I have been remiss about blogging on my web site. The biggest reasons have been my preoccupation with my dissertation and being on my supervisor’s SSHRC research team. These have kept me very busy. I have been blogging weekly on another site http://literacyteaching.net/ with my research team though. Look it up. It’s excellent. There are five of us (academics) that post, and occassionally there is a guest blogger, so the content is varied; always informative, often intriguing, and sometimes funny. I enjoy reading it. Perhaps it’s time I shared some of my posts from that site, here.
When I look back at my earlier posts on this site, and on the other site, and review my academic writing over the past three years, I can see such changes. My concept of literacy has changed, just as the literacy landscape has changed. Its so broad now, and wonderfully, wildly creative. Multimodal! It’s exciting. Something I love being part of.
The dissertation writing goes well. It’s been a journey and I feel I’ve come a long way. Attaining a doctorate has not been what I expected, but all good learning. Several new identities and communities have emerged. I’ve developed a deeper understanding of theory and its role in education. I certainly have more respect and appreciation for social science and research. I actually love the research. My analytical side is thriving. Thrumming. Working over time.
My creative side is not dormant, just not as large right now. I feed it by decorating the house, entertaining, and baking fancy cupcakes, and that’s all right. As long as I DO something.
Below are some of my more recent accomplishments in academia (enormous spread sheets of my data) and my recent versions of my expressing creatively!
Embedded within my passion for literacy is my love for developmental drama. I do love theatre as well (I as a professional actress for a couple of years), but developmental drama is fundamentally different than theatre. Theatre is about performance. Developmental drama is about developing human potential, and that is my heart song.
I was recently asked to present a Literacy Workshop for the Royal Conservstory’s new Smart Start Programme . This Early Childhood Education (ECE) programme uses a multiple arts approach to develop four specific cognitive skills: attention, memory, perception, cognitive flexibility. It was my role to model and lead a group of ECE leaders through creative drama experiences so they could experience first-hand how developmental drama can and does develop cognitive skills. We explored many drama strategies in the workshop: storytelling; role play; group drama; teacher-in-role; voice over narration; hot seat; tableaux, and; story drama. My favourite of the eight listed is story drama which uses the events and characters in a story to stimulate the drama experiences, plus, I got to use my storytelling skills. We became the characters; good and bad. We learned about a culture from the other side of the world. We asked questions. We problem solved. We also had fun. The participants left with many practical ideas and felt they were inspired to explore this world with the children they are responsible for. But, in all honesty, I think I was the one who left with the most insight.
I used to present this kind of workshop regularly, but have not done one in a few years. Due to my dissertation work in multiliteracies (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000), I discovered I was seeing the experiences through new eyes. I was identifying modes instead of arts disciplines and using critical discernment instead of point of view. The experience was a literacy event that we constructed within a social paradigm and the participants contributed their own knowledge and expertise in an environment that supported situated practice. It wasn’t just a new set of vocabulary; it was a much more informed and theoretical perspective of the work. Vygotsky, Luke, Peabody, Vasquez, Kress, Cope and Kalantzis occupied every corner of the room. I was well supported. I recognized a noticeable difference between my role as intuitive drama leader and informed theoretical guide. It was progress and it felt good.
Cope, B. & Kalantzis, M. (Eds.) (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures. New York: Routlage
Last month, I (Cathy) was invited to present a workshop on literacy and the arts in Gotha, Germany, for a group of educators. At the beginning of the workshop, one of the teachers admitted, “I really don’t know what literacy means.” I wasn’t really surprised as interpretations of literacy are so varied. When a few others also admitted they were not sure, I invited them to find a matching-shoe partner and share with them what they thought literacy meant.
Once the discussion was opened up to the whole group, it was interesting to hear what they came up with. They started off with the traditional reading and writing interpretation and we decided together these were forms of communication. From there, the definition really expanded. One participant suggested literacy included reality, while another suggested emotion. As we probed deeper the idea literacy was a view of the world was introduced. Eventually I asked them to look around the room at the fabulous paintings hanging on the walls. They were painted by local school children and they were emoting wonderful narratives. Yes, they decided, the paintings were also literacy. Throughout the rest of the workshop we explored ways to use storytelling and drama as literacy.
It was exciting to witness the development of a deeper understanding of an enormous concept like literacy. I like to think this encounter helped these teachers to see meaning-making in a new way. I wonder how it will affect their use of literacy in their classrooms. On the chart we created together, it was also suggested literacy was fun. It was. Hope it is for their students too.
I belong to a research team at OISE. We are studying 28 Literacy Teacher Educators from four countries (Canada, U.S., Australia, and UK). The work is fascinating. Our first paper from our study has recently been published in the Journal of Education for Teaching. The paper, A Foot in Many Camps: Literacy Teacher Educators Acquiring Knowledge Across Many Realms and Juggling Multiple Identities, is attached. So excited! Let me know what you think!
Foot In Many Camps
I was asked to present to the students in Brock University’s International Course last week. These students are taking this optional course because they intend to teach abroad: China, England, South Africa etc. I endeavored to introduce them to the international literature through the folklore from around the world. We traced back the illustrated fables of Eric Carle, to Marie de France, to Aesop to the Jataka Tales of India. They had no idea this tiny little collection of moral stories went back so far or were shared by so many cultures. It was fun to watch them make connections. We explored a Bengali folktale (one of my personal favourites) that depicts talking poop (Eastern humour- we North Americans are a bit too uptight to put this kind of hilarity in our picture books) and looked for characteristics in other cultural stories that would make that story worth sharing. There was a lot of laughter and they asked a lot of questions- always a good sign. Most had not heard storytelling before. And there lie the magic. They all want to tell now. I hope the students in the countries they travel to, are delighted with their selections and efforts. I wish them much happiness in their journeys.
The Ontario Association for the Development of Education Conference was held Feb 21st and 22nd at York University. Nice setting. I was presenting with my PhD supervisor on some of our recent research findings regarding the spheres of knowledge literacy teacher educators must develop in and how they go about making the developments happen. I found it fascinating, so the presentation was easy. Lots to say. Narrowing it down for a one hour presentation was the hard part. I tend to find academic presentations a bit dry. But this wasn’t. This work is so insightful for new teacher educators, mid and late career teacher educators and administrators of teacher ed programs. This is one of the most exciting and poignant articles I have ever read, let alone research and write about. As the research is not published yet, I will not go into detail as of yet. But thank you to the participants that came to hear us present. I could tell how excited you were too and that was so encouraging. More to come, dear reader, more to come.
The other day I had a student in undergrad ask me if writing a dissertation was hard. I was a bit amused. “Yes”, I answered, “it’s really hard”. I’m not sure if it feels hard because I wrote creatively for years. Writing a novel comes from a completely different place. It emerges differently and sings differently on the page. It tended to stir me up, get me wound. This type of writing is, well, logical. And my logical, analytical side quite likes it, but it is painstakingly slow. I am relieved that I have enough background knowledge in my specialty to at least keep writing. I know where to find the articles and what scholars will back up my argument. This is at least faster than it was when I was first conducting my research on my topic and writing papers about it. I do see progress. But the writing of a thesis is still different. I wrote 1000 words today and I am exhausted. My brain is tired. My neck hurts. I need a break. But at least I leave the computer feeling as though I have accomplished something. They are 1000 good words. Well chosen and well supported words. It’s hard, but it is satisfying.