Exploring Student Identity-Volume 1


Robin Persad, Peel District School Board

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By giving students the grounds on which to explore their identity and developing
culturally responsive pedagogy, we promote positive relationships within our classrooms and excellence in student achievement.

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overview of swst initiative

This is a monograph exploring the results of The Student Work Study Initiative (SWS) which documents a collaborative inquiry between classroom teachers and a Student Work Study Teachers in the Mississauga, ON area. As a working document, this is an illustration project of pedagogical production and documentation. Through examination of the process including pivotal moments, a group of teachers work together in an action-context to propose, develop and facilitate creative student narrative production. The process has been undertaken in various ways in primary and junior grades using diverse narrative forms, including media technologies, art, music and dance.

Co-planning, co-teaching and extensive interpretation employ Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (CRP) to engage in pedagogical documentation, a set practices grounded in a “pedagogy of listening” (Tarr, 2011, 13).

Personal Narrative is employed for literacy development to embed Ontario Curriculum based content, the use of required units renegotiated through multiple platforms across a cross-discipline format.

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy is grounded in best practices, awareness of socio-cultural impacts on individual learning, opportunity, self-knowledge development, community-family empowerment, positive affirmation and aspiration to highest expectations (based on Villegas and Lucas). Pedagogical documentation explicitly links “learning goals, outcomes, the study of and interpretation of how students make meaning (Alcock, 2000; Wien, 2015).

We work together in an educational community with a diverse multicultural, multilingual population. We write, we ask questions, we dance, we prepare songs, we think about food, create music, tell stories, consider our grandparents, our parents, our journeys, talk about new land, our birthplace, foods, customs. Each of our stories is unique, different, yet has common points of clarity, encourages talk and dialogue, is specific and connected. We connect, we make work and we share perspectives: we fit this to social history, explore ideas of inclusion and engage practices of social justice.

A necessary question to ask is:

What is pedagogical documentation and what is its purpose? How does it differ from other forms of documentation, other methodologies of assessment?

It is the conscious act of purposeful listening to student ‘voices’ to understand their process of individual thinking; thinking through doing (Wien, 2015). Pedagogical documentation involves choosing to document specific, important moments of student process in the course of a unit of work. Teacher-documentation of the students’ narrative production in this project has been chosen to share by a collaborative group of teachers to be used in future by other students and other teachers. Making school relationships and curriculum have civic and personal meaning; between teacher and student, teacher and teacher, administrators, students and parents. Teachers learn to trace the meaning of ‘dialogue’ that emerges. Dialogue, often an inner one, is between the student and the accurate representation of his or her development.


Pedagogical documentation is a self-reflexive method through which teachers, as research-educators, engage in the elaborate and holistic rethinking of cognition, introducing greater respect for student autonomy and agency, no matter the student’s age. It is the process of exploring the “cognition of difference and multiplicity” (Dahlberg, Moss and Pence, 2007, 156). It moves beyond hierarchical pre-determined assessment, therefore a corrective to “othering”. It is an active, social justice mode reorganizing the classroom to focus on belonging and understanding. Pedagogical documentation originates in Northern Italy’s Reggio Emilia pre-school programs in the 1970s adopted around the world by educators, centred in a philosophy of “Questioning, reflection, research and adaptation” (Bredekamp,1993, 15).

Pedagogical documentation is “the documentation of living moments” (Wien, 2015). The teacher-researcher, reflecting on what he or she is seeing, traces students’ significant activities through their process. Teachers interpret and read together in a dialogue, creating an ethic (Wien, 2015). In documenting relevant moments that trace a variety of possible meanings is to fully understand students's learning process.

“Physical traces allow others to revisit, interpret, reinterpret, and even re-create an experience.” (Krechevsky, Mardell, Rivard, & Wilson, 2013, p. 74)

Working with ELLs in the Classroom

“To deepen empathy, to construct ethical relationships"

(Bath, 2012; Dahlberg, Moss & Pence, 2006; Rinaldi, 2006).

“Reflection. Discussion. Action. Collaborative Review. Talk.” (Alcock, 4). The goal is ‘studying and understanding the whole child’ (Alcock, 6). How to make Voice come most to life to foster development, scaffolds language, creative expression, inquiry and content mastery.

Some Examples (ELL Voices in the Classroom, Ontario Ministry of Education Secretariat #8).

  • Flexible seating
  • Self-Reflection
  • Group Work (duo, three, four or more)
  • Appropriate Talk
  • Language modelling (pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar structures)
  • “Meaning is always informed by context and audience” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2009).
  • Listening
  • Creating
  • Writing
  • Multi-media formats (new technologies)
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Personal Narratives: Literacy Strategy in the Multilingual Classroom

Whether in primary or junior classrooms, the teachers and students are working through prompts and strategies to construct and document personal narrative in some way, shape or form. This produces the material for the process of implementing a new methodology of workable. Whether it is deciding which media to use, which subject to write or create new material about, aspects of being from how to overcome feelings of shyness, awkwardness, even shame; how to collaborate, share, listen and speak within the framework of a open-inclusive classroom, activity grounds and introduces pivots revolving around: self, curriculum-expectation, scaffolding, expansion of repertoires, introduction of social-justice frames through culturally responsive pedagogy.

The above photo shows four Grade 5 students forming into a process-group, negotiating individual responses to media, text production, dialogue and story making. The images shows how establishment of leadership and co-learning occurs, it provides evidence of engaged responses and concentration through the collaborative group as a rich active learning mode.

