Archive for the ‘QTL’ Category

playful storytelling opening session

Posted on: November 30th, 2016 by jnovakowski

Marie Thom and I hosted our opening session for our Playful Storytelling through the First Peoples Principles of Learning series. We are in the fourth year of this project in our district, involving ten elementary schools over the years.


Many of the storytelling experiences we have engaged in so far have involved local plants and animals, the use of natural materials to create local settings, retelling of stories by indigenous authors and illustrators and the use of animal characters, story stones, puppets and “peg doll” characters for the students to create their own stories. We have attended professional learning opportunities at the Musqueam Cultural Centre to consider how culture, language and place could inspire our project.

After an acknowledgement of territory, a welcome, introductions, and an overview of the history of this project, as we sat in a circle, we asked each teacher to consider and then share what First Peoples Principle of Learning they identified with and why and to share what they were curious about in terms of this project for this school year.


Kathleen Paiger and Ellen Reid, who taught together at Steves Elementary last year and are going into their third year of the project (Ellen is teaching at Blair this year), shared their story of their experience and their students’ experience in this project.

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Leanne McColl, one of our district’s teacher consultants shared the draft goals of our new Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement with the Musqueam community and we considered how this continues to inspire and give meaning to our project.


Leanne also shared information about the new Musqueam teaching resource and kit that was co-created with UBC’s Museum of Anthropology and the Musqueam Nation. The link to the online resources to support the Musqueam teaching kit developed by the Museum of Anthrop0logy and the Musqueam community is HERE.

To extend the story experiences we have been engaging in so far, we focused on the idea of creating story landscapes by weaving in more sensory experiences to our storytelling experiences- sounds, movement, textures and scents. I shared a video I had taken at Garry Point as an idea to use video of as a background or backdrop for storytelling experiences, inspired by the “forest room” created by the educators at Hilltop School in Seattle. The video can be viewed HERE.

Marie presented several storytelling provocations to inspire new layers and dimensions we could add to our storytelling experiences with students.

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img_8946To honour the importance of the learning through the oral tradition, at the beginning of our time together, we asked Michelle Hikida, who has been a part of this project since the first year, to listen during the session and to synthesize and summarize the key learnings at the end of the session. Michelle chose to use pictorial symbols to help her remember the four learnings she wanted to share with the group.


In their reflections at the end of the session, many teachers commented that they wanted to try more storytelling experiences outdoors as well as adding more sensory layers. We are looking forward to lots of inspiring and creative stories created by our students this year!


playful storytelling project celebration

Posted on: May 10th, 2016 by jnovakowski

On Thursday, May 5th Marie Thom and I hosted a year end sharing celebration for our Playful Storytelling through the First Peoples Principles of Learning project. This project began as a Ministry affiliated Quality Teaching and Learning project (hence the QTL tag in the category section of this blog) with four of our Richmond schools and has grown to ten schools being involved – Blair, Blundell, Diefenbaker, Kidd, Steves, Ferris, Cook, Tomsett, Bridge and Debeck. This year we were glad that a French Immersion school wanted to be a part of the project.


We had our first session in the fall (blog post here) and teachers have been providing storytelling experiences to their students over the year. Because of other curricular demands, Marie and I haven’t been able to make it into classes as much this year but we were able to provide TTOC release to our teachers in the first year of the project to go an visit teachers’ classrooms who have been involved in the project for a couple of years. This proved to be a valuable experience!

At our event on Thursday, each school shared one thing that they have tried this year from felting story settings, retelling stories from picture books, creating cedar storyboards to creating story stones.

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Teachers shared their professional learning in different ways – through powerpoint slides, sharing student creations or preparing documentation panels.

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After a lovely dinner together, each school team was provided with some new resources from Native Northwest and Strong Nations. We looked through the new books and shared ways we might be able to use them in our classrooms.


In asking teachers to reflect on their experiences in the project, they commented on a need to share resources and ideas and wanting more opportunities for collaboration and observations/visits to other classrooms.

When we asked teachers to consider a moment or event where they noticed a shift in their practice regarding the First Peoples Principles of Learning, some of the written reflections we received included:

“When I noticed during our sharing circles how students’ responses had changed and reflected the principles of patience and respect.”

