Category Archives: teachers

Poet and Philosopher Vera Korfioti

During my time in Cyprus I (Yiola) had the pleasure of visiting with renown author and dear friend, Vera Korfioti.

Vera has published a number of collections of poetry, as well as books in Greek literature, Education and on the works of Greek Philosophers.  Her most recent publication is on Pythagoreanism.

Vera Korfioti holds degrees in History and Archeology from the University of Athens. She also studied Journalism in Athens. Her greatest love of study is Philosophy and this can be seen throughout her poetry.

I share here one of her short poems of the place where I stayed during my time in Cyprus:


There is a tenderness in her poetry; and yet its intensity towards precision and detail gives it such power.

A highlight of my trip was talking about life and the nature of people in today’s age with Vera. While we live on opposite end of the world we share similar understandings on the philosophy of life.  Perhaps what connects me to Vera is not only the beauty of her poetry but her love of teaching.  Vera worked as a teacher of Philosophy in Secondary Education in Cyprus. She also studied in the area of children with special needs in England and the United States.  And, for several years she has been teaching at the Philosophy School of Cyprus.

Language, literacy and teaching brought together for the world to enjoy!

Vera Korfioti, myself and my son Gallaway.

How can we make professional development more useful?

I (Clare) was recently doing a Meet and Greet for our newly admitted student teachers to Image_PDcartoonour Master of Arts in Child Study teacher education program. I talked about how teaching is a journey and that you never stop learning. From our longitudinal study of teachers we know that teachers learn a great deal from each other and from reflecting on their teaching. I believe there is a place for formal professional development; however, many teachers (myself included) have found formal PD to be of little use. It is often so removed from daily practice, tends to be top-down, and is a one-off. Teachers need time and place for conversations about their teaching. There is a place for formal structured PD but the way it is so often delivered it is not effective. In previous blogs I have written about my teacher-researcher group which has been a very powerful form of PD because all of the teachers are working on a topic/question that is important to them. One of the students in my grad course sent me this cartoon about PD. Although I chuckled when I read it, I feel that is sums up the sentiments of many.

Challenging the Use of Test Scores to Assess Teachers and Teacher Educators

Clare and I (Clive) have often argued against the use of “value-added measures” (VAMs) to assess teachers and teacher educators, measures that rely exclusively on standardized test scores. Others (e.g., David Berliner, Diane Ravitch) have taken a similar stand.

In the May 2016 issue of the Educational Researcher, opposition to VAMs receives dramatic support from Steven Klees of the University of Maryland. In a letter to ER, Klees welcomes a recent AERA Statement about how difficult it is to assess teachers using VAMs. However, he goes on to say that it’s not only difficult, it’s impossible! He notes that “dozens, perhaps hundreds, of variables” influence test scores, and hence misattributing cause is not only a “significant risk,” it is “rampant and inherent” in the use of VAMs. He concludes:

“The bottom line is that regardless of technical sophistication, the use of VAM is never ‘accurate, reliable, and valid’ and will never yield ‘rigorously supported inferences’” (p. 267).

In my view, even if we give some weight to test scores, it is imperative to supplement them with other considerations: e.g., the judgment of teachers and their colleagues about good teaching, opinions of students about their teachers’ effectiveness, theories about effective pedagogy. Effective teaching is so complex there can be no quick fix in assessing it.

It will be interesting to see how the education research and policy communities respond to Klees’s extraordinary claim, given that VAMs are the latest great hope for the reform of teaching and teacher education.


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.


Fort McMurray Disaster — Fort McMoney a documentary game

I (Clare) like many Canadians are watching the news as the fire in Fort McMurray fire RCMPAlbertaspreads to 850 square kilometres with; thousands being airlifted. It is reported that the “The wildfire in Fort McMurray could be the costliest disaster in Canadian history as estimates for insured damages run as high as $9-billion. Thousands of homes and businesses in Alberta’s fifth largest population centre have been destroyed.”

This catastrophe is on a monumental scale but it has touched me in a different way. For two years I worked with a teacher research group, Eureka, and one of the teachers, Mike Farley, did his research on the use of Fort McMoney his geography class. Over a period of time the students played the game and he studied their reaction to using the game and their learning.

His data showed that the game had a HUGE impact of their learning. Fort McMoney is s an interactive documentary game that lets you decide the future of the Alberta oil sands, and shape the city at its centre.

