Educator-As-Community-Keeper

This post is a bit of a brain dump as I’m unwinding a cognitive knot. It is the result of my participation in a few book studies, both personally and professionally. The books we read were Braiding Sweetgrass by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer and How We Show Up by Mia Birdsong.

My personal reading of Braiding Sweetgrass led me to some deep reflections and contemplations about my relationships with plants (in addition to animals). Kimmerer’s words really slowed down my experience outdoors and allowed me to focus on small moments.

How We Show Up challenged me on a deep personal level. As an introvert who values my independence and singlehood, I found myself questioning what it means to live alone. The chapter about queering friendships, specifically, got me in the feels.

But it wasn’t until I discussed these books in their respective book study groups that I truly felt transformed by the knowledge gifted in them. I’ll share a few examples of things that we questioned and the new understandings I have come to.

Through a conversation about Braiding Sweetgrass we got to a point where we were talking about gifts, and how when you give a gift you shouldn’t expect a gift in return. One person shared that if they were to give money to someone sitting outdoors, they would do so without strings attached, meaning that they trust the person would spend the money on whatever they need, not expect them to purchase food or clothes or save it. They said that there shouldn’t be an expectation of return within our reciprocal relationships. But as a group, we lingered on that, because is that not part of the point the reciprocal relationships? If we are in two-way relationships, can we not trust that we both give and receive? I felt stumped by this for a second and I didn’t see a way out. But then another person offered a path forward: aren’t we still talking about being individuals rather than being truly interconnected? An systems of interdependence mean that what we give, we do get back. In interconnected systems-thinking, we are constantly giving to each other and ourselves. This also means that survival occurs through unity; all flourishing is mutual. In this way, giving money is act of perpetual, unconditional kindness, but it also questions and resists the ownership and hoarding of money. To give is not necessarily to expect to receive, but it is to know that people around you and before you are looking out for you. If we all take responsibility for our part in a community, we all survive and thrive. So ow does this relate to being an educator? My explanation requires a reflection on my next book study: How We Show Up.

This book is a critique of the racist and heteronormative American Dreamism culture and a reimagining of family, friendship, and community. Early on in the book the author makes a point of how family units are a replication of our toxic individualist culture in North America, whereby we exist separately from our neighbours, and things like relying on friends for childcare is considered a shameful last resort for many people. For middle-and lower-class families, paying for childcare seems to be the dominant idea of “what is best for the child”; yet, this rationale reinforces the idea that early childhood educators know what is best for children and that somehow other adults like family and friends do not. I’ve been trying to challenge this notion because, despite our specialized knowledge and years of experience, we are not more knowledgeable than parents, elders, and generational or cultural wisdom. Our collective vision of parents is to see them as capable and competent; therefore, our role becomes slightly challenged when we shift to viewing our livelihood as interconnected communities rather than supporting toxic individualism. If we don’t have the expertise we think we do, then why are we demanding higher pay? If we are as capable and competent as parents and families, then why should we be asking for better occupational conditions, when this is straying further and further away from the home-life experience. How might we lean into these questions, rather than been threatened? I’ve provided a consideration from the book Illuminating Care to demonstrate this notion:

In our conversation about this book we talked about our differing perspectives on individualism. Myself and another person shared that we experience intimacy as threatening, whereas another felt that they had always had friendships that pushed boundaries of intimacy. We discusses our experiences of living with or feeling connected to family, but then realized that family to us, is something that tends to feel permanent whereas friendships can feel transient. We were sensing agreement that the transientness of friendships came with grief, protectiveness, and a resistance to change. We talked about what it means to move, to leave behind communities, and how some folks can feel quite angry when our good friends move. This is especially relevant given our current life stage, not quite 10 years into our careers when moving can happen frequently. But I recalled something that was getting called upon within me: Mike’s wisdom of how home is created and recreated on our paths throughout life, with new people. It’s not about the structure and it’s not about who is kept in or out of a space. It’s about community, bringing people together with the struggle of food, survival, and hard work. I think he would have liked this book a lot.

So again, what does this mean as an eduator?

To that I would ask, am I not recreating home indefinitely? Am I not embracing the transientness of children temporarily being in my care? Do I not enter into very intimate relationships with families and children, even becoming part of families? Am I not empowered and humbled by this, rather than threatened? Do I not operate within a community hub, bringing families together, supporting children’s young friendships, and fostering dispositions for lifelong learning? Do I not uphold community through my responsiveness to both individual and group needs? Don’t I turn local wisdom and familial cultural practices into sacred, shared experiences for all children to benefit from? Do I not prioritize my relationships above almost all else? Am I not a reciprocal partner, ally, and co-conspirator in children’s lives? Defender of wonder, play, and joy in ways that invite children into relationship with humans and the more-than-human world? Do I not resist toxic individualism almost as a job requirement, whereby I use systems-thinking to understand, extend and support the many interlocking relationships I have entered? Am I not a keeper of this community knowledge, resources, and connections?

I think am and I do. And this is how I am choosing to reframe myself. I’m not just a researcher, co-leaner, play partner, care mentor, and nurturer; I am a community keeper.

When Children Ask “Why” Part 1

If you’ve read my blog before you’ll know that I have two major sources of inspiration: Ann Pelo and Margie Carter’s From Teaching to Thinking, and my outdoor education experience in high school with the late Mike Elrick. I’ve been returning to their wisdom in the past few months with a refreshed lens, and I am taking away new insights.

I often think about the way Ann describes her experiences outdoors with children, in-particular the stories of the skunk and the trees in Chapters 1 and 2 of FTtT. While I read some of her writing this morning, I was prompted to think about how I could bring these attitudes into the workshops I’ll be facilitating over the next few months. How can I translate some of this inspiration into digestible prompts for diverse groups of educators?

While reading Ann’s story, I imagined myself in her position. What would I do in response to children asking ‘why do the leaves change colour?’. What have I done in the past? I can’t quite remember. I thought about how some educators would say that they would reflect the question back to the child “I don’t know…why do you think they might change colour?”. Another might say that they would discuss the changing seasons or the amount light during fall. Another might say they don’t know, so they would engage in research to bring books into the classroom to answer the question. Another might say that, since there are filling many other roles while outdoors, such as counting children, putting on mittens, and watching for parents, they are unlikely to feel like they have time to appropriately answer this question and do it justice. Someone might say that in their culture changing colours of leaves holds particular significance. There are so many beautiful ways to respond to this question as well as systemic factors to consider.

I contrast these answers to what Ann did in her experience, which I elude to below. And then I re-thought what I would do again: what would I do if I had enough time, space, and resources to respond in a way that aligns with my pedagogical commitments?

When young children ask “why”, as in, “why do the leaves change colour”, I doubt they are searching for an answer.

I honestly believe, instead, they are reaching for guidance on how to think about this perplexing concept. They might be looking for how to build their skills to follow their curiosities. They might be asking “how do I respond to this inquiry?” or “what should I do when I feel this sense of wonder” or even “this feeling of reverence is powerful! Am I okay?”.

Our job as ECEs is not to be a first responder in these moments. It’s not to react with answers, wisdom, or solutions. I believe, instead, that our job is to take our training and use it to linger in these moments of questioning. Rather than answering in-the-moment, how might we slow down time for children and think though these dilemmas with them. If our job/training/philosophy is to scaffold children’s schemas in meaningful ways, then it’s clear that providing quick answers does a disservice to children’s learning. Instead, I wonder, how might we answer this question slowly, over time? How might we collaborate to think about our own answers to this question? Is a scientific fact really what is being asked for here? Or is it a larger life question about birth, death, and transformation as Ann suggests. Thinking in this way, my role as a co-learner might not even be to think in scientific terms about this. Nor is it to bring in books about trees and seasons. Perhaps, instead it is simply to commit to watching the trees more, learning from our senses, and creating our own language to articulate what we experience here. What do we call it when we feel the exhilaration of noticing a leaf fall, twirling from branch to ground?

Ultimately, I am currently thinking about how children are seeking guidance on their own learning, rather than factual answers, when they ask why. Providing provocations through engaging environmental set up, the use of open-ended play/learning materials, and the intentional use of questions can extend these curiosities through scaffolded guidance, support, and co-learning.

Meta-Reflection

Here I will be reflecting on my experience over the past semester, especially near the end as my knowledge became synthesized, how I created some concrete next-steps for my pedagogical practice, and my reflections on the process of creating and listening to our podcasts.

Podcasts

What I learned about my own teaching practice after creating and listening to our podcasts.

The process of creating and editing my podcast was incredibly enlightening. First, by reviewing literature on the topic of Indigenous Pedagogies (the general topic of our podcast) I came to better understand the current state of the literature in this area (i.e., focusing on decolonizing academia, Indigenizing campuses, and not just inserting Indigenous history or cultural knowledge into a curriculum). Second, reviewing the information from the studies for the purposes of sharing the information prompted me to enter into relationship with this knowledge, preserve its context where possible, and better understand what I know and don’t yet know on this topic. The many conversations that Anna and I had before doing the podcast helped me feel like I was doing the topic justice and flushing out some of my own ideas as I grappled to better understand Indigenous Pedagogies on a personal level, by way of decolonizing my own mind. Anna mentioned so many new concepts to me, introduced me to new language, and reminded me of additional perspectives I would have never thought of. For example, Anna described a kind of elasticity that feels present in the processes of unlearning/relearning the settler-colonialism of educational processes and how despite any “progress” that is made in terms of unsettling Anna’s understanding or worldview, how it returns to default, colonial, capitalist ways of operating. This was an experience that feels very true for myself as well, and so I referred to it as a “snap back” that happens (in our podcast). By including this in our podcast, it felt as though we were making a case that understanding and discussing Indigenous Pedagogies in higher-ed is not the same process that may occur with disseminating other pedagogical strategies, because it is a personal process for everyone and the knowledge is highly contextual. Considering the ways in which this knowledge is moved from person to person is part of understanding and respecting Indigenous pedagogies. Next, having the 1 hour conversation with Anna for the podcast was so illuminating in terms of how we spontaneously found ways to fit our knowledge together and how we realized the ways in which our articles complement each other, contributing to a larger conversation of SoTL.

Then, listening back to my podcast to begin editing it revealed so many of my remaining biases and mis-steps; I called them cringe-worthy moments with Anna because it felt like I said things that I didn’t mean or that could be misinterpreted. These revelations are one of the biggest take-aways from this process because now I can concrete topics to continue gaining understanding on and to better understand before I speak about them. It also helped me to further synthesize the information into a story that can be followed by listeners, which, is helping me continue to build my ability to articulate my rationale for why academia must prioritize Indigenous pedagogies where appropriate.

