Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

An Impact Assessment of the Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network (AESN)

§ 6: Case 3: The AESN Case Study Assessment

6.0 Case 3: The AESN Case Study Assessment

To top of this section § ↑

We have strived to make our students visible by developing their voice. Success depends so much on language skills – vocabulary, cadence, tone – when speaking – vocabulary and ability to make sense when writing. Ability to manipulate language often defines how our students succeed at school. In all of the AESN inquiries I have been involved in we have sought to make our students visible by developing their voices in the learning community. We have worked to build language skills, social emotional learning (sense of self) and a connection to the “big ideas” in traditional Aboriginal knowledge. We have seen measurable improvements in reading and writing skills, and we have observed the building of self confidence when we have participated in an inquiry that focuses all members of the learning community, students and adults. We wanted our students to be heard, and listened to with respect.

In this third case study Debbie Koehn, one of the research assistants for this study, completed a detailed analysis of AESN cases from across British Columbia. The purpose of this third case is to more specifically identity how student learning has been impacted by the AESN . Given that the primary goal of the Network is to enhance student learning, this is an important foundation of our analysis of impact.

The cases that were reviewed were provided by the AESN principals, Drs. Kaser and Halbert. They were grouped into three data sets: AESN inquiries completed in 2009/10, AESN inquiries completed in 2010-11 and AESN inquiries completed 2011-12. A total of 56 AESN case studies were reviewed and are summarized below into categories on the basis of the content of their inquiry, as well as the degree to which the inquiries resulted in impacts both within or beyond the boundaries of the school site itself. In each case the name of the school and school district is provided, and as often as possible, the measured outcomes or impact of their inquiry on student achievement are provided. Within these categories the inquiries are sorted by the year of completion. Other specific categories on the basis of their unique approaches were also identified; these include the use of technology, the creation of new rubrics to measure outcomes/achievements, or the use of local Aboriginal languages. At the end of the AESN content assessment, Koehn summarizes the thematic patterns she believes are most evident from her analysis.

6.1 Successful impacts and outcomes of AESN focused on academic performance standards

To top of this section § ↑

A number of schools, from K to 12, demonstrated significant improvement in academic achievement in literacy, social studies, and mathematics. For ease of reference, the inquiries reviewed are categorized by year they were completed.


Brechin Elementary, Nanaimo. Will the use of Aboriginal content improve reading for primary Aboriginal students as measured by the PM Benchmarks? AFL strategy implementation-84% of the grade 2’s were approaching, meeting or exceeding expectations – an increase of 31%

Conrad Elementary, Prince Rupert. Will using Aboriginal content literature improve reading comprehension for Aboriginal students? Differentiated instruction, Self assessment and setting goals, peer assessment – improvement in reading comprehension from not yet meeting at 43% Fall to Not Yet meeting in Spring 16%, Meeting rose from 59% to 84% over the same period.

Eighth Avenue Elementary, Alberni. Will working in small group, focusing on a specific writing program, benefit primary Aboriginal students –focus on grade three personal writing standards – AFL strategies – in the Fall 100% not meeting, in the Spring 12% not meeting

George M Dawson secondary, Haida Gwaii. Will a focus or oral storytelling positively impact student performance in reading, writing and understanding? Use BC Performance Standards, SMART Reading, First Nations BC FNS 12 curriculum – students demonstrated increased capacity for discussion and collaboration in classes

Ladysmith Primary School, Nanaimo, Ladysmith. – Will the participation of Aboriginal students in a formal guided reading program led to improved levels according to BC Performance Standards? AFL strategies, criteria, self, peer assessment – results moved from Fall not yet meeting 42% to Spring NYN 21%

Mouse Mountain Elementary, Nechako Lakes. Will reading comprehension improve for our grade three Aboriginal students with the explicit use of AFL strategies ? Use of AFL strategies, exemplars, use of nonfiction text features- improved levels of performance

North Oyster Elementary, Nanaimo Ladysmith. Will small group mathematics instruction with an emphasis on scaffolding skills help build intermediate students; confidence in themselves as mathematicians and improve their numeracy scores? AFL strategies and real word practice, metacognitive learning, – results – moved from 11 students not meeting in the Fall to 4 not meeting in the Spring – plans to meet with the Aboriginal community

