Category: Grad student stories

SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship Award | Esther Maeers


Congratulations to 4-th year PhD candidate Esther Maeers on receiving a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Award (Doctoral Fellowships) of $40,000 (2022-2024) for her project: Unpacking a Child’s School Backpack: A Narrative Inquiry Into Object Stories and the Implications for Parent Engagement Within Early Childhood Programs. Esther has also been a recipient of FGSR Thesis only scholarships, totaling $3,672 since 2021.

Using new materialism as a theoretical framework, Esther’s doctoral research will explore how children and their teenage parents “intra-act with objects,”  by mapping the journey of a child’s school backpack as it travels from home to school and back each day. Esther says, “There are established programs to assist teenage parents in advancing in their own schooling; however, supports for teenage parents to facilitate engagement in their child’s schooling are lacking. Meshing both parent engagement philosophy and new materialist theory, while looking to objects as storytellers and as conduits of parent knowledge, teenage parents can become integral to curriculum and pedagogy through material objects.”  Esther hopes this research “will move educators away from solely humancentric engagement, and towards seeing the value of objects as bridges between home and school, thus generating new approaches for educators and traditionally marginalized parents to partner and support children in their learning.”

As a teen mom in high school, Esther’s experience of being pushed to the margins in the school system motivated her to this research focus. “I am passionate about working with young parents and educators to find ways to create counter-narratives of teenage parents that highlight their parent knowledge and experience,” she says.

While Esther is working on her PhD, she is also working as a sessional instructor at the University of Regina, and as a research assistant on two SSHRC-funded projects: Sketching Narratives of Movement Towards Comprehensive and Competent Early Childhood Educational Systems Across Canada, with Dr. Christine Massing (her PhD supervisor) and Systematic Parent Engagement in Teaching and Learning: Creating a Prototype to Enhance Academic and Social Outcomes for Children and Parents, with Dr. Debbie Pushor (University of Saskatchewan and a member of Esther’s PhD committee).

Esther’s co-authored chapters include the following:

Ricketts, K., Maeers, E. & Munro, R. (2021). Bitter toughness meets fierce love: Reflections on a project with teen mothers. In E. Lyle (Ed.), Rehumanizing education (pp. 95-108). Brill Publications.

Pushor, D. & Maeers, E. (2022). Re/centring families: Principal as school landscape architect. In E. Lyle (Ed.), Re/centring lives and lived experience in education (pp. 152-164). Brill Publications.

SSHRC Doctoral Award recipient | Erica Houde

Congratulations to first-year PhD student Erica Houde on receiving a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Award (Doctoral Fellowships) of $80,000 for her project: The gift of neurodiversity: Learning from the reflective experiences of gifted adults with ADHD.

For her doctoral research, Erica is focusing on “Twice Exceptionality.” An example of Twice Exceptionality is “Neurosdiversity, wherein a person is gifted and also has a second diagnosis such as ADHD or Autism,” says Erica.

Erica chose this topic for her research after having diagnosed several individuals as Twice Exceptional in her current work as a Registered Psychologist for Chinook School Division and Brunswick Creek Psychology Services. Erica says, “In meeting with these individuals, I was incredibly moved by their histories and stories. Each individual shared a similar experience of frustration in knowing they were capable individuals but felt incapable of accessing or fully reaching their potential. The hope of this research is to better support Twice Exceptional learners in and out of education, to ensure they are better equipped to tap into their gifts and talents.” Dr. Jenn de Lugt is supervising Erica’s dissertation research.

 

 

Grad student chosen as Vanier candidate

Heather Carter, Vanier candidate. Photo credit: Shuana Niessen

Congratulations to Heather Carter, who has been chosen as one of the University of Regina’s candidates for Vanier’s Canada Graduate Scholarships-Doctoral Awards 2022-23 competition.

Heather (B.Ed.’08 SUNTEP-PA, M.Ed.’19 UofR) is a Métis woman from Prince Albert, SK, and is now living and working on Treaty 4 territory, the territories of the nêhiyawak, Anihšināpēk, Dakota, Lakota, and Nakoda, and the homeland of the Métis/Michif Nation. Before moving to Regina, Heather worked as a middle years teacher for 8 years and then in adult education at Dumont Technical Institute for 2 years. She also earned her M.Ed. (C&I with a focus on Indigenous Leadership and Pedagogy) in our community-based master’s of education program offered in partnership with Gabriel Dumont Institute in Prince Albert.
 
Currently, Heather works as an Indigenous Student Success Facilitator and runs the nitôncipâmin omâ Student Success Program at the University of Regina. About her work, Heather says, “Through this first-year program, I support a cohort of Indigenous undergraduate students as they transition to university and provide mentorship as they move into the second year of their degree. By working in partnership with my colleagues in the ta-tawâw Student Centre, I am proud to lead a program that provides a culturally focused, community-centered approach to post-secondary education.”
 
