Social Justice is an integral part of the Education program. We are constantly using critical lenses and theories to examine our positionality in society, and how that gives us privileges, especially for myself as a white, middle-class, heterosexual, Christian female. Since my program strongly encourages this Social Justice pedagogy, it has been a subject that has become very important to me. Before entering this program, I was not aware of my privileges. Now, I simply want to make sure that my students receive the same education that I did in university.
I included my Unit Planning for a unit in ELA 20 so that you can have a preview of the literature I taught during my Internship. I like to use a variety of genres for my literature. In this particular unit, I used nonfiction, short stories, poems, and graphic stories/novels. This unit also has a substantial amount of First Nations content. I suggest laying a strong foundation for a classroom that is respectful to discussions of race and privilege, as well as giving a foundation of knowledge. I brought in an Elder to speak with my class. He spoke a lot about the dynamics of family and how Residential Schools disrupted the natural cycles of family life and the responsibilities of Elders, parents, and children. It was very beneficial, especially when we used Sugar Falls.
Before I talk about Sugar Falls, I want to talk about my Annotation Lesson. The pieces I used to teach this reading strategy come from First Nations authors. One focuses on Residential Schools and how the speaker was affected throughout his life from his experiences there, that is until he overcame the emotional, physical and spiritual effects. The practice piece is by Louise Halfe and goes back further into the colonization history.
One of my favourite pieces from this unit was a graphic novel called Sugar Falls. This story documents the true experience of a young girl who is forced to attend Residential School. It begins with a relatable moment for a majority of students: a reluctant student is asked to complete an assignment on Residential Schools. Sometimes students are reluctant to talk about First Nations peoples and the different ways that they have been oppressed because they do not know much about it or because they are uncomfortable with Canada’s dark history. The student interviews a Residential School survivor named Betsy. Betsy’s story is one that shows not only the devastating effects of Residential Schools, but also how Residential Schools affect the family life. Betsy is not simply abandoned, but forcefully thrown out by her mother and left to fend for herself in the cold wilderness. This is a topic that is absolutely vital to discuss with students beforehand. You see, Residential Schools have intergenerational affects. Because Betsy’s mom was also taken to Residential School as a child, when she became a mother she didn’t know how to actually be a mother. However, Betsy was adopted into a family, that is until she was taken away to school. Betsy shares her experiences in the graphic novel (I won’t spoil anymore!).
I have several reasons that this was a favourite piece within this unit. First off, it’s a graphic novel! The format makes the material more accessible to students. Plus, the graphics convey the emotions and makes the pain relatable. Also, it has this issue about how the schools affected families, mentioned above. In addition, this story is connected to Helen Betty Osborne. Betsy was friends with Helen, and eventually changes her name to Betty in memory of her friend. I bought this graphic novel for myself and I highly recommend it! The majority of my students quite liked this piece and thought that it enhanced their understanding of Residential Schools.
Included is my assignment for this text: Graphic Text Analysis for Sugar Falls. I did a lot of pre-teaching about how to read graphic novels, and the assignment mostly assesses these features and how students recognize them. Leave a comment below if you are interested in how I assessed this assignment.
**I do teach about Helen Betty Osborne in ELA A30! That will be my next post, so be sure to check it out!