Category Archives: graduate students

Getting to Know Our Students

I (Clive) have long believed in having a warm, friendly class community and a good IMG_3114teacher-student relationship. However, my understanding of what this means continues to grow. This term in my graduate course with 22 students I seemed to develop a closer bond with my students than ever before.

As time went by, each would greet me in a friendly, open way with a smile on their face. They told me more personal information about themselves (often in emails about why they couldn’t be at class that evening!) Before and after class, at the break or in emails, they shared with me (and I discussed with them) individual matters, e.g., interest in going on to doctoral work; wanting to teach high school rather than elementary; wanting to take an individual reading course; moving from the public to the private school sector; the struggles of teaching while raising 3 children; not really wanting to be a teacher.

I found this closer relationship had several advantages:

  • There was a higher energy level in our engagement
  • Our interactions – and the class experience generally – were more enjoyable
  • Attendance was higher
  • I could better understand “where they were coming from”

This was quite apart from the help they received by discussing their individual concerns.


Sometimes people worry about an overly close relationship between teachers and students. However, a sensible teacher can figure out what is appropriate and what is not; and in general I feel we are still far too removed from our students. We need to be constantly developing appropriate links with our students, rather than being afraid of links in general.

In terms of appropriateness, one important point is to avoid having favorites. We should go out of our way to have meaningful conversations with – and hence get to know – every single student in our class. They will really appreciate it and our own teaching experience will be enhanced.


Anti-Plagiarism Tools


At my (Cathy’s)  institution,  like most HE schools, plagiarism is an  issue.   According to Wikipedia, “Plagiarism is not a crime per se but in academia and industry, it is a serious ethical offense.”  I deliberately quote Wikipedia because that (sadly) seems to be a popular source for many students these days.  As the cartoon to the left implies, is copying from the internet plagiarism?  The many new sources for plagiarism checking indicates “yes”.  My institution supports a plagiarism locator called Turnitin.  It is a relatively simple tool to use. Once the text is submitted to the Digital Learning System, the tool highlights all words in sequence that can be located on the www and Google Scholar.  Hence, copying the words from Wikipedia becomes as evident as copying a paragraph from a journal article.  The professor has to look at the text and determine if the highlighted parts have been properly cited.  If not, the text is  plagiarized.  Although professors have access to this and can use it to check for plagiarism, it is used instead as a formative feedback took to encourage students to monitor their own work and how they are sourcing. Regarding Turnitin, Jennifer Haber, Professor of Communications at St. Petersburg College shares this email from one of her students:

Keeping an eye on the similarities percentage area keeps me aware of possible situations where I may be using too much (or even too little) outside resource information. Due to its ease of use and instructive benefit, I would say the service has played a significant part in my becoming a more improved writer. I would favorably recommend its use to any institution of learning.

This kind of feedback has sold Professor Haber on the use of this tool.  Besides Turnitin, many more of these tools are popping up on the internet.  Two popular sites are:  Best Plaigerism Checker and Proofreader  and  Plagiarisma.Net (links provider below).  With these kinds of free tools available and the  bad press plagiarism has been receiving, its  wonder that students still plagiarize.  Perhaps these tools will help reduce it happening in our schools.  Let’s hope so.


The strikes in Toronto continue: Common struggles across university employees

Last week Clare wrote about the strikes happening in 2 Toronto based Universities.

Teaching Assistants and Course Instructors are still on strike.  The issues are complex and go beyond pay increase.  Pay amount, pay structure, working conditions and job security are pieces of the intolerable job structure. The situation of poor, unstable working conditions for graduate students and non-tenured faculty continues to be a continent-wide misfortune.  I recently read an article about the experiences of an adjunct-professor in Washington, DC.

The author writes about her experience:

There were things about the work I loved. One student wrote an excellent research paper on creative arts therapy as a healing tool for depression sufferers; the paper landed her a fellowship working with cancer patients. When I saw students nodding their heads during lessons on essay structure or avoiding wordiness, I felt reenergized. In fact, engaging students was a challenge I loved. The working conditions were what drained me completely.

There are similar stories here in Toronto and across Ontario. The stories are grim and unfortunate. I (yiola) look forward to posts where I can write about changes to the status of non-tenured faculty, teaching assistants and the ever so needed university staff members.


The Next Generation of Academics: An Uncertain Future

The Teaching Assistants in Toronto’s two largest universities are on strike. The issue is not simply one of money. I (Clare) read with interest an article about the strike in the Globe and Mail today.

