Category Archives: literacy

Defining Literacy

One of my (Cathy’s)  favourite first tasks for my new teacher candidates is to have them define the term  literacy on paper- written or drawn- no right or wrong.  I tuck this away for them and then give it back on the last day of our literacy course so they can it to compare their (hopefully somewhat)  altered definition.  For some the definition changes a lot and for some not so much.  The differences represent the teacher candidates  prior knowledge of literacy and literacy practices; their ability  to make adjustments; their open mindedness; and their ability to accept change.  Reshaping ones definition of literacy is a process and its actually quite demanding.

Every year I look for new academic, scholarly, or institutional definitions of literacy, or as I prefer to  refer to it- literacies- to share with my TC’s as their definitions shift and grow.  This year I will include the definition below.  It is from the Ontario government’s document Focus on Literacy (2013):

LITERACY – Kindergarten to Grade 12 Literacy is … the ability to use language and images in rich and varied forms to read, write, listen, speak, view, represent, discuss and think critically about ideas. Literacy enables us to share information and to interact with others. Literacy is an essential tool for personal growth and active participation in a democratic society.

Literacy involves the capacity to:

• access, manage, create and evaluate information

• think imaginatively and analytically

• communicate thoughts and ideas effectively

• apply metacognitive knowledge and skills

• develop a sense of self-efficacy and an interest in life-long learning

The development of literacy is a complex process that involves building on prior knowledge, culture and experiences in order to instill new knowledge and deepen understanding.

I especially like the last line.  I hope my TC’s do to.

http://www.edugains.ca/resourcesLIT/PayingAttentiontoLiteracy.pdf

 

 

Developing Visual Literacy Skills

As I (Cathy) prepare to teach my primary literacy class in teacher education at Laurier University, I have been reviewing the need to address visual literacy. Visual literacy is interpreting and evaluating images, animations, words, and symbols while also integrating sensory experiences. As students from K to 12 are constantly bombarded with images, it is essential that we incorporate visual literacy into the curriculum to allow students to develop comprehension and critical thinking skills that are specific to visual literary.

Sankey (2002) states:

Visual images are fast becoming the most predominant form of communication. Visual genres and mediums now dominate communication; photographs, television. film, video, the internet, cartoons, posters, t-shirts, comics, multimedia presentations and computer simulations.

The following diagram effectively highlights why visual literacy should be incorporated into our primary curriculum:

6946127

 

Personally, I find cartoons a wonderful source of meaning making and came across the following diagram supporting Blooms and cartoons.

blooms and cartoons

 

I also find cartoons useful in establishing a particular atmosphere in my university classroom and incorporate them weekly into my power points. I’ll use this one on our first day to introduce the topic of visual literacy and how 21st century classrooms may be somewhat different than what we experienced as children.

school-cartoons-2012

 

http://dovernewliteraciesproject.weebly.com/digital-vs-visual-literacy.html

 

‘Pokémon Go’ a Go in Education

I (Cathy) was initially confused when I recently started hearing the name “Pokémon” come up time and again.  I mean, isn’t that a bit outdated I thought?  The Pokémon game was first made popular in the 1990s as a video game, and my children loved it.  I soon discovered, however, the new Pokémon game, Pokémon Go, is an app that allows players to see and “catch” Pokémon characters in the real world through their phone screen and it has quickly developed into a cultural phenomenon. Personally, I haven’t tried it (yet) and find it rather amusing to watch grown people chase imaginary characters through the park or around buildings. But there have been educational insights into this new app that have intrigued me greatly.  For example Australian autism expert Craig Smith has devised a way of incorporating the hit game into his lessons to encourage autistic students’ social skills. According to The Independent:

Pupils at a school in Australia are being actively encouraged to use Pokémon Go in the classroom, after research showed the game could help rather than hinder their studies. Craig Smith, an academic specialising in Autism research, found that by allowing his pupils to use the augmented reality game in and out of the classroom, their social skills had improved and the children appeared more engaged with their learning.

Dr. Smith, who is also the Deputy Principle at the Aspect Hunter School for Children with Autism in Newcastle, New South Wales, said the game was unique in that it encouraged children with and without learning difficulties to play outside and engage with other students.

Smith said, “We wholly embrace whatever it is that kids are interested in and use that as a window into their world and bridge into further educational opportunities for them. For many of the children I teach it’s hard to engage in social activities – even going down to the shops can be socially overwhelming. But what we’re seeing with the Pokémon craze is the same students are making conversation and engaging in social activities through the game.”

 pokemon

With this in mind I am willing to give Go a go. Should be fun and give some else a chance to be amused at my chasing imaginary characters. I would also like to incorporate it into the orientation program of my literacy class!

