Monthly Archives: January 2015

English 12 Exploration of Societal Attitudes

*This blog post is based on a lesson where English 12 students did an impromptu read of a recent Maclean’s article. The students’ responses are raw and show some of their current thinking and experiences. The teacher’s role in such conversations is to carefully challenge some of their ideas so that they have a deeper and wider understanding of complex social issues. The hope after such disc  ussions is that students will continue to explore and challenge their thinking and that of their surrounding communities and society. *pamela smith1

My English 12 classes at Byrne Creek have read and discussed several pieces of First Nations literature throughout the semester exploring spiritual practices and land issues as well as the lasting effects of residential schools. We are now in the middle of preparing for the provincial exam; however, after watching the National on CBC yesterday evening, I felt compelled to share the January 22, 2015 article, “Welcome to Winnipeg where Canada’s racism problem is at its worst: How the Death of Tina Fontaine has finally forced it to face its festering race problem,” by Nancy Macdonald. The article made the front page of Maclean’s Magazine and is causing more than a controversial stir across the country it seems.

As we are preparing for the Provincial English Twelve exam, studying essays and discussing their tools of effectiveness, I decided to read this important article that is causing so many people, including the mayor of Winnipeg, to open their hearts and their eyes and notice that there is a problem in the city, perhaps across the country, according to some of my students.

After reading the article to two classes, one student stated that here in Burnaby where he lives, when police came to respond to a complaint about the Aboriginal tenant in his homestay family’s basement, the officer was overheard saying something discriminatopamela smith3ry regarding the tenant to the landlord.

This student then looked at me and said, “They shouldn’t be saying that.’

Pausing in the middle of the article, after describing how Jenna Wirch was put to work in the sex trade before her tenth birthday and watched two of her friends stabbed to death in front of her, “one with a machete,” painting a graphic image of life for an Aboriginal girl in the North End of Winnipeg known as a mostly native populated area, I asked my students who was surprised to learn this was happening in Canada. Most of them raised their hands.

One young woman expressed her shock and dismay to the class, contrasting her well protected life as a Caribbean Canadian to Jenna’s, bursting into tears in front of the class. She was so full of empathy for Jenna.

When asked what they would say to the people of Winnipeg, students were quick to observe that admitting there is a problem needs to happen before anything can be changed. After that, they said that identifying the real problem is necessary. Other ideas that followed included breaking stereotypes by asking questions about why people take the positions they have. Start a conversation and invite others in, especially in schools. A lot of influence, they noted, comes from people in power, so it is important to educate students but to first educate the adults who are teaching these students and making judgments, according to the article. The rest of the population needs to understand the background of Aboriginal people and put themselves in their positions.

“J.” who arrived in Canada from Kyrgystan in 2011, explained, “I always thought America was the most racist country, but after (reading) this, it just opamela smith2pened my eyes.”

This led us to discuss the question of how to get rid of racism.

“Start at the roots,” someone said. “If parents are racist they need to get rid of their racist attitudes so they don’t hand them down to their kids.”

“It is such an eye opener because here in Vancouver we appreciate Aboriginal culture such as celebrating this at the Olympics, or the English Bay Inukshuk mentioned in the article, but in Winnipeg the way they treat the Aboriginal culture, especially starting at the age of ten there is very disturbing.”

The bell rang and classes ended far too soon, before our growing conversation had a chance to come to a natural pause, for it will continue I have no doubt. Many students stayed to continue the discussion, each expressing gratitude for the article being shared with them.

“That was so powerful,” several told me as they were leaving.

It is reassuring to hear that they are open to exploring this very real concern we have regarding societal attitudes, beliefs and stereotypes of Aboriginal people in Canada.

Pamela Smith

Byrne Creek Secondary

Inquiry Team Session 3

The Aboriginal Education Inquiry Team met for the third session on January 15 at Burnaby North. The session started with English Teacher Denise Ferreira from Byrne Creek Secondary sharing her work with the inclusion of Aboriginal literature in her classroom, which featured a student created Youtube video demonstrating their learning. The session also included a presentation by Shelley Javier and Karla Gamble, Secondary Aboriginal Resource Teachers, regarding the integration of authentic Aboriginal literature and resources in our classrooms. In true inquiry fashion the discussion spiralled into many more questions and rich discussion about how we as teachers can be thoughtful about the integration of authentic Aboriginal literature. Below you will find a link to the presentation slides, as well as links to the resources touched upon during the session:IMG_0281

Session Three January 15IMG_0282

BC First Peoples Learning Resources K-7, FNESC


Exploring Diverse Cultures in a Diverse Classroom

Ms. Ewan, Maywood Elementary School

This is the first time I have taught grade 4, I had to move schools, and our start of year was….unusual. With so much of the Social Studies curriculum in grade 4 focused on Aboriginal pre-contact/early contact, and with everything else that was going on, I was slightly terrified (Will I totally butcher this?). After deciding to divide the year into three big sections (Rich pre-contact, Exploration, and Post contact effects/cultural impacts), I started researching pre-contact and was reminded how rich/diverse Aboriginal cultures and societies were in North America. After consultation with Mary Hotomanie, our Elementary Aboriginal Resource Teacher, we decided to focus on four groups to both celebrate the diversity and keep the topic manageable. Cree, Algonquin, Haida, and Coast Salish became the cornerstones for our term one unit.Melissa 3

What did we do?/How did it go?

