All posts by ycleovoulou

Poet and Philosopher Vera Korfioti

During my time in Cyprus I (Yiola) had the pleasure of visiting with renown author and dear friend, Vera Korfioti.

Vera has published a number of collections of poetry, as well as books in Greek literature, Education and on the works of Greek Philosophers.  Her most recent publication is on Pythagoreanism.

Vera Korfioti holds degrees in History and Archeology from the University of Athens. She also studied Journalism in Athens. Her greatest love of study is Philosophy and this can be seen throughout her poetry.

I share here one of her short poems of the place where I stayed during my time in Cyprus:

  

There is a tenderness in her poetry; and yet its intensity towards precision and detail gives it such power.

A highlight of my trip was talking about life and the nature of people in today’s age with Vera. While we live on opposite end of the world we share similar understandings on the philosophy of life.  Perhaps what connects me to Vera is not only the beauty of her poetry but her love of teaching.  Vera worked as a teacher of Philosophy in Secondary Education in Cyprus. She also studied in the area of children with special needs in England and the United States.  And, for several years she has been teaching at the Philosophy School of Cyprus.

Language, literacy and teaching brought together for the world to enjoy!

Vera Korfioti, myself and my son Gallaway.

Greetings from Limassol, Cyprus

“Yeia Sou! Kalo sorises.”  Hello! Welcome.

I (Yiola) am writing to you from the beautiful island of Cyprus. A small Mediterranean island so strategically placed its location is ironic.

Caught between European and Middle Eastern influence (and a long history of varied occupation) I dare to claim that Cyprus is one of the most unique places on earth.

Last week’s blog about language as culture and language as power came to you from my short time in Vienna. This week I find myself in a country where I speak the language (Greek). I can communicate (sort of) and can identify with the culture (sort of). As a visitor, I feel welcomed and because I have some knowledge of the language I have a sense of knowing, of so many things, and a sense of belonging.  Language is power.

Of course, it is not so simple. The nuances and complexities of culture and its constant evolution make it challenging for anyone not living in its place to fully understand. The beauty of travel is that we can experience and through our experiences learn something new and refreshing about the world and ourselves.

Some images of Cyprus:

17203221_10158519375885121_7027915947110758556_nA map of Cyprus — my father pointing to Limassol (which is where most of the images below were taken)

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a city view from the Limassol castle

yermasoyiasmall villages in Limassol

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a historical Cypriot home in one of the villages

17190912_10158524077520121_6422749005511709267_nThe island’s most popular attraction: beautiful beaches.

My daughter Sylvia Clare and I sending warm greetings from Cyprus!

Language is culture: Heading back to the basics

Hello Friends! It is great to be back online blogging about all that is literacy and teacher education.

I (Yiola) came across this link on youtube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1xy6l9JlSY

The story of a young woman at work who stepped in when a man wanted to place an order and did not share the same language. How simple, yet utterly complex, is the power of shared language. The video clip is a clear and real message that represents the power and purpose of language.

When someone is understood, through language, they belong.   It reminds me of James Gee’s work and the idea of discourse communities. We are all part of discourse communities, multiple discourse communities.  How wonderful it is when we can connect with one another through discourse — through language. This kind of connection also leads to cultural connection.

I am travelling this month and currently in Vienna. Now that I am removed from “my place” I feel the disconnect through language.  My inability to communicate well (I do not speak German) is not only a communication barrier, it represents a cultural barrier, and in turn, exclusion.

In these times of intense consideration of (and experiences of) exclusion, it is worth nothing the power of language and how language itself can foster inclusion, especially with our own “place”.

Language: dialect, nationality, symbols = culture. Culture = understanding and inclusion.  Language is culture. Language is power.

 

Researching Teacher Education

Most recently we are reviewing the data from a study that explores graduates’  impressions of their teacher preparation from one teacher education program. The participants are graduates from 1999-2014 and we have well over 200 respondents. A survey was conducted that included qualitative responses. So far, the responses have been incredibly interesting. As we work through the data I gain more and more excitement for the possibilities of understanding teaching education and improving not only my personal practice as a teacher educator but also the potential for improving the structure and programming of teacher education.

As we review the current data I keep in mind the many findings and recommendations of past research.  For example, in 2009 Clive Beck and Clare Kosnik along with a strong team of graduate researchers published their findings from a qualitative study on classroom teachers’ understandings, perceptions, and explanations of their practice and teacher education experience. Their book, Priorities in Teacher Education: The 7 Key Elements of Pre-Service Preparation, is the first of several from what has become longitudinal study (13 years and counting) of teachers work and development.  In Priorities of Teacher Education Beck and Kosnik identify seven priority areas for teacher areas:

  • program planning
  • pupil assessment
  • classroom organization and community
  • inclusive education
  • subject content and pedagogy
  • professional identity
  • a vision for teaching

 

These priorities are coming up in several interesting ways in our current research and I look forward to analyzing and writing up the findings in the months ahead.  More so, I am excited to be thinking about research-based considerations for improving our teacher education program and my personal practice.