While Heather is working toward a Ph.D. in Educational Administration and Leadership, she says, “My research focus is anti-oppressive leadership in higher education, and understanding the impact that ubiquitous racism and oppression has on the identity of Indigenous and racialized learners in post-secondary institutions.”

Award Recipient | Kelsey Mooney

Kelsey Mooney, MEd’22, recipient of Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Award

Congratulations to Kelsey Mooney (M.Ed.’22), one of two recipients of the fall 2022 Faculty of Education Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Award and  also the Faculty of Education’s nominee for the President’s Distinguished Graduate Student award at the fall 2022 convocation.

The Faculty of Education Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Award was established in 2021 to recognize outstanding academic performance of thesis-based graduate students (Master’s and PhD) in Education. This $2,000 award is granted to a student in a graduate program in the Faculty of Education who has exemplified academic excellence and research ability, demonstrated leadership ability and/or university/community involvement, and whose thesis/dissertation was deemed meritorious by the Examining Committee.

Mooney successfully defended her thesis titled, “A Community-Based and Mixed-Methods Approach to Exploring the Dove Confident Me Five Session Body Image Intervention in a Holistic School Classroom on July 19, 2022. Her Supervisor was Dr. JoLee Sasakamoose and Committee Members were Dr. Twyla Salm and Dr. Mamata Pandey (Sask Health Authority). The External Reviewer was Dr. Caroline Pukall (Queens University) and Chair was Dr. Amber Fletcher (Dept. of Sociology & Social Studies).

Research Story:

From a young age, Kelsey Mooney has dreamed of becoming a psychologist. To this end, after graduating from high school in her home town of Watrous, she completed her undergraduate degree, an Honours Bachelor of Science (with a Psychology Specialist, Criminology Major and a Sociology Minor), at the University of Toronto.

With a desire to return home to be closer to family and friends, Mooney moved back to Saskatchewan to continue her educational journey. However, Mooney felt some uncertainty about which route she should take to further her education: “I was uncertain on whether clinical or educational psychology was the right route for me, so I applied to both clinical and educational psychology programs and was admitted to the Educational Psychology program at the University of Regina in 2020. I chose the thesis route specifically because I wanted the option to potentially pursue a doctorate degree in the future and knew that completing a master’s thesis would prepare me well for doctoral research,” says Mooney.

The idea for the topic for her thesis took root in the first year of Mooney’s M.Ed. program. Growing up heavily involved in the world of dance as a competitive dancer and dance teacher, Mooney says, “I have witnessed many ways that an individual’s feelings about their body and self-esteem can influence their mental well-being. Because of these experiences, I have had a longstanding interest in promoting body confidence and self-esteem.”

In a Counselling Girls and Women course taught by Dr. Bree Fiissell, Mooney says, “We often discussed topics such as self-esteem, body confidence, body image, and the impact of the current societal emphasis on appearance on how women and girls feel about themselves. Through these discussions, I became further interested in how body confidence could be promoted to prevent the development of mental illnesses such as eating disorders, depression, or anxiety. Because of my longstanding interest in body image and confidence, I began to look into how I could transition these interests into my own research and that is how I landed on my own thesis project where I explored the effects of the Dove Confident Me program aimed at improving body confidence in adolescents.”

Through her research on the effects of the Dove Confident Me program, Mooney discovered “a gap in gender inclusivity, which may limit the ability for the program to improve self-esteem and body confidence. These findings were unexpected, but they identified an important gap in body-based education programs that needs to be addressed to ensure these programs are actually meeting the needs of adolescents struggling with body confidence today.”

This unexpected finding changed the course of her entire thesis. Mooney says, “I think this goes to show that even when research doesn’t go as planned, there is a lot of value in exploring where the research takes you to ensure meaningful results to this field of research.” Identifying this lack in the program ended up being the high point of the research process. Mooney says, “The highlight for me came at the end of my data analysis phase when I was able to recognize that even though the project did not go as planned, we were able to identify a really important issue and gap that is currently not being pursued in research in this area.”

As a recommendation from her findings, Mooney says, “If researchers or educators wish to improve body confidence in their classrooms and adolescents today, we have to pay close attention to the gender dynamics of these classrooms and ensure the material being taught is not promoting the exclusion of any individual’s gender identities.” Mooney hopes that her research will “prompt a larger discussion on how teachers, researchers, and intervention developers can promote inclusivity and create a positive environment for adolescents in their classrooms.”

As for future plans, Mooney recently began her first year at the University of Saskatchewan as a student in their 5-year Clinical Psychology MA/PhD Transfer program. She says, “My plan for the future is to obtain my doctorate degree and practice as a clinical psychologist.”

 

 

 

Award recipient | Dr. Yueming Liu

Dr. Yueming Liu, awarded fall 2022 Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Award

Congratulations to Dr. Yueming Liu, one of two recipients of the fall 2022 Faculty of Education Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Award. The Faculty of Education Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Award was established in 2021 to recognize outstanding academic performance of thesis-based graduate students (Masters and PhD) in Education. This $2,000 award is granted to a student in a graduate program in the Faculty of Education who has exemplified academic excellence and research ability, demonstrated leadership ability and/or university/community involvement, and whose thesis/dissertation was deemed meritorious by the Examining Committee.