Methodologies of Listening and of Sharing

The Speaking Voice. The Listening Voice. What are they? Why do we employ these terms?

Grade 1 Student: “I like to share who I am so people can understand me.”

Grade 1 Student: “Drawing my story was good to say my story.”

Grade 4 Student: “I like writing about who I am and what I stand for. It has made a difference for me. I like talking to my friends and opening up to them. I love art and art is me!”

Grade 5 student: “I feel that the identity story helps me feel more brave. It lets you share your background and culture with people, and makes you feel proud about who you are and where you come from.”

“Listening” refers to a conception that teachers can ‘listen’ to and better understand the diverse ways students learn, co-teach or collaborate through frameworks of theory of action. Rinaldi (2006) maintains teachers grow and learn from students when they listen through all their senses.

The socially aware classroom uses intentional narrative for purposes of documenting the important moments of realization of “I” in a context. Learning experiences of students should be recorded and analyzed, moving beyond traditional assessment (Wien, 2015).

Process of Documentation

How do teachers learn to document student process for the purpose of understanding and encouraging learning goals and student awareness of how they learn (Atlock, 2)? What will motivate teachers the variety of diverse interpretations? How do we prompt, suggest, shape and scaffold student involvement to iterate, uncover and unfold their own individual process? We learn to create documentation exploring the variety of diverse learning modes students draw on as they negotiate with one another, as they begin or continue to honour, respect, and enjoy their own creative processes and the challenges of making meaning.

Grade 5 student: “Sharing my identity can be powerful, but can also be apprehensive because I wasn’t sure how people would react to my story (e.g. wars and my time in Pakistan). It was also enjoyable to share my story and be able to connect with others.”

Focus on Rich Tasks

How do we accomplish literacy development in the inclusive classroom that concentrates on form, content, and social context?

Pedagogical documentation suggests moving away from individual assessment, the one-on-one, teacher to student method to replace this with collaborative review; what does this reveals about learning and development and about our ideas and assumptions as teachers (Alcock, 7)?

The goals are to work within theories and practice that are active, humanitarian, and social justice oriented (Rinaldi). It is teachers who shall engage the parents, the school board, the administrators, in order to argue through experience for the importance not only of pedagogical documentation but the benefits of learning through creative narrative: dual and multilingual approaches to ‘text’ and the expansion of the idea of narrative and creativity encompass a diversity of means chosen by the students and facilitated by the teachers: including writing, film, music, dance, art, technological interfaces.

Written text and spoken reflection, photo document, web page, dance, video of music performance are all inclusive forms of process discovery and assessment. Reinterpretation is the transformation of the chosen text toward a blueprint to map the individual voice of each student. This help us understand more thoroughly the many ways that students do and will respond, each as a thinking, feeling individual. This is where learning takes place and learning-process is investigated, shared and interpreted anew.

The Documentation of Our Units

What follows is a collation of moments, a working example of our units of work on narrative using pedagogical documentation to explore student’s creative process. We created a set of structures animated by teachers through prompts and engagements which enabled students to develop an internal and collaborative means to safely open to a rich field of interpret-able data in diverse ways. This documentation monograph is by and for the community of stakeholders: teachers, students, parents, educators, and policy makers.

The work developed out of the discussion between the SWST teacher and the classroom teachers exploring together how to put to use a structure of socially engaged units to work through, arriving at a social-studies unit focusing on narrative writing. Ongoing discussions about what was chosen to be documented, why it was or was not relevant and important, and how to use these documents to introduce new methods of assessing students via their own moments of inquiry, production, reiteration, review, self-assessment, disclosures, skill development, are all part of the process in discussion, collated in word and in image representation.

The SWST and classroom teachers brain-stormed and mapped out an action program including student surveys, parent surveys, verbal and multi-media prompts, the contextual grounds for exploration through creative narratives. It provides a pathway to organize Ontario mandated curriculum expectations and content units for each Grade that participated.

Teacher Impact Reflections Involved in SWST Initiative

Mrs. McGuinness – Grade 1 Teacher: “Many students who were apprehensive to share their language or background gained confidence during this process. The idea of sharing self resonated with several students., however, given their young age, the depth of connections may not have been as rich as our older students. Students at this age very much want to fit in, so it has definitely been a learning process in beginning to share their individuality.”

Mrs. Wu – Grade 4/5 Teacher: “It was powerful to see how students reacted to creating First Nations legends based on their own identities. There were students who were open to the process and willing to share cultural experiences through stories, while others refused to acknowledge the uniqueness of their own culture.”

Thanks to the power of “co”, Mr. Persad used student-developed, dual-language stories as examples to promote a love of story-telling that were personally connected to global issues such as war. This helped students in my Gr. 4/5 class to start working in groups and create shared stories based on their identity (e.g., religion, art, dance, etc.). They grew more enthusiastic about the opportunity to present their stories using their own voice and personal styles of learning (e.g., Drama, Artwork, PowToon, etc.).

It was amazing to watch students who are reluctant writers take pride in their work and write a narrative that they could translate into their First Language (e.g., Punjabi).”

Mr. Poole – Grade 5 Teacher: “Since the beginning of the year, our class has shown an affinity for social justice and global citizenship. From our initial reading of “If the World Were a Village”, to Social Justice Math, student based inquiry has been at the forefront of our class. During our First Nations unit, our emphasis has been on the current implications of the treatment of First Nations people. I have always been proud of the rich connections my students have made, and their understanding of bias and the need for social action to make change.

