Archive for March, 2017

How Indigenous Learning Stories Can Combat Colonialism

Posted on March 27, 2017. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, baby, cultural, eci814, educational, First Nations, Masters, Privilege, Race, Unsettling the Settler |

Mary Caroline Rowan discusses Indigenous learning stories in her article, “Resituating carol rowanPractice through Teacher’s Storying of Children’s Interests.” Rowan believes that learning stories can be a device to impart Indigenous knowledge and practices. The “learning story” derives from Aotearoa/New Zealand and is a structured, narrative style observation story that documents children’s actions and incorporates them into a story that walks through a child’s interests, ideas, and emotions.  In her chapter, Rowan uses the learning story model, and incorporates Indigenous vocabulary words that support Inuit culture.

(Warning: understatement of the year…) Colonization has had a strong impact on the Canadian Inuit’s culture. Through strict policy and violence, the Inuit people were forced to attend Residential schools where they were taught White ways of knowing and denied access to their language, culture and families.  “Inuit approaches to living have been systematically undermined in relationship with a southern society that believed that it knew best how to use the north, how to develop its economic potential, and how to improve the moral, intellectual and material lives of its inhabitants” (Rowan, 2013, p. 175).

The Inuit language and culture have been silenced through years of colonial policy and forced assimilation. Rowan’s approach to her research is rooted in the understanding that “locally based social and cultural knowledge(s) provide a foundation for meaning, understanding, and strength at the community level” (Rowan, 2013, p. 174).  She journeys down the path of decolonial theory to find ways to incorporate this local knowledge and disrupt hegemony in her early childhood education action research. Through the practice of transformative pedagogy, “which recognizes the value of home and community knowledge” (Rowan, 2013, p. 180), Rowan chooses to write two learning stories that use traditional Indigenous knowledge and language.

Rowan uses Hugh Brody’s research (1975 & 2001) many times in this chapter. hugh brody Brody was a British anthropologist that visited the Canadian Arctic in the 70’s. Much of his work influences Rowan’s theoretical approach. Brody (1987) wrote, “The voices of the people must be heard; their words breathe life into our understanding. We cannot know other cultures by looking at them; we must hear their accents, absorb their intonations, and enter their points of view” (p. xv). This is vital to Rowan’s work with Indigenous children.  In her learning stories, she enters an Inuit child’s world and writes about kamiik, (sealskin boots) illu, (a snow house/igloo) and a play structure on a local playground.

Through her stories, children were spurred on to wonder and question about other traditional cultural practices. One child “really wanted to see the quilliq (stone lamp) lit.qulliq This eventually led to an important event that involved the lighting of the quilliq” (Rowan, 2013, p. 182). I believe this is the magic that an engaging story can hold for a child. It begs them to enter into the story, and wonder and question in much deeper ways. The amazing thing about a learning story is that the children reading it are the centre of the story. It is their behaviours and actions that are documented.

When I decided to write my own learning story, I decided to centre it around my five month old daughter.  I am currently on mat leave, and do not have a classroom where I can use my students in the story.  I decided to take pictures of important events in Adelyn’s day where I saw her learning and engaging with her environment… AKA my home.  Because I didn’t want it to only be applicable to our family, I tried to use objects or experiences that could transcend culture. I openly admit however, that by being a White female settler, I am already working within a privileged, dominant discourse.

However, I tried to write the learning story in a way that allowed the opportunity for other languages and cultures to insert their own local vocabulary/understandings. On each page I underlined a word that I thought could be traded out for something more culturally appropriate or local if applicable.  For example, I wrote about Adelyn sleeping in her crib.  I know that many other cultures use moss bags, boxes, bassinets, parents bed, etc. Those reading/translating this story are encouraged to switch the vocabulary when necessary.

