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EDible News

March 2015

EDible News

Literacy Lost? York University

March 2015


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EDible News

March 2015

LITERACY LOST? Maintaining Literacies in a Changing Age Tara Schell Quisque: Mauris imperdiet. Duis nec purus non dui auctor consequat. Maecenas faucibus. Ut quis velit ac mi lacinia euismod.

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It is my belief that there are many kinds of literacies. While the word is usually only associated with books and writing, physical, social, and number based literacies are also hugely important. That being said, when we decided on the theme “literacy lost?” for this month’s issue, my mind went straight to the traditional. Are we really losing sight of the importance of reading and writing? In an age where technology is so important, it would be easy to argue that kids spend more time in front of computer screens than they do reading books or writing in journals. What isn’t so evident is the prospect that this age of advancement might also be impacting our physical and social literacies. Recently, my friend showed me an article that strongly advocated for an increase in classroom technology. It suggested that by giving each child their own device, 2

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they would be able to learn at their own pace, thus increasing productivity. You can read the article here: http://qz.com/340304/degrees-dont-matteranymore-skills-do/?utm_source=SFFB But where does this lead the development of social literacy? While individualized lesson plan would certainly contribute to academic achievement, isn’t there something to be said for the skills a child learns while working through a difficult problem with a friend? Or perhaps on a more basic level, asking to borrow a pencil or eraser? If we learn just as much from these interactions as we do from schoolwork, what will happen if they are taken away? Some of my best childhood memories are linked to books. There is one author in particularEdward Eager- who shaped my childhood and truly made me fall in love with reading. The first book I read by him, titled Seven Day Magic, was


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about a group of kids who borrowed an enchanted library book and had some pretty amazing adventures. You can tell I was very exciting. But the truly amazing thing about this story is that, while it was entirely about the magical library book, it really wasn’t at all. Rather, it was about the way the children grew and came to understand each other along their way. It is this understanding that must be reached when we discuss literacy. Of course, we want our students to excel at writing and reading, but this excellence cannot come at the expense of their growth as human beings. To develop all types of literacy, academic and otherwise, should be our goal as educators.

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Literacy will only be lost if we let it.

The Degradation of Literacy Nadine Wyczolkowski Our ability to read and write seems to be declining. There is a plethora of reasons why this may be so, yet one seems prominent in my mind: technology. Over time, our attention span shrinks to accept only what can be encapsulated in a mirage of high sensory experiences that are mediated through technology, either by watching or listening, as opposed to doing, in a matter of seconds. Such intense moments are eventually considered mundane and lack-lustre, due to the continual bombardment of such messages through the media, that they become the norm. Anything less is ignored and overlooked, and that which is meaningful within these various forms is never learnt, as people are occupied with other things. What is presented as reality is merely a representation of something that the viewers likely never have experienced for themselves, or are unwilling to do because it necessitates a time commitment. Not only is our intellectual ability changing, but our social knowledge is morphing as well. It becomes increasingly difficult to read people as texts, unable to decipher their body language, their words, any form of 3


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EDible News their communication in the present if we have the opportunity to connect face-to-face. Communicating ideas, written or not, is increasingly difficult as we do not have the continual and meaningful practice of interacting with others. The core of literacy to me is the importance of communication. While technology provides several avenues for some type of communication, it relegates once appreciated and simpler forms of communication to an inferior subsystem. I believe that our inability to read and write stems from our incapacity to connect with others. How often do we see people reading for pleasure? How often do we write for the sake of writing? Currently, the education system dictates benchmarks related to literacy, yet is the curriculum truly fostering a love of reading and writing in future generations, or a deep and

March 2015 intense hate for literacy? Oftentimes, because we are forced to do something we do not develop a love for it, as true love requires choice, genuine love does not use pressure or force. Through my educational career, I have seldom enjoyed reading and writing as I have been forced to do so. It has been a duty…a twelve-page essay, a hundred-page reading for the next class; these have been requirements for me to pass classes, yet they have not fostered my appreciation for reading and writing. If anything, they have increased my resentment towards senseless exercises and those who treat pupils as robots who are supposedly able to consume the written word and make sense of it. Before we emphasize the importance of reading and writing, I feel that we should highlight the importance of human contact in the present, unmediated through technology…the literacy of humans.

