EPSY 217: Reflecting on the Blanket Exercise

An interesting link I’ve discovered between each of my classes that I’m taking in this final semester of my education is that stories are a great way to develop and teach content. I’ve learned about funds of knowledge and how the wealth of skills that a person develops over time comes from their life story. To the things they experience and the people they build relationships with, a person’s story is a great starting point for a lesson. I admit freely that I agree with this. However, I have to caution myself that I must remember to view the WHOLE story before making decisions about my instruction.

How does this connect to EPSY 217 and our blanket exercise you ask? The entire exercise is a story. If you have not had an opportunity to experience this exercise then please reach out to an educator for details. The exercise takes you on a journey to experience, not just read about, colonial history and the impact colonialism had on our Aboriginal people. Since the exercise is more about the experience, you begin to feel what the people felt, think critically on the actions of our forefathers, and build an understanding of the events of our past. In my opinion experiential learning provides more avenues for absorbing content than a typical direct instruction lesson. The blanket exercise envelopes you, it places you at the heart of the issue and makes one think about the problems that were in the past, now the present, and why they may have occurred. In a short time the blanket exercise takes you through a more complete history than any high school history class that I ever had the pleasure of sitting through. This exercise captures key events such as residential schools, small pox, treaties, and more. After completing the exercise one must take the time to reflect upon the story and be mindful of the experience.

As I take the time to reflect upon the experience I was able to share with with my EPSY 217 class, I ponder why are stories so prevalent now in white education. Education is moving towards an experience, rather than a world in which we just go to a building, and someone tells us the skills we should acquire to be a functional member of society. I find it fascinating that our world of education is slowly starting to pull from those that we oppressed for so long, our Aboriginal people. Storytelling is a primary way of how aboriginals share their knowledge. Throughout the blanket exercise I could not help but think that “we are now teaching through story, this is quite ironic”. There is so much power in teaching through story. The blanket exercise experience, even with the irony, has taught me why we should use story as a mode of instruction. Stories capture attention and provide imagery which engages the senses along with the mind. Stories require critical thinking skills as you must read between the lines to understand the message being provided. The blanket story may be very blunt, and the activity is very interactive, but the philosophy of storytelling is apparent. The exercise attempts to make you feel as people felt, think as they thought, live as they lived. The blanket exercise provides an authentic experience that does its best to not diminish the problems faced by our Aboriginal people.

Authenticity is an issue plaguing treaty education in our Saskatchewan schools. Token activities are typically done to ensure the box is checked, but do they truly educate our youth on the history of treaty? The blanket exercise fills a void for educators by providing students of all ages an opportunity to learn the history of treaty in an interactive and engaging manner. The beauty of this vehicle of learning is that it can be scaffolded upon to teach students concepts beyond the history. During #TreatyEdCamp, here at the University of Regina, I was fortunate enough to listen to two amazing speakers that pulled pieces of the blanket exercise into their subject areas. One of the speakers, Shauneen Pete, provided opportunities for authentic assessment using tools such as the blanket exercise. The exercise provides an opportunity to experience treaty and then reflect upon the scenario. She suggested that with the authentic experience you could utilize a traditional way of sharing knowledge, such as a story (yes, another link to story). The other speaker, Shana Graham, provided me with a mind blowing experience tying the blanket exercise to math education. Math is a subject of passion for me, so I was blown away that such a powerful exercise for teaching history could continue on through math. Concepts such as shape and space, perimeter, area, percents, and rates for example, could be taught using the blanket exercise as the foundational activity. Not only could students experience history, they would now have an opportunity to experience math. Beyond the experience is the fact it would be an authentic way of teaching treaty during math. No more tipi exercise! The blanket exercise provides a hands-on way of engaging students in treaty education and math. From there she discussed other traditional activities that link to math and it all started with the blanket exercise.

The blanket exercise is such a powerful experience and I’m very glad we did the activity as a class. Having done it before with a group of strangers it was interesting to see how having those you know around you changes the experience. Being with a group of fellow teacher candidates provided a different perspective for me, one that I see the power of this activity in my classroom. It was a great experience to be able to reflect upon with my colleagues and see and hear what they thought as educators. I am definitely going to attempt this activity in my own classroom. I had a key takeaway from my internship. It was that students enjoy learning through stories. Giving them a world to work in beyond the typical classroom inspires and engages students. This activity transports students into the world of treaty and I am excited to take this journey again. I cannot wait to walk alongside our future leaders as they explore and understand our spotted history with hopes of inspiring them to go forth and make change in our world.

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