Category Archives: teaching

Going “Back” to School

September has emerged as one of my favourite months of the year. In addition to the overabundance of pumpkin flavoured beverages and treats at your friendly neighbourhood café, many are gearing up for another year in school. Whether you are a student, a teacher, or a professor, September marks the beginning of a new chapter in your educational journey.

The more I reflect on the phrase ‘back to school’, the more I realize that I never really left to begin with. I did not suddenly stop reading interesting articles and books, nor did I make a conscious effort to avoid the occasional heated debate with my friends on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I am still fun and approachable at BBQ parties though, I promise.

Summer break in the K-12 setting is often depicted as ‘freedom’ from learning and the perfect excuse to avoid the books. While I understand the need to relax and take it easy after a year of rigorous academic work, we can definitely benefit from not juxtaposing the fun nature of summer with the productivity demands of fall. Do some students dread going back to school because they have less time to play outside or because the classroom simply isn’t engaging enough? I would much rather students be excited about all the potential learning opportunities rather than their next vacation.

Now that the school year is well underway, I hope you are brimming with the same excitement as me. I can’t wait to be introduced to must-read books, build new connections with my classroom peers, grow as a researcher, and so much more! What are you looking forward to this academic year? Whatever that may be, strive to be a snowflake, unique and beautiful in your own way, rather than another brick in the wall.

AliceCooper

 

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Mental Health Education and Way of Life Education

Last week, I (Clive) talked about the connection between general way of life education and career education. I believe there is a similar link with mental health education, which Ontario teachers today are strongly encouraged to engage in. A recent Toronto Star article on mental health education noted that around twenty percent of Ontario school students have mental health problems. It then went on to claim that the life learning these students need would also greatly benefit the other eighty percent of students!

From the teachers’ point of view, this insight has significant implications. It means that instead of constantly singling out students with mental health needs – thus adding to teachers’ workload and also running the danger of labeling students, reducing their self-esteem, and undermining class community – teachers can implement way of life education in the normal course of teaching and classroom life and so help all their students.

Increasing the feasibility of mental health teaching in this way is sorely needed, given the growing demands on teachers, the continuing cut-backs in special education funding, and the increasing integration of “special needs” students into mainstream classes. As Kate Phillippo says in her excellent 2015 book Advisory in Urban High Schools, there is today considerable “under-the-table expansion of teachers’ responsibilities,” especially “to provide social-emotional support” to students (p. 148).

While there is a limit to how much assistance regular classroom teachers can give to students with mental health challenges, supporting all students in developing a sound approach to life can help everyone, including those with special needs. For example, students who lack motivation for school work need a better general sense of where academic achievement fits into their life, now and in the future; and students dealing with bullying would benefit from greater general understanding of when and how to stand up to other people. Along these lines, Phillippo (2015) envisages classroom teachers taking on a broad “advisory” role that includes fostering “life skills development” (p. 154) and working to promote “student wellness” in general (p. 164).

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

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.

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

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.

 

 

School’s Out. Move over Alice Cooper: A response to traditional schooling

What is good pedagogy? What works for student achievement? What engages students? What are our end goals for schooling? As another school year draws to a close I begin to reflect on what the school year looked like, what was achieved and if in fact the intended goals for student development were met.

Our team writes on a variety of topics associated with 21st century literacy and learning. The pedagogy, vision, and goals of 21st century learning differ from traditional literacy learning and teaching in many ways.  Sometimes tradition and contemporary methods connect and sometimes they clash. As Clive has written in past posts; the idea isn’t to contrast and compare or pick and choose one particular position; instead, there is value in understanding the purpose, strengths and outcomes of varied stances and consider our contexts and goals for teaching and learning.

I came across this interesting article that brings to the table a “newer” consideration for literacy teaching: makerspace.  Not an entirely new concept, and inclusive of several well known pedagogies and approaches, the maker movement does challenge more traditional ways of learning.

“Making is a stance about learning,” Martinez said. “It’s the landscape you create in a classroom or any kind of learning space where kids have agency over what they do and a large choice of materials that are rich, deep and complex.”

The link to the article is here:

How to Turn Your School Into a Maker Haven

Now that “school’s out for summer” it may be a good time to think about how to improve our practice for student learning. It may be a good time to learn more about the maker movement, what it entails, and how we can learn from our students, from each other, and, more about the elements for achieving creativity, problem solving, collaboration, innovation, and literacy.