Term one was divided into three major sections: (1) What is culture/Aboriginal worldview; (2) The nuts and bolts; and (3) Synthesis and deeper comparison.

During the first few weeks, Mary and I explored the concept of culture and Aboriginal worldview. With such a diverse class it was interesting to discuss many different cultures. We also used this part of the unit to teach basics of non-fiction text features and create interest in the topic. (How many sticky notes can we use in one day?)

During the ‘Nuts and Bolts’ part of the unit, students were put into four groups to work together and build a class bulletin board. Each week, students researched a specific aspect of an Aboriginal Nation and created a display for the class bulletin board, usually I provided a basic graphic organizer to help. Each week the topics and the groups rotated, so that by the end of this section of the unit, every student had experienced or researched an aspect of each Aboriginal Nation. Throughout the unit we continued to teach note-taking skills as well as techniques for reading non-fiction texts. The ESL and LSS teachers supported this aspect of the unit. Additionally, Mary added a rich layer by bringing teachings or stories related to the topics of the week. She spoke about everything from animal symbols to the roles and responsibilities of children. She always tied the weekly teaching into the Aboriginal worldview, which became core to our first term learning. Throughout the term, students would choose to read non-fiction books during silent reading about the different Aboriginal Nations we were focusing our inquiry on, read our bulletin board, and/or explain aspects of our bulletin board to parents and friends in other classes. This bulletin board and literature became powerful ways to share our growing knowledge. Once the bulletin board was complete, we made a class book of the information that is now an important part of our class library.

As often happens, the first two parts of this unit took much longer than expected. Our plan for part three was to have students complete a Venn diagram comparing the different Aboriginal Nations and then look at personal traits/life experiences in order to decide which pre-contact Aboriginal Nation they would have fit into best. I am hoping that if I teach this unit again, I can include this part, but time and class needs prevented me from ending the unit this way. Instead our class did a mini-inquiry about Aboriginal Peoples from around the world. This inquiry project grew out of students wondering if there were Aboriginal Peoples around the world and it seemed like a powerful way to end.

I am generally happy with how the unit grew over the term. The students really connected deeply with Mary and Aboriginal worldview. They are able to express an understanding of the complexity and diversity of Aboriginal culture and society in pre-contact Canada and recognize that there are/were many Indigenous peoples around the globe. Additionally, this unit allowed students to practice reading and understanding non-fiction text both in books and on the Internet. The next time I teach this unit, I will tweak it for timelines and hopefully will know the students even better. I also hope I am lucky enough to have an amazing partner like Mary who helped the students connect with subject in such a personal and dynamic way.

What is next? 

As we move into explorers, Aboriginal worldview will be revisited. As a class we will look at cultural appropriation and exchange. I hope my students will continue to build their understanding throughout the year and feel connected to Aboriginal perspectives as we learn of the deeper history of these diverse Nations.

Discovering Personal Traits

Exploring animal totems to develop a greater understanding of ourselves and others.

A series of lessons taught in a grade 2/3 class.

By Leah Dixon and Clare McGivern at University Highlands

In the fall our teaching trio (student teacher – Rachel VanGassen, myself – Leah Dixon and my teaching partner – Clare McGivern) began working with our class to help them understand their own personal traits, specifically their strengths and weaknesses. We have been exploring the new draft curriculum and personal and cultural awareness is one of the core competencies. We began our series of lessons by reading two wonderful books:

i am raven sharing our world

Using the stories as a springboard, we discussed the characteristics of the various animal spirits and how a totem tells a story about you or your family. Then we worked in partners to discuss our own personal strengths. We shared these personal strengths with the class and emphasized our need to use these strengths in our daily lives. Finally, we thought about the animal spirits we were introduced to and chose the totem that we most closely connected to. In other lessons we created pieces of writing connecting the characteristics of our chosen totems to our own lives.

Finally, we reread the book Sharing our World and we focussed on the artwork. We discussed the shapes and colors used. Each child was then asked to choose 3 colors to use in an art project depicting the animal spirit they had previously chosen. The students then used tracers for the body shapes and freehand cut shapes to embellish their animals. The results were stunning.

To follow up we are planning to look at the medicine wheel, using the Strong Nation reader Greeting the Four Seasons, and do some goal setting for the new year, keeping our strengths and weaknesses in mind as we do so.

top writing top totem bottom writting bottom totem