Tag Archives: Pooja Dharamshi

What counts as a “real” word?

Last week Clare shared a TED talk exploring how texting is affecting language (If you haven’t read that post, here it is: https://literacyteaching.net/2015/01/22/txtng-is-killing-language-jk/ ). In a follow-up to her blog post, I am sharing another fascinating talk on “What Makes a Word Real?”

English Professor, Anne Curzan, poses questions to the audience which intend to challenge what makes a word “real” and who gets to decide. She asks: “Who writes dictionaries?”; “Are you bothered by language change?”; and “Who has the authority to make a world real?”

Curzan believes words are made “real” when a “community of speakers” use a word often and for a long time. She makes the point that these words “fill a gap” in the English language. Funny examples of words she’s seen gain traction recently:

                    Screen shot taken from TED Talk

Curzan argues dictionaries have been viewed as a book of truths not to be critiqued for too long. In fact, she points out that dictionary editors look to us to decide what words are “real.” In conclusion, she states:

 “Dictionaries are a wonderful guide and resource, but there is no objective dictionary authority out there that is the final arbiter about what words mean. If a community of speakers is using a word and knows what it means, it’s real. That word might be slangy, that word might be informal, that word might be a word that you think is illogical or unnecessary, but that word that we’re using, that word is real.”

TED Talk Link:

How to Use Current Events in the Classroom

Discussing current events in the classroom was always my favourite part of the day as a student. Having the opportunity to express my opinions on world issues and hear others’ opinions was important. During other parts of my day, talking about world issues was usually reserved for the adults in the room.


Discussing events happening outside of the school made me feel like were we were part of something larger than our classroom; we were part of the larger global community.

The New York Times put together a wonderful list of 50 ways to incorporate current events into the classroom. I have included the link to all 50 suggestions below. I have also highlighted some of the suggestion in which I have had great success or am keen on trying out in the classroom.

  1. Compare News Sources:Different papers, magazines and websites treat the news differently. You might have students compare lead stories or, via theNewseum’s daily gallery, front pages. Or, you might just pick one article about a divisive topic (politics, war, social issues) and see how different news sources have handled the subject. 
  1. Analyze Photographs to Build Visual Literacy Skills:On Mondays we ask students to look closely at an image using the three-question facilitation method created by our partners at Visual Thinking Strategies:What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can you find? Students can participate in the activity by commenting in our weekly “What’s Going On In This Picture?” moderated conversation.
  1. Say What’s Unsaid:Another option is assigning students toadd speech and thought bubbles(PDF) to a Times photograph to communicate something they learned by reading an article.

Link to all 50 suggestions:



Cultivating Empathy in Schools

There has been a lot written about the importance of empathy within schools. As an educator, being able to relate and connect with our students is so important because it allows the classroom to become a community; a place where people feel safe and valued. In a classroom or a school which is centred around empathy, students are unafraid to express themselves and try out new things.

empathy2In a 10-part journal series a school Principal, Michelle Hughes, from New York writes about her experiences in cultivating empathy within her students, teachers, and staff. Hughes speaks about the importance of not only cultivating empathy with the students, but with teachers. Here is an excerpt from the first journal entry:

Schools are a microcosm of the universal human experience.  I could choose (and much as I hate to admit it, there are times I wish I had it in me) to disregard the personal lives of staff and make the work of school my only priority.  But that approach would be contrary to the central ethos of the school, and it would no doubt relegate the cultivation of empathy and holistic teaching practice to the fringes of the classroom experience. To teach the whole child, the whole teacher needs to be considered.

 To read the journal entries click on the link below:



Visiting the Rishi Valley School… Part 1

I (Pooja) have just returned from an extraordinary two days at the Rishi Valley School in India.There is simply too much for one blog post, so I will share my experiences over a few blog posts. In this blog, I will focus on the principles which guide the school along with a photos of the campus.

The alternative school is guided by principles of holistic education which aim for the growth of student’s intellectual, emotional, physical, artistic, creative, and spiritual potential. The educational philosophies of the Rishi Valley School include:

  • To educate students so that they are able to explore both the world and their inner being
  • To inculcate a love for nature and respect for all forms of life
  • To create an atmosphere of affection, order and freedom without either fear or license
  • Not to condition the students in any particular belief, either religious, political or social, so that their minds may remain free to ask fundamental questions, enquire and learn. (http://www.rishivalley.org/school/aims.htm)

The philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti established the Rishi Valley School in 1962. There are now Krishnamuti schools across India and the world, but this was the first educational site. The school is located “in a sheltered valley in the interior of rural Andhra Pradesh…about 140 km north-east of Bangalore.” (http://www.rishivalley.org/school/aims.htm) When we first arrived we met with the school principal. He listened to us attentively, and when he spoke it was softly and always with purpose. He said something in that meeting that has stuck with me. He said that although the teachers differed in teaching approach, the important quality was that they approached their teaching from a place of care and love. By walking around the campus, speaking with teachers and students, and observing classes I witnessed this in so many ways. For example, each morning the students gather in an open-air auditorium for an assembly. My experiences with assemblies have usually included announcements, performances, or guest speakers. At the Rishi Valley school, the assembly is dedicated to singing. The students and faculty gather in a circle and sing for half an hour. At the end of the school day, after dinner, we gathered in the auditorium again to watch an absorbing documentary on particle physics called Particle Fever.

The following are a few photos of the campus and school activities. I believe they speak volumes about the principles from which the Rishi Valley School runs.