Through the research group I watched/played the game which gave me an insight into the community and the complexity of the issues of the oil sands. I emailed Mike when I heard the news about the fire. He said that he and his students were so upset by the events because they understood Fort McMurray and the impact on this fire community. This is an example of gaming that brings the real world into the classroom. His students probably have a much better understanding of this devastating fire as a result of the playing this highly interactive and informative game.


There is a long description from the Globe and Mail of the game below and it is well worth checking out the game.

A frozen highway spools out ahead of you, in the distance giant factory facilities with spewing smokestacks are carved out of virgin forest. It looks cold, cold like one of those Soviet factory towns in the Arctic Circle.

That’s the scene that greets you when you boot up Fort McMoney, which is a virtual world that went live online Monday. There are many places to see and even more characters you can interrogate and interview. Scores will be kept and leaderboards maintained to reflect actions taken by visitors: the more curious you are the more points you collect. This world is also episodic, new places and people will arrive every week over the next four, and visitors can vote for changes they’d like to see based on what they experience inside Fort McMoney.

If you have a passing familiarity with modern video games, you will recognize this structure. But while it is a game, it’s not fiction, it’s an interactive documentary about that most consequential Canadian oil town: Fort McMurray. It was produced by The National Film Board with French, German and Canadian partners, including The Globe and Mail. (Columnists Eric Reguly and Margaret Wente will be writing about their evolving views as they play along. Read Ms. Wente’s first take here and read Mr. Reguly’s here.) The makers of Fort McMoney call it a game and call users “players,” but there will be no “winners,” or rather there is no way to “lose” the game.

(Also, for such an innovative project, the language to describe it is lacking; we need a new term like Game-Umentary, but one that isn’t terrible.)

Functionally, it owes some of its game design DNA to 2012’s episodic zombie adventure The Walking Dead from Telltale Games. The winner of multiple video game awards, Telltale’s creation follows a similar forking structure: Like in Fort McMoney, each player’s experience with the game will vary because each decision you make, each question or action you commit to, changes the sequence of the next thing you see or are able to do. In The Walking Dead that often meant people you met in the game got eaten by zombies, in Fort McMoney it just means you visit a different part of one of Canada’s fastest-growing boom towns.

Over the next month players can dig through about eight hours of interviews and conversations with the real residents of Fort McMurray, a city which lies at the heart of Canada’s oil sands. The game asks players to choose whether the city should help crank oil production up to 11, or if it should essentially shut down the industry. That’s where the SimCity element of this game comes in: How the city grows, and how that affects Canada’s energy future, will be displayed in a series of projections, updated each week by the latest referendum.

This laboratory of democracy is hosted in the “dashboard” part of the game, and this is where it strays from being a pure choose-your-own adventure story (if still a documentary, there are no actors here), and turns into a civics experiment. Players will be invited to debate, share their in-game discoveries and vote on policies for the town and its ever-present oil.

The issues the Fort McMoney asks players to vote on in the weekly polls are ones the real town faces: If you could, how would you vote to change things about the trajectory of Fort McMurray and Canada’s exploitation of the second largest energy reserve in the world? The results of player voting will create a hypothetical Fort McMurray, one in which the future has been directed by the votes of this digital public square, like in a classical Greek democracy. Only here, the amount of debating, sharing and exploring you do can net you a higher score, and thus a heavier vote during the polls. It’s why a documentary is keeping score at all, as a reward for spending time “playing” the game.

The elephant in the room is that this game/documentary is about oil in those sands, and the environmental and human cost of boiling it out of them. Fort McMoney starts by introducing you to people living on the margins of this rapid growth, the young woman who was hoping to clean work camps but instead works as a waitress, the alcoholic who collects cans (claiming to clear $52,000 in one year recycling the discarded booze containers of Fort McMurray’s residents). In short order you meet the mayor of the town, and eventually oil sands executives and other leaders.

Creator David Dufresne talks about our civilization’s “addiction to oil” when he talks about the conversation he wants this game to spark. This is the part the NFB, Dufresne and his whole team, are really excited about. As Dufresne explained during a recent live Q&A about the project: There are no shortage of great books, documentaries or journalism about the “tar sands.” He says he was drawn to Fort McMurray thanks in part to stories about the town in The Globe and Mail. But for all of that, do Canadians feel any urgency to take action? He hopes to change that by giving people something gorgeous to look at, deep to explore, fun to argue about and which creates consequences for the user’s decisions. He hopes his video game will convince people to be the change they want to see.




