I, like many other kids, grew up watching Sesame Street. The brightly coloured characters with distinctly different personalities has made the television show a staple in households across the world for decades. What I recently learned is that a large part of their success is due to their approach. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to the show; rather, the show reflects the current needs and issues of the period and context. Several co-production teams have been put together to first understand the context of a nation and then tailor the show based on the country in which they will be broadcasted. For example, in the Bangladesh production, called Sisimpur, the show depicts village life and is physically centred around a Banyan tree surrounded by familiar shops (e.g., sweet shops) rather than the street lined with North American version with brownstone townhouses. Further, a key focus of the show is to promote girls’ education; Tuktuki is a 5-year old character who has a deep love for learning.
Most recently, Sesame Street North America has introduced a character Julia who is their first character with Autism. In a CBC article, the puppeteer for Julia commented on her hopes Julia’s character:
My hope is that kids will understand some autistic behaviours a little bit better and they won’t be at all concerned or worried about them, that they won’t be scared of them, that they’ll see a child in their own community who might behave like Julia, or have some of the characteristics that Julia has, and they’ll see that as just another kid.
And they’ll be able to go up to that child and go, “Oh! That kid might be a little bit like Julia, and Abby [another Sesame Street character] plays with Julia and I can play with this kid too.”
I applaud Sesame Street for continuing to reflect our communities and approach issues head on.
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
Build knowledge of pedagogical strategies
Student teachers adopt a professional role
Student teachers develop a critical stance
Build knowledge of government initiatives
Build knowledge of digital technology
Focus on student teacher growth
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 throughout) 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.
In recent days there have been a flurry of news articles revisiting the legitimacy of learning styles in the classroom. Thirty scholars from the areas of education, psychology, and neuroscience crafted a letter to The Guardian newspaper asserting that there is a severe lack of evidence to back the idea of learning styles (see link below). The notion of learning styles is commonplace in many K-12 classrooms, as well as teacher education programs. The premise of learning styles is that an individual can learn better when presented information in a certain format (e.g., visual, kinaesthetic, auditory). However, there has been a lack of sufficient evidence, which would indicate that tailoring content delivery in a one particular format would result in deeper learning. The letter explains:
There are, however, a number of problems with the learning styles approach. First, there is no coherent framework of preferred learning styles. Usually, individuals are categorised into one of three preferred styles of auditory, visual or kinesthetic learners based on self-reports. One study found that there were more than 70 different models of learning styles including among others, “left v right brain,” “holistic v serialists,” “verbalisers v visualisers” and so on. The second problem is that categorising individuals can lead to the assumption of fixed or rigid learning style, which can impair motivation to apply oneself or adapt.
Finally, and most damning, is that there have been systematic studies of the effectiveness of learning styles that have consistently found either no evidence or very weak evidence to support the hypothesis that matching or “meshing” material in the appropriate format to an individual’s learning style is selectively more effective for educational attainment. Students will improve if they think about how they learn but not because material is matched to their supposed learning style. The Educational Endowment Foundation in the UK has concluded that learning styles is “Low impact for very low cost, based on limited evidence”.
Adhering strictly to learning styles can be reductive; however, they continue to appear in educational settings. The notion of learning styles have been repeatedly debunked over the year, yet why do you think learning styles still are still used so widely?
I (Yiola) am writing to you from the beautiful island of Cyprus. A small Mediterranean island so strategically placed its location is ironic.
Caught between European and Middle Eastern influence (and a long history of varied occupation) I dare to claim that Cyprus is one of the most unique places on earth.
Last week’s blog about language as culture and language as power came to you from my short time in Vienna. This week I find myself in a country where I speak the language (Greek). I can communicate (sort of) and can identify with the culture (sort of). As a visitor, I feel welcomed and because I have some knowledge of the language I have a sense of knowing, of so many things, and a sense of belonging. Language is power.
Of course, it is not so simple. The nuances and complexities of culture and its constant evolution make it challenging for anyone not living in its place to fully understand. The beauty of travel is that we can experience and through our experiences learn something new and refreshing about the world and ourselves.
Some images of Cyprus:
A map of Cyprus — my father pointing to Limassol (which is where most of the images below were taken)
small villages in Limassol
The island’s most popular attraction: beautiful beaches.
My daughter Sylvia Clare and I sending warm greetings from Cyprus!
