Tag Archives: 21st century literacy

Keep Calm & Play Video Games

When I (Said) was 8 years old, my parents bought me a Playstation video game console. It was the beginning of what is now my favorite hobby. Whenever I purchase a game, I adore the ‘new game smell.’ It resembles being in a brand new car or picking up a new book for the first time. I associate it with feelings of enjoyment and excitement. I am holding an adventure in the palm of my hands.

Some may think that video games are a waste of time and money, but I do not agree. Video games are a form of entertainment that has grown rapidly since the 1970’s. They have caused controversy, changed lives, and challenged how we tell stories. My main attraction to video games stems from the fact that I am no longer a spectator but a participant in the storytelling. Nothing is more satisfying than taking a break from my daily routines and readings to immerse myself in another world. Video games have allowed me to experience rich narratives that have enhanced my thinking and influenced how I see the world. Since they are often designed to challenge the player to complete a task, video games are an amazing tool to develop problem-solving skills (trial & error, perseverance, multiple solutions…). Since 1999, video games have taught me about history, culture, science, drama, crime, racism, love, creativity, imagination and more. In other words, video games made me literate; video games are art.

Instead of hoping that children ‘grow out of it’ (I certainly haven’t!), we must shift our focus to how we can use their involvement with video games to our advantage as literacy teachers. Some of my most interesting conversations as an occasional teacher have been the result of speaking the language of video games. There is no reason to discredit it as a form of media that does not contribute to knowledge building; there is great potential for its use in classroom instruction and assessment. You do NOT need to be a gamer to bring students’ out-of-classroom hobbies into the classroom. If it helps students achieve, feel included, and contributes to their personal growth, why spoil the party? Every few weeks, my mom will text me, “How’s your Playstation doing?” Often, she regrets asking, because I will spend hours telling her about my latest adventures.

My video game shrine

Understanding the communities our students are from

I (Pooja) have just returned from AERA 2016. I always leave AERA feeling inspired to continue my research and motivated to get back into the classroom. This year was no different. This year I learned about the work of Dr. Christopher Emdin, a recipient of the Early Career Award at AERA 2016. Dr. Emdin’s work considers  the relationships between Hip-Hop, urban education, and science education. Curious to learn more I about his work, I ordered his latest book entitled For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… And the Rest of Y’All Too (2016).

An article in NPR reviewing Emdin’s book highlights some of Emdin’s main arguments he makes. His arguments are completely in line with what my own research (literacy teacher educators with a critical stance) has found: in order to effectively teach, we must understand the communities from which our students come. Below is an excerpt from the article outlining Emdin’s arguments along with some examples of practice:

  1. Teachers can’t be colorblind. It does their students a disservice.

“People who perceive themselves to be colorblind often times have biases that are hidden by their colorblindness,” Emdin says. Young people in urban spaces have different linguistic and cultural realities, like the gun shots that Emdin experienced.

If teachers recognize that difference, they can help their students deal with issues such as PTSD. If the trauma of their day-to-day life goes untreated, students won’t be able to learn effectively.

But, if they heal, “then they can learn. And if they can learn, then they can be successful.”

2. Urban schools tend to be authoritarian places, which doesn’t help kids heal or learn.

If it wouldn’t be acceptable in a white, suburban school, Emdin says, it shouldn’t be acceptable in an urban classroom.

That goes for metal detectors, searches, zero tolerance policies and bars on their classroom windows. “Those things don’t happen in places where students are from a higher socioeconomic status and are not overwhelmingly black and brown.”

Emdin acknowledges that it can be hard to avoid falling into this kind of teaching. He even found himself slipping into authoritarian teaching methods, a fact which, he says, only proves that these techniques have become deeply ingrained in certain school systems.

But he says we only need to look at the statistics — college completion rates or the increased need for remedial learning — to understand that this military approach to teaching isn’t working.

3. Schools need to celebrate students and their talents, even if those talents aren’t familiar.

In his book, Emdin lays out some of the ways that teachers can rethink their classrooms without spending money.

They can create a sense of community by eating with their students, making up a school handshake and bringing in community members — including people who have not graduated from high school — as liaisons.

Emdin also suggests that teachers go to churches and barbershops, both to better understand the community and to learn teaching strategies from the people their students admire.