Finally, shifting our podcast from the editing stages to the final product brought out so many feelings of pride for me. It felt like Anna and I created a landmark in time, marking our current understanding of Indigenous pedagogies. Regarding my own teaching practice, this represents a catalyst from which I can now be transformed as I now move into deeper relationships with the specific areas of knowledge we excluded from the podcast. I for-see myself circling back to many of the articles we used with a new lens, seeking cues for how to introduce Indigenous pedagogy to undergraduate or graduate students while I try my hand at prioritizing some of the strategies that I have already mentioned in my SoTL snap shot, micro-teaching session, and in the podcast with Anna. A main next-step I have for myself, since I am currently a TA and not an instructor, is to support students in self-pacing their learning where possible. There are three ways I do this: negotiating with instructors for no late penalty for students in the majority of scenarios when students reach out to request extra time, providing students with resources that scaffolds their learning by either giving next steps for how to improve their grade or higher-lever resources that go beyond the parameters of a course, and by advocating for grading assignments by way of accounting for student growth, rather than meeting objective expectations. For this semester, this has worked well, but I imagine these goals taking on new forms in the future.

How the content of the podcasts related to or informed my teaching practice.

From listening to my peers’ podcasts, I learned about effective, evidenced-based teaching practices that support students’ motivations. In the podcast about effective teaching, they discussed one study about teaching of foreign language and the effectiveness of inductive, active learning, and interactive or integrated techniques that include the use of technology and visuals to support the shift in teaching from teacher-centred to student-centred. Regarding the study with 7 strategies for effective teaching, I learned something new: that communicating high expectations can be really effective for students’ learning. Both articles discussed active learning, respecting students as individuals with unique skills, preferences, and motivations, which, are all strategies that are reflected in the Papp (2020) article that I used throughout this semester. Papp’s article discussed student-centred pedagogy that supports students holistically by offering self-paced work opportunities, promoting Indigenous culture, and providing financial and familial support where necessary. Finally, my peers mentioned that the role of reciprocity and collaboration needs more attention – this is something that I the Papp article also discusses and something I modelled in my micro-teaching session.

Regarding the podcast about student motivation, I loved learning about the ABCRM acronym of autonomy, belongingness (something that connects with Indigenous pedagogies and that is well-documented in early learning pedagogies), competency (highly connected to early learning), and relatedness/meaningfulness (something that is also highly discussed in early learning through the use of emergent/responsive curriculum. This acronym is something I will keep in mind in my teaching practice because it already aligns with my teaching philosophy statement. Additionally, the idea of students using RRP and a whole class performing at once sounds so fun, which reminds my of the play-based pedagogy that I am so familiar with. It is no wonder why this increased feelings of autonomy that was mentioned, because that is part of the aim of play-based learning, since it is self-directed and voluntary. The role of co-operative learning in student motivation is something I feel like we have experienced a lot this semester with shared google docs and other methods of collaboration, which I plan to continue to use in my own teaching practice since I saw how effective it was.

How I can use SoTL literature to inform your teaching practice

I have already begun to consult SoTL literature to inform my teaching practice. I have been curious about the role of self-reflection in learning because I noticed how some spaces have prompted transformational change. In our last class I asked for how to learn more and was prompted to consult Mezirow’s work. From here, I learned of the stages of transformational learning: disorientation, self-reflection/examination/assessing assumptions, planning next steps including what resources are required, and building experience and confidence in trying out these new roles. Patricia Cranton adds to this conversation the critical role of consulting additional perspectives and the role of each learner as an individual. This demonstrates my comfort with exploring and understanding new areas within SoTL that are of interest to me in building my teaching practice. I plan to use what I learned from transformative learning in my teaching practice, but this has also taught me that I can now search the literature to find strategies or concepts that meet the unique needs of my students and support the situations in which I am teaching.

Challenge: one limitation I have noticed when I consult the SoTL literature, is that I would like to continue to engage in conversations with others about how to effectively use the strategies in various contacts and realities. It’s one thing to read about the use of these strategies in ideal situations or in different parts of the world, but I feel that it is important to continue to engage in considering how it can be applied in particular institutions.

My comfort with evaluating SoTL literature and understanding its relevance to your own teaching practice.

I have an emerging ability to evaluate the SoTL literature, and I have certainly seen this skill improve over the course of the semester. In my first draft of my SoTL Snapshot, I misinterpreted what the researchers did in the study (I think because I was not used to reading qualitative summaries of teaching strategies, rather than an evaluation of the strategies). This represented a poor ability to identify the key information in a resource, analyze its accuracy, and evaluate its relevance and appropriateness for the purposes of my snapshot/ use of the article. It took me some time to get oriented to the lingo and culture of the SoTL literature, and navigating several articles for the purposes of creating our podcast, communicating our information about pedagogy effectively, and making a meaningful contribution to SoTL conversations elevated my comfort and confidence in being able to wade through information related to SoTL. I have come to place in my journey where I now prefer to read about innovative strategies that support reimagining and decolonizing learning spaces rather than that quantitatively evaluate strategies in order that have broad, generalizable results. I am more interested in unique experiences that will help me navigate more specific problems or situations that I encounter in my teaching practice.

Future Plans. I have realized through writing this reflection that another thing I took away from the Effective Teaching Practices podcast was the reminder to evaluate the methods, analysis, and interpretation of SoTL articles. Being reminded that I can critically appraise SoTL literature supported me in using my graduate level training to determine the effectiveness of the strategies that were evaluated in the articles. I have been told that I have strong literature searching and synthesizing skills by my advisor, and I have therefore been wondering if I should take on a project in which I do a literature review on a SOTL concepts such as Indigenous pedagogy and experiential Learning, or the overlaps between early childhood education pedagogy’s and higher education strategies. I also have an emerging interest in starting a podcast about pedagogies. This interest was born from my experience in creating a podcast for this course, but further activated when I listen to some higher-ed podcasts. I immediately felt compelled to contribute to this kind of conversation with my own perspective, as well as to elevate other people’s voices and to use my skills of active listening, audio editing, and and literature searching to mobilize knowledge in society.

Learning goals

I adjusted my goals slightly in order to make them more aligned with the parameters of this course. They are listed here.

Goal 1: By the end of this semester, I will be facilitate a 10-minute interaction lesson with students through zoom. To achieve this, I will implement activities in my micro-teaching session, including menti, jamboard or kahoot, which ask the learners to contribute collaboratively to answering questions or reflect upon the information that is being discussed. If I can implement these tools, receive student engagement through their use of these tools, and if I am able to respond to my peers’ answers, I will feel I have achieved this goal.

Goal 2: By the end of this semester, I will improve my confidence and self-efficacy in terms of implementing one teaching strategy that is culturally responsive by being aligned with Indigenous pedagogical practices. To do this, I will review three peer-reviewed articles on Indigenous pedagogy and teaching approaches, and discuss them with my project partner for the podcast. I will feel successful in this goal if by the end of the semester I can describe, in detail, one teaching strategy that I can use virtually that is rooted in Indigenous pedagogy and that is appropriate for me, a white settler, to implement in a University class setting.

Goal 3: By the end of the semester, I will be able to discuss the considerations for creating assignment instructions that are rooted in universal design for learning and/or universal instructional design. For example, I will be able to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of including student choice in how they create/present their assignment, in order to support the engagement and expression elements of UDL. I hope to learn more about universally accessible learning strategies through this course (such as the “late bank” article from SoTL snapshot). My will keep a list of ways of strategies that I learn about, including how and when I might want to use them, can be incorporated into assignments that I have an influence in creating.

Meeting my goals.

I met my modified goals, but I also recognize I still have a long way to go before I feel like I can really use these skills in reality. I modified each of my goals slightly to better fit with the course expectations and assignments, and this allowed me to meet all three of these goals. I have documented why I couldn’t reach my goals in a previous reflection, and after getting feedback from Jessi I decided to adjust them to better fit the course, which is reflected above. I am now leaving the class with a high comfort in using collaborative technology to facilitate active learning (e.g., jam board or google docs), with one Indigenous pedagogical strategy I can describe and implement (prioritizing student knowledge and culture by supporting self-reflection in lessons), and a list of strategies that we discussed in class, read about in our readings, and/or learned from guest lecturers (as well as some advantages and disadvantages to know when and how to use each strategy). I have realized that there is value not only in evaluating my progress towards a goal, but keeping a goal a living document that can flex with the needs or resources available to me. It was really valuable seeing how I couldn’t reach my goals, but the logical next step was just to adjust these goals to be more achievable and realistic so that I can feel successful.

Challenge. I am left wondering how I can then scaffold my learning and maintain high expectations for myself and my learning journeys. Since I’ve met these goals, I feel like I need a challenge to continue forward in my learning journey. Therefore, I would like to create 3 new goals that I can work on over the summer semester that will extend the learning that has occurred in this course.

Future plans:

Goal 1: By September I would like to gather 10-20 articles that will help me draw connections between Indigenous pedagogies and experiential learning concepts that are captured in SoTL, with the purpose of working towards creating a literature review with a peer. I am particularly interested in place-based education, significant life experiences, and the role of the whole person in these pedagogies.

Goal 2: By September I would like to gather 10-20 articles that will help me draw connections between early childhood education and care practices and post-secondary education pedagogies. I am particularly interested in the role of belonging, how visibility can be brought to learning processes, hands-on/active learning, and responsive or emergent curriculum.

Goal 3: Decide if I have the resources to start a podcast about Play and Pedagogy whereby I would interview many educators and “experts” to discuss their pedagogical approaches, how they learned what they know, how they think learning happens, and what “knowledge” even is. I would like to linger on the boundaries of education, recreation, and occupation. My first barrier to doing this is understanding if there is funding available to produce the podcast and whether I can manage doing so during my Masters. This kind of journey would push me to learn about many areas of SoTL well beyond my comfort level, to evaluate many competing theories and practices, and to integrate this information into digestible content for listeners. Whether or not I end up starting a podcast is less important to me than the process of mapping out which topics and educators I would like to continue to have conversations with about SoTL, pedagogy, and playful learning, and deciding in which capacity I want to connect with them.

Overall, my plan is still applicable to me and I think by progressing into these three goals I will be able to extend my learning about Indigenous pedagogies, better understand how many instructors and educators facilitate active learning in various settings, and how educators strive for inclusive assessments in their many iterations over their career. This leads me in a slightly new direction than I had intended, but changing course when it feels right is an important part of my learning and research process.

Micro-teaching lesson: Changes I noticed and next steps to elevate my teaching practice.

As I reflected on in a previous post, I made many changes that resulted in the learners being able to meet the learning objectives. I also reflected on the role of practice, feedback, and how to support reflection during in-class activities. From these reflections I have realized I would like to commit to maintaining connections with peers as a way of having a Community of Practice to continue conversations about our teaching practices. Continuing to seek constructive feedback and help from others who are also interested in the scholarship of teaching and learning is how I hope I can continue to refine my pedagogical practice and continue to learn from the meaningful experiences that occurred during this semester.

Next steps to improve my teaching practice.

Some of my next steps are captured in the goals I listed above, but when I integrate these steps into the reflections I’ve had about my micro-teaching, I realize that pedagogy is not a private endeavour. I deeply believe that learning happens in healthy relationships, like in communities where individuals feel supported to active experiment with their knowledge and take risks/be wrong/grow from discomfort. This has deepened two of my pedagogical commitments: one, that I must continue my development through discussing pedagogy with peers, and two, that as an educator I can support student learning by providing opportunities for students to build long-lasting and meaningful connections to one another. I am still feeling unclear about how communities can be supported across a variety of classes regarding discipline, class size, and method of delivery, but I feel grounded in figuring this out as I go as part of my teaching practice.