One of their major concerns is future employment. The article by Simona Chiose provides some startling statistics re: supply and demand. In 2012 there were 6,393 PhD graduates yet between 2008-2011 there were only 3,030 new full-time faculty positions. Graduates are being hired to limited term or part-time positions, not full-time tenure stream positions. And those of us in universities know that more and more courses are being taught by part-time faculty and that trying to survive on a salary of course stipends (which tend to be abysmally low) is nearly impossible. The Teaching Assistants with whom I have worked over the years have been hard-working, smart, keen, and committed yet their future is dim. The life of a grad student is hard. Let’s try to make their future more secure.

All About Me Texts

We had an amazing literacy class yesterday. We (Clare and Lydia) along with the student teachers in our P/J and J/I literacy courses shared our All About Me texts. As a class we meet weekly in a designated classroom on campus, but this week class was extra special, as Clare graciously invited us into her home to share our texts in a more personal space. The student teachers engaged a rich array of storytelling formats including – playbills, a message in a bottle, interactive ABC books, puzzles, dual language texts, a personal timeline plotted out with illustrated cityscapes, e-books, comic strips, Pokémon cards, nesting boxes housing artifacts documenting developmental milestone – to share aspects of themselves to an attentive audience of their peers. The depth of thought and creativity communicated through their texts was truly impressive and inspiring. I’m sure the children/youth they’ll be teaching in their upcoming placements will enjoy these texts as much as we all did. It was a truly enjoyable day. Thank you to all the student teachers in our literacy community!!



New Moms: We Are Here for You

Leah McLarenLeah McLaren, a columnist for the Globe and Mail (our national newspaper), wrote an open letter to the wife of Peter McKay (Canadian Justice Ministry). McKay has been embroiled in a scandal regarding leaked emails he sent to his staff for Mother’s and Father’s day:

“The Mother’s Day email hailed women for the home and childcare duties they perform before arriving at the office, while the Father’s Day message made no mention of diapers or school lunches, and instead praised them for “shaping the minds and futures of the next generation of leaders.”

In McLaren’s article she talks about the challenges of being a new mother (McKay’s wife, Busy MomNazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay) recently had a baby. On our research teams we (Clare and Clive) have a number of new Moms who are juggling work, study, childcare, and …. Although they do not complain I (Clare) can see the exhaustion written all over their faces. I witness how their confidence ebbs as they so often feel like they are not doing enough, they are not carrying their weight on the team, they are not spending sufficient time on their research, and on and on. McLaren advises Nazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay:

No matter how overwhelming it feels now, while your son is small and dependent, remember that one day it will change. The former you – the activist and author and tireless campaigner who never had spit up in her hair or a soother in her handbag – is still there, lurking at the back of your neglected shoe closet. She might have receded for the moment, but she will emerge again. And in the meantime, here’s a tip: Don’t be afraid to ask your husband to do more. I know he’s busy.

Check out the full article are:

Given the way careers unfold many female doctoral students and new faculty are new Moms. Take heart – you are doing plenty and do not forget that that you are smart women who deserve to be in academia. Brush that guilt off your shoulders. The exhaustion will pass and you will be stronger and wiser. Remember, we are here for you and will continue to be here for you because you are our valued colleague and friend. Print off McLaren’s article and when you need a boost, read it (mind you it might be at 2:00 a.m.).

Graduation Time and New Journeys Begin

It is that time of year again when thousands of University graduates wear their gowns and receive their degrees of academic achievement.

I (Yiola) work in the most amazing graduate/teacher education program. The Child Study and Education program (MA CSE) that is part of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT). The program’s vision, structure, and content, are premised on the child being at the centre of learning. How children learn and what research says about children’s learning are central to the program. The program looks at child development and learning and grounds these notions in the varied contexts (social, cognitive, spatial) that children experience.  With this focus in mind, I teach a curriculum course and a teacher development/instructional methods course. Equity and inclusion, collaborative practice and professionalism frame my courses.

This two year Masters level graduate program prepares  teacher candidates for teaching in elementary classrooms (early years to sixth grade).  The program now admits sixty students per year.  Included here is a photo of some of our graduates at our graduation reception last week. This photo is taken in front of our beautiful and unique building, the McCarthy house, located at 45 Walmer Rd. in Toronto. It is an old Toronto mansion that not only houses the MA CSE program but also contains the Toronto Laboratory School and the Laidlaw Centre (faculty from the University of Toronto).

As I watched and celebrated with our graduates this year I heard of the many journeys that were upcoming: many are now on the Toronto District School Board hiring list and will be occasional teachers in Fall, some are going on to PhD programs, a few are traveling to places around the world to explore and contribute to schooling systems abroad (India, Brazil), some graduates are entering the independent school system.  I wish every graduate much success and happiness as they embark on new challenges and adventures.

