Reflective Practice
I am an educator with the Western Quebec School Board and a phd candidate at the University of Ottawa. This blog is a depository for many of my resources and a place to reflect on educational issues that interest me as an educator and parent. It is my hope that one day it will stimulate dialogue and be a place for educators to share ideas. Thank you for joining me on my reflective journey.

Bullying- Week 4

It is hard to believe that we are in week 4!  On one hand, it feels like time is flying by (almost at the half-way mark!).  On the other, it is hard to imagine that we were mostly strangers only 4 classes ago when you look at the community and the sharing that has been happening.  Trust the process, indeed.

Today’s topic was about Bullying- examining the successes and challenges of various programs.  We used the following articles as anchors this week:

Required Reading:

  • Swearer, S. M., Espelage, D. L., Vaillancourt, T., & Hymel, S. (2010). What can be done about school bullying? Linking research to educational practice. Educational Researcher, 39(1), 38-47.
  • Guerra, N. G., Williamson, M.A., & Sadek, S. (2012). Youth perspectives on bullying in adolescence. The Prevention Researcher, 19(3), 14-16.

Supplemental Resources:

  • Carrera, M. V., DePalma, R., &Lameiras, M. (2011). Toward a more comprehensive understanding of bullying in school settings. Educational Psychology Review, 23(4) 479-499.
  • Walton, G. (2005). “Bullying widespread”: A critical analysis of research and public discourse on bullying. Journal of School Violence, 4(1), 91-118.

This was also week 2 of our students taking the reins as community co-creators (shout out to Kristin Reimer for these titles!).   Once again, they were amazing & I will try to do their work justice below.  Here is the run-down:

Learning Intention: Students will explore the question of bullying. So that we can frame our responses around the subject

Success Criteria: Literature circles- You will know you understand when you can highlight the key issues from the readings and state your own position/provide critique.

Opening Circle (student-run):

We started with slam-poetry To This Day Project.  We were then asked if we wanted to share our own stories of a time when we were bullied.  Although this was originally supposed to be an online survey, it turned into a circle sharing.  I felt honoured to listen and share in this experience.

Put Yourself on the Line:

In response to our work last class, I wanted to address what was happening at  Dalhousie (trying to get the right pronunciation in my head!) University in the Dentistry Faculty.  I showed a short clip of the University President announcing the suspension of the 13 male students and the University’s use of restorative justice from the CBC.  From here, I asked students to weigh on whether they thought the use of restorative justice was appropriate for this case by putting themselves on the line- literally standing along an imaginary line where one end represented ‘strongly agree’ and the other ‘strongly disagree’.  Even though we had many students clumped around the middle range, there was some disparity.

From here, I did a Fold the Line, where one end snaked around until the strongly agree and strongly disagree were across from one another and each student along the line had an opposing partner.  To clarify- this was not to be a debate.  This was a discussion- a chance to hear another person’s opinion and reasoning.  As such, I used the Paraphrase Passport strategy-  student A (one side) would speak for a minute, then student B would paraphrase what they heard.  Then roles would reverse.  There was no chance to argue positions.

Once back in the circle we discussed the challenge of listening to someone’s position without jumping in, paraphrasing others’ positions and deeply listening (especially when it is very noisy).  This is a great activity to share different opinions (you would eventually keep rotating down the line to get a multitude of positions) and learn to paraphrase/listen.  It also can sometimes be enlightening to hear another person’s argument and see how that may impact your own position.

Many students shared that they didn’t hold a position as they did not have all the facts in this matter; something that doesn’t seem to be a problem for many commentators to various websites.  I do respect the various positions that have been shared in the news and it is certainly a complicated,  interesting & messy situation.  I look forward to watching this unfold.  For more information, check out:

Restorative Justice- Dalhousie University site

Emma Teitel: When restorative justice isn’t enough (Maclean’s)

The Avalon Sexual Assault Centre’s letter to the Dalhousie President

Dalhousie Students condemn restorative practice in Facebook scandal” (Jan 6. CBC)


Literature Circle #2:

The topics of our lit. circles were the readings and from my facilitator stand-point- there was some excellent discussion going on.  I find it quite amazing that I have absolutely nothing to do at this point- I am really not needed at all!  The points shared by the groups were excellent and really cut to the heart of the readings and some of the issues raised around ‘bullying programs’ and the missing discussion on context- impact of social ecological considerations.

Energizer: Who is the leader?

Sitting in a circle, one participant is chosen to leave the room (or cover their eyes).  A member of the circle is chosen to be the leader.  They begin my making a movement/sound (clapping hands).  All participants copy the movement.  The object is for the person in the middle to figure out who is the leader.  They have 3 guesses.  [Amazingly- each centre person was able to spot the leader- not usual for this energizer!]

Guest Presenter: George Singfield, Principal of Symmes Junior High School & D’Arcy McGee High School (WQSB)  School Website

George has been my mentor, administrator, colleague and friend (even drama troupe member!).  He shared his personal experience and philosophy with regards to bullying with the class.  In particular, he clarified the difference between pillar and program in terms of how a school deals with bullying.  He also discussed his view on the various definitions of bullying and shared the various way he and his school are trying to build a culture of kindness, empathy, caring and respect.  George shared the ways in which the students are engaged in the process and how, as a school, student voice is fundamental.

This video was created by students for the Not in My School – Pink Tuque launch.  So powerful!

This book is on George’s reading list:  Student Voice: The Instrument for Change by Russell J. Quaglia and Michael J. Corso.

Student voice

Students were also introduced to the awesome polling tool that can be easily integrated into their classroom: www.poll

There were lots of questions, lots of stories and I was reminded, once again, about how lucky I have been to have had the chance to work in a school with George as my principal, with colleagues so dedicated and inspiring- and students that make Symmes and D’Arcy such fabulous schools.

Closing Circle: (student led)

In order to shift the energy to end on a more positive note, we had a student (a certified yoga instructor) lead us through a few breathing and stretching positions (nothing too strenuous!) and it is amazing what this can do to the mood.  There are lots of great resources to help build mindfulness in the classroom (60 second breathing).  We then enjoyed some up-beat music and formed inner/outer circles with blank papers taped to our backs and had the chance to write a compliment on the backs of 5 of our community members.  I didn’t have a chance to read mine until I got home and set up my computer, and it was certainly nice to have a little blast of positivity in that particular moment.  It was a great way to share some of the positive gifts we bring to our class community.

Looking forward to next week.



Posted: January 27th, 2015 in Creating Healthy, Instructional Intelligence, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments, Tribes | No Comments »

Restorative Practice- Monday’s class in review

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” MLK

Another week passes and yet I wonder how it is that I can feel pressed for time in a 3 and 1/2 hour block (I am pretty sure this is not echoed by the students who find this an incredibly long day!).  Clearly- I need to work on my timing.

