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Engaging Teachers with Canadian Literature for Social Justice

Our cross-national research project explores ways in which teachers, in collaboration with researchers, can develop strategies for selecting, reading and teaching contemporary Canadian social justice literature in their classrooms and reflect upon students’ responses to the issues raised by the texts. Our project includes scholars from seven sites across Canada who specialize in the teaching of secondary or elementary Language Arts.

Using an action-research framework, we are seeking ways to bring about social change by teachers’ ‘speaking differently’ (Rorty, 1989) in the classroom, risking controversy and tension by creating a curriculum of hope that challenges the difficult knowledges of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination. In Montreal, our research involves two teacher inquiry groups from two English language school boards. The participating teachers are elementary teachers in English and French immersion programs. The Canadian literature ranges from picture books, novels, poems, short stories, and graphic novels; represents a diversity of voices, written in English, French, and Indigenous languages and is informed by diverse places of origin and memory. The books are published primarily by Canadian publishers, notably Groundwood Books, which is committed to diversity and social justice. The stories present counter-narratives to dominant representations of the Other in Canadian history and society by engaging with the legacy of such policies as the Indian residential school and the Japanese internment. The encounters with one another and with texts in the teacher inquiry groups challenge teachers and researchers to critically engage with our identities, experiences and practices.

This project builds on a research project conducted with pre-service teachers from 2006 to 2009 using Canadian multicultural children’s literature. Both projects have been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Publications include an edited book, Reading Diversity (eds., Ingrid Johnston & Joyce Bainbridge; University of Toronto Press) and an article in Teachers and Teaching, “Reverberating Chords: Implications of Storied Nostalgia for Borderland Discourses in Pre-Service Teacher Identity” (Strong-Wilson, Johnston, Wiltse, Burke, Phipps, & Gonzalez).

Research Team:
Principal Investigator: Ingrid Johnston, University of Alberta; Co-Investigators: Geraldine Balzer, University of Saskatchewan; Anne Burke, Memorial University; Mary Clare Courtland, Lakehead University; Teresa Dobson, University of British Columbia; Alison Preece, University of Victoria; Teresa Strong-Wilson, McGill University;  Angela Ward, University of Victoria (formerly, U Sask); Lynn Wiltse, University of Alberta

McGill Site Research Assistants:
Heather Phipps and Amarou Yoder

Teresa Strong-Wilson, PhD
(514) 398-4527 Ext. 094014
Department of Integrated Studies in Education
3700 McTavish, Room 415
McGill University
Montreal, Quebec H3A1Y2

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