Five Ways to Advocate for Justice in Education

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A slide from Dr. Ruha Benjamin’s Tuesday Keynote at ISTE2016.

This post was originally published on Teaching Tolerance

“We live in a time of crisis,” warned Dr. Ruha Benjamin in the beginning of her opening keynote at the 2016 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference. Benjamin, an assistant professor in the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University and author of People’s Science: Bodies and Rights on the Stem Cell Frontier, is the first black woman to keynote this conference.

And the space and timing were ripe for her message: We live in an era when people who are different are treated unfairly, when people of color have to defend their mere existence. Yet, we can all do something about it.

Take the education technology world. One of the major criticisms of ISTE, known as “the premier education technology conference,” is its lack of racial and ethnic diversity among speakers. That’s why Benjamin’s speech was such a groundbreaking and historic moment. Her fearless voice shattered the facade that this event is solely about technology in education. Instead, she shifted the focus to the heart of what makes education so vital: how we can help build a system that supports students and all their identities.

Benjamin called us to fight against oppressive systems in education, which she described as “parallel realities where some are nurtured and others are crushed.” She then reminded us that our inaction can be just as hurtful as outright support of those systems’ inequities and injustices. This point stood out to me, and I kept wondering what we, as educators, can do to change unjust conditions in education for students and teachers of color.

I caught up with her later that evening to chat about empowering voices in the education community and speaking out on such crucial issues as equality and social justice. I took away a few key points on how educators can work to bring about social change and justice in our classrooms and schools.

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The Toughest Lessons Learned: Conversations on Race

“In a sense the limitations of Orientalism are, as I said earlier, the limitations that follow upon disregarding, essentializing, denuding the humanity of another culture, people, or geographical region.” ~ Edward Said

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Edward Said, “Orientalism” 1978.

The first time I read Edward Said’s “Orientalism” was when I was doing my Master’s in Literature, back in 2008. I remember signing up to do a seminar about it. I also remember my professor guiding me to refute Said’s argument. That the West “others” the East because of their admiration of our goods, culture, ethnicity, and beauty.

I didn’t know any better, and did so much research that week in order to formulate an argument I didn’t believe in. Here is what I believed in:

  • The West others the East, and there is nothing good about that.
  • Colonialism is wrong now matter how you put it.

During that seminar, my own people argued against me. Or in better terms, schooled me. What’s shocking, is that I didn’t feel like I’ve failed, or embarrassed. I felt like this was the first time ever someone was showing me how to have a proper conversation about race. Conversation that involved theorizing and synthesizing.

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Show Solidarity with Words & Actions

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KADEN PAGANI, 8, LEFT, AND HIS BROTHER KINGSTON, 6, CARRY SIGNS AS THEY MARCH DOWN BROADWAY TOWARD FRANK OZAWA PLAZA DURING A BLACK LIVES MATTERS PROTEST IN OAKLAND ON THURSDAY, JULY 21, 2016. IMAGE BY MICHAEL SHORT.

This post was originally published on José Vilson’s blog. 

“Your silence will not protect you”

Audre Lorde calls for our silence to be transformed into language and action in her 1977 speech. But if our silence will not protect us, then why do we hold on to it for comfort? Why do revert to silence when we witness, see and read about the injustices and cruelty of this world? Why do we let fear take over? Why do we let compliance sink in?

There are many reasons for silence. But I am not looking to hear reasons and excuses for your silence or lack of action. I am here to tell you that while educators dominate the Twitter-sphere with their skyrocketing number of tweets and followers, only a small fraction of those tweets are dedicated to discussions on racism, social justice, inequity, Islamophobia, homophobia and other systematic prejudices. Conversations are happening, but they’re a very minor, and often times you see them in spaces where people of colour have already paved the way for them, such as on #EduColor and#SoJustEdu.

Pew Research Centre published survey results on social media conversations about race. According to the survey, “two of the most used hashtags around social causes in Twitter history focus on race and criminal justice: #Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter”.

So then why are educators so silent when it comes to race conversations? 

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Supporting First Nations, Métis, & Inuit Education: How do we maintain momentum that is driving us toward change?

 

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       I am Not a Number, a children’s book written by Jenny Kay Dupuis & Kathy Kacer. Illustrated by Gillian Newland.

As we get ready for a new start to the school year, we look back on some of the most important issues to cover, and learn more about how to support educators and students to reflect on some of the best practices for supporting their own growth of understanding the world around them. Equitable pedagogical practices and culturally responsive teaching happens with intentionality and purpose. So it’s important to be mindful of focusing on marginalized issues that we rarely hear about and discuss in the classroom and schools. With that, I am honoured to interview Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis to discuss ways to support aspects of Indigenous learning in the education system, and how we can each make an impact through knowledge and action on First Nations, Métis and Inuit issues.

  • How do you view the term ‘reconciliation’? What question(s) should we be asking ourselves when it comes to supporting reconciliation?

Nearly eight months after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC’s) Final Report was shared, organizations across Canada are looking for meaningful, authentic ways to support Sections 62 to 65 of the report which focuses on areas of education and reconciliation. Although we talk about the concept of reconciliation between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous Canadians, we need to make an enduring commitment to go beyond ‘just talking’ about reconciliation. We need to seek out authentic opportunities to respectfully listen to and understand the complexities of histories (“community memories”) and how it has impacted today’s generation, so that as citizens and caring school-community leaders, we may have the opportunity to move towards action-oriented change and fulfill reconciliation in a meaningful way.  

As a matter of principle, we need Indigenous voices at the forefront to help others understand the accuracy of details and the authenticity of values. For many years, Indigenous people’s voices were silenced due to the impacts of assimilation policies. Considering this, we need to ensure that Indigenous people have a place where their voices are at the centre of this conversation.

So the questions that we perhaps need to ask ourselves include: (1) “How do we respectfully maintain the momentum that is driving us towards change?”; (2) “How can we all make a conscious, genuine effort to ensure there are spaces and places for Indigenous peoples to be part of this change?”

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How To Create a Culturally Responsive Classroom for Refugee & Migrant Students

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Lebanese teacher, Nathalie Jaber, helps a Syrian student in a school in the Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan.

I had an interview last night with Shelly Sanchez for her BamEd Radio show. The topic was The Teacher Challenge: Strategies to help migrant and refugee students feel comfortable in the classroom. It’ll be aired in a few weeks, but after doing the interview I had a chance to reflect on our conversation.

I told Shelly that discussing the topic of refugee and immigrant students is one that is special to me, while I feel passionate about the topic, it also brings back a lot of unhappy memories. Memories of fleeing our country. Memories of arriving to Canada and going through a huge learning curve and culture shock in school. So while I feel very passionate to help teachers help refugee and migrant students, it comes at a cost that requires a lot of self-care and other healing strategies. In a way, discussing and writing about this topic has been a strategy for me to cope and heal.

Being a refugee at the age of 11 has taught me so much about teaching, learning and meeting the learning needs of my own students when I was teaching.

Here are some strategies to try out in the classroom to help create a culturally responsive environment for all students:

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Parent Challenge: That First Day Greeting

momanddaughterI was just chatting with my sister about first day of school, our fears and anxieties about our kids starting kindergarten and daycare! For those of you who know, I am currently full-time at home with my two young daughters. My oldest, 4 will start kindergarten this September, and my youngest 2.5 will start daycare for the first time.

I am dreading so much of it and I never thought that I would feel this way when the day finally comes when I don’t have my days full of juggling kids activities, shopping, playgrounds, and so many other things that keep me occupied with them throughout the day.

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Equity for English Language Learners

This post was originally published on Edutopia as a part of the #EduColor series on race, equity and social justice.

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Courtesy of Edutopia.

To understand English-language learners’ need for equitable education, we must first look at the dramatic increase in the numbers of ELLs in U.S. public schools. Between 1997-1998 and 2008-2009, the number of ELLs in public schools increased by 51%. However, the general student population only grew by 7% (Center for American Progress). ELLs are the fastest-growing student population with approximately six million currently enrolled in public schools (TESOL International Association).

Consequently, equitable practices both in and out of the classroom must be implemented to ensure that English-language learners get a fair opportunity not only at learning, but also at excelling in learning.

Ensuring Fair Assessment

With all of the standards and testing that teachers have to conduct in the classroom, it’s important that we ensure a fair assessment for ELLs. When we assess this population, we must remember to separate language skills from content skills. Some of these language skills include vocabulary, comprehension, phonology, grammar (syntax), and meaning (semantics). Content assessment focuses on whether or not the student was able to grasp the subject matter. Duverger (2005) suggests that “another way of disentangling the effects of language proficiency on content proficiency is to have a double scale of criteria: criteria relating to the content being delivered and criteria relating to the language being used.” This is a helpful strategy as it allows the teacher to create some sort of scale or rubric to easily identify the language skills during and after assessment.

Providing Students With Quality Instruction and Resources

To many ELLs, the learning opportunity that they receive is different than their native-speaker counterparts. Research suggests that effective English-language learning classrooms foster a strong environment of collaboration, dialogue, and group engagement. It’s important that students have multiple opportunities throughout the day to engage in conversational-style learning with their peers so that they can practice their oral language skills. Working collaboratively also fosters a culture of community in the classroom.

Research shows that ELLs can experience two categories regarding the quality of instruction:

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Three lesson ideas for teaching your class about Eid al-Fitr

This blog was originally published on The Guardian. While Eid al-Fitr was last week, these activities can work well with another upcoming Eid al-adha to help cultivate a feeling of belonging and safety for Muslim students and students of colour in the classroom.

As fasting in the holy month of Ramadan draws to a close, some 1.6 billion Muslim people around the world will celebrate Eid al-Fitr on Wednesday 6 July 2016.

When translated from the Arabic, Eid al-Fitr means “festival of breaking the fast” and traditionally lasts up to three days.

As families and communities across the UK prepare for the celebrations, teachers might be wondering how to bring the festival to life in their classrooms. Some pupils might not be familiar with the meaning and significance of Eid to Muslim students. It’s important to create a safe and mindful environment where all students to feel comfortable, and those who practise Islam can celebrate.