Today’s class was the first of our now established structure.  Each week, a different group is responsible for the opening & closing circle and our class energizer.  This week, the group set a very high bar with their impressive selection, implementation and facilitation.

Like always, I want to begin with my learning intentions and success criteria:

Learning Intention: Students will explore the principles of Restorative Practice…So that we can build an understanding of the framework.

Success Criteria: Literature circles.  You will know you understand when you can highlight the key elements and apply to various situations.


Opening Circle:  Student-led – SNOWBALL activity.

Description:  Each participant has 2 pieces of paper.  They are asked a question- in this case, to write one word that describes you. Once finished, they crumple the ball into a tiny snowball and toss it into the bucket (at a target).  Each student will then choose one of the ‘snowballs’ to share with the class.  These were anonymous. The second question aimed to get a little more personal and we were asked to share something others may not know about us.  Again, from the group of snowballs we would share what was written and could acknowledge our own paper by raising our hands if we wanted to.  Powerful.

Milling to Music: Strategy

Description:  While music plays, students meander (dance?) around a space until the music stops.  They find a partner/triad and discuss a question (posted by the teacher).  Once the time is up, they thank their partners and continue to circulate as the music plays.  Once all questions have been discussed, the teacher can ask for key points from the discussion.  This is a great way to get students thinking about the upcoming content of the lesson or review key points from the last lesson.  I like to start my questions with something less personal and build on their responses.  Today I used the following questions:

1. What do you need when you have been harmed?

2. What do you need when you have done the harm?

3. What do the parents of a child who has been harmed need?

4. What do the parents of the child who has done the harm need?

Literature Circles: Each member of our community has been assigned to a group and a task within their group for the lit. circles.  Although our groups are 5 or 6, I am interested to see how this goes since I usually prefer groups of 4/5, but had more students than expected and no more extra days!  The roles in the groups are facilitator (responsible for the process and the questions), resources (extra resources), note-taker, presenter (key points), reflection (about the process) and submission (to me).

Readings were based on Chapter 1 & 2 of “The Restorative Practice Handbook”  (

little book of restorative practice

The level of engagement was great.  It is hard to refrain from eavesdropping- but I know my presence would change the dynamic.  What was shared was also indicative of the level of conversation.  It is a great way to have students discuss the required readings- I am hoping this way everyone can contribute their thoughts/opinions.

Energizer:  Student-led. I like my neighbour

Students sit in a circle.  There is one less chair than participant.  The person without a chair has to stand in the centre of the circle and state, “I like my neighbour who…” and complete the sentence.  The emphasis was on getting to know each other a bit better so it was about something they like to do (hobby, sport, etc).  If you agree with the statement, you must leave your seat to find another (across the room is preferable).  It is a great way for students to get comfortable, get back some energy, challenge personal space, and mix up a circle (who is sitting beside whom) to do a different activity.

Guest Presenter:  Ellie Wilkinson (consultant)

My friend, colleague and mentor, Ellie Wilkinson graciously came into the class to share her journey with Restorative Practice.  She shared her journey- her involvement with Peaceful Schools International, developing a peaceful schools initiative, and how she came to restorative practices.  This is a philosophy or a framework for working with students/peers/family, etc that she comes to naturally, however, stressed that it is not only about the discipline aspect- but about authentic dialogue and proactive relationship building.  Ellie reviewed some of the key elements of the readings such as the social discipline window,  the restorative practice continuum and the compass of shame.

socialdiscipline continuumcompass of shame

Ellie stressed the importance of relationships with students, how we need to move from the minds to the hearts of youth and shared her successes and challenges.  Ellie’s work has truly made a difference in the school we worked in and it goes to show how one person really can make a difference in the lives of children/youth.  She certainly made a difference in my life and I credit her with so much learning and inspiration.

For more detail on restorative practice- see my page on restorative practice (tabs above).

Closing Circle: student-led reflection in partners

Using paper plates with happy words on them, we each found a partner that had the same word- and shared our reflections based on 6 questions provided by the group.  I found this a really great chance to dissect/pull out key elements of the lesson and presentation.  I enjoyed sharing with my partner a lot.  Of course, we ran short on time and the reflection time was cut down- but the group handled it with grace and expertise.  Being unflappable and flexible are key attributes for any teacher.  Well done!



Posted: January 21st, 2015 in Creating Healthy, Professional Development Training, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments | No Comments »

Building Community & Inclusion- Week 2

What a tough time slot that 1-4:30 is!  Most students are arriving to class after already having had a 3 hour morning class and then lunch.  Oh well- we will embrace the challenge!

My intention for last night’s class was to continue to build community as a whole group (we have 6 new students), introduce a different perspective to circles (Micheal Montgomery from the WQSB presented!), and build inclusion in the small community co-constructor groups.  I also wanted to model the structure of the class (opening circle, activity & closing circle-reflection).  Here is what we did and a few of my reflections sprinkled within.  We’ll start with my Lesson objective (which I, of course, forgot to share with the group– one of the things I push the most, I forgot to do…sigh!)

Learning Intention:  Students will experience the various uses of circles (trust/courage)

So that we can continue to create a safe, trusting space, build community and unleash positive energy for ourselves and our students.

Success Criteria: closing circle reflection

You will know you understand when you can represent your key learning and describe its implication for your practice.

Opening Circle:  LIVE WIRE strategy

– Each member of the circle is given a short wire (we used pipe cleaners) and they were asked to represent how they are feeling- based on experiences since last week/today.  We then went around the circle to share those representations.

Reflection- I find this a great strategy to get the sense of the space people are in.  It helps me make adjustments to the planned lessons and also gives me some insights on effective groups (creating a balance of energy, etc)

Extensions:  Students could represent content understandings, how they felt about the most recent test, when something emotional happens to the group (lock-downs, etc).


– Each member of the group states their name and does an action that represents their interest  (miming golf swing, opening a book) or what they feel like ( jazz hands, star jump, shrug).  Like the traditional wave, the person to the right repeats the name and action and this follows around the circle until it returns to the original group member (wave).  With such a big group, I chose us to do an ‘echo’ which has the whole group in unison (we tried!) stating the name and action.

Guest Presenter:  Micheal Montgomery (WQSB)  

I was lucky enough to meet Micheal this year during our Tribes TLC training session.  His varied experience with circles through a NGO perspective was one I wanted to share in this class.  Selfishly, I also wanted to learn more about the different uses of circles.  Micheal shared his experience working internationally as a Child Rights, Participation & Protection Advisor for the International Institute for Child Rights and Development .