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/pok-mon-go-classroom-help-autistic-children-australia-craig-smith-a7144946.html

To Wikipedia , or not to Wikipedia…

Convincing students, even in higher education, of the validity of Wikipedia can be challenging, so I (Cathy) use a little humour to introduce the debate. I like this cartoon because it is an adult telling the child the information must be correct.  But then, my grandparents believed everything they read in the newspaper. Everything.  It was in print and therefore had to be true. They never considered the possibility that newspapers were political institutions with bias opinions.  Never.  Now our students have to consider the possibility the information on the internet may be a practical joke .  I have personally spoken to people who find it amusing to change information on Wikipedia so that it is incorrect. Yet, I still use Wikipedia to access quick information.  However, I do so with caution.  The information age is interesting, but it can have its challenges.   Discernment and constant checking is key.

hudson

 

Discovering New Pre-service Texts

I (Cathy) find myself skeptical of books or articles that use the term ‘activities’ in reference to assigning work to students in the classroom. I was once told the term activities infers no purpose or goal and can be viewed as ‘busy work’. Instead, I was instructed to use the term ‘task’ which infers a specific result must be achieved to accomplish the work.  I was therefore skeptical of a book I recently encountered titled, Pump It Up: Literacy Activities for the Classroom.  However, the caption on the book jacket read “specifically aims to help pre-service teachers learn to implement hands-on lessons for their content area.” So  I decided to take a closer look.  I quickly recognized the editors Joanne Kilgour Dowdy (Kent State University, Ohio USA) and Yang Gao (Kent State University, Ohio) required the contributing authors to include learning objectives for each learning ‘activity’ included in the volume.  I also realized the editors use the term activity to refer to a series of tasks that comprise a lesson.  For example, the activity depicted by contributing author Jessica Wilson explains, “This activity is devised to demonstrate how literacy and creativity can be achieved through all disciplines including science” and describes a free write lesson designed to encourage students to interpret key vocabulary words and develop appropriate syntax and discourse of key terms.

I was delighted to discover the activities or lessons in the book explore an array of disciplines and topics (e.g., health and physical education; drama and other arts; social justice; multiculturalism through children’s literature; literacy/language arts; and mathematics) and the disciplines appear to cross (e.g., using dram to explore science and journaling to explore mathematics). Further, I was intrigued by the sections earmarked Becoming an Artist and Embodying Social Justice.

Well, having now moved past my fear of the term ‘activities’, I have ordered a copy. I proved to myself I not only should not  judge a book by its cover, I also should not judge a book  by its title! As I will be teaching pre-service drama next semester and plan to include as many cross disciplinary ‘activities’ as I can , I am hoping this will be a nice addition to the book collection I will provide for my teacher candidates.  Can’t wait for it to arrive!

2832_222_167

Click here for a sneak preview of the book:

https://www.sensepublishers.com/catalogs/bookseries/other-books/pump-it-up/

 

 

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:

http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/oise/About_OISE/PrideVideo_Story.html

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.

 

 

 

computer notes

                                                                                  Versus

longhnd notes

I (Cathy) read recently that Massachusetts is one of several states that wants to keep penmanship lessons in the curriculum. I have heard pros and cons regarding this argument in Canada, but a recent blog post by Dr. Ainissa Ramirez on Edugains gave me pause to reconsider the practice of longhand writing in class.   Dr. Ramirez boldly suggests students not use computers and return to using longhand for note taking.  Please don’t misunderstand, Dr. Ramirez is not opposed to technology. She, in fact, is quite a proponent having been an engineering professor at Yale University for ten years.  She also received her Ph.D. from Stanford University in materials science and engineering and holds several patents, one of which was awarded MIT’s Top 100 Young Innovators award.

Dr. Ramirez states:

When students take notes with their laptops, they tend to mindlessly transcribe the data word for word, like speech-to-text software. But taking notes verbatim is not the point. What is lacking in their note-taking-by-laptop is the synthesis, the re-framing, and the understanding of the information. Students that transcribe with laptops have shallow connections to what’s being presented to them. However, those who are taking notes by hand are processing the information and representing it in a way that makes sense to them. They are learning.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that longhand writing is so 19th century. But we need to answer a question: do we want students to have a deep or shallow connection to the information we’re giving them? While we live in a world of short sound bytes where news is thrown at us unprocessed, this should not be the mode for schools. In the 21st century, the ability to connect knowledge in new ways is more important than the knowledge itself. So students with deeper connections to information can link it in new ways — they can create.

On further investigation I discovered that Ramirez’s  position is supported by a study  published in Psychological Science by Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles. Their study sought to test how note-taking by hand versus by computer affected learning. Mueller states:

When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can. The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.

