Tag Archives: teaching for relevance

Course Design and Development — Hoping the changes work out!


A poem I wrote today to try to relieve some first day jitters:

T’was the night before a new school year and all the through the house

Papers were flying and textbooks arouse

The course syllabi posted online with such care

In hopes that the students soon would be there

The readings updated and carefully writ

Ensuring inquiry, equity and technology fit

And I in excitement yet dutifully prudent

Wait for the joy of engaging with each student….


Revising university courses is not a simple task. I (Yiola) have spent several weeks reworking my courses and developing new ones for the coming year.  While my courses have been consistently well received by students I felt they needed updating: readings, perspective, pedagogy as though the domino effect could not be more evident.  Piecing together what to share and how to share it so that student learning is not only deeply enjoyable but also optimal is no easy feat. As teacher educators we need to model good practice — after all, how can you spend an entire 3 hour class talking about the importance of inquiry pedagogy with power point presentations and lecture notes and expect students to understand and transfer their learning to the classroom?  And then, on the other hand, how does a Masters level instructor justify spending hours having Masters level students “inquire” as children would in their elementary classrooms?

Finding the balance between theory and practice, between scholarship and the “daily grind” of classroom life, between academic rigour and child centred practice is, for me, an exceptional challenge.  I want student teachers to know what to do when they enter their elementary classrooms and I want to model it for them in our class (i.e. small group activities, equitable practices, varied experiences, and direct instruction) and I also want students to understand WHY we do it (i.e. research based literature and engaging discourse). I want students to be self-directed learners (to share their ideas, to bring news to the classroom, to extend their own learning outside our class time) and I also want to provide students with connections between best practice and what they see out there (use of technology, positive learning environments, etc…)

Some changes I have made to my courses this year:

  • more use of technology (in my teaching, in my teaching of, and in students experience with)
  • lessened the number of assignments but deepened the expectations of the ones included
  • varied the nature of the assignments (included presentations, group and individual assignments, concept maps, papers)
  • updated my methods of assessment: to reflect/model practices used in our school system, to include students in the process itself
  •  continue to invite guests to the class (classroom teachers, doctoral students, school administrators) as co-presenters as a means for sharing knowledge and modelling collaborative practice
  • Updated the readings to better reflect the issues of 21st century teaching

Researching teaching education, speaking with colleagues who are deeply invested in teacher education and knowing what other great educators are doing not only keeps me motivated but is one of the best professional development tools out there.

I wish all teachers and teacher educators and wonderful school year!

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:



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

Good-bye Michael Gove!

Michael Gove Although I (Clare) live in Canada I am well aware of the challenges teachers and teacher educators in England are facing. We have a number of literacy/English teacher educators in our study of teacher educators who have recounted the  challenges they are facing (e.g., funding reduction, stringent/ridiculous accountability measures). At our Symposium on teacher education in London participants recounted how demoralized teacher educators felt.

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, who was instrumental in bringing in a number of draconian measures in education has been demoted to Chief Whip. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cartoon/2014/jul/17/steve-bell-cartoon-michael-gove-first-day-chief-whip He wanted to reshape education based on his own experiences in elite private schools – or as I see it, drag education back to the 19th century. He seemed to be waging war on schools of education by creating so many alternative routes into teaching that he was stripping teacher educators of their place in preparing teachers. His inability or unwillingness to listen to reason and research led to him implementing a number of measures that are so wrong headed it is mind-boggling. He was never a teacher nor did he do research on teaching and teacher education so how did he think that he knew how to prepare teachers?  When you compare his approach to the one used in Finland (see blog post on Thursday, July 17) the contrast is glaring. Respect and trust were not his modus operandi.

On his first day of his new job as party whip he got stuck in the toilet! Hmmmmm…….. Read into that what you like!

Let’s hope that the path he set for education will be altered by his successor so that education and teacher education can get back on track and become relevant and appropriate for the 21st century. There is a growing body of research on teacher education which should guide policy. It is time for policy-makers in England to refer to it.