Princess Margaret Secondary, Okanagan Skaha. How does the use of culturally relevant reading materials at the secondary level (English 9 & 10) effect Aboriginal students sense of belonging, visibility and engagement in schools? Use of AFL strategies and novels to improve sense of Aboriginal identity – results – six student – at beginning 3 not meeting, at end all 6 were meeting according to English performance standards

Ripple Rock Elementary, Campbell River. Will the development of English oral language skills through legends stories of the local Aboriginal people make a significant difference in the learning and pride of our Aboriginal students? AFL strategies and embedded learning about Aboriginal knowledge. Use of AFL strategies and participation from the Aboriginal communities – results Fall Not yet meeting 56%, O% Not Yet Meeting, approaching 44% in Spring

South Nelson Elementary, Nelson. Will providing a one-to-one literacy program with a focus on adding detail and sequencing ideas improve the students’ ability to express himself more clearly and fully, both orally and in writing, as measured by the BC performance standards in writing and oral language? One student working with support of Aboriginal worker – student increased his performance in each of the targeted areas, developed self confidence

West Bench Elementary, Okanagan. How does using the SMART Learning Process within Native content impact the written output of Frist Nations learners, especially in regards to the visualization strategies and tools? focus on metacognitive skill development, in Fall 2009 69% not meeting, in Spring 7% not meeting

BX Elementary, Vernon. Will the use of technology based learning with Aboriginal content enhance the grade 3/4/5 students’ reading and writing knowledge of Aboriginal culture? Students use a variety of multi-media technology, in Fall 60% were not meeting and 40% approaching whereas in 0% were not meeting, 17% approaching and 33% were exceeding using Social Studies Performance Standards


Lakes District Secondary, Nechako Lakes. Will the introduction of daily student support, a pyramid of interventions, SMART goals and weekly teacher collaboration time improve the academic success of Aboriginal students in grades 8 – 10? focus on weekly collaboration, relationship building by staff to ensure students are reaching learning targets – result – percentage of students not successful in at least one course fell by 20% from 2008/2009

Springvalley Middle School, Okanagan. Will our Aboriginal students become more successful in their reading and writing when they experience an increased sense of connection to their heritage through literature circles? Aboriginal students performance and engagement around use of AFL strategies – results – more teachers became involved with acquiring more Aboriginal resources and student talked more openly about heritages

Sunset Elementary, Vancouver Island North. In what ways will student impromptu when using performance standards written by students into a checklist used for self and peer assessing? AFL strategies – peer coaching and assessing – results – Fall not yet meeting 21%, Spring 0% for grade 3, Grade 5/6 not yet meeting 0% Spring 5% but significantly more in meeting 57% compared to 4% in the Fall

2011 – 2012

Aspen Elementary and Arden Elementary, Comox Valley. How will the use of student-friendly oral language lessons, inquiry, and formative assessment strategies increase the oral language skills of our students? literacy skills, AFL strategies, results 30 not meeting in Fall, 10 not meeting in the Spring

Bayview Elementary, Nanaimo. Will Using Talking Tables Kindergarten oral language program increase kindergarten and at risk grade one students’ phonological awareness in segmenting sounds, rhyme, blending of sounds and auditory perception? intensive intervention around oral language development – results – noticeable increase in oral language fluency

Cedar Community Secondary, Nanaimo Ladysmith. Do the school-wide Northern Games at Cedar develop and support a sense of belonging to the school community for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students and for our school staff? Do the games enhance student and staff understanding of Aboriginal history and culture, especially when situated in a contemporary context –participation in games may enough of an impact that students felt a stronger connection to the Cedar community – results – a high percentage of students valued participating in the games

Dr. D.A. Perley Elementary, Boundary. Will the active participation of parents engaged in reading with their children during the after school tutoring program improve Aboriginal student performance as determine by the fall/spring SMART reading assessment? Parents were coached to participate in students’ literacy learning – results – more students were approaching and meeting in Spring 2011 than in Fall 2010

John A Hutton, Boundary. Will the active participation of parents engaged in reading with their children during the after school tutoring program improve Aboriginal student performance as determine by the fall/spring SMART reading assessment? Parents were coached to participate in students’ literacy learning – results – more students were approaching and meeting in Spring 2011 than in Fall 2010

Kildala Elementary, Coast Mountains School District. By using culturally relevant stories, and by delivering the stories in ways that mirror cultural presentation practices, will First Nations students demonstrate higher levels of comprehension as indicated by the performance standards? Use of metacognitive strategies

