First Nations Pedagogy for Online Learning: March 3-31, 2008

Instructional Strategies

Instructional Strategies

by Sylvia Currie -
Number of replies: 6
I'm creating a new discussion topic for sharing ideas for specific instructional strategies. I thought I'd start with the writing process.

June and I presented and facilitated discussions at 2 conferences in February: ICT Summit and the Aboriginal Learning Knowledge Centre conference. The conversations about the First Nations Pedagogy for Online Learning project were very inspiring. We left with some clear ideas about what is unique about Aboriginal learners, and what we want to achieve, but there was little time to get into the details about how to design and implement specific instructional strategies.

One topic that emerged through our discussions and that has been swirling around in my head ever since is the notion that the writing process comes more from within, and is more circular than linear. It starts in the centre, and works its way out. June can explain this so eloquently :-)

Also, the structure that is so common in our post-secondary system:
write -> submit to instructor -> get a grade (hopefully some feedback) -> move on to next assignment
does not support a tradition of learning through iterative feedback and prompting, a practice that is encouraged and valued by Elders.

How do we support this writing process?

We need to find provide more experiences that are informal and exploratory. Rather than impose formal evaluation criteria that focuses on the quality of the writing assignment, we need to focus on process.

This got me thinking about a workshop I attended a couple years ago at Simon Fraser University, led by Kathryn Alexander and Nadeane Trowse. They talked about "low stake" writing activities, which builds on the work of Peter Elbow (ref below). Basically, low stake writing refers to activities that
  • fit into the regular flow of the class,
  • can be used to foster dialogue, and
  • don't fit into the standard notion of an assignment.
It's such a simple idea, but so rarely used in a post-secondary setting.

I especially like one strategy we tried out in the workshop called "quick writes". We experienced first hand how removing the restrictions and expectations on what you write can allow it to flow very easily. A quick write is just as it sounds -- here's a topic or question, now write for x minutes. There's no introduction, no conclusion, just go at it. Here are a few reflections I jotted down on the quick write process:
  • I wouldn't necessarily want to make public what I wrote on my piece paper. That would be too laden with expectations!
  • I thought I would have nothing to say on the topic, but discovered I was wrong!
  • We were advised to keep all quick writes -- like a personal journal.
  • Allowing for writing time in a group setting is a great way to focus a discussion. It gets everyone into the same topic space. to do this online? I see quick writes as a useful activity for a synchronous session. Say, take 10 minutes out of an Wiziq or Elluminate (or whatever platform) session to WRITE. It seems we always feel the need to fill up every minute of our online synchronous interactions with talking and watching. Why not writing?

The writing could be done in a private journal/ blog, always with the choice of making it public, of course. Or simply with paper and pen.

Elbow, P. (1997). High Stakes and Low Stakes in Assigning and responding to Writing, In M.D. Sorcinelli & P. Elbow (Eds) Assigning and Responding to Writing in the Disciplines. New Directions for Teaching and learning. No. 69, Spring 1997. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: Instructional Strategies

by Norah Andrew -

Sylvia, thanks so much for sharing this technique. Many students, especially those returning to formal learning after an extended absence, or those who are not comfortable with formal writing, would welcome this approach/process.

It is something I will try.


In reply to Norah Andrew

Re: Instructional Strategies

by Monica Macaulay -

I am not Aboriginal but have had the pleasure to teach Aboriginal students and also learn with Aboriginal students.  In both cases it was very clear how much they appreciated the opportunity to "free write."  No rules, no tough assessment, just an opportunity to reflect....and at the same time practise writing.  While there are those who appreciate the above style there are also Aboriginal students who require and demand some structure and purpose.  I think there is middle ground there that will work for everyone.  I think perhaps simply stating the multiple purposes of the activity will be enough to satisfy both learning styles i.e. emphasise on the importance of free thought and writing but also stress how this type of activity if done regularly can also improve one's ability to write and may count towards participation marks.

So, to provide this space in an online context....I think it is important that we find a medium which the students are already using.  We at NVIT have found that once students (and sometimes instructors) get used to Moodle to introduce another platform, for example Elluminate, may provide unecessary stress and therefore participation drops.  So perhaps a tool within the CMS or even something like facebook, something familiar may be the way to go.