1. Unity Circle

Intention:  creating a safe, trusting space, building community & unleashing positive energy

Process:  Together we used webbing to work with a physical dimension of circles- discussing the balance of the circle, the role of power we each play.  We played with leaning back, closing our eyes and leaning back & sitting down/standing up together and reflecting on how that felt.  The lens Micheal kept reminding us- was to think of our students and those youth who will be in our care- what role do we have in building their trust in their community? In us?

I have done this work a lot in the Destination Leadership/ DestiNation Imagination camps Alan Earwaker & I have run for the past few years at the WQSB to build community among the 60-70 young leaders we put together for 2 days.  Alan (our Outdoor Ed specialist/consultant and generally awesome facilitator) introduced me to the power of circles to build trust and connection using webbing.  Alan calls this work Raccoon Circles- For more information check out this resource by Dr. Jim Cain:  Teamwork & Teamplay- Building Unity, Community, Connection & Teamwork
2. Self in working with young people 
Intention: reconnecting with own childhood experiences of school and being taught

Process: Groups of 4 addressing 2 questions –
a. Think of your own experience at school – what made you feel safe/unsafe
b. Think of a teacher who really connected with you and helped you – what were the important characteristics of that teacher
Big Group debrief – what can you take forward in your own work?

3. Two examples of Circle work – handouts (Circle of Trust, Circle of Courage) 
Process: discuss key principles that emerge from both regarding safe environment and positive youth development.
Big Group debrief – what can you take forward in your own work?

Micheal used the following resources:

Circle of Trust- Touchstones-


Circle of Courage-


For more information on circle of courage & outdoor ed: see Look to the Mountain

* We ran out of time for the 3rd part, which is really too bad.  I would love to say I picked it up in the closing circle, but I definitely did not run that well at all…. more later on that.


Intention:  to review readings for class.

– dividing the group into A & B; A’s step into the centre and face B’s.  In partners, they will answer (taking turns and changing roles after 30 sec- I will facilitate) the guiding questions.  Once the first question has been discussed by both A & B, the facilitator will move a circle (A’s or B’s) a few steps to the right or left so the partners change.

Reflection:  This is a great activity to build safety in discussion (especially when students haven’t completed all the readings) It also gives everyone the same time to share & pick up different perspectives as you go along and chat with new partners.

*This is challenging for some students as the noise level can make it difficult to concentrate and can over-stimulate the senses.

Extension:  Using content questions- have students bring along a graphic organizer to jot down key findings from other students, repeat the same questions so more information can be shared about the specific topic, use chairs so this can be done seated, this can be done for problem-solving.

GROUPINGS- There are lots of ways to form groups.  This class I used ‘hello in different languages’-

Description:  With the names on the back of a card, students had to greet one another using the language on the card they were given to find their groups–

extensions:  animal noises, sports (Olympics), jigsaw pieces, musicians, pieces of art from the same artist, etc.

Cooperative Learning:  I am very grateful to the training I have had in collaborative learning.  Thank you to Dr. Barrie Bennett and the training I have received with Beyond Monet and Cooperative Learning I am very strategic about how I run group work.  It is my experience that group work can be a disaster unless it is run with a lot of thought- I also really like grouping students using their own requests (card with 7 names on it of other students).  I will sometimes keep a group for a term (not for all activities!) or will change them up if I see that they aren’t working.  It is pretty tough to do this on the first meeting with a group of 40…We’ll see how it goes.

beyond monetbennett

A great resource for me is Johnson’s Five Basic Elements- check out some of their work here

Inclusion:  What’s in your cellphone/wallet

Intention: Before getting the newly formed groups to work together, I always try to do a short inclusion activity.  This class was to share one item that they have in their cellphone/wallet.

Reflection:  We learn a little more about each person by what they choose to share & how to share, make connections and get a sense of what is important (and perhaps what could impact their time to do group work!)


I only mention this here because I realized (it was pointed out!) that I need to better prepare for how groups select the date of their presentation (in our case- when they are the community builders).  It was a bit of a free-for-all.  Next time, I will be prepared with a way to make this more FAIR!  Thanks Rachel for the suggestions of:  a trivia quiz (from the readings??); playing cards with the order revealed; straws; or even oldest combined age, etc.


I was hoping to show the following TED talk by the ‘real’ Freedom Writer teacher, Erin Gruwell:  Becoming a Catalyst for Change.  My intention was to discuss how we have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students…even though sometimes it feels a bit hopeless or we are in structures that aren’t ‘with us’.

Closing Circle:  LIVE WIRE REVISIT

Intention:  was to represent their take-aways or learning and/or how it applies to their practice (see my success criteria!)

Reflection:  Total fail.  I was worried about time, felt rushed & my delivery was rushed and unclear.  What I wanted to do was have the group reflect and represent what they learned.  Instead, I asked how they felt- which was not specific to today’s learning and the actual reflection process I wanted.  Next time…

Always a process….



Posted: January 13th, 2015 in Creating Healthy | No Comments »

Creating Healthy, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments- class 1

I have the absolute privilege to be teaching my first class at the University of Ottawa.  Although I have run many PD sessions and had the opportunity to TA with two extraordinary mentors (Dr. Ruth Kane & Dr. Linda Radford) in the Urban Cohort last year and this past fall semester- teaching your own class is somehow different.  To say that I had a case of the nerves is a bit of an understatement.  That said, I survived.  I had a great time!!  Hopefully the students did too.

The name of the class somewhat hints at the approach I will be taking this semester.  This course was developed by an incredible PhD student- Kristin Reimer- finishing up her PhD with a focus on Restorative approaches (I believe).  I really hope I do this course justice & that we’ll both teach the course next time so I can learn from her approach.

I was asked by my students to list the activities that we used in our first class (3hr30min).  I have decided that it is time to use this blog usefully- so this is where I will post the lesson design.  For more resources on building circles in the classroom- check out this site: Teaching Restorative Practice with Classroom Circles

Class 1- Focus was on building inclusion and community building.

The Tribes trail

The Tribes trail

Learning Intention:  Students will establish community norms and engage in activities (circles, activities, cooperative learning strategies) to build inclusion.  So that we can begin to create and experience a positive learning community.

Success Criteria:  You will know you understand when you reflect how what we learned can be used in your own practice. (Final Circle Go-Round)

Classroom set-up:  CIRCLE  (You could definitely feel the scepticism of walking into a room that is set up in this way.  It shakes up one’s comfort zone immediately- especially if you don’t know anyone!  There really are less places to hide.  I asked people to put their ‘stuff’ away which leaves us quite open with no distractions or barriers created by a desk).  I also asked everyone to put on a name tag- a purposeful way for us to get familiar with each others’ names.  Changes the dynamics of the group too as we

Energizer 1:  That’s Me!