Lessons learned that I will take into my future teaching practice.

I feel like I have identified and described many lessons learned that I will take into my future teaching practice. Most of these lessons involve an interest in delving deeper into the scholarship of teaching and learning, participating in research in this area, and acting as a researcher about my own teaching practice. I plan to gather many sources of evidence, as we discussed in week 11, to analyze my own teaching documents and methods as well as the learning that students are demonstrating – and whether the tasks and assessments I create even support students in making their learning visible. I was really inspired by our chat with Gavan, and I have started reading his posts on Twitter and his 3 teaching things newsletter. This course is a bit like another catalyst for my learning as an educator because I am now equipped to continue my learning journey about SoTL through the higher ed podcasts (I’ve been liking Teaching in Higher Ed), I started reading a copy of the Spark of Learning, and through many reflections I’ve realized that I might be interested in starting a podcast about some of the connections I see. Continuing to reflect through this blog will hopefully continue to extend and expand my learning and development.

Are Games Play?

Forgive me, this may seem like a pointless question. And if you regularly spend time with children over the age of five, you’d likely whole heartedly say “yes”. But I’ve spent the last year thinking deeply about engaging with children under the age of four. In all honesty, mostly about toddlers. And I can’t help feel discomfort when I think of the purpose of games. Pedagogically. Developmentally. And meaningfully.

These thoughts are the result of being a teaching assistant (reading and evaluating pre-service educators programming ideas for young children), a previous practicum student in Quality Initiatives for early years programs (where I heard supervisors reflect on their quality goals), and a masters student studying early childhood educators’ workplaces. It is likely also because I am reading From Teaching to Thinking and The Goodness of Rain by Ann Pelo, and I am being challenged in my thinking about what are quality, meaningful, and transformative early learning experiences. Why are we replicating the use of games? Is there a purpose beyond developmental appropriateness? It feels like there is a difference between experiences with routines and games. For example, I feel that shared routines (e.g., I chase children with a puppet before we begin our morning meeting), action songs that are requested again and again (e.g., “baby shark”), or even experiences of sharing informal rules and patterns (e.g., watching two children run back and forth in a space and copy each other) then formalized games that have one way to be played.*

This feels like the difference, in my mind, between informal games with rules, and well-known games passed on my generations, such as duck duck goose or musical chairs. When I read Ann’s stories, and I think about the time I’ve spent with children, the use of games with toddlers feels so incredibly useless to young humans. I would so much rather use myself as a tool to facilitate wonder, spark inquiry, visit a forest, observe an inset, or inspect a crack in the sidewalk than pass on knowledge of childhood games. I just feel so much resistance to spending my time and energy on these things. I don’t feel like there is an authentic purpose to many of these games, often they are exclusive in nature by eliminating someone each round, and I don’t see how they support the development of dispositions for lifelong learning. I also don’t see a clear connection with Ontario’s early learning framework, which is centred on the foundations of wellbeing, engagement, expression, and belonging. Are games even engaging if it’s not your turn?

I should probably back up here and provide some context for my opinions. As a child, I did not like games and I found most of them intimidating. I was fairly sensitive and the “thrill” or excitement of a game was easily mis-felt as anxiety. As an adult, I still don’t really like games. I love to share experiences with people, and when and if we come up with a game spontaneously, I love it. But I hate entering into a kind of dynamic that is arbitrarily designed, easily forgotten, prescribed for strategy that I can’t yet forsee, and that plots me against my loved ones. I just don’t find most games enjoyable. They’re up there with not understanding social rules in certain spaces/places. Which, I might add, is not because I don’t value cultural norms, routines, or rituals. I’m someone who actually enjoys things like silly small talk, the awkward “hello” passing someone in the street, and the game of how long to I hold the door for the person behind me?!? Those things have value and meaning to me.

I should also consider that perhaps I don’t like games because I’m not good at them. But, that wouldn’t be correct. I actually am often good at the games I do try, even if I’m new at them. I’m often called “smart” (which I could spend a whole other post deconstructing), and I know how to feign a good time, joke about what’s happening, and poke fun at my own mistakes. I don’t think it’s that I’m too serious or too awkward. I think it’s just that games are SO random to me, and they often are not introduced in a gentle, meaningful way. They begin abruptly and it’s a sink-or-swim mentality that I know I do well with. Why waste this skill on a game, when I have grad school to survive? Anyway. I digress.

Beyond my own perspective, I have started to wonder about the developmental significance and appropriateness of games even for preschooler aged children and beyond this age range. How can you determine when children are developmentally able and interested in playing Duck Duck Goose? On one hand, I can think of many developmental skills that can be facilitated through participation in these games. Like gross motor skills, expressive language, sharing space and resources, learning social rules… But on the other hand, I feel that these games are so incredibly arbitrary, unauthentic, and, in some cases, a result of lack of adult imagination to partner in more spontaneous versions of play. There are probably well-outlined answers to these perplexing thoughts, so I likely need to just do some googling. But before I did that, I wanted to document this naive disorientation in case any readers wanted to join me in this journey.

*Note: as I type this I begin to feel that the lines between these examples of what is a “game” and what is a routine or pattern are becoming more and more blurry for me. Perhaps I can actually see a rationale for when, how, and why to include games, and their pedagogical importance for demonstrating relevant concepts. Of course, the intentional use of games can be quite useful for creating a sense of belonging, understanding social rules, and for creating healthy experiences of joy, competition, and how to respond to all of the feelings that arise from things like not winning, working hard, being exhausted, and anticipating your turn. I get that.

But are games play?

Play, as I know it, is voluntary, purposeful, and done for its own sake or enjoyment. I don’t understand why there is an emphasis on gamification within play. I briefly consulted the Right to Play website, and the first image is a child with a backpack, and the second are two photos juxtaposed: one of children kicking a soccer ball and one of professional athletes playing soccer. These suggest to me that the purposes of play is for either school-readiness or professional-level entertainment and skill. Neither of these reflect play for its own sake, nor do they represent why play is meaningful and useful to children during childhood. Even when I read the UN right’s of the child, the elements of play are focused on games. Childhood is so much more than preparation for the future and deserves its own quality of life. Have we forgotten what play looks like outside of games? Beyond rules, there is so much room for playfulness, rigor, competition, and measurement of excellence. I wonder if in this reliance and focus on games and rules, might we forgotten the value of spontaneity, engagement without reward, and crafting our own journeys. In higher-ed I often hear that undergrads don’t have skills to self-direct their learning, to chart their own course, and/or to manage how to meet competing priorities. But learning processes are disorienting and knotted, and they require so much inner navigation to begin with. Do we train children to learn rules of specific games and then punish them later in life for not learning the larger games of life, learning, inquiry, and love? That’s a question well beyond the limits of my knowledge, but something I am pondering.

All of this, of course, must be contextualized based on each group of children, what their shared interests are, and what developmental skills they currently have opportunities to engage with. Should I ever have a group of children asking to play Duck Duck Goose again and again, I will (and have) honoured that. And I have participated whole heartedly in the joy and journeys within games such as this one. I think in writing this, though, I have realized that questioning the use of games is entirely appropriate, fair, and necessary. They have a (clearly) place in childhood, but they may or may not meet every purpose in my care, pedagogy, and exploration of interests with children. I likely won’t be able to look at games the same, and would like to be quite intentional and where, when, and how I encourage the use of games with children. I plan to consult a few more resources on the use of games in early childhood to better understand in which situations games are a valuable approach to supporting children in their play/learning/development.

Micro-Teaching Session – Revisited

What went well and what didn’t go well?

I ended up changing quite a bit of my lesson based on the feedback I got and the personal reflecting I did afterwards. I think I made a good choice to really focus on one small element of the content and to provide more space for the learners to self-reflect. That in turn felt more aligned with Indigenous pedagogy, because the learners were able to draw upon their own knowledge sources to contribute to the lesson. I got feedback that my choice not to use slides ended up being effective in creating some human connection and reflection over zoom, rather than just a one-way channel of information exchange.

I was unsure how it would feel for the learners to move between zoom and the Jamboard that I used. I tried to direct the learners to specific parts of the Jamboard when necessary, and my feedback told me that that was quite useful. While this was nice to hear, I realized that my commitment to not using slides does not necessary mean that I achieve the outcome I desired. I tried to created a less hierarchical learning environment or a more relational space without slides – but it only felt like that happened the second time (I got much better feedback the second time I implemented the same strategies, which tells me that being an effective educator really is a unique blend of so many characteristics and strategies). By not using slides, it meant that students were leaving the zoom space to look at and access the Jamboard. This strategy could have easily perpetuated the same dynamics that I was trying to avoid and that I felt were not aligned with Indigenous pedagogy as I currently know it. Therefore, I acknowledge that a challenge of trying to learn about, foster, and implement Indigenous pedagogical strategies is that it can actually be much more personal than other pedagogical philosophies or strategies. It was my own humanity, it seems, that sparked some reflection and connection for the learners. This makes me wonder about how else I can try to foster connection, relationships, and belonging in my learning spaces.

With this knowledge, I must also acknowledge that this is an on-going learning journey that I am on. How I have chosen to initially attempt to implement these strategies may be wildly different in 3 years. In the future, I plan continue to create and consult my list of pedagogical strategies that I’ve been making as part of my goals – not to hoard knowledge, but so that I can draw upon a bank of a variety of strategies depending on what the learning outcome is for a particular lesson. Since seeing my talk without slides was helpful for sparking reflection, how might I chose to introduce a different topic with a different outcome? And how might that topic and/or strategy align or contrast with what I’ve learned about Indigenous pedagogy?

What have you learned about your teaching or you as an instructor through this process that is different from your first delivery?

What a gift it is to have space to try something twice, after receiving feedback. It was so valuable to be able to hear my peers’ feedback and to make adjustments to meet their needs. Without their feedback I would have had to guess what worked and what didn’t. The most valuable realization I’ve had about myself, is that I want to have “space” in my teaching style for learners to reflect, engage, and “linger in generative space”. It doesn’t feel right for me to always be talking, telling, and convincing. Sometimes I want learners to convince each other. Sometimes I want someone to think differently after a provocation or invitation. I want learners to be able to have space to wonder, ponder in reverence, and to have affective experiences, not just cognitive ones. These insights are not necessarily new to me, because I have been trained to think this was as an ECE, but finding ways to translate that into higher education is what I have learned in this course.

Unfortunately, it seems that there aren’t many organic opportunities for feedback to occur within my grad school training. But since I’ve recognized the value of seeing if my intentions translated to impact, what I can do is to intentionally create or engage in those feedback opportunities. In the future, this means continuing to seek feedback on my teaching, through having an observer, through presenting to peers, through using feedback tools like Qualtrics surveys, and through ongoing professional development in the area of SoTL (not just my content areas).

What did you change or improve upon based on the feedback you received from your first delivery?

