Category Archives: educational reform

Year 13 of Our Longitudinal Study of Teachers

Clare and I (Clive) and our wonderful research team are now in year 13 of our longitudinal study of 40 teachers, 20 of whom began teaching in 2004 and 20 in 2007. Every year we interview them and, wherever possible, observe them in their classroomClive Becks. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) continues to provide funding for the project and will do so for at least another 2 years. We are now gearing up for the 2017 interviews beginning in late April.
Of the original 45 teachers, 3 have left the study and 2 have dropped out of teaching, a remarkable retention rate. As the years mount, interest in the study grows. Four of five proposals based on the study for the 2017 AERA Conference in San Antonio were accepted for presentation. We were also asked to write a chapter on Longitudinal Study of Teachers for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education, to appear this year. For their part, the teachers continue to show resilience despite the increasing challenges of teaching (which they tell us about), including: larger class sizes, reduced special education support, increased standardized testing of students, and top-down control of teachers’ practices.

Based on the study, perhaps the biggest problem we see in education today is this ill-conceived, top-down monitoring of students and teachers, which does very little good and a great deal of harm, and ignores the steadily developing expertise of teachers – which again our study reveals. We can only hope that governments and school systems soon begin to realize the harm they are doing. Meanwhile, we work to encourage teachers to look for the many opportunities for decision-making and professionalism that still remain in school classrooms.

Draining The Semantic Swamp of “Personalized Learning”–A View from Silicon Valley (Part 1)

I (Clare) read this post by Larry Cuban. I have long been a fan of his work because he is so “sensible” and really seems to understand education.

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

No surprise that a catch-phrase like “personalized learning,” using technology to upend traditional whole group  lessons, has birthed a gaggle of different meanings. Is it  updated “competency-based learning?” Or “differentiated learning” in new clothes or “individualized learning” redecorated?  (see here, here and here). Such proliferation of school reforms into slogans is as familiar as photos of sunsets. “Blended learning,” “project-based teaching,” and “21st Century skills” are a few recent bumper stickers–how about “flipped classrooms?”– that have generated many meanings as they get converted by policymakers, marketeers, researchers, wannabe reformers, and, yes, teachers into daily lessons.

For decades, I have seen such phrases become semantic swamps where educational progressives and conservatives argue for their version of the “true” meaning of the words. As a researcher trained in history, since the early 1980s, I have tracked policies as they get put into practice in schools and classrooms.  After all, the…

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Brilliant Statement on Public Education by Canadian Teachers’ Organizations


The Presidents of 21 Canadian Teachers’ organizations – national, provincial, and territorial – have released a belief statement and call to action developed at their May 29-June 1, 2016 Meeting. The statement arose out of “overwhelming concerns about education reform, inclusive education, austerity budgets and teachers’ mental health and wellness.”

otf-brandmark-en-CA Receiving the statement courtesy of the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, I (Clive) was truly blown away by it. It is brief, to the point, and timely, and ties in with so much of what researchers and practitioners around the world are concluding about teaching and schooling today.

The five-point Belief Statement is as follows:

  1. Austerity budgets undermine the strength of our public education system as students and their teachers lose out, and families are left out.
  2. Publicly funded public education must be fully funded to support student learning.
  3. A successful inclusive education model requires sufficient funding and teachers/educators to ensure student needs are addressed.
  4. Assessment of students is best left to the professional judgment of teachers.
  5. Fiscal deficits must not be solved at the expense of the public education system or on the backs of our children.

The Call to Action calls on governments across Canada to take immediate action to address the above concerns.

Some may argue that public funds are becoming scarcer today and everyone must cut back. However, assessment of students by teachers rather than by standardized tests (point 4) would save a lot of money and make schooling more effective: less time would be spent on test preparation. As for the adequate funding of public education, in the long run that pays for itself in terms of student success, economic productivity, societal well-being, and teacher retention and effectiveness.

A major reason for the past and present success of Canadian schooling – as seen in its solid PISA rankings – has been the relatively high status and funding of teaching in Canada. This has helped attract able people to the profession and keep them there. It is incredibly important not to erode this advantage. Let’s stand with the teachers’ organizations as they pursue this line of action.


Photo Journal of my Experience @ AERA

Here are some snapshots and highlights of my experience at AERA this year. If I (yiola) could name the experience I would call it:  Goosebumps and Inspirations… it was just that good.

  1.  I attended a Round Table session (this is where presenters gather at a “round table” and share their research). The Round table is a great opportunity to not only share your work but hear from others in a less formal manner.  This round table was hosted by the  Writing and Literacies special interest group (SIG) and the focus of the round table was critical literacy.  Dr. Barbara Comber from the University of South Australia presented on critical literacy pedagogy in the early years. Her work and my work are closely aligned.