Dr. Liu successfully defended her dissertation, “Exploring Chinese Instructors’ Perceptions and Practices of Integrating Culture into Tertiary-Level English Education: A Case Study,” on July 15, 2022. Dr. Liu’s supervisors were Dr. Abu Bockarie and Dr. Dongyan Blachford (Dept. of International Languages). Her committee included Dr. Andrea Sterzuk, Dr. Douglas Brown, & Dr. Philip Charrier (Dept. of History). The External Reviewer was Dr. Rahat Zaidi (University of Calgary), and Dr. Chris Oriet (Dept. of Psychology) was chair.

Research story:

Yueming Liu first visited the University of Regina, Faculty of Education as a visiting scholar between 2011 and 2012, sponsored by the China Scholarship Council. The experience influenced her decision to return to the University of Regina for her PhD program in Education. Liu says, “I observed quite a few classes during that year, including Dr. Paul Hart’s methodology, three of Dr. Andrea Sterzuk’s classes related to second language acquisition, and Dr. Douglas Brown’s sociology class and some others. These classes brought me into the academic field and planted a seed in my heart. The emotional bond that I’ve developed with the faculty and the respectable professors brought me back here to do my PhD degree.”

Lui was born and raised in the capital city of a northeastern province in China where she did her undergraduate degree in a Top 20 university, majoring in British and American Literature. After graduating, Liu became an English instructor in the university where she had studied. Because the city is not an international metropolis, Liu says, “Learning about a different language and culture here, like in many other inland cities in China, means that one has limited access to native English speakers and real-life intercultural encounters. Textbooks and the Internet are the primary sites where English learners encounter the target language culture. Addressing the intercultural dynamic is a challenging pedagogical endeavor here when students do not enjoy exposure to real-life culture of English-speaking countries, requiring creativity on the instructors’ part.”

Liu’s interest in her research topic, “Exploring Chinese Instructors’ Perceptions and Practices of Integrating Culture into Tertiary-Level English Education: A Case Study,” was sparked by her own intercultural experiences. She says, “Five years of living and studying in Canada was a transformative journey for me. I was able to be truly involved in communications with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. These experiences caused me to rediscover the complexity of intercultural communication and cultural teaching. I found truth in what Sewell (1999) concluded: Intercultural communication is ‘shot through with willful actions, power relations, struggle, contradiction and change.’ By then, I had started to question the common practice of teaching the generalized culture as bounded by geographic borders. Although a generalized cultural sketch is usually the starting point of one’s journey towards intercultural understanding, it should by no means be the end point. Efforts need to be made to help learners to transcend it. A generalized sum-up of any culture can be incomplete, unfair, destructive, and condescending. A transpired generalized inclination tends to jeopardize, rather than facilitate, intercultural communication. These realizations made me want to see how today’s English instructors in Chinese higher educational institutions conceptualize and approach culture and what efforts they are making to prepare their students for complicated and unpredictable intercultural encounters. As a language instructor myself, I realize how essential it is for us to reflect on and have a clear understanding of our own pedagogical philosophy. Language instructors’ pedagogical conceptualization of culture influences how language learners construct intercultural knowledge, develop intercultural attitudes, adjust intercultural behaviors, and perform intercultural roles.”

Through her research, Liu found that “instructors’ pedagogical conceptualizations of culture significantly influence how language instructors identify cultural points, contextualize culture for pedagogical purposes, and scaffold student meaning-making. The participants conceived culture more as a noun, with its referential meaning ready to be transmitted to the learner in form of objective knowledge, than as a verb (Street, 1991), with its meaning to be explored and interpreted in dynamic social interactions. Further, they perceived culture more as social constraints, in the form of cultural norms that demanded conformity, than as public resources that could be drawn on strategically and creatively to serve purposes. In addition, they viewed culture more as value-free, something that could be grasped at the denotative level, than as value-laden with its barely known face hidden under the veil of cultural myth (Barthes, 1957). This way of conceptualizing culture has limiting effects on classroom meaning-making: the referential, normative (conventionalized), and generalized meaning of culture were highlighted and the personalized, symbolic, and ideological meaning of culture were largely underexplored.”

What impressed Liu most about her findings is that “most participants contextualized culture in self-sanctioned ‘purified’ ways to block off cultural dissonances and there was a general resistance towards problematizing cultural meaning and engaging learners in ‘struggles over meaning.’ I pondered on the possible consequences of portraying smooth cultural landscape and papering over the complexity and ambiguity of culture and how this practice will influence which meanings get inactivated in the classrooms. As I see it, the inadequacy is obvious and profound and this issue deserves more attention from language instructors.”

The research project was memorable for Liu because, she says, it “gave me opportunities to talk to my fellow colleagues, listening to their experiences of teaching culture and observing their practices in the classrooms. This was an exciting and discovering process, during which I reflected on the insights provided by the participants and developed an in-depth understanding of the complexities and challenges involved in culture teaching.”