“I noticed the children’s relationships to each other and the environment around them.”

“Children were using the ideas of place in their play.”

It is powerful to see the First Peoples Principles of Learning enacted in our classrooms and in our professional learning communities. Marie and I are looking forward to continuing our work with this project next year!


playful storytelling project

Posted on: November 23rd, 2015 by jnovakowski

We are into our third year of a playful storytelling project that focuses on the First Peoples Principles of Learning. Blog posts about the first two years of the project can be found by clicking on the QTL category in the right side bar. The first year of the project was part of a Ministry initiative looking at Quality Teaching and Learning and since then it has been a district-based project. This year we have added three new schools – Debeck, Tomsett and Bridge, to bring the number of schools involved up to ten. Each school has a team of primary teachers, and often a teacher-librarian or learning resource teacher, that are engaging in professional learning and classroom-based experiences.

The goals of the project focus on creating opportunities for oral storytelling experiences in primary classrooms, with connections to place through the use of local natural materials and local plant, animals and stories. We also explore the language of place with the language of the place where we now live, work and go to school being the language of the Musqueam people - hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓.

Teachers new to the project along with members from our Aboriginal Success Team joined Marie Thom and I on the afternoon of October 27th for a lunch together, an introduction to the goals of the project, some gifts of materials and resources and time to plan together.




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School teams received baskets of materials and resources from Strong Nations, Native Northwest, FNESC and story baskets from ThinkinEd.

Diefenbaker teachers Kelly Hinks and Michelle Hikida, who have been involved in the project since the first year, shared some ideas and experiences from their classrooms and shared what they have learned and gained from being involved in the project. Both teachers commented that they both have more confidence teaching with Aboriginal content and through the First Peoples Principles of Learning and that this has come with increased knowledge and rich professional learning experiences as part of this project. They have also noticed increased awareness in their students of our local Aboriginal communities and high engagement in storytelling experiences.


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We are looking forward to documenting lots of wonderful stories being created in Richmond classrooms and are using the hashtag #sd38story to share on Twitter.


cedar weaving

Posted on: June 17th, 2015 by jnovakowski

Back in April, the Richmond School District’s Aboriginal Education department hosted Alice Guss of the Squamish Nation for a morning of cedar weaving. Alice is an artist, storyteller and drummer and has been involved in the field of education for over twenty years. She does workshops around the world in drum making and weaving.

More information about Alice can be found HERE.

We invited Alice back to Richmond as part of our National Aboriginal Day celebrations and this week she worked with two of our QTL (Playful Storytelling through First Peoples  Principles) classes at Steves and then joined teachers from the project after school.

Kathleen Paiger’s kindergarten class and Ellen Reid’s grades 1 and 2 class at Steves Elementary listened to Alice singing and drumming and learned about how cedar is harvested for the purposes of weaving and making practical items and regalia. Alice shared some of items that are made from different parts of the cedar tree.



The students learned how to weave a cedar bookmark and they were quite interested in the texture and smell of the wood.

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The students then enjoyed listening to Alice’s stories and she said them in some dancing to her drumming, with the students taking on different animal roles.


After school, a group of teachers involved in our QTL project along with some other interested educators, came together. Alice shared her family’s history and we learned about the story of The Chief in Squamish and  of the two-headed serpent, a story important to the Squamish people. The teachers then learned more about the importance of cedar and how cedar trees that have been culturally modified (stripped for cultural purposes) can not be cut down by logging companies. An article about culturally modified trees can be found HERE.






The teachers learned how to weave a small cedar basket. There was lots to be learned during the process about persistence and learning new things and also about the natural properties of the cedar. The completed projects were cherished by the teachers and were all one of a kind.


It was an honour to have Alice join us in Richmond again and we hope to have her back again next year!


creating cedar storyboards

Posted on: June 7th, 2015 by jnovakowski

Inspiration comes from all sorts of places…connections are made, ideas emerge and a plan of action gets set in motion. A friends is an eco-artist and she recently posted an image of a repurposed roof shingle she used for an art class with students. I quickly made my way over to our local building supply store in Steveston to see what kind of red cedar shingles or shims were available. I bought a huge bundle of cedar shakes for $30.