Lillooet Secondary, Gold Trail. Will using daily math problem solving questions with a local Aboriginal flavor, help Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students gain a better understanding of local First Nations culture – connection established between local culture and problem solving – results a slight shift from approaching to meeting 2% to 12%

Parkway Elementary Okanagan. Will using the social responsibility performance standards (contributing to others and solving problems in peaceful ways) and student friendly self assessment improve student behavior in the classroom and on the playground? focus on self assessment and regulation – results – steady improvement form 11% not yet meeting in 2008 to 3% not yet meeting in Spring 2012

Skeena Junior Secondary, Coast Mountains School District. To what extent will the direct teaching of literacy skills help First Nations’ students improve information retention as measured with the Reading for Information performance standards? AFL and reading performance standards – Fall read 485 not meeting Jan read 5% not meeting

WL McLeod Elementary, Nechako Lakes. How will a volunteer reading program that engages Aboriginal parents in reading with students (coaching) once a week for 9 weeks improve relationships between Aboriginal communities and WL McLeod Elementary? Relationship building as parents are taught AFL strategies-results-5 adult learners in the beginning, 3 at the end, 2 participants went on to enroll in an Aboriginal Early childhood program

6.2 Other inquiry categories

To top of this section § ↑

There were a number of other types of inquiries completed by AESN participants. In this next section inquiries are grouped thematically by the nature of the inquiry.

6.2.01 Inquiries involving Social Responsibility Performance Standards, social emotional learning, building relationships and purposeful connections to the Aboriginal community

To top of this section § ↑


Canyon Lister Elementary, Kootenay Lake. Will the inclusion of local/national Aboriginal Role Models enhance students pride in their own heritage? Importance of increasing awareness of Aboriginal culture within the school – results – a growth from 40 to 60% in students identifying positive feelings about their Aboriginal ancestry

Glenview Elementary School, Prince George. Will researching our Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal student heritage without grade one and two students create an awareness, pride and strong identity for students? Improve the sense of connectedness to place, self and Aboriginal community – According to Social Responsibility scale findings self respect was increased

Hartley Bay School, Prince Rupert. Will utilizing traditional Tsimshian methods of teaching, within the school setting, result in greater student engagement and subsequent academic and personal growth? Using AFL strategies students became learning/teaching resources for each other, based on traditional Tsimshian teaching/learning methods – results – involvement and engagement of students was higher during lessons using traditional teaching methods – in Fall participation in DPA was 38%, Spring 100%

Heritage Park Secondary, Mission. Will using fiction, non-fiction, media and guest speakers in socials studies classrooms enhance students’ understanding of Aboriginal culture and issues facing Aboriginal people today? Introduction of an Aboriginal alder to explain traditional Native Life Cycle and discuss current issues – results- significant improvement in knowledge and awareness of Aboriginal culture by grade 10

Kinnard Elementary, Kootenay. During the grade 3 Science Unit on plants, will featuring the contributions made by the First Nations People in the use of Indigenous flora and fauna improve the appreciation of Aboriginal culture in our community? Members of the Aboriginal community shared knowledge of traditional uses- results – school made an increased effort to integrate Aboriginal knowledge and history into curriculum

Lillooet Secondary School, Gold Trail. Will visiting local bands for a graduation information session and meal encourage parents to feel more comfortable in visiting the secondary school during parent/teacher conferences? Use of criteria for success, students and parents understood how to plan for graduation – results 97% of parents and community members indicated visits were of value

Nala’atsi School, Comox Valley. What will be the effect on the Nala’atsi students’ attendance if they plan an active role in the creation of the Indigenous Food and Plant project with 20 members from the Comox Valley Aboriginal Community? use of AFL – results – students attendance increased from 40% to 76% – positive comments from students and guests

Randerson Ridge Elementary School, Nanaimo Ladysmith. Will the development and implementation of Aboriginal picture book lesson sequences, support students connecting classroom and family values to Aboriginal values, with the intent to strengthen a foundation of a community of learners within our classrooms and community? Use of literature students focused on how to apply the West coast Aboriginal values to their classroom vision of a community of learners and improved their levels of social responsibility – results common language and explicit teaching of values and code