Teachers’ and Teacher Educators’ Roles beyond the curriculum

For decades academia, teacher education, and teachers have been talking about critical pedagogy. Like everything in education debates continue as to how much, when, it what ways it can and should be taught. My current post is not about whether we as teacher educators and teachers should or should not be critically conscious or the extent to which we should. This post is a consideration for how to teach for equity. I found this video about teaching inclusively our university’s website:

http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/oise/About_OISE/PrideVideo_Story.html

The video is a safe start. It is basic awareness and consciousness for more equitable practice. We, in North America, have been overwhelmed with what I feel are devastating events surrounding people: People of Colour, LGBTQ People, Police Officers, People of Muslim Faith and many other marginalized groups. Social media is exploding with perspectives and emotion surrounding the varying issues and people everywhere are left to understand what it what based on their own experiences and contexts. What responsibility do schools have in teaching for a more equitable society?

Critical pedagogy in education is not new. It is a pedagogy that has been studied and discussed and to some extent taught in schools and yet it continues to be a pedagogy that sits on the periphery of practice. It is pedagogy that is left to some to tackle in teacher education ~ usually those who themselves have a personal connection to inequity (as our research on literacy teacher educators has shown). Sometimes critical pedagogy is infused in some courses but mostly it is taught in an isolated course. We know that many teacher education programs continue to be dominated by White, middle class, women. Knowing this, I wonder how much impact one or two courses has on the consciousness and practices of a teacher who has not had many opportunity to even think, let alone experience, inequity.

What can be done? What should be done?  I think about my courses and the teacher candidates and feel that deep critical understandings within context, content and pedagogy is essential. In light of the movements and violence and confusion that is happening across the globe I see no option. If teaching is a relational act, then we must deepen our understandings of the varying relations that exist in communities and prepare teachers to not only teach for equity but have confidence in dealing with media literacy.

 

 

School’s Out. Move over Alice Cooper: A response to traditional schooling

What is good pedagogy? What works for student achievement? What engages students? What are our end goals for schooling? As another school year draws to a close I begin to reflect on what the school year looked like, what was achieved and if in fact the intended goals for student development were met.

Our team writes on a variety of topics associated with 21st century literacy and learning. The pedagogy, vision, and goals of 21st century learning differ from traditional literacy learning and teaching in many ways.  Sometimes tradition and contemporary methods connect and sometimes they clash. As Clive has written in past posts; the idea isn’t to contrast and compare or pick and choose one particular position; instead, there is value in understanding the purpose, strengths and outcomes of varied stances and consider our contexts and goals for teaching and learning.

I came across this interesting article that brings to the table a “newer” consideration for literacy teaching: makerspace.  Not an entirely new concept, and inclusive of several well known pedagogies and approaches, the maker movement does challenge more traditional ways of learning.

“Making is a stance about learning,” Martinez said. “It’s the landscape you create in a classroom or any kind of learning space where kids have agency over what they do and a large choice of materials that are rich, deep and complex.”

The link to the article is here:

How to Turn Your School Into a Maker Haven

Now that “school’s out for summer” it may be a good time to think about how to improve our practice for student learning. It may be a good time to learn more about the maker movement, what it entails, and how we can learn from our students, from each other, and, more about the elements for achieving creativity, problem solving, collaboration, innovation, and literacy.

Another school year almost over

Teachers are wrapping up report cards and teacher educators are recovering from the intense end of year marking. We are now shifting gears. Another great year ~ filled with challenges and obstacles and experience and fun ~ is just about to come to close.

What will you be doing to fill the summer months? Many will take courses, teach summer school, read, write. I hope you find time to relax and rejuvenate the spirit.

I look forward to a long stretch of writing.  I will be writing about some of the incredible findings from our research on teacher education and literacy education. I look forward to sharing articles on the topics of  pedagogies of literacy, and assessment of literacy, and examining the learning trajectory of a literacy teacher.

I also look forward to some time with my family;  playing with my children, helping them develop their literacy skills. Here is my young son “reading” and “navigating” the Metro Zoo map. What sophisticated literacy skills already! And, my daughter in the wagon patiently waiting for her brother to figure out the way to the Polar Bears! Without a doubt, he will figure it out!

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A wise mentor reminded me the other day that all the work that we do, the commitments we make and the challenges we face should lead us to happiness. It was a heart warming and encouraging reminder. I wish you all: teachers, researchers, teacher educators and friends a happy of the school year!

 

Allegory as a Literary Device and the big Screen

Allegory as a literary device is a powerful tool in literacy development.  Beginning in the early years teachers use allegory to explore moral lessons and critical issues. How often do we read books with animal characters who experience significant challenges and how well do children respond to the texts?… very well!

Last week I (yiola) took my children to a birthday party at the movie theatre where they watched The Angry Birds.

