Practical Applications and Teaching Resources

Practical applications for Indigenous pedagogy are myriad. While there are many challenges to integrating these adaptations, possibly the biggest one is the differences between Indigenous learning styles and those inured within more Eurocentric education systems. Indigenous pedagogy, however, does not need to mean a complete overhaul of your classroom or the college, in general. There are small changes that you can make that will help both your Indigenous students and other students with different learning styles as well.

Below are some concrete suggestions for possible adaptations.

  1. Classroom management and student behavior

    Indigenous learners may behave differently in the classroom than non-Indigenous students. These students are rarely disruptive in the classroom but may seem disengaged. That said, the main priority with Indigenous students, as with all students, is to treat them as individuals.
    1. For one thing, they are often more quiet and are reluctant to answer questions. This behavior is not a sign of disrespect or lack of interest, it is rather based on their cultural background which has taught them, from a young age, to listen as learning happens through storytelling, not through questions and answers.

    2. Also, Indigenous students may be less likely to reach out for help if they are struggling as they feel ashamed, and also due to the complex legacy that Indigenous communities in Canada have with the education system.

    3. Remember that for many of your Indigenous students, English is their second or third language.

    4. If an Indigenous student will not meet your eye or seems reluctant to talk to you, that is actually a sign of respect for you. They have been taught to be respectful to elders.

    5. Don't expect these students to underperform. But understand that they may not learn in the same way as many of your other students, so adjustments to lecture style and assignments may be necessary if they are to succeed.

    6. Understand that sometimes community and family issues or traditional celebrations will take precedence over school. Make exceptions and amendments accordingly.

    7. Make sure that the classroom is a safe space for all students, including Indigenous ones. Develop a zero tolerance policy for racism. That said, don't single out your Indigenous students or expect them to be an expert on all things Indigenous. Privately you may talk to them about their home and community, but drawing attention to their indigeneity may serve to further alienate them.

    8. While it may be beyond the purview of your job as teacher, consider the outside factors that may be contributing to any self-destructive behavior such as absenteeism, chronic lateness, not handing in assignments, etc. Remember the social context of these students and that many of them are far away from their homes and families and communities. Remember that the CEGEP system and the way in which classes are run here may be completely foreign to them. Finally, remember that many of these students are experiencing racism and prejudice on a daily basis. Reach out. See what you can do to help. Get in touch with academic advisors about the student, etc.

  2. Lecture style

    The way in which you pass on the knowledge and information is a key way to make adaptations that don't require a complete redo of a course. There are many small techniques you can integrate into one or two classes in a semester that take into account alternative ways of learning.
    1. Talking circle: The teacher asks a specific question or introduces a topic/identifies a purpose. The teacher starts by holding the talking stick and introduces themselves and speaks to the topic. Then the stick is passed in a clockwise direction. Whomever holds the stick is allowed to speak, though they don't have to. The stick can go around multiple times if desire.

    2. Stories as means of communication knowledge: Many teachers do this naturally, but you can use stories from your own life to interrogate the subject matter at hand. For instance, while teaching a particular text, you could talk about where you were when you first read it. Alternatively, you could use a story from your own life to illustrate a theory or point you are trying to make, or to introduce an idea. If this doesn't come naturally, you could plan this as part of your lecture notes.

    3. Field trips/land trips: Consider taking a group of students into a natural environment or a reserve community. You can use storytelling as you move through the space or have a guide talk about the various plant and animal life in the area. Arrange to have a guide meet you in the reserve community to talk about the way things are done there, to potentially show you some ceremonial sites and introduce you to people in the community. Seeing and experiencing the spaces may help students internalize that Indigenous peoples and their knowledge and experiences are real, lived, and contemporary in a way that merely talking about it can't do.

    4. Guest Indigenous speakers/mentors: Although a non-Indigenous teacher may be able to introduce information and texts about Indigenous peoples, there is knowledge and lived experience to which they cannot have access. Additionally, Indigenous students need to see themselves represented. Therefore, non-Indigenous teachers can act as facilitators for Indigenous voices by inviting Indigenous people to come and speak to their classes or the school, as a whole. There are Indigenous experts in a number of different subject areas. For suggestions of possible speakers or mentors for Indigenous students, please email the project.
  3. Assignments
    1. This link will take you to a description of experiential learning and an explanation of why it is essential to the Indigenous learner. Following this comprehensive explanation, there is an outline for a project that would work in many disciplines and allows for experiential learning as well as for self-guided learning and autonomy in the education process, both of which have been demonstrated to be highly beneficial to the Indigenous learner.

    2. This website offers a number of lesson plans that are useful for teaching Indigenous content, but in a way that respects the Indigenous learner and the values of Indigenous communities. For the College level lesson plans, teachers should click on the 'senior' option.

    3. This document provides an excellent overview of the Indigenous learner in general, and from page 79-109 (Chapter 5) goes over concrete teaching strategies and assignments that could be used in the classroom to benefit the Indigenous learner (graphic organizers, cooperative learning, independent study, and service learning). As well, Chapter 6 discusses ways to rethink how we assess students in order to allow for student success across the board. 
  4. Additional Resources