The experience with our SWST teacher has taken this learning even further by embracing cultural responsive pedagogy and student voice, and allowing students to be comfortable in sharing who they are, and how their experiences shape them. Using narratives as a vehicle, our class has shared their culture and their values and have become more comfortable and confident with themselves and others. They have made connections between who they are and the world around them while also gaining a greater understanding of the resources their peers can be. By sharing commonalities and differences, we have engaged students while giving them a voice in not only what they create, but in how they create it and the way in which it assessed. Overall, this has been a very worthwhile experience that I would gladly take part in again.”

Ms. Cowan – Music Teacher: “I felt that during this project, students gained the security they need to expose their talents and share their stories. After this experience it became clear to me how important it is for students to be able to identify to something. It builds both a sense of community and helps students feel safe and valued. This was a great way to engage the students in a cross-curricular manner, an approach that I will definitely use again. It was a great benefit to the students. Being part of the collaborative inquiry has allowed me to see the multiple entry points that can support student engagement through the lens of being equitable by providing students with rich learning activities. From my experience, joy and enthusiasm from the students came alive as they wanted to bring in cultural instruments from home to showcase their identity. Next year I will be incorporating this process in to my classroom programming.”

Ms. Assi - Grade 4 Teacher (Observer Lens): “During a staff meeting the principal mentioned to the staff how I was a key player in supporting a student that was shy and timid of sharing her personal thoughts in class. This had a tremendous effect on me as an educator because the entire purpose of being an educator is to allow students to break out of their comfort zones in terms of learning. Being an outsider and coming into this project by looking at student work and documenting what they’ve done showed a lot of student’s capabilities. This experience confirms my teaching pedagogy which is structured by inquiry-based learning and connecting the curriculum to information, skills and vocabulary that will impact students and leave them with opportunities to use these skills in the future."

The Beginning Stages

For the grades 1, 4 and 5 students, the focus of the study was based on Narrative writing.

The grade 1 students focused on writing stories incorporating the elements of a story within a cross curricular approach integrating visual arts, oral and reading expectations.

The grades 4 and 5 students focused on writing stories incorporating the elements of a story within a cross curricular approach integrating social studies, media, visual arts, oral and reading expectations. A major focus of the story writing process was to focus on global and social justice issues in today’s society as connections were made to First Nations, Metis and Inuit culture.

Cross curricular Approaches was Supported through the Various Strands:

Art – First Nations art and imagery was used as an area for investigation and interpretation. The art itself provided depth of meaning and acted as exemplar for how narratives can be told in a variety of ways. It also connected to visual communication, writing and media literacy, and demonstrated the diversity and power that a visual can convey.

Drama – Six students created a video using an iPad to share their identity which is based on a love of dance. This group worked in collaboration with our music teacher, and once again demonstrated the various ways that people can communicate their passion and understanding.

Music – A small cohort of students focused on utilizing music from their culture to the sharing of their narratives. Other students had used their cultural music (e.g. Chutney Music) as the foundation for their narrative story (with Origin of the Music style as a focus).

Reading – Analyzing and de-constructing First Nations Narratives (e.g. Haiwaatha and The Peacemaker, Earth Story, The Raven) allowed students the opportunity to share how theme/main idea, point of view and visuals can be used to help deepen the sharing of a narrative piece. Through this process, they were also able to glean a greater understanding of the writing process as well.

Oral – Using images and a storytelling structure (campfire style), students were able to create and share their own mini-narratives with the class. Not only did this help demonstrate the many ways in which narratives can be shared, it also assisted in the development of language communication skills and how they can be used to engage an audience.

Media - Media has been used in a variety of ways during this unit. From the creation of websites to share student narratives, to the use of Pow Toon, Google Slides and other presentation formats, the effective use of media to convey message has been demonstrated. Beyond this, the use of iPads to digitally record, along with the initial use of Google Technology and Wordles to share identity have demonstrated how media can be used to engage and enhance communication.

Social Studies – We discussed themes that were used in First Nations legends to explore how First Nations Peoples worked together to create the Great Law of Peace among their nations. We integrated this topic to lessons on the Mississaugas of the New Credit Nation and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. We also used the current plight of First Nations people (and their unjust treatment of the past) to help explain the significance of identity, and what can happen if it is taken away.

Collaboration with Teachers

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I worked together as the SWST with the Collaborative Teaching group to develop the Theory of Action. We developed templates to improve student involvement such as creating a Survey platform to engage students in more consciously being open to thinking through “Identity”. Teachers from Grades 1, 4/5 and 5 classrooms used observations and student input during in-class and group tasks, processing dialogue and conversational pieces to more critical thinking opportunities to help students identify and demonstrate more engaged creative process. We came up with multiple entry points for students that would be accessible, while enabling continuation of the inclusive and supportive classroom. The teachers wanted to continue to develop effective teaching pedagogy to support student success and to explore in deeper ways student thinking and student understanding thus two theories of actions were developed. The second Theory of Action was differentiated for ELLs and students with exceptionalities.

Theory of Action #1: If students can share their stories and experiences with others then they can connect more readily to new concepts and ideas.

Theory of Action #2: If students can be involved in activities that are relatable and meaningful to them then they can make connections to create stories.

Classroom Initial Conversations

During the initial conversations about identity and relating cultural aspects, which reflected the diversity of the classroom, students demonstrated a lack of motivation to express who they are. They did not provide a full understanding of their own identity and were not inclined to discuss many details of their cultural backgrounds in terms of celebrations, food, fashion, language and lifestyle. Daily student work was comprised of writing tasks on paper, on the computer and through group work. The student engagement was evident. My lens and experience supported teachers' daily planning to continue to engage student success.


