I wanted to let you know about some of the things that I have learned after completing the first newsletter.
When you are referring to Indigenous Canadians, MTS would like consistency in language, so they are asking that they be referred to as First Nation People. Secondly, when teaching culture, ask an elder to visit your classroom so you can get the proper perspective on the subject. Don’t know where to look? The Treaty Relations Commission has a Speakers Bureau that you can contact to book a visit to your school. You can find them at trcm.ca/public-education/speakers-bureau and you will need to provide two week’s notice prior to the booking date. This service is provided free of charge.
Another place to look is the Speakers Bureau of Canada at speakerscanada.com, although you have to jump through a few hoops to get to a speaker that would best suit your needs. There is also the National Speakers Bureau at nsb.com. You could also ask in your community if there is an elder who would be willing and able to come in and speak with your students.
For all your guests, the gift of tobacco is traditional. You can get packages of tobacco from your local store, and I would offer it in a little drawstring bag, available at Dollarama.
My intent for this newsletter is to share with you just a few of the resources and lessons that I have done with my students and some ideas for extending the lessons into other curriculum areas.
Book Review: SPEAKING OUR TRUTH: A JOURNEY OF RECONCILIATIOn
by Monique Gray Smith
This is an amazing book and one that I strongly recommend. I am currently using it with my Grade 5 and 6 students, but I think it would be perfect for all students from Grades 5 to 9.
This is a very accessible book, largely because Smith is writing about her own history and journey of reconciliation. There are margin notes that require students to stop and reflect, either through discussion or writing, and unfamiliar terms are written in bold and defined.
There are plenty of jumping-off points, where you could visit the TRC websites to supplement the material you’ve read, or you could conclude with the Project of Heart tile project. We are stopping at points to study culture and customs, where I include projects like creating dreamcatchers and wampum belts (this will tie into treaty and governance lessons) and Cree moccasins (totally neat!).
Before we got into the book, I opened with a photo gallery of residential schools from across Canada and the student populations. I also included quotes from Duncan Campbell Scott and John A. Macdonald to spark additional debate. All materials are readily available through a google search. Organizing everything on a bulletin board would be ideal. I like dioramas, so I decided to recreate Birtle Residential School, one of the schools operating in Manitoba. Here’s how it turned out.
I asked students to identify the figures at the entryway and to compare them and the environment to their own school. This is very important, especially for the younger students; it creates an environment of empathy and understanding that is essential for moving forward.
What you choose to do after observing and discussing is up to you, but here are some of the things I did and/or plan to do:
*students wrote a compare/contrast paragraph of their school/school experience versus residential school
*younger students create a booklet called “I Am Happy When I Feel…”, focusing in on the important things that little kids need to experience in order to be happy (self-identity, security, shelter, health, love, confidence, etc) and how important it is to have healthy relationships with other children and teachers
* include guiding questions with the photos and ask students to keep a reflect and respond journal as you move through the text
*dig a little deeper into the Canadian government and its motivation and outlined plan for assimilation (things get really piece-y here, and I am still pulling material together)
*read I Am Not a Number or Fatty Legs to the early/middle grades and have a discussion or writing piece that focuses on how important school is in helping us grow into who we are meant to be and how the purpose of residential school was in direct opposition to this
*take a look at The Secret Path. Personally, I wouldn’t do this as a summative exercise or lesson; it doesn’t lend itself to that
*visit www.macleans.ca/therunaways to read about the other students, along with Chaney Wenjack, who just wanted to go home.
*invite a residential school survivor to your classroom to talk.
This is an ugly part of Canadian history, and it can be tough to tackle in chunks. I advise you to break up the difficult parts with cultural activities.
This leads me to my next book/book set recommendation: RAVEN TALES, a book series based on the APTN animated series. These books are available through Scholastic, but I had to go online and search for them. As far as I could tell, they are only available in class sets of six, and they are very pricey, but they are FANTASTIC!I’ve barely scratched the surface with what I want to do with these books – I have more ideas than I do time, and I dearly wish that I had a single grade to focus on.
Not only are these books rich in culture, they lend themselves so easily to cross-curricular concepts and strands. They are graphic chapter books, so you can talk about structure and genre and text features, but they are also perfect for dramatizing, even extending, the text. Every story comes with a moral, although I did find it interesting that the lesson that the story taught was not the lesson that the kids and I learned. Even that is an interesting discussion. Needless to say, the books are perfect for creative writing and I included stories from Africa and Asia just to make things a little more interesting. I was surprised by how many stories we all share.
When I say “story”, we did it in a rather unconventional way. While each student was responsible for writing their own origin story - How the Porcupine Got His Spines. Why Winters Are So Peaceful, Why the Mosquito Bites – we had some fun with HOW we told the story. I’ll show you how I got the kids started.
These are the characters in my story “Why Winter Is Quiet”. All of them were made from math nets and a few little pieces here and there to add some personality.
We all sat on the carpet and students were given a character to move around the story. They had to be good listeners in order to hear their part and move their character around. After we were done, we talked about author’s purpose and why every culture in the world has special stories that are important to listen to and remember. Next, my middle grade students were responsible for writing and performing a story of their own (with class participation). I insisted that they read more stories, and that they work through the five steps of the writing process. I’ll admit, this was a big project! Because there was so much discussion ahead of and after my story, students went into their own work with very clear goals. They had to be creative and careful with what nets they chose and how they chose to build/add on to them. My Creator tree is a collection of triangular prisms that I glued together to create a hexagon.
Here are some other activities to consider. I did not indicate any grade levels so you can adapt where and when you see fit.
*identifying the attributes of 3D solids
*sorting 3D soli
*identifying and matching nets to solids
*identifying similar solids (provided you enlarge or shrink the nets)
*studying the lifecycle and/or habitat of any of the animal in your story
*studying and writing about habitat loss and/or the impact of a growing human population
*learning about the seasonal changes that affect us and our animal brothers and sisters, and how we adapt and change in order to survive
*the many uses that the First Nation people made of all the animals and how their beliefs reflected a deep connection to the land and the importance they placed on their stewardship
*what animals were available to the First Nation people, according to their traditional land and migratory hunting grounds
*simple children’s toys and games with bones (save the eye from a rib-eye steak for this one)
*what the animals teach us about the workings of our environment, outside of a study of seasonal changes and adaptations
*food chains and food webs
*how we are indelibly linked to our environment, and how we should treat this gift from the Creator (this is tied to the Cree worldview very nicely-more on that later)
THE LAST WORD…
All of us are different, and we all have differing levels of comfort with certain subjects and just so much time in the workday, and our own lives, to devote to trying something new.
Do what feels right to you. Do what you feel will work with your students. Do what you feel you can do well. The most important thing is to just DO.
Be brave, remember that we are all students and life-long learners and that the satisfaction and fun is in the journey, not so much the destination.
If there is anything that I can do to help out, please let me know.