“Celebrating who we are” activity

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Getting Started with Writing: Create a Topic

cA4aKEIPQrerBnp1yGHv_IMG_9534-3-2So you’re starting an essay?

Here are some steps to get you started…

Topic: What is your research topic?

Explanation: Choose a topic that you’re interested in writing about. If your teacher gave you the topics, think of a specific aspect of the topic you’d like to discuss. For example, if you’re writing about “Social Media”, ask yourself: What about social media do you want to discuss?

Example: Your topic here would combine the two: “Social Media and social justice activism”. More specifically, maybe you’re interested in discussing:

“trending hashtags that relate to a specific social/political cause”

Why is your topic important? What is your research topic?

Convince us why this topic is important and why we should care about reading it. Provide some facts, research, examples, or a powerful quote.

ex: With trending hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter #YesAllWomen and #IdleNoMore, social media has become a powerful tool for social justice activism.

Here is an example using The Writing Project:

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Bring Digital Literacy & Citizenship to Your Class

This post was originally published here on Annenberg Learner.

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Ms. Ferrales students participate in a class discussion on the Haitian Revolution in Reading & Writing in the Disciplines.

Before my class started blogging and creating digital stories, they had many questions regarding online use of blogs, social media platforms, and YouTube. Some students, rightfully so, were concerned about their privacy. Some students were more concerned about their communication and the digital footprint they would be leaving. As a result, before we were all comfortable with displaying our work digitally, we needed to address these concerns.

When it comes to digital citizenship, there are several elements (including elements of digital literacy) that are important to discuss and understand. Mike Ribble identifies 9 digital citizenship elements. In my classroom, I found myself covering the following:

To see the rest of the post check it out here.

Systems of Adversity: For the Love of Teaching – TEDx

I did a TEDx on May 14 at Kitchener, Waterloo. My talk discussed the need for each of us to find and share our voice. Through my own experiences moving through the Middle East and eventually settling in Canada, I attempt to show the power of finding and sharing your voice even when others may try to suppress it, calling on educators to enable their students with love and empathy.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and if you have had any similar experiences of adversity in your life.

4 Goals for #ISTE2016

I am at #ISTE2016 today with The Writing Project team. We arrived last night at 9 pm, but it was 11 pm EST (my timezone). So I was a bit tired but it was still so exciting. This morning we had breakfast with #Edumatch and #Edspeakers members!

I heard from many educators that when we attend ISTE, it’s important to pace yourself and make sure that you’re getting some downtime from all the conference events. The conference has yet to officially start, but I have created a few goals to get out of #ISTE2016 this year, and I hope this list helps you:

  • Connect with my PLN one of the most important things for me is to connect with my professional learning network. It’s so important for me to connect with people whom I’ve already connected with online. After all, if we know each other online and are in the same space, why not say hello and meet face to face? Connecting with our PLN is still one of the most amazing and fascinating experience for me when attending international conferences.
  • Share the Learning This may be a bit obvious, but often times when you’re at a conference, it gets super busy and we might not have enough time to actually tweet, Periscope etc. So my goal is to be intentional about it, but to also enjoy the moment.
  • Go with the Flow Which brings me to my next point, go with the flow! I plan on going with the flow and being okay with that. If a conversation happens that stops me from going to a session, I’ll be fine with that, because after all, some of these most spontaneous moments can create the best connections.
  • Make time for Downtime I learned today that it’s important to take some downtime from all the excitement. It can get a little overwhelming, meeting people, having conversations, getting stopped in the hallway, so I plan on visiting the Blogger’s Cafe for some relaxing time, and who knows, maybe I’ll even get to write a blog post.

Here is what happened today at the #EduMatch/#Edspeakers meetup:

I finally got to meet my amazing friends Shelly Sanchez, Sarah Thomas, and Valerie Lewis. And many other fabulous educators. I feel so lucky to be here, not many educators have this opportunity to connect, share and learn at such a large event.

We also hosted the #Edumatch / #Edspeakers meet up which was such a success! Valerie, Sarah and Shelly stressed the importance of finding your passion and communicating your passion to others. Most importantly help others to see that educators can be entrepreneurs, and be passionate about creating projects that make a difference. We then discussed the importance of #Edspeakers and why we need to have diverse voices in education to speak, present and be influencers.

Are you at ISTE? if you are, let’s connect and say hi!

 

Why We Should Care About Equity & Social Justice as Educators

This post was originally published for Teacher2Teacher
Have you ever walked into a room full of people and you were the only one that looked visibly different? If you haven’t, chances are you’re lucky, maybe even privileged to not have ever been in this position, but I encourage you to read on and walk in my shoes for a bit. If you have, I know how you feel.
Years and years ago, as a muslim student of color, life was tough. My struggle wasn’t because no one looked like me, my struggle was that many students looked like me, but none of my teachers did. Why does that matter? Research suggests that we are biologically wired to empathize with people who look like us. Teachers could not understand what it was like being me, a former child refugee, now struggling to learn english and make friends.
Fast forward years later, I am one of the very few muslim women who work at my college, and the only one in the department of English and Liberal Studies. All this, combined with being a new young teacher, led me to feel very isolated, in a profession where I needed collegial support the most to retain my enthusiasm and positivity for students. Of course, my colleagues were wonderful, but this wasn’t about them being good human beings or not, this was about my wanting to relate to someone on the same level of experience, mindset, and background. So I tell my students this: “We discuss social justice and equity in the classroom to help raise awareness that these issues directly touch our lives, and if we don’t speak up for ourselves, then who will?” My students all agree and in fact voice this same sentiment to me in so many ways. Some of them are international students, some of them are English Language learners, many of them are students of color, some of them are white students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, some of them hope to make a difference. They are my students, and I love them all, and I care about issues that touch them on a daily basis.
We are all impacted by equity and social justice issues, some of us are more impacted than others. Teaching about these issues helps raise awareness, and allows students to think critically about their stance on such topics. Teaching about equity and social justice issues though also makes our teaching and our pedagogy relevant.
And since those issues were near and dear to my heart, it was a great surprise to me that they weren’t discussed at all when I became a connected educator on Twitter. Twitter was and still is a great way to connect and learn from many educators globally, but the lack of discussion of equity and social justice created that same feeling of walking into that staff room and felt like I didn’t belong. One day, I saw tweet inviting us to join a chat focused on racial and social justice in education. I was very excited and added it to my calendar. That evening, when I joined #EduColor’s first chat and I also discovered the importance of joining affinity groups in education. Joining the chat led to my invite to join #EduColor movement as a member and most recently, a steering committee member. #EduColor is a movement that focuses on issues of race, culture and ethnicity in education. We advocate for equity for students and teachers of colour and other marginalized individuals whose voices rarely get heard. As a result of joining #EduColor, I feel supported, empowered and driven to continue to advocate for issues I truly feel passionate about. Probably the biggest benefits of joining #EduColor is building close relationships with educators who have had the same struggles I’ve experienced. Their support and constant wisdom truly does empower an educator in the classroom. Here are a few tips on how get started with teaching about Equity & Social Justice issues:

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Teaching Inquiry Strategies to Improve Students’ Writing

SeattleClass-300x225My favourite part of teaching English has always been the freedom that comes with teaching it. As an educator, I never feel like I am bound to specific rules or instructional strategies when it comes to teaching writing to students. As explained in Reading & Writing in the Disciplines, writing is a process that students work on to improve over time. My goal as an educator has always been to empower students to believe that their writing voice is important, and that they have something to say. This epiphany didn’t come to me easily though. My students, many of them are struggling writers and a lot of them are English Language Learners, have a hard time engaging critically with works of literature: short stories, novels, etc. When students can easily engage with the text by reading, they have a much easier time writing about that same text.

One day during a writing workshop, as I was helping one student decide what topic to write about, I found that I was asking him a lot of questions. My questions were scaffolded, and they moved from description to analytical questions. As the student answered each question, he was able to discover his focus. The success of using inquiry to strengthen students’ writing is also what led me to create The Writing Project.

Here are some examples of questions to ask students to help them to understand and interpret text:

– See the rest of the blog at Annenberg Learner blog.

4 Ways I Like to Spend My Summer

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How many times did you come home and still did school work or thought about that student that was just way too chatty in class? Teaching is one of those jobs that is very hard to avoid bringing home. Some teachers do manage to leave work at work, but for the majority of us, it’s constantly on our mind. We often get so caught up with our roles as teachers that we don’t have time to look to learn things outside of our own professional development. A while ago, this was something that was on my mind constantly, I wanted to learn about something completely new outside of teaching. And for a while, I had no idea what that may be. This required me to reflect about my own personal interests outside of teaching that I wanted to extend.

I decided to reflect with my students: what are The Ingredients of Me? We decided to do this activity to find out a bit more about ourselves outside of our current roles: teacher, students, parents, brothers, sisters, and much more. Our discovery led us to think that even though we might only be doing an activity we enjoy as little as 8% of the time, this might be something we’d like to further develop.

Here are a couple of things that I want to learn more about that can also be transferred into teaching and the classroom:

Writing Join a local writing shop to write with others and get feedback on your writing. If you’re a teacher blogger this can help you improve your writing, but also motivate you to be consistent in writing. There are many local writing workshops that are free to join, some are in the evenings some are on weekends. My favourite ones are 1 hour a week, where writers meet to just write solid writing for one hour, then they can choose to share their writing or not, but in this way, it’s not time consuming and pushes us to actually focus and write. One bonus benefit of local writing workshops is that most of them are held in local coffee shops, so it’s a very relaxed, no-pressure type of environment.

Photography During a local neighbourhood Fall fair, I discovered that there are several photography classes near my area. While these are courses and require more commitment, if one has the time to devote to learn something new, why not? The classes for beginners are especially interesting because they go over the basics. The basics help you sharpen your skills even when taking a simple picture of your classroom, or an activity you completed with your students. Your Instagram friends will start asking you for tips!