As recommendations for future research, Liu says, “The meaning-making potentials of the current culture instruction could be expanded through exploring poststructuralist perspectives on culture and reorienting culture pedagogies towards individual-level culture, problematized cultural meanings, and more agentive cultural competence.”

Liu says, “I hope that more practicing language instructors could interrogate their pedagogical philosophy before making attempts to address culture within language classroom. I hope that the inadequacy of tourist-like culture teaching could be widely recognized and dealt with. The increasingly complicated nature of transnational communications poses new challenges for intercultural language education and I hope practicing instructors could take the initiative and seek ways to expand the meaning-making potentials of classroom activities.

Following the completion of her Phd, Liu returned to her university in China to teach undergraduate students English as a foreign Language.  “I feel thrilled at the thought of being able to continue working in the field of intercultural language education. I’m looking forward to working with both teachers and students to conduct action research to practice some of my pedagogical ideas concerning culture teaching. Creating opportunities for students to carry out ethnographical project on culture and applying discourse analysis in culture learning, these are but a few possibilities that are waiting for me to try my hands on,” says Liu.

Liu feels grateful for her experiences at the University of Regina, which she says, “helped me to transform from an instructor to a researcher. The classes I observed during 2011 and 2012 led me into the academic world. For the first time, I got to study educational research methodology in a systematic way. I learned how to design and carry out a sound research project. My supervisors, Dr. Abu Bockarie and Dr. Dongyan Blachford guided me in the field of my research area and supported me all the way when I felt overwhelmed by the complexity of culture and culture teaching. I am filled with gratitude for the professors I met here in Regina.”

Award-winning master’s student researches immigrant mothers’ experience of their children’s language loss

Willow Iorga

Willow Iorga (MEd’22) was recently awarded one of two Spring 2022 Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Awards. Willow is currently an Employment Instructor (just promoted to Team Lead of Work Experience and Employer Relations) with the Open Door Society, where she teaches newcomers Canadian workplace skills. She has a BA in geography and an after degree in elementary teacher education, both from the University of Regina. Willow’s award-winning thesis is entitled, “The Immigrant Mother’s Experience of Their Children’s Heritage Language Loss.” What follows is Willow’s research story:

Willow grew up on Pender Island, BC, located off the west coast of Canada, on a 3-acre organic farm/garden. When she was 11, her parents introduced her to world travel, selling their Pender Island property and traveling to Hawaii, New Zealand, Fiji, Japan and Australia. “We backpacked and camped a lot,” says Willow, “Sometimes I liked traveling, but a lot of times I missed my friends back in Canada.” In Australia, Willow experienced a foreign school system. “It was really different, we had to wear uniforms, it was a lot more strict, they taught Japanese instead of French as a second language, and I was really behind in math,” she says.

It wasn’t so much these younger childhood experiences, however, that have given her insights into what it feels like to be a newcomer, informing her current work and research with newcomers. Willow points to living in Quebec in her late 20s as an experience that really helped her feel what it is like not to speak the language of the context in which one lives. “We were living outside of Montreal and no one spoke English and I was in language classes .… In my French classes, I couldn’t understand anything, unless they translated into English, I was just so lost all the time in that class. I know how confused and lonely that period in Quebec was.”

What led Willow to her research topic, immigrant mothers’ experiences of their children’s heritage language loss, was an experience teaching at the Regina Immigrant Women’s Centre, where the majority of her students were Syrian refugee mothers. Willow says, “They would come to class part time, all were homemakers, responsible for taking care of the children and cooking. They had virtually no time to do homework or practice outside of the class. It was a real struggle to make any progress. When we would chat we would use Google translate to communicate, so we could have real conversations. A lot of them would tell me that their kids were starting to forget Arabic. The kids were put into the school system, into ESL classes, and they were forgetting how to speak Arabic. I wondered, ‘How on earth can they have children that don’t speak the same language?’ cause they can’t communicate in English at all, how can they communicate with their kids? That’s why I chose this topic.”

Due to ethical considerations, Willow did not conduct her research with these particular mothers, but she had relationships with newcomer co-workers and peers who participated in her research. Willow’s findings include the following:

  • Language is fluid. It can be learned and lost at any age, by any family member, depending on their environment and whether one is using their language or not.
  • English quickly becomes the dominant language for newcomer children no matter how much reinforcement they receive at home.
  • Even if kids share a language, they will convert to English rather than their home language.
  • Online resources are important resources that parents can utilize in maintaining their children’s language. “For example, when I asked what mothers did to maintain their child’s language, they all used YouTube channels that they had their kids watch,” says Willow.
  • A lack of shared cultural framework can create a divide between mother and child.

What impressed Willow during her research is a story that a Chinese-speaking participant told her: “Her daughter was in Grade 4 or 5, and a new student who came from China joined their classroom. The teacher sat two Chinese Canadian girls next to the newcomer, to help the new student. But the girls couldn’t understand the newcomer. Even though they all spoke Chinese and understood the words, the context didn’t make sense,” says Willow. This story showed Willow how “language evolves and it is really dependent on context and culture. It’s not just the words.”

