Reinhabitation and Decolonization

The article suggests that a “critical pedagogy of place” aims to:

(a) identify, recover, and create material spaces and places that teach us how to live well in our total environments (reinhabitation); and (b) identify and change ways of thinking that injure and exploit other people and places (decolonization) (p.74)

  1. List some of the ways that you see reinhabitation and decolonization happening throughout the narrative.

I can see reinhabitation and decolonization happening at many points throughout the article. One of the ways it was most apparent is in the involvement of the youth in the project. Through this experience, they built relationships with the elders and reclaimed some of their lost heritage. “In the development of the radio documentary, the significance of the river and knowledge of the social, cultural, economic, and spiritual meanings of the river among community members became heightened.” Not only did they develop relationships with each other, they also learned to see the land as their ancestors did, forming a relationship with the land they live on and developing a more in-depth sense of place. Decolonization was also present in the resurgence of their native language. The word “paquataskamik” (referring to the entirety of the band’s territory, beyond what they now have as a reserve) was not usually used by the younger generations, who instead opted to use “noscheemik” (refers more to a specific location, such as a camp), which “pointed to a loss of important linguistic distinctions related to concepts of territoriality.” By regaining this language, they are working towards undoing colonial ideas of place, moving back towards more traditional understandings.

Throughout the narrative, it becomes apparent that reinhabitation and decolonization are two parts of the same process. As we move towards decolonization, reinhabitation is made possible.

  1. How might you adapt these ideas towards considering place in your own subject areas and teaching?

I could adapt these ideas into my own classroom by taking children outside to learn. Interacting with their physical environment deepens their understanding and appreciation both for the world they live in and for the knowledge they are gaining. It makes the knowledge real and useful, rather than just facts that must be memorized. Providing them with this “traditional knowledge” will make them more likely to become stewards of the Earth, so to speak, by allowing them to find their identity in and learn from the world around them. Furthermore, having elders come in to speak to my students would allow them to form relationships and have the same guidance that the students in the narrative had, which allowed them learn things in a different way that may not be possible in a teacher-student interaction.  Additionally, allowing them to interact with their environment would allow students to develop a sense of place in their own community, something that is important in child development. If they are not able to form a sense of place, they may feel like outsiders in their own community, as is what happened with residential schools.

References:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1dI7wj8JcsOuMVHjWx1aKJy3XzCSoyYuc/view

Additional Readings:

https://e360.yale.edu/features/native-knowledge-what-ecologists-are-learning-from-indigenous-people

Advertisements

Creating a Curriculum

Before you do the reading ask yourself the following question: How do you think that school curricula are developed? This is an entry point to this topic and whatever you write will be fine.

After doing the reading, please write your blog entry. Reflect upon: How are school curricula developed and implemented? What new information/perspectives does this reading provide about the development and implementation of school curriculum? Is there anything that surprises you or maybe that concerns you?

 Before Reading:

From what I have heard, curriculum is developed by a few individuals, likely ones who have had some sort of experience in the field. They decide what students should know by the end of the school year (in part determined by public and government influence), determine what would be feasible to accomplish within one year, then organize these goals into outcomes and indicators. They revise this, before sending it to others to review. It then is revised again, and sent to another party, who does this process again. They consult past curriculum outlines to determine what students already should know at this point, what parts currently work or are not important, then determine how this new curriculum can be implemented in as seamless a fashion as possible. However, I don’t believe there is any consultation with those who are currently teaching in the field, which poses a problem when it comes to practicality, as well as determining both students and teachers’ needs.

After Reading:

Currently, curriculum development is a political tool. In our system, final authority over curriculum rests with the provincial government. Groups of experts are brought together to draft a new or revised curriculum. Existing curriculum is examined and evaluated, suggestions for changes are made and debated, and eventually a consensus is reached. Sometimes an entirely new curriculum will be developed and implemented (sometimes with a trial period before the final version is created), other times it may simply be a revision of the old one. These processes are often organized and directed by government officials.

