Cathy Miyata is a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University. She is also an acclaimed storyteller and writer. She has performed and lectured in Serbia, Japan, Malaysia, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Sweden, Mexico, the United States, Egypt, and across Canada
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I (Cathy) was in the mood for a mystery thriller and happened upon a novel called The Passage by Justin Cronin. As i like to be surprised, I didn’t read the book jacket. Indeed i was surprised. It was a horror thriller with characters akin to the Walking Dead zombies, but with more life, strength, and smarts. In other words the human race didn’t stand a chance. I admit when this was first revealed, I was a bit skeptical, however, the writing was suburb and the characters wonderfully rich and complex. I ended up getting hooked and also listened to book two and three in the series, The Twelve, and the final book, The City of Mirrors. All excellent. It was after the first book I read a review:
“Read this book and the ordinary world disappears.” (Stephen King)
And he was right. It was consuming until the very end. So, I think I’ll it start again!
I (Cathy) was delighted to recently read about schools in the UK and the US that have replaced detention rooms with mediation rooms. For Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland, this practice began through a partnership with the Holistic Life Foundation, (a local nonprofit organization) who set up a Holistic Me after school program. The Holistic Me program was for children from pre-K through to the fifth grade. The children were taught practice mindfulness exercises and yoga as a means of managing their stress and anger. The program had such effective results that children who were acting out in class were also trained in the various practices. The results were so impressive, the detention room was eventually replaced by a meditation room complete with pillow, soft lights and gentle music.
“It’s amazing,” says Kirk Philips, the Holistic Me coordinator at Robert W. Coleman. “You wouldn’t think that little kids would meditate in silence. And they do.” Philips also reports that overall discipline in the school has improved dramatically in the school. “There have been exactly zero suspensions last year and so far this year. Nearby Patterson Park High School, also began the mindfulness programs, and reported suspension rates dropped and attendance increasedas well.
Although mindfulness practices like mediation and yoga have been around for thousands of years, it has only recently become the object of educational studies and research. It will be interesting to see where the research leads us.
Well, I (Cathy) changed mobile phone brands. I was an avid iphone user, but my son-in-law convinced me to switch to an android. I’m delighted to say the switch over has been pretty smooth. In truth, I see very little difference. Both use apps. Both are user friendly. Both take great pictures. My messaging and contacts all remained the same. Mind you, I couldn’t answer my phone the first time it rang because I kept tapping the icon when I should have been sliding, and I didn’t set the alarm correctly the first time it used it and slept in. But other than that, the learning curve has been quite minimal. My favourite function of my new android is the slide pattern security code. So much easier than tapping numbers. Interestingly, I showed my new phone to an old friend the other day and she was horrified by the idea of not only switching phones, she wont give up her flip top. She said the new phones overwhelm her. I’m relieved I have not been overwhelmed, in fact I am invigorated. I’d like to try to use mobile phones more in my literacy class. Yesterday, I discovered our university does not have a class set of clickers for class feedback. But on Google I discovered I can use an app called Poll Everywhere for free with my class.
A number of my friends and colleagues experienced the scenarios depicted below. Luckily, I (Cathy) never did. The transitions were smooth for us as parents and for our children. As teachers, however, my husband and I would get anxious, whether teaching K or undergraduates: what will our students be like?; am I ready?; how will I get my classroom set up?; I don’t understand this new policy… Parents I spoke to (that were not teachers) were surprised by this. They assumed we had it ‘down pat’ and never even thought about it. They didn’t understand that every year was a brand new set of challenges and joys and it would take a few weeks to get things settled in.
I wish all the teachers out there, elementary, secondary, and higher education a great start to their year. May it be as smooth and fruitful!
One of my (Cathy’s) favourite first tasks for my new teacher candidates is to have them define the term literacy on paper- written or drawn- no right or wrong. I tuck this away for them and then give it back on the last day of our literacy course so they can it to compare their (hopefully somewhat) altered definition. For some the definition changes a lot and for some not so much. The differences represent the teacher candidates prior knowledge of literacy and literacy practices; their ability to make adjustments; their open mindedness; and their ability to accept change. Reshaping ones definition of literacy is a process and its actually quite demanding.
Every year I look for new academic, scholarly, or institutional definitions of literacy, or as I prefer to refer to it- literacies- to share with my TC’s as their definitions shift and grow. This year I will include the definition below. It is from the Ontario government’s document Focus on Literacy (2013):
LITERACY – Kindergarten to Grade 12 Literacy is … the ability to use language and images in rich and varied forms to read, write, listen, speak, view, represent, discuss and think critically about ideas. Literacy enables us to share information and to interact with others. Literacy is an essential tool for personal growth and active participation in a democratic society.
Literacy involves the capacity to:
• access, manage, create and evaluate information
• think imaginatively and analytically
• communicate thoughts and ideas effectively
• apply metacognitive knowledge and skills
• develop a sense of self-efficacy and an interest in life-long learning
The development of literacy is a complex process that involves building on prior knowledge, culture and experiences in order to instill new knowledge and deepen understanding.
I especially like the last line. I hope my TC’s do to.