The recommendations coming out of Willow’s study target schools and administrators, settlement agencies, and the Government:

  • Schools and school administrators should move toward more inclusive linguistic policies in the classroom.
  • Settlement agencies should move toward more inclusive linguistic policies.
  • Governments should allocate greater resources towards language heritage centres and education.

Willow explains her use of “inclusive linguistic policies” saying, “In my research I found that as a teacher you don’t have to know, speak, or include the child’s language in the classroom. Your attitude alone toward that language can determine whether the student retains it or not. A lot of classrooms and workplaces have English-only rules.”

When asked what she hopes will be the outcome of her research, Willow responded, “For a lot of teachers to change the way they approach language; there are a lot of misconceptions, such as children need to know English to be successful and English needs to be dominant. If you have two or more languages, it is better for your brain development.”

As for future plans, at this point, Willow doesn’t plan to pursue a PhD. For the past four years, she has been a busy mom, full-time instructor at the Open Door Society, part-time teacher at the YWCA, and a master’s student, as well as while a student working as a teaching assistant or research assistant; she is now looking forward to some rest and a slower pace. That decision may or may not sit well with her dad, Dr. Patrick Lewis, a professor of early childhood education at the University of Regina, who was a major influence in her decision to pursue a career in the field of education (and also influenced her to take a thesis-route master’s program). Willow says, “When I was little, I would go to school with my dad who was a teacher, and then I would have to wait after school until he was done his prep work at the end of the day. I was always in his classroom. And when I had to do co-op hours for the career and personal planning program in high school, I always did those in my dad’s classroom.” Another influence was her teaching assistant work with Dr. Fatima Pirbhai-Illich, a professor of language and literacy education at the University of Regina. Willow says, “While I was a geography student, I was a teaching assistant for about 3 years and Fatima had a SSHRC grant and we were doing a pretty big project at Cornwall Alternative School. I was in the classroom a lot with the kids.”

After her geography degree, Willow earned a 2-year elementary education after degree. What Willow enjoyed about her after degree program in education was the internship and field experiences because, she says, “Instead of doing a degree with an idea in your head about the career, you get to be in that environment and decide if you actually want to be in that environment. I was in a Grade 2 class for my internship, and I really didn’t like it. I love kids but I don’t love trying to get them to do math, or be quiet at assemblies, or not hit each other on the playground.” When she graduated, Willow did not chose to apply to teach in a K-12 school system. She says, “You can do so many things with an education degree. There are so many possibilities; you don’t have to be in the K-12 system. I applied to settlement agencies to teach English with adults. When I started teaching I was assigned students who had really low English levels, the majority were refugee women from Syria or Sudan … I did have literacy skills from the elementary program but adult brains are pretty different. So I ended up going back to do my master’s.”

What makes education significant enough to choose a life career in it? Willow says, “I enjoy it. It’s that simple. You have to work your whole life and you have to spend your time doing something, and teaching is something that, no matter what, it’s always enjoyable, always different. I can always change things, and renew things. You have so much creative control. If I’m bored of something, I can change what we’re doing this week.”

 

Award-winning master’s student researches Indigenous language revitalization using video-chat technology

William (Bill) Cook (MEd’22) was recently awarded one of two Spring 2022 Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Awards. Bill is from wapâtikwaciwanohk (Southend, Reindeer Lake) Saskatchewan. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Brandon University in Manitoba. Bill has a BA in Cree Language Studies from the First Nations University of Canada and has taught Cree language at all levels for over 20 years. Bill’s award-winning thesis is entitled, “Indigenous Language Revitalization: Connecting Distant Cree Language Learners With Cree Language Speakers Using Video-Chat Technology.” The following is a Q & A with Bill about his research story:

Q & A with Bill Cook

Why did you chose to do your master’s degree (thesis route)?

I chose the thesis route because when I started considering doing my masters, I was told by a few people that if I were considering doing a PhD program after my masters, then going the thesis route would be beneficial to getting into PhD programs. For me, doing a thesis was much more beneficial than I thought. It taught me how to do a study, how to collect data, how to work with people as participants and co-researchers, and I learned some different methodologies both Indigenous and non-Indigenous on how to approach research. I feel that going this route prepared me to be a better researcher.

 Why did you choose the U of R?

I was a Cree sessional instructor at the First Nations University when I met Dr. Andrea Sterzuk. She had taken a couple of Cree courses that I taught. I had inquired about an EdTech grad program and Andrea mentioned a master’s program through the University of Regina’s Faculty of Education called Curriculum and Instruction, which included EdTech courses that interested me. She thought this would be a good fit. I agreed. I applied for the program and the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research and the Education Research and Graduate Programs offices were so helpful to me during this process. It also allowed for me to continue working close to home.

What were the circumstances that led to your research thesis topic?