On the topic of translating, I guess I should mention that I had some friends/family translate the learning story for me into their own language.  I am so privileged to have acquaintances from many cultural/linguistic backgrounds, and thankfully many of them were willing to help me translate the story into their own tongue.  By the time the story was finished, it was translated into 7 (almost 8) other languages: Inuktitut, French, Korean, German, Mandarin, Spanish, Swahili, (and Cree is on the way). But considering Brody’s quote about “hearing their accents and absorbing their intonations” (Brody, 1975, p. xv), the story was not finished yet.  Through technology, we now have the capacity to actually HEAR other languages being spoken. I asked each friend to also record themselves reading the story in their language so I could import the recordings into the ebook.  This was successful, and now beside each translated line, there is a button one can click to hear the sentence being read in the corresponding language.

Again, I know there are still many faults with this process and product. By inserting other languages over a White, privileged experience, I am inviting minority groups into my dominant narrative rather than the reverse. I realize that this project is occurring because of a chapter I read while taking my Masters degree at a University. (The ivory tower image can’t be much stronger than that.)

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“Ivory Tower” photo credit: Billie Grace Ward via Flickr

I also realize that it is quite problematic that the book I have made is available in ePub format which is best read on an iPad, eBook reader, or a computer with the correct software installed. I know this type of technology is not accessible to everyone, and by doing this, I may just be perpetuating a very privileged group’s access to these materials.

That said, in offering this story in more than one language, I hope to accomplish some inclusivity.  I am sending a copy of my story to each of my friends/family that helped me translate it, and I hope it will be read to their children and children’s friends in their home language.  I am also hopeful because of my story’s ebook format. Because it is an ePub, it can be opened in the Book Creator app so that the pictures can be changed.  Perhaps someone would like to take out the picture of my daughter, and insert one of their own child in their own environment.  This ePub format also allows the story to be printed for those that may not have access to an iPad, ebook reader or computer.  It does lose the ability to hear the languages being spoken, but the written text in the different languages will still be there.

 

I will leave you with a few questions that I have pondered throughout this work.

  1. How can I (you, we) ally with other Indigenous peoples who are wanting to “breathe life into their understanding.” What does it look like for me (you, we) to support the amazing work already being done by Indigenous people who want to keep their traditions, culture and language alive?
  2. In what ways can I, as a white settler woman help disrupt hegemony and colonial thinking among settlers? In what ways can I infuse Indigenous ways of knowing into my teaching, or my every day life? What stories will I read to Adelyn that don’t have her (or people like her) as the central focus?
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Bound by the Clock

Posted on March 20, 2017. Filed under: eci814, educational, Grade 1 & 2, Masters, teaching and learning |

This week’s reading talks about how since the clock has been invented, people, families, institutions- including schools, have been bound by time. I have felt this in my own life, and in my own classroom, and I know others feel this tension as well.

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In their chapter, Valuing Subjective Complexities: Disrupting the Tyranny of Time, Sherry Rose and Pam Whitty discuss how student freedom can be felt when their teachers do not strictly adhere to the clock. Even though teachers may pedagogically disagree with stringent teacher led behaviours, their classrooms tend to run strictly by time and schedules:

The schedule and its component parts become taken for granted scripts for organizing time. Passed on from one year to the next, ritualistic routines such as calendar time, snack time, outdoor time, and field trips remain embodied and unchallenged” (Rose & Whitty, 2013).

Not only is our school day run by clocks and bells, the curriculum is actually designed through subject minutes. Each subject is designated by a certain amount of minutes, and some subjects are clearly at the top of the academic hierarchy because they have more minutes imposed. This contrasts Ken Robinson’s creativity TED talk we watch last week:

Thankfully, since the Saskatchewan curriculum has moved to outcomes and indicators, I have noticed that teachers have more freedom with how their day can be organized. (Although I have heard this can change depending on which principal you have.) The principal at my school was pretty relaxed when it came to day/week/year plans. We could schedule our days pretty freely, and the only way our day was bound was to our prep times where other teachers would come and take the kids for Music, Phys Ed, or French.