This position is well worth sharing with students; however, I think it will be very challenging to convince students of the information age to forgo their computers and take up longhand writing. I’m willing to at least put forth the argument and it will also be a nice point of discussion for student teachers!

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/writing-by-hand-benefits-brain-ainissa-ramirez

 

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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Happy Canada Day!

fireworks

Greetings to all of our readers across Canada and beyond.  Today, July 1st, we celebrate a national holiday honoring our country.  This is a fairly new celebration for us, as Canada is a relatively young country (we only officially became Canada in 1867). I (Cathy) vividly remember our school celebrating Canada’s 100th birthday when I was a girl in school.  In 1980 the Canadian government began  to encourage and financially support the establishment of local celebrations. Start-up funding was provided to support popular activities and performances organized by volunteer groups in hundreds of communities.  In 1981 fireworks lit up the sky in 15 major Canadian cities; a tradition that continues today.  As we are such a multicultural country, I am always fascinated by the many other  diverse ways this holiday is celebrated: family dinners of a wide variety of traditional fare; back yard BBQ’s; sailing, swimming; playing sports; concerts; picnics; hiking; camping; parades; and festivals .

Hatfield

One of our national treasures, Colonel Chris Hadfield,  is a retired Canadian astronaut. He was the first Canadian to walk in space. An engineer and former Royal Canadian Air Force fighter pilot, Hadfield has flown two space shuttle missions and served as commander of the International Space Station. Interestingly, he is also a musician. To celebrate this Canada Day, click on the ink below to see Col Hadfield and his brother sing about Canada. They highlight some of the unique cultural aspects of this vast country.  Enjoy!  And Happy Canada Day where ever you may live.  

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Hadfield

Teachers Improve as They Gain Experience

I (Clare) read the Learning Policy Institute (led by Linda Darling-Hammond) report which  analyzed 30 studies on the effect of teaching experience on student achievement.

Below is a brief summary and links to the report:

Based on a review of 30 studies published within the last 15 years, the authors find that as teachers gain experience throughout their careers, their students’ achievement gains increase. The steepest gains occur in the first few years of teaching, and improvement continues in the second and often third decade of their careers, especially when they work in collegial work environments.

Other findings include:
• Experienced teachers have a positive impact on the performance of their peers.
• As teachers gain experience, their students are more likely to do better on other measures of success beyond test scores, such as school attendance.
• Teachers make greater gains in their effectiveness when they accumulate experience in the same grade level, subject, or district.
• More experienced teachers confer benefits to their colleagues, their students, and to the school as a whole.

The findings in this publication have important implications for policymakers seeking to improve learning and close achievement gaps, including underscoring the value of retaining experienced teachers and offering strategies to improve their effectiveness. The report and brief also raise equity concerns, since inexperienced teachers tend to be highly concentrated in underserved schools serving high-need students. Included are recommendations to address these inequities—a requirement under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Here is the report: https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/our-work/publications-resources/does-teaching-experience-increase-teacher-effectiveness-review-research

Here is the brief: https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/our-work/publications-resources/brief-does-teaching-experience-increase-teacher-effectiveness-review-research/

Do teachers plateau early in their career or do they continue to grow and improve as they gain experience? It’s a critical question that has implications for local, state, and federal education leaders and policymakers. And it’s the subject of the latest report from the Learning Policy Institute (LPI), Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of the Research.

Based on their analysis of 30 recent, methodologically rigorous studies on the impact of teaching experience on student outcomes, authors Tara Kini and Anne Podolsky find that as teachers gain experience, they are more likely to positively impact student achievement and improve critical behaviors, including attendance. The steepest gains are in the first few years of teaching, but teachers gain in effectiveness throughout their careers, especially when they are in collegial work environments. Experienced teachers also have a positive impact on the performance of their peers.

“This report shows that what is widely accepted as true in the business world—that individuals improve their performance with experience—is also true in teaching,” says LPI Senior Policy Advisor Kini, who co-authored the report.

These findings come at an important time. Nationwide, we’re seeing a “greening” of the teacher workforce. But inexperienced teachers aren’t evenly distributed throughout schools. Black, Latino, American Indian, and Native-Alaskan students are three to four times more likely to attend schools with higher concentrations of first-year teachers than White students. New teachers are also more likely to be concentrated in high-poverty schools.

In addition to a detailed analysis of the research, the report includes recommendations to address these inequities—a requirement under the Every Student Succeeds Act—and offers program and investment strategies to attract, retain, and develop talented teachers who have opportunities to learn and grow throughout their careers.

Read the full report and the research brief, Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of the Research, both of which are available on our website.

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