My research topic was Indigenous Language Revitalization: Connecting Distant Cree Language Learners with Cree Language Speakers Using Video-Chat Technology. This topic was an easy choice for me to decide on. I have been teaching the Cree language for over 20 years at all levels of education from instructing kindergarten students to university courses. One question I have been asked by many language learners throughout the years has been “What do I do next to become fluent in the language?” and my answer is always to immerse themselves in the language and, if possible, to move into a community that predominantly speaks the target language. Most times, language learners are not able to move to those locations, which are typically First Nations communities. By identifying that distance was the barrier, I wanted to see if using technology to make these connections would be beneficial in language learning and also if this could be an option to anyone from anywhere for Cree speaking practice.

How did this topic become important to you?

I believe the work in Cree language revitalization is very important work. If we ever lose our Indigenous languages in this country of Canada then where do we go to learn them? This is our home, our land. Our Indigenous cultures, languages, traditions, identities stem from this land; the land is our language. This is all we have, we have nothing else, we can’t go anywhere else. We have a responsibility to reclaim, revitalize, preserve, and maintain our Indigenous languages.

What were your research findings?

In doing my research I found that having regular synchronous video-chats were effective in remote language learning in both language and culture. Fluent speakers can share their language and culture just by being themselves from wherever there is Internet access. Also, when working with non-tech savvy participants, you must assist with the technology or else find them someone they are comfortable with to assist them. Laughter was a dominant factor throughout the daily virtual conversations, having fun with your project is a good thing. It was enjoyable to see everyone getting more comfortable with speaking in Cree as much as they could. Video-chat technology is a good tool for connecting grandparent with grandchild; this grandparent/grandchild pair in my study made bannock in real-time while repeating Cree words of the process. (See video below).

What impacted you most about your findings?

What impacted me the most was that once the connections were made, the conversations began to flow naturally. The project began a life of its own and seemed to have a spirit of its own. The participants were able to adapt to technology. I am so grateful to all my participants for their work. The relationships built during this process allowed for the conversations to happen naturally. I wondered if the participants not being face-to-face would be able to achieve this connection and I was impressed that it had.

What was the highlight during the process?

The highlight for me was to get to do my study in my hometown and spend time with my family back home in Southend was a bonus. It reminded me of my childhood, growing up and doing things like netting, plucking ducks, filleting fish, making bannock, and cooking on an open fire. Another highlight was watching my participants, especially my parents, gaining confidence in using the tech tools. Lastly, hearing the Cree language being spoken between the learner and speaker was enjoyable to observe.

What recommendations did you make based on your research findings?

The recommendations I developed were:

  • The use of video-chat technology as a language learning tool is only one way to share language and culture.
  • Investing in tech tools that fit your language learning style is a good investment.
  • Finding ways to employ fluent speakers to share their language and culture using technology is a good step towards revitalizing, preserving, and maintaining language.
  • If you don’t know the protocols of the area then ask; there is nothing wrong with asking.
  • For communities: they can find ways to employ their fluent speakers within their organizations, training community members in technology-based language platforms is a good investment.
  • For schools, universities, and other organizations: they can help in Indigenous language and culture revitalization by incorporating fluent speakers and knowledge keepers within their education systems.

What do you hope will be the outcomes of your research?

I hope to see more opportunities like this study. When the pandemic hit everyone went online to spend time with each other, communicate, and speak, in all languages. I think I have reached an outcome of seeing more people using video-chat tech to communicate and practice language learning. Today, I see many platforms for Indigenous language learning. I hope people continue and grow.

What are your future plans?

My future plans are to continue working in Indigenous language and culture revitalization. I recently got accepted to the Hawaiian and Indigenous Language and Culture Revitalization Doctorate Program at the University of Hawaii in Hilo. I look forward to where that opportunity takes my work. I would like to create employment for fluent Indigenous language speakers with or without having Western education degrees/certificates. This is URGENT to do, as we are losing fluent speakers daily and many of them are not certified to teach in a Western setting. Why do we have to wait for fluent Indigenous language speakers to get certified to pass on their languages? I believe there is a way to incorporate and employ fluent language speakers into Indigenous language programs and courses. I am currently an Assistant Professor at Brandon University. There I will continue teaching the Cree language, creating opportunities for other Indigenous languages, and continued service work in the community and online. I have also been offering a weekly Cree speaking practice group called ‘The Cree Group’ using video-chat. We can be found through Facebook. My work continues with Indigenous languages and cultures using different platforms of technology.

What have been your experiences in the First Nations University of Canada and the University of Regina?

The First Nations University and the University of Regina were both supportive during my studies. All the professors and classmates made my experience enjoyable. The atmosphere was welcoming and I felt at home in these spaces. I give credit to the instructors for being so helpful. There were many opportunities to help me along the way which included study groups, writing groups, financial funding and other support systems that played a role in my success. I am thankful for that.

Who were your influences in deciding on a career in the field of education?