The Surveys emerged as a means to try to prompt students to actively engage in thinking through multiple identity frames.

Student surveys were conducted to learn more about the students in regards to their “Identity”. This included cultural background, hobbies, family traditions/celebrations, and languages spoken. This assisted in getting to know more about the students in order to make meaningful connections. In effect, it allowed students to be represented in the classroom and encouraged them to get comfortable with who they were as individuals.

Sample Parent Survey in the Grade 1 Class.

By encouraging parents to be involved, especially with the younger students we discovered parents can play a positive role in making the students – at that age – feel that opening up and exploring their identity outside school in an education context, much easier. It seems to facilitate a support of care, a linking of home-to-school, a settling in.

Grade 4 and 5 student identity survey

This Survey was conducted by engaging 49 students with diverse backgrounds to review and consider specific layers of their identity.
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the results of the survey

The results of the survey were phenomenally diverse.

Question 1:

English (25) 51%
French (5) 10%

Punjabi (10) 20.4%
Hindi (15) 30.6%
Chinese (2) 4.08
Tamil (4) 8.1

Students speaking a mother language at home: 38 (73.4%)
Students speaking only English at home: 11 (22.4%)

Students speaking English at home including mother-tongue: 14 (28.5)

Question 2:

Diwali (11) 14.2%

Easter (20) 40.8%

Christmas (17) 34.6 %

Eid (16) 32.6%

Chinese new year (4) 8.16%

Ramadan (8) 16.32

Holi (5) 10.2%

Thanksgiving (8) 16.2%

Celebration of deity, national days, and saint days (18) 36%

No fixed religious holiday (2) 4 %

95% of students celebrated a religious holiday and 85% celebrated more than one religious holiday in a year. 5% of students did not state affiliation with any religious celebration in this survey.

Question 3:

Culturally Significant Dishes (38) 77.5%
Parents/Family who cook: (Parents - 20, 50%, Family-18, 47%)
None or Unknown (11) 22%

Out of 49 students questioned, majority of them are familiar with culturally significant dishes, which are primarily made by parents or family members.

Question #4

Jamaica (10) 20.4

Trinidad (4) 8.1%

India (7) 14.2 %
Pakistan (1) 2 %

China (2) 4%

America (3) 6.1 %

Brazil (1) 2 %

Guyana (1) 2%

France (1) 2%
Dominican Republic (2) 4%

Iran (2) 4 %

Kenya (1) 2%

Never Traveled (14) 28.5 %

Out of 49 students who took this survey, 35 (71 %) students have traveled out of the country for the purpose of seeing family or relatives. 14 (28%) of students have never traveled abroad.

Question 5:

Political/Civil Conflict in home country (6) 12.2%

Better opportunities in education and family employment (10) 20.4%
Employment-based necessary relocation of family (5) 10.2%

Majority of family had relocated previously (10) 20.4%

Born in Canada (20) 40.8%

The above document showcased answers from the Student Survey which enabled us to think in terms of a potpourri. Using documentation in specific ways, sharing the results with one another, created an energy and excitement to compare, to share, to contrast, to think more deeply about individual narratives, traditions, the links between one culture and another, the celebration of difference and the transposition of dialogue and comparative differences.

“Student Voice” as the progenitor of narrative also required specific organizational prompts, a kind of modelling of possibility without ‘telling’. This opens up the potential for voice-sharing, for exciting possibilities of individual initiative and group-work shared through interest. We created the “Student Voice” survey, reading carefully the notes to gain insight on how students would like to represent their finished tasks as well as how they preferred to share their thinking. This emerged as private into public, producing energy-contexts for seeing how creative ideas can be incorporated into literacy development. Many options were discussed and students came up with ways such as using technology, using musical representation, dramatization, writing, being scribed, through art, through audio upload, one on one conversation, and being in a quiet area to record thoughts.

Teacher Additions to Support Supposition

As the process started, through teacher discourse, two more teachers were added to the collaborative inquiry. The music teacher was involved in the collaborative inquiry to support cross curricular approaches through music, art and drama strands of the curriculum. She supported students that wanted to create narratives through musical aspects, song and dance.

A grade 4 teacher participated in our collaborative inquiry process by being an observer to provide a lens observing the process and through interacting with students to hear their thoughts, seeing reactions during lessons as well as helping out by reading in her first language, Arabic. She also supported students with sentence prompts to get them thinking. Her role was to determine the profound affect of the learning of students through the process and to provide her thoughts/feedback with a non bias approach.

This reveals the specifics of deep thinking about how to produce a classroom that works through Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.

The collaborative-engagement of numerous resources outside the usual classroom format – one teacher- 25 students – encourages, again, the flowering of creativity among students. The creativity is inherent, intrinsic. It just needs the comprehensive work of expansive thinking in new ways to bring it out and to place it in the context of education’s potential for new voices, new methods, expanded creativity.

Baseline Assessment

In addition, baseline assessments were conducted. Students were asked to write a narrative and after assessing student work through the Teacher Moderation process involving the above teachers mentioned and SWST, there was a clear indication that students wrote about topics that interested them or wrote about topics that they thought of on the spot or just wrote something that they remembered.

At first, reactions, emotions, symbolic representation, story elements, flow and main ideas/themes were not demonstrated in a coherent manner or was absent.