I (Pooja) wanted to share a new gaming technology used in classrooms that authentically highlights, honours and engages students in Indigenous world views. It is no surprise that Western world views and Indigenous world views do not always align (see link below); however, it is our moral imperative to educate ourselves and our students on different ways of knowing and understanding. This can be a tricky task if you are not familiar with perspectives outside of your own. How can we as educators authentically understand Indigenous world views so we can help our students develop this awareness as well? That is why I was excited to learn about a new gaming technology which Cree children in three James Bay communities are using to learn their ancestors language entitled Cree Syllabics Virtual Reality project. The 3D gaming technology immerses user in a virtual camp setting. CBC authors Wapachee and Little (2016) further explains:
Students put on headsets to enter a virtual camp setting where they meet a little girl named Niipiish and her dog Achimush. Using hand movements and buttons to move around within the camp, they go on a journey to prepare for Niipiish’s little brother’s walking-out ceremony, all the while identifying Cree words that describe the seasons, the environment and Cree traditions.
This immersive experience allows students to authentically engage with perspectives which they may or may not have grown up with. This is a powerful tool because students are able to arrive at new understandings through first-hand experiences. I hope to see this type of technology shared in classes everywhere soon!
Eight differences between Indigenous and western worldviews:
I (Cathy) was in the mood for a mystery thriller and happened upon a novel called The Passage by Justin Cronin. As i like to be surprised, I didn’t read the book jacket. Indeed i was surprised. It was a horror thriller with characters akin to the Walking Dead zombies, but with more life, strength, and smarts. In other words the human race didn’t stand a chance. I admit when this was first revealed, I was a bit skeptical, however, the writing was suburb and the characters wonderfully rich and complex. I ended up getting hooked and also listened to book two and three in the series, The Twelve, and the final book, The City of Mirrors. All excellent. It was after the first book I read a review:
“Read this book and the ordinary world disappears.” (Stephen King)
And he was right. It was consuming until the very end. So, I think I’ll it start again!
A Tribe Called Red just released their much anticipated album entitled, We Are The Halluci Nation. The Tribe Called Red is the Canadian-based music group comprised of First Nations members who merge electronic music styles along with contemporary powwow music. Their latest album features many artists (both Canadian and international) and focuses around the themes of decolonization and unification.
After listening to this powerful album several times this past weekend, I decided to incorporate it into my course Building on Reflective Practice. Since we have read some of Freire’s work about “reading the world” I thought analyzing this powerful and politically driven music would be an excellent way of tying together theory and practice. Students will be asked in pairs to “read” a song of their choice by analyzing, interpreting, and synthesizing.
Probe questions will be asked such as:
What story is being told?
How does the work compare with other similar works?
What cultural, economic, or political forces influence the work?
What historical forces influence the work?What can you do in your daily life/classroom to contribute to shifting the narrative of colonization?
This will be followed by a listening of the album interspersed with insights and discussion from the groups and whole class. Below I am including the official video for the first song off the album.
I (Pooja) have just joined a university as a new faculty member. Getting up this morning I, as many people were today, was filled with several emotions ranging from excitement to fear. I am looking forward to this new chapter in my professional life, and sharing new and interesting experiences with the wider teacher education and research community through this blog.
To all the educators, learners, and parents out there, I wish you a successful and memorable new school year!
Most recently we are reviewing the data from a study that explores graduates’ impressions of their teacher preparation from one teacher education program. The participants are graduates from 1999-2014 and we have well over 200 respondents. A survey was conducted that included qualitative responses. So far, the responses have been incredibly interesting. As we work through the data I gain more and more excitement for the possibilities of understanding teaching education and improving not only my personal practice as a teacher educator but also the potential for improving the structure and programming of teacher education.
As we review the current data I keep in mind the many findings and recommendations of past research. For example, in 2009 Clive Beck and Clare Kosnik along with a strong team of graduate researchers published their findings from a qualitative study on classroom teachers’ understandings, perceptions, and explanations of their practice and teacher education experience. Their book, Priorities in Teacher Education: The 7 Key Elements of Pre-Service Preparation, is the first of several from what has become longitudinal study (13 years and counting) of teachers work and development. In Priorities of Teacher Education Beck and Kosnik identify seven priority areas for teacher areas:
classroom organization and community
subject content and pedagogy
a vision for teaching
These priorities are coming up in several interesting ways in our current research and I look forward to analyzing and writing up the findings in the months ahead. More so, I am excited to be thinking about research-based considerations for improving our teacher education program and my personal practice.
This upcoming Fall I (Pooja) will begin teaching my first course at Simon Fraser University entitled: Building on Reflective Practice. The past few weeks I have been consumed thinking about what I want my course to look like. I have been asking myself: What do I want students to experience during this course? What is my overall goal for this course? What new understandings do I want students to be able to arrive to?
While developing the course I have realized I want students to have opportunities to develop as critical reflective practitioners; that is think deeply about how issues of power, dominance, and equity influence their work and those they work with. I stumbled upon the following image (Pietroni, 1995) which has stuck with me. It speaks to how critical reflection helps to develop our practice (as teachers, social workers, nurses, etc.) as a professional, personal, and political act.
If you have taught a course in critical reflective practice, I would love to hear about your experiences. What worked and what didn’t? What did students find meaningful?