What makes a teacher a good teacher?

A few posts ago Clare wrote about teacher characteristics. I  (yiola) am following up on her post with considerations for what makes a good teacher?

Take a look at this link:

I think it is quite fantastic as it tells, in an nuanced way, the narrative of one good teacher.

Jimi has many qualities, characteristics and knowledge including:  content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, an understanding of development, a clear philosophy/vision of teaching, a belief that all children can learn, patience and care.  What stood out most for me as I read this tale was the teacher’s capacity for care.  I believe care is central to good practice —  care for children’s well being;  care for children’s learning;  care for the future.

I often think about the possibilities of experience in school and the stories of positive and negative experience and time and time again the experiences that inspire and motivate children to learn are often centred around the teacher who cares.



5 Tips for Teaching the Tough Kids

I (Clare) found this post on Edutopia very interesting. I think that many of techniques would/could/should work with all students. As Josh Work notes every teacher remembers his/her first “touch kid” experience. Mine was with a young boy Tommy who seemed incorrigible. I wished that I had followed the advice provided below. Here is the link to the article.  Teaching the Tough Kids

Guest blogger Josh Work shares five techniques for dealing with middle school students who present ongoing discipline issues. His underlying theme is recognizing these kids as adolescents seeking ways to cope with stress or complicated lives. Source: 5 Tips for

Every teacher remembers his or her first “tough kid” experience. Maybe the student ignored your directions or laughed at your attempts to utilize the classroom discipline steps. We all have at least one story to share, and for some teachers, teaching a tough kid is a daily challenge. It seems that no matter what teaching techniques you try to pull out of your educator hat, nothing changes their behavior.

I’ve had the privilege of teaching some tough kids. I say “privilege” for a reason. Teaching these students pushed me to be a better educator and a more compassionate person. I’ve detailed below five methods that have reduced misbehavior in my classroom and, better still, helped transform these students into leaders among their peers.

1. Set the Tone

I firmly believe that a student’s misbehavior in the past does not necessarily equate to future indiscretions. At the beginning of the school year, I would walk down to the sixth grade teachers with my new class lists and ask questions. I would inquire about who works well together, who probably should not sit next to each other, and who caused them the most grief. Not surprisingly, teachers would share the names of the same students that were their “tough kids.” If I had the privilege of having any of these students in my class, I looked forward to it instead of dreading it.

Usually during the first week of school, I would try to have individual conferences with these tough kids. I’d take this as an opportunity to clear the air and wipe the slate clean. Often, these students can feel disrespected because their teachers already have preconceived ideas about how they are the troublemakers. Explain that you respect them and have high expectations for them this year. Lay the foundation for the student’s understanding that you believe in him or her, because you might be the only one who genuinely does.

2. Be a Mentor

Unfortunately, it has been my experience that some of the toughest kids to teach come from very difficult home situations. Inconsistent housing, absentee parent(s), lack of resources, and violence are only a few examples of what some of these students have to face every day. Kids that are neglected at home can act out in school to receive attention, good or bad. They want someone to notice them and take an interest in their lives.

Don’t forget how important you are in helping your students develop not just academically, but also socially. Make an effort to show you care about them, not just their grades. Be proactive instead of reactive. The key to being a good mentor is to be positive, available, and trustworthy. One year with a great mentor can have a lasting, positive impact on a tough kid’s life.

3. Make Connections

Part of being a great mentor is your ability to make connections with these tough kids. Since these students sometimes don’t have anyone encouraging them or taking an interest in their lives, have a real conversation about their future or dreams. If they have nothing to share, start talking about their interests — sports, music, movies, food, clothing, friends, siblings, etc. Find a way to connect so that they can relate to you. Start off small and show a genuine interest in what they have to say. Once you’ve made a positive connection and the student can trust you, you’d be surprised how fast they might open up to talking about their hopes, fears, home life, etc. This is when you need to exercise professional discretion and be prepared for what the student might bring up. Explain that you do not want to violate his or her trust but that, as an educator, you are required by law to report certain things.

4. Take it Personally (In a Good Way)

Teachers need to have thick skin. Students may say things in an attempt to bruise your ego or question your teaching abilities. Remember, we are working with young children and developing adults. I’m sure you said some hurtful things that you didn’t mean when you were growing up. Students can say things out of frustration or boredom, or that are triggered by problems spilling over from outside of your classroom. Try to deal with their misbehavior in the classroom — they might not take you seriously if you just send them to the office every time they act out. These are the moments when they need a positive mentor the most.