As part of our QTL storytelling project, many of the classes involved have been learning about local plants and animals and the importance of the cedar tree to local Aboriginal communities. We have also learned that although totem poles are iconic to the northwest coast, the local Musqueam community did not carve totem poles but did have house posts and beams carved from cedar.

I worked with Michelle Hikida and her grade 2&3 class at Diefenbaker to develop this project. We began by introducing the boards to the students the smell of fresh cedar filled the classroom. Connecting to a story Michelle had read the class (Totem Tale by Deb Vanasse), we introduced the idea of a symbol or image that would represent part of a story. The students then created their stories using materials and practiced telling them to each other. Michelle then created a story plan for them to think about the sequence of their stories and what symbols might be important. Then, the students practiced drawing their symbols before painting them on their boards. The students then used their storyboards to retell their stories to each other and to students from other classes.

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At our year end sharing session with teachers involved in the QTL project, Michelle brought her students’ story planks and shared the process with other teachers, many who were inspired to try this with their own classes.

We also put out extra cedar shakes and acrylic paints and asked teachers to share their own story of this professional learning experience.

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taking our storytelling outside

Posted on: March 10th, 2015 by jnovakowski

On Tuesday afternoon, the three kindergarten and kindergarten & grade one classes at Ferris took their storytelling outside.

IMG_0426We began with the story, Where is Mouse Woman? based on a traditional Haida story. Jada is looking of her friend Mouse Woman and uses the help of all sorts of animals to help her find her friend. When she finds Mouse Woman hiding in a log, Jaada asks her to come to her potlatch and the story ends with the two friends enjoying singing and dancing at the potlatch. I explained that a potlatch was like a celebration, sometimes including ceremonies and involved the sharing of food, singing, stories and dancing. Some of the students made connections to birthday parties and Christmas. Remembering that these students are five years old, we acknowledged their personal connections and didn’t go any further with the concept of the potlatch at this time.

It was a misty cool afternoon so the students put on their coats and they each chose two animal characters to take outside. I modelled a frame for a story that they might tell based on Where is Mouse Woman?- one character hiding and the other looking for it. Some of the students framed their stories like this, while others created their own stories.

In all three classes, there was high engagement and enthusiasm for going outside. The teachers and I observed a settling in period – some students ran around exploring and others wandered, not sure quite what to do. This was the first time for taking storytelling outside and there was some unsureness amongst the students. Within about 5-10 minutes, the students settled in to their stories, some by themselves, others in partners and others in small groups. There were many stories up and down and all around the big trees in the schoolyard. Pinecones, twigs, leaves and rocks were collected to create places to hide characters.

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There was disappointment in all three classes when we told them it was time to come inside (I was visiting three classes in one afternoon) and I know they will have other opportunities to take their storytelling outside.

A video of two kindergarten students’ story of finding their friends hiding behind a tree can be viewed HERE.


what stories live in clay?

Posted on: March 9th, 2015 by jnovakowski 1 Comment

On Monday I spent the afternoon at Steves Elementary in Ellen Reid’s grades 1&2 classroom and Kathleen Paiger’s kindergarten classroom. Both teachers are taking part in our QTL playful storytelling project and also have a proposal for an AESN (NOII) grant to support the work they are doing around the goals of our AEEA, in particular around the themes of community and place. Hmm…that’s a lot of acronyms.

QTL – Quality Teaching and Learning Project (Ministry then district based)

AESN (NOII) – Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network as part of the Network of Inquiry and Innovation

AEEA – Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement

The Steves teachers and I, along with some other Richmond colleagues, spent an inspiring day out at  the Musqueam Cultural Centre on Friday, learning about their language revitalization initiatives. We wanted to weave some of the teachings from that day into our time together. The language of the Musqueam people is not an easy one to learn. The hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language is complex but fortunately we were provided with some audio resources of elders using the language so our students could hear this language of our place. I think its important for our students to hear the language that was used on the land and in the waters for thousands of year before it was called Richmond and the Fraser River by settlers. Language and culture are intertwined and the teachers and I agreed that while we have been learning about the story of this place, the language piece was an important layer to add. We viewed the interactive Musqueam Places Names Map and played some of the place names in our area for the students. They listened so carefully to the elders speak the words and I watched many of the students try to mouth the words as they were listening. We also noted how the places were named. For example, a beach along the south arm of the river was not named “London Beach” but referred to as driftwood beach. Many of the students chimed in to say they knew that beach with all the driftwood! As we brought out the materials, one kindergarten student shared how he created a scene with trees and knocked one down, he could call it “the fallen down tree place”. Big ideas for five year olds!

