When I designed this unit, I thought about the demographics of a typical classroom in Saskatoon. Who are our learners? Where do they come from? What sort of learning would they connect to and what does a truly inclusive classroom look like? Currently, ESL learners make up just under 20% of total school enrollment in Saskatoon. Almost 17% of learners are also First Nations, Inuit or Métis (Saskatoon Public Schools, 2012, p.7). The remaining 60% of students come from mainstream backgrounds as native English speakers. Therefore, one can conclude that about 40% of learners in any given classroom in Saskatoon will have specialized language and dialectical learning needs. The other 60% cannot be ignored, which calls for learning tasks to be highly differentiated and flexible, yet meet provincial learning goals and outcomes. One could view some of these challenges from a deficit perspective. I choose to see the linguistic and cultural diversity in these classrooms as great opportunities for meaningful learning. Equally important, is to acknowledge the current challenges facing Aboriginal learners, many of whom have specialized language learning needs. Therefore, I've included some key points to reference the emerging research on English as a second dialect (ESD) Aboriginal learners in Canada and general information on dialects. My rationale and ultimate goal for this website is that with approaches that support a bi-dialectical, multilingual classroom using technology, learning can be truly transformative and culturally responsive for all learners.
Why Choose an Aboriginal Thematic Unit?
In my Saskatchewan teaching context, the provincial government has mandated that all students learn about Aboriginal culture and ways of knowing. In fact, within this learning module, most of the learning outcomes are directly tied to Aboriginal culture and language learning within the Grade 5 Language Arts Curriculum. The Ministry of Education Saskatchewan's directives explain the historical, moral and economic imperatives to learn about Aboriginal culture, language and history in Saskatchewan schools (Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, p.7, 2009). Since Saskatchewan's curriculum renewal in 2008, First Nations, Inuit and Métis learning outcomes have been written across all subjects from K to 12. As a result, it seemed logical to choose Aboriginal culture as the thematic concept to meet many of the Grade 5 curriculum outcomes in Language Arts.
Learning Module Conceptual Framework
Learners will engage in a series of ten thematically-driven lessons to share their unique cultures, languages and dialectical variations using technology to redefine and enhance learning outcomes. This project will focus on oral stories from Elder Gifts teachings of Traditional Plains Cree and Metis child rearing ways, Opikinawasowin Teachings (Dorion, 2010, p.123). The framework was used as a way to design culturally responsive lessons that honour the teachings of Elders, who are considered the traditional keepers of Aboriginal knowledge. Because Dorion's (2010) work contains in depth insights from a group of Elders, it a rare piece of written documentation of Elder teachings from a culture that is mostly orally-based. It provides unique insights and recommendations on how to properly use traditional stories as they were intended to be used. She clarifies that many Aboriginal stories from the past have been "... diminished or discounted in historical writings as just fairy-tales or make believe by colonial writers and were quickly disregarded before the wisdom and metaphor contained within them could be understood (p.17)." Therefore, I carefully followed the recommendations written by Dorion (2010) and her Elders to choose only recommended stories found within her research. Whenever possible, all learning will begin with an in-class discussion by an invited Elder.
What Exactly is a Dialect?
The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) explains that everyone speaks a dialect. Dialects are varieties of language particular to a group of speakers that vary by region and social group. From a linguistic perspective, no dialect is superior to others. Dialects are systematic and rule-governed based on the context the dialectical speaker is operating in (CAL, 2015). In fact, we all speak a dialect of English that is varied and different - but not wrong! The activities in this unit seek to recognize the dialectic varieties present in a typical classroom and to teach students how code switch between formal "Standard English" and informal "Home language."