On the other hand, my friend who works at a different elementary school had very strict timetable checks done by her principal. That principal wanted his teachers to tally how many minutes each subject was getting and total them at the bottom of their weekly plans. Each total had to be in line with the Sk curriculum document subject minutes, and their plans had to be handed in to the office and checked by the principal. Yikes!

I feel like Pre-school/Pre-K has a little more flexibility in how they structure their day than a grade one class, but I am going to share a couple things I do in my grade one class so that I am not as bound by the clock.

  1. I have a routine run by familiarity not time. Every morning, the very first thing we do is Morning Carpet Time. This title is more for the space we are using rather than the
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    This is a slide from my Morning Carpet Time Smart Notebook File.

    structure or content of what we are doing. I have a Smartboard file called “Morning Carpet Time” that has around 30 interchangeable slides that I use throughout the year. My students get used to going through about 8 slides every morning.  Sometimes I switch the slides up daily, sometimes weekly, and sometimes monthly. They range in subject matter, but I have to admit, they do tend to have a math and literacy focus.  When there is a new slide, I teach them what they are supposed to do with it, and then from that day on, the helper of the day leads the class in all the Smartboard activities. This “Morning Carpet Time” does not have a time limit. Whenever we finish the slides is when we move onto our next activity.

  2. The students have come to learn that the bell does not dismiss them; the teacher does. Though I know young children have a desperate need for Recess, (as they should,) my class has learned that just because the bell goes, does not mean that they get to jump up and run outside… Especially when another class member is talking or sharing. The students have learned that if one of their classmates has the floor (or the teacher), they need to show respect and wait until that person, or that activity is finished. We have ‘worked’ through Recess in the past, and it is not a big deal. I can always take the students outside for a movement break later, or we can do one in the classroom when needed. Please don’t think that I am saying Recess isn’t important. I think it is vitally important. Students NEED to move, and have freedom of play, and be OUTSIDE… all I am saying is that the bell for Recess should not drive our interactions and emerging activities.
  3. I have mostly changed our visual schedule from subjects to activities. Rather than writing “math” on the visual schedule slip, I write “table activity.” This allows
    visual schedule

    Very similar to what my visual schedule looks like. Photo credit: Michelle, a special ed teacher

    freedom in navigating the ins and outs of the day.  If one activity goes really well, and I would like to continue it rather than moving to the next activity, I can use the next “table activity” time on the schedule to have the students keep working. The students are none the wiser, and I don’t have any ‘schedule loving Sally’s’ who say, “Teacher! Why aren’t we doing Health right now? Aren’t we supposed to be doing Health?” I also don’t have any times in front of each activity. The only thing on the schedule that would give students a sense of what time something is happening would be the Recess and lunch strips.

These are just a few things I have found that work for myself and my classroom. Are there any tricks that you know of that help your classroom not have to follow the clock to the minute? Please share in the comments below!

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Authentic online spaces: Good or bad?

Posted on March 19, 2017. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, Blog on Blogging, Eci834, First Nations, Masters, Privilege, Race, Technology |

This blog prompt comes at an interesting time for me as I have had a couple great conversations around this topic just recently. Both have to do with blogging and the conversations that occur because someone shared their thoughts/opinions/knowledge online; good, bad, or otherwise!

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Photo credit: Will Lion via Flickr

The first story happened in the last couple of weeks for me.  I have been blogging my reading responses for my other Masters class, EC&I 814 Critical Perspectives of Pre-school Edece-bookucation. We have been diving into topics around how to de-pathologize curriculum and re-situate early childhood education into an asset oriented perspective.  It goes along nicely with the anti-oppressive education work I have been doing this last year of my life.  In these posts, I often quote Luigi Iannacci who is one of the authors of our textbook, Early Childhood Curricula and the De-pathologizing of Childhood. I got an unexpected surprise one day last week when Iannacci emailed me through my blog’s ‘About page’ (which as a side note is why it’s important to have a contact form on your blog) and commented on my blog post. He was very encouraging…

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This led to me emailing him back, and we have had a little conversation back and forth for the last couple weeks. He has been very open and genuine, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask him if he wanted to Skype/Facetime in with our class during my presentation coming up on March 28th. He was more than happy to do it, and we have been figuring out exactly what that will look like.

