All posts by poojadharamshi

A Listening Party for We Are the Halluci Nation

A Tribe Called Red just released their much anticipated album entitled, We Are The Halluci Nation. The Tribe Called Red is the Canadian-based music group comprised of First Nations members who merge electronic music styles along with contemporary powwow music. Their latest album features many artists (both Canadian and international) and focuses around the themes of decolonization and unification.

After listening to this powerful album several times this past weekend, I decided to incorporate it into my course Building on Reflective Practice. Since we have read some of Freire’s work about “reading the world” I thought analyzing this powerful and politically driven music would be an excellent way of tying together theory and practice. Students will be asked in pairs to “read” a song of their choice by analyzing, interpreting, and synthesizing.

Probe questions will be asked such as:

  • What story is being told?
  • How does the work compare with other similar works?
  • What cultural, economic, or political forces influence the work?
  • What historical forces influence the work?What can you do in your daily life/classroom to contribute to shifting the narrative of colonization?

This will be followed by a listening of the album interspersed with insights and discussion from the groups and whole class. Below I am including the official video for the first song off the album.

Happy Back to School!

I (Pooja) have just joined a university as a new faculty member. Getting up this morning I, as many people were today, was filled with several emotions ranging from excitement to fear. I am looking forward to this new chapter in my professional life, and sharing new and interesting experiences with the wider teacher education and research community through this blog.

To all the educators, learners, and parents out there, I wish you a successful and memorable new school year!

firstday

Building on Reflective Practice

This upcoming Fall I (Pooja) will begin teaching my first course at Simon Fraser University entitled: Building on Reflective Practice. The past few weeks I have been consumed thinking about what I want my course to look like. I have been asking myself: What do I want students to experience during this course? What is my overall goal for this course? What new understandings do I want students to be able to arrive to?

While developing the course I have realized I want students to have opportunities to develop as critical reflective practitioners;  that is think deeply about how issues of power, dominance, and equity influence their work and those they work with. I stumbled upon the following image (Pietroni, 1995) which has stuck with me. It speaks to how critical reflection helps to develop our practice (as teachers, social workers, nurses, etc.) as a professional, personal, and political act.

personal_political_professional

If you have taught a course in critical reflective practice, I would love to hear about your experiences. What worked and what didn’t? What did students find meaningful?

 

 

The Rise of the Two-Tiered System in Higher Ed

Over the past several decades,  higher education has slowly developed into a two-tiered system made up of tenure-track/tenured faculty and contract faculty. The latter of which work increasingly long hours often without great compensation or benefits. However, contract faculty work in these conditions because “at least it’s work” and/or “it’s a foot in the door.” I’ve been there as have many of my colleagues with dreams of making a career of teaching in higher education contexts. In her blog post on Inside HigherEd, Carolyn Betensky tries to make sense of how the two-tier system came to be through her own experiences:

How did we let it happen? Speaking for myself, I was so busy trying to find a job after completing my doctorate in 1997 that I didn’t pay much attention to the bigger picture. All I could think about was my own situation. Even though I understood that the odds of getting a tenure-track position were against me, I spent my time trying everything I could think of to improve my chances. Getting a job was up to me, I told myself. Oblivious to the highly individualistic ethos implanted in me in graduate school, I figured that if I was good enough, I would succeed. I did not think of the many other graduates who were also desperate to find tenure-track jobs — except for when I wanted to make myself feel better about the jobs I didn’t get.

I found a job — a three-year term position that turned into a six-year term position — whereupon I devoted myself to becoming even more irresistible as a job candidate the next time I had to go on the market. When I finally got an assistant professorship at the institution that employs me today, my thoughts turned to getting tenure.

It’s embarrassing to admit this, but even though I disapproved of the treatment of contingent faculty, I just wasn’t paying attention to the way the naturalization of their exploitation was taking place concurrently with my own professionalization. I never thought of myself as having any say in the matter: without a stable position from which to voice my opposition, I just looked on as administrations chipped and hacked away at humanities programs across the country, cutting costs by depleting programs of their tenure lines and replacing them with adjunct slots. Like most people I knew in the humanities, I felt helpless to do anything about the seemingly irreversible decline of the profession.

Betensky calls on tenure-stream faculty (since they have job security) to get “vocally involved at every level of governance in the ways that our institutions hire, compensate and retain educators.” She argues:

Tenured professors have considerably more leverage than graduate students or adjunct instructors in our institutions; it’s up to us to come together to put pressure on our administrations to make the many invisible positions we fill under the table into “real” jobs. We need to do it for all of our students, present and future, undergraduate and graduate, academe bound and otherwise. If many of us are already working under austerity conditions at our institutions and feel our own jobs imperiled, so much the more reason to act now to secure a living wage for all who teach at the university level. It is in the interest of all faculty members to band together to demand a future for higher education.