Design Thinking I only learned about Design Thinking as a process about 3 years ago. So when I joined the Design Cofounders team, and witnessed how they apply to on a day to day basis to solve problems, I saw how useful that knowledge can be in and outside of education. Design thinking is a very solution-oriented process and this helps with forming and shaping our understanding of problems on a day to day basis. However, the biggest benefit of learning about Design Thinking, is the process itself. Its emphasis on iteration, collaboration, brainstorming, feedback, solution-based thinking and most importantly, empathy are all skills we can benefit from on a daily basis.

Digital Communications This is the most fun topic for me to learn about and explore, and probably the biggest! Digital communications is so much more than using social media daily. There are so many aspects of digital communications that we can delve into and they directly impact how our students see information transmitted to them everyday. Community building, engagement on social media, digital literacy, infographics, illustrations, all impact how we see information and understand it. Now you’re wondering how you can learn about all of this? Diving into social media and building your own digital presence through profiles, writing, sharing and collaborating can teach us a lot. You can also check out the articles here and select an angle that fits with your interests.

Our interests define who we are as people, and it’s only human nature that we work to connect our learning with our daily roles. It’s really important for educators to look outside of education for knowledge but also for hobbies. It helps us to de-stress, step outside our immediate work pressures and focus on something new. This helps us to feel rejuvenated and renewed when we enter the classroom, because not only can we share our knowledge with our students, but to step outside our comfort zone and gain a new perspective.

“Why is your point important?” On the importance of Analysis in Writing

This post was originally published on The Writing Project’s Blog.

When we write, it’s important that we try and think about the reason why you’re writing your point. This helps us to stay focused on making our point clear to the reader, and helps to push our thinking to the next level. Instead of focusing on “what” and “how” the story was told, think about “why” this point is important for the readers to know about.

This moves writing instantly from being descriptive to being analytical. Analytical writing means that critical thinking is used to communicate a strong message.

For example:

Your analysis allows the reader to understand your point of view, but also to be able to form their own perspective and opinion about your ideas. This helps to make your writing stronger and more engaging.

How Teachers Can Take Charge of their Professional Development

NetworkCircle123rf-300x283Isolation in the classroom is a serious feeling that many teachers suffer. I was definitely one of them. I felt very isolated when I started teaching and could not relate to most of my colleagues. There was very little time for colleagues to meet in person and a lack of PD opportunities. Many of them were great teachers, but I needed to connect, collaborate and share thoughts and ideas on teaching.

When I became digitally active and connected, I realized that many windows of opportunity opened up for me all at once. Being connected and active on the digital sphere means a lot more than occasionally maintaining social media accounts. It means connecting with like-minded individuals who share your interest and passion in teaching and learning. This sharing is a two-way street: you learn and you give it right back by sharing your knowledge.

As a whole different world of opportunity opened up to me by being a digitally connected educator, this translated into improving my pedagogy and teaching strategies in the classroom. It also allowed me an opportunity to really reflect on my teaching, make sure it’s relevant, and pass on the knowledge of digital citizenship to my students.

There are so many available pathways for professional development that teachers can seize without having to rely on their school or department. Teachers can take charge of their own professional development by taking advantage of the following opportunities:

This post was originally published on Annenberg Learner Foundation Blog. See the rest of the article here.

How to Give Constructive Feedback to Students

This is a guest post by Ethan Miller. Ethan is a dedicated private ESL teacher. Apart from his passion for teaching, Ethan loves to write and holds a degree in creative writing. When he is not teaching or writing his book, Ethan loves to blog and is a huge fan of educational technology. You can check out his blog Essay Writing Tips and Help on WordPress. 

Being a teacher is a tough job. Handling kids in classroom, planning lessons, preparing tests, correcting test papers, attending parent teacher meetings and teacher conferences – all this while trying to cover the vast syllabus prescribed for the academic year…Phew! Things can become a tad bit overwhelming.

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But apart from the above demands of a teaching job, a teacher is also responsible for the overall academic growth of students. And in order to help a student perform better, a teacher needs to use the tools of feedback and criticism. Criticizing comes easily to most of us, but a majority of teachers fail to come up with constructive criticism, often leaving students feeling angry or worthless. Even if the intention is not to be harsh, feedback can convey the wrong message to students if not delivered correctly.  And this, in turn, can have an adverse effect on their behavior.  

Constructive criticism ensures that your message is conveyed without hurting the feelings of a student and gives them direction to improve. Here’s how you can master the art of constructive criticism:

Don’t make it personal

When you are giving negative feedback, try not to point out the old mistakes of the student as it will make him/her feel miserable. We all have biases and you may not be fond of a certain student, but that bias should not come in the way of constructive criticism. Talk about the issue at hand, rather than making personal remarks and criticizing the student.   

Mind your tone

When we criticize, we tend to go overboard and pay little attention to the tone of our speech. A sentence can be interpreted differently depending on the tone. Always use a friendly or nonjudgmental tone while conveying a difficult message to a student.   

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Teaching Students to Analyze Sources of Information

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Students analyze primary and secondary sources, from Reading & Writing in the Disciplines.

As a result of the civil war in Syria, more than 4 million people have fled Syria since the conflict started. This situation, along with war and injustice in other countries such as Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan and many more, has resulted in a global refugee crisis. As refugees seek to move to safer places, countries struggle with managing the flow of people and the issues that arise when new communities are introduced to existing ones.

With trending hashtags such as #RefugeeCrisis #SyrianRefugees and #RefugeesWelcome and a U.S. presidential election on the horizon, there is no doubt that students encounter such devastating stories on social media and the news, and multiple views about how countries should (or shouldn’t) help refugees. I decided that I have a duty to help my students understand and critically engage on such topics, as they do impact our lives.

However, I am also wary that I need to help my students learn how to identify biases and different perspectives when reading, researching, and engaging with such topics. The media and news contain a lot of information that needs to be questioned and analyzed before helping students to form their own opinions about the issues at hand.

Here are some steps I used to guide students through a research project:

– See the rest of the article here.

This post was originally published on Annenberg Learner Blog.

#DecolonizeHistory: Storytelling & Resistance

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On the power of storytelling to free ourselves from a history of violent oppression.

Decolonization

by Mitra Fakhrashrafi 

“I started writing because there was an absence I was familiar with. One of my senses of anger is related to this vacancy – a yearning I had as a teenager… and when I get ready to write, I think I’m trying to fill that.” –Ntozake Shange

#DecolonizeHistory is about storytelling that disrupts space to present narratives that have been actively silenced or neglected. #DecolonizeHistory is a Toronto-based sticker-art project aimed at interrupting space, addressing colonial roots and undoing processes of white supremacy. Historical narratives within mainstream discourse are presented without the context of colonization, slavery and imperialism, despite the fundamental role they play on all aspects of life. Within these erasures, there are narratives we are told at the expense of silencing other narratives that are actively unrepresented. We are taught to honour the anti-apartheid work done by Nelson Mandela, while we are simultaneously huey queen sttaught to…

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Moments of Empathy

Empathy truly touches the heart of people in many unimaginable ways and makes us see potential and believe in others. I was asked who was my favourite teacher, and I realized that it’s not so much a favourite teacher that has impacted me, but it’s all favourite moments of a display of empathy from my teachers that have stuck with me and truly impacted me as a person.
 
  

In grade 5 one of my teachers gifted a book for the summer for me, it was a harder level than my English at that time but she said “I know that by the end of the summer, you’d be reading it”. That was so powerful because I ended up reading it. Her believing me in me and displaying that belief through her empathetic actions is what drove me to read the book.Ms. Fujimoto, I’ll always remember when she asked me if those boys in my group were bothering me. They had been bullying me for a few weeks and we were in a group together. After I told her they called me names, those boys never bothered me again. There are many other memorable moments that stayed with me and made me the person I am today. They all have one thing in common: empathy.

Empathy truly does impact people in so many beautiful ways. We just need to recognize it and own it.

Being empathetic takes patience. It takes time. It doesn’t come easily. 

Being empathetic also requires us to asses our biases. What do we truly think? Why? How can we change this perspective to help us understand others? Do our own beliefs and biases prevent us from understanding and even empathizing with others? 

Reflecting inwards helps us to perform better outwards. 

When we’re empathetic, we touch more than minds, we touch hearts. And that can make a world of difference.

My #Workflow: An Interview with @RoyanLee

My interview with Royan Lee about my Workflow.

The #MyWorkflow series asks educators who are active creators on social media to share how they do their work. Today we speak to Rusul Alrubail, a renaissance educator who does just about everything. Currently dedicated to being a full time mother to her beautiful daughters, Rusul remains incredibly active in education through her writing and connecting. If she’s not facilitating an Educolor Twitter chat or writing another powerful piece for Edutopia, she’s working hard to organize EdCamp Toronto, or blow people away as a featured speaker at the next TEDx education event in Ontario. To make a connection with Rusul is to broaden your pedagogical horizons and worldview.

How do you pay the bills?

I work part time with Edutopia as community facilitator. We engage the community in positive ways, help educators, parents and students when they reach out. I also work with them on copywriting. It’s a fun job that works really well with my schedule and being a full time at home with my two little girls. I am also a freelance blogger and consult occasionally with several organizations. I am also a co-founder of The Writing Project, an essay writing app for students that the Design Cofounders team is currently piloting with several schools and universities. Before that I was a contract professor at Seneca College for 5 years, I taught English literature and composition to undergrads and college students.

My husband is also the founder and CEO of Design Cofounders. That’s also very helpful when it comes to paying the bills.

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What regular activity brings you little money but loads of happiness?

Probably freelance blogging for education publications, and writing on my site. I do it because I love writing. It brings me joy because it opens up ideas and conversation to many people, and it always surprises me when someone new engages with me because one of my posts resonates with them. I especially love that they’re usually from somewhere across the world. I also do online webinars and presentations and those are fun too, to connect with other educators.

What’s your current phone? Which phone do you miss? What will be your next one?

iPhone 6s. My next one will probably be another iPhone. I’ve been an apple girls for the past 8 years, it’s what I’m used to. Even though I still dislike the way my photos sync, so I use Dropbox instead. It’s counterproductive but it’s working for now. My husband has encouraged me to go android, he loved how everything syncs with cal and gDoc, but I use those apps on my iPhone anyway. But never say never.

What’s your current laptop? Which laptop do you miss? What will be your next one?

