Teaching Canada in the United States

Michael Solak is a junior in the College of Education, is a pursuing a major in the special education area of learning disabilities, with a Social Studies teaching minor. His essay is a middle school social studies unit lesson on Bilingualism (Canada's approach with French, English and aboriginal languages).

Teaching Canada: Bilingualism in Canada

Michael Solak

The teaching unit that will be described in this paper is designed for a 6th grade social studies class. The topic of study will be Bilingualism in Canada. The rationale for my unit lesson plan comes from my desire for the class to engage in an area of study that challenges them to take a stance and develop perspectives on important social questions in Canada. When teaching social studies, it is crucial to build the unit lessons around a culturally universal idea. Language is a powerful culturally universal idea that people throughout the world understand as a basic human experience which is found in all societies1. Additionally, I have designed my unit to meet a number of the Grade Level Content Expectations (GLCE) of the 6th grade Social Studies curriculum created by the Michigan Department of Education2. The focus of social studies in the 6th grade is the Western Hemisphere. According to the Department of Education in Michigan, studies in contemporary civics and government are integrated throughout the school year. Additionally, my unit will focus on key components of the curriculum such as investigating present global issues and using knowledge, research, and investigation to analyze and develop a plan regarding the future as it relates to the topic of bilingualism.

I have incorporated various 6th grade social studies Grade Level Content Expectations throughout my lesson. The GLCE were created to help students build and utilize skills and content that assists them to become responsible citizens. The advantage of the GLCE is that they have been specifically designed to help students progress in their learning while providing adequate rigor to enable students to succeed at each consecutive grade level. Michigan's GLCE in social studies suggest that teachers should focus on a variety of disciplinary processes with students in the classroom. These disciplinary processes which are integrated throughout my unit lesson plan include but are not limited to: "acquiring, organizing, and presenting social studies information, analyzing public issues in our various communities, and engaging in constructive conversation around social studies topics3."

The Canadian policies and social interactions that students learn about and the questions they will grapple with during the lessons can help them relate these issues to their lives as Americans. The students will be faced with the task of learning about Canada's policies on bilingualism as well as the presence of bilingualism and language use in America. Students will have to take a stance on the issues that these nations are facing and project problems and offer solutions for each nation according to the country's views of bilingualism today.

The first lesson will begin with a discussion about what the students already know about life in Canada. I will then pose the question, "What is bilingualism and what does it mean to you?" in order to get a better understanding of their conceptions of bilingualism and their feelings on the issue. The students will then be asked to briefly provide a written response on their own and then share that response with members of an assigned group. The group will then collaborate to build on their definitions and understandings of bilingualism and life in Canada. This first exercise will help me understand the level of my student's knowledge. I can then decide which direction the lessons needed to take.

Assuming that most my students will have little working knowledge of Canada's use of Official Bilingualism, I will continue the first lesson by explaining bilingualism. Bilingualism can be referred to as the ability to speak two languages, the frequent use of two languages within a community, or that two languages are officially recognized by political and federal institutions. It could be any one of these explanations or a combination of them4. It's important that students understand what bilingualism is in order to learn how and why it is important to Canada. After explaining bilingualism to my students, I will ask why it is useful for Canada to recognize French and English as official languages. I will continue my lesson by explaining that Canada is a nation of multiple languages, and comparing it to the United States, to allow students to make a more relevant connection in their own lives. One important thing to teach students is that Canada gets its official languages from two countries which developed permanent settlements there, France and Great Britain.

In the second lesson of the unit I will develop a brief timeline of bilingualism in Canada to create a situational context for the rest of the lesson. In this timeline, I will discuss several developments of Official Bilingualism in Canada. In 1867, the British North America Act made the first official provision for bilingualism. French and English were languages recognized in the Parliament. Legislation was required to be published in both languages to allow all Canadian residents to read and understand the laws of the land. A federal Translation Bureau was created by the Canadian Parliament in 1934. In 1969, Parliament enacted the first Official Languages Act naming French and English the official languages of national institutions in Canada. New Brunswick became the first and only Canadian province to be officially bilingual in that same year. In the mid 1970's, legislation was enacted to ensure that all labels on packages and consumer products had a bilingual label5.

The most important development in the history of Canadian bilingualism is the Constitution Act passed in 1982. Understanding this law sets the stage for the study of the rest the unit. The act ensures that students in the official language minority will receive an education in their primary language where the population of students with the language minority necessitates such an accommodation6. This legislation is so important because it lays the groundwork for equal language rights within the field of education. This relates to my student's learning because I will have them work on project where they take a stance on language use in education in Canada as well as in the United States.

The Official Languages Act of 1988 is another important advancement in the history of bilingualism in Canada. I will explain to the class the importance of this legislation which Parliament enacted by discussing a few of its main goals. According to the section entitled Purpose of Act, the goals include:

  • ensure respect for English and French as the official languages of Canada and ensure equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all federal institutions..."
  • enhancing both linguistic minority communities of English and French speaking citizens in Canada.
  • to provide for the official functions, responsibilities, and powers of national institutions regarding both of Canada's official languages7.

