Reader Response 1

28 Jan

The article that I chose to focus on for this first reading response was “Teachers’ Perceptions of the Integration of Aboriginal Culture Into the High School Curriculum” by Yatta Kanu. I selected this article because I personally related to the teachers and circumstances being presented in the study contained within. This particular study followed ten practicing teachers in Winnipeg that all felt they were integrating Aboriginal content into their curriculum. Of the ten teachers featured in this article, nine were considered “dominant culture teachers” (Caucasian) and only one was of First Nation descent. The study discussed the various ways teachers tend to integrate First Nations content into the classes they teach and discussed ways that teachers can attempt to better integrate Aboriginal content into curriculum. One piece that particularly stood out to me was around the uneasiness and feelings of incompetence many non-First Nations teachers experience when considering how to integrate course materials. I feel that I can relate to this uneasiness and intend to touch on this later in this paper.

The article began with the idea that educators endeavouring to integrate First Nations content into their curriculum usually do so because they have experienced a “transformational event” that has inspired them; whether a conference offered to teachers around First Nations culture, a guest speaker, a school field trip, etc. Once impacted in this way many educators, particularly the ones addressed in this study, were driven to integrate First Nations content into their classrooms. As the study progressed the idea was brought forth that there are several ways teachers choose to integrate this cultural content into their classrooms. The first approach, contributions approach, focuses on periodically singling out contributions made by First Nations leaders in Canada within their lessons. The second approach is the additive approach which involves adding First Nations content to what remains a predominantly Eurocentric educational point of view. The third approach is the transformational approach and involves teaching all curriculum from different perspectives, including First Nations perspectives and Eurocentric as well. The final approach is the social action approach which is meant to use the transformational approach as a springboard to encourage and engage students in tasks that will effectively bring about social change. The study discovered that a majority of the “dominant culture teachers” chose to integrate First Nations content using the contributions approach and the additive approach while the First Nations teacher used more of a transformational approach.

Several reasons were addressed to justify the Caucasian teachers’ decisions to utilize integrative approaches that minimized actual First Nations content. Some of those reasons included feeling under qualified to teach a topic they knew little about and have not experienced firsthand, and a discomfort around teaching someone else’s culture. Unfortunately I can relate to these feelings of uneasiness. I know that I want to integrate First Nations material into my curriculum but, for the same reasons outlined above, I don’t necessarily feel comfortable enough with it to employ the transformational approach to integration. This left me wondering what I could do to alleviate this discomfort in myself. Toward the end of the article I discovered an answer to my query.

Ensuring that First Nations students feel welcome and included in the classroom environment goes beyond integrating First Nations content (though this is vitally important,) it also requires integrating First Nations ways of being. Relinquishing the rigidity of typical school schedules is one way that this integration of being can occur and by this I mean, choosing to not penalize students for being late or absent. The article also discussed the possibility of providing module based learning that would allow students to continue moving forward with their education at their own pace, even if they miss classes for various cultural reasons. This answer uncovered an echo in my mind from an article read last year around teaching First Nations students in the north. In the article it was brought forward that in order to effectively teach First Nations students we need to focus on the process of learning just as much or more than the product of the learning. We also need to allow room for lots of group work and opportunities for students to showcase each of their backgrounds. Being prepared with these sorts of ideas helps alleviate a lot of the fear and stress that can come from focusing on integrating First Nations content. Personally, having some tangible, environment-based strategies in place like those mentioned above would give me a palpable reminder and also the confidence to continue integrating First Nations content in my future classes.

Reading this article has offered me a lot of good advice and ideas to springboard off of into the exciting realm of integrating First Nations culture into curriculum. I am reminded again and again that curriculum is not simply what we teach but also how and in what sort of environment. I have learned that integration of First Nations culture is not simply handing out fact sheets, but also being flexible and honouring innate cultural practices rather than penalizing because of them. The natural next step in this journey for me will be to become more familiar with First Nations practices and culture: to build a framework of knowledge that I can draw upon in my teaching practice. The Treaty Awareness Day being offered at the end of this semester will be a great place to start and I hope that my learning will only grow from there. This will undoubtedly be a challenge; however, the benefits in my life and the lives of my future students will be well worth it.

Reference

Kanu, Y. (2005). Teachers’ perceptions of the integration of Aboriginal culture into the high         school curriculum. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 51(1). 50-68.

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2 Responses to “Reader Response 1”

  1. Emily Mann February 16, 2012 at 1:30 am #

    One thing I find lacking at the U of R is quality courses dedicated to teaching future teachers content necessary for properly teaching First Nations content. Write now I still feel ill-equipped, but definitely look forward to the Treaty Awareness workshops offered at the end of the semester.

    • Emily Mann April 9, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

      Last week all of us health and phys. ed majors went on our PLACE experience to Wanuskewin. What an amazing experience of First Nations learning! We learned about the buffalo jump at a buffalo jump, and about traditional healing plants while examining said plants in the open prairie. I can confidently say that I learned more about First Nations content while on this PLACE experience than I have in all of my education to date. As a future educator I intend to utilize place-based learning, particularly for Treaty education, in my instructional endeavours.

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