Sunday, December 8, 2013

Aboriginal Book and Video Club Gatherings

This past week Naryn Searcy, Anne Tenning and I have been planning the session we are going to be doing at the FNESC (First Nations) conference on Dec.13. We are going to be talking about the Book Club we began last year, about Through A Different Lens, and also about English First Peoples; sharing ideas on what we have done, and and also what we have seen as a result.

As part of the process of planning I had the opportunity to have short interviews with 8 SD67 staff about the book club, and 8 students about English First Peoples.  I left the week feeling unusually optimistic about the future and the bridges we are making.

The Book and Video Club appears to have taken us as a collective of educators a step forward in a number of ways -- it has exposed those of us who are not of Aboriginal ancestry to literature, ideas, stories, we might never have been exposed to.  It has given us a tiny bit of understanding and a thirst for more.  It has given us an appreciation of First Nation culture and a desire to make our schools better places for our students of Aboriginal ancestry.  I heard all these things in the interviews.  It is an exciting place for us to be.  I also heard from educators who are of Aboriginal ancestry that they are thankful for the journey we are on together.  That the more we all work together, understand the history and culture ... the better our schools will be.  We all seem to be thankful, not just for the books and the authors who have visited - but for the chance to talk honestly with each other, ask questions, and think quietly about where we have been and where we can go.  It is surprizingly energizing to be on this journey, and  I am so thankful for it personally.

Some of the ideas I heard this week that connect with the book club are:
- one principal bought every staff member a book by a First Nations author
- one S.S. teacher has all his kids reading Indian Horse, and is thinking of how to organize an entire S.S. class around literature
- a number of people are buying books by First Nations authors as gifts for Christmas.

In addition to the book club, I had the chance to talk with students who are taking First People's English.  I talked with students who are of Aboriginal ancestry and students who are not.  I was so interested in what they told me.  Everyone in some way talked about building a community of understanding, or feeling so open to learning, or of feeling challenged to think differently.  One girl talked about learning so many things that were preparing her for life -- what being educated is really all about; how it was changing her perspective.  I was shocked at the reflectiveness of kids in grade 10 -- and wondered if I was anywhere near as reflective as they were at that age!

Recently in the BCTF magazine there was an article called "Raising the profile of First Nation courses".  Here is a quote "40,537 students completed English 12 compared to only 184 students for English First Peoples 12".  Provincially so few of our students are being exposed to English First Peoples.  In 2013-2014, we have three courses being offered here at Princess Margaret.  We have 30 students in grade 10, and 60 in grade 12 being exposed to materials, experiences, field trips and culture of our First Nations people.  All eight of the grade 10 students said that FOR SURE they were going to take First Peoples English 12.

We are on a journey in SD67.

Ideas for ENGLISH in Through A Different Lens

A few weeks ago we met as a group of English teachers that work in Through A Different Lens to share ideas and learn from each other.  There were 10 teachers in middle and secondary school that shared ideas on topics such as teaching novels, parody, characters, ethics, and parts of speech.  There were far too many ideas to share in this blog but there are a few short ones that I’ll write here.

            One teacher shared a strategy she uses for building character.  This can be used for pre-writing or just as beginning to understand who the character in the novel is.  Students can focus on different characters in the same book, or a character in their own book.  This strategy can also be used as a pre-speech idea if the students are talking about themselves.
            Students collect 10 items important to their character – this can be pictures or it can be 3D objects, a class assignment or a homework assignment.  This teacher used the website www.theburninghouse What are 10 items you would want to take with you if your house burned down?  What are 10 items that your character would want to take with them?  Why are those items important to them?  What are the connections?  She suggested the items be put on a white board and then they could write brief explanations about each item.    

Here are examples from the website:

            A number of teachers talked about the use of a value line in class discussions, and how it is interesting to do value lines both pre- and post-.  Pre- helps kids think about the topic, but they may be quite unsure what they think about it at that point.  Post- helps them think about how their thinking might have changed by learning about the topic.
            An adaptation to the value line if students are not quite ready to commit to the whole class, is to put the students in groups of 4 and put a piece of masking tape down on the desk and then use different coloured poker chips.  Students place their poker chip on the line and have an opportunity to talk with others about why they placed it in that spot.

            How do you get students to stop using low-level words in their writing?  One teacher had them list the low level words around a gravestone and then they could refer to it when writing to be sure they did not use those words.

            There is a great website called where you can get templates for making trading cards.  These can be used for developing cards on characters in novels, or non-fiction people in content area subjects, or organisms in science. card creator

            Classroom weeblys, twitter in the classroom, using as a wall for classroom conversations, developing units around interests such as zombies, or playing games such as avalanche when teaching skills.

            Comox School District has put together an amazing website with many ideas for reading and writing.  Have a look.  It is filled with ideas.  Go to Comox School website and look under resources for Literacy.

It was a great morning.  Thanks to all for sharing your ideas so freely.