how books without words can build literacy skills

While thinking back to my days of volunteering as a high school student in an elementary classroom, I was reminded of one particular day’s task and, now that I can look through my critical ‘teacher lens,’ have a different take on the experience.

My job was this: take Grade 1 students out into the hall, one at a time, and have them narrate a book to me. The only catch: the book had no words. The book depicted a baby who, while being carried by their mother, yawns and starts a chain reaction of other yawns around the town which eventually makes it back to the same baby (and I wish I could remember the title/author of the book – I tried searching for it to no avail). The Grade 1 students were meant to catch on to this and tell me the story in their own words by interpreting the illustrations.

One particular student astounded me with their ability to string eloquent sentences together on the fly. They began the story with “Once upon a time…” and added in other phrases that made it very articulate and exactly like what the written words on the page would have said (if there had been any), while some of their other classmates merely flipped quickly through the pages saying, “Then the construction worker yawned. Then the librarian yawned” (which still show complete sentences and sequencing words like “then”). It took me by surprise how different the children’s versions of oral storytelling were.

I think ‘reading’ books without words is a great way for students to work on the flow of their spoken words, storyline comprehension, understanding of story elements (beginning, middle, end, setting, characters, plot, etc.) and careful observation of visual clues. Perhaps the biggest benefit of this exercise is its quality of open-endedness, which leaves a lot of room for individual interpretation and creativity. Each student will notice different things on the page and verbalize their observations into the story. It is pretty amazing that one book will never be told exactly the same way – it allows for a lot of reuse!

Another thing that struck me when thinking about this experience was that some of the students clued in to the yawning, while others mistook the baby’s closed eyes and open mouth for screaming or crying. The evaluation of the students’ performance in this exercise was based on their ability to recognize the baby’s action as a yawn, not something else. At the time, I remember feeling bad for the children who misinterpreted the pictures.


Thinking back on this now, I question if this is truly a fair evaluation of a student’s skill. Is it contradictory to give students all the freedom of telling their own story and then penalize them for not getting the prescribed ‘right answer?’ Or should children be expected to put together the story’s clues and realize the yawn? What do you think? I’d love to hear your feedback on this one! It just goes to show you that assessment can be a slippery slope, especially with such wide open activities.


back to school busy-ness

Hi everyone! I am officially back to school, and I have to say, though it took a while to sink in, I am very excited to see what my second year has in store!

Back to School

It looks like my prediction about being less busy may have been a bit of a flop… Aside from my 5 classes and being an RA (Resident Assistant) AND (possibly! – I haven’t heard back from the office in a while…) an In-School Mentor for Big Brothers of Regina, I also have three classes with integrated “practicums” or field experience:

ELNG 200 (Linguistic Diversity and Teaching English Language Arts): I will be going into an elementary or high school for an hour/week for 8 weeks and working with an ESL/EAL/ELL (there are SO many abbreviations for the same thing! haha) student.

ECE 200 (Teaching and Learning in Pre-K to 5): I will be observing a 3+ year old child for one hour per week, for 8 weeks. This experience will help to develop my knowledge about ECE students’ behaviour, learning and growth.

KIN 120 (Rec-Persons with Disabilities): I will have 6 one hour sessions to do physical activity and games with a Regina elementary/high school student who has a disability.

So, as you can see, I am going to be a very busy girl! And while this may be a lot to juggle, I am always up for the challenge! I am going to learn SO much this semester and I say, bring it on! 🙂


liposuction for cartoons?

Strangely enough, this thought came to me when I was brushing my teeth this morning…

Is it just me, or are cartoons getting skinnier as time goes by?

The first example I thought of was My Little Pony. I grew up on these little horse toys, and I don’t know exactly why, but I always found comfort in their full, curvy hips and thighs. These are the My Little Ponies I remember…


And then when my sister was nearing the end of her toy days, the My Little Ponies got a revamping and looked like this…

my little pony in between

I was shocked and a little disappointed when I saw the My Little Ponies that this generation’s young girls have…

my little pony now

So, obviously the ponies have seen quite a makeover since I was a little girl. Is it merely a fresh depiction of these long-time favourite toys, and I am mourning the passing of my childhood? Or have these ponies become a thinner version of themselves for a reason?

Let’s take a look at some of the other examples of slimmed down characters that I could think of…

Pikachu from Pokemon

pikachu thenpikachu now

Strawberry Shortcake

strawberry shortcake then and now

Have children’s toys and cartoons become just another of the countless ways that body image is portrayed in our society? Or is this an attempt to get all of the overweight children (of which the numbers, we all know, are startlingly high compared to a generation ago) to live healthier lifestyles?

