“Whose English Counts? Indigenous English in Saskatchewan Schools”

After our class talking circle on February 3, 2014 I was sparked by what Night shared. To refresh all of your memories, she talked about her university professor calling out her accent in front of the entire class. My first thought was, what accent? My second thought was what kind of teaching practice is that? We should be celebrating differences and not ostracizing our students for them. Night mentioned that she still is bothered by that today and that shows the impact that teachers have on learners.

Andrea Sterzuk’s article “Whose English Counts? Indigenous English in Saskatchewan Schools” also highlights the impact teachers, speech pathologists and educational psychologists have on our most disadvantaged students. This article was written in 2008 and contains a lot of data from 2004 but it is still relevant because the education gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students is a current concern, which is addressed in the Continuous Achievement and Improvement Framework and the First Nations and Metis Education Plan. We cannot ignore these issues because “by 2016, First Nations and Metis children will make up 46.6% of the student population” (Sterzuk 9). If we do not find ways to include diverse learners and their diverse experiences “it is only a matter of several decades before half of the population of Saskatchewan will not have access to the necessary skills and education to gain access to employment” (Sterzuk 10), which is one of the main purposes of education. What will happen if the majority of our people are being suppressed like a minority?

I was very aware that education was used to assimilate First Nations individuals, for instance at Residential Schools. However, I never thought of the linguistically oppressive practices and procedures that have negative effects on Aboriginal students (Sterzuk 11). That is the thing about being a person from the majority: you are not forced to realize all the ways in which you are benefiting. Sterzuk expresses that “Indigenous English differs systematically from standard English on phonological, morphological, and lexical levels and in terms of pragmatics, syntax, and non-verbal language” (13). Not only does this mean some of our students will have an accent but they also learn differently. Indigenous English speakers learn more through storytelling and listening (Sterzuk 12). When these learning styles are ignored, Aboriginal students often fall below grade level and require additional support.

Since my future goal is to become an Educational Psychologist, I was very interested in the piece about biased assessment and misdiagnosis. In my inclusive education course about assessment we often discussed the bias found in standardized tests used to diagnose and label students. Some common tests that assess general intelligence levels are the WIAT – III and WISC – IV. Current tests that assess written and oral language are the TOWL – IV and TOLD-IV. Written spelling is assessed by the TWS. Throughout the course we got to deconstruct these tests and find their strengths and weaknesses. Although all of these tests are assessed numerous times to make sure they are unbiased, it is true that making an unbiased test is almost impossible to do. However, more than one test should be used to assess learners to help detect errors. Furthermore, the results are impacted a lot more by environment, the fairness and accuracy of the test giver and the current mood of the child on that day. If these factors are not considered then the child could be misdiagnosed. It is important to note that testing is never a first resort and it often takes up to six months for the testing process to start. Although there will always be misdiagnoses, the current team approach often combats these issues. It is the responsibility of the teacher and the LRT to keep data on a student and to apply tier 1 interventions (Response to Intervention) if they notice a problem. Testing only occurs when many strategies fail to work over a long period of time and the goal is never to label a student but to help them. I do believe that people are misdiagnosed but I would suggest that First Nations students are marginalized more by exclusive English teaching practices because very few learners go through the testing process, yet many of our First Nations students are struggling. Also, because of federal jurisdiction on aboriginal education, testing, which is provincially funded, is often very hard for First Nations learners to access (which is another problem entirely).

As teachers we need to make sure we are varying our teaching strategies. We need to consider how all of our students learn best and incorporate these techniques as much as possible. Sterzuk states that “students should not be penalized for their differences” (14) and I would expand that idea because differences should be celebrated and encouraged. Sterzuk calls for a document that “outlines the characteristics of Indigenous English” (16) but I have not seen such a document. Would it not make more sense to differentiate instruction and not penalize someone for their accent? I mean, characteristic sheet or not, I should be able to teach all my students effectively and a learner inventory will let me know how my students learn best. It is our job as educators to teach without bias and to find ways to help our students succeed. No student deserves to be called out because of their differences and everyone deserves to be in an inclusive learning environment that supports their learning style. Our class seems very passionate about including First Nations learners and I have no doubt in my mind that we will include First Nations resources, differentiate our teaching strategies and assignments and not judge our students based on how they talk.

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“Many teachers …

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Many teachers teach every child the same material in the same way, and measure each child’s performance by the same standards… Thus, teachers embrace the value of treating each child as a unique individual while instructing children as if they were virtually identical” (Mehlinger, 1995).

