All posts by saidsidani

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

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.

HartHouseSoccer
An intramural soccer game in 1951.
UC-Steps-1024x680
Nursing students in 1920/1921 on the steps of University College.
University College Tank
A tank on campus in 1950.

UofTBday

A Day without Laughter is a Day Wasted.

As a child, I (Said) would take my parents’ newspaper and go straight to the comics section. I was less interested in world events & more interested in funny pictures and clever punch lines. Nowadays, there are webpages dedicated to comic strips and pages on our social media apps (Facebook, Instagram etc…) that we can like/follow. We have easy access to regular updates and new content, which are seamlessly integrated into our browsing experience. What happens next is incredible.

I stumble on a comic and I laugh amusedly. It reminds me of my friend Tatiana, and with the click of a button, I share it with her and comment, “This is definitely you”, “Doesn’t this perfectly sum up our lives…”, “This is me in a nutshell”. What follows is a conversation about how accurate the comic is, how well we know each other, or how it captures exactly what we are thinking at that point in time. It’s a digitally-mediated social interaction that does not require a lot of effort but does contribute to relationship-building in a subtle and indirect manner. It involves multi-modal texts and expressing ourselves in ways that extend beyond traditional text. Our students are also engaging with literacy in its many forms using different modalities, which teachers need to recognize and use to their advantage as they attempt to seamlessly integrate students’ out-of classroom literacies in the classroom.

Though I am connected to the web, I mainly use social media platforms to have information delivered to my phone, which I may then share/discuss with my friends (this ranges from funny pictures to world news to score updates). This in many ways is my kind of newspaper. There is something incredibly satisfying about coming across a comic that explains exactly how I am feeling. Recently. I have thoroughly enjoyed Sarah’s Scribbles, where Sarah Anderson tackles issues like being productive and the awkward but hilarious situations we encounter in our day to day lives. Below are a few of my favourite. I hope you lol (laugh out loud) or rolf (roll on floor laughing).

You can follow Sarah’s Scribbles on FacebookTwitterInstagram.

You can follow me on Twitter.
Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 9.02.57 PMScreen Shot 2017-03-08 at 9.03.14 PMScreen Shot 2017-03-08 at 9.03.33 PMScreen Shot 2017-03-08 at 9.03.52 PM

Do we blame the process or the machine?

A Toronto school is banning the use of cellphones in the classroom & hallways amid strong protest from parents who believe that students are distracted & abusing their privilege.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/earl-grey-public-school-cell-phones-1.3992597

As I read this article, I was torn. On the one hand, I recognize that technology has the potential to enhance student learning (I do wonder how we are measuring this ‘enhancement’). I love the opportunities that access to technology and Web 2.0 tools can create in the classroom to engage students in different ways. On the other hand, I have witnessed students misuse their devices as an occasional teacher. The uninterrupted access to Wi-Fi in many school boards means that students are always connected and participating in digitally-mediated social interaction via instant messaging services (Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat etc.) while at school and in the classroom.

At the intermediate level, I get interrupted frequently while teaching because someone is taking a selfie. It is incredibly distracting. At the secondary level, students are less devious but naturally cannot resist the occasional distraction since information is literally at their fingertips. I always have to explain, “There’s a time and place for checking your social media. I do not tweet while teaching nor do I send my folks pictures of my outfit.”

Despite commitments to integrating technology in the classroom/curriculum at a school board-wide level, how it looks in action varies across schools, classes, & teachers. Some teachers treat digital technology (DT) as the carrot at the end of the stick (“Work well and you can use your devices for 5 minutes”) while others do a phenomenal job incorporating it into their day-to-day teaching. Moving forward, we need to monitor how pre-service teachers are being trained to use DT and how in-service teachers (who perhaps completed their teacher training when DT did not play a big role in learning) are reflecting on their attitudes toward DT and adjusting their practice. In my opinion, blaming devices & the internet for interrupting learning is a scapegoat for a bigger issue…the process. The process involves challenging beliefs, addressing misconceptions, designing policies, providing the how-to, educational transformation, and so much more! It is complex, controversial, bumpy, and requires constant refinement, but it is progress.

A quote from the Inherit the Wind movie (one of my favorite plays): Gentlemen, progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there’s a man who sits behind a counter and says, “Alright, you can have a telephone, but you lose privacy and the charm of distance.”

Imposter syndrome & the emerging professional

I (Said) graduated from UofT’s Concurrent Teacher Ed. Program in 2014. Since then, I have had experience working as an occasional teacher and as a student affairs professional. I am currently working on my Master of Arts at OISE. I am sharing this to highlight that as a graduate student and emerging professional, the pressure to achieve is tremendous. Every year, I have felt my professional identity transform and evolve in numerous ways. Said “the teacher”, Said “the researcher”, Said “the professional”… it is overwhelming at times, especially when imposter syndrome takes over.

imposter-syndromeImposter syndrome is a collection of feelings of inadequacy despite signs of evident success. Those who experience it struggle with the fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’ or ‘not smart enough’, especially among peers and other professionals. Therefore, any success is often attributed to luck, downplayed, and rationalized as a means to mask a supposed lack of knowledge or expertise. Beginning teachers may feel like they do not belong in the classroom, especially if working within a school culture that does not value their contributions and perceives them as inexperienced. What they must remember is that they were deemed qualified to teach and are worthy of their position.