Interviews were conducted with selected students to gauge their thinking and thought process in regards to why they choose to write on specific topics as well as what they thought the elements of a story were. These were some of the ideas presented by students when asked orally by the SWST after showing them their baseline assessment and asking them why they wrote about the specific topics.

Grade 1 Student: “I wrote about my toy because I like it.”

Grade 1 Student: “I wrote about walking because I copied a book.”

Grade 4 Student: “I wrote about the news story I read from the newspaper since it was interesting.”

Grade 5 Student: “I wrote about a story I read.”

Grade 5 Student: “I did not think what I wanted to write about so I just looked around the class and choose a topic.”

Even in the preliminary stage, we see different motivations and different thinking from what to write to why to write it, from how to present it. From these examples, there is already an underlying sense of individuality and of context determining choice.

Student Interpretation of Learning:

Learning more about the students’ interpretations of how they viewed criteria/expectations and what they understood from them became a focal point for our inquiry. For example, students with different strengths or weaknesses in vocabulary and comprehension abilities did not interpret the expectations from the criteria the same way. As a team we met with individual students to inquire about their understanding and recreated criteria in a student friendly way based on the needs of the particular students. Using first language and student friendly language supported greater understanding and meaning which allowed for students to meet the overall goals.

Using student interpretations, Identity and Voice, teachers allowed for differentiating the writing process as well introducing culturally responsive pedagogical approaches supported students making connections to the cultural and identity aspects of other students in the classroom as well as their own.

Learning Goals

In order to provide students with an understanding of the overall goal of the Narrative unit, a Learning Goal was formulated then further differentiated by being translated into students’ first language such as in Punjabi and Mandarin.

Sharing your identity prompts in English and Mandarin:

Co-constructed Criteria
This became a way to introduce the idea of cross-cultural translation, either through language itself or through the nature of themes in stories; for the way a song may have relation to a drawing; how music can suggest steps for a dance, how this may relate to a particular cultural understanding and so on. This opens up a wider conceptual mapping, an expansion.


Narrative writing was modeled using graphic organizers and story maps co-constructed with students and the classroom teachers. Lessons were taught on a continual basis emphasizing Identity and Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, making connections to issues around the world tying in social justice and global awareness. Dual language texts were read and some students were understanding the impact of using their first language. Wordles were created with symbolic and key words based on identity and culture as well as relevant words that were meaningful and had some association of relevance to the student and his/her family. This acted as a reference point and a reflective piece where students were able to use it as a tool to support their ideas as they created narratives that would be relevant and relatable to them. As this process continued, participation of the students increased through student to student and teacher to student interactions.

Sample Graphic Organizers used in the Process

student wordles

The more tools we used to explore and map ideas from curriculum and from self-contexts, filling the classroom with documentation either produced in rich ways through class work, or as in some cases, using already produced usable classroom materials, the landscape or architecture of an expanded sense of literacy meeting diverse identity began to shape excitement to express in more creative ways the rich task assignments. It was important to pay attention to and document the moments where insight and new understanding were facilitating deeper cognitive connections, while students began to more easily utilize new vocabulary to express, while working, when available, with first language translation.

Success Criteria

Before students embarked on creating their own stories, success criteria were created as a class and later differentiated to support student interpretation and understanding. Not All student viewed the success criteria through the same lens and some students needed the ideas stated the way they interpreted the success criteria. One student in particular condensed the criteria and listed key ideas relevant to him and rewrote the success criteria as a teacher scribed for him. Through one on one conversations and allowing students thinking to be visible, teachers were able to further differentiate the process for students and support their understanding.

Students will map their own iterations showing that we learn by paying attention to habits which courage study and understanding towards integration of materials into the logic of self. This will become an exciting life-long learning process when it is early-integrated into ways of processing ideas, the world, one’s particular location with in, and making sense in active ways, in other words not accepting what others – teachers or authority – simply say in more passive hierarchical ways. This is why Wien (2015) writes of the importance of breaking down hierarchical assessment methods.


Students identity was depicted in many different forms from students’ likes, cultural lifestyle, personal attributes, significant family situations, desires, talents, and religious aspects. Students were able to draw on their strengths as individuals and use their identity to make connections and to share more about them within the narrative structure and process. Students gained more confidence in sharing who they were and were proud of who and what they stood for.

Conversational pieces from students provided a greater understanding of challenges and obstacles faced by them. Some students noted that they were shy to state their identity as they would be ridiculed while others were happy that they had the opportunity to learn more about themselves and share their identity. Many experiences supported teachers in understanding what may inhibit the learning for some students and well as what could engage students learning.

What was learned from students was profound. Some students have lived a life that is unlike those living in Canada and teachers understood that tapping into the schema and understanding more about students and issues faced would support student learning in a multitude of ways. Lots of scaffolding was needed but students did provide meaningful stories that reflected who they were and experiences that affected them or their family.

It emerged as very important that students individually and in group work, written and spoken, worked through their own ideas of identity. Providing the context increasingly led to increased enthusiasm, openness and desire to try different ways of expressing and experiencing identity. Other work by other students – for example reading dual-language texts at websites – became a facilitator for prompts, a great example of how the process of learning through creative modes that a school educator facilitates has a ricochet effect on other students in similar or even very different settings and contexts. As teachers we model and mentor but we are also learning; we learn by observing those moments when something new begins to make sense or when a set of ideas consolidates into a process for expressing self or key points in the discussions we bring to curriculum units.

