Lochside SD#63 Saanich

I. General Information

School Name: Lochside Elementary

School District: SD#63 Saanich

Inquiry Team Members: Jenni Erickson: jerickson@saanichschools.ca, Sarah Miller: sarahmiller@saanichschools.ca

Inquiry Team Contact Name/Email: Jenni Erickson/jerickson@saanichschools.ca

II. Inquiry Project Information

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels Addressed Through Inquiry: Primary (K-3)

Curricular Areas Addressed:

  • Language Arts – Literacy
  • Language Arts – Oral Language
  • Language Arts – Reading
  • Language Arts – Writing
  • Other: outdoor education

Focus Addressed:

  • Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation)
  • Experiential learning
  • First Peoples Principles of Learning
  • Indigenous pedagogy
  • Land, Nature or Place-based learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Exploring how incorporating Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing into repeated outdoor and nature-based learning experiences will support Indigenous and non-Indigenous literacy learning and foster student connections to place.

III. Spirals of Inquiry Details

Scanning: We began this year with the intention of building upon our outdoor education program and extending this to meet the needs of our learners and foster their connections with the natural world. During the scanning phase, we noticed that many learners, and especially Indigenous learners, needed extra literacy support. We also noticed that their families were keen to incorporate Indigenous knowledge into the classroom and were well connected to the Indigenous community. It was important to us to incorporate the First Peoples Principles of learning during our scanning phase, particularly the idea of developing student identity in relation to their local community and environment.

Focus: We decided to focus our inquiry on understanding and building a connection between early literacy development, outdoor education, and Indigenous education as we are curious about the relationship between these three areas. Both of us are passionate about nature-based learning, and as primary teachers, we are always looking to strengthen student literacy skills. Upon getting to know our students this year, we observed that many students, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, were needing additional support to acquire early literacy skills. We chose to focus on looking for ways to connect routine outdoor learning experiences and literacy activities with Indigenous stories, knowledge, and ways of knowing in order to see how students might learn and engage with their learning differently.

Hunch: We noticed that when our classroom focus was on Indigenous knowledge, or when we had Indigenous elders into the school, our Indigenous learners were particularly engaged. These experiences often included oral storytelling and sharing of local knowledge of plants and animals. We had a hunch that connecting early literacy opportunities to Indigenous knowledge, oral storytelling and outdoor learning in the natural environments around our school, would inspire and support these students in literacy and in their sense of belonging and purpose. Furthermore, we wondered if frequent opportunities connecting Indigenous ways of knowing and nature-based literacy activities would elevate the learning opportunities and outcomes of Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners in our classes.

New Professional Learning:

  • Building our own understanding of local Indigenous stories and legends. Our school resides on the unceded territory of the W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples, and we sought to learn more about the traditional natural space around our school through books, Indigenous knowledge keepers and resource bins (created by the Indigenous department in our school district).
  • Visiting the Horticulture Center of the Pacific’s W̱SÁNEĆ Ethnobotany Trail to learn more about native plants to the area, Indigenous knowledge of these plants, and to observe different native plants in different seasons to become more familiar with them.
  • Working with our school library technician and teacher librarian to become familiar with resources surrounding Indigenous storytelling, plant guides, and resources connecting outdoor, Indigenous, and literacy learning.
  • Continuing to access and read professional books incorporating Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous stories, local ethnobotany, and nature-based learning.

Taking Action:

  • Repeated visits to a local, natural, outdoor environment. This included weekly time spent in a natural space adjacent to the developed school grounds called ‘Beyond the Fence’ and weekly visits to a local forested park within walking distance of the school.
  • Incorporating nature sketchbooks into our routine, with prompts linked to a variety of Indigenous stories, local plant and animal knowledge (ex. Knowledge of native and invasive species of blackberries), cyclical stories and knowledge of the 13 moons of the W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples, and other literacy and nature-based prompts.
  • Weekly learning experiences often involve making observations, sharing thinking through writing and drawing, listening to stories, playing and experiencing these stories, and exploring the outdoor spaces.
  • Building a routine involving students choosing familiar ‘sit spots’ to visit and observe, respond to the aforementioned prompts, and build a connection to the natural environment.
  • Developing our students’ awareness of the invasive and non-invasive species of plants in the area beyond the fence and involving them in learning about the importance of native species, traditional uses of these plants by Indigenous communities, and opportunities to be active in rehabilitating the environment through the removal of Himalayan blackberries to make room for native plants to grow.

Photo (above): Students recording their ideas and reflections in their nature journals.

Photo (above): Students planting cedar trees in a local park.

Checking: During our inquiry, we used the four key questions to check and see if our actions were making a difference in supporting Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in their literacy learning, as well as helping foster student connections to culture and place. We noticed that as the year went on, students were increasingly motivated to take part in our outdoor learning sessions. They developed a sense of connection and ownership to the areas we visited and were invested in helping to take care of these places. This especially came through when asking, “What are you learning and why is it important?” In their answers, students cited such reasons as, “to help take care of the plants and animals because they take care of us,” and “to learn about how Indigenous people lived because they know a lot about this place.” During the checking phase we also looked at their literacy skill development. All students demonstrated steady development throughout the year. Writing activities connected to our outdoor learning and Indigenous knowledge consistently generated higher motivation and engagement from many children. Again, the question of “why is it important” seemed to play a key role in student engagement in this particular writing activity; students could clearly identify the importance of learning about and writing about their local environment.

Reflections/Advice: This inquiry helped us explore the connections between outdoor learning and Indigenous stories/knowledge connected to place, and really look into how our students could build skills and connections in these two key areas through regular outdoor literacy activities. One area that we found worked really well for us was the addition of outdoor ‘nature journals’. In their journals we added weekly pages that incorporated Indigenous knowledge of plants and animals, stories and legends, pictures of the 13 moons, and other prompts that were used to guide discussions and activities. By using our nature journals in this way, we noticed that students were able to record their thinking through words and pictures, build connections throughout the year, and reflect on the wonders, thoughts, and discoveries made in their nature journals.

In going forward with this inquiry, we would like to focus on bringing in more community members from the local Indigenous communities. This was initially our intention, however, it proved a challenge due to the effects of the pandemic. We can imagine that greater inclusion of the local Indigenous community will only help to strengthen the sense of community and connection students feel, as well as the sense that this learning is important.

In terms of advice, the process of working with a colleague with similar interests and curiosities was invaluable. The inquiry process itself helped us to focus, reflect, and learn from some of the key questions that we had about our own teaching process.

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