Monthly Archives: March 2017

Keep Calm & Play Video Games

When I (Said) was 8 years old, my parents bought me a Playstation video game console. It was the beginning of what is now my favorite hobby. Whenever I purchase a game, I adore the ‘new game smell.’ It resembles being in a brand new car or picking up a new book for the first time. I associate it with feelings of enjoyment and excitement. I am holding an adventure in the palm of my hands.

Some may think that video games are a waste of time and money, but I do not agree. Video games are a form of entertainment that has grown rapidly since the 1970’s. They have caused controversy, changed lives, and challenged how we tell stories. My main attraction to video games stems from the fact that I am no longer a spectator but a participant in the storytelling. Nothing is more satisfying than taking a break from my daily routines and readings to immerse myself in another world. Video games have allowed me to experience rich narratives that have enhanced my thinking and influenced how I see the world. Since they are often designed to challenge the player to complete a task, video games are an amazing tool to develop problem-solving skills (trial & error, perseverance, multiple solutions…). Since 1999, video games have taught me about history, culture, science, drama, crime, racism, love, creativity, imagination and more. In other words, video games made me literate; video games are art.

Instead of hoping that children ‘grow out of it’ (I certainly haven’t!), we must shift our focus to how we can use their involvement with video games to our advantage as literacy teachers. Some of my most interesting conversations as an occasional teacher have been the result of speaking the language of video games. There is no reason to discredit it as a form of media that does not contribute to knowledge building; there is great potential for its use in classroom instruction and assessment. You do NOT need to be a gamer to bring students’ out-of-classroom hobbies into the classroom. If it helps students achieve, feel included, and contributes to their personal growth, why spoil the party? Every few weeks, my mom will text me, “How’s your Playstation doing?” Often, she regrets asking, because I will spend hours telling her about my latest adventures.

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My video game shrine
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Thoughts on being a student of teaching

As I (Yiola) prepare for the upcoming AERA conference by finalizing and editing my papers I am drawn to a few key ideas on teacher development that I have come across in the literature.

The International Handbook of Teacher Education  volumes 1 and 2 (Loughran and Hamilton Eds., 2016) include a number of chapters on topics in teacher education. Our own team leaders Clare Kosnik and Clive Beck along with close colleague Lin Goodwin (Teachers College, Columbia University) share a chapter on Reform Efforts in Teacher Education. 

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The volumes are filled with interesting chapters.  What has caught my attention at this time is a chapter on teacher led professional development. Bullough and Smith write on Being a student of teaching: Practitioner research and study groups.  The chapter describes the idea of being a student of teaching (as a current practitioner) from two dimensions: the personal and the contextual. Exploring reflective practice (the personal dimension) and opportunities and support for teacher learning (the contextual dimension), the authors share insights from Dewey (1933) to Avalos (2004, 2011) and Livingston (2011).  The chapter also explores ways of being a student of teaching: through practitioner research and study groups and the varied ways one can learn. An in-depth and detailed review and analysis of teacher led professional development.

This work fits beautifully with my paper titled: Examining the Professional Life of an Elementary School Teacher: Literacy Education in the Making where I have taken one participant from our 13 year longitudinal study of 40 elementary schools teachers from Canada and the USA and shared her literacy teaching trajectory (mainly from the contextual dimension). I am looking forward to sharing this paper and work at the upcoming AERA conference in late April.

Warrior Within

My friend Catherine Wachter is involved in this important project. Warrior Within (Twitter @warriorwithinpr) is a creative endeavour spearheaded by Catherine Wachter and Nicola Doyle.

The project centres around the creation of a student-driven fictional short film (shot in July, 2016) that uses metaphor and imagery to help engage students in their understanding of stress, anxiety and how to individually develop their own resilience.

This creative project also involved the student exploration of the film’s themes -stress, personal resilience and the power of social capital – through artwork, music composition, documentary film, creative writing, dance, blog writing and photography created alongside the shoot and under the guidance of mentors in the field.

This short film, and all its creative facets, will go on to inspire a student-driven curriculum (in the new year, a student group will be creating the lesson plans, student exercises, discussion points, etc.) aimed at filling the dearth of creative pedagogy regarding positive mental health for youth.

