Reading with the Warriors Pilot – Zara Rafferty

Varsity hockey players reading to elementary school students

Back in teacher’s college, I wrote a research paper about the challenges surrounding boys’ literacy in today’s classrooms. Having always been an avid reader myself, I have to admit that I knew very little about the social and pedagogical factors that can help or hurt young students’ acquisition of essential literacy skills (for an introduction to this discussion in the Ontario context, start here).

This year, I set out to create a program here at UW that brings varsity athletes into elementary school classrooms to promote literacy skills and an interest in reading. While I hope that this program will benefit all learners, I believe it could have a particular impact on boys’ literacy. Male reading role models are one of the key strategies that classroom teachers recommend to support both boys’ literacy skills, and their attitudes toward reading and writing.

To this end, Reading with the Warriors was created in partnership with the UW Athletics Department. Last week we launched the first of five pilot sessions with two student-athlete volunteers from the varsity hockey team. Justin and Andy (pictured above) joined two Gr. 2 classes for story time and a craft related to the books they had chosen to read (Thomas’ Snowsuit and Just One Goal!, respectively). Justin and Andy shared their own reading history (e.g., challenges they had with reading, favourite books, why reading is important to them), and answered a variety of student questions relating to school, hockey, and life in general.

The program has been well-received thus far, and I am looking forward to continuing our pilot throughout the month. I am particularly grateful to the five student-athletes who have agreed to participate in the pilot sessions – they have been wonderful! If all goes well, it’s my hope that this will become a regular part of varsity athletics’ community programming beginning this Fall.

At the end of the day, it isn’t necessarily about the stories (although, those are important, too), it’s about students having the opportunity to see interesting, articulate men reading and engaging with books. Research and practice show that male mentors from the community can help all students, but especially boys, see a purpose in reading. I love the idea that our students can collaborate with classroom teachers to strengthen literacy skills in our little guys.

This program has also gotten me thinking: how often do we bring role models and mentors from the community into our university classrooms? I would love to hear examples from the UW community.

If you’re interested in learning more about boys’ literacy, check out this guide from the Ontario Ministry of Education: Me Read? No Way!

Update Your Lectures: Re-Thinking PowerPoint in the Classroom – Zara Rafferty

Black and white photo of a teacher in the classroom

Oh, how I loved PowerPoint as a student. When the lights at the front of the room clicked off and the PowerPoint projector clicked on, my peers and I took that as our cue to sit back, relax, and start surreptitiously texting under our desks. What was class time for, really, if not to catch up with the latest Facebook news?

Silly faculty, I thought, don’t they realize that, by posting the lecture slides, they are eliminating the need for me to listen in class? As for the few wily instructors who left blanks in the slides? Well, they eliminated the need to study for tests, as we could be fairly sure those blanks would comprise the bulk of our quiz questions.

It was only when I became an instructor that I realized how vital PowerPoint was for me. The slides helped keep me on-track, allowed me to share images or embedded videos, and ensured that I touched upon key discussion points.

But, as I gazed out at my students, not-so-covertly texting, nodding off, or staring at me with vacant eyes, I realized I was doing something wrong. I was using PowerPoint as a crutch and not as an effective communication tool. I turned to PowerPoint to organize my notes when I had not left myself enough time to plan a thoughtful, engaging lecture. I thought that by using a different font (hello, Rockwell!) and selecting a colourful PowerPoint template, I was somehow pioneering educational technology.


I had to face the sad fact that I didn’t know how to use PowerPoint effectively. I didn’t, and you probably don’t either. And that’s okay. We can fix it! Here are my top 5 resources for reinventing how you use PowerPoint in the classroom:

1. You Suck at PowerPoint: 5 Shocking Design Mistakes to Avoid
2. Re-Think Your Use of Visuals: Dance vs. PowerPoint, a Modest Proposal (from John Bohannon, who also created the Dance Your PhD project)
3. PowerPoint Inspiration: 28 Creative PowerPoint Designs
4. Active Learning with PowerPoint Tutorial
5. Try other PowerPoint-esque programs, like Prezi, Keynote, or SlideRocket

Of course, you could always get rid of PowerPoint altogether, but I suppose that’s a topic for a future post…

Happy designing!

(Image via)