Voice Lessons: Teaching and Writing in the Northwest Territories

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Catlin, Susan Jane
Aboriginal Education , Place-Conscious Writing Practices
This dissertation investigates writing practices attuned to northern places. Eight experienced teachers from six regions in Canada’s Northwest Territories agreed to think-together in a study which took a hermeneutic approach to the focusing, gathering, and the analysis of data. Writing was both the subject for the inquiry and the methodology, as I asked participants to engage in ten workshops designed to move conversations away from familiar answers to the question: what practices invite northern students to write? In a place where the majority of students are Indigenous, I hoped that the writing workshops would invite the non-Indigenous teachers to consider their relationship to the many interconnecting dimensions of place. While writing seems to take one away from the particulars of experience to more universal concerns as one tries to capture meaning, paradoxically, writing returns to the particular. In the first four chapters, I use my 19 years of experience as a northern teacher as a heuristic for the study by contrasting the thinking of ‘the new teacher who has just arrived in the North’ to the voice of ‘the researcher.’ Four data chapters take up the ideas that emerged from the thinking-together with the teachers. I examine how the teachers used complexity thinking to approach their writing pedagogy. I consider how new literacies might overlap Indigenous pedagogies and Western writing pedagogies. I assert that the qualia of individual experience might serve as engaging subject matter for student writing. And finally, I explore how teachers might orient writing practices toward the development of voice rather than overemphasize procedural text-based approaches. This study will add to the literature on teaching writing with Indigenous students and to the literature on post-process pedagogy, particularly as it draws from Geography. Through example, this dissertation may illustrate how non-Indigenous educators can draw from Indigenous education in a way that respects and integrates its philosophical foundations.
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