In May of 2017, Warrior Within will be celebrated at a gala to raise money for Jack.org, an important youth mental health initiative in Toronto. We will premiere the short film, the behind the scenes documentary and exhibit all other forms of artwork produced during the initiative. Our students will be there to share their work (process and completion) in person!

…and if you can helps us spread the word @warriorwithinpr, on Facebook, etc.,) that would be amazing!

Thank you!

http://www.warriorwithin.ca/index2.html

Continuing to See Ourselves and Our Communities on Sesame Street

I, like many other kids, grew up watching Sesame Street. The brightly coloured characters with distinctly different personalities has made the television show a staple in households across the world for decades. What I recently learned is that a large part of their success is due to their approach. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to the show; rather, the show reflects the current needs and issues of the period and context. Several co-production teams have been put together to first understand the context of a nation and then tailor the show based on the country in which  they will be broadcasted. For example, in the Bangladesh production, called Sisimpur, the show depicts village life and is  physically centred around a Banyan tree surrounded by familiar shops (e.g., sweet shops) rather than the street lined with North American version with brownstone townhouses. Further, a key focus of the show is to promote girls’ education; Tuktuki is a 5-year old character who has a deep love for learning.

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Sisimpur

Most recently, Sesame Street North America has introduced a character Julia who is their first character with Autism. In a CBC article, the puppeteer for Julia commented on her hopes Julia’s character:

My hope is that kids will understand some autistic behaviours a little bit better and they won’t be at all concerned or worried about them, that they won’t be scared of them, that they’ll see a child in their own community who might behave like Julia, or have some of the characteristics that Julia has, and they’ll see that as just another kid.

And they’ll be able to go up to that child and go, “Oh! That kid might be a little bit like Julia, and Abby [another Sesame Street character] plays with Julia and I can play with this kid too.”

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Sesame Street’s new character: Julia

I applaud Sesame Street for continuing to reflect our communities and approach issues head on.

Link to CBC article: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-friday-edition-1.4039714/sesame-street-puppeteer-hopes-new-muppet-with-autism-will-help-kids-understand-each-other-1.4039728

 

The Racial Achievement Gap in Literacy

When I was enrolled in Clare’s graduate course on literacy teaching, our class was assigned a reading from Alfred Tatum’s 2005 book Teaching reading to black adolescent males: Closing the achievement gap. It was one of my favorite readings and the class discussion was so engaging; many of my peers, myself included, were overcome with emotion. I will never forget reading the introduction, which felt like a Hollywood script until I realized that this is many people’s reality and that the incident he describes is representative of a large problem that needs to be addressed. Simply put, the role of literacy in the lives of young black men must be reconceptualized.

According to Alfred, the book is his attempt “to speak on behalf of all those young black males who yearn for understanding as they journey through rough terrain. Many of these young men want educators to respond to their needs and so help release them from a poverty-ridden paralysis that stiffens dreams” (p. 3).  Check out the introduction/the book here!

On a similar note, I came across this uplifting article a few days ago. An 11- year old boy started a book club, Book N Bros, that celebrates black books and African-American literature that shies away from the typically negative urban stories. With an emphasis on black protagonists, a new book every month, and meetings to discuss themes and complete worksheets, the aim is to improve the literacy rate among boys 8-10 years old. Some of the books that have already been read include Hidden Figures, The Supadupa Kid and A Song for Harlem: Scraps of Time.       Awesome!BlackProtagonistBook

Poet and Philosopher Vera Korfioti

During my time in Cyprus I (Yiola) had the pleasure of visiting with renown author and dear friend, Vera Korfioti.

Vera has published a number of collections of poetry, as well as books in Greek literature, Education and on the works of Greek Philosophers.  Her most recent publication is on Pythagoreanism.

Vera Korfioti holds degrees in History and Archeology from the University of Athens. She also studied Journalism in Athens. Her greatest love of study is Philosophy and this can be seen throughout her poetry.

I share here one of her short poems of the place where I stayed during my time in Cyprus:

  

There is a tenderness in her poetry; and yet its intensity towards precision and detail gives it such power.

A highlight of my trip was talking about life and the nature of people in today’s age with Vera. While we live on opposite end of the world we share similar understandings on the philosophy of life.  Perhaps what connects me to Vera is not only the beauty of her poetry but her love of teaching.  Vera worked as a teacher of Philosophy in Secondary Education in Cyprus. She also studied in the area of children with special needs in England and the United States.  And, for several years she has been teaching at the Philosophy School of Cyprus.