After a discussion about place and language, the students were invited to create stories using various materials. Today, we also introduced the “language” of clay and asked the students to think about what stories live  within the clay and how it could help them tell stories of place. We talked about how clay came from the Earth and many students connected to digging and finding clay. There was much exploring today and I left the clay behind at the school so the students can continue to investigate the affordances of this material.

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In Ellen’s class it was interesting to note how some students had a definite affinity for certain materials and Ellen said they went back to those same materials again and again. Some students like the kinaesthetic, gross motor experience of the puppets, others like moving the little animals and loose parts around in their settings and others enjoyed using the upright felt board. Some of the students wanted to continue capturing their stories using Book Creator on the iPads.

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In Kathleen’s kindergarten class, the students created all sorts of stories about place.

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The place in the setting above was called “the muddy place near the forest and near the water where the fish are and oh, there’s snow there too” and so we shortened it to The Muddy Place to keep things simple but the group of boys clearly got the idea of naming the place by describing it and how it might have been used for fishing. Amongst a very complex story going on with four boys, one boy stopped for a few minutes to tell me one part of the story and then he was right back with the group.


Here is a link to another kindergarten student’s story HERE.

The teachers commented that the students ask for storytelling everyday. We observed such high engagement, focus and collaboration amongst the students. It is also clear that these young students are taking in some big concepts around community and place. We debriefed after school and thought about ways we can support further connections for the students, particularly around language.


playful storytelling at Tomsett

Posted on: February 21st, 2015 by jnovakowski

Salima Parvez, kindergarten teacher at Tomsett Elementary, received an Innovation Grant this year to investigate playful storytelling through the First Peoples Principles of learning. Drawing from our experience with the Quality Teaching and Learning project (QTL), we have planned some story retelling and story creation experiences for her students. Salima is using some of the TTOC release time provided through the grant to visit Diefenbaker and Steves classrooms that are involved in the QTL project.

Salima has read The Little Hummingbird with the students and they have enjoyed retelling and re-enacting the story. During my visit last week, we talked with the students about Richmond might have looked like thousands of years ago (before Costco, Superstores, cars and roads etc) and how the land and river was shared by Aboriginal peoples for fishing as well as food and plant gathering. I read them several pages from the book Sharing Our World, which explains the significance of many animals important to Aboriginal culture of the Pacific Northwest. The students were then asked to think of a story involving the animals and to create a scene or setting for their story.

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As the children created their scenes and chose their animal characters, Salima and I sat alongside the students, listening to and documenting their stories. We took photographs, video clips, used the notes app to scribe students’ stories or the SodaSnap app to capture a photograph and short story. The focus of the project is to focus on oral storytelling and finding ways to capture the students’ stories is an important part of the process, so that we can see how the students’ sense of story and use of language is developing.




Here is a link to a short video of some of of the students’ stories HERE.


place-based learning at Diefenbaker

Posted on: February 7th, 2015 by jnovakowski

Diefenbaker was one of the four schools that began in the Ministry’s Quality Teaching and Learning project last year around our district focus of playful storytelling using natural materials and weaving in the First Peoples Principles of Learning. Three of the teachers and one new staff member are continuing in the project this year which is also meshing nicely with a school-wide professional learning focus on the First Peoples Principles of Learning, Aboriginal education and indigenous knowledge.

On Friday, I spent the morning at the school and a block of time in all four classes. A teacher from Tomsett joined me in the classroom visits as she is working on an Innovation Grant project based on the QTL project.

