Learning to Learn – Paul Kates

person studyingNew undergraduates are already successful students when they arrive at university.  They come with learning habits developed over a decade’s time at school where “work harder” is a commonly followed injunction for improvement or to remedy declining achievement.

But learning at a university is more challenging than high school.  Students face increasing rigour combined with more and denser material all at a quicker pace.  Can students at university work smarter, making better use of their limited time? Continue reading Learning to Learn – Paul Kates

Gender Identity, Pronouns, and Lifelong Learning – Tommy Mayberry, Instructional Developer

A sign that says, "I am still learning."There might be two fundamental things to know about me to avoid conversational confusion. First, I’m a drag queen: I visually present on an almost day-to-day basis as masculine, but I identify under the transgender banner because my embodied identity oscillates across the gender binary and my proper pronouns are he/him/his, she/her/hers, and they/them/theirs. Second, my partner and I have the same name: each is Tommy (born “Thomas” with a birth certificate to confirm), and together we are the Tommies. I say these two things might be fundamental to know about me to avoid confusion in conversation because while I do not speak about myself in the third person (if you hear me say “Tommy,” you would do well to assume I mean my partner), people do speak about me, and they speak about me with a variety of pronouns that fit me and align with who I am. This has proven to be very puzzling to some folks at several times (my dear 85-year-old grandma has finally got the knack of “the Tommies,” but that plurality for her is my partner and me, not myself and I). I love this perplexity because in life as in teaching, this is an opportunity for learning.

In teaching language studies specifically, a grammar lesson in parts of speech and number agreements would seem to be an appropriate exercise for first-year Undergraduates; it may not, though, seem immediately fitting for first-year non-language courses or even upper-year language courses where the knowledge and understanding are assumed to be established and built upon. But it is. The refresher of a language exercise like the one below not only reaffirms language and communication skills for learners but opens the window to an opportunity for learning that is wider than a grammar primer.

Continue reading Gender Identity, Pronouns, and Lifelong Learning – Tommy Mayberry, Instructional Developer

Why Education is important to me – Haroon Pervez

BirdsAs I near the end of my post-secondary education, I find it fitting that I reflect on my past years at the University of Waterloo and ask “why am I doing this?” and “is it worth it?” Is the investment of pursing this abstract concept of “education” worth the headaches, stress, and doubt that comes along with it?

Though often taken for granted, elementary school and high school have taught most people how to function in everyday society. It taught us how to read, write, communicate and socialize with the people around us. It allowed us to explore (to some degree) subjects that we would learn to love or despise completely. But one thing that I have noticed, for me at least, was that it felt forced. It was something that we HAD to do, and for good reason. Yet at the end of grade 12, the pressure to pursue further education was somewhat lifted. Students now had a choice to continue to learn or just sit at home on the couch all day (something I wouldn’t advise).

I found it interesting that I felt so troubled at the idea of me wasting my time away sitting on a couch. Why was I so motivated to continue to learn and educate myself?

Mohamed Reda, in an article called “Top 10 Reasons why Education is Extremely Important”, mentions some interesting points as to why many of us dedicate so much time into continuing to educate ourselves, even after we have finished formal schooling. I won’t touch upon all the points he lists, but I’ll mention some points that resonated with me and helped me realize why I want to continue educating myself.

To start, the reason I continue to educate myself is to secure a good and happy future. To be able to do the things I want in life, I must first learn how to do them. Whether it’s wanting to become a professor or an entrepreneur, I must actively learn the necessary steps to achieve these goals. Educating myself gives me the option to choose to do what I like rather than being forced to do something else.

Education can also help when looking at finances. As the entrepreneur Tai Lopez loves to say, “the more you learn, the more you earn.” By educating myself, it opens up the possibility of me making a lot of money in the profession I choose. But even if I don’t pursue professions that make hundreds of thousands of dollars, by learning how to manage money effectively, I can still live life comfortably while doing the things I love.

