School Name: Hatzic Middle School
School District: SD#75 Mission
Inquiry Team Members: Lyn O’Grady – firstname.lastname@example.org
Marcello Gabriele – email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Intermediate (4-7), Secondary (8-12)
Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing
Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), First Peoples Principles of Learning, Inquiry-based learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? This year I am hoping to weave Indigenous culture throughout my semester classes to enhance student’s knowledge and understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing, using a variety of literacy resources.
Scanning: This year, due to covid-19, our school had 4 semesters and each semester the students had 2 classes; one class in the morning and one class in the afternoon. I started asking the 4 key questions to each new class every semester, although with covid-19 shutdowns and exposures, I was not able to do this with every semester class as I had planned and hoped for. The students really struggled with these questions and were not sure of themselves, being Gr. 7 in a new and much larger school, and not knowing as many teachers as they would have if they had 7 classes every 2 days (like a normal school year). Many students named mostly their friends as these were the people they had the most contact with, and more importantly, the most connection. It became clear the students found it difficult to connect with the school using the semester system.
I cut up the First People’s Principles of Learning and divided the quarterly classes into groups. In their groups they discussed what they understood and the meaning of the principle. In addition, I asked them to discuss how they are using this principle in their daily lives. There were some interesting sharing/discussion points from the groups, and in some cases confusion, about the meaning of the various principles. This was quite an insight into how to plan for their future learning.
Focus: I was hoping to weave more Indigenous education into a variety of learning experiences for my students and within my practice. I selected this area as I was unsure of what Indigenous knowledge the students were bringing with them due to the distance between home and school the previous school year, as a result of remote learning. My experience in the past has been, if the students are not learning and interacting in a learning setting with other students and a teacher then it is difficult to determine how much learning is happening. I chose these literacy areas as I thought the students could easily make connections to themselves if I provided a little guidance and scaffolding.
Hunch: This year, in particular, we were not able to have our Indigenous educators come to our classrooms to compliment our learning with their fantastic Indigenous presentations. We did have ‘Zoom’ presentations, although it was definitely not the same as in person — for the presenter or the students. Due to these restrictions, many Indigenous presentations did not happen this year for our students.
Many staff continue to be hesitant to teach Indigenous culture, as this is not familiar to them and they are worried they will not do a ‘good job’. I tell them ‘better to do something than do nothing’ and try to support staff in any way I can. Still, the hesitancy lingers.
New Professional Learning: I decided, as I was the only member working on this inquiry, to bring a few new literacy ideas into my classroom practice. They included:
1. Celeb of the Month – each month the class would find an Indigenous, Canadian (in that order) who was passionate about their skill/dream and had worked diligently and made a difference in Canada/Internationally. We would alternate between female and male. I decided to include this to help students become aware of the challenges people can face as they strive to pursue their passion to fulfill their dream.
2. Indigenous Novel Study Booklet – I decided to create a booklet based only on Indigenous culture as I had not found what I needed/wanted to use, and I felt this would be an ideal teaching tool/learning experience for the students and myself. I used both writing and drawing to provide an entry point for all students. Students can and do express themselves in many ways, not only using writing as a medium.
3. Novel Approach – this is a totally new program to me, and while there are a few Indigenous components, I wanted to Indigenize this program further to appeal to more Indigenous learners. This program is a formative approach to teaching reading, writing and oral communication by H & J Coaching and Consulting. I found the poetry and music most appealing, and for various reasons I needed to leave the novel study section for future learning/exploration.
Taking Action: 1. Celeb of the Month – the students would browse the internet looking for a male/female who was firstly Indigenous and secondly Canadian, and who had achieved a passion/dream. A small exercise like this promoted a great discussion about how and where they should look to address the criteria, about their findings, and nearly a debate about which person out of all those found should be our ‘Celeb of the Month’. We then created a notice board with the person’s name in large letters, photographs and a biography (which I had photocopied for the students use). I also created a handout with important facts and a timeline of the celeb’s life which we read as a whole class. Fantastic discussions were stimulated!
2. Indigenous Novel Study Booklet – I firstly created a criteria page with information that was to be included and marks for each section. The various sections included: Connections to Indigenous Culture, Sketch of an object, Reactions to Events, Character Connections, Important Indigenous setting, Illustrated Cultural sequential events. Each page of the booklet was designed so that students could write paragraphs, jot notes, draw their images/ideas, and create a sequence of events using writing and illustrating. The students completed a page each day, and they were aware that even with jot notes they need to search for details in the novel and include these in their writing. Students worked independently on these pages, but were aware of due dates and a specific completion date for the entire booklet.
3. Novel Approach – I researched and found poems that I thought were meaningful and that the students could understand and relate to. Chief Dan George has a wonderful collection of poems with many being about nature, and as our school is located in a rural area I thought this would appeal to the students. I also used ‘I Lost My Talk’ by Rita Joe as I had taught about residential schools in Canada and Australia. Again, students had a little background knowledge about this topic. I used a few other poems, but these two authors seemed to be most appealing to the students. The music I used included Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jayli Wolf, and Sebastian Gaskin. I encouraged the students to research these Indigenous musicians and find a song with lyrics that we could discuss and create meaning/understanding for our class. The students were fascinated with the musicians, and seemed intrinsically and self motivated to find songs.
Checking: I was extremely satisfied with ‘Celeb of the month’ and the ‘Indigenous Novel Study Booklet’ as the students seemed focused and immersed in their learning. They both allowed and encouraged rich discussions in our classroom and students’ knowledge of Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing seemed greatly enhanced. I made changes/adaptations with the novel study booklet depending on students developmental level and inline with their IEP. The Novel Approach needs more work and I did not achieve what I initially wanted to (dreamed of), but I discovered that is a huge undertaking and best left for a future time.
The learners’ answers to the 4 questions didn’t change a great deal as they only had 2 teachers each quarter. So it was not until the final quarter that the students were really familiar with quite a few staff in the building. Many still stated their friends, with myself and another teacher included at times. I don’t think they really understood the four questions.
Reflections/Advice: I am hoping, as many people are, that we are back to a more normal school year in 2021-2022. I would actually like to explore further the 3 literacy areas I focused on in this inquiry. I think I could extend the ‘Celeb of the Month’ to promote local Indigenous peoples, and students could make stronger connections and bring greater background knowledge. The ‘Indigenous Novel study Booklet’ I created was enjoyed by most students, but I feel I could add a few more sections so that students could gain deeper understandings of Indigenous culture and ways of being, knowing and doing. I have a great deal of learning as I continue Indigenizing the ‘Novel Approach’ program, and it would have greater benefit for the students if used over a longer period of time, not within 8-10 week semesters.
I would love to attend a workshop on the ‘four key questions’, as I am not confident in this area and maybe that is why my students ‘don’t get it’ (as they say). I would be extremely grateful if there was a workshop on these questions for teachers/staff in the Fraser Valley to attend — maybe Surrey could be a location — as Vancouver is quite the distance after working all day. Maybe the May Symposium in 2022 could hold a workshop on this topic, I would love it – just a suggestion!!