Category Archives: Social Justice

Louise Erdrich wins Dayton Literary Peace Prize

Author Louise Erdrich has been named as the winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. The Dayton prizes recognize “literature’s power to foster peace, social justice and global understanding.” Erdrich’s written works, which includes novels, short stories, poetry, and children’s books, candidly explore contemporary Aboriginal life. She has been praised for “weaving a body of work that goes beyond portraying contemporary Native American life as descendants of a politically dominated people to explore the great universal questions – questions of identity, pattern versus randomness, and the meaning of life itself.”


A call to adopt Balanced Literacy

An article in the New York Times caught my eye, it highlights New York schools chancellor Carmen Fariña’s proposal to adopt a balanced literacy approach in more New York City classrooms (link to article provided below). The article reports that, “during her almost six months as chancellor, Ms. Fariña, a veteran of the school system, has reduced the role of standardized tests, increased collaboration among schools and shepherded through a new contract for teachers that includes more training and more communication with parents. But her push for a revival of balanced literacy may have some of the most far-reaching implications in the classroom.” Proponents of the Common Core academic standards have however, voiced resistance to implementation of a balanced literacy approach, arguing that it is at odds with the learning goals emphasized in the core standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states. What do you think are the pros and cons of a balanced literacy approach?


Open Street Maps: Taking Action and Focusing on Multiple Perspectives

Nora Young, the host of CBC Radio’s Spark, was the keynote speaker of a conference I (Pooja) attended yesterday. She spoke about data science as a growing field of study, in fact, many universities have created departments of data science.  With the growth, Nora noted, comes a need for what she called critical data literacy. She illustrated the need for critical data literacy with an example of mapping technology. Google maps have quickly become the go-to application for finding directions and/or locating businesses on a map. However, being critically data literate,  guides us to  question like: who gets to decide what appears on a map? The answer is most often large multi-million dollar enterprises like Google.

To disrupt google’s monopoly of the growing online map industry, initiatives like Open Street Maps have been created. In January of 2014, The Guardian commented on the need for applications like Open Street Map. They likened it to  “a wiki-like map that anyone in the world can edit. If a store is missing from the map, it can be added in by a store owner or even a customer. In terms of display… each person or company who creates a map is free to render it how they like..” (Wroclawski, 2014) A site, which allows community members to add and edit a map of a community to which they belong, is powerful because it positions community members as experts.

I am looking forward to bringing this mapping technology into my classroom. I hope my students can create maps of their neighbourhoods.

A snapshot of a map made by community members:


Read more about Open Street Map: openstreetmap

The Tiffinwallahs’ delivery system as a form of literacies

Recently, a friend started a lunch delivery service. She makes healthy, delicious, and affordable lunches every day. The lunches are delivered in an aluminum container, also known as a tiffin. She got this idea after watching a documentary about Mumbai’s Tiffinwallahs aka Dabbawallahs (those who deliver tiffins). Each day in Mumbai, “approximately 4,000 dabbawallahs deliver 160,000 home-cooked lunches from the kitchens of suburban wives and mothers direct to Mumbai’s workers.”Harvard’s Business School has studied this intricate delivery service, calling it “the world’s most ingenious meal distribution system.” What makes this service so fascinating to me is the coding system the tiffinwallahs have created. Although many do not have traditional literacy skills of reading and writing, they have re-defined literacy by creating a of successful and efficient communication through elaborate colour coding. Forbes magazine has awarded the “dabbawallahs a 6 Sigma performance rating (a term used in quality assurance if the percentage of correctness is 99.9999999 or more).” The business is also growing at a steady pace of 5-10% year.

The colour/numerical code created for the lids of tiffins:


Watch the Tiffinwallahs in action:

Read more about the Tiffinwallahs in Mumbai here:

Can a hashtag make a difference?

Recently, a Globe and Mail article questioned the impact of the Twitter campaign #BringBackOurGirls, designed to draw attention to the abduction of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls by an extremist group. The article noted that such online campaigns often ignite fierce, yet fleeting concern for a cause, which ultimately fails to provoke any “particular” action. Indeed, the article echoes the sentiments of others who have critiqued the merits of “digital advocacy.” For instance Malcolm Gladwell argued that online forms of activism such as “Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice…which he suggested “makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact.” Having participated in a variety of rallies over the years, I (Lydia) understand the momentum that can be mobilized and connections cemented when people collectively gather within physical spaces to champion social causes, matters of concern, and contentious political issues. I do, however, wonder if social media platforms provide an opportunity for us to broaden our conceptions of the creation of publics, public engagement, and relational encounters within social contexts. At the very least, such social media campaigns have demonstrated that they have the potential to draw attention to social issues, communicate information, and establish connections between affinity networks on a massive scale.