But what can I say? What an amazing opportunity for myself and my classmates to actually talk to the human behind the stories and theory represented in our text. This opportunity happened BECAUSE I blogged my reading response for the world rather than wrote it for my professor. No, our conversation didn’t happen in the comment section of my blog or in a discussion forum, but none the less, it happened because of my blogging platform.

What do I take from this?

  1. Teachers need to give their students opportunities to write for someone other than themselves.
  2. Authenticity is inspired in others when it starts with me.

 

The second story happened to a friend of mine, Claire Kreuger. By the way, she has given me permission to tell this story. She has been blogging her thesis– HALLELUJAH! (I am so glad that this is starting to become a thing.) And she has had some interesting conversations around some of her posts. The story she told me yesterday was where her authentic online space did not go over so well.

Through her thesis, she has been actively trying to disrupt her own understanding of Whiteness, colonial spaces, and privilege. Her thesis is an Auto-ethnography, which involves her using stories from her own family, classroom and experiences. In her post, H is for Headdress, she explains why it is unacceptable for non-indigenous people, children included, to be wearing and making headdresses. Though this issue has been brought to light multiple times in the media, and in education, it still seems to be happening quite frequently. Claire mentions how even her own daughter made a feather headdress in class last year.  This is actually where the authenticity/openness of her blogging takes a turn for the worst.

Shortly after mentioning her daughter’s craft in her blog post, Claire got an email from her child’s teacher with the principal cc’d. The teacher wanted Claire to come in and chat… Uh oh! Anytime a teacher is willing to schedule a meeting on Friday after school, you know it’s not to talk about some awesome answer the child gave in Science that day. Sure enough, the teacher and principal wanted to speak about her blog post. The teacher

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“Blog With Authenticity Without Getting Fired” photo credit: Search Engine People Blog via Flickr

felt like Claire attacked her in the blog posts, and was telling others that she was a bad teacher. She had printed off pages from Claire’s blog (kind of ironic, right?) and challenged Claire on what she had written. Claire had to do damage control and explain the situation.  She told the elementary teacher that she thought she was an awesome teacher, but that Claire did have issues with that craft in particular, and how Indigenous people were being (mis)represented on a classroom and even school level. She tried to
apologize to the teacher and principal and explain that she was not trying to condemn the teacher per se, but rather address what her daughter had shared in conversation at home. Her daughter’s lack of knowledge and language around First Nations people was actually more of an issue than the craft itself, especially since Claire is actively trying to educate her own children about First Nations content at home. It is a symptom of the bigger systemic issue, and Claire clearly pointed that out in the blog, or at least she thought she did. Though the conversation was awkward, it was one that probably needed to happen on both accounts.

In this case, Claire being open and authentic in her blog caused tension with her face to face relationships. She was forced to stand behind her convictions and call somebody out on their racially insensitive actions. Though she was pressured to censor her opinions and thoughts, she found a way to adjust her blog’s comments, but not erase the story itself.

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“Blogging Readiness” photo credit: Cambodia4kids.org via Flickr

In either story, the good news is that the blogging platform brought out conversation, good or bad.  The public nature of the writing brought on discussion. The openness of the content spurred on more conversation. It can’t always guarantee that other’s will be authentic or genuine, but it sure helps when you know the writer is starting from that place.

