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What Works? Research into Practice
A research-into-practice series produced by a partnership between The Literacy and
Numeracy Secretariat and the Ontario Association of Deans of Education
Research Monograph # 11
How can schools support
Aboriginal student success?
Integrating Aboriginal Teaching and
Values into the Classroom
By Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse
Laurentian University
Research Tells Us
A number of factors contribute to the
academic success of Aboriginal students.
These include the following:
• educators who have high expectations
and truly care for Aboriginal students
• classroom environments that honour
Aboriginal students’ culture, language,
world view and knowledge
• teaching practices that reflect
Aboriginal learning styles
(e.g., differentiated instruction and
• schools that have strong partnerships
with the Aboriginal community
A new body of research is beginning to demonstrate that Aboriginal students’
self-esteem is a key factor in their school success.1 An educational environment
that honours the culture, language and world view of the Aboriginal student is
critical. Schools need to meaningfully represent and include Aboriginal people’s
contributions, innovations and inventions.2 Aboriginal students require a learning
environment that honours who they are and where they have come from. These
strategies nurture the self-esteem – the positive interconnection between the
physical, emotional-mental, intellectual and spiritual realms – of Aboriginal
Valuing the Aboriginal Learner: Seven Living Principles
This monograph explores the relationship between Aboriginal students’ self-esteem
and educational attainment. The key questions that guide this discussion are:
What strategies currently work for Aboriginal students, and why are
they so important for creating meaningful change?
What are the day-to-day implications for educators endeavouring to
ensure Aboriginal student needs are met?
The discovery and pursuit of potential answers will occur through examining
pre-existing research. The inquiry below proceeds in light of a cultural framework
generated by the “living teachings” of the Ojibwe people (see Table 1).
1. Respect
DR. PAMELA ROSE TOULOUSE is an assistant
professor in the School of Education at
Laurentian University (Sudbury, Ontario).
Dr. Toulouse teaches Methods
(curriculum and pedagogy) and is a key
resource person on Aboriginal education.
She is an Anishinabek woman from the
community of Sagamok First Nation and
has been teaching for 14 years.
This principle is central to the success of the Aboriginal student; it is crucial that
Aboriginal students feel they have a place in our schools and that teachers have high
expectations of their potential. This can be achieved by ensuring that our own belief
in the Aboriginal student is one of utmost respect. Educators can promote a positive
learning experience for Aboriginal students by ensuring that their culture is represented in the classroom. It is also key that these students know that their teachers
care about them and have the highest regard for their learning. Respect (in Ojibwe
terms) means knowing that we are sacred and that we have a place in this world.
This is how we need to foster and support our Aboriginal students.4
The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat is committed to providing teachers with current research on instruction
March 2008
and learning. The opinions and conclusions contained in these monographs are, however, those of the authors
and do not necessarily reflect the policies, views, or directions of the Ontario Ministry of Education or The
Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat.
The implications for practice, and what this means for the classroom, can be found
in the following applications:
An Aboriginal Model of
Aboriginal cultures are celebrated throughout the school program.
The library has a broad range of Aboriginal books and resources.
Teachers are encouraged to incorporate the diversity of Aboriginal
peoples throughout the curriculum and acknowledge the uniqueness of
Aboriginal cultures.
The Aboriginal territory, on which the school is located, is acknowledged
at the door (a welcoming in an Aboriginal language).
These strategies show respect for Aboriginal people and ensure that Aboriginal
students feel they are part of the school.5
Table 1
Ojibwe Good Life Teachings and Implications for Education
These four interconnected aspects
represent “self.”
Implications for Education
Having high expectations for the Aboriginal student and
honouring their culture, language and world view in our schools
Demonstrating our belief (as educators) that all Aboriginal students
can and will succeed through our own commitment to their learningteaching styles
Committing to change our school curriculum through including the
contributions, innovations and inventions of Aboriginal people
Sharing effective practices in Aboriginal education through ongoing
professional development and research that focuses on imbuing
Acknowledging that we need to learn more about the diversity of
Aboriginal people and accessing key First Nation resources to
enhance that state
Accepting that we have much to learn from one another and reviewing the factors involved to encourage change in the education system
(increased parental-guardian involvement, teacher education)
Developing measurable outcomes for Aboriginal student success and
using them as key indicators of how inclusive our curriculum and
pedagogy really are
Note: The seven good life teachings are values/principles that are central to the Anishinabek.
