All posts by ckosnik

AERA Award

At the American Education Research Association annual meeting in April, Clive Beck, Clare Kosnik and members of their research team received an award from the AERA Constructivist SIG for a submission based on their longitudinal study of 40 teachers. This study, which began in 2004, has been funded by four successive SSHRC grants and will continue for at least two more years; it is one of the most extensive longitudinal studies of teachers ever conducted. Also in April, a chapter on longitudinal research written by Clive, Clare and Elizabeth Rosales was published in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia, Education.


Mental Health Education and Way of Life Education

Last week, I (Clive) talked about the connection between general way of life education and career education. I believe there is a similar link with mental health education, which Ontario teachers today are strongly encouraged to engage in. A recent Toronto Star article on mental health education noted that around twenty percent of Ontario school students have mental health problems. It then went on to claim that the life learning these students need would also greatly benefit the other eighty percent of students!

From the teachers’ point of view, this insight has significant implications. It means that instead of constantly singling out students with mental health needs – thus adding to teachers’ workload and also running the danger of labeling students, reducing their self-esteem, and undermining class community – teachers can implement way of life education in the normal course of teaching and classroom life and so help all their students.

Increasing the feasibility of mental health teaching in this way is sorely needed, given the growing demands on teachers, the continuing cut-backs in special education funding, and the increasing integration of “special needs” students into mainstream classes. As Kate Phillippo says in her excellent 2015 book Advisory in Urban High Schools, there is today considerable “under-the-table expansion of teachers’ responsibilities,” especially “to provide social-emotional support” to students (p. 148).

While there is a limit to how much assistance regular classroom teachers can give to students with mental health challenges, supporting all students in developing a sound approach to life can help everyone, including those with special needs. For example, students who lack motivation for school work need a better general sense of where academic achievement fits into their life, now and in the future; and students dealing with bullying would benefit from greater general understanding of when and how to stand up to other people. Along these lines, Phillippo (2015) envisages classroom teachers taking on a broad “advisory” role that includes fostering “life skills development” (p. 154) and working to promote “student wellness” in general (p. 164).

Career Education and Way of Life Development

I (Clive) have often proposed in our blogs that schooling should be more “relevant.” In addition to teaching subject content, we should help students develop their general approach to life (which will vary significantly from one student to another). This can be done as we teach subjects – so long as we are selective in what we spend time on and how we teach it – but also through the class community, the teacher-student relationship, and individual and whole-class projects and chats from time to time.

I have recently read a wonderful book Designing Your Life (Knopf, 2016) by Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, in which the authors say that way of life development should go hand in hand career education. Already in school (they do not say how early) young people should be constantly exploring a range of possibilities for learning and doing, trying to figure out what things they enjoy, find fulfilling, and are good at. Then as they begin to consider more concretely what career(s) to take up, they will have a solid sense of what would fit with their way of life.

A key emphasis in the book is that it is not just a matter of choosing IT, law, engineering, etc. but what kind of IT, law, engineering, etc. Work in each field can take many different forms, and it is as much a matter of creating or designing a line of work as choosing one, and continuing to develop it further over time. For this people need a lot of information about the real world, a sense of a preferred and possible way of life, and experience in being proactive rather than passive in life situations. This can begin in earnest in school – I would argue, even in primary school.



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, 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!

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.


How can we make professional development more useful?

I (Clare) was recently doing a Meet and Greet for our newly admitted student teachers to Image_PDcartoonour Master of Arts in Child Study teacher education program. I talked about how teaching is a journey and that you never stop learning. From our longitudinal study of teachers we know that teachers learn a great deal from each other and from reflecting on their teaching. I believe there is a place for formal professional development; however, many teachers (myself included) have found formal PD to be of little use. It is often so removed from daily practice, tends to be top-down, and is a one-off. Teachers need time and place for conversations about their teaching. There is a place for formal structured PD but the way it is so often delivered it is not effective. In previous blogs I have written about my teacher-researcher group which has been a very powerful form of PD because all of the teachers are working on a topic/question that is important to them. One of the students in my grad course sent me this cartoon about PD. Although I chuckled when I read it, I feel that is sums up the sentiments of many.

Building a Genuinely Social Class Community

This term I (Clive) have two wonderful graduate classes, each with 25 students. One is on Foundations of Curriculum Studies and the other Reflective Professional Development. As part of the community building effort we go to the pub after class three times during the twelve week term (that evening we finish the class half an hour early). This week we had our second pub visit in both classes.

As always, I was impressed with how enjoyable it was and how much we got to know about each other. Only about half the students came, due to the frigid weather, family responsibilities, and school classes early the next day. But it was nevertheless entirely worthwhile.

Other strategies to build a social culture include: sitting in a large circle for most of the evening; having the students say each other’s names around the room each time we meet; chatting and joking at the beginning of the class and at other times; each student giving a brief presentation on their emerging essay topic (2 or 3 presentations a week) with responses from the 3 students sitting to their left or right; small-group discussions on interesting topics, with everyone in each group reporting back. All this leaves less time for me to talk, but I find the students say at least 90% of what I would have said; and anyway, I get to choose the weekly topics and readings.

It is only a 36 hour course, shorter than most school courses, yet a real bond is formed. The social atmosphere adds greatly to the enjoyment of the course and the discussions are deepened. It may not seem very “academic,” but I wouldn’t do it any other way!


Catherine Snow talk

If you are in the Toronto area this talk might be of interest to you.  You can RSVP using this URL: RSVP (acceptances only):

Image Catherine Snow talk

Teachers go to the Academy Awards

I (Clare) was watching the Academy Award last night and I was struck by the image_academy_award_trophynumber of winners who thanked their teachers. I recently had an unusual experience. My nephew ran into a former student teacher of mine from 20 years ago and they started talking and somehow made the connection. The former student teacher said that I had had a profound
impact on him. Huh! So teachers and teacher educators you never know the difference you are making. You may be thanked at the Academy Awards. We make a difference often in ways we do not see or know.