HIGH-STAKES TESTING OR CRITICAL THINKING

I (Clare) read this article in TC Record and I thought is sums up the dilemma so many teachers face. Teach skills but also teach critical thinking. They are so often set up in opposition that many teachers are left thinking they have to choose one or the other. We need to both! http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=20557

Assessing Critical Thinking in a Data-Driven Educational System

by Amanda Mattocks — May 10, 2016

The current educational environment has left teachers trapped between the accountability mandates of high stakes testing and the desire to provide an authentic, skills-based curriculum that is rich in critical thinking activities. As the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is implemented nationwide, teachers and districts should seize the opportunity to develop alternative assessment tools that incorporate more authentic measurement of students’ critical thinking skills.

HIGH-STAKES TESTING OR CRITICAL THINKING

 

The tension between high-stakes testing accountability and an authentic, skills-based learning environment infused with critical thinking has made the assessment of student learning a challenge for even the most experienced education professionals. Classroom teachers need to be both public servants responsible for aggregate student growth, and inspirational role models tasked with shaping future minds. The recently sunsetted No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2002; U.S. DOE, 2002) narrowed the definition of learning to concepts found on multiple choice examinations that require mass data collection, equated student growth to test score improvement, and instigated punitive measures when schools do not meet national proficiency standards. In theory, the numerical data generated from the annual standardized assessment has held teachers accountable, but this has come at the cost of adequate curriculum depth, appropriate real-world skills, and deep critical thinking skills which are less easily measurable but arguably more important to foster. Tension remains between generating trackable measures of growth and providing learning filled with critical thinking activities. This tension may soon lessen given that measuring student growth and providing authentic skills-based learning are not mutually exclusive anymore; both can be accomplished simultaneously by working within the new assessment guidelines of ESSA.

EVERY STUDENT SUCCEEDS ACT

 

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, 2015) has the potential to diffuse the tension between high-stakes annual testing and authentic skills-based learning. ESSA calls for the systematic collection of data of a different nature than that aggregated by traditional standardized testing. According to the federal ESSA website, “Assessments must involve multiple measures of student achievement, including measures that assess higher-order thinking skills and understanding, which may include measures of student growth partially delivered in the form of portfolios, projects, or extended performance tasks” (NCLS, 2015). ESSA will be fully implemented across the United States by the end of 2017 and public school teachers will have the opportunity to develop high-quality assessments involving critical thinking that mirror an authentic, skills-based classroom with a curriculum rich in performance tasks measuring higher-order thinking. While the job of developing authentic assessments for measuring skills-based learning and critical thinking is daunting, the educational community is already fertile ground for the ESAA’s requirements. Due to the fact that ESSA allows teachers to report data from interim assessments based on higher-order thinking skills, each localized educational community has the opportunity to establish the relevant criteria on teacher-designed rubrics and create skills-based performance tasks as long as the result is high-quality measurable data.

 

ASSESSING CRITICAL THINKING

 

After watching my students critically discuss complex themes like the American Dream and income inequality during Socratic-styled seminars, I became convinced that understanding and critical thinking are most evident when assessments incorporate real-world problems and performance tasks. Evaluating classroom discussion is challenging but worth the effort because of its curriculum relevance, authenticity, and rigor. Stanford Professor Sam Wineburg calls for students to think like a historian by “understanding that each of us is more than a handful of labels ascribed to us at birth” (Wineburg, 2001, p. 7). In order to reach this deeper understanding, students need to develop critical thinking skills, defined by the American Philosophical Association (APA) as “purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based” (Facione, 1990). Traditional social studies assessments that measure names, dates, and events have their place in education but cannot measure “higher-order thinking skills and understandings” as required by ESSA. A curriculum that includes skills-based activities have the potential to also measure critical thinking. Instead of testing students on factual recall, Wineburg required high school students, college students, and professors to read documents out loud, pause to interject their thoughts, and analyze the material they just assimilated (Wineberg, 2001, p. 7). Wineburg measured the interview transcripts for the presence of critical thinking using established criterion and then norm referenced the interviews to determine the depth of critical thought to assess the performance activity (2001).