Can you think of any other examples? What do you think the reason behind this transformation is? And do you think it is a good thing or a bad thing? Please chime in and share your thoughts!

real beauty

I don’t know if anyone has seen the new Dove campaign ad going around about ‘real beauty sketches’ but when I first saw it, I really liked it! I thought it was so true that women are their own worst enemies and see themselves as less beautiful than others do.

Here’s the video:

While I really liked most of the messages in this video, one of my Facebook friends just posted a link to a tumblr page that had another idea. I encourage you to check it out. I think this person may be a teacher because this is some great critical thinking! It links to so many topics that my ECS classes have touched on and that’s why it really connected with me and made me go “whoa…”

What are your thoughts on Dove’s video?

delicate balance

It feels like a long time since I’ve written, but it really hasn’t been! First post of April, though! And sorry to anyone who sees how many posts I had in March, that isn’t indicative of how much I usually post.

As per usual, I have just come back from ECS class and have a few things I thought were worth sharing.

1. For our ECS assignment, we had to read an article about Indigenous Education and respond to it. I chose one by Verna J. Kirkness and one thing that really resonated with me is when she talked about the Indian Control of Indian Education policy of 1972. She pointed out that “we continue to base education on white, urban culture and history” (22). As a white pre-service teacher, this brought up a nerve-wracking question for me:

If people who have Indigenous blood/culture in their past can’t implement Indigenous ways of knowing into the curriculum, how can I?

This also got me thinking about my preconceptions, though. Just because people have Indigenous family members doesn’t mean they know any more about the culture than I do! My ancestors are German, Polish, French, etc, etc, etc but I know nothing or very little about those traditional cultures. We automatically assume that Aboriginal people are experts on their cultural traditions, but, the truth is, they are just like us! Lots of Aboriginal teachers have to learn how to implement Indigenous ways of knowing in their classrooms too!

Kirkness, Verna J. “Aboriginal Education in Canada: A Retrospective and a Prospective.” Journal of American Indian Education 39.1 (1999). Print.

2. Talking about incorporating Indigenous knowledges not into singular activities, but the classroom as a whole leaves me with a million questions. Most of all: HOW? I really wish I could observe a classroom that models these practices so I could see for myself how it is done! I just hope that the program continues to prepare me for real-life teaching situations like these so I don’t feel overwhelmed.

3. After attending the Education Career Fair early in the semester, I have been seriously considering doing my fourth year internship in a predominantly Métis or Indigenous community. I think this would really help to answer lots of my questions about teaching students with these backgrounds so they can achieve academic success! I have heard that any experience with children of these diverse backgrounds (which will make up 40% of classrooms by 2016!) is a wonderful opportunity and asset for young teachers. As a dominant figure in terms of race, class, and sexual orientation (and gender in the field of education), I also think it would be a great learning experience for me to be in an environment where I am the ‘minority.’ While this may be uncomfortable at first, I think it will give me a better understanding of minority students’ perspectives and feelings in a school setting. Hopefully this can help me to be aware of ensuring that all students feel welcome in my classroom!

As a side note, I was SHOCKED when my professor told me that ZERO students have done their internships in Métis/Indigenous communities (unless they were in Indigenous Teacher programs)! When Saskatchewan schools have a high population of these students, it really surprises me that no pre-service teachers are eager to gain useful experience like this! Maybe I will be #1! 🙂

4. When dealing with any social justice issues (homosexuality, class, gender, race, etc.) in your students’ identities, I think it is really all about striking that delicate balance between treating students the same AND different. You want all of your students to receive the same respect, care and expectations so the classroom is EQUAL. However, you want to address your learners’ individual needs and identities so your classroom is EQUITABLE. It’s absolutely impossible for me to judge this while I am sitting on my bed, typing on a laptop. I think so many facets of teaching can’t be learned in any other way than experiencing them first-hand in a classroom; that’s why I am so eager to get out into the field so I can start answering some of my endless swarms of questions!

does school kill creativity?

Well, it’s official – this is my first brand new post on my WordPress blog (all of my previous posts from my old Blogger blog have been brought over now – glad that’s finished)! And what a great way to start fresh!

I came across this TedTalk on We Inspire Futures and absolutely loved it! Sir Ken Robinson gets his point across very clearly and peppers his presentation with his sweet sense of humour, making the video both informative and entertaining. It also led me to question my views as a future educator.