Description:  The facilitator asks questions and the group stands when a question speaks to them shouting, “That’s Me!”.

How I used it:  I asked various questions (I usually move from less personal/broad to more linked to the curriculum.  I use this in the classroom as a ‘hook’ and in PD sessions with lots of people).  The types of questions I asked ranged from:  Who needs a cup of coffee to get moving in the morning? to Who knows a student who is struggling in school? and ended with Who would like to add more tools to their teaching tool box? (the idea being that everyone would stand up and the answer becomes:  That’s US!)

Circle Norms

Circle Norms

Tribes TLC agreements

Tribes TLC agreements

Discussion:  Popcorn out ideas to the question:  When have you used circles in your life?  (kindergarten, discussion groups, camp fires, dinners, etc)

Norming/Agreements:  We set agreements for our circles which include using a talking piece and the idea that we listen respectfully (attentive listening, sharing the talking time, no judgements, & no distractions such as cell phones).  I shared the Tribes TLC agreements and this great visual:

Strategy 1- First Circle Go-Around:  Name, What you teach & what you hope your students will learn from having you as a teacher or being in your class.  (This was so inspiring!  Interestingly, there were few comments about the ‘content’ or subjects we teach- it was more focused on students’ social and emotional learning)

Strategy 2- Partner Introductions:

Description:  Finding a person they do not know, label yourselves A & B.

1. Person A asks as many questions as possible non-stop (1 min)

2.  Person B answers as many of the questions as they want/can (2 min)

3 Person B asks as many questions as possible non-stop (1 min)

4.  Person A answers as many of the questions as they want/can (2 min)

5.  Thank partner for sharing and then confirm which items they will share with the full group (3 items or so)

6. Whole group sharing-

Reflection:  I find this such a great way to learn a little bit more about each other.  It is much easier to share interesting aspects of our life when we aren’t the ones sharing.  It feels less like ‘bragging’, and definitely contributes to greater knowledge of others quicker and we can start making connections to follow up on in breaks/groupings.

Energizer 2- 3 Ball Toss

Description: In a circle, students stand with their arms in front of them.  Starting with the leader, the ball is tossed across to another student by saying their name.  This student passes to another student across the circle stating their name.  They now place their hands behind their back (so we know they have received the ball).  The leader receives the ball last.

Level 1: use a single ball.  Do it silently

Level 2:  3 balls used

Level 3: Do it in reverse- add all 3 balls

Level 4: Do one ball in regular order, 2nd ball in reverse and 3rd ball circling around.


Reflection:  It is always wise to remind students that the purpose is for the person to catch the ball successfully.  Discuss what we can do when the ball is dropped.  Remind students about the agreements & no judgement.  A great suggestion was made to have students purposefully drop the ball and have others pick it up as a trial.  This can be stressful for some students (catching and throwing)- take this into consideration & make adaptations (roll, bounce the ball).  It is also a great time for students to shine if this is their skill (capitalize on this by having them help others).

Strategy 3- Pairing Partners and PMI chart

Have the pairs from the partner introductions find another pair.  Together share names and try to find 3 things they share in common (this is the inclusion piece). Whenever new groups form, it is important to take a few minutes to build inclusion.

Using the PMI chart (Plus/Minus/Interesting) graphic organizer, we watched the following TED talk on the Ignorance Project.

Reflection:  I really like using PMI charts during videos and clips.  I find graphic organizers keep students focused when watching movies/clips/videos, etc.  It also helps students who struggle when sharing in groups because they have something written down.

Strategy 4- Closing Circle Go-Around

This is the closing strategy of the class.  The final reflection (could have been a ticket out the door reflection, but I chose to do it in the circle) was to share your thoughts on:  What are your initial thoughts on what we did today? What could be applied in your classroom?

Reflection:  It was really nice to hear that students are feeling intrigued and looking forward to our Monday classes. Some students shared a bit of trepidation about the whole circle format (very nice to have such honesty early on!), but they have an open mind to it all, which is fantastic.  Students shared that this perhaps may not be their favourite way to learn but want different ways to work with students; others spoke about how they want to be able to do more of this type of teaching in their classrooms and that it is nice to have physical approaches embedded in the session.  They also spoke of how they can immediately apply what we did together to their class (hence this blog post to remind them!).  They are also happy about the assignments (at least right now!) which they feel will be applicable to them in their practice.  Here’s hoping!!

I am excited that students felt like we are really building a community and are engaged by the people in the class.  There is really a great energy and vibe in this group- lots of open minds.  I can’t wait until next Monday.



Posted: January 6th, 2015 in Safe and Supportive Learning Environments, Tribes | No Comments »

Finnish Lessons- Foreword & Chapter 1

OECD: “Finland is one of the world’s leaders in the academic performance of its secondary-school students, a position it has held for the past decade. This top performance is also remarkably consistent across schools. Finnish schools seem to serve all students well, regardless of family background, socioeconomic status or ability.”

Finnish Lessons by Pasi Sahlberg

I have always wanted to read this book- from the moment I heard an interview on the CBC.  Interestingly, I was notified by many people that this may be a book I would like & was even sent a copy by my sister-in-law (Thanks!).  I am definitely enjoying it and at this stage of my PhD studies, am finding further connections than perhaps I might have a year ago.  Here are some of my initial thoughts…

As Hargreaves points out in his foreword, the Finnish school system is an alternative model to the Japanese educational method—“making schoolwork more rigorous, extending the impact of standardized testing, and increasing the number of hours of schooling over the school year”(p.xv). Having worked in middle and high schools in Japan, I would watch students leave their day school and head to Juku (cram school- this was common in late 90’s) where they would spend another few hours studying and preparing for entrance exams (high school or university). The stress these students seemed to be under and the role of the teacher (extending way beyond the school day) was something I really wondered about and worried about replicating. It generally feels as if this is the model North America (US??) is adapting and I can see the reason- the academic results indicate that this may be an effective model for student achievement- study more and test more often. To read about an alternative model is very exciting and something that has me thinking in regards to teacher development, evaluation and mentoring.


