Finding ways to integrate diverse knowledge in a classroom isn’t always easy for teachers to accomplish. Often, we rely on things we know or have seen in classrooms as students ourselves. However, this can mean we are using only certain types of knowledge in our classrooms. This can leave some students feeling like their culture or identity is not being represented.
When what we have been exposed to as learners and teachers are reflective of western learning, it isn’t always easy to find new resources of ways of learning that differ or take up a different approach. This could be something as simple as using a novel with by an Indigenous author and or featuring an Indigenous character, or teaching a math lesson using culturally appropriate examples. We’ve partnered with several First Nations in Canada to create new content to support teachers who want to make sure their diverse students are learning from their own cultural perspectives. We’re going to share with you a few ways you too can integrate Indigenous knowledge and perspectives into your classrooms.
Why schools are including Indigenous ways of knowing
You may be aware that several different provinces have begun to mandate the inclusion of Indigenous or Aboriginal knowledge in public school classrooms across Canada. Ministries of Education are recognizing that it is important for students from Indigenous backgrounds to see themselves reflected in their public school learning. Not only that, but it is also important for non-Indigenous students to learn about the different Nations that make up Canada’s Indigenous population.
For example, the Ministry of Education of Ontario has a plan in place to better support students of Indigenous backgrounds. Here is their vision:
First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students in Ontario will have the knowledge, skills, and confidence they need to successfully complete their elementary and secondary education in order to pursue postsecondary education or training and/or to enter the workforce. They will have the traditional and contemporary knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to be socially contributive, politically active, and economically prosperous citizens of the world. All students in Ontario will have knowledge and appreciation of contemporary and traditional First Nation, Métis, and Inuit traditions, cultures, and perspectives. Read the full vision.
This vision is in line with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s recommendations for actions of reconciliation towards the Indigenous peoples of Canada. In their calls to action, the commission recommends that “the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada to maintain an annual commitment to Aboriginal education issues, including”:
- Developing and implementing Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools.
- Sharing information and best practices on teaching curriculum related to residential schools and Aboriginal history.
- Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect.
- Identifying teacher-training needs relating to the above. Read the calls to action on education.
How can teachers from non-Indigenous backgrounds integrate Indigenous knowledge respectfully?
The call to action on reconciliation is something any teacher can embrace and bring into their classroom. Integrating Indigenous ways of knowing into your classroom is considered an act of reconciliation, and can help Indigenous and non-Indigenous students bridge the gap of understanding in Canada. The hard part may be where do I start? First, learning which resources exist in your area or within your board is a great place to get started. Perhaps your school board has an Indigenous or Aboriginal liaison or resource person. Sometimes this individual can connect you with Knowledge Keepers or Elders from a local First Nation who could help in your classroom or point you in the right direction. Knowledge Keepers and Elders are respected Nation members who hold particular knowledge and respect in their communities. Learn more about the pedagogies of Elders.
Another excellent place to find resources would be at a local Friendship Centre. Friendship Centres first and foremost are places where Indigenous people and families situated in more urban centres can go for support and community. They often host events and learning days that can be open to the public.
Integrating Indigenous writers
Introducing students to diverse peoples can easily be done through a novel study. Books allow our students to see and learn about many different peoples and places, so why not bring in an Indigenous author’s work? Lambton Kent District School Board decided to do just that with the grade 11 English courses. Instead of covering Shakespeare, students will now be engaging with Indigenous novels, short stories, plays, and poetry. Students will be given the opportunity to engage with authors and writers from Indigenous backgrounds in Canada, which provides a more relevant link to Canada than a mid-15th century Englishman.
Consider choosing a novel from an Indigenous author for your next novel study unit. A novel such as Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton, featuring an Inuit protagonist, could help connect students to the experiences of Indigenous Canadians, both historic and current.
This unit would require you to prepare students for difficult topics in Canadian history; students would need a preparation lesson to discuss what they know about Residential Schooling. Here, you could use resources from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada to help prep your students who may not have heard about this topic. It will also help with students of Indigenous background who could still be affected by the legacy of Residential Schooling at home.
In partnership with Treaty Six Education Council, Learning Bird has created a unit on Fatty Legs that helps Indigenous and non-Indigenous teachers and students navigate the novel, and supports reconciliation through learning and sharing knowledge. Here is one of the lessons created, “Listening to Fatty Legs”, a podcast that guides the learner through a listening exercise on the novel.
Integrating examples in math
Math is a universal subject. No matter your culture or spoken language, basic math and equations are concepts all peoples have woven into their societies. From planning buildings or constructing a tipi, to navigation through star patterns, Indigenous ways of knowing involve an intimate relationship with math. Math is necessary for creating works of art or pieces of clothing and can be integrated into many activities in outdoor education too.
Have you ever considered using music or games to introduce a topic like odds in math? This Learning Bird video on chances and odds first introduces the concept by showing how a music app’s shuffle option conveys this. Here, Indigenous hip-hop/remix artists A Tribe Called Red are referenced as a potential song a student might listen to. The inclusion of diverse artists does two things:
- It makes students from an Indigenous background who might recognize these artists feel included. Seeing yourself in a positive light in learning objects is important for student self-esteem and success.
- It exposes non-Indigenous learners to artists from a different background that they may not have yet had the opportunity to hear. This creates interest and respect for Indigenous artists, and exposes students to excellent music too!
This lesson also showcases a popular Indigenous game called Sticks in Fist, which is explained through an Elder. A unit in math that uses Indigenous games, and music, is something any teacher can do. When we do not have the knowledge of a particular First Nation to guide us, we can still honour Indigenous Canadians by introducing our students to music or games that they can play and listen to while learning math.
Accessing additional resources
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