Jacquie designed her pedagogy project around a number of initial inquiry questions: ·
In essence, Jacquie was concerned about creating a space for her grade one students to uncover who they are and to better understand how educators might acknowledge and embrace cultural and personal diversity.
To tackle these questions Jacquie prepared a number of projects including the identity photo text project detailed here. In addition, she organized:
This series of projects came about as a result of Jacquie’s time as an early years teacher as she explored tensions between a "traditional” and “alternative” approach to teaching grade one. These approaches vary in terms of how teaching, learning, and curriculum are understood and enacted Despite working in a school that often preferred the traditional approaches, she set out to experiment and expand, emphasizing play, social connections, and active investigation as formative experiences for children. Jacquie described the project as an attempt to strike a balance in this continuum which could fulfill both content demands as well provide valuable experiential learning.
"doing well in grade one has to be considered beyond the boundaries of merely "getting a four out of four" in a report card"
As she put it, "doing well" in grade one has to be considered beyond the boundaries of merely "getting a four out of four" in a report card. Instead, she forged ahead with her project that emphasized a degree of student choice, control, and a freedom to experiment. She was subsequently encouraged when students responded by taking the project "very seriously". The idea of considering and articulating who they were to others was a task they embraced wholeheartedly.
Believing that “human relationships are the foundation to learning” and that good teaching relies on an awareness of students and teachers to one another’s identities and feelings, Jacquie set out to create a project that could embody these core ideals while simultaneously enhancing students’ English literacy.
That is, it was designed to teach the curriculum while also addressing students’ interests, needs, potential, and personal value.
Jacquie began by first briefing parents and caregivers of her plan to have students take photos in their homes which could display “who they are”. Students were given a camera for an evening and took a wide variety of photos ranging from their bedrooms to toys, family members, and culturally significant objects. These photos were then shared with the class where comments and questions from other students were encouraged. As the students chose the photos that articulated their identities, Jacquie invited them to write accompanying captions for four images of their choice. She supported them in their writing with workshops and lessons that taught practices such as showing emotion and action in writing. The value in this approach to these lessons was that the practices that were learned could be used to express and affirm student identity. While a lesson in “show, don’t tell” can often appears as artificial and standard, Jacquie made her students, and the ideas and people that mattered to them, the centre of their learning. And, because they were writing in order to publish a book, they had an authentic audience for their work beyond just their teacher.
The students then revised and edited their work and typed good drafts in collaboration with the school’s computer teacher. Once completed, their collaborative creation, entitled “This is My Home”, was shared in a school celebration that saw students enthusiastically showcasing their work to their book buddies. Jacquie described this culmination of their work as a "big deal"- an experience of genuine value.
The fact that some students had initial difficulty expressing themselves is perhaps a testament to the necessity of Jacquie's project. Students, who were new to the country or whose heritage and backgrounds were not well understood, often found it difficult at first to inhabit a sense of pride and, even more so, to convey it to others. Though Jacquie found these situations challenging, she did not find them overwhelming. Indeed, she found that by cultivating an environment in which a student could express himself/herself openly and sincerely, and then be really listened to, great progress could be made. As she put it, when students are able to discuss something they love or are passionate about, their enthusiasm “levels the playing field”. All voices were included in the conversation when the project explored and valued the commonalities and differences between them.
Throughout the process Jacquie was firm in helping students move beyond ‘receiving’ learning and towards collaboratively creating, owning, and sharing it. Through the articulation of their own identities via visual and written texts, Jacquie’s students could make the classroom a place of personal power and agency. As she briefed parents and caregivers prior to its beginning, she was sure to underscore the importance of breaking the barrier between the “inside” world of the classroom and the “outside” world of the rest of their lives. By making the students the subject of their learning, people in possession of academic and social capital, Jacquie aimed to make English literacy a relevant tool for their use and a source of affirmation. In other words, she hoped to make English literacy less of a ‘school practice’ and instead make it a useful and encouraging ‘life practice’.
The ability to design and plan which photographs represented their identities; the writing, revising, and editing; the sharing and conversing with classmates; as well as self-reflection and a number of other steps in the project all represented practices and elements embedded in the Manitoba curriculum. As Jacquie refers to them, they are “key skills” taught for life and learning, taught in this case by having students take hold of the curriculum, learning what it had to teach while simultaneously using it to affirm their identities as writers, artists, and as people whose decisions mattered.