I think with all of the debates about standardized testing, the issue of creativity is often brought into question as well. I remember someone on Twitter saying “Is standardized testing producing standardized thinkers?” or something to that effect. This video gave me a similar question. Can our artistic students truly flourish in the education system we have set up for them? And how can we ensure that our future choreographers and filmmakers and actors/actresses are being properly stimulated and engaged in the classroom?

As I think more and more about it, I realize that Arts Integration is going to be  HUGE part of my future classroom. Some statistic somewhere said that children who play an instrument are more likely to do well in school, and I truly believe that we can’t focus entirely on Math formulas and English concepts to educate our children. Their education deserves to be much more enriched with creativity and opportunities for artistic expression and discovery.

I have loved music as long as I can remember. I always made up songs and sang them to myself when I was playing outside as a kid. One Christmas, one of my cousins got a miniature electric keyboard and one of the pre-set songs it played was “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic and I was maybe 5-ish at the time and was just belting it! haha My uncle ended up telling my parents that I had a future in voice and that led to me being put in piano lessons and, later on, I took up voice AND guitar lessons instead, which I am sorely missing this year! I also loved being part of the Drama club at my old high school. And while I don’t consider myself a good dancer or artist by any stretch, I still find these types of art beautiful and a wonderful way for people to express feelings that they can’t elsewhere (and I am VERY jealous of people who are good dancers or artists, because I would LOVE to be!). That is what music feels like to me and I would never want to stop a student from developing these amazing talents.

Because the arts are so near and dear to my heart (which is kind of surprising, seeing as I am also a very analytical and organized person, not your typical artist personality), I really want that to show in my future classroom. I smile when I picture myself, guitar in hand, singing with my students and I insist that this future become a reality someday!

This topic also gave me a lesson idea…

I am in Art 100 this semester and one of the things that is clearly stressed to us over and over is that art, while primarily considered to be made primarily for its aesthetic appeal and visual beauty, is more modernly geared towards expressing one’s opinion. So I think it would be great for students to pick a side of an argument or a controversial issue that they feel very connected to, and turn it into art. Whether they want to make something out of clay, draw a picture, write a song, choreograph a dance, it doesn’t matter! But expressing their interest in a topic in a medium outside of a report or powerpoint could really help them deepen their thinking (and also, it’s way more fun, am I right?). This may be a bit difficult for a Grade 1 class, but I never want to underestimate the creative capacity of kids these days (seems like kids in school know WAY more than I did at their age – kind of scary! haha) and there are many ways you could adapt this for younger students.

I am sure that I will have WAY more posts about fostering creativity and integrating art into other subject areas, so stay tuned! I think I’m gunna go dance crazily around my room and sing into my hairbrush for a while – haha! :p



i’ve been thinking…

My ECS 110 professor always prompts us at the beginning of class to share anything “that made us go ‘hmmm…'” and just now, I had a ‘hmmmm… moment’ regarding the new Kinder Eggs for girls.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a girl power kind of girl but this particular marketing choice kind of makes me wonder.

One of my friends told me that she saw a little boy grab one and exclaim to his mom, ‘Wow! They have different toys now!” and his mother quickly squashed his excitement by saying, “You don’t want that.”

I think this is a very contemporary, pertinent issue. Some parents have their children extremely pigeon-holed into the toys, activities and clothes they THINK their child’s gender requires. Little boys can’t play with Barbies and little girls can’t use tools and trucks. Frankly, I think this is ridiculous. Toys are toys. They are offering the amazing educational opportunity of PLAY. What does it matter if your son likes to dress up his dolls if he is learning?

That’s why it makes me leery that the Kinder Eggs are marketed specifically for girls. I am sure there are little boys out there who would love to play with the toys that come inside them just as much as girls.

And on the other side of the argument, not only are these Kinder Eggs stopping boys from buying them because it ‘isn’t a thing boys would like’ but it is also giving a specific view on what girls should like to play with as well.

It was International Women’s Day on Friday and I think the whole point of that is to say that women aren’t just the homemakers anymore. We can do whatever we want and our gender shouldn’t hold us back from success and status. I am sure those Kinder Eggs are full of pink and frills and sugar, spice and everything nice, but what about the girl that wants to grow up and be a carpenter? Or a mechanic? Or the Prime Minister? Sure, girls can live both lives of the mom and the businesswoman, but by only presenting girls with the feminine view, we are telling them that this is what girls do, no questions asked.

