All posts by poojadharamshi

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.

sisimpur
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.”

Julia
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

 

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

Using VR to Embed Indigenous Perspectives into Curriculum

virtual-reality-cree-syllabics
Source: http://www.cbc.ca

I (Pooja) wanted to share a new gaming technology used in classrooms that authentically highlights, honours and engages students in Indigenous world views. It is no surprise that Western world views and Indigenous world views do not always align (see link below); however, it is our moral imperative to educate ourselves and our students on different ways of knowing and understanding. This can be a tricky task if you are not familiar with perspectives outside of your own. How can we as educators authentically understand Indigenous world views so we can help our students develop this awareness as well? That is why I was excited to learn about a new gaming technology which Cree children in three James Bay communities are using to learn their ancestors language entitled Cree Syllabics Virtual Reality project. The 3D gaming technology immerses user in a virtual camp setting. CBC authors Wapachee and Little (2016) further explains:

Students put on headsets to enter a virtual camp setting where they meet a little girl named Niipiish and her dog Achimush. Using hand movements and buttons to move around within the camp, they go on a journey to prepare for Niipiish’s little brother’s walking-out ceremony, all the while identifying Cree words that describe the seasons, the environment and Cree traditions.

This immersive experience allows students to authentically engage with perspectives which they may or may not have grown up with. This is a powerful tool because students are able to arrive at new understandings through first-hand experiences. I hope to see this type of technology shared in classes everywhere soon!

Eight differences between Indigenous and western worldviews:

http://www.ictinc.ca/blog/indigenous-peoples-worldviews-vs-western-worldviews

Link to CBC article:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/james-bay-students-learn-cree-in-virtual-reality-1.3835500

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/