In reply to Monica Macaulay

Re: Instructional Strategies

by June Kaminski -
Thanks Sylvia for beginning this topic!

It certainly is an important one. The style of writing that you described is called quaternity in the literature, representing a cyclically oriented, center-focused discursive way of writing which seems to flow well in many First Nations learners. It is said to be similar to the "corrected until correct" oral dialogue that PreColonial learners engaged in when learning to pass along a story, a teaching, etc.

We know that writing is one of the most catered to skills in most LMS, including Moodle. There are blogs, wikis, journals, assignment forms and upload areas, forums, chats, books, learning objects, etc.

These software/applications can facilitate StoryTelling as well as other forms of assignments and class activities.
In reply to June Kaminski

Re: Instructional Strategies

by Wendy Seale-Bakes -
This is an interesting idea, so I'll just jump in with a couple of my thoughts.

I've used "quick writing" in my writing classes (not with First Nations, but with ESL) at Vancouver Community College, and have found it raises the energy level in the classroom, and helps a lot of learners get going, especially if I set a short time frame (15 min, stretched to 20 or 30). Some learners jump right in, and the result can be amazing, and often exhilarating. Other learners freeze up - with them I take some time to brainstorm or find a different topic. I'm talking about second language writers in this case, so one of my purposes is to get them to stop translating and start thinking in English; I hope the readers in this forum won't find my example inappropriate.

I am absolutely clear with the learners when we do this kind of writing that they will not be marked on the mechanics or organization of their work, and I agree that is very liberating.

Like our First Nations learners, many ESL students come from backgrounds where the linear approach we so value in "Western" or "Colonial" society is unheard of in writing. It's like trying to fit round pegs into square holes. I hope you'll excuse me using experiences with immigrant learners in the same breath as we're talking about First Nations - but I think it's easy to see the First Nations paradigm as opposed to the "Western" dominant culture, and forget that many cultures throughout the world, especially those still influenced by aboriginal cultures, take a holistic approach.

To get back to the question though, how could we do quick writing online? My first thought was that the journal feature in Moodle might work well. It's not necessarily synchronous. But then again, it could be used synchronously, couldn't it? Would the instructor/facilitator be able to monitor the learners as they were working? I don't have enough experience with Moodle to know.
In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: Instructional Strategies

by Nalin Abeysekera -

Thnks Sylvia for this valuable topic….


write -> submit to instructor -> get a grade (hopefully some feedback) -> move on to next assignment

this will be only expectation of students..But as teachers we need to inspire them in writing.

but I think better to incorporate Kolb’s  reflective practice in writing.



if you asked your students to write a reflective journal and share your thoughts (reflections) and asked to fine tune then it is important. once we are online we can asked then to maintain a diary(king of reflective journal)every week. sometimes to motivate we can give some marks too…

In reply to Nalin Abeysekera

Re: Instructional Strategies

by Deirdre Bonnycastle -

I recently had an interesting experience with prejudice against reflective learning. One of our medical students who is Dene from an isolated community had failed a key national oral exam twice, not because he doesn't know his medicine but because of his personal presentation. If he fails the exam again his medical career is over.

I interviewed him to see if I could figure out what was going on. The young man is a concrete/reflective learner; after each question, he pauses and looks away, then writes in his notebook, then he responds. The medical faculty that was with me said his answers were well organized and correct.

98% of medical students are or learn to be concrete/active. They are expected to respond immediately to questions while looking the questioner in the eye. Whether this style makes the best physician is debatable, but it is an expectation of medical culture that is deeply ingrained. The examiners are from Ontario, and I have no input into that exam process.

We talked to him about preparing common illness scripts and practicing answering with those to speed up his response time. I also talked to him privately about using his anger and frustration to change the system once he graduates. He currently refuses to discuss his ancestry with the examiners.

Culture is a huge issue in medicine. One of our faculty described it as moving the Titanic to try to change it. I find it interesting that all of our Aboriginal medical graduates have gone on to government or university jobs and not back to their communities. I know they are needed and rewarded in those positions but I also wonder how difficult it would be to return after being enculturated in medicine.