Lastly, the reason why I want to continue educating myself is to bring about positive change in the world. It can be as simple as teaching others about love, equality, and respect or as complex as ending a war, by learning about these problems, it gives me the ability to act upon them. If we all follow the pattern of learning important topics, then teaching others about it in a positive manner, I believe we can change the world for the better.

Without going into too much detail, those are the main reasons that keep me motivated to continue to educate myself. With a lot of thought, I’ve realized that continuing to educate myself is worth all the trouble that comes with it.

Others may have a different ideas of why they think education is or is not important but I can confidently say that knowledge is an extremely powerful tool. You can educate yourself through formal schooling or even through the internet, there are many resources for us to access! But whether it’s learning the basic skills of how to survive as adults in the world, or finding a cure to cancer, education is key.

As you go on with your day, I challenge you to think about the reasons why you choose to continue or not continue to educate yourself! I’d love to hear about it.

Black History and the Education System – Carlton Darby

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

Happy (belated) Black History Month! It’s hard for me to imagine that it’s already March when it just felt like yesterday I began my first co-op term at the Centre for Teaching Excellence. I guess time flies when you’re having fun! But as my second term of studies gets closer and closer, I reflect on my life in education, and consequently powerful quotes like this one here by Nelson Mandela. At the same time, however, I try to fathom how quickly yet another Black History Month has gone by. So with these two thoughts in my head, they come together to form the big question that many people have already asked: “Why don’t we teach more black history in our education system?”

As a young man of a Jamaican background that has received his entire education in the Canadian school system, I think about this question often and how it speaks to my experience with learning about black history in school. I vividly recall a lesson in my Grade 10 history class where we read a chapter about World War II. As I flipped through the plethora of pages that described the war, I noticed that a couple of pages were dedicated to a black Canadian soldier that made notable contributions to the war effort (I wish I could remember his name). But that was it. Only two pages of black history mentioned within the entire story of World War II. Now to be fair, since that class was a while back there could have been other parts in that textbook that mentioned black history and the history of other minorities which I may have missed, or just simply don’t remember. But I think there’s something to be said to the fact that from my Grade 10 history textbook, the only memory I have of it commemorating black history in Canada was a two-page profile on one individual.

Even when I think about black history and education on a larger scale – outside of Canada – up until this past year my knowledge only went as far as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and other widely-known black historical figures that were mentioned year after year (but my deepest respect has always gone out to these individuals and their contributions to black history). My knowledge of black history didn’t really get the opportunity to truly evolve and develop.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no historian and I’m definitely not trying to undermine the same education system that has equipped me and so many others with endless opportunities to succeed (I think that’s a misconception many people have when a topic like this is brought up). But I just think that there’s so much more students deserve to learn when it comes to how black individuals have contributed to the history that has led to present day. Did you know that African-American inventor Garrett Morgan innovated the traffic light? (Check out “Garrett Morgan”) Or that the richest man in all of history is thought to be King Musa Keita I, an African man that ruled the Mali Empire in the 14th century? (Check out “King Musa”) I just found out about King Musa last week. But there’s a sense of empowerment and enlightenment that comes along with knowing that the story of black history is much larger than we think it is – a story the precedes slavery and goes beyond the big names we always hear about.

I felt this empowerment only after reading about a couple of individuals. Imagine how a whole classroom or a whole school would feel if they regularly learned about these people in a school year? Imagine the potential that would grow inside of them, the things that they would then know they can accomplish. This same empowerment translates to the history of all minorities, for all races to benefit from.

