September has emerged as one of my favourite months of the year. In addition to the overabundance of pumpkin flavoured beverages and treats at your friendly neighbourhood café, many are gearing up for another year in school. Whether you are a student, a teacher, or a professor, September marks the beginning of a new chapter in your educational journey.
The more I reflect on the phrase ‘back to school’, the more I realize that I never really left to begin with. I did not suddenly stop reading interesting articles and books, nor did I make a conscious effort to avoid the occasional heated debate with my friends on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I am still fun and approachable at BBQ parties though, I promise.
Summer break in the K-12 setting is often depicted as ‘freedom’ from learning and the perfect excuse to avoid the books. While I understand the need to relax and take it easy after a year of rigorous academic work, we can definitely benefit from not juxtaposing the fun nature of summer with the productivity demands of fall. Do some students dread going back to school because they have less time to play outside or because the classroom simply isn’t engaging enough? I would much rather students be excited about all the potential learning opportunities rather than their next vacation.
Now that the school year is well underway, I hope you are brimming with the same excitement as me. I can’t wait to be introduced to must-read books, build new connections with my classroom peers, grow as a researcher, and so much more! What are you looking forward to this academic year? Whatever that may be, strive to be a snowflake, unique and beautiful in your own way, rather than another brick in the wall.
At the American Education Research Association annual meeting in April, Clive Beck, Clare Kosnik and members of their research team received an award from the AERA Constructivist SIG for a submission based on their longitudinal study of 40 teachers. This study, which began in 2004, has been funded by four successive SSHRC grants and will continue for at least two more years; it is one of the most extensive longitudinal studies of teachers ever conducted. Also in April, a chapter on longitudinal research written by Clive, Clare and Elizabeth Rosales was published in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia, Education.
Last week, I (Clive) talked about the connection between general way of life education and career education. I believe there is a similar link with mental health education, which Ontario teachers today are strongly encouraged to engage in. A recent Toronto Star article on mental health education noted that around twenty percent of Ontario school students have mental health problems. It then went on to claim that the life learning these students need would also greatly benefit the other eighty percent of students!
From the teachers’ point of view, this insight has significant implications. It means that instead of constantly singling out students with mental health needs – thus adding to teachers’ workload and also running the danger of labeling students, reducing their self-esteem, and undermining class community – teachers can implement way of life education in the normal course of teaching and classroom life and so help all their students.
Increasing the feasibility of mental health teaching in this way is sorely needed, given the growing demands on teachers, the continuing cut-backs in special education funding, and the increasing integration of “special needs” students into mainstream classes. As Kate Phillippo says in her excellent 2015 book Advisory in Urban High Schools, there is today considerable “under-the-table expansion of teachers’ responsibilities,” especially “to provide social-emotional support” to students (p. 148).
While there is a limit to how much assistance regular classroom teachers can give to students with mental health challenges, supporting all students in developing a sound approach to life can help everyone, including those with special needs. For example, students who lack motivation for school work need a better general sense of where academic achievement fits into their life, now and in the future; and students dealing with bullying would benefit from greater general understanding of when and how to stand up to other people. Along these lines, Phillippo (2015) envisages classroom teachers taking on a broad “advisory” role that includes fostering “life skills development” (p. 154) and working to promote “student wellness” in general (p. 164).
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!
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
Build knowledge of pedagogical strategies
Student teachers adopt a professional role
Student teachers develop a critical stance
Build knowledge of government initiatives
Build knowledge of digital technology
Focus on student teacher growth
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 throughout) 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.
I (Clare) was recently doing a Meet and Greet for our newly admitted student teachers to our Master of Arts in Child Study teacher education program. I talked about how teaching is a journey and that you never stop learning. From our longitudinal study of teachers we know that teachers learn a great deal from each other and from reflecting on their teaching. I believe there is a place for formal professional development; however, many teachers (myself included) have found formal PD to be of little use. It is often so removed from daily practice, tends to be top-down, and is a one-off. Teachers need time and place for conversations about their teaching. There is a place for formal structured PD but the way it is so often delivered it is not effective. In previous blogs I have written about my teacher-researcher group which has been a very powerful form of PD because all of the teachers are working on a topic/question that is important to them. One of the students in my grad course sent me this cartoon about PD. Although I chuckled when I read it, I feel that is sums up the sentiments of many.
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!
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:
I (Cathy) was delighted to recently read about schools in the UK and the US that have replaced detention rooms with mediation rooms. For Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland, this practice began through a partnership with the Holistic Life Foundation, (a local nonprofit organization) who set up a Holistic Me after school program. The Holistic Me program was for children from pre-K through to the fifth grade. The children were taught practice mindfulness exercises and yoga as a means of managing their stress and anger. The program had such effective results that children who were acting out in class were also trained in the various practices. The results were so impressive, the detention room was eventually replaced by a meditation room complete with pillow, soft lights and gentle music.
“It’s amazing,” says Kirk Philips, the Holistic Me coordinator at Robert W. Coleman. “You wouldn’t think that little kids would meditate in silence. And they do.” Philips also reports that overall discipline in the school has improved dramatically in the school. “There have been exactly zero suspensions last year and so far this year. Nearby Patterson Park High School, also began the mindfulness programs, and reported suspension rates dropped and attendance increasedas well.
Although mindfulness practices like mediation and yoga have been around for thousands of years, it has only recently become the object of educational studies and research. It will be interesting to see where the research leads us.