Angry-Birds-final-quad

I had no idea what the movie was about although my 4 year son mentioned it had to do with birds protecting their eggs from pigs. Hmmmm, sounds… interesting.  As I sat in the movie theatre I watched and chuckled at the community of birds and enjoyed the simple characters of each bird… and then I watched as ships sailed onto “Bird Island” and a King Pig with a small entourage befriended the birds, showering them with gifts and new ‘treasures’ that were unfamiliar to the birds. Slowly the pigs began to take over the island and they stole all the birds’ eggs.  The birds then tried to rescue their eggs. Lines such as: “They stole our kids… who DOES that?” and later when the birds invaded “Piggie Island” to rescue the eggs the “King Pig” exclaimed, “what are you doing here? This is a civilized brunch” left me sinking in my seat and feeling uncomfortable. Without doubt The Angry Birds, to me, is an allegory of colonialism. After viewing the movie I began researching articles and critiques and while I found several interpretations very few note colonialism.

To my surprise, many an in-depth discussions have occurred over The Angry Birds. From story line to historical facts to critical literacy to media literacy, I am pleased to see how an animated film could spark such interesting discussion. Now, imagine how using popular culture like the popular video game The Angry Birds and combining it with popular media like a Hollywood movie and applying analysis and interpretation of the use of allegory in a middle school or high school setting to discuss critical social issues like Aboriginal history or immigration. Narratives are such powerful tools for thinking about life. Allegory as a literary device has the potential to raise significant awareness and heighten a love for literacy.

 

Authors and Amazing Tales: In Awe of Lawrence Hill

During the school year my night table fills with novels; one beautiful literary piece after the other, the books pile up. The vision is to retreat to my room early enough to read these marvellous texts at an enjoyable pace in order to get to the next… yet my  time during the academic term does not allow me the pleasure.  With the coming of summer and the end of an academic term I find some space where I can begin to read the books I attempted to read throughout the year.  This year, I begin with Lawrence Hill.  Most are familiar with Lawrence Hill, a Canadian writer whose most popular texts include: Blood: The Stuff of Life  and The Book of Negroes.

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Blood: The stuff of life was turned into a lecture series. You can listen to excerpts of the Massey Lecture series here:

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/the-2013-cbc-massey-lectures-blood-the-stuff-of-life-1.2913671

Two incredible literary works that move me to think about humanity… and inhumanity. The Book of Negroes was turned into a  television mini series. Based on historical fiction The Book of Negroes is the story of young African girl, her voice, her journey in the 1700s from Mali, Africa to South Carolina, New York, Cape Breton, and London. How impactful a process to explore the novel — to try to make sense of history and our present — to think about narratives and then consider the media and digital implications for developing such an intense story into a visual series.  I think of how high school teachers could use this novel to explore so many issues and then to look at the decisions one makes when transforming such a sensitive story into film.

As I read Hill’s novels I cannot help but consider how  the narratives in these literary texts can be used to improve my own practice in teacher education. I ask myself: Can they inspire the reader to more deeply understand the intensity of the relational acts involved in teaching in classrooms?  Why do certain groups of children have a greater likelihood of failing at school? How do our systems shut people out without some of us ever realizing it? What kinds (if any) of understandings should teachers have about the histories of our communities before ever stepping into classrooms? How in teacher education can we support a deep understanding of children’s learning?

There is just so much to know while in pre-service and so much to teach in teacher education. What is most important? Why? When I think about the construction of teacher education programs I am now thinking less in terms of required courses and more in terms of broad understandings and the connections across disciplines and understandings. For example, as we teach about child and adolescent development (psychology) we must thing about language and literacy development (content) inclusive of social context (equity and foundations).  After all, when we enter classrooms we know that our work as teachers is dynamic, complex, forever evolving and completely relational.

Thinking about Reading Recovery

I (Yiola) am interested in early literacy for a number of reasons: my area of expertise is elementary  education; I was an early years teacher for ten years; my own children are now in early years programs; and, I believe that understanding literacy in the early years is  foundational for understanding teaching and learning.

With recent discussions going on about early years literacy programs and talk of play versus direct instruction; and, exploration and social development versus academic rigour (neither of which I believe are true binaries but instead call for a thoughtful consideration of a developmental and critically rich fusion) I am compelled to think about reading in the early years. You see, it seems to me parents are often in a panic if their child is not reading and more and more I am hearing of excited parents proudly sharing that their child was reading at 3 or 4 while other parents are silently panicking if their child is not reading by 6 years of age.

I often think back to when I was a classroom teacher and I recall the complex yet carefully crafted time sensitive processes for reading acquisition. I also clearly remember having a Reading Recovery Program at our school and watching our first and second graders enter and exit the program with a good degree of improvement and development. Most children would come out of reading recovery with gains. The very few who did not required further testing and support that went beyond the readiness phenomenon.

In my readings I came across this interesting article about Reading Recovery and the relevance of levelled texts, phonological processing AND comprehension as all significant  components of early reading development.

Here is the article in full: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-9817.12041/epdf

This reading reminded me that there needs to be an amalgamation of approaches and strategies in the early years classroom. More and more I think that the programming and planning of early years teachers is by far their greatest challenge – not deciding upon play versus directed learning – knowing how to plan in ways that are engaging, that tap into curiosities and children’s questions and that allow for literacy rich exploration while also ensuring time for literacy focused experienced.