And teaching should not be seen as a tug-of-war between enjoyment and hard work.

Emdin, for example, folds hip-hop into the curriculum. He has worked with GZA, a rapper from the Wu-Tang Clan, to host a science hip-hop battle for New York City high school students.

“If you give young people the opportunity to be able to express their academic brilliance on their own terms, they take the initiative to study,” he says. “They take the initiative to research, and they perform and they showcase that they’re brilliant.”

Read NPR article here: http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/04/10/473500018/want-to-teach-in-urban-schools-get-to-know-the-neighborhood

The Digital Divide Persists


As educators we often believe we are living in an era post the digital divide. Everyone has access to the internet, right? If we see our students with Smartphones that must mean they are connected, right? Wrong. A distressing article from the New York Times reminds us the digital divide still persists. Although this article is written about the U.S. context,  I have to believe many claims are true for Canada as well. Cecelia Kang from the New York Times writes,

“With many educators pushing for students to use resources on the Internet with class work, the federal government is now grappling with a stark disparity in access to technology, between students who have high-speed Internet at home and an estimated five million families who are without it and who are struggling to keep up.” 

While trying to prepare students for the 21st century world, we as educators post homework and assignments online, ask students to post blog entries or participate in educational chat groups, and become active on social media in generative and meaningful ways. However, while we upgrade and innovate our pedagogies, we may inadvertently be leaving several pupils behind. How do we prepare our students for working and living in the 21st century, which is so digitally driven, while ensuring our most vulnerable students are not being left behind?

Read the full New York Times article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/23/technology/fcc-internet-access-school.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=photo-spot-region%C2%AEion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=1&referer=http:/m.facebook.com

Your Research Summed Up with EMOJIS!?

Academic writing is often criticized for being unnecessarily complex and as a result inaccessible to most people. In a response to simplify academic writing, there has been a hilarious online movement to tweet your research using only emojis. I decided to try it out. Surprisingly, this task was more difficult than I expected. Below is my final result (I had to use text + emojis). Interestingly, my husband commented the emoji statement helped clarify what the heart of my research is really about. Go figure!!

Our Team Research
Our Team Research

To Read more about this movement, click here:



Canadian Millennials Surveyed

Many of us have young adults, often referred to as generation Y or Millennials, in our classrooms. Millennials are growing up in a world much different than those generations before them. The challenges they face are unique and so it important to better understand “what’s weighing on them.” Huffington Post conducted a survey with 1,004 young adults between the ages of 18-30 across Canada. Below is what they found:


A Beautiful Example of Digital Technology Used to Re-Imagine Literacy

I (Pooja) read a blog post I wanted to share with you all. Lee Bessette, a college instructor, shared an experience of how technology was used as a tool to “re-reading, re-teaching, realizing.” Bissette, while teahcing the works of Thomas King (Indigenous writer), had students use their laptops, smartphones, and tablets to make real-time connections with the text. She explained:

…all of my students have laptops or tablets or smartphones, so instead of me telling them who the actors are and why it matters, I have them use google. And find pictures. And look at the shows and history. And who W.P. Kinsella is and why he is being referenced. And then they can collaboratively annotate the text.

We didn’t come up with any hard answers, but just explored theories, including one reference to the first lines of Paradise Lost that a student found by googling “garden, heaven, seat, Eden.” And many of my students are still struggling with this level of discourse around literature. But, as I told them today in an email (I know, SO OLD SCHOOL OF ME), that these readings that we did today around the setting of the garden were completely new to me, too, even after reading and teaching this story countless times. And that it has taken 20 years of practice to have a DUH moment like that one I had before class about said garden.

But the moment wouldn’t have come if it hadn’t been for the integration of technology in active and productive ways in my classroom practice. I could have the students find and collect the information needed to begin to make meaning in the text and focus on taking that process of meaning-making to the next level. They still don’t believe me when I tell them to “google it” and require them to annotate together, but I think after today we are all finally heading in the right direction.

Bessette demonstrates how all the smart technology brought into class on a daily basis could be used in a truly meaningful way. She used technology to enhance student learning by digging into a text in multimodal ways. By having student collaboratively annotate the text, she had them learn from one another and in turn gain deeper insights. A great model for using digital technology to re-imagine literacy!