Skaha Lake Middle School, Okanagan. As Aboriginal students experience an increased sense of belonging and cultural identity at our school, will we see improved academic achievement and student attendance? A Penticton Aboriginal Elder comes to Skaha Lake four times a week for four hours each day to work with Aboriginal youth in classrooms – results – Indigenous understandings embedded in daily routines

WL Seaton Secondary, Vernon. Will a focus question centering on the successful strategies of Aboriginal students completing their grade twelve year help gather data to direct a systems change that will have a positive impact on the academic success rate of Aboriginal students in grade 8 – 12? Adults in school worked to improve school and learning experiences for Aboriginal students – staff moved forward by learning the importance of communication and contact with the Aboriginal community, inviting them into classrooms to participate and contribute whenever possible

Dr. D.A. Perley, Boundary. Will the inclusion of daily physical activity and a healthy snack offered to Aboriginal students being tutored in an after school program improve their reading and writing performance scores as determined by The SMART reads and writes in the Fall and Spring? Tutors work with students on a daily basis for 40 minutes after the regular school day – results – Aboriginal elders will be invited in to support the students during tutoring sessions


Fairview Community, Nanaimo-Ladysmith. How does learning about Aboriginal perspectives in a collaborative inquiry based environment affect our Fairview Community attitudes towards Aboriginal peoples? AFL strategies focus on technology, environment, culture and governance, cross grade learning – results – in winter knowledge of Aboriginal Peoples History was 25% not meeting – in spring 3% was not meeting, no interest in learning was 24% had no interest in learning 3% no interest in spring

Glenview Elementary, Prince George. How can we create a sense of connectedness in learning, belonging and social emotional health for our Aboriginal students? Oral stories told by Elders, shard Aboriginal craft stories and drumming and dancing, students used Skype to communicate learning with other students. Elders led daily classroom learning – results – students showed significant improvement on the Social Responsibility performance standards around valuing diversity and defending human rights

Hartley Bay School, Prince Rupert. When using traditional First Nations methods of teaching and learning, will providing opportunities for students to teach their skills to others have a positive academic, social and personal impact upon achievement levels? This focused on using students as peer coaches, practicing learning in traditional ways in order raise self efficacy – results – change from 11.1% absences in to10 to 7.85% absences in 2011

Hatzic Elementary, Mission. Will researching the 100 year old history of Aboriginal peoples and/or Aboriginal education in Hatzic help to increase students’ sense of belonging and pride in their Aboriginal culture when they showcase these findings at the centennial celebration? Elders were an important part of the inquiry as staff wanted celebration to be respectful, informed and guided by the wishes of the elders and current Aboriginal families – increased learning about Aboriginal traditional ways – results – students showed a definite improvement in their attitudes towards traditional ways and showed they wanted to learn more about their culture

Kitwanga Elementary Coast Mountain. Will the integration of traditional Gitksan and First Nationas resources and activities across curriculum areas result in an improvement in the social responsibility and self-regulation of students? Students were learning/teaching resources alongside of Elders and members of the Aboriginal community – the Gitksan way is learning by being watchful – students demonstrated an improvement in Social Responsibility scales in K,2,4,5, and 7.

Nala’atsi, Comox Valley. Will combining a mask making project with Who A I storytelling deepen the involvement of the Aboriginal participants and improve the Nala’atsi students’ attendance? Members from the Aboriginal community met with students once or twice a week and worked on projects that promoted cultural awareness- result – students attendance increased, interest in educators sharing project in district

WL McLeod Elementary, Nechako Lakes. Will learning about Aboriginal culture help students to gain a better understanding of social and political injustices in relation to First Nations people in Canada? focus on social justice issues as they relate to First Nations – letter writing campaign to Chief Jackie Thomas – results – staff became more aware of underlying racial prejudices that exist in the outlying community of Vanderhoof


George M. Dawson, Haida Gwaii. How do informal learning activities containing multidisciplinary content and taking advantage of local places impact relationships and learning? Connecting learning to a variety of local events – students defending a way of life that is threatened by government and oil money – results – students added their voices to the Joint Review panel on the proposed Enbridge pipeline

Glenview Elementary, Prince George. How will deepening student understanding of local Indigenous knowledge, people and history increase student awareness and improve academic achievement of our Aboriginal students? Nurturing relationships with Aboriginal students, families and Elders through the sharing of Indigenous knowledge and teaching by the elders – results – student responses were sincere, honest and evident of growth in terms of their understandings and Elders expressed that they fell respected and valued