Once trust has been established, remind these students that you believe in them even if they make a mistake. I’ve vouched for kids during grade team meetings only to have them get into a fight at lunch the same day. They make mistakes, just like we all do. It’s how we respond to their slip-ups that will determine if they’ll continue to trust us. Explain that you’re disappointed in their actions and that you know they can do better. Don’t write them off. Tough kids are used to being dismissed as hopeless. Instead, show them that you care and are willing to work with them. Helping a tough kid overcome personal issues isn’t something that happens overnight, but it is a worthwhile investment in his or her future.

5. Expect Anything and Everything!

All of our students come from a variety of cultures, nationalities, and home environments, and these five techniques that have worked for me might barely scratch the surface of how you interact with the tough kids in your classroom. If you have another method that has helped you reach out and connect to a tough kid, please share it below in the comments section.

Source: 5 Tips for Teaching the Tough Kids

Can you spot a good teacher from their characteristics?


12644854_10156632304500121_7940976327917128279_nI (Clare) found this really interesting article in the Guardian newspaper about traits of effective teachers. Here is the link for the article:
I believe that the admission process is one of the most important steps in teacher education but the question that has vexed me for years is: What do you look for in an applicant? In previous posts we have talked about the admission process used in Finland which is very intense, focused, and pointed. They know what they are looking for! More to come in future blogs. And I highlighted in red a few key passages that resonated with me.

Professor Rob Klassen explores the latest research into what traits effective teachers have and how this could inform recruitment
What would you do in the following situation?
As students in your classroom begin a writing task, one of them, Kata, starts throwing paper around and distracting the others. You know from previous incidents that Kata often becomes frustrated when she does not understand how to complete activities; she often displays this by being disruptive.
Would you …
a) Ask her to leave the class?
b) Show her how to get started on the task?
c) Encourage her by telling her that she is capable of completing the task?
d) Ask a passing teacher to talk to her?

Your answer gives important clues about how you think and operate as a teacher (see below for answers). In future, similar questions could help researchers understand how prospective teachers might interact with students, and enable trainers to recruit people who are best suited to work in schools.

The debate over what makes a good teacher isn’t new – as far back as 500BC Confucius was portrayed as a model teacher. But despite this, there’s been little systematic research into how we can measure the personal characteristics that make a teacher effective – and how we can reliably select people for teacher training.
Part of the problem is that teaching is often portrayed as something that’s too magical and cryptic to decode. While there is something special about the idea of passing on knowledge, teaching is no more mystical than other professions. Research has shown that some teachers are routinely more successful than others – and science can predict who is likely to be the most effective.

A recent study by Dr Allison Atteberry from the University of Colorado followed more than 3,000 teachers over the first five years of their careers, measuring their effectiveness by looking at student outcomes. Atteberry found that even after statistically controlling for external factors such as school, family and student characteristics, teachers who were most effective tended to maintain this over time. Similarly, those in the bottom group for effectiveness stayed there, even when they moved schools.
Anecdotal experience backs this up: it’s not uncommon for someone to remember having a great – or not-so-great – teacher at school.

This indicates that multiple factors, which interact in complex ways, make some teachers consistently effective. Academic ability is one of them, hence the UK government’s introduction of tougher entry requirements for teacher training in 2013. But it’s not the only thing that matters; non-¬cognitive attributes – personal characteristics such as empathy and communication – are also essential.

A recent large-scale review of the factors associated with student achievement showed dramathat teacher-student relationships outweighed the contribution of teachers’ subject knowledge, teacher training, or home and school effects. In fact, John Hattie’s research in Australia shows that teacher characteristics, such as interpersonal skills, are more closely associated with student achievement than curriculum or teaching approach.

Our research in the UK and internationally – funded by the European Research Council – takes this further, examining how we can identify key teacher characteristics and assess them for entry into teacher training. There can be a lot of leeway in how personal characteristics are expressed, but we want all teachers to have qualities such as empathy, resilience and adaptability in the face of challenges. Our results show that these attributes are broadly the same across secondary and primary schools, although there are some variations between cultures. In Finland, for example, cooperative skills are particularly desirable because there’s a strong tradition of collaboration in schools, where teachers plan and work together.