Link to the Globe & Mail article:


Reading Circles

Last week CBC news profiled the organization Literature for Life, which offers weekly Reading Circle programs to young mothers in various shelters and community centres across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The Literature for Life website explains that the program is committed to helping young moms in high-needs neighborhoods across the city “develop a practice of reading in order to access opportunities and achieve economic stability”. The moms participating in the Reading Circles meet weekly, along with a program facilitator, to engage in discussions and writing activities about books that are relevant to their lives. The program also hopes that participating moms will share their enthusiasm for reading with their children. To date, approximately “2,200 moms have participated in the Reading Circles and more than 20,000 books have been distributed” (

Reading Circles2

Dilemma for Educators: Focus on Pisa Scores or Improve Quality of Education

Colombian FlagClive and I (Clare) are going to Bogota and Cartagena to present at two conferences: one for teacher educators and one for teacChildren in Colombiahers. (More about our experience to follow.) In our correspondence with our Colombian hosts, who have been incredibly gracious, we get the impression they are very focused on improving Pisa scores. From our reading about Colombia we recognize there is grinding poverty yet they have made huge strides in improving literacy rates. We appreciate the dilemma faced by the Colombians –improve test scores on international measures yet education is under resourced. Being inspired by Pasi Sahlberg (and in keeping with the findings from our research as described in our new book Growing as a Teacher), the focus should not be unilaterally on improving Pisa scores but should be broader — provide quality education. Good teaching will improve literacy achievement and which in turn improve scores on Pisa. As Sahlberg’s data shows, the countries focused on controlling the curriculum and on teaching to the test have declining achievement on Pisa. (See April 19th blog post on this topic.) Drills and mindless worksheets will not engaged those children who do not see themselves as readers. So our message will be – let’s support teachers so they know how to provide relevant, engaging, and appropriate curriculum. The scores on Pisa will take care of themselves. We would love to hear from others who have worked in Colombia.

Celebrating Easter in a Multicultural Society

Literacy development is evident in all areas of our school curriculum. I (Yiola) have been thinking about the Ontario Curriculum, particularly the new Social Studies curriculum and how much it has evolved over the years. The latest Ministry policy for teaching Social Studies has made significant gains in developing critical literacy and culturally relevant pedagogy.

This weekend while I was celebrating the Easter holiday with my family I wondered how this culturally significant event could be included in the curriculum without alienating those students who do not observe Easter.

The Grade 2 social studies curriculum has a strand: Changing Family and Community Traditions. When I taught Grade 2 the strand was called: Traditions and Celebrations. By the heading alone one can see the conceptual shift that has taken place in how we think about traditions. Then it dawned on me, must we compartmentalize units of study to blocks of time? Why not open the unit of study and have students throughout the year share the community traditions they observe? And of course, they needn’t be limited to formal holidays. They can be as significant as the family tradition of quilting or playing music.

Children making flaounesThen I began to think about how important this particular family tradition is for my children and how I would like for it to be affirmed in school; not for its religious value; but for the importance it holds in our family. What if Sylvia Clare wrote a procedural piece on making “flaounes” with her Papou (see image)? She could talk about, experience, and write about how to make traditional Cypriot flaounes. And, if this opportunity were open throughout the year for all children to share at any time a special community/family tradition in a way that was meaningful to them (through writing, speaking, doing) so much knowledge, information and appreciation could be shared. Just one small example of how literacy and social studies could work together.

Pasi Sahlberg: An Inspiring Educator

I (Clare) attended the BEST lecture by Pasi Sahlberg. He was Finnish Lessonsinspiring and informative. His talk was based on his bestselling book, Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?

His talk went far beyond the book. A few highlights from were:

  • The Finnish public trust teachers.
  • Teachers are respected.
  • We cannot take the Finnish model and transplant it to another context but we can learn from HOW the Finnish people reconceptualized and approached education reform. (The main goal was not to improve PISA scores.)
  • Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) which has infected countries like the US, UK, Netherland, NZ, and Australia emphasize competition, standardization, test-based accountability, school choice, and human capital. He showed slides of student performance in these countries illustrating that performance on standardized tests has actually gone DOWN – the draconian measures the governments have imposed on teachers have not improved student performance (and probably not student engagement).
  • Finland has a common vision for education that includes great schools for each and every child.
  • The success of Finnish education is not simply a result of improved education initiatives but a whole agenda for society.
  • In Finland if a teacher is struggling, someone helps him/her.

For a copy of ppt presentation (which was amazing) click here:  

Pasi SahlbergI have read his text and highly recommend it to others interested in true reform of education.  Quick fixes do not work but a sustained, comprehensive approach to education is the way we should be going.

Photo Highlights from AERA 2014

The 2014 American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference took place this year in Philadelphia. I was able to attend some fascinating paper sessions, poster sessions, and symposiums during my time there. I also managed to make it to the memorable museum district area of Philadelphia. Here are some photo highlights below:

My dear friend and research colleague, Cathy Miyata, presenting her paper Negotiating Multiliteracies Pedagogy in International Preservice Teacher Education:


A fascinating panel titled Defending, Reforming and Transforming Teacher Education: The Future of Teacher Education in the United States. This panel’s members included Linda Darling-Hammond, Timothy Knowles,  Kwame Griffith, and Kenneth Zeichner.


An important symposium on ways teacher education programs around the world  are preparing preservice teachers for marginalized students. The symposium entitled Building Infrastructure and Capacity Research Innovations Worldwide That Prepare Teachers for 21st Century Schools That Service Marginalized and Poor Students in Transnational Contexts. Below is a photo of Dr. Clare Kosnik sharing findings from our international study on Literacy Teacher Educators:


A relaxing dinner with our research group, Becoming Teacher Educators.


Finally, a photo from the museum district which is looking south on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. I was standing on the iconic steps where Rocky trained while taking this photo!