Betensky’s blog post has provided a lot of food for thought. What are your feelings on the rise of the two-tiered system in higher education?

Read Carolyn Betensky’s entire blog post here: https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2016/06/28/tenured-faculty-should-help-battle-opportunities-graduate-students-and-adjuncts

 

 

 

Eliminating the term “developing” country.

world

The World Bank has taken (a welcomed) position and has decided to eliminate the terms under developed, developing, and developed country.  Previously the World Bank labeled countries in the bottom two-thirds of Gross National Income as developing. A senior economist at the World Bank, Umar Serajuddin, explains why categorizing disparate countries together in the same groups is not useful:

“The main issue is that there is just so much heterogeneity between Malawi and Malaysia for both to be classified in the same group—Malaysia is more like the US than Malawi.”

These terms can be reductive and simplify the status of countries. The World Bank is hoping other organizations will follow suit.

Click on the link to read more: http://qz.com/685626/the-world-bank-is-eliminating-the-term-developing-country-from-its-data-vocabulary/

“How boring school is” for certain students

Paul Tough, educational writer and broadcaster, has recently published a new book entitled Helping Children Learn: What Works and Why. In this book he explores recent research around trends in low-income schools in the U.S., as well as what is working and what is not. What he discovers is  that students who attend schools in low-income neighbourhoods are often “bored.”

My experiences both in the classroom and with research have revealed a similar finding. Students from low-income neighbourhoods tend to do a lot of remedial work, test prep, and fill out an immeasurable amount of worksheets. Often lacking are opportunities for students to explore and discuss topics of interest, move around the classroom, and extend the classroom into the community.

In an interview with Salon.com Tough comments on how “boring” classrooms often are  for students in low-income neighbouhoods:

Some of the basic principles we have, in terms of discipline, in terms of pedagogy and how we run our schools are not advantageous to kids who are growing up in adversity. This research on just how boring school is really resonated with me, especially the research about how when you’re growing up in a low-income community, school is more likely to be repetitive, boring and unmotivating. I hadn’t really picked up on that as being a significant problem before doing this reporting, but this research was really persuasive to me, not only that it’s true for a lot of kids but that it really matters in terms of their motivation. 

Classrooms are often boring and worksheet driven in low-income schools because the perceived need for classroom management is high. From my own experiences teaching in an urban school, the expectations were that our students were always quiet in the classrooms, walking down the halls, and even outside. Students were expected to walk down the hall from class to class in a line organized by size, shortest to tallest. This school-wide norm was always a tension for me. I thought it felt so militaristic and so unnecessary. I felt it made the assumption that our students needed more discipline that their counterparts in more affluent neighbourhoods. Tough comments on behavioral management approaches in low-income schools:

There is a lot about the way we punish and discipline kids that the research increasingly shows just doesn’t work, especially for non-violent offenses. The idea that all kids need is no excuses schools and strong discipline to succeed is clearly not supported in the research.

I haven’t read Tough’s new book yet, but I do look forward to reading it this summer.

Problematizing the “Word Gap”

mind the gap

We, as educators, know there isn’t a single magic bullet solution to any of the issues related to education. Equitably educating all of our young people is a big, complex, and often messy process.

I (Pooja) recently read an interesting article in The Atlantic which aims to complicate the notion of the “word gap.” The word gap refers to the disparity of words heard by children at the age of four years old in affluent households (approximately 45 millions words) versus low-income households (13 million words). The author of this article, Amy Rothschild, uncovers how the “word gap” may oversimplify issues around opportunity gaps (disparity in access to quality education and resources needed for all learners to be successful) apparent between children from affluent household versus those from low-income households. Oscar Barbarin, a child psychologist from the African American Studies department at the University of Maryland  asserts the word gap serves as a miracle solution, which doesn’t take into account several of the sociopolitical issues which play a role in word acquisition. Barbarin suggests focusing on the word gap doesn’t address the root of the opportunity gap issue: “If the problem facing low-income children of color is simply a question of parents saying more words and longer words, it would be much easier to fix than poverty and access to education for adults.”

A professor from Harvard, Richard Weissbourd, argues real obstacles must be addressed to begin to close the opportunity gap.  He says “…there are these very serious obstacles low-income families face.” For example, the article’s author, Rothschild, points out “lower-earning workers are more likely than others to work overnight and on weekends, and have irregular schedules without paid time off. Their hours require them to find childcare for hours that many centers are closed and commute when public transportation may not be available.”

Addressing the “word gap” may be a start in closing the opportunity gap for young learners, but we certainly cannot stop there.