Language, literacy and teaching brought together for the world to enjoy!

Vera Korfioti, myself and my son Gallaway.

Literacy/English Teacher Educators — Goals for Their Courses

Along with my research team we have been studying literacy/English teacher educators. Through this work I became very fascinated with a notion of a pedagogy of literacy teacher education. In the second interview we asked  them to define the goals for their courses. We then categorized and tabulated the results. As the table below show not surprisingly building knowledge of literacy was their first goal.

Goals for course Number who identified this goal
Build knowledge of literacy 28
Build knowledge of pedagogical strategies 25
Student teachers adopt a professional role 18
Student teachers develop a critical stance 16
Build knowledge of government initiatives 13
Build knowledge of digital technology 11
Focus on student teacher growth 10

When the specific goals for their courses were analyzed using NVivo a more nuanced picture emerged. Their vision for literacy varied tremendously. Regarding literacy although learning about literacy and acquiring pedagogical strategies were common goals, interpretations of what student teachers need to know about literacy theory and teaching strategies varied.

Some like Melissa, Dominique, and Maya (pseudonyms used img_1030.jpgthroughout) focused on critical literacy while Amelia and Jessie had multiliteracies as the framework for their courses. Jane and Lance focused on children’s literature, while Sharon and Margie had the writing process as their priority. One LTE focused her course totally on phonics and phonological awareness.  Justin commented: “I see our work as being about the development of teachers as public intellectuals …  not simply to prepare beginning teachers for whatever the particular curricular or pedagogic demands of policy here now are but for a lifetime in teaching and this involves them being able to be both critical of initiatives that are thrust on them and creative in their approaches.”

It also became apparent the teacher educators’ broader goals for teacher education were quite different.  For example Justin believed that he should “prepare student teachers for a lifetime of teaching; prepare them to be public intellectuals; see schools as an emancipatory space. Caterina aims to have her student teachers “themselves as professionals not college students.” Emma has very specific goals: “understand current curriculum …  develop skills to plan and asses … be independent thinkers who are not just teaching for the schools we have.” Bob by contrast has broader goals “student teachers learn to focus on the students … to unpack their beliefs  [about schooling] … and to develop an identity as a professional.” While Martha Ann focuses on the individual’s development “develop a sense of self-efficacy … learn to take initiative … …. know children’s literature … empower students.” The lack of consistency in literacy methods courses (content and pedagogy) in teacher education is a concern because student teachers may graduate with markedly different understandings of literacy and may have been exposed to a particular set of literacy theories and pedagogies.

In my next blog post I will present the framework for a pedagogy of literacy teacher education.

Respecting Teachers’ Professionalism in Reading Instruction

booksIncreasing the reading ability of young people is a major focus of critics of schooling, and prescribed remedies constantly rain down upon us. It is refreshing, then, to re-visit Richard Allington’s What Really Matters for Struggling Readers (2006, 2nd edn.), as I (Clive) have recently done.

According to Allington, the remedies mandated at a system level typically have two flaws: (1) prescribing a single method for all students, and (2) not placing enough emphasis on the amount students read (including re-reading the same favorite works). With respect to the first, he says:

“Expecting any single method, material, or program to work equally well with every kid in every classroom is nonsensical. And yet we see increasing pressure for a standardization of reading curriculum and lessons…. The substantial research evidence that such plans have not produced the desired effects is routinely ignored in the latest quest for a cheap, quick fix.” (p. 34)

Regarding the second flaw in system mandates, Allington says:

“If I were required to select a single aspect of the instructional environment to change, my first choice would be creating a schedule that supported dramatically increased quantities of reading during the school day” (p. 35)

Unfortunately, federally funded Title I remedial reading and special education programs (in the US) have not increased the amount of reading children do. According to one study:

“[C]hildren who received reading instructional support from either program often had the volume of reading reduced rather than expanded as remedial and resource room lessons focused on other activities” (p. 43)

These “other activities” – such as extra phonics teaching, correcting pronunciation, asking comprehension questions – mean that children are interrupted in their reading. Apart from reducing reading time, this means children become used to being interrupted and read in a slow, hesitant manner, with half a mind on when the next interruption will come.