Here are some of the key points pulled from the Foreword: Unfinnished Business

  • Force, pressure, shame, top-down intervention, markets, competition, standardization, testing, and easier and quicker passages into teaching, closure of failing schools, the firing of ineffective teachers and principals, and fresh starts with young teachers and newly established schools—the very reform strategies that have failed dismally over 2 decades in many Anglo-Saxon nations—are being reinvented and re-imposed and with even greater force and determination.
  • Fullan (2010) is a critic of Race to the Top strategies as it “pays little or no attention to developing the capacity of leaders and teachers to improve together or as a system; it is based on a failed theory that teacher quality can be increased by a system of competitive rewards, and it rests on a badly flawed model of management where everyone manages their own unit, is accountable for results, and competes with their peers—creating fiefdoms, silos, and lack of capacity or incentives for professionals to help each other.”(xvi)
  • “One of the ways that teachers improve is by learning from other teachers. Schools improve when they learn from other schools. Isolation is the enemy of all improvement. (xx)

Chapter 1- Introduction: Yes, We Can (Learn from One Another)

  • The demand for better quality teaching and learning, and more equitable and efficient education is universal
  • Education systems have a moral and economic imperative to succeed- a nation’s financial wealth and “each person’s well-being and ultimately happiness arises from knowledge, skills, and worldviews that good education provides”(1)
  • 3 aspects of Finnish success in educational change:
  • inspiring vision of what good public education should be
  • despite international influence and borrowing educational ideas from others, Finland has in the end created its own way to build the educational system that exists today
  • systematic development of respectful and interesting working conditions for teachers and leaders: world-class teacher education programs, well-paid position, teachers in Finland may exercise their professional knowledge and judgment both widely and freely in their schools. They control curriculum, student assessment, school improvement, and community involvement (p.7)
  • “The Finnish experience shows that consistent focus on equity and cooperation—not choice and competition—can lead to an education system where all children learn well. Paying teachers based on students’ test scores or converting public schools into private ones (through charters or other means) are ideas that have no place in the Finnish repertoire for educational improvement. (9)
  • 10 notions:

1. Finland has an education system in which young people learn well and performance differences among schools are small—and all with reasonable cost and human effort.

2. This has not always been so.

3. In Finland, teaching is a prestigious profession, and many students aspire to be teachers.

4. Therefore, the Finns have probably the most competitive teacher-education system in the world.

5. As a consequence, teachers in Finland have a great deal of professional autonomy and access to purposeful professional development throughout their careers.

6. Those who are lucky enough to become teachers normally are teachers for life.

7. Almost half of the 16-year-olds, when they leave comprehensive school, have been engaged in some sort of special education, personalized help, or individual guidance.

8. In Finland, teachers teach less and students spend less time studying both in and out of school than their peers in other countries.

9. Finnish schools lack the standardized testing, test-preparation, and private tutoring of the United States and much of the world.

10. All of the factors that are behind the Finnish success seem to be the opposite of what is taking place in the United States and much of the rest of the world, where competition, test-based accountability, standardization, and privatization seem to dominate (10-11).

Posted: October 19th, 2014 in Moment of Reflection, Professional Reading, Response to Reading | No Comments »

Learning Targets- Assessment for Learning

The latest issue of Educational Leadership “Instruction that Sticks” arrived with lots of goodies that seem very applicable to what I am focusing on with pre-service and new teachers.  I found the article “Learning Targets on Parade” by Susan M. Brookhart and Connie M. Moss (p.28-33) particularly relevant since we have recently done a PD session on planning at the WQSB and Curriculum and Assessment Plans are due from pre-service teachers this week in the University of Ottawa classroom where I am a TA.

Key quotes/notes from the article:

  • There is a lot of research available that shows clear learning goals help students learn better and that they are better able to connect learning to prior knowledge, select effective strategies and monitor and adjust their work.
  • “A learning target theory of action calls for teachers to design the right target for the day’s lesson and use it along with their students to aim for and assess understanding” By only writing the objective on the board- teachers are conforming only to the ‘letter’ and not the ‘spirit’ of assessment for learning (Marshall and Drummond, 2006).
  • There should be a daily learning target for each lesson that adds “a subsequent level of challenge or increase students’ understanding or skill”.  All lessons then add up to the objective of the larger Learning and Evaluation Situation (LES).
  • Key elements of a learning target:

1. Describe for students exactly what they’re going to learn by the end of the day’s lesson

2. Be in language students can understand

3.  Be stated from the point of view of a student who has yet to master the knowledge or skill that’s the focus of the day’s lesson

4. Be embodied in a performance of understanding–what the students will do, make, say, or write during the lesson–that translates the description into action.

5.  Include student look fors (sometimes called criteria for success) in terms that describe mastery of the learning target rather than in terms of a score or grade. (p.29-30)

  • “Each day, students should know what new content they’re learning and how they’re sharpening their skills”(p.30)
  • Learning targets are NOT a description of an activity and should be different for every lesson- try answering the question “What are the students trying to learn?”
  • “Students should never feel as though they’re simply repeating the same thing today that they did yesterday” (p.33)
  • Learning targets= daily; Learning goal= larger learning outcomes.
  • “When the learning target for today’s lesson builds on yesterday’s learning and leads to tomorrow’s learning, and when all the learning targets in a sequence of lessons lead students to achieve a curricular goal or standard, learning will stick” p.33
Posted: October 12th, 2014 in planning, Response to Reading | No Comments »

Mentor Book club

Having Hard Conversations by Jennifer Abrams

having hard conversations

I am enjoying the first two chapters of the text and am reminded that as awful as some of these conversations are, they are so important for professional growth. Among the many reasons Abrams gave for why we hesitate to have hard conversations (Chapter 2), many spoke to me. In particular the following resonated most with me:  Desire to Please (Reason 1), Personal Safety (Reason 2), Personal Comfort (Reason 3), Waiting for the Perfect Moment (Reason 7), and Fear of Kicking Somebody Who is Already Down (Reason 12).

As I read, I found myself reflecting on the various occasions when I did have a hard conversation and when I didn’t and should have. Although not every conversation went swimmingly, I regret the times that I didn’t say anything much more than when I did. I recognize that had I had a little more experience or training in this area things might have been smoother, but I certainly learned a lot from these difficult situations and often have been thanked by those I had the conversations with. I also have been reflecting on the times that someone has had a hard conversation with me about my actions and although I have found it a tough pill to swallow and a knock to the ego, I appreciate the fact that someone took the time to challenge me to do better. I feel that they really did come to the conversation with my best interests in mind and thus it felt more like an opportunity to grow because I was being supported. In fact, I think those moments are when I have often tended to learn the most professionally. In the end, we want to support our new teachers and see them succeed and it is through these honest, clear and well-crafted communications that growth (for us and them) will likely occur.

From the first two chapters, I have pulled out the following quotes/points that spoke to me as a mentor, administrator and colleague:

  • Relationships are everything in this field (2)
  • Yet telling the truth to one another, as coaches, as administrators, and as colleagues, is one of the most important ways that we grow personally and professionally. (3)
  • Having a hard conversation is a skill for which many of us have no training and little experience. To have hard conversations and do them well, we need some support and some challenge. We need models”(p.3)
  • Hard conversations are about being true to oneself, doing what is right for students, and shaping an environment that supports learning. We need to learn to do them well. (3)
  • Principles of clarity, crafting and communication (4-5)
  • Being mindful of those policies (chains of command, hierarchical systems in place for who is and who isn’t to speak about certain topics) is critical both legally and politically.
  • Hard conversations in schools are essential, not only for our own growth, but for success—our own and that of those around us whom we impact.


