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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *