Note: This is the term paper for my EDUC 454 (Summer 2020): a class about the inclusive classroom and culturally responsive curricula. I have made every effort to correctly include my references for any future study you wish to make on this subject. You will note a tie-in with the term paper posted yesterday Titled: How to build an exemplary learning environment using Dynamic Classroom Management & Universal Design for Learning

Excerpt from Braiding Sweetgrass by R.W. Kimmerer (P. 107): These are the first words of The Onondaga Thanksgiving address, known in their language as “the Words That Come Before All Else”.

Introduction

The Canadian Multiculturalism Act opened the doors wide to welcome people from all over the world. People came with their values, practices, experiences, and perceptions. With them, our communities and classroom continue becoming more diversified spaces where conversations about different ways of being and thinking occur. Teachers are now developing strategies to create more culturally responsive learning environments that extend inclusivity beyond culture to include identity and ability. The changes aren’t always as fast as we’d like and the government’s focus on standardized assessments still have limitations in addressing the needs of unique individuals. Indigenizing our classrooms can be the answer to achieving real inclusivity in the classroom. This paper will explore some Canadian challenges in developing inclusive classrooms, demonstrate how our solutions need to be dynamic processes, and propose an indigenous solution learned from the Potawatomi & Ojibwa Nations’ teaching practices.

Challenges and Solutions

Fellner (2018) indicates that recent educational practices are based on psychological research which are traditionally rooted in “colonial systems of thought” (p.283). She emphasizes an imperative to break the settler-minded rules and practices that won’t fit the needs of all students, most of whom have their own equally valid ways of learning and thinking. Her solution to keeping students motivated to learn is to teach content that is relevant to them. She proposes the two pronged and interconnected approach of “decolonizing and indigenizing…education.” (p.283)

The first practical step for us is to reflect on our privilege and our biases. Just like our students, we teachers come to class with a lifetime of experiences and influences. We need to take the time to reflect upon these beliefs and be aware of how we may be imposing them on our students. The next steps become part of the strategies for developing student success. Perhaps the most challenging one is advocating for change of the standardized testing which can be biased towards students with different needs and abilities. 

Magga (2005) recommends a list of seven solutions (p.320) that counterbalance standardization and advocate for self-determination in regards to education. The main principle is that everyone should have a voice at the decision making table. In the classroom, we need to give room for different voices and re-evaluate why, as well as, how we assess mastery. For me, the question becomes are we standardizing assessments because it is easier to manage, or because these standards are skills needed to succeed in the world we all live in? This complex question remains on-going and is becoming further complicated by the cosmopolitanising of identity.  

Globalization brings opportunity for many people around the world. Guardado (2010) shows us that cosmopolitanism is much more than mobile residency across physical borders; it defines the individual’s “relationship between the local, the national, and the global” (p. 332) influences on their identity. In other words, generalized labels cannot define the totality of the individual’s needs and personality. We need to consider individual traits in our curricular designs. 

This also applies to including other individual needs, such as physical or mental special needs. Including diversity in the curricula can benefit more than the individuals it refers to, it can also build empathy and understanding in those more able or privileged. The idea is to aim to build a better community for all, not just the most fortunate. The Indigenous education mindset offers practical solutions to make this happen. 

Wotherspoon (2018), illustrates a “traditional Indigenous” (p. 378) mindset through a definition of their spirituality: “the interconnectedness and interrelatedness between the self and external world… is in everything they do; it is a part of them; it is a life­ way.” (p.379) Incorporating this way of life into our curricula will build an open-mindedness that everyone in the community has something to contribute to the whole. This respect ideology is a launching pad for greater understanding of others and develops a more adaptable mind for future challenges, both inside and outside the classroom. It begins from what the child brings with them and evolves as they learn about the world they live in. 

Wotherspoon adds weight to this idea with an argument for decolonizing the curricula, stating that indigenous people don’t want us to solve their problems, they want us to listen to their solutions and empower them to “systematically and fully” (p.319) implement them. At the very least, “…cross-cultural understanding is imperative to realize the cultural needs of Canada’s First Peoples and foster a sense of respect for their beliefs and practices.” (Bell, 2011, p. 375). We tend to see things as isolated issues, while they have more holistic solutions. With this in mind, fostering interconnectedness should be an imperative for the respectful socialization aspects of education, as well as the development of more adaptable problem solvers.

In explaining how knowledge is shaped (p. 144), Wotherspoon defines it as a continuous and dynamic process of sharing information throughout all of life’s experiences. In a nutshell, everything contributes to our knowledge and is both changed by every new input, as well as can be changed by our actions. Embracing cross-curricular teaching models such as STEAM, which incorporate connections between skills to give a greater relevance and applicability to any given subject should become an imperative mindset in developing inclusive curricula. It can all start with a sharing of ideas. (See Classroom activity in Addendum One)

Conclusion

It is vital to understand that the Indigenous education practice is entirely related to how they see the world they live in: they are completely part of it. Learning from this way of seeing and being will help us break our settler-mindedness and develop an interconnectedness-mindset. Access to different world views continues to increase through the internet and through immigration. It also continues to become more complex as people increasingly identify themselves through a cosmopolitain lens of experience and belonging. This offers us the opportunity to teach an inclusive curriculum that better mirrors the diversity that exists outside the classroom. Modeling an Indigenous educational mindset of interconnectedness can deliver that ideal of inclusivity. The teachers can advocate for this and they can individually build stronger relationships with the families and communities their students come from, but an urgent action call must be made to the government for improved teacher training. In the case of Indigenous knowledge, we should heed Bell’s (2011) warning: “The cross-cultural sharing of Indigenous knowledge is also limited by the depth of cultural knowledge a non-Indigenous teacher can respectfully share.”(p.382)

Addendum One

Classroom Activity: Lesson unit – Up to a two week duration of first morning periods

  • It’s the one of the first days in my Grade 7 classroom. I am tasked to be a generalist teacher this year and want to give my students an inspiring learning experience. I’ve chosen to take a different approach to the traditional round-table, “tell us about yourself” introductions between the students. I’ve moved all the desks to the sides of the class and have all the kids sit in a large circle on the floor with nothing in their hands. I quickly introduce myself with my name and a statement: “This year we are all together on this ship we’ll call “The Classroom” and we are about to begin an adventure of learning. I am not your captain; I am only your pilot. Together we will captain this boat and see where this adventure goes. But first, last year’s captains have instructed me to take you on the first step of this journey. It starts with a story. 
  • For today’s circle story, I tell “The Story of Skywoman Falling”. 
  • It takes about 10-15 minutes to tell.
  • Note: I am currently using the Potawotami version as retold by Kimmerer in her book Braiding Sweetgrass (2018), but I may decide to use different versions and if possible have a guest First People’s storyteller tell it. It is only introduced as “This is one story of where to Potawotami people come from. There are many other stories we will learn this year, including your own.” 

Rationale 

My goal is to introduce an inclusive paradigm of mutual respect in our classroom from the start of the year. Fellner (2018,) describes this method as “the sweetgrass curriculum…” (p.291), in which we use oral storytelling to share ideas, perceptions, and understandings in a “talking circle” (p.291). She states that “Story-work engages students in holistic learning, as stories resonate and connect with various aspects of students’ experiences, and thus are more easily retained.” (p.291)

Sharing their understanding of the story offers the opportunity for finding similarities and celebrating uniquenesses. It also demonstrates how we can all be connected through a commonality while remaining individuals. 

Following the story being told, I begin a group discussion wth questions: 

For example: 

  • What do you think this story is about?
  • Who is this story about?
  • Who is this story told to?
  • Why is this story told?
  • What questions do you have about this story?
  • Etc…

At the end of this session, I would explain what we would do next with this unit.

  • Unpack the different subject areas covered in the story: history, science, identity, language. 
  • You will be telling your own stories about where you come from through writing, art, and/or oral presentation in your own story-circle (their choice on the medium used and how to share it with the class). 

Next Steps…

Once all the children have shared their stories, I would use this icebreaker activity to open a discussion on how the rest of the year should progress and use a Dynamic Classroom Management practice to get them all involved in building the rules, rewards, and consequences for a successful learning experience/classroom.

Addendum Two

References

Bell, N. M (2011). Creating shared understandings: Meeting Indigenous Education needs. In D. Stanley, & K. Yound (Eds.), Contemporary studies in Canadian curriculum: Principles, portraits, & practices. Canada: Brush Education. 

Fellner, K. D. (2018). Embodying decoloniality: indigenizing curriculum and pedagogy. American Journal of Community Psychology, 62(3-4), 283–293.

https://doi.org/10.1002/ajcp.12286

Guardado, M. (2010). Heritage language development: preserving a mythic past or envisioning the future of canadian identity? Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 9(5), 329–346. https://doi.org/10.1080/15348458.2010.517699

Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass (First). Milkweed Editions.

Magga, O.-H. (2005). Indigenous education. Childhood Education, 81(6), 319–319.

Tupper, J. A. (2014): The Possibilities for Reconciliation Through Difficult Dialogues: Treaty Education as Peacebuilding, Curriculum Inquiry, 44(4), 469-488. 

Wotherspoon, T. (2018). The sociology of education in canada : critical perspectives (Fifth). Oxford University Press.

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