  • There are many reasons why we don’t speak up. Abrams provides 18!
  • Dennis Sparks (2005): Two of the most significant barriers to the realization of human potential—resignation and dependency—are also often invisible to the causal observer. By recognizing and naming them, we begin the process of shifting from resignation to possibility and from dependency to a sense of personal power (p.ix).

This is echoed in the Sept. 30 article Eight Qualities of a Great Teacher Mentor by Kimberly Long.  As an early career teacher, she highlights the following qualities as the most effective for new teacher mentors:

  1. Respect
  2. Listening
  3. Challenging
  4. Collaboration
  5. Celebration
  6. Truth
  7. Safety
  8. Empathy


Posted: October 8th, 2014 in Coaching and Mentoring Program, mentor book club | No Comments »

Journal #9- The final weeks

In my Epistemologies of Educational Research class, we were asked to keep a journal over the semester.  Initially, I was writing them privately, but have decided to post them to my blog to reflect the research journey I am on.  Although most journals are written as I engage with our required text:  The Research Journey- Introduction to Inquiry by Sharon F. Rallis and Gretchen B. Rossman (2012), this is my last entry for this class.

I can’t believe I am in the home stretch!  I don’t think I was even able to imagine this place from where I started this journey way back in September.  I know that I have many more twists and turns ahead of me, but at this moment it does feel good to be heading towards what Rallis and Rossman (2012) call ‘True North’.  For the past two weeks, I have had the opportunity to engage with the research topics of my classmates through workshops and seminars.  It has been amazing to hear about their research process and witness how far we have all come in the past few months.  I chose to do a workshop to present my research process to my classmates and was pleased with the experience.  I used Hilda Taba’s Concept Formation (thanks Instructional Intelligence training!) to have participants engage with my conceptual framework and research design through an inductive thinking strategy.   After finally completing the OGS and SSHRC applications, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what I intend to do in my inquiry project and how I will accomplish it.  Trying to put all the important elements of the research and design into a workshop was both challenging and rewarding.  Once again, I am reminded about the importance of making my research engaging to others and always being able to answer the question, ‘So what?’

As a celebration of our journey together, our last class will be a carnival where invited guests will join us as we share our research through a creative means.   Through my journals, I have been reflecting on my perspective, epistemological assumptions and potential  biases that I bring to the research process.  In my research on the mentoring experience for mentors in the Western Quebec School Board, I feel it is paramount that the voice of the mentors is captured and shared.  Since most induction and mentoring research is focused on the new teachers and their experience, I want to explore what mentors in the WQSB experience and learn from the mentoring process.  The research questions that will guide me through this doctoral inquiry project are:  1) How do teachers transition into effective mentors? and 2) Does the mentoring experience transform a mentor’s professional practice and if so, how?

Although there have been few studies directly focusing on the mentors’ experience with mentoring, Moir and Bloom’s (2003) study on new teachers did reveal important insights into the mentoring experience for mentors.  It indicated that effective mentoring not only benefits new teachers, but has powerful benefits for veteran teachers in that it offers professional replenishment, contributes to the retention of the region’s best teachers and produces teacher leaders with the skills and passion to make lifelong teacher development central to school culture.  I want to hear from the mentors in the WQSB whether they also experience these benefits in their professional practice.  I also want to capture their voices in sharing the triumphs and struggles they’ve experienced as they transition from teacher to mentor.

Posted: November 24th, 2013 in journal, phd | No Comments »

Article Critique #3- Mentoring focused on one instructional strategy

Open Text- Week 8


Stanulis, R.N, Little, S. & Wibbens, E. (2012). Intensive mentoring that contributes to change in beginning elementary teachers’ learning to lead classroom discussions.  Teaching and Teacher Education. 28. p.32-43.


“Mentoring has gained popularity as an effective way to support beginning teachers during the induction year”(p.32).  Researchers argue whether an investment in mentoring will lead to increased teaching effectiveness and student learning (Feiman-Nemser, 2001; Hobson et al., 2009; Lofstrom & Eisenschmidt, 2009; Roehrig et al. 2008; Stanulis & Floden, 2009; Sundli, 2007).  Mentoring has been linked to professional growth, teacher retention, increased instructional repertoire, increased job satisfaction and greater student learning.  However, one concern that this article raises is that much of the international research on mentoring relies on mentors’ and beginning teachers’ perceptions of learning through interview or survey (Hobson et al, 2009).  In fact, there are no large-scale empirical studies of impact of teacher mentoring after one year of mentoring (p.32). In fact one experimental study in the US indicates that after one year there was no effect on improving classroom practices, which is problematic for mentoring and induction proponents. “Generic mentoring was not found to make a difference in changing practice; generic professional development has not been found to make a difference either”(p.32).  In order to be effective, studies show professional development must have key characteristics: extended time for opportunities to learn, a challenging of the status quo of teaching practices, time to work and learn in communities of practice, a focus on theory combined with practice and a clear link to student learning.  Similarly, mentoring must have structured professional development that targets a clear, ‘high-leverage’ practice linked with instructional quality (p.33).

The first year of teaching marks a critical phase in teaching; new teachers are not finished products that only need to refine skills they learned in teachers’ college.  “Targeted feedback can help novices develop ways of seeing and understanding complex ways of teaching by enacting specific practices with guided support”(p.34).  Although beginning teachers need to learn many things, they can benefit from developing one practice well rather then trying to fix everything in their teaching at once.  Mentoring has the power to do this, however, it is often focused on emotional support, managing the workload of teaching, and classroom management.  “Little is known about the direct impact of mentoring on developing teaching effectiveness in specific skills”(p.34).  This study argues that it makes sense for beginning teachers to focus on only one ‘high-leverage’ practice such as learning to lead classroom discussions. High-leverage is defined in this article as a practice that: a) occurs frequently in teaching; b) can be enacted across curricula; c) is something that beginning teachers can work to master; d) allows beginning teachers to learn about student understanding; e) recognizes the complexity of teaching; and f) has the potential to improve student achievement as a research-based practice.  Through purposeful mentoring support, beginning teachers can learn the distinct set of skills and knowledge needed to lead discussions for high-level thinking (p.34).