Student engagement occurred through Identity groups where students who posed similarities were able to discuss and make connections to one another. These groups served as a powerful strategy for students to engage in rich dialogue that served a purpose and meaning. Within this focal group, students constructed independent and group stories that focused on their identity. Identity groups were formed by criteria of the students in the 3 classes and such groups were: Musical, Artistic/Drawing, Caring, Environmentalist, Sports, Building, Dance, First Language, Culture, Racism, and Poverty.

First Language

Some students resonated with using their first language as part of their identity. The opportunity to use first language was always given. This prompted and promoted student engagement due to the fact that some students were able to communicate their ideas better and felt more comfortable writing using their first language. For some students, communication was primarily done in first language at home so they wanted to converse the same way at school.

One student in Grade 5 had never participated in any activities. Her communication was very minimal and she was very shy and timid about answering questions in a group setting as well as during one on one talking sessions. A teacher who spoke in her first language read a story aloud in Arabic and the student mentioned above was so engaged in listening to the story. This had a huge impact as her engagement in class activities increased as well as communication. She had been so excited to use her first language and relate back to her cultural identity to create narrative pieces to reflect her and to share her perspectives. Throughout my time in her class, she asked for feedback and shared her thoughts and ideas as she created her own story.

A student in grade 1 was heard by myself telling a friend, “I wish my teacher spoke Arabic because I like speaking Arabic better.” He was given opportunity to tell his story by recording him as he narrated the picture he drew to tell his story in Arabic.

He noted that he could state his ideas better in Arabic as he knew more words and he did not get confused by English words since he did not know what they meant.

Authentic Learning

Throughout the process many students were impacted positively and students reflected on their learning. As students worked in groups and shared ideas with one another, students were able to construct more meaning of their identity and delve into rich conversations.

Role playing was depicted and conversations flowed naturally as days progressed. Students created scenarios and discussed ways that they wanted to share their ideas.

Some students wanted to share their stories to other classes and teach them about the importance of identity. One group was able to present their story to a grade 4 classroom.

Grade 1 Student: “I feel proud speaking my first language and I like speaking in my language. Thank you for letting me speak in my language.”

Grade 1 Student: “Do you want to see what I did? I wrote in Farsi. Can I read you my story in Farsi please?”

Grade 4 Student: “I liked when the teacher read in Arabic because now I can read in Arabic too. I liked reading Arabic to the class, it was easy to do for me.”

Grade 4 Student: “I didn’t know my identity could help me learn. I have a lot of skills and talents that I want to keep sharing with the class. My story is so meaningful to me now.”

Grade 5 Student: “Music is my language and recording my story using song was awesome, can’t wait to do it again.”

Grade 5 Student: “I can tell a story better from a picture because it helps me to remember all of the parts I want to talk about. I am great at drawing and my drawings tell my life story and I can express myself better this way.”

Student Voice

Student voice took form in many different ways such as through using various space around the class to initiate thinking, using technology such as the iPad, using dramatization to perform skits, art/picture responses, writing, being scribed, writing in first language, music, audio upload, and animated technology forms.

Students wanted to demonstrate their learning through forms that articulated their strengths and ways in which their more comfortable to show their thinking. This concept supported students with different learning abilities to showcase their talents and produce work with greater meaning. More enjoyment of what students were doing produced work with more clarity, an organized framework and creativity that students possessed. This also supported differentiation for all students.

In our work as teachers exploring ways to engage students in developing literacy and language through cross- curriculum based units the philosophy we employ is that there are no mistakes, or that mistakes – whether in spelling, grammar, phonics, written work (comprehension, structure, tone) – are invited. There is no strictures meaning mistakes are not ‘corrected’ in any rote-fashion; they become guides to understanding and exploring where each and every student is; where they are in relation to each other. There is much research that shows that correcting students is inhibiting and can have an opposite impact to learning and confidence.

Instead of blaming, shaming, calling out or judging, the means through which students learn, grow, shape and develop their rubrics of vocabulary, reasoning, listening, speaking, thinking, writing comes through assessment of the process of struggling with turning so-called mistakes into Voice through modeling, prompts, scaffolding, through group and individual work, through the employment of context, creativity, and dynamic reflection that also includes dual-language work to help ELL students to process mistakes through comparative structures of first language and English.

the student voice being demonstrated

students using instruments, song and dance to showcase identity

Some students’ identity was based on music as music played an integral part in their life. The sound of music, in particular to cultural backgrounds, created a sense of peace, calmness, and provided some students a non stressful environment which allowed them to think and formulate their thoughts. Other students wanted to showcase their narratives through musical forms as a way to express their feeling, emotions, and reactions. They felt more comfortable sharing their story through this method and felt that their ideas would come alive and be emphasized greatly. Music was a key motivator and helped them to be more creative and think more critically.

Technologies record the process and iterate the production of shifting, developing meaning, of the coalesce and consolidation of Voice in the production of creative approaches to narrative. Pedagogical documentation, the recording and ordering of the steps and stages important to student learning, to observe, document, assess and understand these pivotal moments is an important collaborative learning and teaching tool.

It helps all of us to see, to understand, to make sense of – as in the case of these documented rehearsals – using oral text, reading, movement, group-collaborative process—we can see how trial-error is part of all practical discourses that translate into a learning experience, process-into—product, experience to reflection, learning arc to increased insight, to comprehension of self-process, teacher-observation, and mandate to enhanced facility, to skill, to confidence and to the value of collaboration and sharing.

