trouble understanding the electronic voice. They frequently say, “I didn’t get that.” I think it’s because the intonation is usually off. I often have to repeat the message. (I have totally given up on using a ‘cool’ voice app as people can’t understand the regular voice. I was hoping to use the Stephen Hawkings app).
  3. Instead of listening to the voice again, often people reach for my iPhone to read the message in print for themselves, but sometimes the print is too small for them to read, so I have to enlarge it- which takes even more time.
  4. Interestingly, people often want to type their response on my iPad instead of speaking back to me. They take the iPad right out of my hands to do this. I also tried using the chat feature on Skype so I could respond to the person on the screen, but the other person only wanted to type in chat too. Although they were right there in front of me, and were perfectly capable of talking- they didn’t! This leads me to believe that people are getting more comfortable communicating through print  than speaking.

Finally, I play a large role in this and am just a quirky:

  1. I often try to mouth the words which becomes a great game of “guess what Cathy is trying to say.”
  2. As I am familiar with rudimentary sign language, having taken several courses to communicate with my niece and having taught in a total language classroom, that is my default. I sign to people, which of course they don’t understand because it is another language! One friend told me “I have no idea what you are saying, but I love to watch.”

Sadly, my friends and colleagues who are ELL totally empathize with me, as they tell me this is all too familiar for them. I truly feel for them now.

All in all, this is a fascinating study in multimodal communications. Mostly, I just listen. I was told that people pay a great deal of money to attend ‘silent retreats,’ so I am trying to treat this like a gift in self-discovery. Apparently, I have a lot to learn.