Grand Forks, Boundary. Will the development of an activity based lunch time program led by elders within our community improve the Aboriginal graduation rate for 2012? Elders and artists from the Aboriginal community visited the school and interacted regularly with students to create artifacts – results – graduation rate improved from 85 to 93%

Kitwanga, Coast Mountains. Will 90% of our student be meeting or exceeding expectations in Social Responsibility by the final term when traditional season Gitksan practices are taught to help all students understand the cultural rhythm of the year in a meaningful way? Elders were invited into the school and worked side-by-side with the language and culture teacher to plan circle story telling, learning, and integrating traditional activities – results – there was a decreased performance in social responsibility – it went from 24% not meeting to 34% not meeting

Nala’ats Comox. Same question as previous year

Pleasant Valley Elementary, Nanaimo Ladysmith. Will the inclusion of Aboriginal content, culture, and perspective in school-based activities increase a sense of belonging for Aboriginal students and their families at Pleasant Valley School? Will the presence of Aboriginal culture, language, and perspective in the whole school setting increase Aboriginal awareness amongst all students? led by Elder Jerry Brown – students participated in four clan groups – worked with VIU students and local author – results moved from DART not yet meeting 69% in the Fall to 35% not yet meeting in the spring. School Wide Write 41% not yet meeting to 11% not yet meeting

Spencer Middle, Sooke. What will increase awareness and understanding of Aboriginal ways of knowing throughout the school? Students participated in an exploratory block of Aboriginal Studies that all students in grade 7 attended. Students participated in learning traditional ways, historical perspectives and understandings – results- before participating in the exploratory course 47/114 students rated themselves as emerging and afterward 2 were rated as emerging. Staff view this class as an invaluable tool to move learning deeper

Thornhill Elementary, Coast Mountains School. To what extent can classroom teachers embed Aboriginal learning into day-to-day curricular, rather than having learning about Aboriginal World Views as an event? Strong first Nations involvement with Elders and community members providing support for classroom teachers – results – students moved from 45% approaching exercising democratic rights and responsibilities in the Fall to 5% approaching in the Spring

6.2.02 Social Responsibility outcomes without connecting to Aboriginal community (not necessarily involving members of the Aboriginal community)

To top of this section § ↑


Prince George Secondary, Prince George. Will weekly Aboriginal culture classes, post-secondary tours, cultural tours, dialogue, mentorship through Elders, guest speakers, peer-tutors, leadership opportunities and school wide participation in Aboriginal awareness activities increase instructional effectiveness and help students to appreciate and celebrate diversity as measured by achievement, attendance and survey questions? results – many attended the Second Annual feast of the Forest, traditional drum blessing ceremony and Smudge Ceremony

Ecole Puntledge Park Elementary, Comox Valley. How does the use of talking circle rooted in the traditional values of listening, mutual respect, speaking from the heart and kindness and cooperation effect students’ learning relationships and academic achievement in my classroom? Use of talking circles in developing a respectful learning community for Aboriginal students – results – students are feeling safer and more comfortable according to parent and student narratives – establishing a community of learners build on relational trust

Randerson Fidge Elementary,Nanaimo Ladysmith. How will enhancing our community of learners’ understanding from an Aboriginal perspective, both in historical and contemporary context, work toward building success for all students? Further develop the community of learners – result – sharing circle at the opening and closing was a way to integrate AFL throughout the school year. Emphasizing the Salish traditional value of knowing yourself

Sinkut View Elementary, Nechako Lakes. Will journaling help students improve their communication skills? Will journaling improve literacy for Aboriginal students and subsequent dogwood completion? Working with animal parts (hide, etc) and developing Aboriginal protocols – if we work with a hide, we need to be respectful to the animal that offered the hide to us-results-Learning took its own direction, and students moving towards areas of social responsibility criteria, with journaling being strong evidence of social responsibility learning

Stanley Humphries Secondary, Kootenay. How do relationships with Aboriginal students effect their engagement in the school setting and translate into success? Aboriginal learning must be social and the learning environment must encourage well-organized, cooperative learning. Invited members of the Aboriginal community into the process – results – adults focused effort in class and outside to build positive relationships, focused on the whole child and understood the importance of Aboriginal community members involvement in the school

West Heights Community, Mission. Will the co-creation of an Aboriginal yoga unit, involving all primary classes K-3, allow for students to have a richer understanding of the Aboriginal culture and foster positive attitudes towards a healthy lifestyle? Integrate Aboriginal culture by appealing to student multiple intelligences, within physical fitness classes – results- students were owners of own learning – students went from 60% not meeting to 0% not meeting

6.2.03 Schools that have used Aboriginal community members to develop inquiry

To top of this section § ↑


Canyon Lister Elementary, Thornhill Elementary School, Heritage Park Secondary, Kinnaird Elementary, Nala’atsi School, Randerson Ridge Elementary, Ripple Rock Elementary, South Nelson Elementary, WL Seaton Secondary School.


