Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

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

8.3 A sustained impact on student learning

We would be remiss if we did not highlight the scope and scale of change we saw in student learning, amongst both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal learners. The case study that examined more than 50 inquiry projects around the province illustrates the ways in which each and every inquiry traced and assessed the impacts of their inquiries on student learning. It is not that teachers do not regularly focus on improving their students learning; this is the everyday work of teachers as they work with their students. However, the Network provided a structure and a process for systematically collecting written summaries of this work into the case study format promoted by the Network leaders in each district. The cases illustrate in concrete form evidence of how teachers went about engaging in improving their practice and investigating ways in which learning might be better realized. As such, the cases provide a remarkable record of and a database for documenting and building on initial investigations. We are not aware of any other programmatic initiative in the province that has this feature of documentation and evidence gathering (although we do note that annual Accountability reports produced by school districts aggregate student achievement data more broadly).

As was indicated in the case study analysis, there were ranges of different learning impacts reported by AESN members, although a focus on literacy and performance standards in reading and writing were a frequent early emphasis of inquiry work. In this report we discussed how teacher learning appeared to work through stages of understanding about the learning that matters for Aboriginal students in particular. We argued that there was evidence of a staged approach; that the focus on student learning began with more of an interest in academic measures and then shifted toward understanding how self-esteem/self-worth and belonging/acceptance were even more important to effecting school success. Cadwallader’s (2010, BC Ministry of Education) Prezi, who makes this point: strong Aboriginal student identities are enabling. When learners have strong foundational roots into knowing themselves and their communities, they are more resilient and are less likely to feel they are being “forced out” of the schooling system.

This deepened understanding of the importance of identity required that teachers develop new or alternative ways to trace progress; we saw that some schools and districts were developing and/or modifying alternative forms of assessment, most notably rubrics that sought to map or chart students’ progression in the development of “Aboriginal understandings”. This points to another impact of the Network: its focus on assessing student learning in using different formative approaches so as to document over time the shift among students’ attitudes and beliefs about Aboriginal peoples. While in its infancy, we certainly saw evidence of how teachers are approaching the task of measuring non-academic outcomes more consistently and in ways that incorporate Aboriginal pedagogies, knowledges, and ways of knowing and being.