Within a multilingual classroom, research tells us that second language learners and Aboriginal children who are exposed to a variety of communicative settings and expectations will learn to make adjustments and code switch adeptly to participate in a variety of settings (Peltier, 2010, p.126). In addition, research in bilingual settings have shown that students can learn a second language and experience additive bilingualism which accelerates the development of general intelligence, cognitive divergence and flexibility. Svalberg (2007) also discusses how language awareness programs that encourage multilingualism have led to improved test scores, appreciation and understanding of other cultures and languages as well as increased cognitive and metacognitive skills development (p.299). Therefore, tasks embedded into this unit plan provide students with multiple opportunities to use their first and second languages, English and dialectic varieties.
Understanding English as a Second Dialect (ESD) from Aboriginal Perspectives
Research on dialectical learning in Canada is relatively new and for me , it presents exciting opportunities to engage minority learners who have been marginalized in the past, including Aboriginal language learners. Currently, the research informs us that in a Saskatchewan context, "...there is a disproportionate representation of First Nations and Métis students in remedial language and speech programs" and "... the relationship and power imbalances between differences in home and school English varieties" reflect institutional racism built into our educational systems since First Nations had contact with white institutions (Sterzuk, 2008, p.9). One can look back at the erasure of culture and language from the residential school system experience and the negative effects of colonization to understand why only 17.2% of the Aboriginal population in Canada reported they can speak their ancestral languages good enough to hold a conversation, based on a 2011 National Household Survey. (Statistics Canada, 2011). Given our history, it is of no surprise that Aboriginal dialectic varieties have largely been ignored and viewed from deficit perspectives in Canadian classrooms.
"... The Last Trace of the Mother Tongue" (Peltier, 2010, p.116)
This is a simple, yet powerful quote that helps to explain an Aboriginal English Dialects and what those students have experience in the absence of learning their ancestral languages. Although it seems as we can categorize these learners into one group, the research informs us that "...it is important that all Aboriginal students not be considered as comprising of one category of language characteristics and learning needs in a student population. Some are learning English as a second language, some may not know their Indigenous language and may be fluent in English or use a fully-fledged dialect of English that is the result of the influence of the Indigenous language or mother tongue on the English language" (Peltier, 2010, p.118).
Students will be guided towards grade level expectations in reading, writing, listening, viewing, representing and speaking activities using a range of tasks. Specific learning outcomes, indicators and enabling tasks are written into each sequential lesson to scaffold both technological and content knowledge in order for the “… integration of form-focused exercises with meaning-focused experience” (Canadian Language Benchmarks, 2013, p.46) Vocabulary building and explicit instruction are built into each lesson using the Cummins’ (1982) Framework for Developing Language Proficiency using context embedded and differentiated tasks that are academically and cognitively demanding at appropriate language learner levels (Roessingh, 2006, p.93). Some of these activities involve: gathering information from a variety of text and media, then presenting ideas in digital format. Students will begin this unit by setting learning goals and assessing the work of self and others for improvement. Students will also read and comprehend a range of text-types, engage in the writing process to produce multi-paragraph narratives, speak about a range of ideas with classmates, as well as listen and interpret oral stories and text shared by First Nations and Métis Elders and other family members. Collaborative learning with the support of both a teacher and an Aboriginal Elder will also ensure students are supported by Vygotsky's (1978) Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) (Roessingh & Johnson, 2004, p.50). Using technology, the aim is to redefine learning experiences beyond traditional methods and create an environment that is situated, personalized and connected using the Weebly mobile and devices to share cultural stories and artifacts.
Formative assessment will involve peer and self-assessment using a combination of checklists and exit slips. Summative assessment will involve the use of a rubrics including a portfolio assessment is modeled after the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education's Grade 5 Pre- Assessment Package. The Western and Northern Canadian Protocol for Aboriginal Learners (WNCP, 2000) also endorses formative, authentic assessment using the methods above. All assessment tools and rubrics are itemized after each learning task for each of the ten sequential lessons. Click on the Learning Tasks page to view these assessments after each lesson. Answer keys and copies of the assessment tools are located at the bottom of the Learning Tasks page as well.