The overarching goal of this grade seven unit can be identified in its title: “A Hand in Reconciliation: Understanding Our Past to Better Our Future.” The student who willingly engages in the unit’s subject matter will be guided through a journey of self-discovery and personal positioning within Canada’s era of Truth and Reconciliation. Though the unit’s foundation is structured on English Language Arts (ELA), there is a cross-curricular integration of Science, Social Studies, and Arts Education. With further emphasis on ELA in this unit, the Saskatchewan ELA 7 Curriculum (2008) tells us “learners construct knowledge to make sense of the world around them. They develop understanding by building on what is already known,” (p. 3). Thus, this unit adheres to the philosophy of ELA being fundamental in the growth and development of a young mind; a subject area where thoughts are reflected upon, ideas are exchanged, stories are told and the human experience better understood through both the oral and written tradition.
While it is important we respect and use traditional practice in the classroom, tradition is less likely to be received as valuable if not taught in a relevant and contemporary manner. With a strong focus on this notion, learning will be generated through a variety of mediums including: classic (1900) and contemporary children’s stories (2015), contemporary music (2016), Indigenous folk music (1978), a video message from an Indigenous Elder, a brief analysis of federal policy, written and oral reflections, traditional oral stories, land-based education, a bridging of worldviews in science, community-based and experiential learning, and, finally, a collective art collage metaphorically representing each student’s “hand” in pursuit of Truth and Reconciliation.
Clarifying the strategic process of how each lesson builds off the former is imperative in bringing meaning and impact to the content of this unit. Lesson one may seem out of place in The Wizard of Oz, however, the unlikely group of characters carry a crucial principle that parallels the unit objective: each individual utilizing their unique strength to assist in attaining a collective goal. From here, we are introduced to residential schools in Kokum’s Red Shoes, a children’s story about a girl who loves The Wizard of Oz and gets taken away from her community while building her own yellow brick road. We then delve into musical expression in honour of Chanie Wenjack, learning and responding to songs by Gord Downie and Willie Dunn. Halfway through the unit, with awareness of the disturbing content being covered, a traditional sharing circle will occur with four rounds to allow students to openly share their feelings and reactions to the content thus far. In lesson six titled “I Am Not a Number: Letters to an Elder,” students will hear a first-hand message from a residential school survivor and subsequently write a personal letter in response to her video. It is also in lesson six where we touch on The Indian Act (1876), a timeline of residential schools, and Canada’s Statement of Apology. In lesson seven, the class will learn from a traditional story in and create art from nature, considering the notion of residential school students ever being able to participate in such a learning process. Indigenous and Western worldviews bridge together in the science-themed lesson eight. In lesson nine, families and community members will be invited to join our class in the blanket exercise.
As we journey through the content, students will be creating and documenting the process within a personal portfolio. Students will be provided with a guiding rubric (of which they will use to assess themselves at the unit’s end) and a portfolio checklist to assist in focus and organization. A key component of my philosophy is to provide students with the option to engage in the oral tradition rather than the written. For each assignment where writing is required, students will have the option to record their thinking using an audio recording device. Although most of the assignments are expected to be done in writing, each student will be required to do one assignment orally. The student will choose which assignment they wish to do orally. However, dependent on need, a student’s entire portfolio may be done with the use of technology and audio recordings. In such an instance, compact disks (CD’s) will be burned and labelled to provide an overview of each respective assignment and technological artwork will be printed. No student will walk away from this unit without a personal portfolio.
The learning that occurs from lessons one through nine lead us directly to the final product in lesson ten: an honourable collage for reconciliation. Each individual student will creatively paint a tile either in commemoration of residential school victims and survivors or a symbol connected to Truth and Reconciliation. When complete, students will write a half to one page abstract for their tile. The abstract will reflect learnings from the previous nine lessons, provide insight into what reconciliation currently means to them, and what their tile represents.
Once each student has completed and shared their artistic work, a large Medicine Wheel made from construction paper (or ideally wood) will be awaiting us. Each student will dip their palm in paint and place their handprint in a quadrant of the Medicine Wheel. The Medicine Wheel will be at the center of our collage. The tiles will surround and be placed in between the quadrants of the Medicine Wheel. Once pieced together, the collage will exemplify the power and need for individual contributions in attaining a collective goal. When students hand in their portfolios for assessment, the portfolios will return to them with a printed photograph of our collage so they can always revisit or show others the moment they placed their “hand in reconciliation.”
*The grade level for this unit can be adapted.