After much thought, I decided not to include the feedback related to rethinking my lack of slides. But what I did instead is add information to the Jamboard so that learners could follow along visually if they wanted that. I was really concerned with wanting the learners to have visual access to the information after I got feedback about my lesson not feeling structured, and wanted to find a way to resolve my competing interests in way that still felt aligned with the Indigenous pedagogical strategies I was using. This felt like a good way to compromise and include some of both methods (and it was brought to my attention that in person this would be different because I could just give a hand-out). I chose to copy and paste some key information into the chat on Zoom, such as the learning outcomes and the quotation I used as my bridge in.

I noticed that last time I didn’t feel like there was enough thinking and reflective space for the learners so I took out 2 sections of my content, and instead focused on the what epistemology is, rather than different epistemological orientations. I was quite rushed last time and didn’t feel like I left learners with a clear message or idea. Whereas this time, the simplicity brought with it a focus that all learners could engage with.

I chose to take out my pre and post assessment for the sake of time and simplicity, and opted to use the Zoom reaction feature for some feedback about student’s knowledge. I got some helpful feedback that doing that in a large class might be problematic due to anonymity, number of reactions, and not being able to compare the results. I really appreciated this, and it got me thinking about the value of engaging with the same group of learners and peers so that in our space answering my question in a non-anonymous way didn’t feel intimidating. What I mean by this is I wonder if having small break out rooms with the same people each week could allow learners to create a small community of practice for themselves, and a safe space to be themselves, grapple with content, and learn authentically. It’s funny how feedback about a Zoom reaction ended up making me reflect on the larger learning environment and sense of belonging.

For my future work, I am really pondering how and where I can find “space” in my lessons to allow for active self-reflection, engagement, and the creation of some sense of community. I really have valued that classes I have been a part of that offer a space that I feel I can contribute to and that moves at a pace that lets me grapple with things that are just beyond my current knowledge. I’m quite happy with how my second less went, and I would love if I could re-create that effect in other spaces that I enter as an educator. I have started to think about what I would need in order to recreate the success I felt, and part of it includes knowledge of my learners (which I may or may not have). As Dale said, sometimes we make pedagogical and universal design decisions based on the learners once we have a relationship with them. I’m thinking about where and when I can create that rapport and culture. But I’m also thinking about how I will have to seek feedback from my students within a single lesson, unit, or semester, in order to make these appropriate adjustments. Since it’s unlikely that I give the same lesson twice to a group of learners, I am trying to think about how else I can receive feedback for times when I give a second lesson on different content or with a new group of learners.

What would you have done differently if you had another chance to deliver it again

I would make my active learning task even more simple. I so badly wanted to push learners to think beyond the traditional academic frameworks of knowledge, but I’ve realized that I may have to let some of that go (or make it more explicit as part of my learning outcomes). Because with this being part of the hidden curriculum, it made that last activity is bit muddy. As part of my future practice, I want to be fairly clear on what I want learners to learn and why, and I don’t want there to be additional information or a hidden agenda. I might have to continue to reflect upon my own values and how I can suspend them in order in places where appropriate. I don’t really believe I can be a fully objective educator, but I believe I can work form a pragmatic place such that I can support learners in their own journeys rather than convince them to follow mine. In that regard, this is a challenge that I am still grappling with, especially on a topic like Indigenous pedagogy because it is a topic that can be “mastered” by a white person, not something learned in a set amount of time, and there definitely is not a mapped out curriculum in order to become competent in this area. It is a messy and ongoing journey of un-learning and re-learning, and a journey that perhaps is not for everyone.

Addtionally, I wish I had asked for feedback about what it meant for me as a white cis-woman to be delivering a lesson using Indigenous pedagogy. I would like to know if it felt extractive. That felt like an icky thing for me to be doing and something I need to continue to reflect upon and seek support on in my future as a culturally-responsive, relationship-based educator.

Goal Progression Reflection

Here, I will be reflecting on my progression towards achieving the goals I set for myself this semester. For context, my goals are included here:

Goal 1: By the end of this semester, I will be able to facilitate a 20-minute interaction lesson with students through zoom. To achieve this, I will implement activities in my micro-teaching session, including menti, jamboard or kahoot, which ask the learners to contribute collaboratively to answering questions or reflect upon the information that is being discussed. If I can implement these tools, receive student engagement through their use of these tools, and if I am able to respond to my peers’ answers, I will feel I have achieved this goal.

Goal 2: By the end of this semester, I will be able to implement one teaching strategy for online seminars that is culturally responsive to Indigenous students’ needs and that is aligned with Indigenous pedagogical practices. To do this, I will review four to five peer-reviewed articles on Indigenous pedagogy and teaching approaches and create short summaries (much like the ones in the SOTL snapshots) for my own learning and reflection. I may decide to post them on my blog. While I would like to gauge this goal by getting feedback from an Indigenous student, I also feel that asking such a thing may be inappropriate at this time. If this is not possible, instead, when I create my teaching philosophy statement, I will integrate my new knowledge about an Indigenous pedagogical approach into my statement. I will feel successful in this goal if by the end of the semester I can describe, in detail, one teaching strategy that I can use virtually that is rooted in Indigenous pedagogy and that is appropriate for me, a white settler, to implement in a University class setting.

Goal 3: By the end of the semester, I will be able to create assignment instructions that are rooted in inclusion and equity, such that the grading criteria is as universally accessible as possible to students from diverse cultural backgrounds, lived experiences, disabilities, and identities. I hope to learn more about universally accessible learning strategies through this course (such as the “late bank” article from SoTL snapshot). My aim is to take what I learn in moments like these and keep a list of ways that these can be incorporated into an assignment I make.

Have you met your learning goals checkpoints or already reached some goals? If you have not, how much have you deviated from them?

Regarding my first goal, this is something that cannot be fully achieved within the parameters of this course, since our micro-teaching session is 10 minutes. However, I have already met part of this goal, since I facilitated my mircro-teaching session using menti and a jamboard. I felt really proud of my self for using these tools in these capacities and it went well. In my role as a TA I gave 2 80 minute lectures last week using jamboard, menti, and googledocs, and I had very high student engagement. I even asked for feedback on my lessons via Qualtrics and got really positive feedback around how clear my instructing was. This let me know that my use of these tools in practice might be going quite well. Something I noticed during my microteaching session, however, that is a challenge in terms of me reaching this goal completely, is that I did not have high engagement on the jamboard. This is likely due to what I reflected on last week (too much content for a 10 minute lesson). To address this, I am making some changes to that portion of my activity, so that it is much more manageable for the 10 minute lesson. I don’t believe I’ve deviated from the goal in any other way yet.

Regarding my second goal, I have read 3 articles about Indigenous pedagogy and while I did not reflect on them directly here, I integrated several strategies into my micro-teaching session and cited the authors in my previous post. While I still have a long way to go in terms of how to implement Indigenous pedagogy without further stealing Indigenous wisdom, I am quite pleased that I was able to attempt this and that I stuck to my commitment to doing so. While I cannot meet the second half of my goal through this course since we are not creating teaching philosophy statements, I have signed up to attend the teaching dossier cafes with OTL and I hope that through those workshops that I can begin to create my teaching philosophy statement. Additionally, and for context, I created a teaching philosophy statement last year as part of my training as an educator, so I am hoping to work with that one since it already includes many of the elements of SoTL (e.g., active learning and fostering inclusive learning environments). Learning about Indigenous pedagogy has really challenged me as an educator, academic, and white person, and I am hoping that this is something I continue to learn about. I have begun to make some future plans to continue my learning journey about Indigenous pedagogy through helping to create the Catalyst Truth and Reconciliation Program curriculum on Courselink by engaging with many resources related to decolonizing academia and understanding Indigenous pedagogy in practice. Additionally, I am hoping to engage in SoTL work related to Indigenous pedagogy with a fellow masters student. In this way, this goal has expanded beyond a one-semester item to achieve, and evolved into a broader axiological commitment. The only way I have deviated from this goal, is that I have noticed a need to read articles, books, poems, and hear spoken word about Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing, culture, truth, and reconciliation by Indigenous authors – beyond SoTL articles about Indigenous pedagogy. This means reading broader texts about concepts I have to understand in order to effectively implement the Indigenous pedagogical strategies I have learned.

Regarding my third goal, I am pleased to see that I am much more familiar with UDL and UID a this time, but I feel that I have not progressed towards this goal as much as I would have liked. I feel that the closest I have come to this goal is assessing the pre-created syllabus. I have started a list of strategies that I hear about within this course (which is great), but a challenge of this, I have realized, is that I am missing the chance to actually practice these in reality. I don’t believe there is actually an opportunity for me to create an assessment within this class, and in order for me to fully feel like I have met this goal, I would like to actually try creating a few assessments in reality. In the future I should make sure that there are in fact ways for me to meet my goals within the context in which they were created. Finally, I have deviated from feeling committed to this goal, and I think this is because I have realized that in addition to UDL and IUD, relational pedagogy also plays a role in my decision-making processes related to how accessible and relevant my lessons and assessments are as an instructor. This was something Dale mentioned in a class, and something that has stuck with me ever since.

What have you learned are your greatest strengths, so far?

I have learned a lot about my strengths and areas for improvement within this course. Most obviously, I have realized that I have become a fairly brave student. Whether that is due to my age (30), number of years in higher ed (8), other life experience (living with a mental illness as a privileged white woman), or the learning I’ve done lately (related to power, privilege, and experiences of equity-seeking groups), I have began to speak up about difficult topics, hopefully in a fairly inclusive way. One challenge I have noticed in doing this, however, is that perhaps not everyone is feeling as brave as I am. Some folks may feel called-out when I don’t intend that to be the impact of these conversations, or engagement in particular topics may feel burdensome to the marginalized students in the class. One of my ideas about my future plans as a student, is to consider who has the capacity and power to be a brave student, who space safes are for, and who is excluded in these spaces or conversations and to what extent? As a fairly young, white, “mad”, queer, cis-woman inclusion of myself does not inherently mean inclusion of a non-binary peer, a BIPOC guest speaker, or an instructor who is older than me. Therefore, I plan to continue thinking about and reflecting on when, where, and why I will use my bravery in these learning environments. I would also like for my peers and instructor to continue to give me feedback on their perspective when I speak up about something or if I am sharing my opinion too frequently.

What are your biggest areas for improvement?

One thing I have struggled with in this course is fully understanding the expectations. Since this course is pass/fail and I have some of the knowledge of pedagogical best practices, I have felt a little bit like perhaps I didn’t need to read everything fully in order to grasp it. That has turned out to not be the case. I have so much more to learn about SoTL and to be successful in this course I need to ensure I still prioritize reading the materials. In particular, understanding how topics I’ve learned about previously (e.g., active learning or Bloom’s taxonomy) can be used in new contexts such as online learning or syllabi, and this proves I can’t assume I know how to do these things without fully reading the new materials and engaging in the activities. For the remainder of the course I plan to have a more open mind/growth mindset so that I can receive this new information with grace.

Do you feel that anything hindered you from reaching your checkpoints or goals? Had anything helped you?