 

Peter Boghossian, an educator in the correctional system, also created measurable data derived from performance activities. In order to promote the merits of Socratic seminars to colleagues, Boghossian analyzed transcriptions of his discussions about morality using a rubric designed from the APA’s definition of critical thinking. His students demonstrated their ability to think critically by evaluating, interpreting, inferring, and analyzing by engaging in these types of activities (Boghossian, 2006). By crafting a numerical rubric around skills-based performance tasks, teams of teachers can collect data on student critical thinking ability. Wineburg and Boghossian used two completely different alternative assessments designed to measure critical thinking and both performance tasks yielded helpful data regarding student abilities. Stanford’s History Education Group develops free content through their project called Beyond the Bubble which is aptly named for its goal to move assessments away from multiple-choice examinations (Wineburg, Smith, & Breakstone, 2016). The organization, led by Sam Wineburg, provides critical thinking assessments utilizing primary sources with numerical proficiency rubrics and scored example assessments (Wineburg et al., 2016). With localized numerical data generated from rubrics, teachers can collaborate and strategize pedagogical shifts to promote student growth and then report the relevant and longitudinal information to the state under ESSA, instead of the state collecting a single high-stakes examination and subsequently passing the data to teachers.

CALL TO ACTION

By creating rubrics for critical thinking performance activities, teachers can collaborate to generate meaningful data that can be reported to the state for accountability purposes. This means that nurturing a skills-based classroom rich in critical thinking and reporting achievement goals can happen simultaneously, which is an exciting prospect for both teachers and local communities. However, for change to take place in the classroom, departments and districts need to design rubrics based on higher-order thinking skills using performance assessments. As states implement ESSA in the next couple of years, teachers and districts should seize the opportunity to develop alternative sources of data that incorporate authentic assessments of critical thinking skills.

 

References

Boghossian, P. (2006). Socratic pedagogy, critical thinking, and inmate education. Journal of Correctional Education, 57(1), 42–63.

 

Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95 (2015).

Facione, P. A. (1990). Research Findings and Recommendations. Newark, DE: American Philosophical Association.

 

National Conference of the State Legislature (NCLS) (2015). Summary of the every student succeeds act, legislation reauthorizing the elementary and secondary act. Washington DC: NCSL. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/documents/capitolforum/2015/onlineresources/summary_12_10.pdf

 

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-110, • 115, Stat. 1425 (2002).

United States Department of Education (2002). The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 executive summary. Washington DC: The U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/nclb/overview/intro/execsumm.pdf

 

Wineburg, S. S. (2001). Historical thinking and other unnatural acts: Charting the future of teaching the past. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

 

Wineburg, S. S., Smith, M., & Breakstone, J. (2016). Beyond the bubble. Stanford, CA: Stanford History Education Group. Retrieved from https://beyondthebubble.stanford.edu/

 

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 10, 2016
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 20557, Date Accessed: 6/11/2016 7:14:01 PM

The “Books For Refugees” project

A recent article in The Atlantic highlighted an initiative spearheaded by Dr. Rachel McCormack, a professor of literacy education at Roger Williams University, to provide Arabic-language books to refugee shelters across the Netherlands. McCormack emphasized that “returning to school, particularly when it’s in a new language, is a huge adjustment for many Syrian children” and “maintaining their birth language and culture is key to every child’s identity.” She hopes providing access to Arabic-language texts will help Syrian children and their families integrate into Dutch society while maintaining their own culture and language.

Link to the article: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/05/balancing-integration-and-assimilation-during-the-refugee-crisis/482757/

 

Thinking about Reading Recovery

I (Yiola) am interested in early literacy for a number of reasons: my area of expertise is elementary  education; I was an early years teacher for ten years; my own children are now in early years programs; and, I believe that understanding literacy in the early years is  foundational for understanding teaching and learning.

With recent discussions going on about early years literacy programs and talk of play versus direct instruction; and, exploration and social development versus academic rigour (neither of which I believe are true binaries but instead call for a thoughtful consideration of a developmental and critically rich fusion) I am compelled to think about reading in the early years. You see, it seems to me parents are often in a panic if their child is not reading and more and more I am hearing of excited parents proudly sharing that their child was reading at 3 or 4 while other parents are silently panicking if their child is not reading by 6 years of age.

I often think back to when I was a classroom teacher and I recall the complex yet carefully crafted time sensitive processes for reading acquisition. I also clearly remember having a Reading Recovery Program at our school and watching our first and second graders enter and exit the program with a good degree of improvement and development. Most children would come out of reading recovery with gains. The very few who did not required further testing and support that went beyond the readiness phenomenon.

In my readings I came across this interesting article about Reading Recovery and the relevance of levelled texts, phonological processing AND comprehension as all significant  components of early reading development.

Here is the article in full: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-9817.12041/epdf

This reading reminded me that there needs to be an amalgamation of approaches and strategies in the early years classroom. More and more I think that the programming and planning of early years teachers is by far their greatest challenge – not deciding upon play versus directed learning – knowing how to plan in ways that are engaging, that tap into curiosities and children’s questions and that allow for literacy rich exploration while also ensuring time for literacy focused experienced.