Implementing Indigenous Perspectives in Courses in the Professional Development Program with Dr. Pooja Dharamshi

December 13, 2017

Dr. Pooja Dharamshi, assistant professor in teacher education, joined the Faculty of Education in September 2016. She received her MSc from City College of New York and her PhD in Curriculum, Teaching and Learning from Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto.

Dr. Dharamshi recently concluded the data collection phase for a project funded by a grant from the Institute for the Study of Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines (ISTLD). The project implemented Indigenous perspectives in two courses of the Literacy Methods Course in the Professional Development Program (PDP) that she teaches. “I was interested in this topic because, as a newcomer to BC, I thought it was really important for me to think about my own practice as a literacy teacher-educator,” she explains. In addition, she wanted to learn how she was preparing future teachers to think meaningfully and authentically about the new curriculum.

It was important to Dharamshi that she not take an additive approach to integrating indigeneity to the courses: “I wanted it to be like a thread that runs through the entire course.” She integrated Canadian Indigenous scholars into the readings. She had been doing a lot of reading herself and bringing them according to the topics for each class. Dr. Dharamshi invited her students to engage in critical reading of the music album "We are the Hallucination" by A Tribe Called Red (2016). Aligned with the topic that they were covering, the students’ analyses were done over two sessions. She explains, “At that point, we had established ourselves as a class, meaning there was a community built around that, so we critically listened to the album and we analyzed it and we responded to the text and to the album in different ways, in multimodal ways.” The students’ responses were reflected in tableaus, poetry and blog posts.

In addition, she invited a guest speaker, UBC professor Sara Florence Davidson, to talk about the power of storytelling. Dr. Dharamshi’s approach was to help her students to understand the multifaceted aspect of narratives: “When we talk about story, what do we mean? Who does the story belong to? How do we get permission?” She also asked her students on the first and last day of classes “What is the relationship between literacy and indigeneity?” She observed that, initially, students were reluctant to integrate Indigenous perspectives into the curriculum. However, by the end of the term, a shift seemed to have happened as most students understood that although the content was important it was the pedagogy that mattered most. “I am in the mist of analyzing the data and based on what I've seen and read so far, the sentiment in the class was that people have started to see how pedagogical ideas are important for understanding ways of knowing”, she added.

Dr. Dharamshi is also involved in a second research project which focuses on an understudied population: teacher educators in schools of education. Drawing on a framework of critical stance, she has studied this occupational group in the past and is continuing to investigate how they are using the affordance of digital technologies to enact a critical stance. She explains the importance of this project: “A finding that came out of my study that I didn’t expect was that people were using social media to invite in multiple perspectives and different voices for the purposes of democratizing knowledge”.