A few things have helped and hindered me in my progression towards my goals. While I have mentioned a few things, I would like to add that my own motivation has been a driving factor in working towards my second goal outside of class. I have pretty clear and deep commitments to understanding Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing, decolonizing my own life, and fostering allyship in various avenues of my life. This larger vision and purpose has really resulted in my prioritization of my second goal, and has also presented additional opportunities within my life from which I can learn, practice, and build my skillset related to Indigenous pedagogy.

Something that has hindered me in this goal is my lack of connections with Indigenous pedagogistas, or knowledge-holders, from whom I can be mentored. Dale mentioned in a class that I connect with people on campus to continue to learn in the ways that I want to for this goals.

Additionally, something that is hindering my completion of all of my goals is poor planning when I made the goal. Several of my goals cannot be completed within the parameters of this class. Whether that was optimism on my part when creating goals, or not fully understanding the opportunities within the class, I now cannot fully meet the goals I set out.

What would you do differently if you were to write your learning goals again? Are there learning goals would you like to add? Any you would like to remove?

As mentioned above, some of the specific elements of my goals cannot be achieved within this class, so next time I write goals I would ensure that there are opportunities for me to meet them (e.g., a chance to create an assessment during this class) within the parameters present.

Additionally, my goals include several elements, so in the future I might want to include less detail in my goals so that they can be achieved in a slightly boarder way (e.g., focus my final goal on one UDL strategy). A challenge for me in doing that, means that I have to read all the course materials ahead of time, ask more clarifying questions, ask for feedback, and maybe even do some research before hand so that my goal is not so complex. Additionally, I may consider adjusting my goals slightly to include the knowledge I have now. For example, here is how I might re-write my third goal with my knowledge of UDL and UID now:

NEW Goal 3: By the end of the semester, I will be able to create assignment instructions that I believe is equitable, accessible, and fosters belonging in students. To do this, I will use a strategy that are rooted in Universal Design for Learning from SoTL. For example, I will try creating assignment instructions that include the option for student choice in how they present their assignment, in order to support the engagement and expression elements of UDL. I will also start a list to keep track of strategies like this that I might like to use, including how to use these strategies in practice and what assessment practices I may need to adopt in order have my assessments match these expectations.

I wouldn’t add goals at this time, since I feel like these goals are still relevant to me. Hopefully, in the future I can expand on these goals and continue my learning journey in SoTL beyond this course.

A White Woman Pondering Power and Privilege in Classrooms

The discussion that occurred during our class about power in the classroom is still resonating within me – not because we found solutions, but because we got into some questions and wonderings. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about power and privilege within SoTL, especially when it comes to grading things like spelling and grammar/use of the English language, microaggressions in feedback, and how we may need to reimagine many of the principles that are defined in SoTL in order to decolonize and deconstruct the ableist, racist, and classist structures that are upheld by academic institutions.

In a course I took last semester I wrote a spoken word poem about research as reconciliation (as I currently understand it), and how I saw connections to music through this idea of deep listening (with the whole body/mind), an on-going two-way conversation, and dance of accountability in call-and-response style. I concluded the poem with some current axiological commitments, epistemological justice ideas, relational ontological orientations, ideas about seeking equity and inclusion in various learning environments, and this notion that I must “know” responsibly. This idea that I have responsibility, is extended within all my relations (including the more-than-human ones), and inherent to me because I hold many privileges and power as a TA, RA, white, able-bodied, cis-gendered, white, woman who has lived in Guelph all her life. I often think of privilege in terms of (lack of) lived experiences and, in some ways, gifts. Robin Wall Kimmerer discusses two aspects of receiving gifts: one is that I am now in reciprocal debt, and two “with gifts comes responsibility”. Likewise, “with great power comes great responsibility”. My point here is that I feel I have stepped into, and feel grounded by, my responsibilities within academia.

Reflection 3 – Micro-Teaching Session

As I move into my reflection on my micro-teaching session, I bring in many of the concepts I have been pondering about power and privilege in classrooms. My micro-teaching session was about epistemology and I was using Indigenous pedagogical strategies. In my preparation for facilitating this sessions, I read three articles and a book chapter related to Indigenous pedagogy and Indigenization within academia. I decided that I was not going to do a lecture for my 10 min session. I wasn’t going to teach about Indigenous content or use slides either. I did this because even though the use of slides and visuals are typically part of SoTL best practice, they did not align with Indigenous pedagogy as I am currently understanding about it. For my own learning, I wanted to err on the side of practicing these skills, rather than practicing my use of slides and visuals.

I ended up seeing a lot of overlap in the strategies I was reading about, and realized that I could implement several pedagogical strategies at once to break down the hierarchy that typically exists in teacher-student classroom dynamics. Therefore, I intentionally used 7 strategies (a lot, I see now) in my micro-teaching session. I put a lot of care into facilitating a lesson that was decolonized as much as possible, because this is what I had learned about in the articles I read, and because this felt like the step I really wanted to practice in terms of my skill set. The 7 strategies I used included:

  • Employing non-hierarchical teaching structure, as in no “us” and “them” culture between teacher and students (Papp, 2020). I did this by not presenting slides and instead having a more casual conversation. I also encouraged students to change their location (e.g., sit on a couch and turn off the camera) in order to mimic the environment described in Papp’s article.
  • Using a culturally responsive and affirming activity (Papp, 2020). I did this by encouraging students to include their own personal truths and what is individually meaningful. I included a medicine wheel as a prompt to think beyond academic forms of knowledge in order to think about embodied knowledge.
  • Employing relational pedagogy: building community, collaboration, trust, value and respect for each other’s ideas (Papp, 2020). I did this a little bit by including self-reflection and group activities rooted in the student’s personal knowledge. I tried to model being an accomplice for students’ success, rather than an evaluator.
  • Employing experiential learning (Papp, 2020). I tried to demonstrate this through the activities being connected to students own knowledge. It is difficult to facilitate experiential learning virtually in 10 minutes, but my aim was for this to be an internal experience of reconceptualizing knowledge.
  • Peer mentoring (Ragoonaden & Meuller, 2017). While I didn’t explicitly have students mentor each other, I encouraged students who answered that they knew about epistemology to take on a leadership role within the activity that we are going to do. The activity was collaborative and allowed for learning to happen between students via the jamboard. I also included an “up-vote” feature to build some feelings of connections between students.
  • Including (centring) Indigenous worldviews (Papp, 2020). This lesson is less about transferring any type of specific knowledge and instead encourages students to use self-reflection and embodied knowledge to generate their own insights, and then categorize their current knowledge by three broad categories of epistemology. I prompted students to think of how the medicine wheel might reflect the three broad types of epistemology, without directly teaching Indigenous content.
  • Allowing students to self-pace the main learning task (Papp, 2020). I did this by allowing students to continue to work on the jamboard at their own pace after the class.
  • Including Indigenous knowledges throughout the lesson at a variety of levels, not just in the content (as per Pidgeon’s (2016) lit review). I did this by not teaching directly about Indigenous worldviews, but by imploring my strategies in a variety of ways and by empowering students to think beyond Eurocentric ideals of knowledge.

Clearly, I thought deeply about how to implement Indigenous pedagogy in practice from the articles I read. I also need to acknowledge that much of my understanding thus far comes from the conversations I have had with faculty and peers around decolonization, Indigenization, and reconciliation. Having been taught by Kim Anderson for a few guest lectures helped me challenge my own understanding of Indigenizing curriculum. Additionally, my mentorship by Andrea Breen was truly transformative for me in terms of understanding my own positionality and impacts of my privilege. There is no “how-to” guide for decolonizing academia, despite the above list that I provided. Like I said, I am a white woman, and for me to attempt to facilitate a lesson plan based on Indigenous pedagogy that I simply read about rather than getting mentored on by an Indigenous individual can be considered problematic.

All this to say that I knew I had a lot packed into my micro teaching session, which was intentional given the responsibility I felt for doing this task justice. And yet, when I facilitated my session, it felt like it fell flat.

What went well

I am very proud to say that I felt like I took a risk in trying to decolonize my own pedagogical practice. It was a valuable learning moment for me. I very clearly used BOPPS model (I did a pre and post assessment with menti), I used many active learning strategies (a jam board for a group activity), and I said my learning outcomes at the start of my lesson.

What did not go well

The concept of time is not something that is necessarily translated directly in Indigenous cultures, as I currently understand them. Having a 10 minute teaching session in and of itself goes against many cultural practices and beliefs of the peoples of Turtle Island (I think). Instead, learning unfolds overtime, and is something we are in relation with. Therefore the initial set up of the activity went against my understanding of how I could implement Indigenous pedagogy respectfully.

Beyond that, my initial reaction to facilitating my lesson was that it was way too full. I spoke quickly, despite being fairly calm, and I didn’t have enough time to allow my learners to try the last activity. I realized that without any visual information learners couldn’t refer back to some of the things I was saying.

I had mentioned in my session that I didn’t include slides on purpose, but I didn’t say why I did this, because it was tied to creating a non-hierarchical learning environment which was one of my strategies for using Indigenous pedagogy. I thought that this would be obvious to my learners, and that it would be silly to explain my teaching strategy when I was going to demonstrate it any way. But through feedback, I learned something different: it was suggested that I could have explained why I was not using slides. This was a useful perspective to consider and something I still contemplating for my next session. I likely just need to find a concise way to say what I said above, although I feel uncertain about making a link between a lack of slides and Indigenous pedagogy because I am not an expert on this concept, and many Indigenous instructors likely use slides. This tension is something I am working through as a white person, particularly in ensuring that I am not co-opting Indigenous oral traditions but that I am also growing my own capacity to teach outside of the traditional academic structure. Perhaps for the scope of this assignment, I need to just use slides. I’ll have to see how I feel after thinking about it some more.

Challenge: While I completely understand and agree with this feedback, I don’t understand how I could also create the time to explain my teaching strategies to create that transparency for learners in a 10 min teaching session. I could have easily spent 10 minutes explaining Indigenous pedagogy, and it felt like knowing some of the basic concepts of Indigenous pedagogy would be a prerequisite for me to have meaningful feedback from my peers. To do this topic justice, I think it would help to have a brief time ahead of the lesson where I can explain my intentions and why Indigenous pedagogy often doesn’t align with typical pedagogical approaches in University. I suppose my question is: who is my target audience and what relationship do we already have to one another when I do this micro teaching session?

Another piece of feedback I got was that I could include a written version of my learning objectives for learners to refer back to and for visual organization purposes. I hadn’t considered that what I was doing was inaccessible to students and not helpful for their learning. This is a piece of feedback I am going to use in my next session, but I am not going to do it via slides. I am either going to type it in the chat or put it in the jamboard link. Doing so just does not align currently with my understanding of Indigenous pedagogy and goes against my values for doing this concept justice, as I have mentioned.

Challenge: The irony to all this is that in all my effort to decolonize a lesson plan, I was kind of told … not to do that. I had quite an emotional reaction to this and nearly had to turn off my camera to hide tears that were forming. I wasn’t upset that I got constructive feedback – I crave that, and I attempt to welcome it with grace. I was upset that I felt resistance to my attempt to implement Indigenous pedagogy…in a session DESIGNED to facilitate Indigenous pedagogy. I thought “if I can’t feel supported in decolonizing a 10 min lesson that is ABOUT imploring Indigenous pedagogy, why are we including it in this class and how would be actually decolonize this institution?” I felt really disappointed and discouraged in that moment. This strong initial reaction led me to linger on the feedback I got and to deconstruct the feedback and my reaction.

