Courtesy of Aubrey Hanson

April 23, 2021

New UCalgary resource helps Canadian K-12 teachers bring Indigenous storytelling into the classroom

Interactive website project led by Werklund School scholars sought broad input from a diverse team of educators with connections to diverse communities

A new University of Calgary online database will help teachers build the foundational knowledge and competencies they require for integrating Indigenous knowledge and perspectives into K-12 classrooms.

Initiated by Drs. Aubrey Hanson, PhD’17, and Erin Spring, PhD, the website Books to Build On: Indigenous Literatures for Learning provides detail on more than 250 books, poems, songs, art collections and websites by Indigenous creators from Treaty 7 territory and across North America.

Lesson plans outlining how the resources can be applied in the classroom accompany many of the entries. Hanson and Spring believe that teachers who consult the repository will be assured of addressing both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s education-related Calls to Action as well as Alberta Education’s Teaching Quality Standard, which requires K-12 educators to support the learning of all students by using resources that reflect the diversity of Indigenous communities.

Invitation to diverse relationships

In addition to fulfilling these mandates, Hanson, an associate professor in the Werklund School of Education, feels sharing stories helps build connections.

“Stories are a powerful way into the relational learning of Indigenous education, as they invite educators into relationships with diverse peoples and perspectives, as well as into increased understandings of their responsibilities.”

Having taught for many years before joining the Werklund School, Hanson and Spring understand the challenges educators face as well as the concerns they may have when it comes to properly providing inclusive learning experiences for their students.

Springboard for teachers

“Teachers are often afraid of making mistakes or appropriating cultures or knowledge,” says Spring, an assistant professor in the Werklund School. “This website will provide them with a springboard for engaging in this work in a meaningful way. We hope that engaging with this website will be a seed for future work in this area.”

To ensure the content included in the database accurately reflects Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing, the project team worked closely with Indigenous community members. As well, Werklund School alumni, faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students collaborated on the initiative, with more than 40 current teachers advising on the lesson plans.

“Rather than having community engagement be a secondary step, this project was built by a diverse team with connections to multiple communities,” says Hanson.

Wider curriculum review underway

The team is also leading a curriculum review of the Werklund School’s undergraduate courses. Course descriptions, learning objectives, tasks and readings are being examined in order to weave content from the digital collection into the program. The curriculum mapping will help prepare future teachers to Indigenize their classroom practice from day one.

While the primary audience for the database is teachers, Hanson and Spring believe it can benefit anyone interested in exploring Indigenous texts and expanding their understanding of Indigenous communities. Resources can be filtered by age recommendation, school subject, theme, format and keyword, so parents can easily find appropriate material to share with their children. The database will also be invaluable for teacher educators and other post-secondary instructors.

The database is accessible on the Werklund School of Education’s Teaching and Learning website.