Tag Archives: communication

Young Minds Create Breakthrough Communications

I (Cathy) was amazed to recently read about two Washington University sophomores, David Azodi and Thomas Pryor, who’s work was highlighted in Discover Magazine. These clever young men have been recognized for an invention that could break down communication barriers for the deaf. Sign Aloud is a pair of sensor-filled gloves that interpret the hand movements American Sign Language users use to communicate, and converts them into speech or text that the rest of us can understand. The students designed the gloves inside the CoMotion MakerSpace, a collaborative workshop on campus. They recently received the Lemelson-MIT Student Prizefor their work, which is a yearly award given to undergraduates for innovative inventions. They won in the “Use It” category, and received a $10,000 grant along with the prize.

Follow the link below for a demonstration of this brilliant use of technology.



Teaching with Technology- A Constant Challenge



trust technology1


This cartoon reminded me (Cathy) of an incident from when I was teaching grade four.  The math problem for the day was:

A man went to bed at 11:00 p.m. and got up at 7:00 a.m. the next day.  How many hours did the man sleep?

One of my students just couldn’t figure it out it.  He usually didn’t have problems with mathematics, but he just couldn’t “see it”. In an effort to guide him, I told him to draw a clock and count the hours in between 11 and 7.

Sometime later I noticed he was sitting at his desk just staring at his notebook.  I walked over to see what he was staring at. This is what he had drawn:11


I guess my technology wasn’t matching up with his technology.  It’s a constant challenge!

Entering a new communication paradigm

I (Cathy) have recently found myself in a new communication predicament. Diagnosed with vocal cord nodules, I have been instructed not to speak for 8 weeks. So here I am, and after only two weeks into my ‘treatment,’ I have observed some interesting things about peoples’ communication patterns.

  1. Since I can’t talk, people often whisper to me. I’m not sure why, but they do, or…
  2. They get MUCH LOUDER. I can hear just fine, but for some reason this is the reaction.
  3. People gesture wildly. Again, I can hear them, but they clearly need to emphasize what they are saying.

I could theorize about the reasons why they do this: a need overcompensate for my sake; empathy perhaps; or they are just plain uncomfortable with the situation. But wait, there is more…

I started carrying a note pad to write messages to communicate and discovered these patterns:

  1. If the message is longer than two sentences, people get restless. The common quip is “Are you writing a novel?”
  2. Once I start to write an answer, if they don’t want to wait, they answer their posed question for me! I am always fascinated by ‘my response.’
  3. Some people prefer me to print as opposed to write, so I have to rewrite/print the message. My son actually told me to “just text him” at the dinner table. (BTW, my handwriting has improved dramatically due to the necessity of being understood)

In an effort to be more current and efficient, I started using the “speak feature” on my iPad and iPhone, but this has its own set of complications:

  1. The response process: typing, highlighting the text, and then tapping the ‘speak’ feature, takes less time than it does for me to write a note in longhand, yet people are less patient with the electronic process. I suspect they feel it should be immediate.
  2. Most people have trouble understanding the electronic voice. They frequently say, “I didn’t get that.” I think it’s because the intonation is usually off. I often have to repeat the message. (I have totally given up on using a ‘cool’ voice app as people can’t understand the regular voice. I was hoping to use the Stephen Hawkings app).
  3. Instead of listening to the voice again, often people reach for my iPhone to read the message in print for themselves, but sometimes the print is too small for them to read, so I have to enlarge it- which takes even more time.
  4. Interestingly, people often want to type their response on my iPad instead of speaking back to me. They take the iPad right out of my hands to do this. I also tried using the chat feature on Skype so I could respond to the person on the screen, but the other person only wanted to type in chat too. Although they were right there in front of me, and were perfectly capable of talking- they didn’t! This leads me to believe that people are getting more comfortable communicating through print  than speaking.

Finally, I play a large role in this and am just a quirky:

  1. I often try to mouth the words which becomes a great game of “guess what Cathy is trying to say.”
  2. As I am familiar with rudimentary sign language, having taken several courses to communicate with my niece and having taught in a total language classroom, that is my default. I sign to people, which of course they don’t understand because it is another language! One friend told me “I have no idea what you are saying, but I love to watch.”

Sadly, my friends and colleagues who are ELL totally empathize with me, as they tell me this is all too familiar for them. I truly feel for them now.

All in all, this is a fascinating study in multimodal communications. Mostly, I just listen. I was told that people pay a great deal of money to attend ‘silent retreats,’ so I am trying to treat this like a gift in self-discovery. Apparently, I have a lot to learn.