Because of this, it is heavily subject to political influences, including individual preferences. This is problematic, as it can shift the focus away from providing a good education towards more biased goals. This also allows it to be influenced more directly by other policies, such as assessment policies that are not connected to curriculum. This again shifts the focus away from learning and providing a good education, towards putting more emphasis on grades and standardized testing, something education has been trying to move away from. Furthermore, governments are moving away from reliance on experts in policy development, instead focusing on involvement of its citizens.

While this allows a greater diversity of voices to be heard, and prevents it from being in the hands of only a few, this also prevents those who know more about teaching practices and education from having the necessary control. Instead, this almost seeks to make education even more political in nature, as everyone has their own goals, some of which are not for the greater good. Ideologies and personal beliefs shape decision making, and thus make curriculum development an inherently biased process. Having too much emphasis on expert input makes it difficult for “non-experts” to implement, and may lead to a curriculum that is biased in its pedagogic approach. However, too much public and government input may shift the focus away from education to more personal agendas, a risk in both scenarios. Finding a balance will be necessary in order to achieve a curriculum that strives to be unbiased and achieve best practice.

Resources:

Levin, B. (2008). Curriculum policy and the politics of what should be learned in schools. In F. Connelly, M. He & J. Phillion (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of curriculum and instruction (pp. 7 – 24). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.Available on-line from: http://www.corwin.com/upm-data/16905_Chapter_1.pdf.

It’s Just Common Sense

“Sit still.”

“Stop fidgeting.”

“Eyes on me when I’m talking.”

“When we listen with our ears, our mouths stay shut.”

“Cross your legs like a pretzel and sit on your hands.”

“We look with our eyes, not with our hands.”

“Glue your butt to your chair. No, not literally!

“Stop doing that.”

“Because I said so.”

“Just fill out this worksheet, then it will be recess.”

“Because it will be on the test.”

“All right, everyone heads down. No talking. We’re having a quiet time.”

This is a common dialogue heard in classrooms throughout the world. We can all picture the person the teacher most often said these to in our own experiences. Perhaps it was ourselves, and we were the “trouble makers” of the classroom.

While it may be obvious that these sorts of one-sided dialogues are problematic, I never realized just how deeply rooted these problems are, or that they are representative of larger issues in our society. Just as we have standardized testing, outcomes, and indicators, we’ve also standardized what makes a good student by making it impossible for those who do not conform to succeed.

A good student does their work, doesn’t interrupt or question the information or the teacher. They don’t struggle with new topics, or shut down and refuse to learn. They don’t struggle with exams, directions or assignments. They do their work early or on time, with an obvious attention to detail.

This ideal works, at least for those students who learn best in the traditional method, who share the same cultural background and beliefs as the dominant culture in charge of curriculum, and whose rights are not challenged by common sense beliefs and ideals. However, there is an ever-growing number of students who this system does not work for. Constructing learning as a set of objectives to be reached, as something that can be measured and objectively understood, is oppressive. It doesn’t value other sorts of learning, other stories, other values, or anything seen as deviant from the goal of producing “good” students. It systematically devalues individuals for not fitting into a pre-determined mold.

This is the narrative we are perpetuating by not addressing systems of power and inequality in education. Our common sense of what makes a good student not only doesn’t allow for other ways of learning and knowing, it also preserves a system of oppression. Students enter the classroom with their own knowledge, beliefs, and experiences, all of which will shape how and what they are able to learn. By expecting them to leave all of these at the door and conform to our narrow view of what a student should be and do, we are telling them that they, and everything they believe in, doesn’t matter and is invalid.

I know I have subscribed to this view of the student, even while I was still a student in elementary and high school. I couldn’t understand why people just wouldn’t do their work. I was annoyed when someone would interrupt the lecture – how could they know more than the teacher? More recently, I’ve been scared of eventually having one of those “problem” students in my own classroom. How would I deal with them, when I don’t even know why they are like that? I had subscribed to the idea that they were the problem, the ones that needed to change, not me. Kumashiro describes his own experiences:

“Over the next several years, many more students like M would enter my classrooms, students who were unable or unwilling to be the kind of student that schools and society often tells them to be. I remember consistently feeling quite frustrated by such students, not only because I assumed being a student required behaving and thinking in only certain ways, but also because I felt pressure from schools and society to produce this type of student” (21).