What I learned about being an educator and myself

After having a strong reaction to getting feedback about my teaching session I realized I had some deconstructing to do. I had initially attributed all of this feedback to just be about Indigenous pedagogy, instead of attributing it to my own pedagogical skills. I starting asking myself: how much of the ownership to facilitate a session using Indigenous pedagogical strategies is on me? How much is on the learners and my peers and instructor in this course? I realized that I have some responsibility to take here. I can implement the ideas I discussed above, but I also also accept that I am not going to be an expert at using Indigenous pedagogical skills the first time I do so. To expect myself to be good at it is actually a very colonizing idea – that I can just take Indigenous concepts and benefit from them. So I’ve realized that I need to continue to build these skills, and perhaps it goes beyond the scope of this course to find a mentor to help me with this. That being said, I also would ask that if I am expected to demonstrate my skills in this area that my peers and instructor are able to understand this area of SoTL and think deeply about what it means to decolonize a lesson plan.

Future Implications: Since I realized that I need to consider that the challenges that occurred could be co-owned by myself, my peers, and the instructor, I have come back to this idea of the importance of reflective practice and getting effective feedback. If I am not clear in my teaching strategy, regardless of how decolonized it may be, then I’m not being a good instructor. I would like to seek out a mentor or webinar or other learning space where I can practice some of the skills I mentioned and get feedback on them from people who are skilled in the area of Indigenous pedagogy.

Which feedback I will implement

At the time of writing this I am still reflecting on all of the feedback I got. I likely will implement the things I have mentioned above, in the ways I have mentioned them. Additionally, I asked my group about my topic choice (epistemology) I was given some feedback that perhaps it was a heavy topic. I was given feedback that I could include more Indigenous examples in the examples section that I had for the three types of epistemological orientations. Initially, I thought this was a great idea and a huge oversight on my part. But upon reflection, I realized that this is akin to simple injecting Indigenous content into my lesson. So I have decided I will include only 1/4 written examples in each section that is rooted in Indigenous Ways of Knowing, but I will verbally explain the active learning task using a land-based example. I think that in doing so this will make a more explicit connection between my topic of epistemology, Indigenous Ways of Knowing, and these 7 Indigenous pedagogical strategies I listed above.

While I wasn’t given direct feedback on the use of my 7 strategies explicitly, I am thinking I will need to just focus on one or two in order for my peers to give me feedback on those strategies specifically. I think it perhaps wasn’t obvious to my peers and instructor that I had tried to decolonize the entire lesson plan, and in many ways perhaps that was not the point of this task. While implementing the 7 strategies was helpful and meaningful for my own learning, I am thinking about focusing on, say, just not using slides, and getting feedback on how that felt as learners. There are additional features that may help with processing auditory information from an accessibility perspective, such as the transcript feature in zoom. Finding creative ways to still provide a lesson that is aligned with Indigenous pedagogy tricky, and it is a task that may require some flexible thinking from the learners. I may simply have to state that.

Additional Reflections

Giving Feedback

I wanted to reflect on some additional challenges I noticed while giving feedback to peers. If my peers had used the BOPPS model, it was easy to give feedback on those features. If they didn’t, but then wanted feedback on the BOPPS model, I hope it prompted some self-reflection for my peers. It felt like perhaps not the most productive use of our time otherwise. Additionally, I noticed that one of my peers did not implement a specific learning strategy but instead taught about it. I think some further clarification may need to be made, despite us as students asking many times about what the micro-teaching session was designed to accomplish.

Some feedback comments I heard from one student came across as concerning to me. These comments included that the one of our classmates should “smile more” when presenting and that their session was good for not being a native English language speaker. Neither of these feedback comments were asked for by the peer that had just facilitated their micro-teaching session. These comments were affirmed by the instructor which I found further concerning. In the moment, I understood that maybe prior conversations had elicited these comments in ways that I was not aware of, but I found them very startling, inappropriate, and condescending. I know that not everyone has the same knowledge about comments that are considered to be microaggressions, but I nontheless had a strong emotional reaction to this. I was happy to see some pushback on the second comment from another peer who spoke English as a second language. My thoughts were along the lines of “if we can’t give each other feedback that doesn’t include microaggressions related English speaking abilities, what does it mean that we are perpetuating as instructors? What views do we hold of students who may not speak English fluently or who do not smile?”. There are ways to give feedback on each other’s facial expressions or energy without directly telling an individual that they should smile more. I wish I had spoken up in the moment to challenge these comments and in the future I plan to address them in a gentle way. Additionally, it would be great to discuss microaggressions ahead of giving feedback to one another in order to consider how to address this is in the future.

Future implications: These kinds of mistakes can happen to anyone. Even though I identified concerning comments, I myself am not immune from saying a microaggressive comment to a peer or student within any of my roles. While there are many webinars and learning opportunities related to anti-racism and EDI, I am wondering about learning how to respond as an educator when we make these mistakes or when we are given feedback that something we did may have been inappropriate. How can we get that feedback from peers? I’d rather be told by somebody I trust that what I’ve said is problematic than to hurt a group of students. How can we create learning environments that hold space for calling each other into having these tough conversations? I would rather be part of a brave learning environment that had the capacity to stretch in order to address these concepts than focus on mastering content. And yet, as a white cis-gendered, able-bodied person, I shouldn’t be the one to fully decide this. I have heard from my Black friends that being in school right now as the only Black student in a class is exhausting. There are many conversations where white people are reflecting on their privilege and the Black student is simply called in for their perspective. We may need learning spaces where white learners don’t need to burden Black students with their reflections without reinventing segregation. Therefore, I am just wondering about seeking out and/or creating on going learning opportunities and spaces for educators to engage in reflective practice that relates to deconstructing how they handled situations. This things obviously informally exist in that I can ask peers or friends for their perspective, but this feedback is not necessarily informed by SoTL. I plan to continue to think about this situation and how I might support myself and my peers in learning from our mistakes, where appropriate.

Syllabus and Lesson Plan Reflections

Reflection 2: Evaluating a Syllabus

What I learned from the evaluation of the syllabus

The syllabus evaluation exercise prompted me to think about communicating expectations and to students. I chose this course outline because I know that it includes scaffolding assignments and trains students on designing program plans for young children. The course is called Program Design for Children and is a second year course with in the Child Studies program here at Guelph, in FRHD. There is a lot of cross over with this content and lesson planning for adults. But the interesting thing that I noticed is that these scaffolded assignments which include summative feedback are not well described to students who read the syllabus. A student likely just sees the 3 assignments with different grades attached, but there isn’t a clear description that these assignments all build on each other (in reality I know they do, since I’ve taken the course and TA the course and spoken at length with the department about this). Further, only one assignment is thoroughly explained, and no grading breakdown was provided within this document. A light-bulb moment for me and inference I made from this is that by these standards, a course outline must stand on its own without needing to make these connections for students through verbal instructions. I wonder whether University instructors are aware that this is best practice in SoTL. Syllabi are often explained in the first week of class with a break down of major assignments, so I wonder how many instructors rely on this clarification process to discuss the nuances of the syllabus with the learners.

Additionally, while I really liked the learning outcomes, realizing that they did not cover the full range of Fink’s dimensions was interesting. I initially thought that this was an oversight for the course, and that the instructor should consider adding some higher-level skills from the list. Since I know the placement of this course within the larger program curricula, I was able to realize, though, that this might actually not be what the course needs. This course is the first of three courses that scaffold students learning wile they get trained as educators. There are good reasons that some of the higher-level skills are not included here, because students are learning the basic applied skills for observing behaviour, analyzing behaviour from a developmental perspective, and beginning to understand how they might scaffold children’s development using their interests and current abilities. Upon even further reflection, however, I realized that this course also does include some of those higher-level skills such as application (by applying developmental knowledge so that a program plan is developmentally appropriate), and integration (by connecting observations to developmental theory and next-steps in the program plans as an educator), and additional skills such as: collaborating to create a group project, responding to children’s developmental needs, identifying developmental skills from observations, and creating a plan (the students literally create 3 versions of a program plan). These skills are demonstrated by students in a very applied way that we do not typically consider within academia, but they are skills present in these assignments (which I only know from taking and TA’ing the course). After looking back on the learning objectives for this reflection, I see that they do in fact include some of these examples I mentioned, so perhaps I didn’t realize at the time that these covered more of Fink’s dimensions than I originally documented. Regardless I believe the learning outcomes could be adjusted slightly to reflect how students are in fact engaging in the continuum of Fink’s dimensions, even if in different ways that was is typical for academic undergraduate training.

Challenges: One main challenge for choosing a syllabus that I have familiarity with is that I could have been a bit biased in my analysis, such that I was rating it harsher than one of my peers might. In the future it would be interesting for me to do this again with a syllabus that I am not familiar with, to see if I would have interpreted it differently.

Future Implications: I have seen Blooms taxonomy used when developing programs with young children so I know that it is possible to take Fink’s dimensions and align then with the a course’s goals for students. I think that we need to learn about Fink’s dimensions in a way that allows us as future instructors to be flexible with how we apply these verbs in order to fit the expectations of the course. Additionally, I liked learning that sometimes courses intentionally don’t include all dimensions if they are part of a larger scaffolded experience for students. I am wondering if there is away to clearly communicate that to students within the syllabi so that students understand the connections that the learning outcomes have for their future and past courses within a particular program.

Focus of the syllabus

The syllabus is mostly content-focused, and I was “let down” by this because of the irony of a course for educators not including learning-focused elements. Although the learning outcomes provide clear descriptions of some of the learning, there is not a description about what students will learn each week or through each assignment or assessment. Like we discussed in class, having a learning-focused syllabi coveys a warm and welcoming tone, non-hierarchical, student-centred approach to the structure of the class. I feel like it is a hugely missed opportunity to not include at least a few sentences about what students will have the opportunity to learn about each week. This could easily be modified by adding in sentences to the schedule under the content covered each week. Additionally, including more about what learning the students are engaging in within the descriptions in each of the assessments would be an easy way to add in additional information.

Challenge: As noted from the article we read about learning-focused syllabi, there was not a resounding appreciation for the learning-focused syllabi from the individuals in the study. One of the things participants talked about was the syllabus being confusing and long. I also worry about this when learning-centred syllabi. From an accessibility stand point, a long and wordy document may be less helpful in ensuring students can have success in the course, even if it does create a welcoming tone to the document. I hope in the future that I can consider including elements of learning and a warm tone without making the document inaccessible to my students.

Reflection 3: Reflecting on my design of, and feedback from, my lesson plan

Difficult parts of creating a lesson plan

I had a lot of difficulty understanding what we could make the lesson plan about. I ended up not being able to get a lot of feedback on my lesson plan because my partner and I were figuring out what to teach about versus what strategies we could use during the feedback session. I found the most challenging part filling in all the components of the BOPPS model into a 10 minute activity. This was an excellent learning opportunity for me because I tend to plan really long guest lectures so I have a lot to learn in predicting how long each part of the lesson plan will take.