Twitterlitterate: The Evolution of Language in the Online Era Michael Gyssels Hidden within the riddling lines of James Joyce’s 1939 masterpiece, Finnegans Wake, (that idiosyncratic spelling is a small joke, for those (un)familiar with the text) is an urgent call to preserve the literacy of our little ones in the face of the festering mass of perpetual, torrential information that is the Internet. The famous Irish novelist begs us to hear the “twattering of the bards in the twitterlitter” (37). This almostnonsensical phrase, I think, will speak to more of you (and on more levels) than Joyce could ever have expected when writing his book of the night. First, the phrase is utterly incomprehensible: what is the “twitterlitter?” Sure, now we feel that there’s a significant mound of cat feces accumulating behind a particular URL (or two, or three), but in Oxford English the word means nothing. And likewise, the common perception is that much of what 4

gets said on Twitter means nothing. Moreover, this 1939 phrase in 2015 English reflexively belittles itself: it is itself a little bit of “twattering” by a bird / bard that makes much less sense than it intends. It makes fun of poor writing with “poor” writing. Of course, I’m taking this quote wholly out of context from a masterwork that really does have a higher purpose, but again, in that out-of-context nature we’re drawn back again to Twitter’s 140-character atmospheric blasts. Tweets are “flashes in the pan.” They are brief, strained glimpses into the minds of news reporters, field experts, teenagers, and even some self-proclaimed Internet poets. Both because of and in spite of these drawbacks, Twitter appears to be the most maligned, yet most prevalently (mis)used “internet teaching tool” available to the modern educator—but, ironically, kids are not the target demographic for Twitter. The reasons why Twitter


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is less successful with teens than other platforms is another question entirely. Regardless, over 60% of Snapchat’s users are 18-24; 28% percent of Instagram users falls into this category; and then even fewer use Twitter (Source). Rather, a recent study found that of the adults using twitter, over 50% of them are college educated. It seems that while Twitter is maligned for its destruction of the English language and its effects on the ‘ADHD minds’ of Millenials (and their youngers) Twitter actually works, in large part, the way it’s supposed to. Twitter is about dissemination of links and news as quickly as possibly. Thus, while teachers seem to think students are tweeting nasty information about one another, the ephemerality of something like Twitter means that things are often not in one place long enough to really take hold. Sure, rumours can blow up, but Twitter is largely about social events and popular interest— rapidly changing and perpetually relevant as things happen. Thus, it’s tough for Twitter to become a discussion platform the way that teachers generally intend it to be. Discussions via twitter are terribly disjointed: one must chase links across the blogosphere trying to understand what a series of tweets might be referring. Moreover, any sustained interest in a topic necessarily must extend across multiple tweets or else utilize a service like TwitlongerTM to extend tweets. The necessity of these tools suggests that perhaps users should look to other platforms for extended tracts on a given subject. Nonetheless, to circumvent these restrictions, the educated class of Twitter users has turned to short forms and acronyms to convey as much information as possible in a short space. Consider this tweet from Nick Kypreos (@ReakKyper) a hockey analyst: “#Kings Gaborik #NHL 7 yr deal comes in just north of 34m. His aav comes in under 5m. Good deal for LA” And yet, a recent study lists this troubling statistic: “Apostrophes, or a lack thereof, were followed by the use of acronyms such as LOL (laugh out loud) and YOLO (you only live once) as the most frequent examples of misuse in English.” (Telegraph UK) 5


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EDible News The assumption that acronyms are somehow “misuse” of language is bitter, cynical, and downright offensive. There should not, in fact there necessarily cannot, be any assumptions made connecting acronyms to misuse, poor spelling, and—worst of all—low intelligence. Consider, for example, the charged, unfounded claims by a so-called expert in the field of Internet Linguistics (a.k.a. Gen-XYZ hating): “I think it has [been detrimental to spelling]…[Twitter spellings on a resume] would say to me ... 'well, this person doesn't think very clearly, and they're not very good at analyzing complex subjects, and they're not very good at expressing themselves, or at worse, they can't spell, they can't punctuate,” [Joel Postman, author of Socialcorp: Social Media Goes Corporate] says. (Globe and Mail, emphasis mine) I will not go so far as to say that “LOL” is appropriate on a resume, but then, most students are smart enough (regardless of their grammatical prowess) to hire / solicit those proficient in the language to edit their resumes for them. Let’s face it, I know that Tylenol fixes my aches and pains, that does not make me a chemist or a doctor; that I would first turn to Tylenol for pain that could actually be a serious tumour does not make me stupid. Proficient writing is a skill, like anything else. Now, before this becomes a self-interested rant, I’ll return to a more factual and logical discussion of the rampant changes extant and clearly apparent in the English language. In “Sharing Time” Courtney Cazden investigates the effects of dialect on perceived skill and intelligence across ethnic boundaries (rather than the generational boundaries we’re currently discussing): “White adults were uniformly negative, with comments such as ‘terrible story,’ ‘incoherent,’ ‘this kid hops from one thing to the next.’ When asked to make a judgment about this child’s probably academic standing, without exception, they rated [a black student’s story] 6