Dr. D.A. Perley Elementary, Glenview Elementary, Fairview Community School, Hatzic Elementary, Kitwanga Elementary, Nala’atsi, WL McLeod Elementary,


Bayview Elementary, Cedar Community Secondary, George M Dawson Secondary, Glenview Elementary, Grand Forks Elementary, John A. Hutton, Kitwanga Elementary, Nala’atsi, Prince George Secondary, Randerson Ridge, Sinkut View Elementary, Spencer Middle School, Thornhill Elementary.

6.2.04 Inquiries that have included self-developed rubrics/assessment tools

To top of this section § ↑

2009-2010 Princess Margaret Secondary

2011-2012 Spencer Middle School

2011-2012 Stanley Humphries Secondary School

6.2.05 Inquiries that have included strong authentic Aboriginal culture/language

To top of this section § ↑


Brechin Elementary, George M Dawson, Hartley Bay, Kinnaird Elementary, Nala’atsi, Randerson Ridge, Ripple Rock Elementary, Skaha Lake Middle.


Fairview Community School, Hartley Bay, Hatzic Elementary, Kitwanga Elementary, Nala’atsi.


Aspen Elementary and Arden Elementary, Cedar Community School, Grand Forks Secondary, Kitwanga Elementary, Nala’atsi, Pleasant Valley Elementary, Randerson Ridge, Stanley Humphries.

6.2.06 Inquiries that have included digital technology

To top of this section § ↑

2010-2011 BX Elementary

2010-2011 Glenview

6.2.07 Inquiries that have included Aboriginal role models

To top of this section § ↑


Canyon Lister Elementary, George M, Dawson, Heritage Park Secondary, Glenview Elementary, Heritage Park, Lillooet Secondary School, Mouse Mountain, Nala’asti , Ripple Rock, Hatzic Elementary School


Kitwanga Elementary, Nala’atsi, WL McLeod


Thornhill Elementary, Fairview Community School, Glenview Elementary

6.2.08 Inquiries that have led to off-site educational opportunities

To top of this section § ↑


Lillooet Secondary, Nala’atsi,, Glenview Elementary


George M. Dawson, Glenview Elementary, Kitwanga Elementary, Spencer Middle School, Thornhill Elementary School, Prince George Secondary, Sinkut View

6.2.09 Inquiries that allowed for student input

To top of this section § ↑


Hatzic Elementary

6.2.10 After school programs /programs involving parents

To top of this section § ↑


D.A. Perley, John A. Hutton Elementary, WL McLeod,


Dr. D. A. Perley, Grand Forks Secondary, John A. Hutton, Kitwanga.

6.2.11 Inquiries that include student comments

To top of this section § ↑

2009 – 2010

Ripple Rock Elementary, Skaha Lake Middle School


Nala’atsi, Prince George Secondary, Ecole Puntledge Park, Spencer Middle School, Stanley Humphries

6.2.12 Ways of linking to school district enhancement agreements

To top of this section § ↑

Figure 6: Summary of Enhancement Agreement Goals



Meeting Social /Emotional Needs

History, languages and Culture

Life Opportunities /Sense of Belonging

Enhancement of Learning Environment

Self as learner

Parents participation








6.3 Summary of the case

To top of this section § ↑

Members of the Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network (AESN ) have strived to make Aboriginal students visible by helping them develop their voice and by following the precept of the two provincial leaders, Drs. Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser, that “each student will cross the graduation stage with dignity, purpose and options” (2013). By focusing on that strong moral purpose, members of the Network have developed many unique, contextually based approaches to improve the learning opportunities for Aboriginal students.

By participating in AESN inquiry activities, the educators described here have committed to improving their own learning by focusing on the learning needs of Aboriginal students. In the first years, educators focused inquiries around academic development, inclusion of Aboriginal content in curriculum, and creating culturally relevant learning experiences.

