Category Archives: literacy

Keep Calm & Play Video Games

When I (Said) was 8 years old, my parents bought me a Playstation video game console. It was the beginning of what is now my favorite hobby. Whenever I purchase a game, I adore the ‘new game smell.’ It resembles being in a brand new car or picking up a new book for the first time. I associate it with feelings of enjoyment and excitement. I am holding an adventure in the palm of my hands.

Some may think that video games are a waste of time and money, but I do not agree. Video games are a form of entertainment that has grown rapidly since the 1970’s. They have caused controversy, changed lives, and challenged how we tell stories. My main attraction to video games stems from the fact that I am no longer a spectator but a participant in the storytelling. Nothing is more satisfying than taking a break from my daily routines and readings to immerse myself in another world. Video games have allowed me to experience rich narratives that have enhanced my thinking and influenced how I see the world. Since they are often designed to challenge the player to complete a task, video games are an amazing tool to develop problem-solving skills (trial & error, perseverance, multiple solutions…). Since 1999, video games have taught me about history, culture, science, drama, crime, racism, love, creativity, imagination and more. In other words, video games made me literate; video games are art.

Instead of hoping that children ‘grow out of it’ (I certainly haven’t!), we must shift our focus to how we can use their involvement with video games to our advantage as literacy teachers. Some of my most interesting conversations as an occasional teacher have been the result of speaking the language of video games. There is no reason to discredit it as a form of media that does not contribute to knowledge building; there is great potential for its use in classroom instruction and assessment. You do NOT need to be a gamer to bring students’ out-of-classroom hobbies into the classroom. If it helps students achieve, feel included, and contributes to their personal growth, why spoil the party? Every few weeks, my mom will text me, “How’s your Playstation doing?” Often, she regrets asking, because I will spend hours telling her about my latest adventures.

SaidVideoGame
My video game shrine
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The Racial Achievement Gap in Literacy

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!BlackProtagonistBook

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.

 

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): http://www.tinyurl.com/mccarthylecture

Image Catherine Snow talk

A Day without Laughter is a Day Wasted.

As a child, I (Said) would take my parents’ newspaper and go straight to the comics section. I was less interested in world events & more interested in funny pictures and clever punch lines. Nowadays, there are webpages dedicated to comic strips and pages on our social media apps (Facebook, Instagram etc…) that we can like/follow. We have easy access to regular updates and new content, which are seamlessly integrated into our browsing experience. What happens next is incredible.

I stumble on a comic and I laugh amusedly. It reminds me of my friend Tatiana, and with the click of a button, I share it with her and comment, “This is definitely you”, “Doesn’t this perfectly sum up our lives…”, “This is me in a nutshell”. What follows is a conversation about how accurate the comic is, how well we know each other, or how it captures exactly what we are thinking at that point in time. It’s a digitally-mediated social interaction that does not require a lot of effort but does contribute to relationship-building in a subtle and indirect manner. It involves multi-modal texts and expressing ourselves in ways that extend beyond traditional text. Our students are also engaging with literacy in its many forms using different modalities, which teachers need to recognize and use to their advantage as they attempt to seamlessly integrate students’ out-of classroom literacies in the classroom.

Though I am connected to the web, I mainly use social media platforms to have information delivered to my phone, which I may then share/discuss with my friends (this ranges from funny pictures to world news to score updates). This in many ways is my kind of newspaper. There is something incredibly satisfying about coming across a comic that explains exactly how I am feeling. Recently. I have thoroughly enjoyed Sarah’s Scribbles, where Sarah Anderson tackles issues like being productive and the awkward but hilarious situations we encounter in our day to day lives. Below are a few of my favourite. I hope you lol (laugh out loud) or rolf (roll on floor laughing).

You can follow Sarah’s Scribbles on FacebookTwitterInstagram.

You can follow me on Twitter.
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Meditation instead of Detention

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.

girls-med

“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 increased as 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.

yoga

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-gpAFPlGOE

 

http://www.upworthy.com/this-school-replaced-detention-with-meditation-the-results-are-stunning?c=ufb1

 

 

Mobile Learning

Well, I (Cathy) changed mobile phone brands. I was an avid iphone user, but my son-in-law convinced me to switch  to an android.    I’m delighted to say the switch over  has been pretty smooth.  In truth, I see very little difference.  Both use apps.  Both are user friendly. Both take great pictures.  My messaging and contacts all remained the same. Mind you, I couldn’t answer my phone the first time it rang because I kept tapping the icon when I should have been sliding, and I didn’t set the alarm correctly the first time it used it and slept in.  But other than that, the learning curve has been quite minimal.  My favourite function of my new android  is the slide pattern security code.  So much easier than tapping numbers. Interestingly, I showed my new phone to an old friend the other day and she was horrified by the idea of not only switching phones, she wont give up her flip top. She said the new phones overwhelm her.  I’m relieved I have not been overwhelmed, in fact I am invigorated.  I’d like to try to use mobile phones more in my literacy class.  Yesterday,  I discovered our university does not have a class set of clickers for class feedback.  But on Google I discovered I can use an app called  Poll Everywhere for free with my class.

www.polleverywhere.com 

The video assures me any mobile phone will work, even flip phones!  Next week, its use your cell phone in class day.  Just hope I set the alarm correctly and don’t sleep in!

Good luck these first few weeks!

A number of my friends and colleagues experienced the scenarios depicted below.  Luckily, I  (Cathy) never did.  The transitions were smooth for us as parents and for our children.  As teachers, however, my husband and I would get anxious, whether teaching K or undergraduates: what will our students be like?; am I ready?; how will I get my classroom set up?; I don’t understand this new policy…  Parents I spoke to (that were not teachers) were surprised by this.  They assumed we had it ‘down pat’ and never even thought about it.  They didn’t understand that every year was a brand new set of challenges and joys and it would take a few weeks to get things settled in.

I wish all the teachers out there, elementary, secondary, and higher education a great start to their year.  May it be as smooth and fruitful!

All the best,

Cathy

off-to-school