November 29

Re-Situate “Curriculum”

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Ayers (2010) presents the struggle that every teacher experiences throughout their entire career: Defining curriculum as a “means to” rather than an “end goal”. The curriculum outlines the important aspects of learning that students should demonstrate throughout each year of their education. However, we cannot allow this curriculum to be the only accepted learning in our classrooms.

Teamwork, initiative, responsibility, interpersonal relationships… these are all skills that are important aspects of learning that perhaps aren’t explicitly outlined in the curriculum. Also, what about the teachable moments that arise each and every day in our classrooms? Should we refuse to build on those, simply because they are not outlined in the curriculum? What if a student wants to solve a particular problem that is covered in a later grade? Should we delay this learning to ensure that everyone’s education is at the same pace?

Curriculum
As every educator should do, we must re-situate our initial understandings of “curriculum”. Ayers poses an number of interesting questions that guide his approach to implementing a curriculum:

  1. Are challenges from classroom to community fair game for investigation?
  2. Are there opportunities for discovery and surprise?
  3. Are students actively engaged with primary sources and hands on materials?
  4. Is productive work going on?
  5. Is the work linked to student questions or interests?
  6. Is work in my classroom pursued to its far limits?

There is so much more to student learning than what is outlined in the mandated curriculum. I am by no means “rebelling” against these documents; in fact, I place extremely value on these documents as they truly do guide teaching and learning. However, I do believe that we as teachers must do more than simply follow the curriculum. We must create these situations in which students can explore and learn to become efficient learners, rather than focusing all efforts on ensuring each students achieves every specific expectation outlined in their grade level.

curriculum

November 25

The Lesser Blessed

The Lesser Blessed is a film depicting the story of Larry, a 16-year-old Tlicho Indian that lives with his mother in the Northwest Territories. His past comes to surface throughout the film, displaying an abusive father and a fire that killed his dad and almost took his life too. Like most boys at his school, he has a crush on a Juliet, the most attractive girl that the school. Larry consistently gets bullied by one boy in particular, Darcy, and finds it difficult to fit in because of it. A new student, Johnny, befriends Larry, as he himself is Métis.

There were so many questions coming to mind throughout and following the film.

  1. How much of the plot was realistic and how much was Hollywood?
  2. Where was the parental involvement?
  3. What affect does all of this have on the teenagers?

The Lesser Blessed
1) How much of the plot was realistic and how much was Hollywood?

There were so many outrageous, and almost sad, moments throughout the movie, strictly based on the fact that I was unsure how much was “for the movie”. The main scene that triggered this question for me was during the student “slave auction”. Not only is this extremely offensive, but it was supported by teachers. The one teacher went so far as to bid on a student, giving the perception that the event was endorsed by adults and authority figures. I would hope that this would never happen in a school nowadays, especially with all of the inclusion, anti-bullying, and accepting schools legislature being implemented.

The Lesser Blessed3
2) Where was the parental involvement?

All I can say is that there would have been words had my actions as a 16-year-old even remotely resembled those of Larry and his peers. There were so many concerning elements of these teenagers lives: mental health (specifically Larry’s PTSD), aggression, illicit drugs, mass alcohol consumption, unsafe sex… And yet the parents only seemed to have a voice when they were kicking their child or their friends out of the house. What kind of message does this send the teenagers? Can the kids be solely responsible for their actions if the parents have had little involvement in preventing the actions?

The Lesser Blessed2
3) What affect does all of this have on the teenagers?

I think Larry was the definition of being numb; he rarely showed emotion, good, bad or otherwise. Perhaps due to him trying to keep his father’s abuse and death a secret, Larry resorted to internalizing his emotions. As expected, these emotions surfaced in negative bursts, such as when he attacked Darcy or when he ran away from home. I will say, the truest words in the entire film were the last we heard from Johnny:

“I’m just a kid, Larry.”

As with any life story, we know that there are troubles in our past and turmoil in our present, but it is important to look forward and make the absolute best of any situation we are given. We are the ones who decide how our lives will turn out, and for that reason, we must remain positive. As Larry says:

“I cry knowing that I don’t belong to anyone. But I smile too, knowing that my life is still unwrapped.”

The Lesser Blessed4

November 19

To Kill the Indian in the Child: The Apology

“At 3:00 p.m. exactly, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appeared on the screen and the crowd fell silent” (p. 165).