2. Love
This principle requires a commitment to supporting Aboriginal students’ learning
styles. Hilberg and Tharp6 have identified that Aboriginal students lean towards:
holistic education (learning from whole to part)
use of a variety of visual organizers and hands-on manipulatives
reflective mode of learning (time to complete tasks and answer questions)
preference for collaborative tasks (group and pair work)
For Aboriginal students, these preferences for learning need to be incorporated in
their day-to-day activities.6 This is how Aboriginal student success can be achieved.
3. Bravery
This principle supports the Aboriginal student by providing opportunities to highlight and celebrate their Nations. The Shki-Mawtch-Taw-Win-En-Mook (Path to New
Beginnings) Curriculum Project in northern Ontario is an example of this value in
action. This curriculum consists of a series of First Nation units (with resources)
that meet the Ministry of Education expectations – a beautiful collection of lessons
and activities (Kindergarten to Grade 12) that honours the contributions of
What Works? Research into Practice
Aboriginal people. The units all begin with Aboriginal expectations and are guided
by local Elders.7 The implications for classroom practice include the following:
draw on key Aboriginal curriculum resources and utilize them
in the school
create partnerships and establish relationships with Aboriginal
highlight Aboriginal peoples by ensuring that their innovations
are included
bring in various Aboriginal resource people to share their knowledge
Appreciating the Learning Styles
of Aboriginal Students
These approaches are bravery (in Ojibwe terms) in action.
4. Wisdom
The teaching of wisdom reminds us that we are lifelong learners. It also reminds us
of the value of sharing and engaging in dialogue with “what we know.” This principle
reflects that spirit of wisdom and the need for disseminating “what works” for
Aboriginal students. This can be achieved through ongoing research and various
professional development opportunities. For example, Swanson4 provides many key
strategies that support Aboriginal student success. In particular, her research in a
northern Aboriginal community suggests the following four applications for the
celebrate individual achievements and cultural backgrounds
engage the student at a physical, emotional-mental, intellectual and
spiritual level
use a variety of teaching methods with a particular emphasis on holism,
visual organizers, kinesthetic opportunities and reflection
create an environment where humour and “group talk” are accepted
The success of these strategies depends
upon an inclusive classroom.
5. Humility
The Ojibwe teaching of humility reminds us to reach out to others for assistance.
This is a key tenet in our goal of ensuring that the Aboriginal learner has success.
As educators, we need to go beyond ourselves and ask the “Aboriginal experts” key
questions. It is crucial that we also go to Aboriginal organizations and communities
for direction. This can be achieved by following these suggested strategies:
work with Aboriginal organizations to collect or purchase curriculum
conduct an inventory of Aboriginal curriculum resources
organize these curriculum resources into grade-specific categories
disseminate this information to all school boards in various formats
The key is always to include Aboriginal peoples in any processes regarding
Aboriginal children so that their education supports and builds capacity for their
6. Honesty
The 2004 report from the Office of the Auditor General of Canada presents an
alarming picture of Aboriginal education:
Strategies for Aboriginal
Student Success
Wisdom Is Sharing
Celebrate Students: achievements,
culture, learning styles
Class Environment: holistic,
group talk, humour
Teacher Research:
critical ethnography,
publish, professional
There is a 28 year educational gap between First Nations and Canadians
(para. 2).
Educational achievement of Aboriginal students (and the gap between
them and their Canadian counterparts) has not changed significantly in the
past 10 years (para. 10).
The school-aged Aboriginal population is growing and is estimated at 40
per cent (compared with 25 per cent for Canadians). A strategy to close
the educational gap needs to happen now (para. 32–33).