Since I am running a “work shop” on emergent curriculum as a TA in a few weeks, I initially wanted to plan my lesson around this topic as some practice ahead of time. But once I realized I had to use an Indigenous pedagogical strategy, this topic no longer felt aligned with the strategy that I wanted to demonstrate or practice. I brought this up during my feedback session with my peer and they agreed. In response to this realization, I changed my topic to be about epistemology, or Ways of Knowing, since this can clearly be taught using Indigenous pedagogical strategies, at least as I know them to be. Again, fitting this topic and my strategy into 10 minutes was a challenge! But I just did my best to remember that the point of this is for me to practice this skill.

Most difficult part about receiving feedback

My peer gave me honest and helpful feedback. I am fortunate in that my undergrad training really opened me up to receiving feedback with grace, and I welcomed her insight. The main challenge was that she wasn’t as knowledgable about Indigenous pedagogy as I had hoped, so it might have been helpful to discuss it with my group member who is doing the same topic as I am. I tried to explain what I could, but Indigenous pedagogy can go against the things that have allowed us to be successful in academia (as grad students) so it’s not something that can just be explained simply in a 20 minute period. To understand the topic it needs to be revisited again and again, like many things in Indigenous culture, as I currently understand it. So, this was part of the feedback process that felt clunky for me, and not particularly helpful on this strategy.

Admittedly, it was hard to hear that my lesson plan wasn’t as clear as I thought it would be since I have some experience writing lesson plans. I helped me realized that there is still so much for me to learn about creating program plans, and I will never be fully competent in understanding every learner’s perspective. In this way, continuing to learn and get feedback on my lesson plans and teaching strategies is essential for my ongoing professional development. Even when feeling saturating in knowledge in the area of how learning happens, there will always be more for me to learn, and additional perspectives to consider.

Effective Feedback as an Educator

I don’t like thinking of myself as a teacher or having a teaching practice per se. I don’t “teach” as my main responsibility, even as an early childhood educator. I co-learn. I walk with children and students as they learn. My practice is to be a responsive and caring adult (not an expert). I am trained to respond to the needs and curiosities of my learners, by observing and analyzing their skills and interests and extending these abilities through meaningful and engaging activities. In this regard, reflective practice is essential to being a responsive educator who can grow with students. By extension, receiving feedback is a crucial piece of expanding our self-awareness, understanding our impacts on learners, and continuing to adjust our practice over time. There will never be a time where an educator can stop learning about being an effective educator, especially because every group of students is unique. And feedback from others is necessary because we aren’t usually able to fully see past our own biases or to interpret our ideas from the students perspective. I hope I am able to continue to engage in professional development that allows me to have direct feedback on my skills in action (not just learning about concepts without applying them and seeing how it works out).

Additionally, I have realized that practicing something without getting feedback is not always sufficient to ensure that the necessary growth can take place. Practicing without feedback would be like practicing playing music without ever listening to yourself on a recording or getting people to tell you their reactions. It’s a different experience to get direct feedback on your ideas or performance than the act of practicing those ideas or performance. I think that there really isn’t a replacement for getting feedback from others on our pedagogical decisions.

Feedback I am Using

My peer mentioned keeping my active learning activity very simple because I had a lot packed in. I realized that I agreed, and that it might be too much to complete in 10 mins. I realized that I could use this feedback AND implement an additional strategy from the articles I read on Indigenous pedagogy. I could allow students to self-pace their completion of this activity beyond the scope of the lesson plan, which is reflective of how students self-paced their completion of courses in the study I read for my SoTL snapshot (Papp, 2020). I decided to use this feedback in a unique way, and I would not have had this realization without a peer mentioning it in a way that prompted me to think differently about it.

My peer also liked that I included a jamboard and menti link, so I am going to keep both.

Feedback I am not using

My peer mentioned that my topic choice of epistemology was a big topic to discuss in 10 minutes. We chatted a bit about it and I agreed. I probably should change the topic. However, I decided that I wanted to try it anyway because a different topic was not coming to mind that would allow me to utilize an Indigenous pedagogical strategy. From my reading, it is not enough to simple inject Indigenous content into courses in order to decolonize academia, so I felt strongly about avoiding doing that. Instead, I wanted to teach about an academic topic by using documented Indigenous pedagogical strategies like I had learned about. I felt that this was a great extension on the learning I have been doing about Indigenizing the curriculum over the past year or so, and would be a good challenge for myself. I have other opportunities to teach simpler topics so this felt like a risk that I wanted to try for my own learning and growth. We will see how it works out.

Future implications

For the scope of this course, it proved challenging to finish my lesson plan on the topic of epistemology and I had to significantly cut down the content in order to included all the strategies and BOPPS items that I wanted to. I am wondering what is more important for my learning: to demonstrate I can implement BOPPPS in a 10 min lesson plan or to try to decolonize my own pedagogical practice at a deeper level. I can’t seem to do both and meet the expectations of this assignment. I am craving more practicing with implementing Indigenous pedagogy and I am trying to find a way that I can continue to learn about this topic outside of this course.

University Teaching: Theory and Practice – Reflection

The next few blog posts may be a bit different from my past posts about the ECEC sector. I am currently enrolled in an MSc program at the University of Guelph and I am taking a course called University Teaching: Theory and Practice. As both an academic and an educator, I will be documenting some of my learning and development here.

What I Wish to Accomplish This Course

As a Registered Early Childhood Educator (RECE), I have been reimagining my image of “learners”, how learning happens, what inclusive learning environments look/feel/sound like, how best to document learning, and my role as a co-learner/”educator” for the past few years. The ways in which I think about learners has stretched (shattered, even,) my ideas and definitions of what successful learners look like. I already know that my aim as a current and future educator is to be relationship-based, responsive, and student-centered while I foster engaging and inclusive learning environments. In early learning settings I have gained confidence in facilitating active learning activities, but due to the play-based emergent curriculum in early childhood education and care, there will be some differences between my skillset for learning with young children and learning with adults. So, what does active learning look like at the University level and how can I facilitate it? My first idea for what I hope to accomplish in this course is to be able to translate what I have learned about early learning pedagogy into adult learning strategies. Thus, my first SMART goal is:

By the end of this semester, I will be able to facilitate a 20-minute interaction lesson with students through zoom. To achieve this, I will implement activities in my micro-teaching session, including menti, jamboard or kahoot, which ask the learners to contribute collaboratively to answering questions or reflect upon the information that is being discussed. If I can implement these tools, receive student engagement through their use of these tools, and if I am able to respond to my peers’ answers, I will feel I have achieved this goal.

Additionally, through previous reflections I have identified that I would like my teaching approaches to be rooted in decolonization and equity. This stems from reflecting on “all my relations,” including that with land, and how this intersects with being an educator. Indigenous pedagogy is area in which I have a lot to learn and I can now recognize my contribution to the harm perpetuated by the institutions I participate in. As such, I also hope that in this course I can learn about how to implement Indigenous pedagogical approaches, and how to do so appropriately and with an ethic of care. Thus, my second SMART goal is:

By the end of this semester, I will be able to implement one teaching strategy for online seminars that is culturally responsive to Indigenous students’ needs and that is aligned with Indigenous pedagogical practices. To do this, I will review four to five peer-reviewed articles on Indigenous pedagogy and teaching approaches and create short summaries (much like the ones in the SOTL snapshots) for my own learning and reflection. I may decide to post them on my blog. While I would like to gauge this goal by getting feedback from an Indigenous student, I also feel that asking such a thing may be inappropriate at this time. If this is not possible, instead, when I create my teaching philosophy statement, I will integrate my new knowledge about an Indigenous pedagogical approach into my statement. I will feel successful in this goal if by the end of the semester I can describe, in detail, one teaching strategy that I can use virtually that is rooted in Indigenous pedagogy and that is appropriate for me, a white settler, to implement in a University class setting.

Similarly, I have personal experience, as a student, with student topic choice, late banks, student presentation choice (hence I am currently using a blog that I created in my undergraduate courses since that was an option for some of my previous assignments). As someone who lives with multiple mental illnesses this flexibility and responsiveness allowed me to thrive in my degree program – yet I know first-hand how many students struggle with the elite culture within academia. As someone with a sister who lives with Down Syndrome, I am constantly thinking about how I have learned to repeat instructions multiple ways and to give scaffolded guidance and reminders where appropriate (something that often does not happen with assignments at the undergraduate level). Additionally, as someone who has many peers with families, the benefits of reasonably flexible assignment deadlines are something that is of interest to me. Therefore, I would like to gain confidence in creating some new “norms” in academia that are more equitable, anti-bias, anti-racist, inclusive, and flexible. One area I see myself doing this is through assignments. Thus, my final SMART goal is:

By the end of the semester, I will be able to create assignment instructions that are rooted in inclusion and equity, such that the grading criteria is as universally accessible as possible to students from diverse cultural backgrounds, lived experiences, disabilities, and identities. I hope to learn more about universally accessible learning strategies through this course (such as the “late back” article from SOTL snapshot). My aim is to take what I learn in moments like these and keep a list of ways that these can be incorporated into an assignment I make. In order for an assignment to be accessible, so far, my list of universally accessible criteria is as follows:

  • repeat the instructions several times in several ways,
  • offer some structure but indicate where there is flexibility and student choice,
  • allow students to choose the topic,
  • offer formative feedback from either peers or a TA,  
  • offer a multi-step scaffolded assignment.
  • regarding the grading criteria: I do not want students to be graded on spelling or writing style on the first draft, but I still want there to be feedback provided. The final draft will be graded loosely for spelling and grammar in order to not penalize English language learners, folks who express themselves in a nuanced dialect, or individuals with learning disabilities.
  • offering non-academic avenues of creating the assignment, if they wish (such as a blog, reflection, poetry, or podcast) and if appropriate. I will not have a “hard” deadline that takes marks off for lateness after the initial deadline.

I will measure my success of this goal by creating a mock assignment (about anything I want, the content isn’t important to me right now). I will feel that I have met this goal if I can write the course assignment, as well as a plan for discussing and reviewing the assignment over the semester, that implements the aforementioned components. I hope to get feedback on this assignment from either an instructor, TA, or peer in this course.

Importance of Articulating Learning Goals

Personally, I felt the value in writing out those learning goals because I was able to find meaning in this learning journey and it gives me something to look forward to. During that process I felt attachment to my learning outcomes and felt a sense of responsibility for my learning build. I recognize that in creating my own goals I was able to establish some skills that I may be able to “market’ in the future, and the practice of articulating the goals now provided a clear sense of how to get from where I currently am to where I want to be. Finally, sharing these goals with instructors gave me some sense of “going public” with my learning journey, my intentions, and my interests. Making these things clear to my instructors will help them to be responsive to my interests, but also helped me to feel committed my goals since I shared them with others.  