I have a 13 inch MacBook Pro. Before that I had an 11 inch one. The next one will probably be the MacBook light. My husband got one and it’s the lightest, most elegant looking laptop.

What apps and/or methods do you use to stay productive?

I just started using Evernote again after deleting it. I wanted to give it another try. I mostly use Dropbox for photos, google calendar, and Google Keep on my iPhone.

image1 (1)

Google Keep was actually my most used app till recently when it comes to brainstorming and outlining ideas for my blogging. Here’s a rough outline of one of my blog posts “the heart of teaching” which was Edutopia’s #2 most viewed blog last year. I had woken up one night with the baby, and an idea came to me and wrote it. You can also see that I omitted some parts in the final post.

Which apps do you check persistently, even if you wish you didn’t?

I check Facebook and I hate it. I joined Facebook because of Edutopia work. Working on Edutopia’s social media requires me to monitor Facebook posts and comments. I don’t like Facebook because it feels noisy for me. I also merged professional connections with family, and I have conflicting feelings about this. It’s a bit too late to go back unless I create an entirely new Facebook account and that’s not happening.

I check Twitter a few times a day to read news and connect with online friends. But I do have my notifications turned off because otherwise they’ll take up way too much of my attention.

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Using Poetry to Facilitate Discussions

Poetry
Poet Nikki Grimes talks with students. Click on this picture to watch the classroom video in Teaching Multicultural Literature.

This post was originally published on Annenberg Learner Blog.

If you present poetry as if it were castor oil, no one will be interested. Instead, teachers can approach it as something fun, and also explore poetry that connects to the students and their lives (as opposed to choosing poetry that they feel “should” be studied).” – Nikki Grimes, in Teaching Multicultural Literature

Poetry is a type of genre with which many students have a hard time engaging. In fact, it’s also a genre that many teachers struggle to teach, as a result of its complexity and form. I, for one, am one of those teachers. Helping students to decipher lines, tropes, and the meaning of poems, while at the same time keeping the lesson engaging was a struggle for me. Consequently, I was a little worried before the start of a poetry unit that my students would be disengaged from the lesson. As a result, I decided to ask students to bring songs, lyrics, or poems that they enjoyed and that conveyed a special message or meaning to them.

To my great surprise, while many students opted to bring song lyrics, a large number of them shared poems that they liked and that resonated with them. One particular student shared Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman.” As she read it, she started tearing up making for a very emotional read.

I asked her about what made her tear up. She answered me with the following, and I will never forget it:

“We’re always put down by society, men, and sometimes those who love us. It’s why I have this on my mirror, it gives me strength every day to walk into the world as a black woman.”

Maya Angelou’s poem resonated with my student and many students who heard it that day, because it touched on what it means to be a woman of colour in society. The poem challenges traditional notions of beauty constructed by society and elevates the beauty of a woman to which we can all relate.

For this lesson I learned three things.

  1. Never underestimate the interest of students in a certain subject area. It might not be a popular subject or theme or unit, but what students might share may allow us to get to know them and understand them.
  2. Poetry, just like literature, has the power to start an open conversation about issues that students care about and that directly touch students’ lives.
  3. By giving students a choice to bring their own examples, I opened room for discussions about topics that are relevant to them. Our particular conversation taught my students about what feminism means and that everyone, not just women, shares a responsibility in advocating for women’s rights.

Facilitating a conversation by teaching poetry began with sharing selections and samples. To help my students start the conversations, I asked them: Why did you choose the piece? What was so special about it? What resonated with you? From there on it’s crucial to build on that conversation through more questioning, inquiry, analysis, and reflections.

In Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 2, “Engagement and Dialogue,” read an interview with writer Nikki Grimes about teaching poetry to students. Also explore methods of teaching poetry to help students engage in the work. Find strategies for helping students to connect with the texts they read, and instructions for how to host an open mic event with students.

The most important thing to remember is to enjoy the experience of teaching poetry and learning with and from students.

 

Re-Energizing our Struggling Learners: Strategies for Reading & Writing

Reading and writing

 


 Activate — -> Read — -> Discuss — -> Respond

Reading: Engaging with complex text. Understanding & Analyzing Texts

Many of our struggling readers have a difficult time reading and engaging with complex text. There are several strategies that can help them to engage in actively reading the text as well as applying critical thinking skills while reading to later engage in writing.


Identify Fiction vs Non-Fiction

One way to help struggling readers to engage with complex text is to first understand the difference between a non-fiction and a work of fiction. We can do this by creating a classroom chart and brainstorming the differences on each side, with some examples.

The chart can include all the elements that make up a story: Setting, characters, themes, etc. As well as the components that make up a work of nonfiction: Thesis statement, evidence, diagrams, labels, research, data etc.

Image BY Reyna Sandoal, TES.com BlendspaceFiction nonfiction

Vocabulary/Terminology Comprehension

Many of our struggling readers shut down when there is unfamiliar vocabulary, terminology, or concepts in the reading. Familiarizing students with non-fiction by introducing vocabulary and terminology that might appear in non-fictional text can help to eliminate reading road blocks.


 
Miss Grubb

This may include elemental and content terminology:

  • Thesis statement
  • Evidence
  • Concluding sentence
  • Literary techniques

Brainstorm & Categorize Genres:

  • Drama
  • Poetry
  • Short Story
  • Documentary

The Writing Project

By helping students become familiar with content specific vocabulary, we are helping them identify which keywords are important to distinguish, and engage with critically, and which words to skip when skimming the text. There are many vocabulary building activities that you can do with the students to help them to remember and understand certain terminology:

Grouping vocabulary words together into categories can help students to understand the different elements of fiction versus non-fiction.

For fun vocabulary activities, think about using social media with students to help them learn vocabulary words.

  1. One activity can be for students to create funny videos or tweets of definitions.
  2. Another strategy is to ask students to locate specific elements in text that define the vocabulary words related to the content of the genre, ie:identify where the evidence is? Underline the topic sentence, etc.
  3. Have students create their own memes of their favourite literary strategy: Metaphor, irony, etc.

Activate: Pre-Reading Activities

“Struggling readers often have a difficult time transferring old knowledge to new situations.” ~ (Kelly, et al)

Spend the first 10–15 minutes of class to engage readers with subject of the text they’re about to read.


Consider the following when designing pre-reading activities:

  • What’s the students’ background knowledge about the subject/text that is being discussed?
  • What is their interest level? (This can be gauged by asking students in the beginning of the lesson or the day before)
  • What would they like to know about the topic?
  • How can this text/subject be connected to their everyday life?
  • Is this topic relevant to them?

Some suggestions for pre-reading activities:

  • Fiction: Show a short clip of a video that relates to the subject/theme of the text. Ask students to share or record their initial thoughts about it.
  • Fiction: Share a photograph or an image with students and ask them to reflect on what it may symbolize.
  • Informational text: share a tweet or a Facebook post related to the reading, and have students discuss the topic.
  • Informational text: have students debate both sides of the argument presented in the text before reading. Then compare and contrast their points with the ones the article makes.

Activate students’ Prior Knowledge on the topic:

What is one thing you know about…

When did … happen?

Can you recall…?

If you were to describe … in two sentences, what would they be?

What is one thing you want to know about…?


Reading: Scaffolding Reading of Complex Text:

  • Read text aloud with students.
  • Make sure to revisit vocabulary words you discussed/introduced in the beginning of class.
  • Define other vocabulary words that you came across when reading. Provide examples outside of context of the text.
Image by: Rusul Alrubail
  • Use chunking as an effective reading strategy to scaffold complex text.
  • Ask students comprehension questions that can only be answered if they read the text closely.
  • Make sure to ask for evidence to prove the answers to the comprehension questions.

Ways to Help Struggling WritersRusul Alrubail, 2016.

Assign Relevant Topics:

  • Relevant issues to students’ interest, backgrounds, culture.
  • Pop culture
  • Social Media
  • Current news/events
  • Hot topic debates.
  • Music, art, poetry.
Rusul Alrubail. Social Media & Student Communication Skills.

Introduce Students to an Authentic Audience:

Discuss: Guiding Discussion Questions

 

Ask Students guided questions about the reading. Start with the basics:

Who? What? Where? When? How? =

Knowledge + Comprehension + Application

Don’t make the questions very simple to find. Give students a chance to close read the text & support answer with textual evidence.

Why? Most importantly? So what? Why should we care about this issue/topic? = Analysis + Synthesis


Discussions lead to students forming opinions, their own point of views and gaining perspective on real world application:

“How can I apply what I just learned in this discussion to real life?”

Respond

Give students a choice, but don’t be afraid to also provide them with gentle suggestions. 

Provide a short prompt for students to respond to related to the class discussion they had.

Here is an example of an argumentative paragraph assignment.

Description — → Analysis

“Why?”

“So What?”

This helps them to see relevancy in their writing and lets them understand the power of their words.

Help students see the importance of peer feedback. Set time for them to share their work with others and provide constructive comments and feedback to each other.

This post was originally created as a presentation for The EdCollaborative Gathering.

How to Write an Argumentative Paragraph

How to Write an Argumentative Paragraph (1)Argumentative writing is one of the most crucial writing for students to grasp, as it provides them with the tools to be able to convey their point of view clearly to an audience.

Argumentative writing also provides an opportunity for students to understand different point of views when reading news articles, opinions and essays. By understanding the structure and logic of argumentative writing, students would soon be able to make a distinction between bias, subjectivity versus objectivity, and all the different logical fallacies that are often used in argumentative writing.

The cornerstone of each argumentative paragraph is a topic sentence. Topic sentence declares to the reader what your topic is. The key to a great topic sentence is to make it clear, concise, and contextual.

For example: Topic: Social Media

Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, are powerful tools to raise awareness about social and political issues through digital protests using hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter & #ICantBreathe.

Next, provide evidence to support your point of view. Here is where you can Summarize, Paraphrase, or Provide quotes to support your argument.

Analyze: It’s not enough to just plop a quote or a statistic to the reader, you need to convince the reader why this piece of evidence supports your main argument. Consider the following: Why is this important? What do you hope to prove to the reader? How does this piece of evidence strengthen your argument?

