Dear students…

I’ve been watching what is happening in the United States now that Donald Trump is President. And while I haven’t yet found the collection of words I wish to share, there is one thing I do believe in.

I want my future classroom and or future students to know:

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Schooling the World

Tonight in ED 808, we viewed the film, Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden.

If you wanted to change a culture in a generation, how would you do it?

You would change the way it educates its children.

The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th century when it forced Native American children into government boarding schools. Today, volunteers build schools in traditional societies around the world, convinced that school is the only way to a ‘better’ life for rural and Indigenous children.

But is this true?  What really happens when we replace another culture’s canon of knowledge with our own?  Does life really get better for its people?

SCHOOLING THE WORLD takes a challenging, sometimes funny, ultimately deeply troubling look at the role played by modern education in the destruction of the world’s last sustainable land-based cultures.

Beautifully shot on location in the Buddhist culture of Ladakh in the northern Indian Himalayas, the film weaves the voices of Ladakhi people through a conversation between four carefully chosen original thinkers; anthropologist and ethnobotanist Wade Davis,  a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence; Helena Norberg-Hodge and Vandana Shiva, both recipients of the Right Livelihood Award for their work with traditional peoples in India; and Manish Jain, a former architect of education programs with UNESCO,  USAID, and the World Bank.

It  examines the hidden assumption of cultural superiority behind education aid projects, which overtly aim to help children “escape” to a “better life.”

It looks at the failure of institutional education to deliver on its promise of a way out of poverty – here in the United States as well as in the so-called “developing” world.

And it questions our very definitions of wealth and poverty – and of knowledge and ignorance – as it uncovers the role of schools in the destruction of traditional sustainable agricultural and ecological knowledge, in the breakup of extended families and communities, and in the devaluation of ancient spiritual traditions.

Finally, SCHOOLING THE WORLD calls for a “deeper dialogue” between cultures, suggesting that we have at least as much to learn as we have to teach, and that these ancient sustainable societies may harbor knowledge which is vital for our own survival in the coming millenia.

– www.http://schoolingtheworld.org/film/

I encourage all educators to take the time to view this film – I hope it will help you to reflect on education and the dominance of the West.

into for ED 808

The Education 808 class that I am currently taking has a class blog. Check it out if you’d like to keep up with our learning about social justice and globalization in education. I wrote a post regarding my thoughts about social justice for the site and wanted to share it here.

Hi everyone. I’m Cynthia – a second year, full-time grad student. This class, along with ECI 804 this semester are my last classes. I will begin working on my thesis in January focusing literacy education, diverse groups of learners, and using technology as more than an adaptation or modification.

I see social justice in terms of helping those in need and working to create a more just place for all people and all students. Ideally it would be nice if people were treated equally and everyone had enough to cover their basic needs, as well as having their rights to education and health care met; sadly this is not a reality. One thing that bothers me is how much easier it seems to be able to help those in other countries, when here at home, we have people who can use our support and issues that need to be solved. I also think about global education through a social justice lens which involves teaching students about a variety of issues, thinking about others, doing good at home and in the world, and to be empower students to begin to take action to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others. Students become global citizens when they are able to think about the world and helping others, as well as recognizing that while they may be students here in Saskatchewan, but that they are part of the world, and have the potential to make a difference for all.

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Photo Credit: appratt via Compfight cc

I believe that approaching the curriculum and student engagement from a critical perspective incorporates pedagogy that draws on the life experiences of students, and on community issues. I believe that all students, regardless of class, race or ability (for ex.) should learn about social justice issues that are happening. Topics such as homelessness, struggles in education, cultural diversity, human rights, globalization and LGBTQI issues have a place to be taught in the classroom. All students to some degree, even if an issue doesn’t directly impact them, will know someone who is. It is important to teach about these issues in order for students to be able to think about them and work towards making a difference and taking action, even if that starts locally.

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Photo Credit: Gay Liberation Network via Compfight cc

There are a few social justice topics that I am really interested in and concerned about. As a member of the LGBTQI community, I am concerned about the rights and treatment of LGBTQI people. While progress is being made in the United States, there is still a long way to come in the rest of the world and even in Canada. Acceptance is one area where progress still needs to be made, in order for bullying and suicide rates to decline.

Another area that I am concerned about is how students of different abilities and different ethnicities are included in classrooms here in Saskatchewan and the education they are receiving in relation to their peers. While many schools seek to practice inclusion, often times, this ends up as providing an illusion of being inclusive of all students. Specific teaching moments have led me to rethink what it means when I work to be an inclusive educator, because the very act of identifying those who need to be included, is impacted by power, deficit thinking, the production of societies norms, and stereotypes and labels that are applied to students. I believe that all students are capable of learning that teachers need to hold high expectations for their students. I also think that it is the job of educators to ensure an equitable classroom.

expectations around reading levels

*If you click on the image above, you can see replies to this tweet

I came across this tweet a few days ago and needless to say, it has reminded me of similar experiences I have had when teaching and hearing students talk about reading. I have heard students say, “I can only read level R books” or “I can’t read that book, and even “we’re in grade 5 so we are supposed to read at this level, why aren’t you?” The last one is very troubling.