Read the entire article here: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/04/beyond-the-word-gap/479448/

Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLE)

My (Pooja) good friend and fellow educator has been traveling the world for a unique project. She is looking to get a global understanding of educational reform in the 21st century. On her blog this week she highlights the work of educator Felipe Spath from Bogota, Colombia. Spath is leading the SOLE (Self-Organized Learning Environment) initiative in Colombia. SOLE is a methodology developed by Sugata Mitra in collaboration with educators from various countries around the world, proposing self-organizing collaborative learning using the Internet spaces. Listen to what Spath has to say about collaborative learning in the 21st century.

To learn more about educational reform and this series, follow edumodels:

http://www.edumodels.ca/blog/introducing-the-spotlight-series

 

Edujargon

 

jargon.jpeg

http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/04/12/473016059/a-simple-cure-for-educations-jargonitis

Anya Kamentz from NPR sat down and tried something we all should try. She attempted to make the latest  buzzwords in educational research simple and easy to understand. If you were at AERA last weekend, you probably attended sessions (like I did) which were so jargon heavy it was often difficult to follow along. As researchers and writers, our job is to communicate big, complex, and messy ideas to those who didn’t conduct the research or know as much about your particular topic as you do. Jargon often gets in the way of that. creating a divide between researchers/writers and the audience.

Kamentz set out to define some of the most popular educational jargon using only the most 1000 common words in the English Language. Here are a few of my favourite:

Authentic (learning or assessment)
What does this schoolwork have to do with my life or the real world?

Culturally responsive teaching
Do you know where your students come from and what their lives are like?

Hybrid education
Let’s use computers and people to teach students.

Implement
You have a good idea. Making it happen is the hard part.

Mastery-based
Don’t stop until you really know a thing.

Professional development
Teach the teachers too.

Project-based learning
Don’t just write words and numbers. Do something.

Reform
Schools need to change.

Scaffolding
Teaching things step by step so the student can do more and more by herself.

Stakeholders
Lots of people care what happens in schools, like students, teachers, parents and leaders. You should listen to everybody.

Teacherpreneur
A teacher should act like a businessperson.

 

 

Understanding the communities our students are from

I (Pooja) have just returned from AERA 2016. I always leave AERA feeling inspired to continue my research and motivated to get back into the classroom. This year was no different. This year I learned about the work of Dr. Christopher Emdin, a recipient of the Early Career Award at AERA 2016. Dr. Emdin’s work considers  the relationships between Hip-Hop, urban education, and science education. Curious to learn more I about his work, I ordered his latest book entitled For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… And the Rest of Y’All Too (2016).

An article in NPR reviewing Emdin’s book highlights some of Emdin’s main arguments he makes. His arguments are completely in line with what my own research (literacy teacher educators with a critical stance) has found: in order to effectively teach, we must understand the communities from which our students come. Below is an excerpt from the article outlining Emdin’s arguments along with some examples of practice:

  1. Teachers can’t be colorblind. It does their students a disservice.

“People who perceive themselves to be colorblind often times have biases that are hidden by their colorblindness,” Emdin says. Young people in urban spaces have different linguistic and cultural realities, like the gun shots that Emdin experienced.

If teachers recognize that difference, they can help their students deal with issues such as PTSD. If the trauma of their day-to-day life goes untreated, students won’t be able to learn effectively.

But, if they heal, “then they can learn. And if they can learn, then they can be successful.”

2. Urban schools tend to be authoritarian places, which doesn’t help kids heal or learn.

If it wouldn’t be acceptable in a white, suburban school, Emdin says, it shouldn’t be acceptable in an urban classroom.

That goes for metal detectors, searches, zero tolerance policies and bars on their classroom windows. “Those things don’t happen in places where students are from a higher socioeconomic status and are not overwhelmingly black and brown.”

Emdin acknowledges that it can be hard to avoid falling into this kind of teaching. He even found himself slipping into authoritarian teaching methods, a fact which, he says, only proves that these techniques have become deeply ingrained in certain school systems.

But he says we only need to look at the statistics — college completion rates or the increased need for remedial learning — to understand that this military approach to teaching isn’t working.

3. Schools need to celebrate students and their talents, even if those talents aren’t familiar.

In his book, Emdin lays out some of the ways that teachers can rethink their classrooms without spending money.

They can create a sense of community by eating with their students, making up a school handshake and bringing in community members — including people who have not graduated from high school — as liaisons.

Emdin also suggests that teachers go to churches and barbershops, both to better understand the community and to learn teaching strategies from the people their students admire.

And teaching should not be seen as a tug-of-war between enjoyment and hard work.

Emdin, for example, folds hip-hop into the curriculum. He has worked with GZA, a rapper from the Wu-Tang Clan, to host a science hip-hop battle for New York City high school students.

“If you give young people the opportunity to be able to express their academic brilliance on their own terms, they take the initiative to study,” he says. “They take the initiative to research, and they perform and they showcase that they’re brilliant.”

Read NPR article here: http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/04/10/473500018/want-to-teach-in-urban-schools-get-to-know-the-neighborhood