And the problem with these Kinder Eggs is that bringing out a line for boys wouldn’t fix anything, it would hold the same double-standard. So let’s break through the notion that there are specific things for girls and boys, because there aren’t. I would like to live in a world where boys playing with dolls and girls wrestling in the dirt aren’t frowned upon or even second-guessed. Let’s give our children and students the opportunity to be whoever they choose!

let’s make gay mean “happy” again

In my Religious Studies class today, we started our section about Judaism. As the professor was giving her lecture, she was using the word “Jew” a lot (not in a rude way) and it really made me think about how a popular saying with teens nowadays is, “That’s so Jewish.” In these cases, Jewish is used as a synonym for something the speaker doesn’t approve of or finds useless or stupid (which is another arguably derogatory term, especially in the field of education). And it really made me think… Why Jewish people? Why does that specific religion get a bad rap? We can even see this historically; the Holocaust was one of the largest human tragedies, and it was all based on a certain group’s religion – but why?

You can see the same thing regarding homosexual people. Teenagers will exclaim, “That’s gay!” with the same connotation as “That’s Jewish.” It’s hard to imagine anyone saying “That’s so Christian” or “That’s just straight.” Is our society so against others who are ‘different,’ or don’t reflect the “normal,” straight, white, Christian identity that we must use them as synonyms to things that displease us?

I saw one of the pictures below on Facebook (and found the other one on Google) and I think they convey such a great message! The second one, which I saw on Facebook, was posted by an openly gay pre-service teacher at the university. I have always wondered what his experiences have been/will be with his students (he wants to teach high school English). In ECS 110, we read an article about how homosexual teachers are othered, and if any straight teachers stand up for homosexual teachers’ rights, they are automatically assumed to be gay or lesbian themselves (McKenzie-Bassant, 2007). I find this so upsetting and I truly hope that this particular Facebook friend finds an accepting and supportive community as he heads into his internship in the fall!

I know I will be censoring myself from saying “that’s gay” from now on! Isn’t it funny how a word that once meant ‘happy’ is now associated with something completely opposite? I hope that we can once again have a day where “gay” is associated with happiness and good things, rather than bad!


McKenzie-Bassant, Claudette, “Lesbian Teachers Walking the Line between Inclusion and Exposure,” International Journal of Art & Design Education, 26 (1), p54-62, Feb 2007.

thinking like a teacher, not a student

In ECS 100, I remember my professor telling us that in the Faculty of Education, we are being prepared for the field by being taught how to think like teachers instead of students. Her example:

-a student-thinker will blame things on others. “That prof is such a hard marker!” “Their class is boring.” “I got the bad seminar leader.” and on and on and on…

-a teacher-thinker will always reflect back upon their own actions. “They’re right, I didn’t go deep enough.” “Next time, I will know how to properly format my thesis.” “I didn’t realize I was doing it wrong, but now I know the correct way.” “What has this taught me?/What is the point of this class for me as an aspiring teacher?”

I have seen more student-thinkers among my Education peers than I would like to admit. And I can be one myself sometimes, too. But I am just a first year, and so are they. We still have a long way to go. And I ALWAYS cheer myself on by telling myself how a class (that may SEEM pointless and boring and useless to others) can link to Education or how it is shaping me or helping me on my journey towards being an educator. 

At their very roots, the student-thinker and the teacher-thinker are bathed in opposite lights of pessimism and optimism. Maybe this is why I am finding it easy to shift into teacher-thinking: because I am a natural optimist, and, by definition, education is an optimistic field. This takes me back to the topic of my previous post about epiphanies.

One of the girls at my group said: There is no way we can change society as a whole. 
And my response was: That’s not the point of a teacher. It may be the ultimate goal of education to better society on a grand scale, but a teacher can make a difference by changing or helping ONE child. And maybe that child will affect another person, and so on and so forth. That is what will make a change. 

(As I write this, I find myself hoping that my points are showing my passion, and not just coming off as cheesy. But I can’t even describe how strongly I feel for education and being part of the faculty. It is bursting from my chest and seeping out of every pore I have. My greatest goal is to become an amazing teacher and I don’t see any way that I, or anyone else in the program, can do that without open-mindedness and optimism). 

The point of this post is to self-proclaim an improvement within myself, to celebrate a success.

A few days ago, I found myself telling my mom how “my ECS prof is a hard marker,” which may very well be true. But that isn’t the point. I was placing MY mark as HER responsibility, when the truth is, I just didn’t go deep enough. There is always room for improvement! And now that I have got my feet wet with critical thinking, I am hoping that my next mark will see improvement due to my personal improvements.