Similarly, graduate students may feel intimidated at their institution, especially when working with faculty members considered leaders in their research fields. However, I have come to realize that my voice has value and that insight from the sharing of ideas and heated debates can spark new avenues of inquiry and inspire those around me.  Isn’t it wonderful how being part of a research team/community of scholars allows us the opportunity to discuss, dispute, disagree, dispel, dissertate and so much more? I refuse to be trapped in a self-imposed cage, and if I ever feel surrounded by 20-foot walls, I will build a 21-foot ladder.

As I embark on a journey in academia, I recognize that it is perfectly normal to feel slightly out of place, as any novice would. Instead of emphasizing my invented unsuitably for this exciting new endeavour, I have decided to do all that I can to gain more confidence in my professional and academic life. If you ever feel like you are ‘not enough’, please remember what Christopher Robin once told Winnie the Pooh. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

Does a Longer Teacher Education Program Make a Difference

I (Said) recently read an article in the Toronto Star about Ontario’s new two-year teacher education program that left me a little disappointed https://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2016/06/08/double-trouble-for-teachers-college-expansion.html. The recent move by Ontario’s Ministry of Education intends to “help address an oversupply of graduates, enabling Ontario’s qualified teachers to find jobs in their chosen field” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). However, the lack of pedagogical renewal, combined with condensed courses, increasing class sizes, and fundings cuts are characteristic of reform that does not signal improvement.

The extra year of training, while providing more classroom experience, will not necessarily produce better teachers. Some may argue that more time can be spent on areas such as mathematics and special education, but this approach assumes that candidates enter the programs with deficiencies that need to be remedied before they become practicing teachers. A more sensible approach would seek to redesign the admission process, thereby selecting the best-suited candidates for the profession. By identifying qualities relevant to good teaching and utilizing an approach that can highlight them in applications, we can improve the quality of our candidates, even if the process becomes tougher (Kosnik, Brown, & Beck, 2005).

The decision to increase the length of the program, followed directly by finding strategies to help students graduate as fast as possible is an indicator of a system that wants to continue to rapidly produce teachers rather than emphasize the quality of the education that it is providing. Topics such as the micro-politics of teaching continue to be ignored despite the well-known fact that there exists a large disparity between what candidates learn in teacher education and the realities of the classrooms they end up teaching. As a result, beginning teachers will continue to suffer in a profession that “eats its young” and has a hard time retaining young, innovative teachers who are struggling to find employment.

In their chapter on reform efforts in teacher education, Kosnik, Beck & Goodwin (2016) present a constructivist vision of teaching and teacher education that ultimately promotes human well-being and rejects “reforms that stifle dialogue and impose a crassly political or narrowly economic agenda” (p. 294). Unfortunately, teacher education reform in Ontario has leaned towards the latter, but gradual progress will hopefully convince policymakers and the general public that short-sighted solutions will not unlock the potential that the teaching profession has to change the world.

References:

Kosnik, C., Beck, C., & Goodwin, L. (2016). Reform efforts in teacher education. In J. Loughran & M.L. Hamilton (Eds.). Handbook on Teacher Education (pp. 267-308). Dordretcht:            Springer Academic Publishers.

Kosnik, C., Brown, R., & Beck, C. (2005). The preservice admissions process: What qualities do  future teachers need and how can they be identified in applicants? The New
Educator, 1
(2), 101-123.
Ontario Ministry of Education (2013). Modernizing Teacher Education
in Ontario.
Retrieved from  http://news.ontario.ca/edu/en/2013/06/modernizing-teacher-education- in-ontario.html

Current Issues in Teacher Education: A Video Series by Said Sidani

In my graduate course, Current Issues in Teacher Education, I (Clare) gave the students lots of choice for their final assignment. Said Sidani took an incredibly interesting approach – he created a series of videos. I was so impressed I asked him if I could post them on this blog. Some are specific to Ontario but the first one, perceptions of teacher education, was applicability beyond our context.

             For my culminating project, I wanted to examine asaid-image
few topics that stood out to me throughout our course. As a recent graduate from a teacher education program and a beginning teacher, I wanted to focus on themes that resonated with me and that I wanted to learn more about. Instead of writing an academic paper, I decided to use a video series to present my findings.

This video series is divided into 4 parts that focus on: 1) Perceptions of Teacher Education, 2) Occasional Teaching, 3) Hiring Regulations, & 4) Teacher Induction. Each video consists of a narrated Prezi that presents relevant literature related to the topic. I draw on course readings, research in the field, and personal experience.

My intended audience is teacher candidates, teacher educators, professors, students, and anyone interested in the teaching profession. Since there is a large number of stakeholders in education, I believe that almost any viewer will be able to take something away from watching. My goal is not to deter anyone from joining the teaching profession, but rather to inform them of some of the issues that exist and the work that needs to be done.

The position I present is that teacher education is in need of reform. Instead of deregulating teaching, we must focus our efforts on improving people’s perceptions of teacher education programs. Also, occasional teaching and hiring regulations in Ontario are part of a broken system. They discourage new people from entering the profession which in turn impacts the quality of education that students receive. Finally, teacher induction programs that promote mentorship are essential to a beginning teacher’s journey. However, when they are delivered through the use of a transmission model instead of a transformative model, they are not nearly as effective.

The videos are available on YouTube and can be accessed via these links. For the best viewing experience, the video quality should be set to 480p (this is usually automatic). Thanks for watching.

1) Perceptions of Teacher Education:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWMtBGAoeZQ

2) Occasional Teaching:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45caUBGrqRw

3) Hiring Regulations:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unzh1QiWnVg

4) Teacher Induction:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNxXqZSHGm8

This link will play all four videos in sequential order:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8SgF7ohrls&list=PLdOXV0MCo16GcNDd9DSy4DIuw_GgMAYWi