March 2015

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below children who told [stories with a ‘white’ manner of speaking].” Sound familiar? In both the above cases, there is a conservative, defensive emphasis on maintaining whatever speech / writing pattern that the observers themselves use. In light of the above parallels, consider Dr. Simon Horobin’s ‘shocking’ comments at the latest Hay Literary Fesitval: “People like to artificially constrain language change. For some reason we think spelling should be entirely fixed and never changed. I am not saying we should just spell freely. But sometimes we have to accept spellings change.” (Globe and Mail) And this all in response to his suggestion that we might/can/should conceivably elide all of the spellings of their, there, and they’re because it does not matter to the average English speaker. Standardized spelling is a fairly recent, postmedieval invention. It is convenient; in some


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EDible News ways it aids communication, but it is not entirely necessary and ignores the frequent changes our language undergoes from day to day. Art thou convinced? Can thou perceive the pedantry extant in the word thou? And did you know that the preceding sentence might contain two mistakes depending on the era of English? (Shakespeare would have said “canst” and modern readers should know—but probably don’t—that the second “thou” should have been bracketed by quotation marks). I could further investigate the past, class-indicative distinction between “swine” and “pork” (one used by poor German farmers, one by wealthy French aristocrats), but I hope my point is beginning to become clear. What we are left with is two principles with which conservative adults need to become further affiliated: that of the economy of language; and the importance of communication and discourse over grammar and syntax. It was once said that “necessity is the mother of invention” and here we see that very fact at work: the imposition of stringent Twitter guidelines means that we are actually creating new language. Whether it is language the Queen shall someday use is beside the

March 2015 point. That Internet language may produce a modern schism between formal, upper class English and the language of the lower class remains to be seen. For now, teachers must consider only the importance of communication. Those students who want to become writers and academic philosophers will learn to write “properly.” Others may only need to possess language as a tool for connecting—and isn’t that what we want to foster as teachers in the classroom? So, instead of fearing Twitter and instead of making uninformed decisions about what tools to use in the classroom, we need to be wary of our own illiteracy. The existence of Twitter does not mean that Literacy has been Lost, but that there are new kinds of literacy forming—kinds about which we may very well be uninformed. Ignorance leads to fear and rejection, but knowing what Twitter can do makes it fun and useful. Twitter opens the classroom to exploration: internet scavenger hunts, sharing links and videos to be shown in class, tweeting poems, logging a reading journal all espouse the effectiveness of the platform. That its restrictions might also invoke cause to think about language itself is only an added bonus.

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March 2015

We are Legion A Defense of Physical Books Brooke Solnik Boxes in 2-D Phones, computers, and TV screens They increase, multiply, take over The new way replaces the old But is it really “new and improved�?

Leaves on trees crumple with the change of seasons Just as the pages of a book grow faded with age Only the screen is a different beast It glows brightly, a beacon, until over time its light begins to malfunction and eventually goes dark making the typeface that once appeared there Inaccessible.

You open a book and fall into the ever-changing abyss lined with lettering and paper When you look at a screen, you fall in Yet the abyss is not an abyss but a mess of wires and electricity, burning the eyes

No two books are the same I mean the feel and shape of them as you hold each book in your hands and set it down again They are a tangible weight in both the hands and the heart 8


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March 2015 A comfort not just of one But of three Five Ten thousand A million

That sense of finality when the last page is turned and the book closed Yet even as you change books with that screen the screen itself remains the same and plunges your surroundings into darkness A lonesome thing maybe even ominous or scary thing The consistent holding of a screen which results in rusty wrists and knobbly knees

Books are Legion But there is only one screen if you happen to have the misfortune to use one to read

There are copies upon copies of the same title – different languages, different covers, and yet No two books ever feel the same No two readings are ever the same Still a screen is just a screen Singular Alone Outnumbered We are Legion 9


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Reflective Teaching Alyssa Strassler

A few weeks ago, some of my fellow teacher candidates and I had the privilege of attending an Interview workshop organized by my practicum facilitator. This workshop was intended to provide us with pertinent information and helpful tips regarding interviews with school boards. Joel Chiutsi, a vice principal in the York Catholic District School Board, spoke to a group of about 40 student teachers about potential interview questions and suggestions for "level 4" responses. Seeing as I am in my final year of the Concurrent Education program at York, I have attended many workshops similar to this one, so I was not expecting to learn anything new or surprising; however, I was mistaken. During the workshop, all of the information given by the guest speaker was extremely useful for all of the teacher candidates. We had discussions around topics such as accommodations and modifications, 10

equity and diversity, the importance of communication and 21st century learning. All of these terms have been used over and over again as they are incredibly important when talking about student learning in educational institutions. They are all essential for teachers, new and experienced, but there was one idea that really left an impression on me. When a student fails a test or receives a low grade on an assignment, typically a teacher sees the student as being guilty of something. Maybe he did not study enough, maybe he did not pay attention in class because he was daydreaming or talking to his friends, maybe he should have asked for help if he did not understand a concept being taught. Instead of trying to pinpoint what the student did wrong, we may have to find a mirror to help us determine the problem.