I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate Spoken Word

Video

I love this video for three reasons. 1. I am not against exams but I do believe that we need to make sure we allow students to show their knowledge in many ways. A test result is not the sole measure of intelligence (especially if students are graded on the curve). 2. Spoken poetry is a great English-related activity to do with students. 3. Spoken poetry is a great way to get students involved in social justice issues or to explore their interests.

We need to find ways to engage students and engagement is not found on a piece of paper, whether that paper has an ‘A’ or a ‘B’ or an ‘F.’ Learning is more than an exam, it is lifelong!

Assessment Step 1: Know the Terms!

Assessment – gathering information on student learning. Assessment informs our teaching and helps students learn. Assessment should match your goals, objectives and criteria.

Evaluation – reviews the evidence and determines whether the students have or haven’t learned the information. Furthermore, evaluation includes placing a value on the work and deciding how well the students learned the information?

Assessment forinvolves checking to see what has been learned and what should come next; students help create and use the criteria; descriptive feedback based on specific criteria; student involvement; students self-assess; students set goals; students collect evidence of learning that relate to standards; students then present this information. Assessment for allows teachers to determine the next learning step.

Feedback – information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc., used as a basis for improvement.

Descriptive feedback – during the learning and comes in many sources. The learner gets information about what they are learning and is able to plan their next step. The more the better, as this feedback increases student learning! Descriptive feedback comes during and after and should be specific. It can be thought of as an ongoing conversation about learning.

Evaluative feedback – reported using grades, numbers, checks, etc. to show the learner how well he or she has performed in comparison to others or a standard. If used too often, student learning can decrease because it shows them that they may need to improve but not how to do so.

Summative evaluation – the teacher sums up the learning

Self-assessment/monitoring – students asses their own work, allowing mistakes to be areas of growth. Through this method, students can more effectively determine what to do to improve. This increases independent, self-directed, lifelong learning.

Criteria – should be specific and constructed with the students through a conversation of their learning.

Goals – should be set with students and it is important to only focus on one or two. When we slow down students have more time to successfully complete the learning cycle!

Goal Setting Conference – a way to get teachers, parents and students to asses their goals, strengths, weaknesses and interests at the start of the year.

Metacognition – awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes.

Scaffolding – support given during the learning process which is tailored to the needs of the student with the intention of helping the student achieve his/her learning goals.

Reliability – the degree to which an assessment tool produces stable  and consistent results. Students produce the same kind of results at different times. Examples: test-retest, parallel forms, inter-rater reliability, internal consistency, etc.

Validity – how well a test measures what it is purported to measure. Evidence from multiple sources matches the quality levels expected by the standards/outcomes. Examples: face, construct, criterion-related, formative, sampling, etc.

Triangulation – evidence collected from three different sources (products, observations, conversations) over time, trends and patterns become apparent

Learning loop – we learn, we assess, and we learn more in a continuous cycle.

Norm-referenced assessment –  an estimate of the position of the tested individual in a predefined population, with respect to the trait being measured.

Criterion-referenced assessment – designed to measure student performance against a fixed set of predetermined criteria or learning standards—i.e., concise, written descriptions of what students are expected to know and be able to do at a specific stage of their education. This relates to the curriculum.

Check-ins – checking with students to see where they are on the learning cycle. Assignments can and should be broken down into steps so that teachers can make sure students are on track. This is also less overwhelming. Furthermore, check-ins can assess how students are feeling and address any areas of concern.

Community of learners – a safe learning environment where mistakes can happen and different learning styles are valued. Every student has a voice. Every student deserves to be included! Every student deserves to feel safe!

Professional Learning Communities – group of people learning together. The group requires respect, specific meeting times, support, a safe environment, attainable goals, organization, shared responsibility, etc. (just like our classrooms and students). Learning communities can often be within subject areas, divisions, etc. but they can also include people of all expertise and interests, from all over the world (thanks to technology).

Co-teaching – two teachers (or other professionals) share instructional responsibility and accountability for a single group of students whom they both have ownership. They share resources and co-teaching is voluntary. Both professionals are equal. This allows differentiated instruction to occur easier, two teaching styles to be present, and reduces the student to teacher ratio. There are many types of co-teaching: one teach, one observe; one teach, one assist; parallel teaching; team teaching; station teaching; alternative teaching.

Large-scale Assessment – needs only to collect a small amount of information from a large number of students to determine what students know, can do, etc.

Classroom Assessment – involves a large amount of evidence over time from multiple sources