This pressure from society to produce only one type of student shapes teachers’ views and decisions in both subtle and more blatant ways. However, changing our ideas of what learning is and looks like removes some of this pressure by looking at what is problematic in our system, rather than in our students. Instead of looking at how our students are falling short of our expectations, we can see how our expectations are falling short of our students. We have silenced the stories of many, and  enabled the systematic oppression of our students by allowing this model of the “good” student to endure.

A Curriculum of Play

Image result for learning through play

“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.”

  • Fred Donaldson

Adopting a pedagogy of play vastly changes the learning environment, both for the teacher and the student. Imagine: a classroom with no desks. Rather, there are tables at various spots around the room to provide work surfaces. In one corner of the room, the teacher reads a story to a group of children, who act it out as she reads. In the center of the room, another group of children are building towers, seeing who can make the tallest one without it falling over. At one of the tables, children are gluing various odds and ends to a plate, creating patterns or pictures out of the unrelated items. In another corner, children are playing dress up and role-playing they are in “Thalonia,” an imaginary world they created and continually revisit in their play. They have created an entire society within in, including jobs, currency, and laws. Now imagine that this is not simply play time: this is how all day, everyday, is spent in this classroom.

What on earth could the children be learning? They’re just playing, aren’t they?

What looks like play to adults is often children’s way of making sense of the world and applying their new knowledge. The children acting out the book as the teacher reads are deepening their understanding of the book by making it a part of their reality. This encourages them to make connections, and allows words or phrases they may not understand to be explained by their peers through actions, making it so no child is singled out for lack of knowledge. It also allows them to construct their knowledge, rather than being asked to passively absorb it. The children constructing towers are learning about structures, and what does and does not work to create a stable base. There is also some math involved, as they must calculate which blocks are bigger and heavier than others in order to decide the order in which to place them. The students who are crafting are learning about and making patterns, while also using their imaginations and being creative. The children who are role-playing are applying their knowledge of their own world to their play through the creation of jobs, money, and laws, which will help them to make sense of these concepts in the real world. Furthermore, this role-play encourages children to be creative, while also giving them opportunities to try out different roles they may not otherwise get to experience, such as being a firefighter or the president.

This pedagogy allows for a large amount of child-directed learning, which ensures that the children remain engaged. It also facilitates development of social skills and problem-solving strategies, both of which are necessary for learning and later life. In this approach, nothing is impossible, as everything is seen as an opportunity to learn, and no learnings are valued less than others. It assumes that children are active and motivated learners, putting the child in a position of power rather than submission. It doesn’t assume the child is incapable of learning on their own. Rather, it encourages children to independently pursue projects and topics that are of interest to them. Moreover, it accepts that lecturing is not necessary for learning to occur, and that all that is necessary is for the child to be engaged with the task at hand. If they are engaged, they will learn, be it what construction works best for a strong tower, or what role laws play in society.

I had always seen curriculum as a thick document, packed full of things I had to know by the end of the year. I never liked it, because it made schooling feel cold and impersonal, lacking grounding in everyday life. I believe in a curriculum that is responsive to individual children’s needs, and that is able to be changed to reflect those needs or individual interests. Because of this, I do not see curriculum as a product: Learning occurs over time, and needs to be observed throughout the experience in order to truly know what a child has learned. Learning through play cannot be objectively measured, and any learnings achieved would be discounted in our traditional view, teaching children that interpersonal understandings and their own desires and interests are unimportant. I also do not see it as a syllabus. Knowledge grows from experiences (such as play), and it cannot be planned what a child will learn. What they take away from a lesson is very different from what another child or you would take away. Furthermore, we cannot expect children to learn if we are not willing to teach them in a way that they are able to learn. In this sense, I see curriculum as a process – something that must be continually evaluated. Learning never ends, and thus teaching and evaluating never end. In order to truly understand what a child is capable of, we must approach them at their level and continually engage with them, something that is not possible if teaching is reduced to lecturing, and learning reduced to listening.

