Hi Literacy Teaching and Teacher Education Blog Followers
We had a little hiatus from blogging. Clare was super busy with construction at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study; Pooja and Lydia both started new tenure-stream positions at Simon Fraser University and University of Alberta respectively; Cathy has been working on her thesis and teaching new courses; and Clive and Yiola have been super busy. Lots has happened in our work and we will be updating you on our work ….
Said (pictured to the right) will be joining our blogging team.
To those in Canada — Happy Family Day.
To those in the US – Happy President’s Day
To our friends around the world — looking forward to continuing our conversations.
There is a lot of enthusiasm today about the potential of short form communication – tweets, blogs, etc. – to facilitate inquiry and professional development. At the same time, books and long articles continue to be published in huge numbers. Which medium is likely to have greater impact? An obvious response is that we should use both; but when forced to choose (either as reader or writer), which should we opt for? In my (Clive’s) view it depends on the context and how we go about it.
Teaching is such a complex process that individual tweets or blogs about it may be of little use. However, if they are part of an ongoing conversation (literal or metaphoric) they can be very valuable. It is the same with articles and books: they must respond to the concerns and thinking in the field if they are to be helpful.
Wittgenstein once said (according to Iris Murdoch – NYT, January 24, 2016): “One conversation with a philosopher is as pointless as one piano lesson.” So much for short form communication! But it depends on the context. For a serious pianist, a single interaction with another pianist can have a big impact. And equally, if an academic is willing to dialogue rather than just lecture endlessly about their theory, one conversation can be very helpful.
Whether short or long, communication should as far as possible “keep the conversation going” (to use Rorty’s phrase) so people learn from each other and there is a cumulative effect. We cannot always have an actual conversation, but if we listen to what others are asking and thinking we can make a contribution.
When developing the photo essay assignment for my course, I came across an excellent resource for teachers and students. The New York Times has started a blog entitled Lens: Photography, Video, and Visual Journalism. The topics covered in the blog posts touch on several critical issues such as immigration, race, and class. The photos captured in each of the photo essays serve as a great entry point into rich discussion. When using the Lens Blog in my classroom I find myself drawing on skills I developed during workshops many years ago.
When I was a public school teacher, I participated in a fascinating series of professional development workshops called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). By analyzing carefully selected images, students were able to develop critical literacy skills as well as visual literacy skills. Teachers were facilitators in this process and asked three open-ended questions:
1. What’s going on in this picture?
2. What do you see that makes you say that?
3. What more can we find?
I found myself using the VTS approach when presenting students the photo essays from the Lens blog. Students in my class really engaged with the photos and rich discussion took place as a result. I will definitely be using this blog for years to come in the classroom.
Below are some powerful images from photo essays on the Lens Blog.
I (Clare) was doing some reading about blogs. I believe that blogging is a different genre of writing. A blog of 200 words with a graphic and a hyperlink requires a different skill set than writing a 2,000 word essay. As blogs become more commonplace there is a growing number of resources on writing effective blogs. For example on the site How To Make My Blog http://howtomakemyblog.com/10-elements-of-style-of-blog-post-writing/ 10 characteristics of effective blogs are identified:
* work from a suitable design;
* use paragraphs;
* revise and rewrite;
* omit needless words;
* use definite specific concrete language;
* be clear;
* use orthodox spelling;
* avoid fancy words;
* and do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity.
This list reveals that blogging requires particular literacy skills. For me, one of the key features of blogging is that it encourages writers to think carefully about their audience. What do they want to express and why is it important to them? This level of introspection requires reflection and careful writing. Since readers may be from anywhere in the world our writing extends far beyond the classroom teacher or fellow students. This makes blogging far more authentic and powerful than the traditional essay read only by the teacher.
Today marks a milestone for our blog. We had our 10,000th hit! Wow! I (Clare) started this blog in January as a way to share our research and it has grown beyond my wildest dreams. For a little education blog we now have 126 followers and visitors from around the world. My research team – Cathy, Yiola, Lydia, Pooja, and Clive – have faithfully written such interesting posts that I have learned much from them and about them. Thanks team. Thank you to our guest bloggers – Monica, Shelley, and Gisela – for enriching our site. And a huge thank you to Arif who has helped with the technical parts of the website and for his guidance in creating a dynamic blog.