From the early 1830s to 1996, thousands of First Nation, Inuit, and Metis children were forced to attend residential schools in an attempt to aggressively assimilate them into the dominant culture. During Stephen Harper’s speech, which proves to me a monumental moment in Canadian history, he says:

“I stand before you – in this chamber so central to our life as a country to apologize to Aboriginal peoples for Canada’s role in the Indian Residential Schools system” (p. 167).

Residential Schools
Despite the importance of this moment between the Canadian government and the affected Aboriginal peoples, it was not universally received as a positive apology. It is always difficult when individuals of a marginalized group continue to feel as though the apology and the means in place of rectifying the injustice are insufficient. There continue to be individuals who take the “too little too late” response, accepting that an effort was made but refusing to recognize it as sufficient.

My questions is: What apology would be sufficient? Should they receive a massive monetary compensation for the disgusting and inhuman actions that took place within the residential schools? Should there be a First Nations, Inuit, and Metis subject introduced in schools to educate students on what really happened? What can we do as a country to make everyone feel proud of being a Canadian?

These will never be easy questions to answer. Hundreds of years from now, when there are no living victims of the residential school system, there will still be hard feelings because it still happened, affecting the ancestors of many families. So where does that leave us? Is there anything we can do? Perhaps not to the standards that will be universally accepted. However, with each action of rectifying the situation, more and more people are learning to start anew. As Knockwood shares in Out of the Depths (2015):

“My main reaction to this formal apology was to feel that although I wasn’t able to forgive the government and the church for what they did to my parents and ancestors by legislation, I was ready to accept the apology. […] This would also be a new start for me, and mentally I turned a new page and wrote the word “pride” on it.” (p. 169).

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November 13

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Yesterday, I wrote a post about EQAO testing. To continue with the theme of standardization, let’s take a look at PISA.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international survey that is administered every 3 years. PISA aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. PISA discusses what makes them different on their website:

PISA is unique because it develops tests which are not directly linked to the school curriculum. The tests are designed to assess to what extent students at the end of compulsory education, can apply their knowledge to real-life situations and be equipped for full participation in society.

Just like the EQAO standardized test, PISA has created large debates within countries around the world regarding where they rank in comparison to the other countries. Here is a televised discussion regarding Canada’s PISA ranking:

What are your thoughts on standardization, either within Ontario (EQAO) or in relation to countries worldwide (PISA)?

November 12

Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO)

Standardized testing is a very controversial subject within the education system. The goal of standardized tests are to outline the achievements and shortcomings of schools within a specific subjects, as compared to other schools within a similar area. EQAO (Education Quality and Accountability Office) is an example of a standardized test within Ontario. EQAO seeks to measure Ontario students’ achievement in reading, writing and math at key stages of their education, such as grade 3 and 6. Here is a video outlining more about this process and mass amount of work that goes into creating these tests:

However, there are many opposing views to standardized testing. Tests perhaps aren’t the best representation of a student’s understanding of a particular subject. Questions are also raised surrounding the idea that Mathematics and Language are being placed at a higher importance than the other subjects simply because they are the only subjects represented in the EQAO tests. There is also a lot of money that is put into these tests that could be put elsewhere in the education system.

The EQAO test has also created some controversy by publishing the results of every school on their website. For example, here are the results for the school that I am completing my Community Service Learning and practicum at:

EQAO - Pinecrest Junior
Alternatively, here are the results from the school that I attended elementary school:

EQAO - St. Matthew Junior
The differences between these two schools are significant to say the least. Does this mean that my elementary school provided a better education than the other school? Perhaps. But also, perhaps not. Standardized tests provide a very narrow view of whether or not students are capable of achieving a high grade on a written test for a specific subject. There are many variables that go into the EQAO scores, yet these results are displayed at face value on an open forum. This could lead to the formation of a negative impression of a school, discouraging families from sending their students to that school or even living close to it.

Should standardized tests be administrated? Should their results be available to the public or used specifically for internal knowledge and making the schools better?

 

November 11

The Absolutely True Diary

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian tells the story of a fourteen-year old boy named Junior that lives on an Indian reserve in Washington. After getting in trouble at school for acting out over the age of the textbooks he was being given, he transferred to a school that is off the reserve. With the new schools comes a large culture shock; the students all seem to have money, their families ties are different than this own, and the way others behave does not always align with how he was raised. The story continues to share the story of his year at this new school and how it affects not only Junior, but his relationship with the reserve he came from.