These documents reveal the process from organizing thoughts, exploring what a story is, how it can be told – by one person, as a group story – and the forms through which the content of stories can be brought to life, shared and increase sense of cognitive mastery, physicality: a rich panoply of various educational expectations and rubrics are enfolded or open out through a single originating prompt – now tell us and each other a story we all shall want to know.

The use of technological documentation can also extend, as we experimented, to student’s own pedagogical documentation. What have we to learn here about the way you prepared this music-dance piece? Why is this particular image you see on the computer screen, a key one for us to understand what it is your group did? Documentation about documentation, and the recording of the actual performance, story-reading, the ‘narrative’ as drawing, dance, computer animation – all include skills: learning to express through rich language in the context of beginning, middle, end, in terms of engaging audience, in terms of message delivered, form of message, tools and skills to bring this to completion point, how to make decisions about how to organize and present the story and so on.

When students created stories through pictures, audio, dramatization, or through music and forms of technology, they were able to reflect on the finished pieces that had been recorded to then make changes if necessary to create a final draft. Reflections, process, the actual story – all are a rich data library of moments that build on the entirety of meaning and the sharing of meaning. Additionally our world is increasingly informed by and utilizes technologies, from personal interface to corporate strategy, from global culture, competitive edge to thinking-through-technology formats. These exercises enhance and expound on, explore the facility of technology, a rubric for technology can be usefully integrated in a holistic way into the inclusive and sustainable classroom. It reveals how and where confidence building, skills enhancement, creative expression are facilitated through various technologies, with technology also enhancing our engagement with orchestrating new formats of review, analysis, assessment and self-actualization.

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

Through the identity building, culturally responsive pedagogy was supported throughout the process by celebrating and discussing the diversity within the classes and getting to know more about the students and their culture. Exposure to stories and global issues, and classroom discussions based on teacher experiences and student experiences led to many students making connections to their interests, discussing experiences from their country of origin and stories that have been told to them by their families. Students’ interests, culture, traditions and celebrations, connections to country of origin, and the use of first language supported rich dialogue.

Student Engagement

The final products, changes of the attitudes of students, participation in large and small groups, interactions amongst one another as well as rich conversations and accountable talk within groups depicted much growth and demonstrated how students were engaged in the process. Student were enthusiastic about sharing their learning to teachers and their peers.

Initially, student interaction and conversational pieces did not delve into deep thinking as connections to one another were more challenging to make and students’ opportunity to learn and know more about each other to determine qualities of interest and similarities still needed to be emphasized.

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Students wearing cultural attire to showcase part of their identity and sharing their story to another class

Comparison of baseline Story and Final Story– Evidence of Student Achievement

Sample 1

The process from initial to the final story can be traced via documentation of where the student begins in one place and arrives at another through the openness of exploring and expanding the scale of emergent expression.

Sample 2

More ideas and creativity had been developed through the process. Students depicted the creative freedom and the sense of an allowing-for ideas to emerge, be explored, feel safe in expanding – the freedom to work from where one is to where we can go – is a liberating one and also is socially-informed pedagogy that respects student voice, autonomy, capability for dialogue, for original and informed thinking about self-and-world in the context of units, themes, literacy practices.

Student Impact and Success Achieved

Identity Through Storytelling - CC

Students were impacted greatly by the progression of the process of integrating. Identity in the many forms and through the use of engagements methodology to support their learning. Students were wanting to go to other classes to share their work and talk about their experiences. Students reflected on their work and supported ideas as to why identity played a role in their stories. They brought in samples of what they had done. Students wrote stories at home and wanted to share their work in class using their first language. More conversations took place which focused about their life at home or from another country and how they were unique. A sense of belonging and more openness to being themselves as well as being proud took effect. Students were wanting to share what they.

Steps for the Future

This project was shared with staff during a staff meeting which was led by the SWST and a teacher involved in the project. Next steps formulated by teachers involved in the process are to initiate the identity process and support student voice at the beginning of the year by revisiting lessons that were planned around the theory of action and continue with professional development and reading of resources. The music teacher intends on being in the collaborative inquiry with teachers to support cross curricular approaches in art, drama and music. The school video wall will showcase student identity text as well as presentations that illustrate their narratives in form of the voice once again to support the students, make students see their work and feel proud and to gauge teachers’ interest to promote this learning process.


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An online site has been created where students will be able to continue to upload their identity stories and support literacy initiatives and build a community of learners that embraces diversity, culture and identity of all students whether they are from Canada or other parts of the world. The stories are created in various languages including English. Students will be able to continue to reflect and grow from their own stories as well as feel proud and take ownership for what they have accomplished, which is a huge accomplishment and very powerful. The staff will receive access to this link and can continue to upload student work based on this premise. Overall, a digital library of Identity Texts will be part of the school community and continue to grow.

My Hope and Passion

Building capacity, I will revisit the project and attend the school to represent what we have done at the beginning of the year to guide teachers who would like to be more involved in this movement of positive change. I will continue to work with administration and teachers to work with sister schools to build a community and relationship that supports this initiative. The more schools involved the better the opportunity to effect this kind of important new integrative approach to curriculum using Narrative Identity Text creation. As this project has revealed, teachers and students develop enormous enthusiasm and translate that into an engaged, complex and rich convergence of culture, themes, modalities, creativeness, collaboration and document-able important research. This translates, as we see to richer, more complex negotiations between students and in students' self-reflexive work towards emergent success.