While the focus was on enhancing Aboriginal student performance, the case studies make clear that educators recognized the need to develop their own learning before they would be able to understand their Aboriginal students’ learning needs. A common theme was that their own engagement as teachers was necessary if they were to be successful in working with Aboriginal learners. This learning appears to follow a stepped process.

6.3.1 The first step

To top of this section § ↑

The first step to improving Aboriginal student success was a move to integrate Aboriginal literature content, legends and stories, fiction and nonfiction text written by Aboriginal authors into a range of curricula, as well as consistent use of the six Assessment for Learning (AFL ) strategies and four big ideas identified by Halbert and Kaser, 2009. It is important to discuss AFL because this was the entry point for many of these teacher’s explorations of Aboriginal learning initiatives. Schools such as Mouse Mountain in Nechako Lakes, Conrad Elementary in Prince Rupert and Brechin Elementary in Nanaimo-Ladysmith reported their learning centered on the use of the Assessment for Learning strategies that led to educators building knowledge around the importance of addressing individual learners’ needs. Addressing individual learner needs is a foundational shift in teacher thinking that acted as a catalyst to their emerging thinking about working in more culturally inclusive ways. As well, educators became aware of the importance of whole staff sharing of students’ successes, challenges, and how they were approaching their inquiry questions.

While exploring the Aboriginal literature, adult learners became more aware of local culture, traditional ways and worldviews. For many of the members of the AESN this learning journey enabled them to connect more deeply with the communities in which they lived. There is also evidence to suggest that their students benefitted greatly. Their literacy, numeracy and social responsibility skills improved, and all learners discovered the power of using the BC Performance Standards to gauge achievement and progress. In some cases, educators overcame reluctance to bring new content into the classroom and students become more confident in their academic skill levels. Both students and teachers became increasingly aware of the need to recognize how learning was taking place and why. Engagement increased for both student and adult learners.

6.3.2 The second step

To top of this section § ↑

The following year many of the AESN inquiries focused on ways to combine the AFL strategies and the BC Performance Standards, but many included a more sophisticated layer of inquiry that included members of their Aboriginal communities. Importantly, these inquiries also demonstrated a shift: educators started to address other student learning needs, such as social emotional needs centered on a sense of belonging. Honouring the strengths of the invited members of the Aboriginal community helped students and teachers recognize that learning is life long, authenticity and connectedness to school content are important, and that learning is represented in many different ways in the real world beyond the school.

Comments provided by members of the AESN indicated that they understood that relationships needed to be carefully cultivated and that they needed to be very respectful as they invited First Nations’ members of the community into their buildings to help support student learning in a variety of ways. For example, educators from Lillooet Secondary School in the Gold Trail District, visited the local Band, made personal contacts and invited parents into the school. A room in the school was set-aside for Elders to use when visiting the school and an office for the Band Education Coordinator was established. At Caledonia Secondary in Terrace, a team of school staff went to the Reserve to discuss subject choices, the graduation program and ways to ensure that Aboriginal students were on track for graduation. These early efforts of community engagement became models that other school inquiry teams would use in subsequent years.

6.3.3 The third step

To top of this section § ↑

In order to build a sense of community and common purpose with their Aboriginal partners, other AESN educators made concerted efforts to include Aboriginal community members as part of their school teams. For example, at Smithers Secondary School, educators sought opportunities to increase their social contact with Aboriginal students, believing that appropriate, respectful personal relationships would facilitate improved student comfort at school and help to build confidence to succeed. At Kitwanga Elementary School in Coast Mountains School District educators focused on using culturally relevant materials that mirrored oral and other traditional ways of learning. This learning was supported by participation by members of the community.

As this brief summary illustrates, AESN educators’ efforts towards developing authentic, inclusive and respectful learning environments were rewarded as evidenced by students’ deeper engagement with school, improved attendance and greater academic success. It also demonstrates a type of progression of thinking among AESN inquiry teams as they became more immersed in learning about Aboriginal cultures, protocols and knowledges that would inform their continued work with Aboriginal students.

