Learning from Place

In Restoule et al’s (2013) Learning from Place, there are many instances throughout the narrative in which reinhabitation and decolonization occur.

  • ” The processes of creating an audio documentary about relations to the river and engaging in trips along the river were part of a decolonizing process of remembering as younger generations were re-introduced to traditional ways of knowing. Over just two generations, one could observe the erosion of deeper meanings of connection to land and territory that are encoded in the Mushegowuk language, its declining use among the adult and youth generations” 
    • The river trips were meant to help introduce, and perhaps reintroduce Indigenous ways of knowing in relation to the river and water and the Mushegowuk people.
  • “The excursion brought out how important water is to Mushkegowuk culture.”When we hear frogs singing we know the water quality is safe for our consumption. We listen to the song of the birds to know what kind of weather is approaching. The moose will know when we need food and allow themselves to be taken. Such is the contract we have with the animal world.”
    • These ways of knowing can only come from elders and those who have learned from them, and reinstate a knew way of interacting with and living on the land. They break down the colonial way we think of survival, where we might use a water tester, an app to check the weather, etc., and replace them with traditional ways of knowing.
  • “The river trip helped members of the community share linguistic, cultural, historical, and geographical knowledge. It re-established respect for the meaning of paquataskamik and demonstrated how irreconcilable that meaning is with western notions of boundaries as imposed by federal and provincial reserve policy and other planning models.”
    • According to Restoule et al, (2013), paquataskamik is “the Cree word used for traditional territory, all of the environment, nature, and everything it contains”. The re-establishment of the meaning of this was done through the decolonization and reinhabitation, by replacing colonial ways of knowing with traditional ones, and re-orienting the viewpoint of the land away from the western/colonial view.

So how might I adapt these views and use them in my own classroom?

As a social studies teacher, I can facilitate discussion about physical environment. Where are we? How do we know? How do we use the land, what/how else could it be used? These kinds of inquiry questions could set up a lesson about traditional ways of knowing about the land.

\As an English teacher, during the discussion of a text I might ask students similar questions about setting: Where is the setting? Who uses that land and why? Who may have used it before, and how?

Bringing in these different perspectives will help students to question where they are, and how they relate to the land they live on.

Advertisements

How are Curricula Developed?

Before Reading 

I think that the way that curriculum is implemented is largely based on the many different ideas that come from curriculum theorists such as , , and . In Saskatchewan, I believe that curriculum structure is developed based off of these theorists ideas, but the curriculum content itself is informed by government representatives from the Ministry of Education, FSIN members, SIIT members, textbook publishers, community members, and in small part, teachers.

After Reading

According to Levin (2008), “main education stakeholder groups” comprised of “teachers, principals, senior administrators, and elected local authorities” , as well as “some
combination of national, local, and school participation; and in federal systems, education governance will have a fourth (and often primary) level at the state or province” (p.16).  One concern about the provincial government holding the primary stake in curricula is that “The central role of governments inevitably brings into play a range of both political and bureaucratic elements” (Levin, 2008, p.16). Levin goes on to say that although there is often only one government official “charged with the responsibility” of education, often the curriculum can be influenced by the opinions of other political leaders (2008). After completing the reading, I realized that what I’ve been taught and thought before the reading was not too far off. What concerns me is that, as we’ve seen in Ontario, political influences can sometimes supersede what the teachers and students want, even though they’re the ones that are most directly affected.

Who is a “good” student?

What is the commonsense definition of a “good student”?

According to Kushamiro in “Preparing Teachers for Crisis: What It Means to Be a Student”, a good student must exhibit a certain set of qualities: They must be able to focus on the teacher while at their desk,they begin a task as soon as it is asked of them, they are able to monitor themselves, they can only interject or ask questions if their hand is raised. The problem with assuming that a child who preforms these tasks with ease is a “good student” and all others are not, is that it favors only a few students.

Students who are privileged by this commonsense definition are auditory and visual learners who are assumed to be confident to begin a task right away, without delay for fear of failure. Students who are at a disadvantage because of this definition are those who may need to move around, students who learn kinesthetically. It also disadvantages students who may have ADD or ADHD, or other qualities that mean they may require help staying on task. It discourages students from presenting their ideas unless they are brave enough or willing to wait and raise a hand, and even then their idea or quesion may not get to be shared.

This commonsense definition of a “good” student makes it hard for those disadvantaged children not only to learn, but to feel accepted within their classroom as legitimate learners, as good students because they don’t fit the definition of a “good student”, no matter how willing to learn they may be. We as teachers have to understand that all students have the potential to be “good “, and that the definition of a “good” student is not static.

Whatever we believe, they learn.

“We all mouth the mantra “All children can learn.” I would modify the chant to “All children do learn.” It’s just that some of them learn that we expect them to be successful, and some learn from us that they are dumb. Whatever we believe, they learn.”  – Lisa Delpit, “Multiplication is for White People”: Raising Expectations of Other People’s Children

I chose to discuss this quote because a, I have a great admiration for Lisa Delpit and b, because it resonates with me strongly. Delpit has spent much of her life concerned with equity within American classrooms and determining how to ensure that African American children feel empowered at school, which is an issue I see mirrored in Canada in regards to Indigenous students.

