Fraser Lake Elementary Secondary SD#91 Nechako Lakes

I. General Information

School Name: Fraser Lake Elementary Secondary

School District: SD#91 Nechako Lakes

Inquiry Team Members: Patti Ann Plowman:, Leona Prince:

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

II. Inquiry Project Information

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE Case Study

Grade Levels Addressed Through Inquiry: Intermediate (4-7)

Curricular Areas Addressed: Applied Design, skills & Technology, Arts Education, Career Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing, Science, Social Studies

Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Formative assessment, Indigenous pedagogy, Inquiry-based learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? To plan our teaching using the Seasonal Rounds calendar of the Dakelh people and make our teaching more interconnected.

III. Spirals of Inquiry Details

Scanning: Over many years, we have worked to incorporate more Indigenous knowledge, content, language, and culture into our classrooms at FLESS. We have also worked to build personal and school relationships with the two local Indigenous communities and to have more local knowledge-keepers and Elders come into the school or join us out on the land. Although students are learning more about local, regional, and national Indigenous history, people, language, and culture, we feel like part of the problem is the system we work within and how we go about teaching. Many of the things that we try to do are impacted by being part of a colonized system and we realized that to continue to move forward on our path towards reconciliation, we need to make changes to how we do things within our classrooms/schools.

The “4 questions that matter” were very important to the inquiry. The majority of students have at least one adult who they are connected to and who they know believe in them, which is great! Their initial answers to the other three questions: What are you learning? How are you doing? Where to next? Were quite vague or non-existent.

The OECD Principles and First Peoples Principles of Learning were a huge part of the scanning process, as we were investigating the following questions: Why aren’t students engaged? How do we get students to better retain their learning? How do we get students to transfer skills between subject areas? Is our system the problem? Could following a more indigenized system help students be more engaged in their learning and make learning more meaningful? Each of these questions can be impacted by incorporating the Principles of Learning from the First Peoples and the OECD.

Focus: We decided that we would plan our teaching using the Seasonal Rounds of the Dakelh people and would make our teaching more interconnected. We hoped that this would help our students become more engaged in their learning and would help them to retain their learning and be able to transfer skills from one area to another. We wanted to continue to build our students’ knowledge and understanding of the Dakelh and other Indigenous Peoples.

We also wanted to work on something that Chief Justice Murray Sinclair stated because it really “stuck with us”. We learned about it when we read “All Our Relations” by Tany Talaga. He said that every Indigenous child should be able to answer the four following questions; we believe this is true, but it is actually important for ALL children to be able to answer these questions. 1) Where do I come from? 2) Where am I going? 3) Why am I here? What is my purpose? 4) Who am I? These questions became the framework around an Identity Unit that we did, but next year they will form an umbrella under which all our learning will happen.

Hunch: Students are not as engaged in their learning as we would like them to be, and they do not retain and transfer learning and skills to different areas. This may be in part due to the traditional way of teaching, which compartmentalizes learning into subject areas and students do not see the links between skills they are learning in different subject areas. They also do not see how the content they are learning applies to them, why it is important, why they need to know about it, etc. Possibly students do not feel like they have any input into what they are learning about or how they are learning. They are not engaged in their education; it is just something that “happens to them”.

New Professional Learning: Collaboration with Leona Prince allowed for traditional knowledge about the Seasonal Rounds and traditional Indigenous ways of learning to be shared with Patti Ann. Contact was made with the local Indigenous communities to see if there were other knowledge keepers or Elders who could share more about the Seasonal Rounds and traditional ways of teaching and learning. We were also able to find some resources online regarding the use of the Seasonal rounds by other Indigenous Groups in Canada which were helpful. There is an Indigenous Learning series offered through the Outdoor Learning Store, called “4 Seasons of Reconciliation”, which Patti Ann has registered to take in September 2023.
We were also part of a year-long learning series with Faye Brownlie, which was very focused on engaging learners, creating deeper thinking learners, and on developing our lessons to include the following components: connecting, processing, and transforming. Patti Ann took a risk and agreed to co-teach with Faye Brownlie, an experience which was amazing for her and her students. We were also part of a year-long Webinar series with Adrienne Gear called “Powerful Writing Structures”, where we learned a great deal about both fiction and non-fiction writing. The final unit on story writing was very exciting, as it had a component about traditional Indigenous stories. This fit in very well with some work we had been doing with an Aboriginal Advocacy worker around oral histories and storytelling. We are excited to incorporate the two things next year and have students write and share their tales/legends.

The following picture books, books, and resources were helpful: “A Dance Through the Seasons” by Leona Prince, “My Seasonal Round: An Integrated Unit for Elementary Social Studies and Science” online resource, “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, “All Our Relations” by Tanya Talaga, “Powerful Writing Structures” by Adrienne Gear, Outdoor Learning Store “4 Seasons of Reconciliation” course.

Taking Action: In the Seasonal Rounds calendar, each month is devoted to certain tasks:
FALL: September – Awareness of History; October – Connectedness and Relationships; November – Identity; WINTER: December – Language and Culture; January – Traditional Teaching; February – Community Processes & Protocols; SPRING: March – local focus; April – Power of Story; May – Experiential Learning; SUMMER: June/July/August – engagement with the nature and outdoors. The months are also divided into three sections, which have an overarching focus: September, October, November, and December are about CONNECTION TO SELF; January, February, March, and April are about CONNECTION TO OTHERS; and May, June, July, and August are about CONNECTION TO THE LAND. Traditionally in the summer and fall the Dakelh people are busy on the land hunting, gathering, and preparing for the winter; during the winter months they spend more time indoors sewing, beading, playing games, storytelling, etc.; and in the spring they start gathering and harvesting again.
We attempted to use these frameworks of the Seasonal Rounds Calendar to plan our teaching for the year. From September to December, we focused on teaching the foundational skills in the main content areas (Language Arts, Science, Social Studies) that students would need to do the deeper, more integrated learning throughout the year. From January to April, we had more integrated units of study: Science Fair projects, an Identity Unit, a study about climate change and the impact of weather events, etc. For May and June, we were learning about our local tree resources and were out on the land as much as possible. We were fortunate to complete this learning with the help and guidance of members of the Nadleh Whut’en community, three Aboriginal Advocacy workers at FLESS, and the Woods Department at our local sawmill. Throughout the entire year, we learned about Indigenous history (local and nationwide), were taught language and traditions/cultural practices from a variety of Indigenous groups by the Aboriginal Advocacy workers, and were fortunate to have local knowledge keepers from Nadleh Whut’en teach language, traditional games, and some harvesting practices to us, as well as participate in an Indigenous drumming and singing program led by an amazing artist from Stellat’en, the other local First Nation.

Our integrated units incorporated multiple subject areas and the students were very engaged and enthusiastic about their learning. There was lots of collaboration, peer and self-assessment, criteria building, and student voice and choice. For example: in our Identity Unit it was a combination of Reading, Writing, Social Studies, Second Language, Careers, and Art. Students also had several homework assignments that had to be completed with parents and or grandparents so there was some wonderful inter-generational work that occurred. During the completion of activities in this unit, we were able to see several examples of students achieving “extending” results… going beyond the criteria that we built together – so exciting!

During these integrated units, we were more responsive and reflective about our teaching. Although there was a “plan”, we changed, adapted, and built things as we were learning together. Much as the students learned from us, we also learned from them and they learned from each other. Our teaching practice moved from being fixed and static to responsive – also an exciting change!

Checking: We were satisfied with the difference that we made for the learners and with our teaching practice. Students were more engaged and seemed to transfer skills and retain more of the learning they were engaged in, but it is hard to say 100%, as only time will tell whether or not they retained the information. This year was a start on changing how learning is planned. As the year went along, we realized there were other things that needed to be taught earlier in the year, different orders of doing things, and we also still got caught up in how things have traditionally been done in our education system. We continued to build the relationships with the local Indigenous communities and had more Elders and knowledge keepers come into our classroom and join us on the land and in the communities for activities. All good things, but still more work to be done next year.

Students’ answers to the 4 questions were definitely better at the end of the year. Every student (in attendance) could identify at least one adult (and most two), who they are connected to and who they know believe in them. Over the course of the inquiry, students became much more engaged with their learning and with their growth as learners. They were better able to answer the other three questions: What are you learning? How are you doing? Where to next?

Reflections/Advice: We plan to continue with this inquiry next year. We learned that teaching in this way is more engaging for students and has more impact; it also allows for covering more content/skills/learning in a less stressful way. There will be some revising of what we cover in each of the 3 seasons (terms) (what is taught and when) and how we plan/design our learning units with the seasonal rounds in mind. We need to continue learning more about the seasonal rounds, traditional Indigenous teaching methods, and local history, culture, and language.

If others plan to do something similar, we suggest connecting with the local Indigenous People and working with the Aboriginal Advocacy workers at your school. You can also read and research, take online courses, and try some things in your classroom. Never profess to be an expert, state that you are also a learner, and share what you have learned.