School Name: East Kensington
School District: SD#36 Surrey
Inquiry Team Members: Katy Messcu: firstname.lastname@example.org, Leslee Burwash: email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Arts Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Science
Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), First Peoples Principles of Learning, Inquiry-based learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Would the students develop a deeper sense of place (relationship with the land) by having richer literature in the library focusing mainly on Indigenous ways of being.
Scanning: This inquiry focus area was created because there was a lack of newer and more engaging books in our library learning commons. We are an Outdoor Learning School and our scan revealed a need for vibrant resources to capture the interest of the outdoor learning program, as well as support the students’ sense of place. We knew that in selecting books to support outdoor learning and sense of place, that many books with Indigenous content and books written by Indigenous authors would fulfil the needs of all of our students.
Focus: I wanted our Learning Commons collection to support the programming that the school focuses on. There is a rich outdoor education program, and I wanted our resources to reflect that. The students have rich experiences and learning outside and I wanted to increase the depth of their understandings by having rich resources to enrich their learning when they spent time with me in the learning commons.
Hunch: We have a smaller student population, so our overall funding seems limited for the collection that I wanted to have. We put every resource dollar to the best use that we could, but felt like we could always use more rich, vibrant and engaging books to spark our students’ passions and connections to the natural world. Their outdoor experiences were rich and I wanted our literature to match this richness.
New Professional Learning: Our learning was guided by the Spiral of Inquiry book, First Peoples Principles of Learning, and diverse Indigenous literature. I was driven to learn more about criteria for selecting quality Indigenous resources, and had deep discussions with our Aboriginal District Helping Teacher and a family member of a student who works at a large library that supports academic and Indigenous scholarship. From these discussions, I learned about how to select the best resources and reasons for not using other resources. I returned some books after having these discussions as they needed context and support to be read, and I was looking for books that the students could check out and read independently. Overall, my understanding of selecting and using Indigenous resources grew and I was able to support my classroom teachers in becoming more comfortable in their use of Indigenous content in their classroom practice.
Taking Action: After having my rich discussions with the people named above and consulting with classroom teachers in the school, I felt confident in selecting and purchasing the books. We purchased many books from Strong Nations, which is an online Indigenous bookstore. I also wanted to be able to physically handle some of the books before purchasing, so we went to Kid’s Books on West Broadway as well. We purchased mostly books by Indigenous authors and supplemented them with some nature and place-based books by non-Indigenous authors.
One classroom teacher was unsure how to authentically study Indigenous culture, so they turned to Indigenous stories and authors which led to mini inquiries about place and Indigenous culture, and our connections to it. This was so powerful that they said that she would not do it any other way. Through the books, they could do a cross curricular inquiry study on Indigenous ways of being, rather than a prescribed unit. It felt so much more meaningful because the students were able to make personal connections to the stories that led to authentic questions and discussions about the world viewed through an Indigenous lens of story. They said, “Using Indigenous stories to study Indigenous culture has been powerful because the kids are making connections to their own lives.”
The teacher’s daily reading of Indigenous stories centered around All Creation Represented: A Child’s Guide to the Medicine Wheel by Joyce Perreault and Native American Stories by Joseph Bruchac. They took these two texts and did daily reading from both, connecting the medicine wheel to the individual stories. They linked All Creation Represented to the medicine wheel that exists on our school, that is made up of local plants that bloom during specific seasons. The book, All Creation Represented “offers holistic and relational ways to understanding self, the family, the community, the natural and the spiritual worlds,” and the stories in Bruchac’s book complement these teachings. They used Bruchac’s stories to represent the different nations of North America and then they linked that to the Social Studies curriculum of maps and language. The class looked up geographical regions of these different nations online, and listened to different Indigenous voices using the web-based tool and service, First Voices (https://www.firstvoices.com/). They stated that these two books, All Creation Represented: A Child’s Guide to the Medicine Wheel and Native American Stories were the inside of their learning circle, and then they used the other Indigenous picture books to build understanding outwards.
Checking: The feedback from an Indigenous family made me realize that this inquiry had made a difference. On a weekly basis, a primary student has been signing out Indigenous books from our Library Learning Commons. She reads and discusses these books with her mother. This is one way that they are connecting with their Indigenous roots, and I have found that it has been a very positive experience. The primary student also encourages her friends to take out these Indigenous books from my Place-based Learning area, which was created while doing this inquiry to ensure that Indigenous and other place-based learning books (i.e. local nature and seasons) were easy to find. Having the newer and richer literature has helped the mother and daughter have more choices this year, and a more in-depth experience.
Sometimes I am given feedback from the primary student. While reading “The Whale Child,” she told me that the story made her and her mother cry. This did not surprise me because the book addresses many environmental challenges (quite bluntly) that we are facing on our planet today, and the story is told from a Coast Salish point of view (main character and author). I was glad that she was having the opportunity to discuss the issues with her mother while they read.
Knowing that the books are supporting family relationships, friend relationships and relationship with place, makes me feel like our inquiry made a difference and will continue to as long as the books continue to be read and loved.
Reflections/Advice: I want to thank the NOIIE for their grant. This has supported our school which is given less funds from the government due to our low enrolment. The students have shown a greater interest in their Library Learning Commons books this year, and the grant money has been a part of this change.
Teachers need to have the support to figure out what books are in their Library Learning Commons. When teachers select a book for a classroom read aloud, students are more likely to seek that book out in the Learning Commons.
Seeking out relationships with Indigenous people who have a solid understanding of resources available, and being willing to have deep discussions about resource selection, is a very valuable professional development.
This has been a challenging inquiry because I have been at three schools, and I am doing this inquiry for the school that I am only there two days a week. Communicating with staff and students on a regular basis has made this a more challenging inquiry. I am moving schools next year to be at only one location.