Traditionally Suffocating Education

(http://www.quotemaster.org/traditional+teaching#&gid=1&pid=1)

I experienced the Tyler rationale, or traditional teaching from curriculum, throughout most of my schooling. This often involved racing through topics, with the teacher telling us key points to remember for the test. We would then take our notes home, study them, and return to write the test. We would then move onto the next topic, instantly forgetting everything about the previous one. It was the same in every subject: our teacher would have a list of things we had to cover that day, as well as a few assignments we would have to do. We would check things off the list, then move on so that we could “finish the curriculum before the end of the year.” While we were able to cover a lot of content in relatively little time, it also limited how much knowledge we were able to receive, as we were unable to “go off track” and explore for ourselves. This style of teaching I experienced follows Smith’s (1996, 2000) explanation of the Tyler rationale perfectly: “[There is] a focus in this approach to curriculum theory and practice on the parts rather than the whole; on the trivial, rather than the significant. It can lead to an approach to education and assessment which resembles a shopping list.” Our class had become a list of tasks to accomplish, much like a shopping list, where we only focused on some details of a topic, while ignoring the bigger picture, and refusing to explore other, possibly relevant areas. This was especially evident in elementary school, where our teachers often had too many students, too few materials, and too much curriculum to cover in too little time. Following this rationale, despite how these circumstances and the overall environment affected how our teachers had to teach, parents and academics can easily blame teachers for lack of learning, by stating they did not have clear objectives. It allows them to sideline other variables affecting student’s ability to learn as non-issues, while placing too much focus on the “shopping list.”

My own experiences have made it clear to me that the traditional method, or the “Tyler rationale,” makes certain types of learning impossible. Often, we were provided with a surface understanding of a topic, enough to satisfy the curriculum and allow us to pass our tests, but never deeper. In areas like math, this knowledge sufficed and allowed us to be successful in later years. However, in subjects like Social Studies and English, this base knowledge was not nearly enough. We didn’t understand the deeper social issues of historical events and how they can still be seen today, and thus struggled to write essays about these issues later on, as we didn’t know they existed. Furthermore, it caused many misunderstandings later in life by oversimplifying topics. For example, we were taught that racism was any act or speech based on a person’s race, directed towards a person with the intention to harm. This definition allowed us to dissociate ourselves with the issue, because “We don’t say those things or think them; therefor we are not part of the problem and don’t have to do anything.” This didn’t allow us to see how racism is a structure that functions throughout our society, or how we are privileged or disadvantaged in certain ways, regardless of whether or not we engage in prejudiced remarks. Additionally, it does not allow for student-directed learning to occur, as there is a pre-determined list of topics that must be covered. This does not allow for students to choose topics that are of interest to them, as they may not directly tie into curriculum, despite the fact that the students would likely retain more of what they learned if they are interested in it and can apply it to their everyday lives.

This method also does not allow for strong teacher-student relationships to form, as it distinguishes the different roles as opposites. Teachers are there to teach, complete their list of tasks for the day, then go home. Students are there to learn, do their work and listen, then go home. This does not allow for mutual teaching and learning to be occurring, as it is assumed from the moment one walks into the classroom that the teacher knows all, while the students are blank slates. This also puts all the focus on academic learning, and does not value learning that can occur through interactions. Smith (1996, 2002) describes these as “unanticipated results,” which are often overlooked as they do not fit with any of the listed objectives. This can be harmful to students, especially if their primary learning strategy is based on interactions with those around them. Moreover, this rationale marginalizes students by assuming learning can only occur if they change their behaviour to mirror new learnings. This does not allow a place for student’s prior knowledge and experiences to be considered, and silences those who have a different cultural background (and as such may have different practices when it comes to education and what is considered “learning” and “valuable knowledge”), as the curriculum represents the goals and values of the dominant culture.