Congratulations Tiffany Harris

Tiffany Harris and Clare Kosnik

Congratulations to Tiffany Harris (member of our research team) who successfully defended her PhD thesis yesterday. The thesis, Multiliteracies Theory into Practice: An Inquiry into Junior-level Literacy Classrooms, was a study of classroom teachers (grades 4 – 6) which examined their understanding and use of a multiliteracies approach in their teaching. The thesis is outstanding because Tiffany closely studied her participants’ views of literacy, their practices, and the challenges they face. The analysis is outstanding because Tiffany is both a very accomplished classroom teachers and an excellent researcher. She brought to bear on her work her understanding of the work of teachers and her extensive knowledge of multiliteracies theory. As a result, her work will definitely contribute to our understanding of how literacy is evolving and how teachers are adjusting their teaching. It is rare to have a study that moves so effectively between theory and practice. Her thesis will soon be available through the Proquest Dissertation Database. Congratulations Dr. Harris. Attached is a picture of Tiffany and me (Clare) after her thesis defense.

Teaching Music Literacy – It Ain’t Easy but Must be Done

Young people spend so much of their day listening to music, yet it’s barely addressed in school. Something needs to be done about that – but it won’t be easy. I remember my (Clive’s) grade 5 teacher telling us that Bing Crosby couldn’t sing, he was just a crooner. He probably thought he was “educating” us about music, but he fed into my early prejudice against popular music.

In France there’s a lot of “music appreciation” in schools, which is great because music-making shouldn’t be all we teach. However, again the stress is on classical music.

One of the teachers in our longitudinal study (Candice) recently became a music specialist in her school and established a wonderful approach. In her seventh year she said:

I’ve become keen on the Orff method: it emphasizes improvisation and creating your own music, and leads in the teen years and adulthood to more of a jazz approach…. My focus is on teaching children in such a way that they can create music, understand it, and participate in it. So when they’re listening to pop music they understand what instruments are used, how the music is made, and what mood it creates.

But is there still too much emphasis here on performance?

A respected Toronto columnist recently wrote a rather negative article about popular music. He asked how much of interest could come from a genre where everything is a sentimental song about 3 minutes long in 4/4 time? I asked a musician in my ITE class about this and he said there’s an enormous variety and depth of structure and rhythm in popular songs. We noted that a similar argument could be made against English literature on the ground that it uses just 26 letters and a few punctuation marks (see the quote form Neil Gaiman in Lydia’s recent blog).

Teaching music literacy in schools has many pitfalls. Like the Fiddler on the Roof, teachers will have difficulty keeping their balance. But a way must be found – in many subject areas – if schooling is to be relevant.

Well-being and Skills Go Hand-in-Hand

We have had many blog posts about teaching for relevance. I (Clare) was reading a chapter in Martin Seligman’s book Flourish: A Visionary new Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being. http://www.amazon.ca/Flourish-Visionary-Understanding-Happiness-Well-being-ebook/dp/B0043RSK9O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1392996735&sr=8-1&keywords=martin+seligman
Here is an excerpt from Chapter Five.

  • Question one: in one or two words, what do you most want for your children?
  • If you are like the thousands of parents I’ve polled, you responded “happiness,” “confidence,” “contentment,” “fulfillment,” “balance,” “good stuff,” “kindness,” health,” satisfaction,” “love,” “being civilized,” “meaning,” and the like. In short, well-being is your topmost priority.
    • Question two: in one or two words, what do schools teach?
      • If you are like other parents, you responded, “achievement,” “thinking skills,” “success,” “conformity,” “literacy,” “math,” “work,” ‘test taking,” “discipline,” and the like. In short, what schools teach is how to succeed in the workplace.
      • Notice that there is almost overlap between the two lists. The schooling of children has, for more than a century, paved the boulevard toward adult work. I am all for success, literacy, perseverance, and discipline, but I want you to image that schools could, without compromising either, teach both the skills of well-being and the skills of achievement. I want you to image positive education.

I found his perspective refreshing and inspiring. In my teaching, I need to be mindful to address both well-being and skills and to talk to my student teachers about the need to do both.


