School Name: Stride Avenue Community School
School District: SD#41 Burnaby
Inquiry Team Members: Vasso.Feretos@burnabyschools.ca
Inquiry Team Contact Email: Stephanie.Lundrigan@burnabyschools.ca
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Writing, Physical & Health Education, Science, Social Studies
Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Community-based learning, Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Differentiated instruction, Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Growth mindset, Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Self-regulation, Social and emotional learning, Universal design for learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Having our students, individually and collectively, understand that all of nature is interconnected (humans too) from a very local perspective, and a bit more practically, a great deal of learning can happen outdoors.
Scanning: From our work last year, as well as the scanning that led to that Inquiry, we really came to realize how much being outside in nature meant to our students. As the initial (heightened) excitement settled, we realized we could go deeper with this learning. Our curriculum, including the revised Early Learning Framework, provides wonderful opportunities to explore in meaningful ways. We are capitalizing on our students love of being outdoors and their natural curiosity. Specifically, with several divisions, the students really led the Inquiry/each day’s exploration. We provided the framework – cross-curricular unit planning, knowing the curriculum well, knowing our learners – and then once this was communicated to the students, we were able to step aside or join in the actual learning that was handed over to the students.
Focus: Essentially, we were hoping to obtain increased student engagement and increased student agency. We wanted to authentically place learners at the centre. “Learners” also includes adults – which we discovered over and over again. We wanted all of them to perceive themselves as capable in a variety of different ways. We also wanted them to see themselves as collaborators and not as competitors. We were also hoping that student engagement would continue after this school year was over — that students would have a greater connection to place that would continue into their intermediate school years.
The huge overarching aim of this Inquiry, which we came back to quite often, was the interconnected piece. As a whole school, we explored Monique Gray Smith’s When We Were Kind in explicit connection to the First Peoples’ Principles of Learning. Continuing to have this as a framework allowed us to do significant problem solving as interpersonal difficulties (which were quite frequent in several classes) arose throughout the year.
Hunch: As a result of Covid, more traditional teaching methods were followed. This included not only desks in rows, but weekly spelling tests and teacher-directed worksheet completion. Student engagement in these classes decreased. These teachers did not participate in the Inquiry.
New Professional Learning: We did not explore any new areas of professional learning. We went deeper with our understanding of the OECD seven principles, as well as the First Peoples’ Principles of Learning. We also helped to deliver the curriculum in new (to us) ways.
No specific designs were used to support the learning of colleagues; there was just conversation (pre and post) and modelling. Relationship was vitally important in creating this collaboration. This is something that developed over time and required a considerable amount of trust.
Taking Action: We had a firm understanding of the curriculum and where we wanted to go (e.g cross-curricular unit plans — specific lessons for that day’s activity). We knew our learners well so had supports in place before they were needed (e.g ELL teacher joined us to support a student who had no English, but had developed a close relationship with her as a result of their frequent small group lessons). We provided consistent time and structure, as well as advance notice.
Checking: There was definite greater engagement as a result of our outdoor work. The growing understanding of how all living beings are connected and depend on each other has certainly provided a meaningful anchor for problem solving circles and deepening interpersonal relationships.
As a small anecdote to our leaners’ answers to the four questions — In early spring I overheard a small group of the grade 2/3s (who were working on the weekly cross-curricular unit) talking while we were in the forest. The gist of their conversation was, we really like it here, it feels like our home, we feel like we are with our mom and our auntie…
There was definite satisfaction in the moment, but it never seems like enough. Our baseline, specifically for the grade 2/3 class, was our initial outing. Students were tentative and really stuck together and stayed very close to the adults. Several of the grade 2s were unsteady physically and needed a lot of reassurance. There was not a great deal of stamina. One student insisted on taking a stick and beating every growing thing he could find. One particularly pivotal event that illustrates the change that occurred involved a ‘river crossing and a mountain climb’. A new path had been cut from the forest path on an approximately 45 degree incline down to the creek. On the other side of the creek, was a very steep hill. Past the hill, the trail resumed and eventually led to a park with a playground. For several weeks we attempted to make this trek. The first time, one of our students (who has a Fraser Health Care Plan) did not follow our instructions to walk carefully. He ran and quickly gained momentum and ended up in a heap at the bottom of the hill causing huge concern for the adults which needed to be quelled to avoid scaring the children. Several of the more athletic children were able to navigate the steep slope successfully and safely. For many of the students it was quite scary and they needed considerable adult guidance. Crossing the creek was another hurdle. For the first few attempts, it was flowing much too fast to attempt crossing. Finally, the students were able to cross. This involved careful instruction about where to place your feet and careful adult guidance and physical support. Once everyone was across, the next step was the steep hill climb. This again required adult coaching and support the first few times. After several weeks, all students were able to complete all three steps independently. They are now all able to complete the downhill, cross the creek, and climb back up the hill, with great agility. The pride this gave them was priceless. They were able to articulate their feeling about this very clearly.
Throughout the year the students actively engaged in their learning – physically and mentally – and their answers to the four questions would be authentic.
Update – May 06, 2021
Throughout this school year we have continued to build our understanding of Indigenous worldview, as well as deepen our knowledge of Truth and Reconciliation.
Our Indigenous Inquiry continues with our Friday afternoon walks in the forest with a different focus each week – depending on the season and the weather. Several classes will also venture over throughout the week. For one of our classes this happens weekly, and Indigenous worldview is embedded in a cross curricular unit that includes studying life cycles, landscapes and formations, as well as the water cycle.
As we have become more familiar with place, it has also seemed more natural to allow the students to lead the learning for the afternoon. We are never disappointed with the result. It has been really interesting watching the students settle into the forest and feel at ease. Many comment on how they feel at home now. They have also expanded how far they like to travel away from the main path. All of the new activity of the spring has not gone unnoticed; they are so curious. This has also provided authentic opportunities for our Indigenous students to share their knowledge; for example, on a recent afternoon, one of our students of Indigenous heritage discovered a tall tree stump and wanted to show us how to peel the bark off. He was so excited. One of his classmates remembered what they had been told by the District Cultural Enhancement teacher and reminded him he needed to ask permission from the tree and to also say thank you.
In recent weeks, we have started to understand the concept of ‘reciprocity.’ This is guiding us to a deeper level in our recognition of interconnectedness.
This Inquiry – which turned into a multi-pronged affair that is hard to succinctly communicate – was an opportunity for great learning. For students, this learning occurred in a variety of ways – about the curriculum as well as themselves, and for the adults. One of the biggest learnings I will take away and definitely make more visible for my colleagues is how uncomplicated and how rich it is to hand the reins over to the students. I had experienced this with older students so knew it to be true, but this year I experienced it weekly with primary students. They really do know what they want to learn next. Having an adult step in and be directive would have diminished the learning. It would be helpful for teachers to truly understand this.
Our Inquiry will take a different direction next year as my role changes. For the past two years, I have had the small (0.2 FTE) assignment of Indigenous Learning and Inquiry Teacher (ILIT), which will not continue next year. Instead, I have asked to take a one day a week job share in what has now become a grade 6/7 classroom. So, our new Inquiry will now involve this age group. It will also involve the two teachers who were actively involved in this year’s Inquiry, and they will be teaching grade 4/5 and 3/4. It will definitely involve understanding and embedding the FPPL into our learning, as well as taking our learning outside. We will also be expanding our understanding and practice of ‘reciprocity’ and go deeper into learning around climate change.