Nolan Wurfel started teaching grade 4/5/6 in Lac La Croix First Nation in September 2017. Nolan completed a Bachelor of Arts in History and a Bachelor of Education at Western University. Nolan is from Owen Sound, ON.
It was like Christmas in October. Grade 4, 5, and 6 students excitedly opened the small box their teacher, Nolan Wurfel, had given them. Inside, they found a brand new digital camera. They quickly figured out how the small camera worked, intuitively turning it on and pressing buttons. At the SMART Board, Nolan explained to them the theory and technique required to take good pictures.
Then they headed outside to apply the theory they had just learned. Nolan encouraged them to look at the world around them from different angles. Go high! Get low! Go up close to see the detail. Take a step back to take in the big picture. Lac La Croix First Nation‘s fall colours created a beautiful backdrop for these budding photographers.
What students were taking part in was greater than a simple photography project. It was part of a bigger, year-long initiative: a visual journal.
What is a Visual Journal?
With a visual journal, students can express themselves and what they are learning in different ways. This is a useful tool for students who may not yet be able to express what they’ve learned in conventional ways.
“A conventional way of expressing that knowledge would be to write it out or to do a test. The visual journals allows you to display your knowledge in a different way. It is a creative outlet,” Nolan explains.
The visual journal doesn’t supplant writing. “It allows their writing to be more free flowing, so it builds the ability for them to write naturally,” Nolan explains. And it’s not a free pass on hard work: he remains clear about expectations and the rubrics he will use to assess their work.
Nolan uses this tool to keep students from all three grades engaged at their level. Students who aren’t at grade level can still succeed, while others can stretch themselves.
Even during the photography lesson, some students initially found the freedom overwhelming. Nolan deems it essential to have them make choices: “I treat them like adults, I give them their independence.”
It didn’t take long for all the students to respond with enthusiasm as they explored angles, lighting, and photography subjects.
As they explore, they discover their strengths and their interests. This is one of Nolan’s biggest goal for his students.
“It’s important for kids to do some soul-searching. They need to figure out what they are good at and develop goals and pursue them. With the journal, it allows them to explore, manipulate and find out what they are good at,” he shares.
Nolan believes that it is particularly important in an Indigenous context.
“It gives them the possibility of taking their own path. Especially for Indigenous students, there’s art, being a knowledge keeper, a medicine man, hunting, and many other options. Some have expressed interest in doing that. It’s about not funneling them down one chute.”
And so, Nolan and his students will also use the visual journal to explore a variety of subjects. Later this year: creating a plant almanac and learning more about Lac La Croix First Nation’s history.