More explanation: Here is where you provide anymore explanation, logic, research to support your point of view. Did you miss anything? What else can you say that can help the reader understand, more importantly, be convinced of what you’re trying to say?

Counterargument: Many writers are afraid to produce a counter claim to their argument in fear of having their arguments falter right in front of the reader’s eyes. This might be true depending on how you produce the counterclaim. Providing a counterargument shows several things to the reader: That for one thing, you did your due diligence when it comes to research, and you’re aware of the literature on the topic. It also shows the reader that you’re not afraid to debate this issue, because you’ll have facts to support your claims.

The key to providing a strong counterclaim is if you can disprove it by more evidence that further supports your point of view.

For example: There are many sources that suggest digital protests have no real life impact and cannot change people’s mind about racism/prejudice etc. However, here are a few policies that have been changed as a result of these protests: xyz etc etc.

Concluding Sentence: the concluding sentence can be a summary, but to make it more interesting and engaging to the reader, provide your opinion of why you think this issue is important. In other words, answer the big “So What?” question, why should people care about what you’re saying? This doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, but it does need to be specific to be able to connect the readers to your topic.

Assignment:

Write a paragraph that makes an argument about one of the issues that we have discussed in the class so far. Your paragraph can use evidence from the articles we read to support your idea, and can also use evidence from your personal experience. Feel free to adopt any point of view for this assignment.

Topic Suggestions:

  • Gender and gaming industry
  • Domestic Violence
  • Social media to raise awareness about issues (digital protest using hashtags)
  • Gender roles: domestic and public (home and workplace)
  • Racism

Your paragraph should include: topic sentence, supporting ideas, evidence, analysis of evidence and a conclusion sentence.

Three Easy Tips for Teachers on Twitter

It is often said that teaching is an isolated job. Sure, we might not feel this way while we’re teaching — after all, we’re surrounded by our students. The classroom noise, students’ laughter, and busy conversations often make us feel like we’re not alone.

But what happens when class is over? What happens when the students leave? What happens when we are finally standing all alone in the classroom, packing up our folder, laptop, and water bottle, and reflecting on how the lesson went?

Like Molly Robbins, Twitter for educators helped me see that teaching does not have to be an isolated job. In fact, Twitter for educators is about global connections, collaborations, and new opportunities.

margaret meadTwitter is changing the way of professional development, teaching, and learning in education. So if you’re an educator and would like to leverage the power of Twitter to become connected, there are several areas to focus on in your interactions to create and grow your professional learning network (PLN).

Twitter chats: This is a great way to meet other educators and to discuss similar topics of interest. As a new connected educator, I used to frequent chats a lot. However, I found that the connections that I was getting out of them are much more important than being on the chat itself. In other words, it’s okay to have side conversations on chats, and it’s okay not to answer the posed question. Even more so, it’s okay not to join them all together.

Twitter chats provide the pathway to building these connections, but they’re not what Twitter for educators is all about. Chats can be prone to becoming echo chambers. To prevent this from happening, you can ask tough questions, respectfully challenge others, and build on these interactions. If you’re looking for a schedule of all education Twitter chats, here’s a great one. It’s created and curated by Jonathan Rochelle, co-founder of Google Docs.

Blogging: Tweeting is microblogging. 140-character thoughts on teaching, learning, and professional development. Blogging about the conversations and discussions that happen on Twitter with other educators helps us grow as individuals personally and professionally. Educators are often encouraged to blog their thoughts, then share their work with their network. My first blogging platform was Medium, where I wrote about my experiences from the beginning about becoming a connected educator.

By reading each other’s reflections of classroom practices, we learn from what works and what doesn’t. Twitter offers a strong platform for educators to brainstorm and have discussions, but it also uplifts educators’ voices by providing an outlet to share their writing, thoughts, and ideas, which in turn empowers educators to be autonomous of their professional learning.

When educators share their writing on Twitter, they often tag people that were part of the conversation that they wrote about. Tweets of blog posts are often also tagged with an appropriate subject or Twitter chat hashtag, to open up a tweet to a wider audience.

Signal Boosting: When educators get to know the “Twittersphere,” you’ll notice that people retweet & share a lot of work, resources, ideas, and blogs. Being a new educator on Twitter, it was easy to gravitate towards big names on Twitter to retweet and share. But I slowly began to see that it’s important to boost voices of educators that are marginalized and need support. A retweet may give a new teacher support to extend her network and hopefully answer her question.

Twitter for educators is truly changing the way of not only professional development, but also education as a whole.Educators unite to create increments of change together.And it’s these little changes that give hope to all of us that we’re not alone in making change happen.

This post was originally published on Medium’s Bright.

9 Tips to Support English Language Learners

72g0rndf3pIf you are teaching English Language Learners, here are some tips and strategies that you can practice in the classroom to create a safe environment and support the students throughout their learning process:

1. Speak slower, not louder: Students need to process the words separately and form an understanding, for ELL students this requires some extra time. Speaking louder doesn’t help and in fact sounds condescending.

2. Make sure to pause frequently and write out instructions on the board: This gives time for students to think about the instructions and ask questions if they have any. Use the pause time to write the information on the board in case a student has misheard a word or a sentence.

3. Provide short instructions, preferably starting with action verbs, ex: “Write 5 adjectives to describe the main character”. Long instructions overwhelm ELL students, as they will probably need to look up a few vocabulary words, as well as process chunks of information. Short instructions with action verbs are clear and concise.

4. Write key vocabulary on a word wall: The space will create a safe environment for ELL students to ask questions about unfamiliar vocabulary and as a result build their confidence in speaking and practicing their oral communication in the classroom.

5. Check for student understanding frequently: Do not ask “do you understand/is that clear?” Do ask questions about content/instruction: “will you present today or tomorrow?” “Is this list in the correct order?”

By asking the latter students usually will default to “yes we understand”. Instead, go over the material again and summarize it in the form of questions. By doing this you will see that students will start answering together and even explaining tasks/concepts to their classmates. This creates a safe and open culture in the classroom to ask questions.

6. Provide visual guides, and/or infographics: Visuals act as a supplement for unfamiliar vocabulary words as well as concepts. Using them will also support different learning styles in the classroom.

7. Use body language and gestures to express appropriate words: Don’t be afraid to do this! Body language and gestures can help in explaining words, activities and even concepts.

8. Do not correct with negative expressions: For example, “No the verb seen is incorrect.” Instead model correct usage, “Yes, that’s true! We see things differently.Many ELL students are very shy, because they’re afraid to make mistakes when speaking. By modeling correct communication skills you will be encouraging students to continue to practice their oral communication skills in a safe space free of judgment.

9. Avoid idiomatic expressions and/or sarcasm: These expressions can be confusing for ELL students to understand, because the meaning behind them is figurative as opposed to literal. Sarcastic expressions are especially misunderstood and often taken literally. That is because some cultures do not use sarcasm, and as a result the meaning is lost in translation. However, ELL students love learning about English idioms so devoting a class solely for idioms is encouraged and can be lots of fun!

This post was originally published on Edutopia.

Using Literature to Teach Social Justice

Social justceI came across a community post a few days ago that was inquiring about ways to teach students about social justice in english class. I feel very passionate about connecting the discussions in my english class to issues that have a social and cultural impact. As a teacher, I think this is how we can advocate for students to think critically about issues that concern many of us in real life, and to give them an opportunity to form their own opinions about these issues.

Here is a very short list of some of my students’ and my own favourite short stories to teach in the class. The stories below discuss social, cultural, and racial issues. These stories are relevant to everyday issues that concern all of us and therefore when discussed in class, discussions were lively, interesting and engaging.

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I was a refugee. I’m haunted by today’s images of child refugees

This post was originally published on PBSNewshour.

I was born in Baghdad. My family was well off and we lived in a nice large home with a beautiful yard. We lived there with my three aunts, grandparents and cousins. The house was so large it fit us all. We even had a small house built in the garden for my aunt and her husband. Then one day I remember being told that I can’t go to school anymore, because we were at war.

I heard about an entire foster home being bombed. They showed it on the news. There were so many children whose lives were lost, souls who had no one to remember them. Were they even real to anyone? Did they exist at all? I remember sobbing as I heard this news. I was 6 years old.

Endless BBC radio news anchor voices still haunt me to this day. We lost our electricity. My family was glued to the radio to hear what was happening: where will they aim at next? How many will be dead? Electricity often goes out at night, to put fear in the heart of the people.

I remember sleeping and hearing bombs and rockets being shot far away, waking up at night and telling my mom I am afraid. She said, don’t worry, they’re not close by, they won’t come near us. She was wrong.

My friend Yassir’s house was bombed. It fell right into their backyard. Baghdad was now officially a target. How can we stay here? Where do we go? My grandpa needed to sort this out, and so we moved into my aunt’s house in our yard. It was new and had a strong foundation. We decided to stay there for the next few days until we figured out where to shelter. People were fleeing, neighbors left. Everything was quiet. Only the sound of air raid sirens and distant rockets, brought us back to our nightmarish reality.

Families board buses to be transported to a Berlin refugee camp after they arrived by train from Austria earlier this month. Photo by Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

We fled. My mom woke us up that morning at 5 a.m. to travel to the city of Najaf. This was apparently the safest city for now. We had distant relatives there and we stayed at their house. It was winter by then. You see, when you’re young, your concept of time gets distorted. I am not sure how long we stayed in Najaf. But I do remember the horrible conditions we lived in. There was no water or gas, so the heat was scarce in the winter. My grandpa would lug gallons of water with the help of my uncle and bring it to us so we can bathe and use it for food and drinking.

The war tore apart homes, minds and hearts. It took away dreams and realities, and happiness became an afterthought. Iraqis were physically broken, and mentally shaken. The Gulf war shook us to the core, it shook my entire family to the core. We fled, one by one. Until the only people left in our very large house, with a beautiful yard was myself, mom, sister and grandpa.

The Gulf war ended, and after a year we decided to flee Iraq. Iraq was undergoing sanctions, no food or goods could be transported in and out, nor people for that matter. We snuck away one evening, and headed to Jordan. War was over, but the desert between Iraq and Jordan was full of danger. I still remember the navy blue sky with sparkling stars. I looked at them and wondered, how can I feel so scared with those stars above me? And yet I did.

After the Gulf war, there were so many refugees fleeing to Jordan, so there was a lot of discrimination and mistreatment of Iraqi citizens there. Though now it’s totally different as those refugees 20 years ago have built their homes and are raising their families there. My sister and I were not allowed to go to school because we were Iraqi. So we missed out on an entire year of school. We stayed in Jordan for a year, waiting for our sponsorship and paperwork to finish in Canada. My aunt sponsored us to come to Toronto and start a new life.

They say once you’ve settled, and you’re living a good life, you should move on. But can one really move on from such tragic heartbreak? Can one ever move on from displacement, senseless violence, air raid sirens?

When I see images of children refugees now, I feel haunted by them. What haunts me is that these children will grow up and they will be adults who carry on the memories of their reality turned into nightmares. I sob every time I look at them, because even though my nightmare is over, theirs is just beginning. I am heartbroken that they’re suffering and don’t have a home. I am heartbroken that once they reach their new home, if they make it, they might not be welcomed there. And that terrifies me, because feeling like you don’t belong is one of the worst feelings that a human can endure.

The Dilemma of Digital Writing

Screenshot 2016-02-19 23.25.16
Photo by flickr user: Property #1

This post was originally published as part of the DigiWriMo blog series. You can check out all the blog posts that were contributed here.

I became a digital writer last year. Then I realized that there is more to digital writing than revise, edit and polish. Digital writing is also about digital presence.
I figured this out only after I created my own digital presence on several social media platforms. Before that, my presence as an educator, and as a writer existed through third party mentions of my name and my title: RateMyProf, a college quarterly I helped to edit, and a few other journals to which I contributed to as an editor. But those links lead you nowhere. Other than my name and title, nobody could tell who I was, what my interests were, or even how I look like.

Then I became connected, and my digital presence started to exist.

Does this mean that as a writer I didn’t exist at all because my digital presence did not exist either?

Most of us who live on the digital realm as writers and educators experience two realities. Many might question that their actions, behaviours and interactions online are even considered a “reality”. But I think there’s more to it than us being “online” and “connected”.

People, writers, and educators are connecting everyday to digital realities that are outside their own physical reality. These digital realities come in all forms, shapes and sizes. They are digital hubs, communities, and professional and personal learning networks. They also take the shape of forums, comments, responses, highlights, live conferences, favourites and retweets. They even take form through your bio and profile shot.

Digital Dualism, a term coined by Nathan Jurgenson, speaks about our two separate realities: our digital world and our physical or IRL world. Jurgenson makes an argument that both of these realities are in fact conjoined, and are not separate from one another. So how does writing digitally impact writing?

Writing Platform

Digital writers have to consider the platform they use to display their writing. There are many platforms as well as text editors that quickly become writers’ favourite tools to use when writing. Many digital writers start to feel so connected and acquainted with the digital writing tools they use, they start to have a preference. With platforms like WordPress, Blogger, Medium, and text editors such as Sublime and Ulysses app, digital writing is now about the experience itself. Where do I write? Is it an easy to use platform? What do I like about it? All these questions come to mind for digital writers that are trying to create writing.

Social Media Sharing

When a post is finally published, after a few edits, including images, and citing, digital writers share their work on social media and their local networks. The act of sharing adds an extra layer to digital writing. We share so that our writing is read by others. We also share to start conversations, connect with like-minded people, and get recognition for thoughts & ideas. Most people do not like to admit the last point, for many reasons, but in reality, it holds a lot of truth. A major aspect of digital writing is digital audience. Who is reading my writing? What would they think? should I change something to fit their mindset? Many of these questions might be pondered when writing, but I learned to not worry about what others think when it comes to what I write about. This doesn’t come easy, especially for beginner digital writers, but eventually it’s something to overcome.

Community & Engagement

Another great aspect of digital writing that directly impacts the writer is the community and the engagement that results from writing. As mentioned above, digital presence often accompanies digital writing. When a writer joins a digital community, or professional learning network, they’ll be inclined to share the discussions that occur with the community. These discussions often happen on Twitter and Facebook in the form of posts, conversations, tweeting, retweeting etc. Many writers like to reflect on these discussions by writing their own thoughts.

Digital writing merges traditional forms of writing with the digital world. “Digital” does not refer to the tool. “Digital” refers to our presence on these tools and platforms, how we exist, behave and interact with others using the same space we are.

If you have any questions about digital writing, digital writing tools/platforms, please don’t hesitate to connect with me and ask (@RusulAlRubail)! 

Debunking the Myths of English Language Learners

communityalrubail-debunking-myths-ell-01This post was originally published on Edutopia.

Myths in the education system are important to debunk in order to build a better support system for students. The future of education depends on looking at past failures, and not just learning from them to move forward, but to rise upwards. There are several myths in English Language classrooms that are often seen as normal practice.

Identifying these myths will help us meet our students’ needs, and be able to serve them better.

Myth #1: Students cannot use their first language in the classroom

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How to Use Social Media to Strengthen Student Writing

This post was originally published on Edutopia.

When Advancement Placement and The National Writing Project surveyed teachers regarding social media use in the classroom, they found that 78% agree (26% strongly agree) that digital technologies “encourage student creativity and personal expression”. Digital tools of course give access to social media, which is a powerful outlet in itself to be able to harness in the classroom as a tool for communication. Which the begs the question, why can’t we leverage the power of social media outlets to help strengthen student writing?

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Many of us know that with practice comes perfection, especially when it comes to writing. The more we write, the more we get great at writing. Social media can be a tool where students are encouraged to use their creativity combined with personal expression to improve and strengthen their writing.

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Social Media and Student Communication Skills

commun-alrubail-smcommunicationskillsThis post was originally published on Edutopia.

With social media taking up such a large space in our lives, many of us question whether it’s impacting our communication skills, more importantly, our students’ communication skills. As an English teacher, a writer, and a mom, I am always worried about the repercussions social media will have on my kids’ critical thinking, writing and personal & academic communication skills.

But I had to pause and think. We worry about social media’s impact, but “impact” itself doesn’t necessarily mean negative impact. I needed to remind myself that the use of social media by students can either have a positive or negative effect.

But what if we focus on and drive the positive impact that social media can have on student communication?

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Strategies to Help Build Relationships with English Language Learners

community-ell-teaching-strategies_580pxThis post was originally published on Edutopia

  • rap·port

a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.

My first day teaching an ELL class, I walked in and was very confident that it was going to be the best class ever. After all, teaching college English was going great: we have enriching discussions, students are improving their writing, and often laugh at my jokes. How is this gig any different?! Well, I figured I might need to speak slower, write words on the board and practice a few other tips I learned while studying my TESL certificate. However, I quickly found out that teaching an ELL class for the first time was a world of difference from teaching college English.

I discovered that I needed to focus on building a strong rapport with my students in order for them to feel comfortable to ask questions and practice their writing and conversational skills. These teaching strategies are important to focus on in all levels of ELL classrooms.

Interaction:

“Good morning, how was your weekend?”
“Oh, you went to see a movie? What was it about? Did you like it? Why not?”
“Did you bike here? Oh that’s awesome, is it easy to bike in Toronto? Where do you leave your bike?”

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Cultivating Student Voice through Narrative Writing

“As someone who grew up reading and writing, no one ever asked about my stories,” she said. Her lesson plan now is about “letting students know that their stories are valid and academic. To tell them, ‘your voice changed the room, pEvery day, students at University Laboratory School, a public charter in Honolulu, Hawaii, have the opportunity to spend a quiet 10-15 minutes with their teachers for a Writer’s Workshop. One on one, they talk through the student’s progress on writing assignments they were assigned to complete during class. But these aren’t the stale essay responses most students might be familiar with. Instead, University Laboratory’s K-12 students and teachers pour over reflections on culture, bias, literature, and media, all written in narrative form. Narrative form writing is writing that tells a story from the point of view of the author. The authors in this case are the students telling their own stories.

Bill Teter, English curriculum developer and former department chair at University Laboratory School, said the purpose of this approach is to help students gain confidence in their writerly skills. “It is to teach students to find their own voice, to empower them, to make them feel valid.”

In the 1990s, James and Cheryl Harstad, who headed University Laboratory’s English department at the time, found inspiration in professor Peter Elbow’s book “Writing Without Teachers.” They chose Elbow’s method due its alignment with strategies they saw were already working well with students in the classroom. The couple worked with Teter, then an English teacher and curriculum developer, to draw up a curriculum that focused on the narrative form and reader feedback for grades 6-12. Called the “Golden Triangle,” adapted from Elbow’s method, this approach has three components: a daily journal, in which students respond to a prompt, writing nonstop for five minutes each day; grammar and sentence dictation (labelling parts of speech for older students); and reading aloud. Continue reading

Resources for #BlackHistoryMonth & Beyond

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Selma March, a march of 15,000 in solidarity with Selma voting rights. Photo by Stanley Wolfson.

February is #BlackHistoryMonth and many of us feel conflicted in teaching lessons specifically designed for #BlackHistoryMonth since we should be teaching about Black History throughout the entire school year. I wanted to share some great resources for teachers who are looking to implement lessons on Black History throughout the year, and what better time to start then now?

  1. One of my favourite places to go to is Teaching Tolerance. Here are some great articles they have about #BlackHistoryMonth and some resources/lesson plans: The History Behind Black History Month: Great article that discusses the history, difference perspectives and some book resources.
  2. PBSNewsHour Extra Lesson Plans are always very useful, and more specifically, this one focuses on the conditions that led to the Civil Rights Movement and the significance of the March: The March on Washington and its Impact.
  3. This is also from PBSNewshour with lots of great lessons, especially The Introduction to Selma lesson.
  4. Teaching for Change: provides great classroom and teaching resources with an anti-oppressive lens. Check out their homepage with great links to books, articles and other resources you can use in the classroom for #BlackHistoryMonth and beyond.
  5. This Edutopia article 6 Teaching Tools for Black History Month is helpful with a resource roundup on #BlackHistoryMonth, some of the links are useful.
  6. This last link is an article written by Melinda Anderson, an education writer for the Atlantic. In it, she discusses the importance of teaching students about Martin Luther King “the man not the myth”. This article is very important as many educators have an image of a dreamy Dr. King with quotes about peace, and kindness, yet this erases the racist and cruel history of the very injustices he was fiercely fighting, rallying and protesting against.
  7. Last resource is Educolor. There are tons of great links and resources on our site to be used this month and beyond in the classroom. Also, check out the hashtag #EduColor on twitter as many articles and links are always being shared there all year round.