I have to give credit to my late brother and mentor Darren Okemaysim kakî-itît for influencing me in my career in teaching the Cree language. He was my teacher; I took many classes from him. He was my mentor, and gave me the opportunity to teach classes alongside him. He always encouraged me to speak the Cree language, rarely did we ever speak English to each other. He once told me “If you continue your work in the Cree language, you will never go wrong” and he was right. Also, my wife and parents are always supportive and influential of what I do. I feel I am on the right path; this is what I am meant to do. There is lots of work to be done in Indigenous language and culture revitalization.

________________________

Links to Bill’s ongoing Cree language and culture work:

Facebook Group page (announcements) https://www.facebook.com/groups/1422458251268465

Bill’s Website where you can sign up for the Cree Group events: https://www.creeclass.com/

 

 

 

 

 

Queen Elizabeth II Centennial Aboriginal Scholarship

Congratulations to PhD student Jessica Madiratta for being awarded $20,000 for the 2022-2023 Queen Elizabeth II Centennial Aboriginal Scholarship.
“Jessica is obtaining a Doctorate of Philosophy in Education Studies from the University of Regina. Her research is the first of its kind in the province and will explore how building a community of educators over multiple culturally responsive professional development sessions can impact instruction in the classroom and benefit the academic achievement of Indigenous students. This scholarship is awarded annually based on academic excellence.” (Source: Saskatchewan Students)

Visit the website to read the announcement: https://www.saskatchewan.ca/government/news-and-media/2022/may/17/2022-23-queen-elizabeth-ii-scholarship-recipients-announced

Change maker: Transforming schools and society

Grad student and teacher Keilyn Howie (BEd’19) is a change maker. Keilyn’s lived experiences have given her a drive to make schools and society safe for racialized minorities.

Growing up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in the 90s with a White family taught Keilyn what it feels like to be different. “I come with my own privileges because I was born and raised in Saskatchewan, but in a lot of ways as I was growing up I was made to feel very different, and it was quite obvious I was very different, and I was treated differently,” she says.

Following an initial unsuccessful attempt at university, Keilyn moved to Regina in 2011 where she met a Black professor who encouraged her to go into education: “I was helping her out at Footlocker, where I worked, and she said, ‘You would make a really great teacher! You should go into education.’”

Though Keilyn couldn’t envision herself as a teacher at the time, she was still drawn to the field of education because she had a younger brother with autism, and she had witnessed her mother’s impact as an advocate for him and his needs in the public school system. When Keilyn took a job with the Autism Resource Centre, she was motivated by their requirements to work on her Educational Assistant (EA) certificate.

Later, in 2014, while working with Regina Public Schools (RPS) as an EA, Keilyn had the privilege of working with a teacher who inspired her to become a teacher: “I was with an amazing educator who was so inspirational, just the way she worked with students. I was so touched and moved and I thought ‘I want to be like that.’ She encouraged me to go to university to get my education degree.” The RPS community school she was working in also affected Keilyn: “Education looked different in a community school, just the impact you could have as a teacher. I felt that I could contribute something, just through the relationships formed with students. Teaching is so relationship based, especially in a community school. I felt that who I am and my experiences and lenses would fit well in a community school setting.”

With all this encouragement, Keilyn finally decided to become a teacher. She entered the Elementary Education program at the University of Regina and found the experience life changing. “The first class was BAM, so eye opening;” Keilyn says, “Dr. Carol Schick’s class gave me the language to describe my experience. Growing up in Saskatchewan, we didn’t really talk about race and racism. Especially when I was growing up in the 90s, there wasn’t a lot of diversity; it was a pretty lonely world. I learned the language for the world around me, to name, recognize, and address oppression and racism in different forms. I’ve been drawn to this work in this field ever since.”

Reflecting further on Dr. Schick’s class, Keilyn says, “My identity was being validated in that class—to learn that this is how society is and that it needs to change. Before I had thought it was just me that needed to change. Even for the other students in the class to learn the language of anti-racism and anti-oppression … it wasn’t only my introduction to this language, it was also new to my peers. I remember another person in the class making sense of intersectionality and binaries, saying, ‘So if you’re a woman and you’re Black, it’s like a double negative?’ It was so jarring for me to hear that, but at least he was trying to make sense of it, and he was realizing that somebody who looks like me has a lot more to overcome than somebody who looks like him. Even with moments like that, as hard as they are to hear, there is hope: people are still learning, and people are changing, and it gives me much hope for the future.”

In her third year of university, Keilyn experienced her first Black professor, Dr. Barbara McNeil, who had encouraged her while she worked at Footlocker: “I think that shows how important representation is. I had lived my whole life with White teachers who never told me that I could be a teacher or that I would be a great teacher. I didn’t feel seen when I was growing up, didn’t see myself reflected in the classroom. I didn’t see Black kids in books or hear Black voices. It inhibited my identity growth for a long time.”

After graduating in 2019, Keilyn began her teaching career in a community school. Just one month later, she was challenged by the pandemic and the movement to remote teaching. The pandemic, she says “really opened my eyes to some of the inequities that community schools face, so I really wanted to become an advocate for these communities. That’s been driving me ever since.”