On Saturday a number of us from our research teams presented at the Ontario Teachers’ Federation/Ontario Association of Deans of Education conference. We did two papers:

·      Teaching Student teachers How to Teach for Relevance, Integrating Curriculum around Big Ideas and Key Values

Clive Beck, Clare Kosnik, Shelley Murphy, and Elizabeth Rosales

·      On-going Learning for Literacy/English Teacher Educators: Examining Four Spheres of Knowledge

Clare Kosnik, Pooja Dharamshi, Cathy Miyata, Lydia Menna, and Yiola Cleovoulou


Click on the link Publications and Presentations to see our powerpoint presentations. (Clare’s ppt can be found under Clare’s presentations; Clive’s ppt can be found under Clive’s presentations.)

Beatles, Popular Culture, Relevance, Perspective …

the Beatles

I (Clare) was reading in the newspaper that Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ performance on “Ed Sullivan.” http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/2014/02/08/beatlemania_a_moment_in_time_never_to_be_repeated.html

 I probably should not admit it but I clearly remember the event. My entire family was gathered around the TV. “Nielsen says 45 percent of all TV sets in use at the time were tuned into the broadcast, with fans and the uninitiated alike gathered shoulder to shoulder in their living rooms.” The article on the Beatles commented that they “landed on a trigger point when they hit America. It was a pop culture sonic boom spurred by talent, timing and luck that’s still rattling the windows.”
So I had a few thoughts when I read the article about the Beatles:
·      For me there are a few key events in my youth that gripped the national (and often) world stage. Events where I remember so clearly where I was sitting when I heard the news, how I felt … . For example, I remember so vividly when the school principal announced on the PA (something rarely used) that JFK had been assassinated and I can recall as if it was yesterday sitting with my family watching the live footage of the first walk on the moon … I wonder what will be key events for our youth today?
·      In our highly diverse world, events in one culture/country can be viewed very differently in another (on a small scale, my grandmother was appalled by the Beatles and their long hair). As a classroom teacher I used to bring current events into the classroom because I felt it was important for the curriculum to go beyond the classroom walls. As a teacher educator who teaches literacy courses I spend a lot of time on non-fiction, in particular perspective in newspaper and news reporting. How can we prepare student teachers to bring current events (and global events) into the classroom for discussion and interrogation when there are such different views? (The current Olympics would be a good springboard for discussion). I know as an experienced teacher the skill and diplomacy needed to handle discussions that can be controversial. Current events need to be in the curriculum if we want to be relevant but it is not a simple task.
And for those of a certain age, listen to your favourite Beatles song today and sing along as if you are a teenager.  Clare

If You Build It: Documentary on Making Teaching Relevant

If you live anywhere in the Toronto region you might be interested in this documentary, IF YOU BUILD IT. The film  is a captivating look at a radically innovative approach to education. The film follows designer-activists Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller to rural Bertie County, the poorest in North Carolina, where they work with local high school students to help transform both their community and their lives. Living on credit and grant money, and fighting a change-resistant school board, Pilloton and Miller lead their students through a year-long, full-scale design and build project that does much more than just teach basic construction skills—it shows ten teenagers the power of design-thinking to reinvent their town and their own sense of what’s possible. IF YOU BUILD IT offers a compelling and hopeful vision for a new kind of classroom in which students learn the tools to design their futures. Here is the link to a clip from the movie: http://www.hotdocs.ca/docsoup/doc_soup_toronto/
The documentary is being shown in a number of cities in Canada. To find out where click on this link: http://www.hotdocs.ca/docsoup/doc_soup_toronto/ and it is probably being shown in cities world-wide. Even if you cannot attend the documentary, watching a clip of the movie is fascinating.
Hot Docs is pleased to announce that February’s Doc Soup will present the Canadian premiere of IF YOU BUILD IT (D: Patrick Creadon, USA, 85 min.) An official selection of the 2013 Full Frame Documentary Festival, IF YOU BUILD IT will screen on Wednesday, February 5, at 6:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m., and on Thursday, February 6, at 6:45 p.m. at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor St. West).
Filmmaker Patrick Creadon will be in attendance to introduce the film and answer questions following the screenings. For more information please visit:
We look forward to seeing you at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Wednesday, February 5, and Thursday, February 6 for IF YOU BUILD IT!

 If you have any questions regarding your tickets or any questions or comments about Doc Soup, please email our box office bloorboxoffice@hotdoc s.ca, or call 416.637.5150.