The reason I chose to highlight this act is that it does a good job of explaining in plain terms the purposes the government was trying to address. The act promotes both languages across multiple contexts, but within federal institutions as well as in the greater Canadian society. Students that have studied important Canadian acts and legislation such as these, they will be able to make a connection to their own previous and future learning about the legislation and Constitution of the United States.

During the third lesson of the unit we will take a more in depth look at the Constitution Act, of 1982 by studying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. One social studies Grade Level Content Expectation that will be met during this activity is (6 - H1.2.2) which represents Grade 6, 1st History Inquiry Standard Category, 2nd Standard, 2nd Expectation. This expectation requires students to "Read and comprehend a historical passage to identify basic factual knowledge and the literal meaning by indicating who was involved, what happened, where it happened, what events led to the development, and what consequences or outcomes followed8."

In order to meet this standard, I would break the class into four groups which would examine Sections 16-23 of the charter that deal directly with official language use as a nation and minority language education rights. Group 1 will cover both Sections 16 and 16.1, which discuss the official languages of Canada. The second group will examine Sections 17, 18, and 19, which deal with language use in Parliament. Group 3 has the challenge of studying Sections 20, 21, and 22 that focus on the rights of communication with federal institutions. The fourth group will be assigned to study Section 23 regarding education rights of minority language students. Each group will have the opportunity to collaborate on their own, and then develop a brief five minute presentation of their findings at the end of the class period9.

On that day, students would spend the first half of the class studying, reading, and discussing the sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which they were assigned. In the second half of the class, students will present their findings allowing the entire class to learn about each section. Students will be able to increase their own understanding of the policy behind bilingualism in Canada because they are responsible for leading the teaching during this activity. When students are given the chance to lead the learning environment and take an active role in teaching their classmates, they will be more likely to fully grasp the concepts and issues they are being presented with.

During the lesson for the fourth day, students are going to be asked the question of how the policies of bilingualism and its presence in Canada relate to not only their lives, but the lives of others in the United States. It is important that the students be asked to draw connections between this aspect of Canada's culture and their experiences as Americans. The fourth lesson will include a class discussion about these connections during which will raise the point that America is also a nation that is home to multiple language minorities. Spanish is one language minority in many parts of the country and often the native language for entire communities. I will ask students questions such as: "How do you see Canada's experiences of bilingualism reflected here in the United States?" "What languages other than English do you think major groups of people living in America speak?" and "What types of policies or institutions are already in place for students who are non-native English speakers?"

I will approach the class with other key aspects of the bilingualism issue by discussing its presence on a global scale. For example, many Western European nations utilize multiple languages. I will also connect the advantages of bilingualism to international travel, business, and communication. I will take the time to illustrate the advantages Canada has with certain business partners globally because of their status as a bilingual nation. The point of making these connections is to show students that increased language usage on a national level like Canada's official bilingualism strengthens one's ability to contribute in the global arena. The impact of technology also plays a key role in the study of bilingualism and its importance to nations such as Canada. The world is becoming a more connected place through the intermingling of technology resources and common languages, giving nations with multiple languages a distinct advantage.

By facilitating class discussion, I am giving students the opportunity to teach others in the class what they know as well as create a forum for answering some of the questions they have about the issue. At the end of the class session, I will explain that over the next few class periods, we will begin a public policy project dealing with bilingualism in both Canada and the United States. The assignment for the students is to research, design, and present a public policy that addresses a concern they have for either the United States or Canada in their handling of language use and bilingualism in education. I would implore students to consider Canada's experiences with bilingualism in a detailed manner and to identify what it has to teach us about the American experience within a similar context. Canada's experiences could provide valuable insights to students addressing the public policy of the United States in the field of education.

The rationale for creating a project of this nature is based directly on the social studies curriculum set forth by the Michigan Department of Education. The content expectations of public discourse, decision making, and citizen involvement as described by the social studies curriculum are all addressed within the activities and processes of the assigned project. The GLCE that cover the expectations met by the project are (6 - P3.1.1) and (6 - P4.2.2-3). The first GLCE which represents Grade 6, 3rd Public Discourse and Decision Making Standard Category, 1st Standard, 1st Expectation, asks students to "Deeply examine policy issues in group discussions and debates to make reasoned and informed decisions. Write persuasive/ argumentative essays expressing and justifying decisions on public policy issues. Plan and conduct activities intended to advance views on matters of public policy, report the results, and evaluate effectiveness10."

Additionally, the project addresses citizen involvement which furthers the public good by having students engage in contributing to solving national issues and informing others in the public. The GLCE that coordinate with citizen involvement are (6 - P4.2.2) and (6 - P4.2.3) which are the Grade 6, 4th Citizen Involvement Standard Category, 2nd Standard, 2nd and 3rd Expectation respectively.