The “Google generation”

Many of our learners have grown up with access to all sorts of search engines, namely Google which has quickly turned from a noun to a verb: “Just Google it.” With access to Google, many of our learners have instant answers that are just a few clicks away.

There has been an ongoing debate on whether Google is harmful or not to our ability to critically think about texts. Tan (2016) from Mindshift recongnizes, “with the advent of personal assistants like Siri and Google Now that aim to serve up information before you even know you need it, you don’t even need to type the questions. Just say the words and you’ll have your answer.” However, there are ways to ensure questions/inquiries in the class are “Google proof.” A former Kentucky middle-school teacher suggests re-thinking our instructional design is key in making work Google proof. He says, “Design it so that Google is crucial to creating a response rather than finding one…if students can Google answers — stumble on (what) you want them to remember in a few clicks — there’s a problem with the instructional design.”

I envision project-based learning and inter-disciplinary approaches as a way into creating Google proof material. Any suggestions? What have you tried/created/heard about?



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. http://www.ted.com/talks/john_mcwhorter_txtng_is_killing_language_jk

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.

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:



A Blog About Blogging

I (Clare) cannot get over how much I enjoy blogging! I found this great article on Teachers College Record about using blogging in the classroom. Since we have a blog I thought I would share the link with you. http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=18070

An excerpt of the article is below.

Advances in Technology Pave the Path to Actual Learning: Using Blogging as a Learning Tool

by Toni Ann Brzeski — August 17, 2015

Do you know what the most common electronic device that college student’s possess? According to Joshua Bolkan, a multimedia editor for Campus Technology and The Journal, “85% of college students own laptops while smartphones come in second at 65%”. If technology is becoming a common practice among our students, what are we doing as professors to incorporate it into our classrooms? How can students use technology to reflect on their work? How can instructors use technology as a supplement in reading and writing courses? How can technology be used to deepen our student’s critical thinking skills? These are questions we should be asking ourselves in a world where technology is paving the way to learning.


After attending school, working at part time jobs and internships, participating in extracurricular activities and spending time with family, it might seem that college students are too busy to fit all of their activities into the hours of the day. Given the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives, most students simply do not have the time to reflect on any part of their day, let alone what they learned in their college courses (Sharkov, 2012). It is our responsibility as educators to keep up with our students, to understand them, and to make reflection on course work a priority. If our students are not reflecting on their learning as a part of their everyday lives, then we are not really doing our jobs as educators.

In order to get to the bottom of this issue, and make reflection a priority, we must ask ourselves what we are we doing inside of our classrooms to promote reflection outside of the classroom. What are we doing in our classes to develop better reading, writing, and critical thinking skills?


Each semester, students step foot into my classroom with needs and interests different from those students with whom I worked before. Every semester, it is my job to take needs and interests and learn how to integrate them into my courses. While every semester is different and challenging, I have found that today’s advances in technology have been the key to bridging the gap between my students’ needs and the course curriculum.

Four years ago, during my first semester at Bronx Community College, I asked my reading students to purchase the book Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. At that time my students purchased the book from an actual bookstore or an online source and came to class with a paperback copy. In the fall of 2012 I asked my students to purchase the same book. What they did next surprised me: my students took out their Kindles and iPads and immediately purchased the book. It was simple: given the speed with which these electronic devices allowed my students to purchase the book, we were prepared to start reading it the following week.

There was not one student waiting on a delivery or taking time out of their busy lives to purchase it at the bookstore. What I learned from this experience is that we are in a world where our daily activities are rooted in our electronic devices. Kindles, iPads, and smartphones are devices that our students are not only actively using, but using comfortably. This is just about the time when I discovered blogging.

If my students were using technology to complete very ordinary tasks, such as buying a book for their college course, I then asked myself what other ordinary tasks my students are using technology for. At first I was hesitant—call me old fashioned—but I didn’t believe students would become better readers and writers by posting their reflections online. I continued to question myself. What good is this? Aren’t journals a place for reflecting and expression?



As stated by George Couros, the Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning at Parkland School Division in Alberta, Canada, “We want students to think critically about what they write. They are more likely to do this when they write for a larger audience as opposed to simply [writing] for the teacher. [Blogging] gives students the ability to archive their work for many years to come.” Therefore, having the “ability to [blog] [and] write for a worldwide audience has made an impact on many of our students” (Couros, 2013). Like Couros, I have found that blogging has had a significant impact. In fact, blogging is the very form of technology that has helped bridge the gap between my students’ interests and required course work.