Instead of using personality tests, we use scenario-based questions, known as situational judgment tests, to measure characteristics. These tests have more validity in predicting job performance than personality tests, which people can fake more easily. Studies in organisational psychology suggest that face-to-face interviews are also an unreliable way to gauge characteristics as interviewers are prone to hidden bias: even when we try to be open and fair, we’re inclined to select people who are a bit like us.

As teaching faces a manpower catastrophe, Holly Welham meets those failing to join the profession because of a ‘ludicrous’ math test

IMG_2508It is possible to improve some traits – such as communication or organisation – through professional development. But this may not be possible for all non¬-cognitive attributes – it’s harder to build skills such as empathy, for example. This is why it’s essential that we pay more attention to personal qualities when
recruiting prospective teachers.

That’s not to say that the goal of selecting prospective teachers is to pick candidates with only one type of personality or teaching style, but we do want to make sure the people educating our children, grandchildren, friends and family have some basic personal quality building blocks. This is already happening in fields as diverse as medicine and the military, for example.

We have already piloted situational judgment tests with universities in Cambridge, Newcastle and York, and are working with universities and education ministries in Australia, Finland, Hungary and Lithuania. After further validation of the tests, we are excited about introducing this new selection procedure nationally in some settings and an online version using video scenarios.

Back to the scenario at the beginning of this article. Although there’s no perfect response, if you chose “b” you might show adaptability in the classroom. Choose “c” and you probably have a growth mindset and believe that with effort children are capable of improving their attainment. Choosing “a” might show a lack of resilience when facing challenging situations, and “d” might show a lack of self-efficacy to engage all pupils in learning. Which quality do you have? Maybe you would be a great teacher.

Is Texting Killing Language?

Image_JohnMcWhorterOn Sunday Clive posted a blog Short or Long Form Writing? I (Clare) also wonder/worry about our new forms of communication and what is happening to “English.” John McWhorter did a fabulous Ted Talk  asking is Texting Killing Language.

It is truly worth listening to because he gives us a different perspective. He notes:

We always hear that texting is a scourge. The idea is that texting spells the decline and fall of any kind of serious literacy, or at least writing ability, among young people in the United States and now the whole world today. The fact of the matter is that it just isn’t true, and it’s easy to think that it is true, but in order to see it in another way, in order to see that actually texting is a miraculous thing, not just energetic, but a miraculous thing, a kind of emergent complexity that we’re seeing happening right now, we have to pull the camera back for a bit and look at what language really is, in which case, one thing that we see is that texting is not writing at all. What do I mean by that?

Casual speech is something quite different. Linguists have actually shown that when we’re speaking casually in an unmonitored way, we tend to speak in word packets of maybe seven to 10 words. You’ll notice this if you ever have occasion to record yourself or a group of people talking. That’s what speech is like. Speech is much looser. It’s much more telegraphic. It’s much less reflective — very different from writing. So we naturally tend to think, because we see language written so often, that that’s what language is, but actually what language is, is speech. They are two things.

What texting is, despite the fact that it involves the brute mechanics of something that we call writing, is fingered speech. That’s what texting is. Now we can write the way we talk. And it’s a very interesting thing, but nevertheless easy to think that still it represents some sort of decline. We see this general bagginess of the structure, the lack of concern with rules and the way that we’re used to learning on the blackboard, and so we think that something has gone wrong. It’s a very natural sense.

Parents versus Friends

In the Toronto Globe & Mail on January 15th I (Clive) read an interesting excerpt from a book by Leonard Sax called The Collapse of Parenting. According to Sax, young people are IMG_3128increasingly looking to friends for support rather than their parents; and the problem with that is whereas parents tend to stick by their children through thick and thin, many young people just drop their friends after a dispute or perceived minor infraction. As a result, children are becoming more vulnerable and anxious (a phenomenon others have noticed).

I think teachers should discuss this set of issues with their students as part of ongoing way of life education (and also introduce them to children’s books or young adult novels that deal with friendship, family life, etc.). Why do young people turn to friends rather than parents? Are they taking this too far? Do they realize the dangers (whatever they are)? Are friends less supportive than family? Support from friends often comes at a price (loyalty, obedience, etc.), but does family support also have a price? Should we go to friends for some things and parents for others? These are tricky questions, but I think exploring issues in a safe environment is always better than leaving young people to grapple with them on their own. And we will learn a lot through the discussions too!