In fact, I am not hoping, I am making it a goal! And that is what education is all about.

epiphanies: ignorance vs subconscious repression


I just came racing to my computer in a flurry, hoping to get down everything before I forget.

I just had probably the best (and worst) ECS class of my career here. My ECS instructor prompted our groups to start thinking more critically and really delve into the material and engage with its ideas. All I have been hearing since I got to university (and the Faculty of Education) is critical thinking, critical thinking, CRITICAL THINKING! But no one had ever really taught me HOW to do it until then. Really motivated by this new information, I engaged in that class and got the instructor to come sit at our table and add to my points that she recognized as a deeper type of thinking.

Today, we got put into different groups and at first, it was very awkward and no one had anything to say. But inspired to thinking critically, I slowly began to speak up and voice my CRITICAL opinions. However, I soon found myself very frustrated because the group members, for the most part, were rejecting or opposed to my thoughts. Here are some examples of our conversations. It originally began with talking about Aboriginal women’s identities and eventually led us to the misportrayal of Pocahontas and Disney movies in general.

The people sitting at my table had thoughts such as…
-all you hear is negative things
-people are over analyzing them
-they are Disney movies, they aren’t going to change
-kids aren’t taking away the racist or sexist things from those movies anyways

And here were my counter arguments…
-criticizing and pointing out what is wrong helps you to realize it and change it for the future
-if we aren’t analyzing them, it is just allowing socially-accepted ideologies to stay the same; talking about these things in Disney movies (or pop culture and society as a whole) allows us to be educated
-why can’t they change for the future? The Princess and the Frog starred the first African American princess character, why can’t other changes be made?
-maybe you don’t THINK you took away those stereotypical views from Disney movies (or cartoons or books, etc etc etc) but you probably did and you just didn’t REALIZE it (because that view is so totally ingrained into society that you don’t even think to question it) or it just enforced something you already were taught

Another thing I was really mind boggled by when I started to think about it while eating lunch was this piece of the conversation:

Boy: It’s not just race that is under represented in Disney movies. Have you ever seen a Disney princess with a disability?
Girl: But they’re cartoons!

Pause. Wait… what?

Now what I said in the live conversation was something like:

Me: That shows right there a misconception we have. You think that cartoons are happy and that happiness is portrayed in able-bodied characters.

(Reflection: Looking back, I could have phrased this in a much better way – my approach sounded accusatory. But I am a newbie at this critical thinking stuff and you learn more from your mistakes)

Girl: No! I don’t think that’s what happiness is! (defensive)

(Reflection: I don’t blame her for being defensive and denying this. It’s what anyone would have done. Because we don’t want to admit, or we can’t admit because we don’t even realize it, that we associate disabled people with sadness. I can admit that seeing a disabled child in a cartoon would probably make me sad. But that’s the joy of cartoons! They can make any bad situation funny or optimistic. So why do we have to search high and low for a character in a wheelchair when there are tons of children and members of society who this is a reality for? It’s not an uncommon thing. Yet it isn’t displayed this way in popular culture.)

What I should have said was: Pause there for a second and think about what you said. “BUT they’re cartoons.” That shows that you have an assumption of what cartoons SHOULD be. What do you think they are?

In closing, I feel like I have grown so much just from that one class. I may have been severely frustrated with my group members for a) not engaging with my points, b) shutting my ideas down without having an open mind and c) not taking the conversation seriously. But that is just something that I have ALSO realized today: university isn’t always different from high school. There will still be people who aren’t as dedicated or passionate or involved as you are. That will probably be the case for the rest of my life. Being passionate beyond words is difficult because you crave others who are just as passionate that you can converse with. And when there isn’t this equality, it IS frustrating. But you can’t let that frustration phase your experience.

In fact, I was so inspired that I came up with this as I was walking back from the class and sorting everything out in my head:

Let frustration not be a hindrance but a fuel to the fires of your determination and passion.

I don’t know if the people in my group are just not fully embracing the critical thinking that my instructor challenged us with, or if they just are totally unaware of their ignorance to open mindedness, or if they are simply pushing down their feelings because, let’s face it, that’s way easier than dealing with these issues.

But let’s face it, that is what teachers NEED to do. It’s what we are here in the faculty for. We are learning how to shape minds. Not to teach a kid addition and subtraction. It is SO MUCH MORE than that.

In conclusion, I am feeling confident in expanding my critical thinking skills and being one step closer to becoming the absolute best teacher I can be!

I hope that my journey towards teacherdom holds as many inspirational and moving moments as this one.

Cheers to education!