The Rishi Valley School is a boarding school serving student from grade 4-12. There are approximately 325 students and 60 faculty members who live on campus.


The morning all-school assembly. Students and faculty are seated on the ground.


One of the many outdoor classrooms. My friend, a spoken-word artist, had the opportunity to facilitate a class here (More about that in the next blog!).


The student art gallery. It was common to see students around the campus working on their art; fine art, poetry, and music permeated the student culture.


Walking to class is a meditative experience. The campus is spacious, situated on approximately 360 acres of land. There have been over 200 species of birds identified, with the Indian Government officially declaring the school a bird sanctuary.

To read more about the Rishi Valley School: http://www.rishivalley.org/default.html

2014 in review

Hello Readers of Our Blog,

I (Clare) got a summary from WordPress about our activities this year. Wow! For a little educational blog we are proud of our efforts. Thank you readers for taking the time to read our posts, post comments, and share our work with your network.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 16,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Re-visiting My Early Childhood Literacy Practices

My (Pooja) parents’ basement recently flooded. So, they had to quickly clear out whatever was in there. They came across a huge container labeled “Pooja’s school stuff” and dropped it off to me the following day. I was overcome with emotion as I rifled through its contents. My parents had held on to every single one of my report cards from from JK-Grade 12;  they even had my university acceptance letter. They had neatly filed all of the documents in plastic folders to avoid damage (like a flooding basement!). In the container, I also found many artifacts from elementary school: reading logs, projects, letters to fictional characters and pen pals, and books I wrote and illustrated. I don’t remember even writing/completing most of what was in the container but it was like taking a glimpse back into some of my early childhood literacy practices. As an adult, I got to see myself as a kid.

Here are some photos from a book I published in Grade 2, The Talking Pencil. I love how our books became part of the school library, so other children were able to sign them out to take home and read. What a great idea!

IMG_7799 IMG_7800 IMG_7801 IMG_7802 IMG_7803

The Danger of Silence

I came across this short yet powerful TED talk. Educator Clint Smith delivers a power piece of spoken word on what he believes  to be  the dangers of silence. Smith, like many educators, values students’ voices and opinions. He believes we must encourage our students to speak out against injustices because silence leads to discrimination, violence, and war. Through the use of poetry, Smith helps students shares their stories- share their “truths.” Smith begins his spoken work piece with a powerful Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Smith also shares 4 core principles that he runs his classes by:

1. Read critically

2. Write consciously 

3. Speak clearly

4. Tell your truth

Watch Smith’s 4-minute video here to hear more about the dangers of silence:

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 10.42.22 PM

Using Instagram in the Classroom

They say a picture is worth a 1000 words. That is probably one of the reasons why Instagram has become my social media app of choice. I love the simplicity of it. There are no words, simply photos. You get to see what your friends, acquaintances, and public figures (you choose to follow) are up to. My use of facebook has slowly dwindled while my use of Instagram has quickly ramped up. This seems to be the general trend across the world. As educators in this digital age, we think about how to integrate social media effectively into the classroom. Facebook, wikis, blogs and twitter have made their way into many classrooms; however, Instagram is rarely used. I found this very cool infographic for educators and the use of Instagram in the classroom.

All of the below suggestions can be used in K-12 classrooms. Some can be used in higher ed. Contexts.

***Note: Before using Instagram in the classroom:

  • I think educators should have separate Instagram accounts if they are also using it for personal purposes.
  • Also, as a class you should establish a hashtag. So, if your students want to hashtag a relevant picture it gets included in the class hashtag.



The Pomodoro Technique


I have discovered a simple yet effective technique to increase my productivity when writing. I started using the site http://www.mytomatoes.com a few weeks ago, and have been more writing done since. This is how it works:

Each “tomato” is 25 minutes long. When you click on “Start Tomato,” you start working/writing. And that’s all you do for 25 minutes. No washroom breaks. No facebook breaks. No e-mail. When the 25 minutes is up a bell rings, and you earn a 5 minute break. The site prompts you to document what you did for the 25 minutes, so you can track how you are spending your time. When the 5 minute break is up, another bell will ring and you are back to work!

I have found this technique so effective, and fun. I like “collecting tomatoes,” and I find 25 minutes is a good length of time to stay “in the zone.”  I would highly recommend it to any writers out there! Below is a link to a short video explaining the pomodoro technique in more detail.


Happy Writing!!!

The Power of Collaboration

Social networking has shown us the power of collaboration. Through applications like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram we learn with and from one another at a speed like never before. Sir Ken Robinson reminds us of the need to foster collaboration:

Most original thinking comes through collaboration and through the stimulation of other people’s ideas. Nobody lives in a vacuum. Even people who live on their own—like the solitary poets or solo inventors in their garages—draw from the cultures they’re a part of, from the influence of other people’s minds and achievements….This is one of the great skills we have to promote and teach—collaborating and benefiting from diversity rather than promoting homogeneity.

Unfortunately, with the rise of standardized testing in many countries, collaboration is not being valued. Robinson explains:

We have a big problem at the moment—education is becoming so dominated by this culture of standardized testing, by a particular view of intelligence and a narrow curriculum and education system, that we’re flattening and stifling some of the basic skills and processes that creative achievement depends on.

Although comedic in nature  the cartoon below raises some important questions around assessment. Do high-stakes tests help prepare our students for the world in which they will work.  Why don’t we value collaborative learning/assessments in schools?