Strategies and Checkpoints for Progress Towards Goals

In previous courses and in my research work I have created a table or excel file to keep track of items on my to-do list. While achieving these goals may not be a linear process, I believe still documenting steps towards my progress will help me understand, tangibly, where I am at in terms of my journey to “achieving” my goal. I will have to break down my goals into much smaller steps to create items that I can “check” off in my table. I have some ideas about how I can do this, but I also realize that I might have to be flexible in terms of what is attainable over the course of this semester since some of my goals require me to do additional work outside the course. What will be easiest for me is to reflect on my progress weekly, but then have three main check points during the semester where I ask myself “What is working? What is not working? What is unclear?”. Finally, I hope to use this blog to track my progress and reflect upon these learning goals throughout the semester. I will likely end up writing a post outside of the class reflections about one of these goals, because written reflection is a powerful processing tool in my toolkit. If I am to be truly successful in achieving these goals and implementing them in the future as an educator, these will be things that I have to think deeply about and integrate into my Ways of Being as an educator. Essentially, I want to “think” with these goals 6 months from now, not just vaguely recall them once I am a sessional instructor. Finally, I plan to discuss what I learned from these goals with the instructors I currently work with as a TA because they are both responsive to learning how to be better educators (they are both RECEs and Ontario Certified Teachers). So discussing what I learn with them to see if they are willing to implement any of these strategies will be another way that I can integrate these goals into my thinking and Ways of Being.

Instructor and Peer Support

What I need most from instructors and peers is to be able to “linger in generative space”. My learning process is very embodied, and I am typically a very engaged student, so I tend to like to talk things out – but sometimes can dominate the class conversation with my specific interests (i.e., in this case, information about my goals). That being said, I think that I thrive when given this choice, independence, and space to grapple with new concepts like the ones presented in my goals. For me, this looks like having discussions where my peers and I can make connections and even, at times, respectfully debating new concepts. More specifically, opportunities to discuss what I am learning about my goals during the 3-hr seminars will support and validate my feelings of being invested in my goals. I already sense that I may struggle to sit back and listen, because I feel passionate about the practice of pedagogy and I truly want to learn from this course. It will be helpful for me to be given cues from my peers or instructor about when I maybe should stop talking and let others “grapple”. In previous courses where I have been passionate about the topic I have responded well when instructors have directed me towards specific additional readings or resources that are aligned with whatever I may personally be “grappling” with (in this case it will likely be concerns about how, when, and why I can implement Indigenous pedagogical approaches as a settler). In essence, casual conversations with my peers where I can make connections about my goals to other concepts in the course will be helpful, and I ask that both instructors and peers are willing to indulge and support each other as we try this. Additionally, if I am to feel like I have achieved my goals, I will require the opportunities to implement my first goal into my micro teaching session, to write my philosophy statement where I can include what I have learned about an Indigenous pedagogical strategy (and, hopefully, be given feedback about it from the grader), and to create and discuss a mock assignment (I won’t ask for direct feedback on it from a grading perspective but perhaps it is something I can chat with Christie about in her office hours). While not all of these tasks may fall within the course parameters, I would like the opportunity to still try to do them, and to be given some feedback where appropriate, because these are the things that feel most meaningful to me, and I am opening to downsizing my goals if it I realize they are not attainable during this semester.

Music in Early Education and Care: A Call to Find Our Voices and Reimagine Music Within Pedagogy

Throughout my training as an early childhood educator (ECE), I have been provided with the necessary tools to reflect on my experiences, better understand and question how learning happens, and advocate for the rights of children, educators, and families. This training has taught me not only to continuously acknowledge my own social location but to critically assess scenarios and address injustices. I have been extremely empowered and honoured to learn with the community of educators that I know.

One of the most delightful parts about entering the ECEC field at this particular point in time, is that I see the potential for (and utmost respect for) arts education and artistic play. I see the shift from crafts to art. I see the value of and standard for young children’s expression. I see art being considered fundamental to wellbeing and as a tool to foster belonging. I see art being used to engage and invite children and extend their interests. I have witnessed the power of an art studio. But herein lies a discrepancy I noticed: we study and document children’s visual art is such extraordinary ways. But we don’t yet do the same with music.

I started asking educators and teachers around me why they thought that music is not given the same acknowledgement and respect as art. The responses have ranged from “we already sing all day long with the children – it is great for transitions, for routines, for extending interests, and for setting the mood,” and “children are too young to engage in formal music education,” to “well, encouraging fine art makes more sense because children have to be able to hold a pencil once they go to school.”

None of these responses satisfied me. I envision something different: Investment in music. Music studios. Sound exploration materials that are accessible to children at all times. Musical instruments that are both real and designed for children. Opportunities to play with sound the same way we play with other learning materials.

But in order for this to be imaginable, I believe we first have to challenge our understanding of music, as adults. The auditory patterns that we consider to be songs, our personal comfort levels with singing, our ideas about children’s musical competence all may require critical reconsideration. Consider, for example, the competent infant’s rhythmic kicking that we swoon over, but the toddler’s persistent tapping of a toy that we discourage (Young, 2003). Further, when we begin to sing the alphabet song in our lower register: can children’s ears hear the low frequency so similar to our speaking voice; what do you notice when you sing it a higher range/key? (Young, 2016) Moreover, if visual art is so critical to holding a pencil in school, then aren’t skills in auditory discrepancy, self-regulation through movement or humming, and the rhythm, cadence, and auditory discrimination skills so fundamental to hearing and speaking in conversation?

Further, music has long been linked to developmental outcomes and is inherently connected to the skills that are considered to be essential for school readiness (Barrett, Flynn, Brown & Welch, 2019). But, I digress. Simply put: I believe music deserves more recognition. In order to quell my curiousity and to better understand this discrepancy, I embarked on a literature review (not to further highlight the benefits of music for developmental outcomes, but,) to investigate the value of music and approaches to its use in the ECEC field.

Here is a summary of what I found: training programs do not sufficiently prepare educators to competently or confidently include music in their practice (Niland & John, 2016). Yet, educators value music and often deliver it well (Ehrlin & Wallerstedt, 2014) but are not well-equipped to engage in improvisation and informal learning and have to get over some fears before being able to do so (Wright & Kanellopoulos, 2010). Further, the ways in which children currently tend to experience music in ECEC programs is through educators’ singing, there is often very little provision of music-making materials for children, and the use of recorded music tends to lack diversity (Vist & Os, 2019).

In an interview with Maria Cabal (MSc., RECE; acting Pedagogical Leader), she echoed what this literature revealed: there is a startling reliance on recorded music and unnecessary controlled access to instruments, but the reliance on singing might actually be a good thing: children hear our voices in real life, and doing so calms the nervous system. Maria also highlighted that music use is inextricably connected to the four foundations of How Does Learning Happen, but moreover, a fundamental component of simply being and existing in this world. Not to be confused with music enhancing quality of life, Maria said “You only have to reach for your chest to feel the beat… We are alive because of a rhythm.” Moreover, music is neither solely a developmental tool nor a topic of content learning to master in ECEC, but rather, part of our commitment to fostering the development of strategies and dispositions for lifelong learning.

So I ask, how have we gone this far and evolved in ways that has removed the importance of music for living with children? How have we moved from, at one time educators being required to perform piano (Ehrlin & Wallerstedt, 2014) to educators stating “I’m just not a good singer”? How can we help create more just practices that do not deny children the importance of music but also ensure educators’ comfort (within already inadequate working conditions and uncompensated expectations)?

Through my own critical reflection on questions like these, I discovered that not only do I hold music with extremely high regard, but I do so with some formal music training – meaning that I have some musical knowledge but not so much that I solely rely on this training to guide the music use in my practice. Additionally, I developed a professional opinion which essentially posits that educators should be supported in their development of musical confidence and competence as a prerequisite for entering the field – the same way that we must learn to assist in serving food, changing diapers, and reading stories out loud. It may be uncomfortable, but in the best interest of the children, it is necessary and required.

In response to these learnings, I wanted to call on educators to take it upon themselves to critically reflect on their own use of music, and begin to reimagine what music could look like within ECEC. The following are some considerations to review:

  • Educators can feasibly request and attend music trainings that best support educators in understanding children’s musicality, offered by trained musicians, and that also support educator’s development of improvisation skills. Trainings should be taught by music educators who are trained in music and who have the knowledge of children’s musicality (Ehrlin & Wallerstedt, 2014).
  • Educators-in-training can prioritize taking music courses at the college/University level until such courses are mandatory.
  • If you have a rationale for your use of music, I ask: who benefits? Do the children benefit from hearing human voice in person? Do you benefit from avoiding feeling vulnerable? Do children have access to sound-making learning materials in the same way that you offer visual art materials? Do you feel that it is used as a content learning, a developmental tool (avenue for other learning), a supplementary consideration, or as a required element of programming? I would argue there is no better way to explore your own musical abilities than genuinely engaging as a co-learner with the children in your care.
  • Consider how you use rhythm, pitch, and melody in your voice when reading, guiding routines, and engaging in conversation. How does this facilitate closeness, sensory regulation, and intrigue?
  • What kind of music repository of children’s songs do you have at this point in time? Does it represent and reflect appropriate diversity considerations? Can you use it to support a range of programming?
  • What are the implications of Ontario’s “avoid singing” clause in the re-opening plan?

Additionally, here are a few books and music programs to consider:

Research-Based Books:

  • Burton, S. L., & Taggart, C. C. (Eds.). (2011). Learning from young children: Research in early childhood music. R&L Education.
  • McPherson, G. (Ed.). (2016). The child as musician: A handbook of musical development. Oxford University Press.
  • Young, S. (2003). Music with under-fours. Routledge.
  • Young, S., & Ilari, B. (Eds.). (2019). Music in Early Childhood: Multi-disciplinary Perspectives and Inter-disciplinary Exchanges (Vol. 27). Springer.

Music Programs for Educators of Young Children:

Additional Resources for Educators and Parents (at home):

References

Barrett, M. S., Flynn, L. M., Brown, J., & Welch, G. F. (2019). Beliefs and values about music in early childhood education and care: Perspectives from practitioners. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 724. doi: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00724

Ehrlin, A., & Wallerstedt, C. (2014). Preschool teachers’ skills in teaching music: two steps forward one step back. Early Child Development and Care, 184(12), 1800-1811.

Niland, A., & St. John, P. A. (2016). Special issue on early childhood music education. Research Studies in Music Education, 38(1), 3–7. DOI: 10.1177/1321103X16641855

Vist, T., & Os, E. (2019). Music education through the lens of ITERS-R: Discussing results from 206 toddler day care groups. Research Studies in Music Education 42(1) 1-21. DOI: 10.1177/1321103X19828785

Wright, R., & Kanellopoulos, P. (2010). Informal music learning, improvisation and teacher education. British Journal of Music Education, 27(1), 71-87. DOI: 10.1017/S0265051709990210

Young, S. (2016). Early childhood music education research: An overview. Research Studies in Music Education, 38(1), 9-21. DOI: 10.1177/1321103X16640106

Additional Research to Consult

Hallam, S. (2010). The power of music: Its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people. International Journal of Music Education28(3), 269-289.