2.I attended a presidential talk that was a tribute to the life and work of Dr. Phil Jackson. The focus of the talk was on the question of education.  I really like what this panel did: each panel member selected a passage from a text written by Dr. Jackson and talked about its significance to them. A paragraph was read from The Practice of Teaching and the idea of transformative teaching… such an important and central idea in progressive education. A piece was read from Handbook of Research on Curriculum: Conceptions of Curriculum and the the idea that school is systematically harming children… and how can we work against that?  Linda Darling-Hammond read a passage from his famous book Life in Classrooms and spoke of the “multi-dimensionality and simultaneously nature of teaching” and the essential relationships associated with teaching. And, one panel member shared from Dr. Jackson’s last book published in 2012, What is Education and spoke of education as pure and simple; something we must rededicate ourselves too over time.


3. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to the presidential lecture  for Division K hosted by Dr. Lin Goodwin, Teachers College Columbia University.  A remarkable speaker who not only inspires with her words but truly challenged me to think about what quality teacher education requires. What I like most about Dr. Goodwin is her genuine nature. A distinguished academic and also a beautiful human being. Here are some pictures from her talk including slides from her presentation.



4. Yet another interesting Presidential session with Wayne Au, Marilyn Cochran-Smith, Kevin Kumashiro (and others) that explored policy and standards in Teacher Education. Laden with some controversial findings for the testing systems for new teachers and teacher education programs, the presentations were provocative and interesting:


5. The last session I would like to share is one where we presented at the Constructivist SIG. A lovely group of people from across North America, we exchanged ideas of what it means to teach in constructivist ways. Our team leader Dr. Clare Kosnik presented work from the Literacy Teacher Education research and presented on a group of literacy teacher educators who had strong constructivist pedagogies.

Finally, AERA is held at such interesting places. One has to take some time to enjoy the beauty of the district and take in some of the sights.

Nell Duke: 10 Things Every Literacy Educator Should Know About Research

In my (Clare) graduate literacy course last night we talked about Nell Duke’s excellent Library book shelvesarticle: 10 Things Every Literacy Educator Should Know About Research. This is a highly informative article because Duke systematically addresses key questions about research – often questions that are not posed because the instant the word “research” is attached to a statement it seems to have more weight. She begins the article: Research-based,” “research-proven,” “scientifically based”—in the reading world these days, it seems that the term research is being used everywhere. it is also being misused and misunderstood.

My graduate students found the article very accessible and enlightening. Many said they will look at “research claims” more closely. It is well worth the read. Here is a link to article which was published in Reading Teacher. 10_things_to_know_about_research_duke_trtr1002

Duke addresses the following questions.

  1. what research can do.
  2. what research is.
  3. what research is not.
  4. the difference between research-based and research-tested.
  5. Many kinds of research have valuable contributions to make to our understanding of literacy learning, development, and education.
  6. different kinds of research are good for different questions.
  7. high-quality research has a logic of inquiry.
  8. conclusions drawn from research are only as sound as the research itself.
  9. where and how research is published or presented requires particular attention.
  10. educational research proceeds through the slow accumulationof knowledge.



Thesis Defense = Celebration of Learning

I (Clare) am a very active doctoral supervisor and have two students near completion of stress-lego-faces-popular-science_2400x1800their Ph.D. At the University of Toronto like many other universities the final stage in the doctoral program is the thesis defense. It is a complicated process requiring 2 external examiners, a student presentation, discussion, and voting. The entire exam is so so so stressful for the students. No matter how much I reassure them that they will be fine because their work is high quality they are still nervous, stressed, tense, anxious …. From my perspective it should not be so stressful nor so high stakes. These students have worked for years under careful supervision and presented at their doctoral committee meetings.

Some universities have a much more informal (and civilized) approach to the final exam. I try to see it as a celebration of the student’s work rather than a grueling experience. I think it is time for many universities to rethink the final stage of the process to make it less stressful for the student (and supervisor) and more joyous.

The Wrong Way to Teach Math (and Other Subjects)

In the New York Times Sunday Review on Feb 28, Andrew Hacker published an article (p. 2) checkmark imagescalled “The Wrong Way to Teach Math,” based on his forthcoming book The Math Myth and Other STEM Delusions. It begins with this remarkable statement:

“Most Americans have taken high school mathematics, including geometry and algebra, yet a national survey found that 82 percent of adults could not compute the cost of a carpet when told its dimensions and square-yard price.”