Two strong themes were apparent in the novel: self-identity and alcoholism. Self-identity is how we define ourselves, referencing such themes as gender, academic performance, socio-economic status, and sexuality, among other factors. In Junior’s case, there were additional factors that played into his formation of an identity. Firstly, he had a number of medical deficiencies resulting from being born with hydrocephalus. Secondly, he was the only Indian student in a predominately white school. This caused him to internally battle with the juxtaposition of his two different personas: Indian at home and white at school.

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Forming a solid self-identity is difficult for any young adolescent, nonetheless a teen in Junior’s position. As teachers, we must ensure that we serve as a pivotal role model to our students during this period in their lives. We must ensure that we create an emotionally safe environment for all students. Themes of respect and inclusion will help to diminish hateful acts, which will allow the students to feel safe in their exploration of creating a self-identity.

The second theme that stood out to me in this novel is that of alcoholism. Junior loses many family members to the effects of alcohol, which is a serious issue on Indian reserves:

Alcohol
There are a variety of reasons why alcoholism is heavily present on Indian reserves (poverty, history, etc.). No matter what the reason might be, it is important that this issue be addressed, even at young ages. Although alcohol and substance abuse education is one thing that can be done, there is a lot that can be done in the field of positive psychology and coping methods to reduce these statistics. By teaching students that there are ways other than alcohol to solve their problems, we can work towards creating a safer and better prepared generation on the reserves.

November 10

Lessons Learned from LOCUS

I wanted to speak a little more about my experience through the LOCUS program, with hopes that you might be able to see yourself in many of the lesson’s I’ve learned.

The first thing I’ve learned through the LOCUS program and how to step out of my comfort zone. Believe it or not, facepaint and teal rainsuits wasn’t always my regular attire. This program provided me with an opportunity to get involved on campus, making Laurier feel more like a home than a school. Through the committee events, I was exposed to so many different opportunities, including outreach initiatives, which most students our age fail to fill their time with. But the most important thing stepping out of my comfort zone taught me is that it feels natural when you have a supportive, accepting, and passionate group of people surrounding you.

Hawk Weekend2
The second lesson I learned was how to ask for help. Through the academic support this program offers and the willingness of its staff to help, I’ve become more comfortable with talking to professors and asking for academic help. I’ve also been provided with an amazing group of friends that I could not thank enough for the advice and support they’ve given me throughout the years. They’ve all kept me motivated and positive during the wild times of university. Lastly, I’ve become comfortable seeking help for personal matters as well. Whether it was acknowledging that I needed help or the fact that I actually followed through and received the help I needed, I owe it all to the confidence and support that the LOCUS program has provided me with.

Hawk Weekend4
Lastly, I’ve learned how to love. In the past, I was always the type of person to take friendships for granted, but I’ve honestly come to love each and every person I’ve encountered through the LOCUS program. As a LOCUS student, I’ve lived at home the last 4 years with my parents. I am so grateful for all of their support and guidance, and I love them more and more each day. Funny enough, I’ve meet my life partner through the LOCUS program. We share the same passion for the program and I couldn’t thank her enough for the LOCUS love and legit love that we share. Lastly, I’ve experienced the true feeling of LOCUS love. Whether it’s a smile between two LOCUS students as they walk past each other on campus, a group of students going full out doing a cheer during Hawk Weekend, or a new lifelong friendship being formed, we’ve all felt how amazing LOCUS love truly is.

LOCUS LOVE!

LOCUS

November 9

LOCUS

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LOCUS was one of the best experiences I had while attending Wilfrid Laurier University. LOCUS (Laurier Off-Campus University Students) is a program designed to aid the transition into university for first year students living off-campus and attending Wilfrid Laurier University’s Waterloo campus. The program provides first year students with academic, social, and personal support to ensure that off-campus students do not miss out on the on-campus experience if they decide not to live in residence.

I held four different roles while being involved with the LOCUS program:

  1. Vice-President of Finances and Administration on LOCUS House Council (2011-2012)
  2. Off-Campus Advisor for a community of 27 students (2012-2013)
  3. Community Advisor of LOCUS’ House Council (2013-2014)
  4. LOCUS Coordinator (2014-2015)

Being the LOCUS Coordinator for the 2014-2015 academic year was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I had the opportunity to instill and develop leadership skills into my staff team, as well as lead them in a direction that best meets the needs of the first year off-campus student population. This position taught me so much about myself; about my own leadership capabilities, my ability to lead a group, and my passion for teaching others. There is no better feeling than helping first year students with their transition into life at Laurier, and the LOCUS Coordinator position really opened my eyes to how amazing it is to be a Laurier Goldenhawk!

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