In November of 2002, I had the opportunity to attend the Teacher’s Institute on Parliamentary Democracy in Ottawa for a week. Aside, from being amazing professional development and the fact that I met incredible people from across Canada, it brought me to our nation’s capital, a city I never visited before. The patriotic Canadian in me loved Ottawa.
But nothing could have prepared me for the true beauty and intensity of experiencing a Remembrance Day service at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity and I think it is something all Canadians should experience once in their lifetime. I was in awe of the thousands of people who lined the streets nearby, the parade of hundreds of pipers and war Veterans marching in and the unparalleled sense of respect that surrounded us. A visit to the Canadian War Museum that afternoon gave me the opportunity to meet firsthand then, one of the few remaining World War 1 veterans at 101 years old. He has since passed. I was privileged enough to be staying at the Lord Elgin Hotel across from Confederation Square. By that evening as we packed up to head home the image of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier covered in a sea of red poppies was breathtaking and is forever etched in my memory.
Since then I have had a strong conviction to work even harder to help students gain insight into the true significance of Remembrance Day. As a parent, I also tried to ensure that my children began to understand and appreciate the great sacrifice of our Veterans, from a very early age.
It is a topic I have given a lot of thought to….that is how to best discuss the subject of Remembrance Day with kids. No one wants to talk to their little ones about war, guns, and death, but what I have come to realize is that we sometimes don’t give them enough credit. As kids get older and more mature, so too should our conversations. Also, our conversations need to focus less on content, that being facts, dates, locations, and statistics but the stories of war; the loss, the emotions, the impact, and the sacrifice.
And when we do so; when we frame our lessons and our student learning around the STORY and through a lens of EMPATHY kids are ultimately far more invested in the topic. They want to know more. Our focus and conversations around this are hopefully not just a “one-off” before our school assembly once a year but should instead be much more impactful than that and include deeper thinking and reflection.
Here are a few resources I have collected over the years to help facilitate and promote inquiry, questioning, critical thinking and conversations around this topic through an empathetic lens.
The resources listed below include videos, texts, artifacts and images and then the variety of strategies used to respond through questioning, critical thinking, reflection, and discussions. Many of the strategies that can be used to support student response come from two excellent resources including:
- Q Tasks by Carol Koechlin –
- Thinking Routines from Making Thinking Visible (Richart, Church & Allison) and Project Zero . If you are not familiar with this amazing resource, check this video out:
Resources for Remembering
The first number of videos are ones I have used for our school Remembrance Day service over the years but can also be used in classrooms to activate thinking. Some of the ones listed toward the end could be used with further, more specific intent in mind.
Shawn Hlookoff -Soldier
The Trews-Highway of Heroes
George Canyon-I Want You to Live
Global TV Soldier Cries
Standing Strong and True (For Tomorrow),- an all-star Canadian country single
Bell Poppy Commercial (powerful- lead to conversations focused on being empathetic, taking action)
Remembrance Day Ad- war through time (great for timeline)
Veterans Affairs- learning videos (content focus)
A good “go-to” strategy for videos is RVL- Read, View, Listen from Q Tasks.
One text resource that can be used with students in the middle years is the newspaper a lot of schools order through Veteran Affairs. In fact, Veteran Affairs Canada has a multitude of resources teachers can order in advance each year.
Two strategies that work well with this newspaper and other expository texts related to war and Remembrance Day online or in books are the QAR strategy or Fact React.
In the way of fiction Feather and Fools by Mem Fox I have found to be an excellent picture book to help discuss the topic of war with younger children.
For older students, the picture book Faithful Elephants is the thought provoking story of elephants in a zoo in Japan during World War 2.
Pictures are a great source to stimulate thinking and conversations. Veteran Affairs has an Image Gallery and each year Veteran Affairs Canada produces a poster with powerful images which schools can order. They also have all of the past posters archived here and I have used the past year’s posters to set up picture response inquiry stations for students to work through. Practical strategies for responding to images are Step In, Step Out from Q Tasks or from Making Thinking Visible; Step Inside or See Think Wonder.
Seeing and touching actual artifacts from history is an excellent entry point for our students to be able to relate and understand more deeply. I taught at a school in the North End of Winnipeg for 10 years and we were lucky enough to be located near the Fort Garry Horse Museum and Archives . Each year I would have the organization send over artifacts and or we would have the students visit the museum.
Veteran Affairs also has also begun a Borrow a Boot Project in recent years. Also, try asking students to bring in war-related artifacts, surprisingly over the years my students have brought in quite a few to share. My own children have also had the opportunity to bring in their great grandfather’s war medals we have at home and this was a very meaningful opportunity for them.
There are many rich learning opportunities to explore with our students through inquiry around the topics of our Canadian Veterans and Remembrance Day.
As the years pass and many of our Veterans do as well, it becomes more and more essential that we give our children the knowledge and understanding needed to ensure remembrance in future generations.