However, there are also some benefits to this rationale. The organization of topics and stages allows for easy lesson planning, while also allowing student’s knowledge to build on itself as they are introduced to more and more complex topics. It also makes marking a student much easier, as the teacher does not need to observe each child as closely everyday to assess for learning, or figure out a way to mark individual projects on different topics for what the student may have learned. Rather, they are able to concretely assess whether or not a student has learned the key points that have been laid out, either through tests, projects, or homework. This makes it so the teacher must only develop one marking system, rather than one for each student.

Another benefit is that it universalizes knowledge. This allows students to all (hopefully) finish with the same knowledge, giving them more equal access to opportunities in their future, while also ensuring that they all have the knowledge necessary for attending university, trade school, or whatever else they may choose to do. This attempts to “level the playing field” when it comes to class, race, socioeconomic status, and gender, as all will have access to the same knowledge.

It is clear that there is no single answer to the question of how one should teach. There will always be pros and cons to every method, and it will primarily depend on the group of students and their individual needs. However, weighing the possible pros and cons of an approach prior to using it can help teachers assess them for any possible risks of harm, then modify it to fit their particular needs. For example, the Tyler Rationale has its benefits, but it also may harm some students if employed exactly how it is. To fix this, a teacher may adjust learning objectives to be more open-ended or to reflect more of their students. They may choose to allow students to direct their own learning, while still having a clear list of objectives that students must achieve, then work with students as a guide to ensure they reach them. There are endless ways to modify one’s approaches to suit the needs of their students, if only we are willing to let go of our ideas surrounding what qualifies as teaching and learning, and go beyond the traditional approach to bring education into the twenty-first century.

References:

Smith, M. K. (1996, 2000) ‘Curriculum theory and practice’ the encyclopaedia of informal education, www.infed.org/biblio/b-curric.htm.

Oppressive Common Sense

Kumashiro defines “common sense” as: routines, assumptions, expectations and values a society holds that defines what is “normal” or “right.” He states that: “commonsensical ideas are often what help us to make sense of and feel at ease with the things that get repeated in our everyday lives” (Kumashiro, XXXV). These ideas often go unnoticed and unchallenged in our lives, as they have become part of the “water in which we swim,” making them invisible to us. Things that go against the “common sense” narrative are seen as abnormal, lesser, or even wrong, because the narrative tells us that “this is how things are supposed to be.” Because of this, common sense narratives leave little room to address inequality and oppression, and make it impossible to learn about other cultures without comparing them to our own culture, likely causing us to be biased in some way. Furthermore, what is considered “common sense” is determined by the dominant group, silencing the voices of minorities and allowing “othering” to continue to be an issue.

Because of our tendency to judge others based on our own experiences, “common sense” narratives can be extremely oppressive. This is why we must pay attention to the “common sense” narratives we are portraying, especially in our classrooms. “The norms of schooling…privilege and benefit some groups and identities while marginalizing and subordinating others on the basis of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disabilities, language, age, and other social markers” (Kumahsiro, XXXVI). Though we may want to return to the “traditional” style of teaching that we were raised with, we need to recognize that this may marginalize some of our students and silence their own stories. Kumashiro explains that “we often find comfort in the repetition of what is considered to be common sense, despite the fact that commonsensical ideas and practices can be quite oppressive” (XXXVIII). Recognizing this is the first step to creating a more welcoming classroom. If we can identify areas of our teaching or of the curriculum (both formal and hidden) that have the potential to harm our students, we can work to find ways to change and improve it. Furthermore, we need to understand that we must always be looking for ways to improve our teaching practices. Just because a teaching practice works in one scenario at one point in time does not mean that it is the only way, or even the best way. We need to be willing to constantly adjust our teaching practices and styles to suit the needs of our students.

William Butler Yeats once said: “Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.” Similarly, we should not wait to change our teaching practices until there is a major problem. Rather, we should be constantly adjusting and orienting ourselves around our student’s needs so that we can avoid it ever reaching a crisis point. Not only will this make us the best teachers we can be; it will help raise up a generation that can see through the common sense narratives of our society to their oppressive nature, and not be afraid to confront these issues for the good of their peers.

Resources:

Kumashiro. (2009). Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice, pp. XXIX – XLI.