Read the whole blog post here:


Metaphors for Teaching Literacy

I (Cathy)  recently asked literacy teacher educators (LTEs) to complete this statement,  “Being a literacy teacher educator in the 21st century is like…”   As a researcher and teacher educator, I was profoundly struck by the power behind their words and the images they selected to represent them.   Before peeking at the three responses  provided below, consider how you might complete the statement.

Being a literacy teacher educator in the 21st century is like…

…“Green Eggs And Ham…it’s not what you expect, it’s a reciprocal journey, and you can’t just try it one way. Nothing tastes better than when you’ve seen them try it, like it, and beg for more!”

green eggs

“a futuristic video game – visually exciting, fast paced, limitless possibilities, not knowing what may be next, all the time wondering if you are going to be able to keep up!!”

.  Tron

…“keeping candles lit on a breezy night. Challenging but possible… delicate but powerful… romantic but necessary… not so much ‘constant work’ as it is diligent work… It requires focus and awareness of the ‘current’”.

 Candle in the wind

The literary representations of these three LTEs displayed a profound sense of excitement, overshadowed by trepidation as they enter an unknown territory, with unproven results.  The uncertainty and vulnerability of their roles were clear.  What do your words and image say about your views of teaching literacy in these fast changing and tumultuous times?


An Educator’s Guide To “Minding Our Digital Footprints”

In an article titled “Minding our Digital Footprints” the Edmodo blog outlined 9 elements of digital citizenship they use to frame their work. Edmodo is a K-12 social learning network which focuses on “connecting all learners with the people and resources they need.” I believe these elements can be applied to the work any educator is doing with their classes in digital technology spaces (e.g., class blog, class wiki).
Within each element questions are posed. Educators at all levels pose these questions to guide students as digital citizens while making them reflective of their own citizenship. The 9 Elements are listed below and are accompanied by some questions developed by Edmodo:
1. Digital Access
Does everyone in our community have equal access to digital resources? Think about the ways Internet use affecrts your daily social life and your school work: how might it change your life if you did not have access to it?
2. Digital Commerce 
What are smart precautions to take when buying and selling goods online?
3. Digital Communication
List as many tool you can think of that we use to communicate digitally as 21st century citizens. What are the appropriate decisions we need to make with these tools?
4. Digital Literacy
How do you use technology to learn? How do you learn about technology? What kind of information literacy skills do we need?
5. Digital Etiquette
What are best practices for responsible conduct in shared digital spaces?
6. Digital Law
When we are online, what are some laws and ethical/moral rules we should be aware of and follow?
7. Digital Rights and Responsibilities
What are the rights we have as digital citizens  that no one can take away from us? What are the responsibilities we have as digital citizens?
8. Digital Health and Wellness
What are some ways that using the Internet can be good for our health? How can it hurt us?
9. Digital Security
What are smart ways to protect our digital information?
Check out the full article here:

Accelerated Learning and where it begins

I (Yiola) have been hard at work preparing my teacher education courses. This year was an complete review and reconceptualization of the courses — significant updates to not only the literature but to the ways in which we will explore the content.  I will share some of the changes to the pedagogy of my courses next week. This week I want to start at the start. Where does accelerated begin and how does it begin? I came across this interesting post and wanted to share it here. It is about paperless early years classrooms.


I remember when I taught first and second grade, I seldom used worksheets but I also did have the inquiry-based play either. My pedagogy was somewhere in between. But, truth be know, the teacher across the hall who had a full curriculum of worksheets was often commended for being highly organized and “on the ball” with her program.  I always wondered if that way of teaching was better. Her students, most of them, were learning to read and write. That is another truth. However, were they creative thinkers and problem solvers? Again, another truth, we did not pay much attention to those sorts of skills.  This was but a mere 10 – 15 years ago.

But now, I think we can all agree, that critical thinking and creativity and problem solving are very important skills for children to develop early in life. These skills do not develop from worksheet tasks. The link above talks about this and other inspirational considerations.

And so I share this post to begin at the beginning — play in the early years and how we move forward from there to more sophisticated modes of learning, through the grades and into post secondary teaching. Next week I plan to share some of challenges and questions I faced when reconstructing my courses.