I believe reading levels act as a guide, and of course we want students to be strong readers, reading at or above grade level, but this doesn’t always happen, and it this is okay. There is room to grow as a reader with help from teachers and those around us. I obviously don’t want students reading at a grade 3 level if they are in grade 9, which indicates that the system has failed them along the way.

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Do I agree with standardized reading assessments?

No.

I definitely think that taking a reading assessment kit and using the determined book for the grade level you are testing does a dis-service to the students. In many cases, students are nervous, they know they need to perform well and the books that a student is provided with may be of no interest or relevance to the student and it will probably will not draw on the student’s prior funds of knowledge. These factors impact how a student performs at reading. As well, the testing result may not accurately reflect the students’ ability.

Do I think there is a place for testing student’s reading ability?

Yes.

Understanding the levels your students are reading at, their abilities and challenges are important information for teachers to have. This can help improve instruction as well as providing small group or individual instruction to better support students. I also think that students should know that when they go to the library and pick up a book, they should be able to open it, read a few sentences, and have you ask them a few questions in order to help determine if the book is appropriate for individual reading.

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I do believe that students should know the types of books they can read. I think that knowing the books or series they are able to read could/should help motivate their love of reading, not necessarily confine them to a specific level of books that they may not be interested in or have prior knowledge about. I feel that using leveled books that are per-determined do not relate to students’ interests or help foster a positive regard towards reading.

I think students should know that, “this is a series they can read through” or here is a book where “it is better to look at the pictures, or to read with a parent or sibling”.  It is also good for students to read with their peers, to ask for help and to work towards more challenging texts, provided they have the supports and tools in place to help them.

Update – I saw this tweet today, relevant to the original post and my thoughts:

Many Ideas and Theories

I was recently reading some education articles online and came across one written by a professor I had taken a course from during university. The article, “The teacher educator and the teacher: When theory and practice conflict” by Meredith Rogers Cherland [Journal of Reading, Vol. 32, No. 5, (Feb. 1989) pp. 409-413] was one that made me reflect back on my own university and internship experience.

Throughout the article, Meredith talks about how professors are educating future teachers and are sharing with them theories and methods of teaching. She mentions how a professor may share one theory, but once their student enters the classroom and is working with a cooperating teacher and students, they will see other theories and teaching practices.

I think it is important to remember that all teachers are different. What method you believe in and see success in, or one that is recommended by the school board, is not always going to be what works for other teachers or one that other teachers are using.

As an education student, I was presented with many methods and theories on teaching and how to teach, how to make things work for students. Many professors including Meredith presented me with that ideas that challenged my thinking and beliefs about education even to this day.

Once I was in the classroom and working with my cooperating teacher, I went away from some of the key beliefs I had gained from my university education. The information was still in the back of my mind, but I was now working closely with a teacher for 4 months. I tended to take on the practices of my cooperating teacher and shied away from practices I had learnt about and was eager to implement during that very internship.

The teacher educator’s “theory” requires a new form of classroom practice. The cooperating teacher’s “practice” is based on a different theory. When the two conflict, it is the student teacher’s education that is damaged.

(Cherland, pg. 411-412)

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I find myself agreeing with the following statements very much:

We tell cooperating teachers that student teachers are there to learn by imitating them, but we destroy students’ admiration for them, and so undermine their desire to learn through imitation. And we are only doing our jobs. We feel obligated to convince student teachers of the worth of what we have to teach them.

Cooperating teachers, in turn, undermine the work of the teacher educators by saying, in effect, “What you hear at the university isn’t connected to the real world. We real teachers know best, and we do it differently. You are here to learn by doing what I do.” They too feel obligated to convince student teachers of the worth of what they have to teach them.

(Cherland, pg. 412)

Personally at times during my internship, I felt that I had to do things as my cooperating teacher did. I felt that I had to conform to her way of teaching and that if I tried something too different, it would not be approved. I remember being back at the university for my last semester and thinking, I really should have done all the lessons and activities that I had wanted to. I should have tried things I wasn’t so sure of. I was in a safe learning environment, but at times, it felt that there was so much pressure to do my best at all times.

My experience as a whole was great. I learnt so much and even though the practices of my coop’s were different, they were not bad or wrong. However, they seem to influence me when I am in classrooms today. It is good, but I know that sometimes I need to rely more so on what I learned from professors. All that I have learned from many educators in the profession is helping me as I continue to learn and grow as a teacher.

I’ve heard many times from people that professors don’t know what it is like to be in a classroom anymore. They are not in the room with the kids everyday. They are at the university. These facts may be literally true, but I believe that professors still know a lot about classrooms today. Even though they may be formally removed from the classrooms, many are doing research that involves them working with students or having their university students working with kids. We all hear about how schools are doing, and we all have different practices. The type of classroom may change, and the student age may change, but there are still learners and there is still teaching and methods that will be used.

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On pages 412 and 413, Cherland states three issues in teacher education that need to be addressed:

  1. Teacher educators will have to examine the assumptions underlying the nature of the field experience.
  2. Teachers will need to confront society’s model of the ideal teacher and demand support for the idea that the professional teacher continues to learn and to grow throughout his or her career.
  3. The public, including those people who run many school boards, will need to accept the idea that a teacher is a practicing professional, rather than a trained technician. 

The third idea is one that we all need to remember.