Lisa is right in saying that we all mouth the mantra “all children can learn”, we believe in the idea that all children, across the board can learn what we want them to. Of course all children have the capacity to learn, but the consequences of things that exist within the hidden curriculum are often the lessons learned by students. Tracking in schools creates a separation of students, and sets a specific expectation. And students catch on to this. They know that if they get placed in a special math group that it’s either because they’re not meeting standards and therefore aren’t expected to even try, or that they’re above and beyond the expectations and therefore will be held to a higher standard. These students will learn that they either need to constantly be pushing themselves beyond the level of their peers, or that their teachers don’t expect them to ever meet the same level as their peers — either way, that separation changes the way a student thinks and feels about school, and themselves.

Tracking does have it’s benefits, and arguably can be considered a form of differentiation. However, these students feel ostracized from their peers when they are told they are different. Yes, it requires more work on the part of the teacher to ensure that students are in the same classroom for the same lesson, however this work will serve to empower students who have been inherently told their whole school career that they aren’t good enough, or that they don’t meet our standard of understanding.

No teacher goes into the classroom without bias, but what is important is that we don’t allow these biases to interfere with our students’ education. Systemic racism often creeps up from behind us before we can recognize it, but as teachers we cannot allow this to affect our students. We need to teach equitably, and we need to ensure that all of our students feel confident in their abilities, whatever they may be.

Using the Tyler Rationale

In the third chapter of  Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns by Michael Shiro, the Tyler Rationale is used to help readers understand the idea of social efficiency. The Tyler Rationale is a set of four questions presented by Ralph Tyler:

  1. What educational purposes should the school seek to attain? (What  kind of people we’re looking to produce)
  2. What educational experiences can be provided that are likely to attain these purposes? (What do students need to get there?)
  3. How can these educational experiences be effectively organized?
  4. How can we determine whether these purposes are being attained? (Assessment)

I can definitely find ways in which the Tyler rationale was used in my own schooling. The idea of what educational purposes the school should seek to attain can be seen as the curriculum – the mandatory guidelines for what students will (not should) learn throughout a school year. The curriculum exists, in a way because we as teachers in Saskatchewan look to produce a particular type of person/learner through the outcomes. The experiences can be seen as the work that we give students to do in order to reach those goals (outcomes) set by the curriculum.  The organization can be found in lesson and unit planning. Lastly, indicators found in the curriculum which summative assessment is based off of lets us know whether or not a student is learning in the way we want them to.

There are both negatives and positives to this approach to schooling.

One negative is that when teachers are trying to squeeze the whole curriculum into “100” hours of class work and are focused so much on meeting the outcomes and indicators, they can very often miss teaching and learning opportunities that fall outside of the curriculum, but that are still beneficial. It is very limiting to have a structure for learning in which we are told what to teach, which can lead to teacher stress.

However, it would be wrong of me to say that having a guideline isn’t insanely helpful when we are teaching. I couldn’t imagine walking into a classroom with no lesson plan, and no outcomes, indicators or objectives to help guide me in my teaching. “Winging it” could lead to some serious problems – timing,  not to mention (the negative effect that seems to never go away), teacher stress. Not having a unit plan means that every day is a free for all, and I personally don’t think I could teach effectively if that were the case.

Thankfully our curriculum offers us some room. We are told what students must learn, but we are not told how we must teach it to them. We can choose various texts, videos, resources, themes etc. that suit our students and our classroom needs and interests. I believe that while in some areas (cough cough, Social Studies) our curriculum might need an update, we as teachers in Saskatchewan are lucky to have a system that guides us, but doesn’t loom over us, allowing us the room to make decisions for our own classrooms.

Shiro, Michael (2013). Curriculum theory: Conflicting visions and enduring concerns, (2nd ed). SAGE.

Exploring the Problem of Common Sense

What does common sense look like in schools?

According to Kumashiro, “commonsense” in schools differs from region to region, but is the subconscious way of thinking about schools and how they work. In Canada, for example we know that school begins in September and ends in June, and that school runs roughly from 8:30 am until roughly 3:30 pm. The provincial government mandates the curriculum, and teachers are expected to teach what they think students need to know based on these guidelines. These are just some of our commonsense ways of thinking about school.

So, why is it important for us to pay attention to “commonsense” in schools?

As Kumashiro says, “we do not often question certain practices and perspectives because they are masked or couched in concepts to which we often feel societal pressure to conform, including such concepts as tradition, professionalism, morality and normalcy”.  This “commonsense” knowledge of schooling sticks with us from the time we are in Kindergarten, to the time we step into our own classrooms to teach, and so oftentimes we forget to question our own ways of thinking about school, and what could make it a better place for all learners.

I think that Kumashiro is right in saying that it is important to think about and question the “commonsense”. That new ways of thinking can be beneficial in schools, especially so for those who have traditionally been oppressed by “commonsense” thinking in educational institutions. As teachers who set out to teach in an explicitly non-oppressive ways, it is important for us to question the tradition and culture of schools in order to meet the needs of different kinds of learners without using oppressive tactics.

Kumashiro. (2009). Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice, pp. XXIX – XLI