**Since I’ve published this post there are a few more resources I would like to add**

Did I miss anything? What’s your favourite resource when it comes to teaching #BlackHistoryMonth?

 

Building Relationships With Families of ELLs

Connecting-ELL-parentsThis post was originally published on Education Week.

One of the hardest thing to go through as a parent is to watch your child struggle to learn a new language, as well as try to fit in socially at school. Building a relationship with parents and guardians of English language learners can help to alleviate some aspects of those stressors.

What does building a relationship exactly mean when it comes to ELL parents? How does a teacher go about doing this?

There are several strategies that teachers can practice and implement in their English Language learners parental outreach that can help to actively involve and connect with the parents.

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On Student Voice

 

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The Students at the Centre Series, Edugains, 2012. 

Student voice is often discussed as an entity that needs to be brought to existence by a person authority. However, student voice exists whether we give it the space or not, hear it or not, student voice is there. #EduColor chat a few weeks ago focused on student voice and activism, and in prepping for the chat, #EduColor members discussed the concept of “empowering” student voice. Melinda Anderson says that we shouldn’t think of the concept of student voice as “empowering student voice” because that might imply that “they have none and what teachers or others do can inculcate this quality”.

Melinda reminded us that “Students are already empowered. What teachers and activists and other adults can do is help them see what they already possess, offer but not mandate ways to channel,  provide space in classrooms and schools for them to build / grow / refine skills in this area”. 

Her words reminded me that it’s important to think about the ways where we can help to support, channel and grow student voice in and out of the classroom. But also had me reflecting  back on Michael Fielding’s work about student voice and how he stresses the importance of evaluating the conditions for student voice. Fielding has some great ideas here that we need to consider, and my favourite two categories to look at (although they should all be assessed) is Systems & Organizational Culture.

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Michael Fielding, Students as Radical Agents, 2001.

It is within evaluating these conditions in and out of the classroom that we become better informed on how we’re able to provide the support, nurturing and growth for student voice.

Fielding’s work is prominent when it comes to research on student voice but the one critique that I have of his work is he is not explicit about giving particular space for marginalized student voice and activism. Often students of colour’s activism is not welcome and in fact discouraged in schools and on campus. So it’s important to think about how we can support their voice, knowing that they might face harsh consequences if they use it. Relating back to the conditions, how can we take part in helping build a system, or better yet, demolish a system, that would in turn provide the appropriate condition to cultivate the voice of students of colour?

If you’re interested to read more about student voice + activism, check out the January #EduColor chat storify.

And if you happen to be in Philly January 30, Xian, Melinda and I along with High School youth activists will be holding a panel on cultivating student voice & activism at EduCon.

 

Steps to Writing a Research Paper

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When it comes to writing a research paper in English class, the most difficult part that students often struggle with is the research aspect. This stage is often overwhelming for many students, as many of them often wonder where they should start and what they should look for when it comes to choosing a topic and evaluating sources. Here are a few steps to help make the research process easier for students.

Before Starting your Research  Have students choose a topic that they’re interested in learning more about. Once a topic is selected, provide time for them to brainstorm their own ideas and questions about the topic.  This process will help them to distinguish their ideas from someone else’s when researching. Be sure to also give them time to plan questions that they might have for your or librarian. 

Finding, Choosing and Evaluating Information Provide students with a list of sources (primary and secondary) that they can refer to when researching. Make sure to clearly state your preference when it comes to using Google and Wikipedia for research. 

Make sure to devote some class time to go over the credibility of the sources, the intended audience, author’s information, bias, and purpose relating to the research topic.

Taking Notes One of the most important aspects of research is identifying clearly all the research information that students find.  Knowing what they have will save them time later on from sorting out their papers and reading through everything.

Remind students:

  • That each section they copy from an electronic source should be clearly marked and labeled.
  • To use highlighters and write notes on the margins of articles/journals to make it clear how it relates to their point.
  • After they have read the articles, to write down at the bottom of each one their own thoughts on it:  Why is the article important for your research? What is the main idea? What is the author’s point of view?

They’ll be surprised to discover that your answers might be useful to add in their paper.

Writing and Editing the Research Paper Once they have completed their research, have them sit back and think about their essay/report: 

Here are some useful questions that we’ve used in The Writing Project to help students work through their research: 

  • what points do you want to make?
  • What is your thesis?
  • Which sources are going to be best to use to support or counter your argument?

Writing an outline can help them document their ideas and see the flow and structure of their research. 

Have them revisit their notes and highlighted information, and help them organize their ideas into sections (it might even help if they label them 1,2,3 that way you know where each point is going and in which paragraph).

As they put their information down on their drafts, make sure to remind them to include the references for quotations, summaries and paraphrasing.

Make sure that students take a break from research, organizing and outlining, it will help to refresh their thoughts and ideas, and they’ll be able to spot areas that need rework and editing.

We’ve used The Writing Project to help students prepare an outline and answer some of the questions above without feeling overwhelmed through the process. Take a look here if you’re interested to see how The Writing Project can benefit your students’ writing.

On Being Mindful of Cultural Differences

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Micky Biddison, 2015.

This post was originally published on Edutopia.

When teaching a diverse group of students, whether they are English language learners or English speakers but have a different cultural background, it’s important to be mindful of the cultural differences in students’ behaviour. Recognizing and being able to distinguish these cultural differences allows the teacher to form a safe environment for all students. It’s important to recognize and understand these differences to be able to implement culturally responsive teaching and pedagogical practices in the classroom to ensure the success of every student.

Here are some of the cultural differences that you might notice in student behaviour

Eye Contact Many teachers notice that some of their students, especially English language learners, do not make direct eye contact with the teacher. In Western culture, this may be a sign that the person is not paying attention to the speaker. However, in many cultures, making a direct eye contact with the teacher (or any other person of authority) is a sign of disrespect. Many students are taught by their parents and family to not make such eye contact, as it’s also a sign of someone looking to challenge you.

Asking Questions This can be applied to personality traits, i.e. some shy students do not ask questions. However, in some cultures students learn that asking the teacher questions might imply that the teacher did not teach well, and therefore is impolite. Moreover, in some cultures asking questions can be seen as a way to challenge the teacher, and that is always discouraged and frowned upon.

Student may smile during an intense discussion Some students may smile during intense discussions or reprimanding. The student may have been taught to react in this way so as not to offend the teacher/person of authority in the discussion.

The student does not display active listening skills or is inattentive In some cultures students are taught using hands on methods through modelling and observation. Therefore, students might not be familiar with using active listening in the classroom to understand concepts and instructions.

Student refuses to engage in debates/discussions There may be students who refuse to participate or contribute to a debate and/or lively discussion that occurs in class. In a few cultures, debating or engaging in discussions with different point of views, can be seen to challenge the participants in the discussion. Many cultures teach students that challenging teachers and/or authority figures is disrespectful. In other cultures, students do not recognize discussions/debates to be a different learning strategy, and therefore ignore the activity when it occurs.

Learning how to accommodate these behaviours is probably the teacher’s hardest job. However, providing the safe space for these student behaviours would allow teachers to implement the necessary pedagogical practices to help students excel and succeed in the classroom. When the teacher is able to connect with her student, her student succeeds. Building a relationship with the student is often the first step into being able to know them—to understand their behaviour in the classroom and how it connects to their learning. Being mindful of students’ backgrounds and cultural differences tells students that it’s okay for them to be who they are, while still having the support of their teachers and classmates.

What we’re really looking for is creating awareness and support by discussing these cultural behaviour differences. What are some cultural differences in behaviour that you’ve encountered, and most importantly, what are some strategies that you used to accommodate students displaying those behaviours?

3 Ways to Use Entrepreneurship in Your Classroom

I’ve been in the education field for almost 10 years now. I left the classroom a year ago due to my college’s elimination of adjunct faculty. You can read more about this here. After leaving the classroom I joined Design Cofounders, a design and entrepreneurship studio to work on a project I’ve been working on part-time for a while, called The Writing Project. The Writing Project is an app that helps students to write better.

I became an entrepreneur.

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Becoming an entrepreneur has changed so much of my perspective on education, teaching and learning. I also came to understand and see the value of entrepreneurship as a necessary subject to teach in the classroom to develop important skills that all students will use as learning tools later in life.

 

Here are some ways a teacher can implement entrepreneurship in the classroom:

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  • Introduce goal-oriented learning We encourage this as educators everyday. We emphasize the importance of understanding “why” we’re learning a particular topic. However, students not only need to understand “why” they’re learning specific concepts, but they also need to be encouraged to set their own learning goals.
    • Help students see learning as goals for them to achieve: For example “Goal: I would like to improve my writing” Why? “To be able to write a great resume for my summer job”
    • Next step: How can we achieve this goal?
    • Perhaps setting a 20 minutes per day time to achieve this goal whether through writing/blogging. Or setting some time to share writing with peer or teacher to receive feedback.
  • 2015-03-27 10.50.26Encourage solution-based thinking Always encourage students to approach problems from a solution-centred perspective. It’s easy for us to centre the problem and block our many possible solutions. However, it’s important that we encourage students to centre possible solutions to solve the problem. This mindset always helps entrepreneurs to overcome many of the obstacles they face in starting their business. More importantly, solution-based thinking encourages the development and use of brainstorming, problem-solving, and empathy in and outside of the classroom. For more information about solutions-based thinking model, check out my blog post about it here.
  • Provide an opportunity for Storytelling Everyone loves storytelling, but entrepreneurs especially love storytelling because most often their livelihood depends on it. Storytelling and entrepreneurship allows us to learn from our past mistakes, failures and successes. Sharing with others those mistakes, failures, and successes are mini lessons to use in and outside of the classroom. Have students sit in a circle or groups and share 1 story of success and 1 story of failure. Even better, encourage students to write about those stories and why they resonated with them. What did they learn from them? How can they help others by sharing this story? This empowers students to understand that mistakes and failure is part of the learning process.