6.4 Emerging thinking about community involvement

To top of this section § ↑

For many of the members of the AESN , there was a renewed focus on successful practices, but some educators were aware that although change had been realized both at the classroom and school-wide level, in some cases, their inquiries still lacked elements that represented deep and meaningful learning among their Aboriginal students. The cases reviewed for this report show that in recognizing this gap, some educators understood the need to engage members of their Aboriginal communities in the planning stages of their inquiries. For example, at George M. Dawson Secondary in Haida Gwaii staff welcomed the external expertise of the community and developed new partnerships with local Elders and community members. In this case, the use of traditional story sticks was important to sharing and bonding experiences. At Dr. A. Perley Elementary and John A. Hutton Elementary in Boundary School District, school staff connected with parents and students by meeting in a daily after school program. Parents attended alongside students and this process of inclusion strengthened the commitment by all parties to become involved in creating and celebrating Aboriginal student success. All members of the families involved – grandparents, siblings, and parents – were invited to participate in students’ learning. Inquiries were reflecting the need to include First Nations partners in the planning stages. As this summary indicates, AESN members were exploring new ways of thinking about the many “teachers” who could contribute to the learning of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students.

6.5 Deconstructing colonial mindsets

To top of this section § ↑

Simultaneously, AESN inquiries show evidence of how teachers began exploring their own learning around the impact of the residential school system and the trust that has been lost with the public school system. Along with others, AESN members at Skaha Lake Middle School in the Okanagan Skaha District recognized the need to acknowledge the historical impacts of colonialism and First Nations perspectives as they explored changes to their approaches as to what contributes to student success. These members sought to examine their previously held mindsets around the achievement gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students and took steps to correct misconceptions by examining Aboriginal perspectives of both BC ’s and Canada’s history. Educators were confronting their own prejudices as they examined historical events with students. While there is not sufficient evidence to suggest that all non-Aboriginal teachers in the AESN are engaged in interrogating their own biases, the above cases represent a burgeoning awareness that will be discussed at greater length in other sections of this report.

6.6 An important catalyst for change: The First Peoples Principles of Learning and culturally responsive pedagogies

To top of this section § ↑

Of particular interest in the evolution of AESN members’ thinking about Aboriginal learning, was the impact of the publication of the First Peoples Principles of Learning (FNESC, 2012). Many AESN members noted how they became increasingly aware that the use of Aboriginal content, topics and literature, and the involvement of community members but also recognized the need to organize their own learning around the “big ideas” included in the First Peoples Principles of Learning which significantly reframed learning as a culturally inclusive, holistic phenomena. These principles included:

  • 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 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 (FNESC, 2012)

AESN inquiries in the later years began to reflect this understanding of the interconnected, holistic nature of the First Peoples Principles of Learning. As a result of their application to practice, students developed a deeper understanding of themselves as learners and a clearer idea of what they were learning and why it was important to their learner identities. Aboriginal students were eagerly engaging with culturally relevant materials while educators indicated they were becoming more aware of some of the processes that were leading to greater success – scaffolding learning to meet student needs, making learning relevant to the learner by connecting to the community, and becoming more engaged themselves as members of the learning community. This provides more evidence of a shifting mind set.

For example, at Glenview Elementary in Prince George students began visiting the Shelley Reserve, to learn about Aboriginal ways of preserving the land. Students learned the traditional names and uses of plants, and ways of thanking Mother Earth for her gifts. On Haida Gwaii, students at George M. Dawson went to the Enbridge hearing and presented arguments against the installation of the pipeline, arguing to support Mother Earth. At Sinkut View Elementary School in Nechako Lakes staff and students participated in authentic learning around Mother Earth by participating in fishing camp experiences. At all three of these schools the learning took place outside the classroom walls, led by Aboriginal community members. At Hazelton Secondary School students participated in traditional practices of food gathering and preparation. These examples show how teachers were becoming more adept at addressing the First Peoples Principles of Learning and integrating them as core practices to enrich the learning of all their students.

6.7 Conclusion

To top of this section § ↑

AESN inquiries have served as a powerful tool for both adult and student learning in British Columbia. Developing an inquiry, participating in constant evaluation, questioning, reading relevant research and participating in examining the parallel between adult learning and student learning has enabled educators to own their learning and model what learning looks like for their students. Participating in the AESN allows educators to borrow each other’s strategies, but more importantly to more deeply examine their goals and visions for Aboriginal student success. The AESN has created a learning community for both adult and student learners in BC that honours the diversity, uniqueness and complexity of the Aboriginal peoples of our province.