This mixed-methods quasi-experimental study by Stanulis, Little and Wibbens (2012) took place in a large high-poverty school district in the Southeastern United States and focused on 42 beginning elementary teachers in the treatment group and 41 beginning teachers as the control group.  They created an intervention (high level discussions) based on principles of instructional quality and effective professional development, and studied the effects of this intervention on the treatment group’s practice as it compared to the control group.  Whereas the treatment group had prepared, full-release mentors to support them with this intervention, the control group “received the district’s ‘standard’ mentoring program, which consisted of assigning a beginning teacher to a school-based mentor who was also a full-time teacher.  The district did not have a formal induction curriculum, no selection criteria for mentors, nor formal expectations for mentor preparation or mentoring activities”(p.35).  “[The study] relied on observations of teachers’ practice across one school year in order to collect empirical data about teacher growth”(p.33). Specifically, it examined whether mentoring focusing on one instructional strategy can have an effect on classroom practice and was guided by two basic principles: 1) Leading discussions is a high-leverage practice that beginning teachers need to learn to execute effectively; 2) Mentoring directed to a targeted practice will lead to increased effectiveness in this practice (p.33).  Learning theory guided the design of this study and it is framed by four key principles described in the article.  Instruction in schools should be: learner-centred (acknowledgement and value of student voice), knowledge-centered (teacher use of high levels of questioning leads students to a deeper understanding of content with higher rate of retention and transfer of learning), assessment-centered (higher-order questions facilitate formative and summative assessment), and community-centered (sense of collaboration and partnership with their teachers and peers in the classroom).

This study used quantitative data from an observation rubric to show that participation in the “mentoring program does make a significant contribution to instructional quality as measured by our instrument”(p.38). The survey analysis (qualitative data) provided further “insight into the ways in which beginning teachers reported that participation in the intensive mentoring program impacted changes in how they set up and used discussion in their classroom”(p.38).  The findings of this study indicate that: “When a high-leverage practice is targeted, beginning teachers can learn to appropriate important knowledge and skills associated with a complex practice such as leading discussions early in their career.  In this way, induction is aligned with high-leverage practices associated with internationally recognized research on instructional quality”(p.40).  As stated by the study’s authors, there is further research needed to provide more evidence that discussion-oriented teaching produces certain student outcomes related to critical thinking and understanding.  Ultimately, this study was designed to research whether induction support through mentoring that is intensive and structured in a developmental sequence will help beginning teachers’ pedagogical needs.  Over the course of the year, through mentoring the treatment group improved in their ability to lead high-level class discussions.  “Typically mentors are provided little or no focused preparation on ways to support novices to develop high-leverage practices”(p.40). There are many questions that remain to be answered that the study poses:  Are there particular kinds of mentor actions that are more successful in changing beginning teacher practices than others?  If so, what qualities do the more effective mentors possess and what mentoring moves do they enact?  What elements of the school context could lead to increased changes in teaching practices?  Why and how are some beginning teachers more adaptive to teaching situations and contexts?  How does student learning improve as a result of discussion-based teaching?  These are great questions to guide my own research journey and there is an important lesson to take away from this study:  mentors need specific training in high-leverage instructional strategies in order to target these interventions with beginning teachers.  A structured plan and support program for the mentors to introduce a variety of these instructional strategies would be useful in all induction and mentoring programs.

As stated in the article, the facilitation of high-level discussions that promotes critical thinking is a core practice and it is situated within a particular type of instructional quality that is learner-centered, knowledge-centered, assessment-centered and community-centered.  However, this study’s focus on one instructional strategy—beginning teachers learning to lead effective classroom discussion—does not take into consideration that there are many other instructional concepts and skills also at work, such as strong classroom management, building a safe and collaborative learning environment.  Surely, the mentor would be supporting the beginning teacher to establish these criteria before true high-level discussions could take place.  As well, this study indicates that by targeting the mentoring practice to one specific intervention, beginning teachers “did teach differently post-intervention when compared to a similar group of teachers who did not receive [the] intervention”(p.37).  I feel that there is also a missing discussion in this study on the implementation process of an instructional strategy.  There is evidence that the power of an instructional strategy develops as a teacher moves along the various Levels of Use (Hall and Hord, 2011) from level 0- non-use and moving to the top level of VI Renewal (0- Non-Use, 01 orientation, 0I preparation, III Mechanical, IVA Routine, IVB Refinement, V Integration, VI Renewal).  After one year, there will likely be significant variance between the teachers’ abilities to lead high-level class discussions and I would argue that similarly, the mentors would have varying levels of ability with the intervention which would ultimately affect their beginning teacher’s practice.  Another concern I have with this study is that the quantitative data focused only on the beginning teachers’ ability to lead high-level class discussions.  This is only one instructional strategy that will have an impact on student learning.  What if mentors from the control group focused on how to use graphic organizers in the classroom to increase student learning.  Of course, the beginning teachers would not perform as well on a rubric focused on classroom discussion, but they may in fact have equal success when it comes to student learning.  Since this article highlighted at the beginning the fact that the majority of mentoring research relies on mentors’ and beginning teachers’ perceptions of learning through interview or survey, I am critical of their use of an observational rubric focusing on teachers’ practice of leading class discussions rather than capturing student achievement data.  Ultimately, this is an area that needs much greater research in induction and mentoring research.


Hall, G.E., & Hord, S.M. (2011). Implementing change: Patterns, principles and potholes (3rd edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Posted: November 7th, 2013 in Article Critique, Open text, phd | No Comments »

Theoretical Notes #10- Language

Theoretical notes #10

Pennycook, A. (2004). Performativity and Language Studies. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies: An International Journal. 1(1), 1-19.

  • There is a crisis in the understanding of language which may give an important impetus to the development of language studies.
  • Consider languages themselves from an anti-foundationalist perspective, whereby language use is an act of identity that calls that language into being.  And performativity, particularly in its relationship to notions of performance, opens up ways to understand how languages, identities and futures are refashioned.


  • There is an over-determinded sense of linguistic fixity, with its long ties to colonialism and linguistics needs to be profoundly questioned.  The concept of language used by linguists was invented by European theorists to account for the diverse modes of articulation by different human groups, but for all the supposed relativism of the notion of languae, the concept’s model of totality, basically organic in structure, is no different from the nineteenth-century concepts it replaced. (p.2)
  • We need a set of relations that preserves the concept’s differential and relativist functions and that avoids the positing of cosmopolitan essences and human common denominators.
  • We need to: 1) transcend the disciplinary constraints imposed on us by linguistics and applied linguistics; 2) ‘disinvent’ language; 3) build a reconstructive program to find new ways of thinking about language.