To make the changes that are needed, Keilyn is active with her Division’s Diversity Steering Committee and an Anti-Racist, Anti-Oppressive Advisory Committee. “All of these experiences over many years have put me in a place to speak and advocate for people in these communities, to advocate for the change that is so desperately needed in our Division, not only in community schools. The necessary conversations are being shied away from and I really want to be the voice to open those doors and make it seem less daunting to talk about what’s right, justice and equity, even with my young students.”

Now in her third year of teaching, Keilyn brings all of her personal and professional experiences, to her classroom of Grades 1 and 2 students at Thomson Community School in Regina. “I just love it here. Being a person of colour is really helpful in a community school. The demographics in a community school are diverse and representation is so important. With my experiences, I feel I’m able to connect with these students and even their parents who might be new to the country, or who might have some generational mistrust of schools.”

In her master’s program in education, Keilyn is planning her thesis and anticipates exploring anti-Black racism in Saskatchewan. “It’s such a big void, but it’s something I still personally experience and I’m from Saskatchewan so I can only imagine what other people are experiencing.”

Inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission model, Keilyn says, “First there needs to be truth so we can get at what the issue is, how deep this issue is, what we even need to address, and then working on the action pieces to follow: How can we create these changes? How can we create more safe and inclusive spaces?”

With her work to make change in education, Keilyn hopes we can “re-imagine education. I think we can use education as a tool to transform schools and societies. [see K. Kumashira’s anti-oppressive model]. We can make sure that kids don’t go through what I went through when I was younger.” Keilyn summarizes with a quote by Ivan Fitzwater, saying, “The future of the world is in my classroom today.”

Keilyn’s Recommendations for Safe, Inclusive Classrooms

A foundation of belonging. Creating a classroom climate where kids feel safe and have a sense of belonging is important for them to learn. Keilyn says, “I’m intentional about making sure they all see themselves in the classroom. Even little things like this board on wall (see photo left.) My students love it. It builds that community.” This sense of belonging is fostered by several aspects in Keilyn’s teaching:

Conversations guided by great literature. Having a great selection of books with diverse topics and characters is Keilyn’s top teaching best practice suggestion. She says, “I don’t use a lot of pencils and papers, or worksheets. I teach through conversations, started with high quality literature. We have amazing conversations. Books are so important. I aim for three read alouds every day. I look for a books that match what I want to achieve. I don’t just read the book and move on. We talk about it. I ask them ‘What are your questions?’ which is more inviting than ‘Are there any questions?’ I am honest when I don’t know the answer to their question and we research it together.”

Responsive teaching. Part of creating a sense of belonging is being guided by the interests of students and their identities. Keilyn says, “I try to be culturally responsive. I use that globe all of the time because we are always talking about who we are as people and how we are all connected on this beautiful land. If I get a new student, we pull out the globe and look at where they come from and what languages they speak. If they are comfortable, they tell us about that, and we learn some of their language. It’s really important to me to let the kids be leaders and to introduce them to as many viewpoints as possible.”

Flexibility. Flexibility with daily plans is another aspect of Keilyn’s responsive teaching. “I’m very flexible–I have my day plans, if I veer from that, it’s okay. Listening to students and where they are at and what they are wondering might be the most important thing you do that day. If something negative happens, such as an experience of racism, stop your lesson to address what is happening because that will be the most important lesson of their day. We want students to feel seen and validated, so if we brush off their experiences or the things they are feeling, that’s not going to help them, the classroom climate, or the world. We have to address these things as they come up.”

Critical self-reflection. Keilyn adds that critical self-reflection is another important piece of developing a culture of belonging: “Teachers need to keep educating themselves about, for example, anti-racism. This is a pretty new field for a lot, especially in Saskatchewan. Teaching is so influential because were not just teaching the curriculum but also the hidden curriculum. If you don’t take the time to address your lenses or biases that you might be bringing, you might just be perpetuating those norms.”

Decolonize and Indigenize. Keilyn is working to decolonize and Indigenize her classroom as well. Walking into her classroom, one immediately sees the bundles of wild sage hanging on the door, which were gifted to her class. The next thing you might see is the classroom treaty that she and her students develop at the beginning of each year. Keilyn explains this activity is “a simple way to talk about treaty and historical context.”

Using the resources she finds through the School Division, Keilyn develops new opportunities to start conversations about what people have experienced, what they did historically, how newcomer settlement affected their lives, and how to get back to learning on the land. “I invite a lot of guest speakers into the classroom and I have the school Elder come in once a week to spend times with kids.”

Spring 2022 Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Award recipients

Congratulations to Master’s students Willow Iorga and Bill Cook on being selected as the two  recipients of the Spring 2022 Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Award!

The Faculty of Education Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Award was established in 2021 to recognize outstanding academic performance of thesis-based graduate students (Masters and PhD) in Education.

This $2,000 award is granted to a student in a graduate program in the Faculty of Education who has exemplified academic excellence and research ability, demonstrated leadership ability and/or university/community involvement, and whose thesis was deemed meritorious by the Examining Committee.