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As teachers, we must always be reflecting on and reviewing our own pedagogical approaches to learning. When a student does not succeed, it is really a reflection on our own teaching methods. Perhaps our instructions were not clear enough; perhaps the assignment did not provide that particular student with an opportunity to excel using his own strengths and abilities; perhaps we did not allow enough time for student inquiry. Therefore, when a student does not succeed, we cannot disregard that one and focus on the other twenty-five that did. If this occurs, we must self-reflect on our own teaching to change it, so that all students can learn and succeed. I recently gave my Junior class an assignment to complete where they had to create comic strips illustrating a stressful, family situation and a strategy that can help deal with the stress. There were some students who were very successful and surpassed my expectations yet there where others who struggled to meet the success criteria. One student in particular completed the assignment, and met all the success criteria but it was not what I was expecting. He illustrated a stressful, family situation, but the strategy he used was different than the four strategies we discussed earlier in

class. I was going to suggest that the student redo his assignment. But I thought for a moment: Did I specifically say in the instructions and rubric that students must use one of the strategies from class? No, I did not. He did the assignment and technically followed all the directions correctly. It was difficult to give him a high grade because it was not what I wanted or expected students to do, but to maintain fairness in my assessments, I gave him the grade he deserved without redoing it. As teachers, we tend to focus on students, whether it is praising their work or criticizing it. Before criticizing it, we need to ensure our pedagogical approaches are equitable and dependable. Although we tend to feel defeated after telling a student he or she did well on an assignment when he or she did not do exactly as we wanted, we must find the courage to admit our mistakes and accept students' ideas even if they differ from our own, provided they meet the success criteria. I think students are not given enough credit for what they do every day. Yes, teachers must act firm and be friendly, but there are two more attributes that are often forgotten: teachers must also be flexible and fair.

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How is it Helping Us? The Teacher’s College Essay Dilemma Molly McFarlane As an ED III student who is currently completing my final education course, I can honestly say that I spent too much time writing essays for teacher’s college courses, and too little time learning practical things that would help me in the classroom. I keep wondering: why? Should the assumption not be that if we managed to make it into teacher’s college that we know how to write an essay? Even if we are concurrent students that got accepted to the program immediately after high school – shouldn’t essay writing be something that we do in undergrad and not in our teacher’s college courses? This is not to say that I don’t believe in the writing process as an essential component of education classes. However, it is important to realize what is a priority in an education class, and what isn’t as necessary. I think that reflecting on and analyzing things that we have done or are working on is a valuable educational tool. Do I think that this needs to develop into write-ups extending far beyond 3 pages? In most cases—no. Do I think that we need to be writing lengthy research and/or analytic essays in teacher’s college? Definitely not. There are more valuable, practical things we need to be learning that can still involve building and enhancing essential skills such as writing. What I argue is that we need to be building essential skills that will benefit us in the classroom. We need to learn about lesson planning, unit planning, group work, presentation skills, communicating skills, utilizing technology in the classroom, and everything else that will truly benefit us in the daily trials of teaching. The great thing is that most of these activities, in one way or another, will involve thinking, writing, analyzing and reflecting. Of course we need to do some writing activities while obtaining our education degrees. That being said, should there not be the assumption on the part of the course director that we know how to write a formal essay, that we practice those skills in undergrad, and that we do not need to exercise them as intensely in teacher’s college? Please know, this is coming from someone that loves essays—they are my strong suit. However, not only do I do enough of them in undergrad, but I don’t honestly think they have helped me learned much of anything in teacher’s college—at least nothing that couldn’t have been taught and learned another way. I understand that some people in certain degrees get more exposure to essays than others, so they find the teacher’s college essays helpful; however, I firmly believe that learning and teaching in teacher’s college can and should look differently than writing essay after essay. To conclude, I would not be a good teacher if I didn’t ask you to reflect on this in reference to your own experience with teacher’s college here at York. Some food for thought: How many formal essays have you done? Have you found teacher’s college essays helpful? If so, why? If not, what do you think would have helped you learn the material more efficiently? Are your assignments in teacher’s college practical? What are some strengths and weaknesses of the teacher’s college assignments you are assigned? I hope this gives you some ideas to think about. I know as a topic this is something I have raised with some of my course directors in education and it is my hope that, if you, too feel passionate about this that you will share your thoughts and suggestions with your colleagues and course directors as well. Thank-you for reading! Yours in Education, Molly McFarlane

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