 

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Classroom Interactions Online

Posted on March 7, 2017. Filed under: digital citizenship, Eci834, educational, Genius Hour, Google Classroom, Masters, Social Networking, teaching and learning, Technology |

As I was reading through this week’s assigned chapters, I became very thankful that Alec and Katia know this research well, and have shown our class, by example, what online learning should/can look like. As I was thinking about learning communities, I decided that one of the reasons why I feel our class’s learning community connects so well is because of the systems this class has in place to connect with others.

  1. Zoom live video. I can’t think of a better tool to feel like part of the class without a classroom. Even if most students don’t speak out loud during the classes, the live feature of being able to see everyone if you wanted, really helps with accountability and presence.
  2. Zoom chat. I compare this to when the chapter was talkingzoom about the MSN chat. Having the chat option during the live feed really builds community as there can be joking go on, side conversations and little comments here and there that not only make people feel like they are contributing, but encourages participation.
  1. Zoom breakout rooms. These short small group interactions help put faces to names, and allows you to feel like you know at least a few people on a more personal level. Usually during these breakout sessions, you at least find out what grade the other people teach and possibly one or two things about their classroom.
  2. Twitter chats. Using a class hashtag is an effective way to have asynchronous twitterconversation and sharing with classmates. Because of it’s ‘favourite’ and ‘retweet’ options, you feel connected with other members of the class even when you are not speaking face to face.
  3. Google+. Because of its closed/private discussion boards, Google+ can feel like a safer social media sharing platform than Facebook or Twitter. There isn’t a chance of anyone else (besides those in the class) that could read the posts. I think this helps people feel secure when they share something.

I love Shweir’s definition of participation in regards to online learning communities. He says participation is

“social interaction, especially participation that promotes self- determination, respects the autonomy of members and sustains the community” (2002).

This is important as it moves past the definition of raising your hand- virtually, or face to face.  I also know from my own experience that mandatory participation and participation marks don’t automatically equal engagement. There have been discussion boards and conversations that I have been involved in only for the sake of that participation mark.

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“Power Law of Participation” photo credit: Ross Mayfield via Flickr

Pedagogically speaking, I really feel like we need to move past participation marks… into finding ways for authentic participation and engagement that promotes a growth mindset. Our group has decided to use Google Classroom as our LMS. I have been learning about the different ways Google Classroom allows students to get involved within that platform, and I have been thinking about ways to use that platform to the best of my ability.

google-classroom

Our group has decided to use blogging/pingbacks as a way for students to interact with the teacher and each other. We have also thrown around the idea of having the students use Twitter or another similar tool to connect with each other. (Rochelle’s post this week confirmed this is always a great tool) BUT the more I think about it, the more I feel like Google+ might be the better option because we chose Google Classroom as the LMS, but I could be wrong. What do you think? Should our group use Google+ as an added learning community just because we are using GC as the learning management system? Do you think that kids will buy in more, or have a better understanding of how the tool works because it’s created by the same company?

This journal article talks about how gamification and student competitiveness can boost student learning. I know that I love a healthy competition between friends or classmates. That is why for my module, I chose to have the students share their score from a digital citizenship game that they will be taking part in. I created a Google Form for them to input screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-11-15-26-pmtheir answers. This game is a fun way to make dig cit choices, and because there’s really no right or wrong answers in this game, sharing their score is a healthy way to promote participation and a little competition within their learning community. Along with the score, they will be writing how they think they could improve their score if they played the game again.  This way, they are also sharing tips and tricks  with their classmates that will share their knowledge on good digital citizenship behaviour.

 

I believe the best way to have student interactions that are meaningful, relevant and supportive, is to have the students engage with relevant content and actually care about what they are talking about. I think our group has a hand up in this sense as our group is

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“Genius Hour” photo credit Denise Krebs via Flickr

doing Genius Hour which is where the students get to learn about whatever they want! Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of ways to make curriculum fun and engaging, but I am very excited to see how the students will build a specialized learning community throughout this process.