Blogging gives those students an outlet for expressing their own ideas and reflecting on what they learned in class from the comfort of their own homes. As less interactive students continue to exercise their writing skills through blogging, re-reading, and building on their blog posts, their writing gradually improves over the semester. The fact that students can go back to previous blog posts and add thoughts or reflect on their own blogs—thereby, revising their work on their own without being told to do so by their teacher—is extremely beneficial and rewarding (Sharkov, 2012).

Blogging can be done on a train, bus, or even in a student’s own bedroom. Blogging doesn’t require the school library, or even pen and paper. A student can simply use a smartphone to connect to the world through blogging. When you present this type of accessibility to the busy student, he or she has the opportunity to engage with classmates beyond the short period of time that the student spends sitting in the classroom before heading out to a job or internship.

I have witnessed the benefits of blogging first hand. Last semester, I posted a question as a homework assignment on my blog site regarding a reading on Edgar Allan Poe. Within an hour of my students leaving class, they started to write blog posts on the site. My students were responding to my question, expressing their views, and in turn completing their homework assignment, while commuting home from school.

As I read my students’ blog posts, I was amazed at the level of insight that they were expressing in their entries. I had created a place where my students’ voices could be heard, and a place where they were able to interact and discuss a topic outside of the classroom using information that they learned while inside of the classroom. In essence, my students were taking time to reflect on what they learned in class, even with their busy schedules. In the past I would have taken a more conventional approach to this homework assignment by passing out comprehension questions on white paper and telling students to answer and bring them back to class the following week.

Blogging is beneficial to the teacher as well. For example, in my EDU 10 class, our class blog page contains all our work and posts can be found in one place with easy access. I find my students accessing our blog page from their cellphones, which tells me that they are able to complete assignments from anywhere—very convenient for them.

As a professor, I can easily assess my students’ reading, writing, and critical thinking progress by observing the improvement in their blog entries. This also keeps the line of communication open between my students and myself, which is helpful since our class only meets twice a week for a little over an hour. This blogging platform keeps the reflection ongoing throughout the week. Further, blogging allows me to learn my students’ point of view on certain topics and demonstrates their level of comprehension on what we are learning in class, in turn, helping me to create a lesson plan for the next class.

Feedback: To Help the Author or Show Off What the Reviewer Knows?

checkmark imagesAll of us in academia are subject to the peer-review process. I (Clare) was revising a book chapter this past weekend and although rewriting is not pleasant, this time it was not a hard slog. The two reviewers provided sensible advice – give an example to clarify this point; please round out the point in this paragraph; connect the two tables … Their feedback was to improve the piece. This has been a good experience because the chapter is definitely clearer and more compelling. But this experience is not typical of the “peer review” feedback process. Far too many times I have had feedback that left me shaking my head. We submitted a paper to a journal and the feedback was a 3 page rant on the limits of a grounded theory method (which was appropriate for a study of literacy teacher educators’ experiences). What was the point of the feedback from someone who was clearly a quantitative researcher? Another time the feedback on a grant proposal which was studying teachers’ use of a digital technology – how their pedagogy and identity changed (or did not change) — was so off-base. The reviewer wanted us to include data on the children’s (student’s) use of technology in their personal lives. That is a different study. So why do reviewers provide comments that are not relevant or connected to the actual piece in hand? Did they not actually read it? Are they trying to show off what they know? (The latter is a bit ironic since the review is anonymous!)

I do not have answers to these questions. I would like to thank the reviewers who take the time (and park their ego at the door) to provide useful advice.

Rules for Writing

There are many rules to writing and as quickly as new genres are entering the literary scene, so too are the rules changing.
Here is an interesting explanation of a rule of writing and its evolution:


I see two big issues at play: 1) the rules of writing 2) writing with genre and audience in mind

It seems to me (Yiola) the rules are changing and this is in large part because genres are so rapidly evolving and being introduced.

There is much to be said for the traditional forms and genres of literary expression. And, it is the traditional forms I believe we still teach in schools. And yet with digital literacy there are many new forms being implemented and introduced in classrooms too.

I (Yiola) see writing as an art. The crisper the writing the more vivid the message. The clearer the writing the more opportunity for complex ideas.

The big question is… how to best teach writing in the elementary classroom? I remember teaching writing in the Junior grades (4th, 5th, 6th grades) with the audience, purpose and genre in mind… Now however all 3 elements (audience, purpose and genre) have grown to include several (more) possibilities.