To conclude with a reiteration of the importance of Identity Texts, of dual-language instruction and of multi-platform modalities for introducing curriculum through creative means, and the reason for utilizing the practice of Pedagogical documentation is that PD is “the documentation of living moments” (Wien, 2015). The basic premise is that the teacher-researcher, reflecting on what he or she is seeing, traces students’ significant activities through their own struggle and successes with a process. Teachers interpret and read together, not one answer, but a dialogue, creating an ethics and sociological context for student’s process.

Wien asks, how do we teach teachers to engage in a daily ongoing process of learning how to produce important documentation, documenting the relevant moments that trace a variety of possible meaning, to fully understand students'’ learning process, from scaffolding to self-situating of identity in relation to others, from margins to mainstream, from mainstream to those more marginal. In ELL programs mixed groups of English-speakers and ELLs create excellent co-learning opportunities across students from different cultural and language groups (Ontario Secretariat #8).

The use of Accountability Talk, Surveys, and creative-intelligences methodologies provide an activist case a meta-justification for the methodologies employed. This is a political response to questions – if they exist – about the value of generative personal narratives as a means of enhancing literacy; a tool to demonstrate through documentation, when aptly chosen, to not only facilitate the expansion of cross-discipline multilingual literacy in our schools, but to explain why multilingual education moves students from margins to a diverse mainstream; a teaching-learning co-teaching method of leading from students for students by example.

Pedagogical documentation, when accurately introduced as a component of rich-text development and literacy mastery that is socially inclusive and culturally rich also enables the iteration/reiteration of other text production by the same and by other students, producing, whether simpler or more complex, discourse and dialogue between student-self, student-student, student-teacher, student-parent, parent-teacher, teacher-administrator, policy-maker. This work will help encourage and enhance the full realization of our diverse multicultural society, and the promise of our education system, one step at a time. Educating our youngest generation to expect full inclusion, expression, life-long respect for and interest in our communities, their place in the world, their ability to communicate, share, and communicate begins in such deeply felt and ethical educational programs as are being developed and shared today.

What Are Some Implications

The creation of a specific program to work with teachers and students on emerging cross-curricular approaches to enhancing the mastering of literacy through modalities such as working through the mandate of multiple-languages and multiple aspects of creativity, to engage students to create identity texts helps facilitate sustainability and supports board initiatives. This has both strategic, economic and social implications and advantages.

As Helm, Beneke and Steinheimer (2007) attest, if we know how students learn through watching the process by which they learn, we gain insight, as teachers, into ways we can elucidate and transmit to others (parents, teachers, administrators, policy makers) why and how process-based learning contributes significantly to student development, and beyond this to the way trial-error, creativity, encouraging and learning through mistakes, improves long-term outcomes, enhances educational best practices and student achievement as well as sense of belonging and self-agency. This is important to the schools, to our communities, to our society – to help produce an active, engaged, educated, informed and inspired population. One can argue it will produce a positive domino effect on civic engagement and our understanding of leadership, multiculturalism, the role of education.

Sharing identity narratives is a way for students to achieve a number of goal sets through a combination of structured and innovative mean, therefore is a powerful learning template or aim for student-self-mastery, cooperative and collaborative learning. In terms of a methodology it can facilitate teacher development, knowledge, insight; it can access how to facilitate transmission and sharing. The sharing of stories through first language, for example, about homelands and diverse cultural experiences inside the Canadian multicultural-multilinguistic fabric is demonstrable or discover-able to be a general stepping stone to improvements in confidence, written and verbal comprehension, to first language retention as a boon to English-language mastery.

It assists in creating classroom inclusivity and is a component of general literacy enhancement. It helps build social community in the school and in the larger sense of community, noting the fabric of diversity within the urban milieu and the increasingly diverse nature of the schools within the educational system; making such approaches a requirement for best practices, best classroom and student outcomes is a win-win situation, has financial and social advantages and future implications. Document-able success and progress achieved through this workshop becomes the basis for seeing the ways the program can be usefully sustained, accelerated, embraced and adopted, as it proves popular with students, with teachers; their willingness to be seeding future similar programs with accessory aid from specialist researcher-educators.

To Reflect Further

A process-based student-centred multilingual narrative creation unit or units encourages teachers to take chances to invite both the development of individuality within a mainstream Canadian cultural context while also broadening and strengthening a sense of hope and pride on the part of students to their own cultural and linguistic heritage; it encourages cross-cultural pollination as well as respect and understanding of others. It therefore increases the fabric of civic leadership, engagement of our schools in social action and social justice issues, even among the youngest of our grade-school students.

It produces a climate or atmosphere of inclusivity and belonging in our classroom and school environments, a sense of comfort and belonging noted to be conducive to student participation, sense of mastery and interest development in their studies and in feeling part of the culture. One excellent example of this is how it is informative and proactive for students dealing, along with their families, with settlement issues that can be trying, difficult, stressful and produce a sense of loneliness and even alienation, fear and confusion. This is, as we discovered, overcome to a large degree as the methodology prompts students to enter into the classroom, to discover voice, lose shyness, take risks, and be rewarded for process which is intrinsic and developmental in a collaborative and individualized.

Whether it is vocabulary enhancement, the art and act of listening, whether it is writing, speaking, making a dance-work, working with hybrid technologies, revealing, showing, documenting and corroborating through performance assessment that are multiple entry, collaborative and creative, produces a new sustainable, financially viable urban context for future program axis, for justification of educational funding in this area, for governmental support and provable access to improving knowledge through creativity based contextual teaching and learning.


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