 

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Deficit Thinking Results in Bio-Medical Interventions

Posted on March 1, 2017. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, cultural, eci814, educational, Kindergarten, Masters, teaching and learning |

Reading through this week’s chapters was a sobering reminder that I’m not as de-pathologizing as I would like to be.  The explanations on the biomedical approach to literacy is literally how I have done my job in grade one for these past 6 years. The DRA mentioned in chapter 3 is the exact tool that we use in our division for scoring children’s reading. As I was reading their explanations of how it is used, the stories were all too familiar to me.

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Screen shot from our online reading program called Raz-Kids which is a resource created to help kids achieve grade level.

The tool itself can be neutral and just another way we assess students, but the categorization, labelling, and decision making that is based on these results is troubling. In my experience, this can become the only tool that we use to gage student’s literacy. It becomes the be all and end all and we work towards hitting that numbered goal rather than looking at the child’s literacy strengths and literacy needs from an asset based approach.  Because the division only looks at these ORR levels, it unfortunately drives teachers like me to work to get students to “grade level.” Don’t get me wrong, reading at grade level is an important thing, as there are statistics that show if children aren’t reading at grade level by grade 3, they have a higher risk of dropping out of school. BUT- listen to the language I just used in that sentence. It is all deficit based language.

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Ways to see who is not reaching the skills required.

How would things change if I came at reading, writing, and basic literacy from a completely asset point of view? What if we built off of the children’s strengths culturally, linguistically, socially? How would my literacy instruction change if I cared less about a number and more about individual student growth? Would I spend less time testing and more time observing the student strengths and trying to work from those?  How do we move past the standardized test when that IS the test that schools/divisions/governments base achievement on?

I just asked 5 questions that are somewhat rhetorical because unfortunately I cannot leave the system that I teach in. I now need to decide how to work within that system. I can’t just complain about the system if I do not offer suggestions on how to problem solve these issues. That said, here are three things I am going to try to do when I get back into the classroom after my mat leave is over:

  1. Use cultural language/print more effectively.  I want English AND the other languages children speak in my classroom represented within my classroom. This will be done through labelling the classroom, but also through homemade books and artifacts co-created by students and their parents. Many parents/siblings will be more than willing to help bring a bit of themselves and their culture and language into our classroom. Rather than a teddy bear journal that gets sent home over the weekend, maybe a journal that encourages new vocabulary from all of the homes of the children could be sent home.
  2. Use more than a phonics based approach to teach reading. This is hard for me as I feel like I have done a “good job” of using reading strategies, phonics, and structures of English to help students learn to read English… BUT I know that I need a bigger representation of language in my classroom. When I taught Kindergarten, I used to use the children’s names to help them see the English language structures. For example, if Mikayla was the helper of the day, we would talk about how the “ay” in her name says a long a sound. This would be similar to the ‘ay’ in day, say, pray, spray etc. This might work for names that follow English “rules.” But what will I do when someone’s name does not fit? How can I honour a child’s name that was originally made for a language other than English? How can I use this as a chance to honour, represent and draw attention to that child’s culture, heritage and home language? Even further, how do I look at this experience for children and depathologize in my own practice?
  3. I will actively use more than the DRA or other standardized tests for decision making within my classroom. I think the chapters were pretty clear that most educational institutions are using the biomedical approach for decision making, understanding knowledge production,  and policy creation in regards to children.  There is not much I can do about that, except push back and show that I will not use those means to make decisions within my own classroom. I will show that students have value beyond the tests and constraints the “system” has put on them, and I will do everything I can to make informed decisions using the personal knowledge I have gained about my students through dialogues with them and their families. “The children of Elmwood received literacy instruction based on a single theory. When one theory is exclusively employed, only the goals of that theory can be achieved” (Early Childhood Curricula and the De-Pathologizing of Childhood, Ianacci and Heydon, p. 83). I will strive in every way possible to use more than a single approach to literacy for my future students.

What do you think? What are other ways we can teach literacy from an asset based approach? Am I off base? An idealist? Or is this something we need to strive for in our schools?

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