Mostly, I wish the graduates of the MA CSE program a continued sense of commitment and passion for instilling a love of learning, a sense of confidence and an “joie de vivre” in the lives of all the children they teach.

Some of the amazing graduates from the MA CSE program. I (Yiola) and 2nd from the left. Next to me is my wonderful colleague Prof. Dale Willows.
Some of the amazing graduates from the MA CSE program. I (Yiola) am 2nd from the left. Next to me is my wonderful colleague Prof. Dale Willows.

Clare Kosnik awarded 2014 JJ Berry Smith Doctoral Supervision Award


clare u of tYesterday, we (Clare’s grad students) had the honour of seeing Clare awarded the 2014 JJ Berry Smith Doctoral Supervision Award. Professor Brian Corman, Dean of Graduate Studies (Uof T), acted as MC for the proceedings. Dean Corman reported there were many distinguished applications and the selection committee was under great pressure. However, the decision to award Clare was unanimous. 19 letters from present and former grad students were included in the application. Dean Corman shared some of the comments written in the letters: “epitome of a pedagogy of caring”, “challenged me to think deeply”, “met with me weekly, which after talking to other grad students, I realized other supervisors did not do”.  Clearly, her students  felt privileged to have worked and be working with her.

While accepting the award, Clare suggested doctoral supervision was a terrific topic for a research study. She shared that as she read the letters she was astounded by the differences in what the doctoral students said mattered to them. We hope someone takes Clare up on this suggestion.  They should begin the study with Clare.  Using her work ethic as a model, many other grad students might have the opportunity to work with a supervisor as dedicated, caring and wise as Clare.
Congratulations, Clare! Well deserved.

photo 1clareclare 2clare and us

What Can I Do With a PhD?: Opening Doors to Rewarding Careers

With continued cutbacks at universities, it is becoming more and more difficult for newly graduated students to secure an academic position at a university. Is a career as an academic the only/best choice? A new report  suggests  a PhD can open many doors and during doctoral studies candidates should be exploring many option and acquiring a range of skills. The League of European Research Universities published an “advice paper” on Good Practice Elements in Doctoral Training.

Some of the key findings of the report are:
·      PhDs are increasingly drivers of their own professional development; and the training model in which the PhD candidate is heavily dependent on one supervisor is no longer robust.
·      over and over again it demonstrates that some of the most research-intensive universities in Europe are prioritising transferable skills, which are now being built into training programmes for doctoral candidates and, most frequently it seems, as elective course options and often in collaboration with other organisations.
·      the introduction presents 29 such transferable competencies like ‘working in teams’, ‘persisting in achieving long-term goals’ and ‘understanding the working of a specific high-level research-intensive environment’.

As a doctoral supervisor, one of the first things I (Clare) want to know from my students is what do they want to do when they complete their doctorate. I want them to be honest  which is often difficult because the prevailing norm in universities is that doctoral candidates should want to be academics. Some of my former doctoral students did not want to be academics but were nervous to reveal their intentions. If I am going to support my students fully I want to know what they hope the doctoral studies will lead to. I can  report some of my students who did not want to be academics are happily employed in a range of positions:  research officer in a school district, classroom teacher, and psycho-educational consultant. During their doctoral studies I tried ensure they are set-up to get  a particular position (e.g., present at specific types of conferences). A PhD in education should open many doors. It is important for us as supervisors to know there are many doors all of which can lead to a fruitful career.


Writing = Thinking

Pooja DharamshiAs a doctoral student, learning to write academically has been a challenging process. My doctoral supervisor shared a piece of wisdom, but it was not until I began writing on a daily basis that I understood what she meant. “Writing is thinking,” she often said. As a novice writer, a blank page was a daunting and, often, an overwhelming sight. Through practice, I have learned that getting my ideas out on paper as soon as possible (without worrying about style, grammar, or clarity) is an invaluable strategy for me as it kick-starts the writing process. Once I see my ideas on the page, I begin to make more sense of them and begin the revision process. I have come across two helpful books related to academic writing: 1) Style: Lessons in clarity and grace (Williams, M. & Colomb, G., 2010) and 2) The clockwork muse: A practical guide to writing theses, dissertations, and books (Zerubavel, 2001). Both  booka emphasize and articulate my supervisor’s advice that writing is thinking. Zerubavel notes: “One of the most common misconceptions inexperienced writers have of writing is that it is simply a mechanical process of reproducing already-formed ideas on paper. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In reality, writing is virtually inseparable from the process if developing our ideas.” (p. 48).  Pooja