Dobbin Atlantic Scholar Report: Devising a Model to address Social Justice Issues in Irish and Canadian Primary Classrooms Utilizing Picture Books & Digital Literacies

June 21, 2018

Dobbin Atlantic Scholarship

Scholar’s Report on visit to Dublin City University in April 2017:

“Devising a Model to address Social Justice Issues in Irish and Canadian Primary Classrooms Utilizing Picture Books & Digital Literacies”

by Dr Anne Burke – Memorial University:

Executive Summary:
This research was made possible through the generous donation of the Ireland Canada University Foundation, and the Dobbin Atlantic Scholarship Programme. This report outlines the benefits of Canadian and Irish partnerships in Education pertaining to literacy research in Irish and Canadian schools, and outlines professional development opportunities for educators with a particular focus in social justice. The project itself was quite successful with a number of initiatives completed through this funding, and the groundwork laid for a new collaborative research project initiative with the DCU Centre for Anti-bullying, which will involve both Irish and Canadian schools.

The particular focus of this research was on building and enhancing the social justice knowledge of Irish educators though the introduction of Canadian instructional teaching approaches using International authored social justice oriented picture books. These books focus on topics such as anti-bullying, mental health, immigration, religious intolerance, poverty, homelessness, homophobia and racism. During this project the National Irish curriculum was examined in this context, with regards to how it supported reading, writing and digital literacy learning in primary schools. Specifically, the role of this literacy project was intended to support low poverty schools in Dublin on how to use books as pedagogical tools of instruction to raise awareness of growing concerns in Irish schools around anti- bullying, mental health issues, and the need for greater acceptance of diverse families.

Research Overview and Findings:
The findings of this project are supported by my review of both the Canadian & Irish curriculums, professional school library resources, observations of classrooms, discussions in teacher meeting spaces, and through the teacher professional development workshops.

The project capitalized on a rich repository of literacy teaching skills, as used in ‘Write-to-Read’ classrooms by Irish teachers over a week in two schools located in Inchichore, Dublin. The pedagogical approach of using social justice oriented books, and classroom-based knowledge-building in this emerging research area was beneficial for teachers. Through the observations of Year 1 and Year 6 classes, administration meetings with both heads of school and their school Write-to-Read literacy associates, it was felt a professional development workshop for their schools would be given, which was ultimately delivered to invited teachers.

My researcher lens and intent was to create and explore bridges between the teachers’ classroom instruction knowledge of reading and writing, and the benefits of using social justice books to fulfil the expectations of Irish curriculum. Specifically, through my work at DCU where I looked at and compared, (1) common collections of children’s books, (2) compared the mandated literacy curriculum of both countries, and (3) met with the research centres focused in Social Justice.

Through these research efforts it was determined that:

• Researchers in both the Anti- bullying Centre and Centre for social Disadvantage acknowledge the need for educators to be enriched through professional development training, to ensure that social justice teaching becomes more mainstream in the Irish classroom.

• Both Canadian and Irish curriculums acknowledge the importance of social justice and equity, and furthermore, the curriculum should encourage educators to source such resources and implement these in classrooms, so as to build students’ literacy skills and knowledge of global social justice issues.

• Opportunities for professional development of educators in such areas as social justice and digital literacies are vital and should be a priority in schools. Critical social justice resources such as themed picture books can be provided for review and consideration by literacy and leadership professionals at Irish and Canadian schools.

• Enhancing children’s knowledge using digital apps related to broadcast is needed as children can advocate for awareness around bullying and other needed social changes through media communication.

• There is a need to foster a deeper relationship between school and community through discussions with educators about social justice issues being experienced in the school community. The provision of classroom resources is critical for the success of these efforts.

Goals of the Project:

The goals of this study were broad, but the realities of the limited timeframe and funding exposed the need for further development in three key areas:

• More opportunities for teachers in schools to avail of professional development from education experts pertaining to social justice issues such as anti- bullying, friendship and acceptance in Irish schools. A number of social justice themed books were given as a gift from Memorial University to the two Inchichore school library collections to enrich their collections. With resource books now made available to teachers and children, instructional professional development sessions are both needed and desired by teachers to use as resources related to anti-bullying.

• Teacher resources and books focused in this area are limited in the DCU library in comparison to Memorial Education library. Lists of social justice books in the areas of anti-bullying, immigration, LGBTQ, have been provided to the head librarian at DCU.

• Teachers had very limited knowledge of how to use particular APPS on tablets and websites that could be used to enhance the reading and writing skills of children. After my visits to classrooms and workshops teachers were provided with a resource packet to assist them with this knowledge. Further professional development workshops in this area would be benefit the teachers greatly.

Outreach & Further Efforts:

Meetings were held with Dr. James Higgins-O’Norman , the Director of the Anti-bullying centre in April, May and in early July. During our April & May visits, Dr. Mairead Foody attended the meetings and expressed an interest in coming to Memorial as a Post-Doctoral student to work on a school/community project that focuses on raising awareness around cyber bullying through an intergenerational workshop approach in concert with Memorial’s public engagement initiative. I met with Dr. Foody to outline a project and schedule for this initiative.

After Dr. Eithne Kennedy’s visit and presentation on classroom writing approaches in Irish schools, the Newfoundland and Labrador school board has expressed an interest in supporting a local low poverty school project where local St. John’s schools could be partnered with Inchichore schools through a programme where both Canadian and Irish children look at cultural buildings in children’s local neighborhoods, through a digital media creative writing project. The researcher spent time investigating writer Roddy Doyle’s ‘Fighting Words’ programme as a creative story writing model. School heads and administrators at these schools shared an interest in partaking in this project. I am currently seeking funding for this initiative.

Upcoming in October 2017, I have been invited by the Literacy Association of Ireland to give a workshop to Irish teachers focused on teaching approaches around social justice such as Anti-bullying. This invitation to this conference became possible because of the valuable funding made by the Dobbin Atlantic Scholarship, allowing my research to be made known to Irish teachers and schools during my research visit.

My aim is to build on the valuable experiences and beginning stages that have been expanded and enhanced through the collaborative work between DCU and Memorial. I continue to seek creative ways to work on the two-way project within Schools in Canada and Ireland which will draw on both countries literacy policies /social justice initiatives around teacher professional development workshops, and children’s creative abilities. As well as welcome the opportunity to work with DCU and the Anti- bullying Centre in the coming year.