Disciplining language

  • There is an entelechial assumption (a thing whose essence is fully realized) that languages are real objects waiting to be discovered.
  • Languages are not pregiven entities but rather are the products of the mode of study; and this process of forming languages is deeply embedded within colonial projects of knowledge formation.
  • Cohn (1996): “Europeans ‘took control by defining and classifying space, making separations between public and private spheres; by recording transactions such as the sale of property; by counting and classifying their populations, replacing religious institutions as the registrar of births, marriages and deaths; and by standardizing languages and scripts”(p.3)
  • Assumptions about languages as bounded territorial entities: an ideology of languages as separate, autonomous objects in the world, things that could be classified, arranged, and deployed as media of exchange


  • 1) Linguistics of Saussure is tied to “cultural constructions of colonialism” focusing on internal linguistics.
  • 2) Structuralist perspective that words did not represent objects, but rather were part of a self-contained system held in place by mutual agreement
  • Language was an objective fact and thus could be studied according to the same scientific principles as other objective domains of the real world.
  • 3) huge emphasis on the scientific nature of their enterprise and the need to establish for linguistic studies respectable academic status as a ‘science’.  Foucault: “What types of knowledge do you want to disqualify in the very instant of your demand ‘Is it a science?’”
  • linguistics disqualify: all those non-scientific, interpretive, exploratory, open-ended questions about language and life.
  • There is a particular arrogance about most linguists concerning what it is necessary to know about language, so that only those who ‘really know’ are regarded as having proper authority”
  • ARGUMENT: need to find ways of using linguistic knowledge within a broader paradigm of language studies.

Disinvention, reinvention and performativity

  • Harris: linguistics has profoundly misconstrued language through its myths about the autonomy, systematicity and rule-bound nature of language, its privileging of supposedly expert, scientific, linguistic knowledge over everyday understandings of language, its belief in the primacy of spoken language and the existence of homogeneous speech communities, and its belief in a telementational model of communication.
  • Hopper and Harris take issue with the assumption that languages or grammars have an ontological status prior to their emergence in communication
  • PENNYCOOK: interest in exploring how we can develop a more useful sense of language for the diverse contexts of applied linguist work: 1) no longer isolates language from other social behaviours and semotic systems, allowing for a broader approach to multimodality (integrated meaning-making practices). 2) develop an antifoundationalist view of language as an emergent property of social interaction and not a prior system tied to ethnicity, territory, birth, or nation.
  • ‘disinvent current notions of language in order to be able to reinvent them for use in a new politics of language studies”


  • J.L. Austin’s Speech act theory & Performativity- think about language and identity, languages as entities, and language as part of transmodal performance
  • Butler: work on gender and identity
  • Performativity: can be understood as the way in which we perform acts of identity as an ongoing series of social and cultural performances rather than as the expression of a prior identity
  • The performative constitutes identity, and thus is a productive act, but also that what it constitutes is what it is purported to be, and thus it is involved in a form of circular, self-producing activity. 2) this process of self-production is by no means a question of free-willed choice to take up some form of identity or another but rather occurs within a “highly rigid regulatory frame”(p.8)

Performative speech acts

  • Austin: Constatives: describe a state of affairs; Performatives: accomplish something.  Significance of performatives as that they were not boiund by truth conditions but rather could succeed or not succeed, their success depending on contextual factors such as following the conventional procedure, the right words being uttered by the right people in the right circumstances, and the whole having the right effect.

Performativity, power, iteration, identity

  • How is it that language can function as a form of social activity, achieving different effects, causing people to act, bringing multiple reactions?
  • The idea of how we do things with words: discourse in poststructuralism
  • Derrida: objected to the serious/nonserious distinction, seeing it as too closely linked to notions of intention and presence, and further raised the question of originality in writing.
  • Habermas: a principal fault with the post-Cartesian philosophy of consciousness on which much critical theory rested was the reliance on instrumental reason presupposed by the concept of a subject isolated from other subjects and a material world.  Set out to understand how a relationship to the world was intersubjectively established and how the communicative function of language was central to this process.
  • Habermas: emphasis on a normative version of language use as essentially for the purpose of communication and the realization of rational understanding reduces this use of the performative into little more than the grounds for achieving rational consensus.
  • Bourdieu: performative utterances must always fail if the speaker does not have the institutional power to speak
  • Butler: language should not be seen as “a static and closed system whose utterances are functionally secured in advance by the ‘social positions’ to which they are mimetically related”(p.12)
  • While Bourdieu usefully shows that both the linguistic and the Critical Theory (Habermas) approaches to performativity fail to conceptualize the local contingencies of power that enable a performative to work, Butler shows that this implies a static vision of the relationship between language and the social, by which power in language is determined only by prior power in the social domain.
  • We need, therefore, to have a theory of how social transformation operates through linguistic use rather than seeing all language use as mirroring the social.  The performative, then, is “not merely an act used by a pregiven subject, but is one of the powerful and insidious ways in which subjects are called into social being, inaugurated into sociality by a variety of diffuse and powerful interpellations”(p.13)

How to do identity with words

  • Performativity: We are able to go beyond the language/society divide that Bourdieu perpetuates; we are able to see how social subjects are constituted; and we can see how the sedimented intepellation of the subject produces performative effects.
  • Poststructuralist point of view, the subject is produced in discourse- the production of identity in the doing.

Doing language with words

  • Understand how we constitute linguistic and cultural identities through the performance of acts of identity.
  • Hopper:  grammar is simply the name for certain categories of observed repetitions in discourse; “there is no natural fixed structure to language.  Rather, speakers borrow heavily from their previous experiences of communication in similar circumstances, on similar topics, and with similar interlocutors”(p.14)
  • It is actually a result of the repeated layering of acts that purport to correspond to an identity but actually produce it in the doing
  • Bakhtin: all language use carries histories of its former uses with it.  This challenges the centrality of competence over performance (the ways in which in the doing it does that which it purports to be)
  • Languages are no more pregiven entities that preexist our linguistic performances than are gendered or ethnic identities.  Rather they are the sedimented products of repeated acts of identity.

Refashioning ourselves with words

  • This notion of performance can open up our understanding of language as a transmodal performance.
  • We need to be cautious not to suggest that language is merely a site of identity performance.  Thus, while it is useful to view language and identity as interrelated acts, we should also try to avoid a view that suggests that they are acts that we can easily choose.  Paraphrasing Butler: Fashioning language and identity implies a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance.
  • Performance in the sense it is being used here provides the way of seeing agency in the refashioning of the self, going beyond a notion of the original and mimicry to include parody and appropriation.
  • Such a view of language in terms of performativity, helps us to see how subjectivities are called into being and sedimented over time through regulated language acts.  Ground for considering languages themselves from an anti-foundationalist perspective, whereby language use is an act of identity that calls that language into being.  Performativity: opens up ways to understand how languages, identities and futures are refashione.d


Posted: November 7th, 2013 in phd, theoretical notes | No Comments »