But as good as the idea sounds to incorporate more of the history of minorities into our education system, it faces the opposition which says that there simply isn’t enough resources (ie. time, money and curriculum space) to incorporate such material. Now this is a very reasonable and fair point to make. I can definitely see how it can be a challenge to introduce any new material into a curriculum that’s already trying to work with the material that’s currently being used. But at the same time I think it’s easy to say we don’t have enough of something when the task placed before us is challenging. Consider a father whose son has a championship soccer game coming up. Now the father’s weekly schedule may make him feel justified in saying that he doesn’t have enough time to go and watch the game. But because he knows the game means so much to his son, he accommodates and makes the time to go watch his soccer game. This isn’t to say that everyone has the resources to do anything and everything regardless of how limited you are, but I think we can all agree that if you are truly passionate enough to see something happen, you will make the time and generate the resources necessary to make it happen. If we all adopted a mentality like this, think of all the amazing things we would accomplish that we never thought was possible. Why did it not seem possible before? Because we convinced ourselves that we didn’t have enough resources to accomplish the task.

Check out this CBC news report called “Teaching Black History in Canada”, as they cover the benefits and challenges an Ontario teacher faces with her new black history course.

Again, I’m no expert on the school system, but I think understanding the student perspective on issues such as this is imperative towards creating a meaningful solution. This solution won’t come overnight – it may take years of trial and error to bring a feasible plan to fruition in the classroom. But it’s important to realize – especially in 2017 – that incorporating this history into our education system not only helps us understand where we are coming from, but where we are truly going.

On the topic of music education – Anastasiya Mihaylova

Bassoon reeds in cupI could write this blog post about all the ways music is beneficial to us as learners and teachers – the positive effects it has on our standardized test performance, memory, motor, communication and analytical skills. I could continue that conversation and provide the dismal array of stats on the decline of public school funding for art programs across multiple countries and how this is a really bad idea.

Or I could talk about the real reason music is important – it is profoundly human, universal and magical and should not be defended solely because it is good for something other than simply. being. music. Continue reading On the topic of music education – Anastasiya Mihaylova

Courage in Teaching and Learning – by Julie Timmermans

Courage boulder
Photo by David Bruce, available under the Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivatives License

As events unfold globally and more personally, I have been reflecting a lot lately on the meaning of courage. And I’ve wondered, “How does courage manifest itself in teaching and learning?” I offer here a few reflections on some of the many instances of courage I have observed in learners and teachers.

In the fall, as I was teaching, I was struck by my students’ courage as they tried to adopt the language of a new discipline, and as they worked to make connections among ideas that they were just learning about, knowing they would be evaluated on these.

I was humbled by students’ willingness to admit when they did not understand something.

I was touched by their willingness to share personal struggles, such as loneliness, physical pain, mental distress, (likely) with the hope that these revelations would be met with a human response.

I was grateful for their efforts to analyze deeply their personal experiences and draw relevant connections to the material we were studying.

I was amazed at the student who had been so sick for over a week, but who came to class after a sleepless night because she didn’t want to miss our last day of class.

There are so many ways, too, in which we demonstrate courage as teachers:

  • by infusing our selfhood into our course material – teaching “who we are” and how we think, sometimes to many hundreds of students at a time
  • by trying instructional strategies we have never tried, with the hope that they will help student learning
  • by admitting that we don’t have the answer to a student’s question
  • by opening up the class to discussion, when we’re not quite sure in what direction the discussion will take us
  • by sharing an article or chapter that we’ve written as part of the course readings
  • by gathering with a group of our peers to work on our teaching and course design.

What instances of courage come to mind when you think about teachers and teaching, learners and learning? What do we/can we do individually and collectively to en-courage each other and ourselves in teaching and learning?

Author Parker J. Palmer offers a wonderful perspective on courage in teaching in his book, “The Courage to Teach”.

Reflecting on Teaching Culture – Kristin Brown

(Photo by Peter Wolf, Queen’s University)

After working in graduate student programming at CTE for the past three years, this term I collaborated with Donna Ellis, CTE Director, on a SSHRC-funded project involving eight other Canadian universities. The project is developing and validating survey tools (the Teaching Culture Perception Survey) to measure indicators of institutional teaching culture. You can find out more about the project here.

The surveys have been conducted at four institutions over the past few Continue reading Reflecting on Teaching Culture – Kristin Brown