 

 

Critical Thinking & Textual Analysis: an example

This is an example that accompanies my Edutopia blog post, Teaching Literary Analysis. Remember that the questions posed and the answers provided should be worked out as part of a process. Students can have many different answers, but the teacher should facilitate questions throughout the process that encourage critical thinking.

edutopia-alrubail-litanalysis

 

  • Choose a topic:

Character: Juliet from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

  • Focus the topic:

What about Juliet?

  • Her character suggests maturity.

How do we see her innocence?

  • Juliet often speaks with reference to divine imagery and metaphors.
  • Her actions also indicate she’s innocent.
  • Other characters often silence Juliet’s character, both literally and figuratively. Her silence indicates her innocence.

Why is this important?

  • Juliet’s innocent and pure heart is important because it relates to love.

So what?  Why is that important?

  • Thesis Statement: Juliet’s innocence and pure heart parallel the innocence of her young love for Romeo. Shakespeare is trying to show that such young love belongs to that of divinity and has no place for it here on earth. This can be shown through the imageries and metaphors that Juliet references to in her language when she speaks about her love for Romeo.
  • Gather Textual Evidence:

Quote: “When he shall die,

Take him and cut him out in little stars,

And he will make the face of heaven so fine

That all the world will be in love with night

And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

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The Power of Peer Feedback

This post was originally published on Edutopia.

One of the most powerful elements throughout the writing process is peer feedback. Unless students are blogging, they’re mostly writing with the idea in mind that the main audience is the teacher. Shifting this mindset in students will allow them to take on writing with a much larger scope. Students should see their peers as audience as well.

The Benefits of Peer Review

Peer review provides a metacognitive process of learning in that both the students and the teachers are able to receive feedback. Teachers will receive feedback on their pedagogical practice.

Consider the following questions when assessing peer feedback:

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Blogging as a self-reflective tool is overrated!

 Blogging in the beginning was a reflective tool, one to share thoughts and ideas while teaching, outside the classroom, or in a conversation. Many see blogging in this way, as a self-reflective tool.

Instinctually, blogging is a self-centred act. It usually centres around the self and attempts to amplify the voice of the writer.

Here’s my epiphany

What if blogging can be used to shed light on important issues and amplify voices of individuals that need to be empowered?

What if we can use our platform to give an opprotunity for someone else to build theirs?

Now that would be a powerful tool to harness. 

How to amplify & empower others? 

For me, I’ll choose to do writing as an act of sharing about others’ thoughts, ideas, lessons, and vision.

That act in and of itself empowes me as an individual to lend a helping hand to others. It also empowers me to support and produce ideas that our outside of my own thinking.

Blogging as a self-reflective tool is overrated. It’s time to make it a tool for empowerment and advocacy.

What Do Teachers Do After Saying Goodbye to the Classroom?

This interview was originally published on Medium’s Bright:


Rusul Alrubail, The Writing Project, Toronto

The art of the essay

Not all exits from the classroom are expected, or desired. Rusul Alrubail, 29, was an English composition and literature teacher at Toronto’s Seneca College for five years when she and her contract faculty colleagues were abruptly informed last year that the school had decided to stop hiring unionized adjuncts. Professors would be faced with either too few hours to support themselves, or too many to teach effectively. Alrubail felt the options would result in compromising students’ education, and reluctantly decided not to return to Seneca.

It wasn’t an easy choice though. “I didn’t know what to do outside of teaching,” she said. “For us teachers, that’s our identity: being in the classroom. I felt lost without it, like I can’t call myself an educator without having those students.”

But classroom instruction wasn’t the only thing Alrubail had worked on. For close to ten years, she and her husband had worked on a digital essay-writing program called The Writing Project, hoping to address what Alrubail said was “a teaching gap between traditional teaching methods and critical thinking applications in students’ writing.” She saw her students at Seneca struggle with the basics of constructing a written argument. “Students would come to us with the critical thinking skills,” she said, “but they didn’t understand how to put their thoughts into a structure, or vice versa.”

Initially, The Writing Project was conceived of as a workbook, walking students through the steps of creating an essay — from topic identification through conclusion — that transcended the standard five-paragraph formula (intro, three body paragraphs, conclusion). Instead, Alrubail’s book asked simple questions that encouraged students to analyze and synthesize information, which could then be compiled into a thoughtful piece of writing. As time went on, students using the materials responded that the program would work well as an interactive computer platform, and Alrubail and her colleagues decided to transform their project into an app. It’s currently in beta, and has been successfully tested both with college-level students and high school students from around Ontario.

Alrubail’s move from the classroom to an educator-at-large is still new, and she said she still struggles at times with feeling like she’s lost a part of her self-identity. “But then I talked with a lot of colleagues and people close to me, and they reminded me that we’re always teachers at heart. If I’m not in the classroom, I’m still an educator, because I think like a teacher. You can still be an educator without having students all around you.

Ways To Build ‘Authentic Engagement’ & Not ‘Strategic Compliance’

Originally posted on Larry Ferlazzo’s Education Week Teacher Column:


Authentic engagement

Student participation is a very important aspect in classroom learning for teachers and students. There are several strategies that teachers can implement and practice in their classroom to support student participation. These strategies are long term pedagogical goals for teachers. It is the hope that if they are practiced at all times in the classroom, especially in the beginning of the semester/year, then students will be willing to participate all the time.

Classroom Culture: Creating a safe, friendly and open classroom culture is key to helping students feel comfortable to participate. Teachers can foster such an environment in the beginning of the year through activities that allow students to get to know each other. My favourite ice breaker activity is called Ingredients of Me, where students write percentages of what makes them who they are, here’s a sample of some of my students’ responses:

Classroom culture can be created by:

– communicating expectations clearly at the beginning of the year.

– learning students’ names (you can use name tents until you’re familiar with all students’ names).

– Engaging in fun discussions about readings, current events, school initiatives.

– Encourage students to communicate and work with each other. This will help in their future participation.

Student voice: Empowering student voice in the classroom also helps with encouraging students to participate all the time.

  • Give students a choice: this can mean a choice in assignments or a choice in readings.
  • Speak to them as your equals: this is so important because it empowers students to form their own thoughts and ideas to share with the class.
  • Allow them to make classroom decisions: deadlines, projects, presentations, school & community involvement.

Through fostering and building a classroom culture that is inclusive, safe, and supportive of student voice, students will be encouraged to participate actively and be engaged in their own learning. Student autonomy/voice is important to support in the classroom, and when students are invested in not only what they’re learning but also “how” and “why” they’re learning they are motivated to be involved.

Last semester I decided to try out digital storytelling with my classroom. This was to try to engage learners using different channels of participation, but also to strengthen communication skills. One of my students who is an English Language Learner found this to be a great way to express himself and introduce us to his culture. Here is his digital storytelling: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UA0XyjtIIuQ

A few things about classroom participation:

  • students’ personalities and various learning abilities is important to consider.
  • students can participate through many mediums based on their learning needs: blogging, reflecting, group discussions, classroom discussions, talent (art), writing, back channeling, twitter, debates, plays, and many others.
  • communication: even after practicing all the above things, and some students are still not participating, having an open dialogue about your expectations will help. Perhaps there’s a serious underlying issue that needs to be resolved, or perhaps there is a learning need that has not been met.

EdCampToronto Announcement #OntEd

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EdCampToronto is happening this year Saturday October 17 at Design Cofounders‘ new office at 96 Spadina Ave.

EdCampToronto is a free unconference that provides an opportunity for educators to connect, learn and share with each other best practices in and out of the classroom.

This year our theme is Education for Social Impact. Because we believe that education has the power to impact our lives positively.

If you’re in ontario and would like to attend EdCampToronto, please register here.

Also follow EdCampToronto on twitter for event updates. For more details, please check out our amazing website that was designed by Design Cofounders‘ team for more information, updates, and to meet our team members: www.edcamptoronto.com

Ways To Help Students Develop Digital Portfolios

This post was originally published on Education Week for Larry Ferlazzo’s EdWeek Teacher blog:


EdWeek graphicDigital portfolios can be a very useful tool to enhance students’ social and cultural learning in an English Language classroom. Teachers can use digital portfolios as a platform for students to show their work. More importantly, students can use them as a platform to share the learning process with their teacher.

I used digital portfolios as an extension to students’ learning outside of the classroom, as a platform for peer feedback, and to build and foster social, cultural and interpersonal interactions in our classroom.

My students created their portfolios on Blogger.com which has a very simple and easy to manage interface. However, teachers can use many other platforms: Edublogger, Google Sites, and WordPress are just a few examples. My students personalized their sites through themes, images, layout, and content.

Their digital portfolios contained some of the following categories:

  • Responses to readings, discussions, news events.
  • Sharing images, visuals, links/resources.
  • Reflections: thoughts on ideas, themes, goals.
  • Digital storytelling.

Read the rest of the post here.

Students are not Allowed in Here! #ILookLikeAProfessor

This post was originally published in The Synapse.

My first day teaching at the college was nerve wrecking. I was flustered, waiting for 11:30 am to come by to finally meet my students and teach. I had all my papers in a purple binder: Photocopies of my class syllabus, weekly schedule, a print out of the lesson plan, class roster, the works!

I decided that day that I am going to stick to wearing dark jeans, a dark plum sweater dress and my new purse from h&m. Okay, guys so not top fashion but this was 6 years ago! I wanted to feel casual, and myself on the first day of teaching.

I decided to head to the main office and say hello to a few teachers, maybe even make some teacher friends and check my empty mailbox in case something exciting was there.

I walked in the main office, said hello to the secretary and on I went to the mailroom. There is a water cooler in the mailroom as well as teacher supplies.

I hear a male voice behind me, with so much conviction I almost believed him.

Read the rest of the story here.