We are reading Touching Spirit Bear, a novel brought to the class by one of my students who loved the book. I read it over the holidays, loved the story, thought it would fit well with our exploration of character and decided to order it for the class. As I researched the book and the principles it promotes, however, I came to realize the book does have some controversy attached to it which we will not be shying away from. How aboriginal culture is represented and often co-opted is a very current story. In recent years, controversies have erupted over the wearing by non-aboriginal people of headdresses, of using aboriginal imagery and important symbols in clothing designs and there have been on-going news stories of aboriginal people attempting to reclaim important items that have been sitting in museums and auctions. The Woodland Centre at Six Nations had a fantastic exhibit several years ago on the many representations of aboriginals in western cultures. I think it important that students have the opportunity to think deeply about these issues and this novel will provide the entry point.
Before reading the first chapter, I pre-taught vocabulary. When I introduce new vocab, we first consider what we think words mean. Once we’ve developed our theory of meanings we confirm or disconfirm. Having students state their own theories first gives them a stake in finding out whether or not they were right. It creates curiosity. This can be done very quickly
I then read the introductory chapter aloud and stopped at several points so students could write their questions. At then end of the day, I went through all the questions and noticed common themes.
I created 6 labels: Plot, Setting, Character Motivations, Character History, Cause and Relationships.
Students then worked in small groups to categorize the questions according to my headings. Clearly a deeper thinking activity would have been to have students examine the questions and discover their own patterns, but there were many questions and I knew that discussing the questions and considering what was really be asked was also valuable learning. Also, this would cause them to think about the story. This provided them with idea diversity. Individually, students had at most 4-5 questions. One student had done – or couldn’t be bothered to write any down. Many had only 1 or 2. This activity gave them the opportunity to consider over 30 questions.
Categorizing sometimes vague questions is not an easy task. Students had to grapple with meaning.
Yesterday, I pulled the class together to discuss what I had observed about how they had approached this task.
1. Many students found that some questions did not fit in any of the categories. Some became stuck, others found creative solutions to this problem.
This led to a discussion about the importance of finding creative solutions and not being constrained by structures.
2. Many students noticed that the questions fit in more than one category or were connected to other questions. This was one group’s solution to the problem.
3. Several groups noticed that some of the questions being asked meant that the student had misconceptions about the story.
Finally, students discussed in small groups what they had learned about learning through this debriefing of their work.