Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

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

4.6 Education beyond the classroom walls

After examining the cases and listening to teachers and other members describe their experiences within the AESN , we noted how several of their projects had included what were described as “community showcases” or knowledge sharing events. While celebrating the achievements and learning of the students could be assumed to be the primary focus of these events, it was also evident from teacher conversations that this also served as a means of educating families and the broader community. For example, one project profiled during our visit was a cross-curricular English 8/9/10, Socials 8/9/10 and First Nations 12 class where students were asked to produce documentary films. Because of the focus on local Aboriginal histories and events, several of these films addressed the historical and contemporary contexts for the Sinixt peoples of the area. One film focused on the historical actions of the Federal Government who declared the Sinixt people extinct; another profiled the form, function and purposes of pit homes typically constructed by the Sinixt peoples. The films provide a snapshot of how students were engaging critically with stories from both past and present that had a goal of re-educating themselves, their classmates and community. Participants in our focus group reported on student responses to the film project. The sponsoring teacher described it thusly: “My kids were so inspired by that experience… the recognition of the use of the lands by Aboriginal peoples… the kids’ inquiries were thoughtful and deep.” She also reported on how her student’s reflected on the significance of the inquiry projects they had completed. One student said: “This is the best thing I have ever done in my entire education.” A second publically acknowledged his Aboriginal ancestry, and stated: “I am Indian and I’m proud of it.” In summarizing her comments, this teacher shared her belief that these projects had led to profound, deep and significant learning that she described as “life altering”.

We viewed each video and saw that students were engaged in inquiry questions that sought to unpack stereotypes and to “right” what they saw as historical injustices. On their own, these films demonstrate the impact of introducing Aboriginal themes into the English, Social Studies and First Nations 12 classes and how beliefs among student populations can be shifted when the local context is used to make connections to student experiences and understandings. The combination of personal engagement is also better enabled through the application of new learning technologies: the use of documentary film provides a powerful medium through which to tell these new stories. In sum, it is clear that the learning of these students was significant and made even more impactful as a result of the efforts to link learning to local contexts, the use of inquiry methods and the use of engaging pedagogical methods such as film production.