As I (Cathy) prepare to teach my primary literacy class in teacher education at Laurier University, I have been reviewing the need to address visual literacy. Visual literacy is interpreting and evaluating images, animations, words, and symbols while also integrating sensory experiences. As students from K to 12 are constantly bombarded with images, it is essential that we incorporate visual literacy into the curriculum to allow students to develop comprehension and critical thinking skills that are specific to visual literary.
Sankey (2002) states:
Visual images are fast becoming the most predominant form of communication. Visual genres and mediums now dominate communication; photographs, television. film, video, the internet, cartoons, posters, t-shirts, comics, multimedia presentations and computer simulations.
The following diagram effectively highlights why visual literacy should be incorporated into our primary curriculum:
Personally, I find cartoons a wonderful source of meaning making and came across the following diagram supporting Blooms and cartoons.
I also find cartoons useful in establishing a particular atmosphere in my university classroom and incorporate them weekly into my power points. I’ll use this one on our first day to introduce the topic of visual literacy and how 21st century classrooms may be somewhat different than what we experienced as children.
I (Cathy) was initially confused when I recently started hearing the name “Pokémon” come up time and again. I mean, isn’t that a bit outdated I thought? The Pokémon game was first made popular in the 1990s as a video game, and my children loved it. I soon discovered, however, the new Pokémon game, Pokémon Go, is an appthat allows players to see and “catch” Pokémon characters in the real world through their phone screen and it has quickly developed into a cultural phenomenon. Personally, I haven’t tried it (yet) and find it rather amusing to watch grown people chase imaginary characters through the park or around buildings. But there have been educational insights into this new app that have intrigued me greatly. For example Australian autism expert Craig Smith has devised a way of incorporating the hit game into his lessons to encourage autistic students’ social skills. According to The Independent:
Pupils at a school in Australia are being actively encouraged to use Pokémon Go in the classroom, after research showed the game could help rather than hinder their studies. Craig Smith, an academic specialising in Autism research, found that by allowing his pupils to use the augmented reality game in and out of the classroom, their social skills had improved and the children appeared more engaged with their learning.
Dr. Smith,who is also the Deputy Principle at the Aspect Hunter School for Children with Autism in Newcastle, New South Wales, said the game was unique in that it encouraged children with and without learning difficulties to play outside and engage with other students.
Smith said, “We wholly embrace whatever it is that kids are interested in and use that as a window into their world and bridge into further educational opportunities for them. For many of the children I teach it’s hard to engage in social activities – even going down to the shops can be socially overwhelming. But what we’re seeing with the Pokémon craze is the same students are making conversation and engaging in social activities through the game.”
With this in mind I am willing to give Go a go. Should be fun and give some else a chance to be amused at my chasing imaginary characters. I would also like to incorporate it into the orientation program of my literacy class!
Convincing students, even in higher education, of the validity of Wikipedia can be challenging, so I (Cathy) use a little humour to introduce the debate. I like this cartoon because it is an adult telling the child the information must be correct. But then, my grandparents believed everything they read in the newspaper. Everything. It was in print and therefore had to be true. They never considered the possibility that newspapers were political institutions with bias opinions. Never. Now our students have to consider the possibility the information on the internet may be a practical joke . I have personally spoken to people who find it amusing to change information on Wikipedia so that it is incorrect. Yet, I still use Wikipedia to access quick information. However, I do so with caution. The information age is interesting, but it can have its challenges. Discernment and constant checking is key.
I (Cathy) find myself skeptical of books or articles that use the term ‘activities’ in reference to assigning work to students in the classroom. I was once told the term activities infers no purpose or goal and can be viewed as ‘busy work’. Instead, I was instructed to use the term ‘task’ which infers a specific result must be achieved to accomplish the work. I was therefore skeptical of a book I recently encountered titled, Pump It Up: Literacy Activities for the Classroom. However, the caption on the book jacket read “specifically aims to help pre-service teachers learn to implement hands-on lessons for their content area.” So I decided to take a closer look. I quickly recognized the editors Joanne Kilgour Dowdy (Kent State University, Ohio USA) and Yang Gao (Kent State University, Ohio) required the contributing authors to include learning objectives for each learning ‘activity’ included in the volume. I also realized the editors use the term activity to refer to a series of tasks that comprise a lesson. For example, the activity depicted by contributing author Jessica Wilson explains, “This activity is devised to demonstrate how literacy and creativity can be achieved through all disciplines including science” and describes a free write lesson designed to encourage students to interpret key vocabulary words and develop appropriate syntax and discourse of key terms.
I was delighted to discover the activities or lessons in the book explore an array of disciplines and topics (e.g., health and physical education; drama and other arts; social justice; multiculturalism through children’s literature; literacy/language arts; and mathematics) and the disciplines appear to cross (e.g., using dram to explore science and journaling to explore mathematics). Further, I was intrigued by the sections earmarked Becoming an Artist and Embodying Social Justice.
Well, having now moved past my fear of the term ‘activities’, I have ordered a copy. I proved to myself I not only should not judge a book by its cover, I also should not judge a book by its title! As I will be teaching pre-service drama next semester and plan to include as many cross disciplinary ‘activities’ as I can , I am hoping this will be a nice addition to the book collection I will provide for my teacher candidates. Can’t wait for it to arrive!