While attempting to support teachers in their reading instruction, then, it is essential to respect their professionalism so they are free to adapt to what works for individual students and give students abundant opportunities to read in peace.

 

A Letter From 30 Scholars on Learning Styles

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In recent days there have been a flurry of news articles revisiting the legitimacy of learning styles in the classroom. Thirty scholars from the areas of education, psychology, and neuroscience crafted a letter to The Guardian newspaper  asserting that there is a severe lack of evidence to back the idea of learning styles (see link below). The notion of learning styles is commonplace in many K-12 classrooms, as well as teacher education programs. The premise of learning styles is that an individual can learn better when presented information in a certain format (e.g., visual, kinaesthetic, auditory). However, there has been a lack of sufficient evidence, which would indicate that tailoring content delivery in a one particular format would result in deeper learning. The letter explains:

There are, however, a number of problems with the learning styles approach. First, there is no coherent framework of preferred learning styles. Usually, individuals are categorised into one of three preferred styles of auditory, visual or kinesthetic learners based on self-reports. One study found that there were more than 70 different models of learning styles including among others, “left v right brain,” “holistic v serialists,” “verbalisers v visualisers” and so on. The second problem is that categorising individuals can lead to the assumption of fixed or rigid learning style, which can impair motivation to apply oneself or adapt.

Finally, and most damning, is that there have been systematic studies of the effectiveness of learning styles that have consistently found either no evidence or very weak evidence to support the hypothesis that matching or “meshing” material in the appropriate format to an individual’s learning style is selectively more effective for educational attainment. Students will improve if they think about how they learn but not because material is matched to their supposed learning style. The Educational Endowment Foundation in the UK has concluded that learning styles is “Low impact for very low cost, based on limited evidence”.

Adhering strictly to learning styles can be reductive; however, they continue to appear in educational settings. The notion of learning styles have been repeatedly debunked over the year, yet why do you think learning styles still are still used so widely?

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/mar/12/no-evidence-to-back-idea-of-learning-styles

The University of Toronto turns 190!

I (Said) have been part of the University of Toronto system since I began my undergraduate degree in 2009. It has been quite the ride considering I was born in Lebanon & immigrated to Canada in 2003! This year, the University of Toronto is celebrating turning 190 & one of its satellite campuses in Mississauga, Ontario, is turning 50. The history teacher/student in me became curious and wanted to learn a little more about the school I attend and the community I belong to.

It all began on March 15, 1827, when a royal charter was formally issued by King George IV, proclaiming “from this time one College, with the style and privileges of a University … for the education of youth in the principles of the Christian Religion, and for their instruction in the various branches of Science and Literature … to continue for ever, to be called King’s College [before it was renamed University of Toronto on Jan. 1, 1850].”

Established in 1878, the School of Practical Science (now the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering) offered students instruction in mining, engineering, mechanics and manufacturing. New faculties were soon added, among them home economics (1906), education (1907), forestry (1907), social work (1914), nursing (1920), graduate studies (1922), hygiene (1926) and the School of Architecture (1948). There is definitely a rich history to explore if you are interested in the social, political, and religious influences on the development of post-secondary institutions in Ontario/Toronto. Isn’t it amazing how a once denominational college is now a collegiate university with over 85,000 students from at least 160 countries, over 500,000 alumni, and 2 satellite campuses?

More interestingly, new courses and disciplines will certainly continue to emerge in response to developments in our globalized society and contemporary culture. I wondered if there were courses that weren’t as predictable as “Introduction to Eco/Chem/Math/Psych” and here are two that stood out to me:

Feminism, Zombies and Survivalism (WGS334H1S)

  • In this course, we interrogate the gender, racial, and generational politics of survivalist fantasies while, at the same time, re-reading them for the alternative ethical frameworks and possible futures that they suppress.

The Beatles (MUS321H1)

  • The class tackles two main questions: Why were The Beatles so popular, and how did they become the soundtrack to the 1960s (with a little help from their friends, of course). This class has no prerequisites.

I definitely wish I could have written an academic paper discussing the context and influence of the song lyric, “All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.” 

In any case, happy birthday UofT. Here are a few pictures, taken from Student Life @ UofT.

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An intramural soccer game in 1951.
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Nursing students in 1920/1921 on the steps of University College.
University College Tank
A tank on campus in 1950.

UofTBday