Social Media & Digital Citizenship 

A recent article on The New York Times discussed the “Unspoken Rules Kids Create for Instagram“. The article focused on how kids (middle school, and some high school) had unwritten rules on ways they engage on social media. For example, what types of images to post, how often, etc.

Common Sense Consus, 2016.

The one thing that stood out to me was how these rules were known amongst kids themselves, and actually had to be explained to the adults. We as adults, sometimes have the perception that kids don’t understand what it means to engage in a responsible way online. The rise of digital awareness and even being cognizant of cyberbullying issues in today’s youth could be as a result of the education that kids are receiving about digital literacy.


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Common Sense Media Census: Plugged in parents of tweens and teens. 2016.

However, I do think it’s also as a result of technology serving to be a great communication tool that allows kids to have access to social media, where they can see issues like bullying, prejudice, racism, sexism etc, being heavily covered.

Of course parents play a huge part in helping to raise the kids’ awareness of positive digital engagement and self-representation online. A recent study by Common Sense Census found that parents overwhelmingly have a positive attitude towards the use of technology and social media as tools to improve kids’ education and their development of important social skills.

Parents agreed that technology positively supports their children with schoolwork and education (94 percent). Parents also felt that technology can support their children by supporting them in learning new skills (88 percent) and preparing them for 21st-century jobs (89 percent). Parents agreed that technology increases their children’s exposure to other cultures (77 percent), allows for the expression of their children’s personal opinions and beliefs (75 percent), supports their children’s creativity (79 percent), and allows their children to find and interact with others who have similar interests (69 percent). Only 54 percent of parents felt that technology supports their children’s social skills.

This is interesting, because it suggests that parents *do* see the importance of technology and the impact it can have on teaching and learning.

However, the study also found that those parents who are concerned about their kids’ social media/technology use were less aware of their kids’ activities on devices/online.

What does this all mean?

It means several things:

  • The more parents/guardians talk and discuss the use of devices and social media with their kids, the more their kids use the “rules of engagement” on social media.
  • Discussing digital literacy and social media use in the classroom and schools helps students.
  • We have to trust kids once they’re given all our own “rules of engagement” on social media. They ultimately will make the right decision.
  • Talk to kids more. Ask them questions about what they do on social media, why do they do it…Questions should be judgement free…and kids will only open up if they do feel it’s safe to open up.
  • Do not underestimate the power of modelling! The study found that parents on average spend up to 9 hours of screen time everyday! Holy cow. If we want our kids to detach from their devices for a bit, it has to start with us.

So when it comes to social media and rules of engagement, kids are basically figuring out ways to better communicate with each other. To them, and this should also apply to adults, there is no difference between online and real life. Their actions online should replicate their actions in real life. From an educator’s perspective, it’s important to see that many students have already come to this understanding themselves. Then it doesn’t become a conversation about “digital citizenship”, it becomes a conversation about what it means to be a “good citizen/human”.



A Snapshot of the Tibetan Refugee Crisis


I met a wonderful lady today. She’s Tibetan from Nepal. She told me her story.

She has two kids, a 3 year old and a 7 year old. She arrived a few years ago in Canada, without them.

I asked her why.

“It’s too expensive to bring the kids. It’s easier if I come and sponsor them.”

“How much does it cost to bring them over?” I asked.

“Around 20 to 30K. For illegal passports and papers.”

“Why Illegal?”

“We’re Tibetan, so we’re considered refugees in Nepal. They won’t give us papers.”

“I have a lawyer here (in Canada), but he said it’ll take a while.” “I left and my son was 2 he’s close to 4 years old now” She tells me as her eyes well up with tears.

“But you know, I am here for my family. I hope to help them soon and bring them over.” “It’s hard, it’s very hard” She says with tears in her eyes.

I feel helpless listening to her story. My eyes tear up and I choke back tears as I look at my own two kids playing in front of me.

Please read here about the Tibetan people, and their refugee crisis.



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.

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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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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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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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 Being Mindful of Cultural Differences

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?

Growing up with my name

I tweeted something out today when I saw the #GrowingUpWithMyName hashtag trending. (I usually like to play along with those twitter games when they trend, because why not?).

This hashtag though resonates with me, because growing up with my name was not the easiest thing to go through. It still isn’t, believe it or not.

Read the rest here.