Our students don’t just absorb content in Social Studies; they investigate, experience and redefine it.
- Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors.
- Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).
- Learning involves recognizing the consequences of one’s actions.
- Learning involves generational roles and responsibilities.
- Learning recognizes the role of indigenous knowledge.
- Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story.
- Learning involves patience and time.
- Learning requires exploration of one’s identity.
- Learning involves recognizing that some knowledge is sacred and only shared with permission and/or in certain situations.
Because these principles of learning represent an attempt to identify common elements in the varied teaching and learning approaches that prevail within particular First Peoples societies, it must be recognized that they do not capture the full reality of the approach used in any single First Peoples society.
The Social Studies Department’s plan is to increase the infusion of First People’s Principles of Learning into social studies classes. They plan to collaboratively explore, discovering and experimenting with activities and content related to Principles. The first activity that will be utilized is the use of Consensus Circles. Consensus Circles are very highly reflective of the Principles of Learning because they are both experiential and relational, they require patience and time, they involve generational roles and they are focused on the well being of a community in its entirety. As each new activity is experimented with in our classes, the department will collect both quantitative and qualitative data regarding its impact and effectiveness by surveying teachers and students.
To support this initiative, each teacher in the Social Studies Department is participating in a book study centring on Thomas King’s An Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. It is hoped that this book will help inform practice, helping ensure authenticity in the implementation of the Department’s ideas.
Data will be gathered in Spring of 2018 to determine how teachers and students feel implementation of these strategies are impacting student learning.
Previously, the focus in Social Studies was on 21st century practices in the classroom. This included an emphasis on student-centered approaches to learning, such as the incorporation of activities that are concentrated on developing understanding through collaborative inquiry. This has allowed teachers to focus on the elements of Historical Thinking and the Big Six Ideas. There has been increased effort by teachers to allow students to demonstrate their learning through a variety of means.
- In most classes, the use of such practices has become a central feature of the course. There is increased use of inquiry, collaboration, and differentiated instruction and assessment throughout the department. As a result, student engagement seems to have improved, but not in all cases. In classes where similarly structured inquiry activities are used repetitively, students can lose interest and effort can decline. The focus on the Historical Thinking Concepts has helped students gain a deeper understanding of content as their ability to analyze and infer has developed. At the same time, the dauntingly dense language around the Historical Concepts has acted as an impediment for some students who found it overwhelming.
As we attempt to develop 21st century skills in our students, one of the aspects of our teaching practice that has had to be tailored is assessment. Teachers have been working individually and collaboratively, with other teachers as well as students, to develop assessment tools capable of guiding and measuring student progress. Most are using modified variations of MYP rubrics, as these align quite nicely with the new curricular competencies. Others have already begun the work of creating assessment rubrics focused solely on the language used in the curricular competencies. We have also implemented a self-assessment model in many of our courses, particularly in cross-curricular areas involving the Humanities. Students have taken initiative towards understanding the assessment practices utilized and have had a voice in establishing what good assessment looks like.
- The development of assessment tools was interrupted this year, as we were told that the Ministry of Education would provide us with rubrics tailored to the new curricular competencies. Unfortunately, these have not been created yet. For the most part, teachers are still using the rubrics we had at the beginning of the school year. One area where focus needs to improve is the communication between teachers and students around core competencies. The connection between core competencies and classroom activities needs to be consistently and explicitly discussed with students so as to aid their own ability to self assess and monitor their personal progress. This will be a major focus for our department for the last part of this school year and the first part of the next school year.
With the implementation of the new curriculum and the evolving nature of our courses, our department saw this as an opportunity to determine our collective goals for our department, our classrooms and our students. We met on a number of occasions to develop a cohesive scope and sequence that examined the curricular competencies and then established how we would ensure that these competencies were met in the curriculum. As a result, our department agreed that we would all teach a unit on human rights that allows for the development of research skills. We also determined the areas of study that would be addressed in each of the social studies courses and ensured that students in every grade level would be exposed to current and historical issues from a First Nations perspective. Discussions around the First People’s Principles of Learning allowed us to examine different teaching strategies that would be conducive to the learning of all of our students and inclusive of Aboriginal content in all of our courses.
- The scope and sequence we developed has helped to avoid curricular overlap between different classes. While progress has been made on developing research skills, this is still an area of weakness for many students. Within the department, there is a group working collaboratively to develop activities designed to improve students’ understanding of academic research. In many classes, the use of First People’s Principles of Learning has increased. Teachers have been using strategies such as storytelling and consensus circles to encourage students to view history from different perspectives and to infuse more aboriginal content into their courses. However, more still needs to be done in this area so that the First People’s Principles of Learning and Aboriginal history can be more consistently utilized as a central part our teaching practice. Teachers can be aided in this endeavor through exposure to more strategies and access to more resources.