Hacker, who teaches political science and mathematics at Queens College in New York, argues that while “calculus and higher math have a place…it’s not in most people’s everyday lives.” Students need to learn “numeracy” or “quantitative literacy”: “figuring out the real world – deciphering corporate profits or what a health plan will cost.”

I (Clive) find Hacker’s ideas and examples very helpful and plan to buy his book. But it occurs to me that similar things could be said about other subjects such as literacy (reading, writing, literature), history, science, etc. While “academic” aspects of these subjects have to be taught to prepare students for later education and (possibly) work settings, teachers need to do both (as I have posted before). It isn’t appropriate just to focus on Shakespeare and classical novels, for example, and not prepare students to find enjoyment and make wise choices in their everyday fiction and non-fiction reading.

Addressing both – the academic and the everyday – is not easy, given the extensive subject content teachers are expected to cover; but in teaching and teacher education this should be our goal, and over the years we should move as far as humanly possible in this direction.


Teacher Education for High Poverty Schools

Jo Lampert and Bruce  Burnett have recently edited an amazing text,Teacher Education for High Poverty Schools. The text is available from Springer.

This volume captures the innovative, theory-based, and grounded work being done by established scholars who are interrogating how teacher education can prepare teachers to work in challenging and diverse high-poverty settings. It offers articles from the US, Australia, Canada, the UK and Chile by some of the most significant scholars in the field. Internationally, research suggests that effective teachers for high poverty schools require deep theoretical understanding as well as the capacity to function across three well-substantiated areas: deep content knowledge, well-tuned pedagogical skills, and demonstrated attributes that prove their understanding and commitment to social justice. Schools in low socioeconomic communities need quality teachers most, however, they are often staffed by the least experienced and least prepared teachers. The chapters in this volume examine how pre-service teachers are taught to understand the social contexts of education. Drawing on the individual expertise of the authors, the topics covered include unpacking poverty for pre-service teachers, issues related to urban schooling as well as remote and regional area schooling.

Our (Clare) research team contributed a chapter to the text which focused on six literacy teacher educators who purposefully prepare student teachers to work in high poverty schools. Here is the chapter: TchingforHighPovertySchools

Mary Kennedy on Engaging Student Teachers More Deeply

As I (Clive) have said before, I’m a great fan of Mary Kennedy of Michigan State University. In earlier postings I commented on her complex vision of teaching and her incremental yet radical approach to school reform. Having read a new article of hers in the latest issue of the Journal of Teacher Education (Jan/Feb 2016), I wish to recommend it.

Ever courageous, Kennedy in this piece takes on the currently popular movement for the teaching of “core practices” in teacher education. While an improvement on earlier practice-focused teacher education approaches – in that the practices in question are medium-grained rather than too specific or too general – she believes this approach is (a) too didactic and (b) neglects the purposes of teaching. She proposes instead helping student teachers see that a variety of complex strategies are needed to achieve the purposes of schooling, and constant adjustments on their part are required along the way.

Kennedy is careful to note this is “not an either/or decision. I am not proposing that we abandon specific practices in favor of problem solving strategies. Instead I argue here for (a) less attention to bodies of knowledge, (b) less attention to specific teaching behaviors, and (c) far more attention to the persistent challenges” of achieving the purposes teaching. Her position is that in pre-service (and in-service) education we should “not recite knowledge or dictate practices to teachers, but instead engage teachers in more analysis and exploration of alternatives.” This seems to me to embody the constructivist approach to teaching that – as Kennedy has said elsewhere – most teacher educators advocate.

For those who may see this as an overly idealistic approach that will undermine pupil performance on standardized tests, Kennedy cites the findings of a review that “programs using these alternative pedagogies were generally more effective at raising student achievement than were the didactic programs that focused on either bodies of knowledge or specific teaching practices.”



Chimamanda Ngozi’s Book Being Distributed to ALL 16- Year-Old Students in Sweden

I have written about the powerful words of Ms. Adiche before. Her words stop us in our tracks and make us re-consider notions of identity, language, and gender. She has a new book out entitled We Should All Be Feminists. It is based on a speech she delivered at a TEDx conference a few years ago. I have already ordered it!

The most amazing thing about her new book is how it is being distributed. The Swedish Women’s Lobby has decided to distribute Adiche’s book to every 16-year-old student in Sweden. In a CBC article, publisher Johanna Haegerström believes her book will be an entry point into a larger discussion about gender roles in society. He said:

“Our hope is that the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie text will open up a conversation about gender and gender roles, starting from young people’s own experiences”