Category Archives: communication

Literacy/English Teacher Educators — Goals for Their Courses

Along with my research team we have been studying literacy/English teacher educators. Through this work I became very fascinated with a notion of a pedagogy of literacy teacher education. In the second interview we asked  them to define the goals for their courses. We then categorized and tabulated the results. As the table below show not surprisingly building knowledge of literacy was their first goal.

Goals for course Number who identified this goal
Build knowledge of literacy 28
Build knowledge of pedagogical strategies 25
Student teachers adopt a professional role 18
Student teachers develop a critical stance 16
Build knowledge of government initiatives 13
Build knowledge of digital technology 11
Focus on student teacher growth 10

When the specific goals for their courses were analyzed using NVivo a more nuanced picture emerged. Their vision for literacy varied tremendously. Regarding literacy although learning about literacy and acquiring pedagogical strategies were common goals, interpretations of what student teachers need to know about literacy theory and teaching strategies varied.

Some like Melissa, Dominique, and Maya (pseudonyms used img_1030.jpgthroughout) focused on critical literacy while Amelia and Jessie had multiliteracies as the framework for their courses. Jane and Lance focused on children’s literature, while Sharon and Margie had the writing process as their priority. One LTE focused her course totally on phonics and phonological awareness.  Justin commented: “I see our work as being about the development of teachers as public intellectuals …  not simply to prepare beginning teachers for whatever the particular curricular or pedagogic demands of policy here now are but for a lifetime in teaching and this involves them being able to be both critical of initiatives that are thrust on them and creative in their approaches.”

It also became apparent the teacher educators’ broader goals for teacher education were quite different.  For example Justin believed that he should “prepare student teachers for a lifetime of teaching; prepare them to be public intellectuals; see schools as an emancipatory space. Caterina aims to have her student teachers “themselves as professionals not college students.” Emma has very specific goals: “understand current curriculum …  develop skills to plan and asses … be independent thinkers who are not just teaching for the schools we have.” Bob by contrast has broader goals “student teachers learn to focus on the students … to unpack their beliefs  [about schooling] … and to develop an identity as a professional.” While Martha Ann focuses on the individual’s development “develop a sense of self-efficacy … learn to take initiative … …. know children’s literature … empower students.” The lack of consistency in literacy methods courses (content and pedagogy) in teacher education is a concern because student teachers may graduate with markedly different understandings of literacy and may have been exposed to a particular set of literacy theories and pedagogies.

In my next blog post I will present the framework for a pedagogy of literacy teacher education.

Respecting Teachers’ Professionalism in Reading Instruction

booksIncreasing the reading ability of young people is a major focus of critics of schooling, and prescribed remedies constantly rain down upon us. It is refreshing, then, to re-visit Richard Allington’s What Really Matters for Struggling Readers (2006, 2nd edn.), as I (Clive) have recently done.

According to Allington, the remedies mandated at a system level typically have two flaws: (1) prescribing a single method for all students, and (2) not placing enough emphasis on the amount students read (including re-reading the same favorite works). With respect to the first, he says:

“Expecting any single method, material, or program to work equally well with every kid in every classroom is nonsensical. And yet we see increasing pressure for a standardization of reading curriculum and lessons…. The substantial research evidence that such plans have not produced the desired effects is routinely ignored in the latest quest for a cheap, quick fix.” (p. 34)

Regarding the second flaw in system mandates, Allington says:

“If I were required to select a single aspect of the instructional environment to change, my first choice would be creating a schedule that supported dramatically increased quantities of reading during the school day” (p. 35)

Unfortunately, federally funded Title I remedial reading and special education programs (in the US) have not increased the amount of reading children do. According to one study:

“[C]hildren who received reading instructional support from either program often had the volume of reading reduced rather than expanded as remedial and resource room lessons focused on other activities” (p. 43)

These “other activities” – such as extra phonics teaching, correcting pronunciation, asking comprehension questions – mean that children are interrupted in their reading. Apart from reducing reading time, this means children become used to being interrupted and read in a slow, hesitant manner, with half a mind on when the next interruption will come.

While attempting to support teachers in their reading instruction, then, it is essential to respect their professionalism so they are free to adapt to what works for individual students and give students abundant opportunities to read in peace.


Building a Genuinely Social Class Community

This term I (Clive) have two wonderful graduate classes, each with 25 students. One is on Foundations of Curriculum Studies and the other Reflective Professional Development. As part of the community building effort we go to the pub after class three times during the twelve week term (that evening we finish the class half an hour early). This week we had our second pub visit in both classes.

As always, I was impressed with how enjoyable it was and how much we got to know about each other. Only about half the students came, due to the frigid weather, family responsibilities, and school classes early the next day. But it was nevertheless entirely worthwhile.

Other strategies to build a social culture include: sitting in a large circle for most of the evening; having the students say each other’s names around the room each time we meet; chatting and joking at the beginning of the class and at other times; each student giving a brief presentation on their emerging essay topic (2 or 3 presentations a week) with responses from the 3 students sitting to their left or right; small-group discussions on interesting topics, with everyone in each group reporting back. All this leaves less time for me to talk, but I find the students say at least 90% of what I would have said; and anyway, I get to choose the weekly topics and readings.

It is only a 36 hour course, shorter than most school courses, yet a real bond is formed. The social atmosphere adds greatly to the enjoyment of the course and the discussions are deepened. It may not seem very “academic,” but I wouldn’t do it any other way!


Catherine Snow talk

If you are in the Toronto area this talk might be of interest to you.  You can RSVP using this URL: RSVP (acceptances only):

Image Catherine Snow talk

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:

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.


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.

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.”

We are back to blogging

Hi Literacy Teaching and Teacher Education Blog Followers

research team

We had a little hiatus from blogging. Clare was super busy with construction at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study; Pooja and Lydia both started new tenure-stream positions at Simon Fraser University and University of Alberta respectively; Cathy has been working on her thesis and teaching new courses;  and Clive and Yiola have been super busy. Lots has happened in our work and we will be updating you on our work ….

Team member: Lydia Menna

said-imageSaid (pictured to the right) will be joining our blogging team.




To those in Canada — Happy Family Day.

To those in the US – Happy President’s Day

To our friends around the world — looking forward to continuing our conversations.


Teachers are thanking Melania Trump

I (Clare) saw this fascinating video on BBC regarding plagiarism – Donald Trump’s wife using Michelle Obama’s words. Here is the link to the video:

Teachers and academics in the UK and the US have taken to Twitter to thank Donald Trump’s wife for providing the perfect material to teach their students what plagiarism is and why it is wrong.

Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention has notable similarities with a speech given by current first lady Michelle Obama in 2008.

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:

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.



A Constructivist Approach to Literature

On the weekend, Clare and I (Clive) saw a wonderful production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya Uncle Vanyaat the Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake. We were struck (once again) with how “dark” the play is; but it is so well written and was so well done that we really enjoyed it.

A central theme of the play is how boring life can be. And one thing that occurred to me is how important it is not to take plays (or any literature) too literally. In experiencing such a play – or discussing it with students – we don’t have to accept that life is utterly boring, or even think that Chekhov believed it was.

Rather, we can take this idea as a starting point and go on to consider ways to overcome boredom in our lives, to the extent possible. We can enjoy ourselves, both as we experience the beauty and cleverness of the literary work and try to resolve the problems it raises. We can use the work for our own purposes, rather than feeling tied to a literal interpretation. I think this is part of what is meant by a “constructivist” approach to learning, and it can make literature more enjoyable and useful to teachers and students alike.