I would never have thought that blogging could be such a rewarding form of writing. I have learned much about this genre of writing and enjoyed searching for topics that I hoped would be of interest to others Thank you to all of our regular blog readers and followers whose regular visits motivated us to keep on going. We regularly get feedback from readers on our site. Thanks readers for your compliments and feedback. We read every comment and appreciate the time you take to write to us.
So a shout out to social media for making this blog an international adventure focused on literacy and literacy teacher education.
I (Clare) recently did a presentation to a group of teachers on a self-study I conducted with Lydia Menna and Shawn Bullock on our efforts to integrate digital technology into my literacy methods courses. (Here is the powerpoint from that presentation. BERA + ECER-DT 2013in Dropbox) I talked about my initiatives which led to me showing how my efforts in my literacy teaching led to a greater use of digital technology in other parts of my life (e.g., using NVivo for data analysis). The success of my initiatives with my teaching gave me the confidence to take the plunge to do a website. My technical skills had improved and my identity shifted so that I now see myself as “digitally competent.” During the presentation I showed our website and one of the participants raised an interesting question: How do you get ideas for your blog? He recounted how he wanted to do a blog but did not know what to write about. I told him to just start! I believe that writing a blog is a different genre – it requires different writing skills than other forms of writing. Since we started this blog, I feel that my blog-writing skills have improved. I now focus on one topic in a blog; I am more comfortable sharing my insights; I will raise questions; I make links to other resources; and I no longer feel the blog needs to be perfect (so what if there is a typo. We will survive.) Blogging seems to have captured my interest and is a good match for me ( I have lots to say about education) and it is fun. I keep a Word document with blog ideas which is always plentiful and when I come across something “interesting” one of my first thoughts is – Would that make an interesting blog? This thought is followed by – Would others be interested in this topic/issue? Doing our blog as a “team” has truly been the way to go. I have learned so much from the posts by my team (Cathy, Lydia, Pooja, Clive and our guest bloggers) about them personally and professionally. And their blogs give me ideas about what to write about.
I really see our blog as connecting with the broader education community which is social media at its best. Blogging is good for me because it gets me thinking critically and hopefully, our posts are of use to our readers.
On Monday I (Clive) shared my previous blog on multicultural education and stereotyping with my social foundations class. This proved to be a great literacy activity on blogging as a writing form that both teachers and students need to master, one that helps us clarify our ideas and make our communication more precise. It also renewed our conversation about how to approach ethnicity in the classroom. We went round the whole class, each person commenting in turn on the blog. No one chose to pass and everyone was interested in what others had to say. A couple were struck by my profile of “Mike”: they had no idea that people of Irish and Scots background might look down on each other. On the whole people liked the blog, but they continued to refine points and add personal stories.
We heard a new story of complex ethnicity from a class member of Indian ancestry who grew up in Madagascar, lived in a French-speaking environment for several years and became fluent in French, spent time in India where she was told she spoke Hindi with an accent, and then moved to Canada where she hopes to teach French as a second language. What is her ethnicity?
Then on Tuesday the wonderful personal essay “Just Call Me Paul” appeared in one of our local newspapers. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/changing-my-name-doesnt-mean-im-betraying-my-identity/article16406166/
G. Paul Sileika’s grandparents migrated to Canada from Lithuania over 50 years ago. In the 1970s when multiculturalism was on the rise his parents decided to give him a name that “reflected their ancestral origins.” They named him Gintaras and called him Gint for short. With rich humor, no self-pity, and trenchant common-sense he talks about the impact of this decision on his life. The whole article is well worth reading.
What struck me especially was how he felt his identity was lost. “Before I can even begin to build rapport with someone or connect on a common interest, my name catches his or her attention. Before I can share my personal story one is already written for me.” Because the name was unfamiliar and difficult to pronounce correctly (the “G” is hard), many called him “you” or simply nothing. Long after finishing university he finally decided to switch to using his middle name – Paul – and hasn’t looked back. He says he believes in multiculturalism and is proud of his heritage, but wants to go by Paul in informal contexts and G. Paul in formal ones; if anyone asks what the G. stands for, he’s “happy to tell them.”
Of course, although you can change your name you can’t change your accent or physical appearance. But Paul’s story illustrates well how we should often move beyond such markers, rather than dwelling on them unduly – as so often happens in multiculturalism classes. While prejudice and discrimination must be studied in depth and actively opposed, there’s so much more to a person than the ethnicity of their parents and grandparents. We must also explore and celebrate their constantly emerging individual identity, of which their complex ethnic identity is just one part. Otherwise, like Paul, much of their identity may be lost.