We began in Jaclyn Cruz’s kindergarten classroom where they are just beginning to engage in playful oral storytelling. Today, the students were focused on building and creating scenes for their stories. A variety of materials were provided for the students to choose from. The classroom teacher and ELL teacher both recorded students’ descriptions of their story scenes using their iPads.

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This student explained, “The bears are going to go in the forest and eat things. Here are trees and water and this is a log with grass in case you fall off.”

We then visited Michelle Hikida’s grades 2&3 classroom where the students spent the fall learning about the Fraser River. This week, they have begun to consider the stories that the Fraser River has to tell. The students created their story scenes, incorporating their factual and historical knowledge of the Fraser River – its depth and speed, what animals would be living in and near the river, what plants and trees would be near the river and how people interact with the river.

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The classroom teacher paused the students so that a student could share his story. The students gathered around and watched and listened as he told his story. His classmates had thoughtful comments noting his expressive voice and a learning message about forgiveness built into the story.

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After recess we visited Margaret Choinski’s grades 2&3 classroom where the students have written stories based on story scenes they created using photograph backgrounds.


The class has read the story Yetsa’s Sweater by Sylvia Olsen and the students have learned about the history of the Cowichan sweater.


Margaret has shown them a video documentary about the process of making the sweaters and the students have become well aware of the social justice issues involved with how these sweaters created huge profits for owners of tourist stores, particularly on Vancouver Island. The video of The Story of the Coast Salish Knitters can be found HERE.

On Friday, the students were creating border designs for a toque for one of the students’ new baby brother. Margaret is an expert knitter and is going to use of the student’s designs to create this special gift. Margaret shared knitting patterns she was able to find and provided the students with grid paper and some tips on creating a design that could be replicated. The students often chose elements from the artistic animal tiles that Margaret has in the classroom

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Our last visit was to Kelly Hink’s kindergarten classroom. Here is the area in her classroom full of storytelling materials.


On each table was a plat of materials ready for students to select from.


The students had previously read the little book Raven and the Box from Strong Nations and retold that story. Today they were reading the little book I Spy Raven and retelling it, using their own choice of characters. Kelli modelled choosing characters and using the language from the book, demonstrated how to change the language to make sense for the characters they had chosen and the materials they had available. The students were paired together for their story creation and telling.




As in Michelle’ class, Kelli paused the class to listen to one pair’s story, to inspire students with their own stories.


Here is a link to two students sharing their story – HERE.

So much playing with language for five year olds!




celebrating winter with stories

Posted on: December 11th, 2014 by jnovakowski

I have visited the two new schools I am working with on our playful storytelling project (QTL) this year and shared a lovely new book by Terri Mack called Mouse Celebrates the Winter Solstice available here. This story highlights principles and themes like community, celebration, the role of elders and family and the power of stories.

After reading and discussing the themes in the story, the children had an opportunity to create their own stories about the winter solstice. Some stories focused on winter and the forest while others focused more on celebrations and bringing a community or families together.

At Steves, the K and 1&2 class looked at the cover of the picture book and predicted what the story might be about. The students loved looking for the mouse and her footprints in the snow. They also were quite interested in the illustrations of the “star pictures” or constellations. The students also enjoyed the illustrations showing all the animals from the forest coming together to celebrate and were proud to name them.

The students then created their own stories, taking time to carefully create their settings. The students take such care in creating these small story worlds, paying attention to details. Many of the students incorporated the photo blocks the students had created, using photographs of their local environment along the dyke.



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The students also used story stones that they had made.



At Ferris we began our time with the K and K&1 classes by sharing some materials to help the students think about the story.


The students were quite excited to learn about how pinecones open and close depending on the weather!

We spread out some materials for students to create their own wintery story scenes.


As we listened in on their stories, we noticed that the students were developing a stronger sense of story development with some sort of beginning and ending. Some students continue to describe their story scene while others are beginning to use dialogue between the characters and have some sort of action or activity in their story.

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The students in all three of the classes at Ferris liked having photographs taken of their stories and would often call me or their teachers over to take the photos. I would then ask the students to “tell” me their stories and audio-typed them on my iPhone. Although the focus of this project for our young learners is on oral language development, that concept that “talk can be written down” and that their stories can be captured in different ways to share with others has become an important part of the project.