While this report reflects the situation of students living on-reserve, it is also highly
suggestive of the off-reserve population. This is clearly a crisis. The success of the
Aboriginal learner depends on real change.9
Honesty (in Ojibwe terms) means to “be and get real.” It means to proceed in a
manner where responsibility and accountability go hand in hand. This is the point
March 2008
Path to New Beginnings
Curriculum Project
Produced by Kenjgewin Teg Educational
Institute, the Rainbow District School Board
and the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation.
Available at:
www.thenewpath.ca or
Looking for resources?
• Go to www.edu.gov.on.ca.
• Select Literacy and Numeracy from the
Popular Topics menu.
Call: 416-325-2929; 1-800-387-5514
Email: [email protected]
that we as educators have come to, in regards to Aboriginal education. The learners
from these diverse communities deserve and have the right to respect. How do we
proceed? Who needs to be included? Where does this change take place? Aboriginal
parents and guardians need to be valued. Teacher education programs need to do
more to prioritize Aboriginal inclusion.10 These are definite areas for continued
exploration, research and growth.
7. Truth
Truth (in Ojibwe terms) means examining the reality and lived experiences of a
situation. It is the process of coming to terms with “how things really are” and
developing a plan for change. The success of the Aboriginal learner needs to be
measured, and this requires clear outcomes. The success of the Aboriginal learner
is clearly an indicator of how committed educators and their respective systems are
to equity. We need to ask Aboriginal students and their communities, “How are
we performing?” We need to keep a close eye on the educational directions (graduation, retention, career paths) of Aboriginal students to measure school success.11
In sum …
Attention to Aboriginal self-esteem – the connection between the physical,
emotional-mental, intellectual and spiritual realms – is paramount. Aboriginal
learners and their success are dependent upon educators and schools respecting this
view. It requires changes in how we teach our Aboriginal learners. It means that the
pedagogy in classrooms must be inclusive of Aboriginal culture, language and worldview.12 Our Aboriginal students are counting on us today!
1. Kanu, Y. (2002). In their own voices: First
Nations students identify some cultural
mediators of their learning in the
formal school system. Alberta Journal
of Educational Research, 48, 98–119.
2. Bell, D. (2004). Sharing our success: Ten
case studies in Aboriginal schooling.
Retrieved December 6, 2006, from
3. Antone, E. (2003). Culturally framing
Aboriginal literacy and learning.
Canadian Journal of Native Education,
27, 7–15.
4. Swanson, S. (2003). Motivating learners
in northern communities. Canadian
Journal of Native Education, 27, 16–25.
5. Gamlin, P. (2003). Transformation and
Aboriginal literacy. Canadian Journal of
Native Education, 27, 2–6.
6. Hilberg, R. S., & Tharp, R. G. (2002).
Theoretical perspectives, research
findings, and classroom implications of
the learning styles of American Indian
and Alaska Native students [Electronic
Version]. ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural
Education and Small Schools. Retrieved
on November 27, 2006, from
7. Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat and
Curriculum Services Canada. (2006).
Unlocking the potential of Aboriginal
students [Webcast]. Retrieved
December 6, 2006, from
8. Doige, L. A. (1999). Beyond cultural
differences and similarities: Student
teachers encounter Aboriginal
children’s literature. Canadian Journal
of Native Education, 24, 383–395.
9. Office of the Auditor General of Canada.
November 2004 Report, Chapter 5.
(2004). Indian and Northern Affairs
Canada – Education program and postsecondary student support. Retrieved
December 1, 2006, from
10. Goulet, G. (2001). Two teachers of
Aboriginal students: Effective practice
in sociohistorical realities. Canadian
Journal of Native Education, 25, 68–82.
11. Kirkness, V. (1998). Our peoples’
education: Cut the shackles; cut
the crap; cut the mustard. Canadian
Journal of Native Education, 22, 10–15.
12. van der Way, D. (2001). Exploring
multiple serendipitous experiences in a
first nations setting as the impetus for
meaningful literacy development.
Canadian Journal of Native Education,
25, 51–69.
What Works? is updated monthly and posted at: www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/whatWorks.html
ISSN 1913-1097 What Works? Research Into Practice (Print)
ISSN 1913-1100 What Works? Research Into Practice (Online)
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