For the fifth lesson, I will have the class attend a research training seminar created by the school's Librarian or Multimedia Technician. These types of modeling are important for students when beginning to learn about the research process. I will provide a list of useful websites and materials as a beginning reference point for the students. Students will be given the rest of the class period to begin their research. During the next two class periods, I will have my students in the computer lab or library conducting research about the topic of bilingualism in Canada and or the United States and the impact it has on the nation's education system. The GLCE that connects to this aspect of my lesson is (6 - G6.1.1) which is a Global Investigation and Issue Analysis standard that focuses on students' research of contemporary global issues and topics11. I will provide the students with ample time for research because as a teacher, I know some of my students will not necessarily have the resources needed such as the internet or public library accessibility to complete the research as homework.

The next step in the process of creating a public policy proposal is to formulate a draft that includes the students' stance on a particular issue. Their draft could contain a new plan or changes to existing policies regarding bilingualism within the educational systems in either Canada or the United States. Finally, over the last 2-3 days of the unit, each student will be asked to present their policy proposal as a public address to society which, for practical purposes will be our own class. I understand that young students like the 6th graders in my class will have different comfort levels with public speaking. I will explain to the students that people use a variety of media outlets and resources to inform the public of their ideas and the policies which they support. Therefore, I am offering each student one of three options. Students can either choose to present their public policy proposal as a live speech, a videotaped speech, or a radio address.

I will have a plain backdrop available in the classroom as well as a video camera set up for students to record their educational policy proposals. I will also have a tape recorder set up at a desk with headphones to allow students the ability to create a mock radio broadcast announcing their policy proposal. The goal is to have students practice addressing their peers and presenting their ideas in an active and unique way. By creating a final product of this type, students will have the opportunity to incorporate their own creativity and style into their learning. The lesson does not simply generate another low energy recitation of facts or stories about social studies but rather creates definitive understanding through the production process of the activity.

The project hinges on teaching about Canada first and then relating that knowledge to the student's experiences as Americans. It is in this way that their learning has become more contextualized. By learning about Canada first, students have a more complete understanding of how this issue could potentially be a concern in American education as well. If I simply taught either Canada's bilingualism or issues of language use in the United States separately, each unit would essentially be a disconnected topic or subject area. Therefore, my approach makes a valuable connection regarding powerful ideas within social studies. The importance of teaching social studies as a series of interconnected subjects is crucial to my unit plan. It allows students to connect these social studies concepts on their own which produces transformative learning about the functions of social systems12.

The unit lesson plan that I have created will be useful to social studies teachers focusing on Western Hemisphere or Canadian studies. I have taken consideration of grade appropriate curriculum standards set forth by the state of Michigan as well as leading social studies education researchers to design my unit on teaching bilingualism in Canada and its relationship to the United States. The product is a comprehensive unit that begins by teaching students about Canada's long and storied history of bilingualism and leads up to their own research and understanding of the issue in a larger more globalized context. The culmination of the unit is the capstone project of creating a public policy proposal within education. It is the most important aspect of my lessons because it incorporates the previous teaching with a plan for student investigation, analysis, persuasive communication, and most significantly, citizen involvement. It is this idea of helping students become more active and responsible citizens that drives my social studies pedagogy. Learning about other nations can easily became an exercise in trivial pursuit without the accompanying lessons to connect the big powerful social studies ideas across contexts. The unit lesson plan presented here can be modified to accommodate various student populations if need be and will certainly provide students with an exciting and long lasting learning experience.


  1. 1 Jere Brophy and Janet Alleman, Powerful Social Studies for Elementary Students, (Belmont, CA: Thomas Wadsworth, 2007) 13.
  2. 2 Michigan Department of Education, Social Studies Grade Level Content Expectations (PDF)* (Lansing, MI, 2007) 1-8; 34-35; 43-57.
  3. 3 Michigan Department of Education, Social Studies Grade Level Content Expectations (PDF)* (Lansing, MI, 2007) 2.
  4. 4 "Bilingualism," Merriam-Webster.
  5. 5 "History of Bilingualism in Canada," Canadian Heritage, 25 September 2010.
  6. 6 "Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," Department of Justice, 29 September 2010.
  7. 7 "Official Languages Act," Department of Justice, 30 September 2010.
  8. 8 Michigan Department of Education, Social Studies Grade Level Content Expectations (PDF)* (Lansing, MI, 2007) 48.
  9. 9 "Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," Department of Justice, 26 September 2010.
  10. 10 Michigan Department of Education, Social Studies Grade Level Content Expectations (PDF)* (Lansing, MI, 2007) 57.
  11. 11 Michigan Department of Education, Social Studies Grade Level Content Expectations (PDF)* (Lansing, MI, 2007) 54.
  12. 12 Jere Brophy and Janet Alleman, Powerful Social Studies for Elementary Students, (Belmont, CA: Thomas Wadsworth, 2007) 13-16.

Works Cited

"Bilingualism," Merriam-Webster.

Brophy, Jere and Janet Alleman, Powerful Social Studies for Elementary Students. (Belmont, CA: Thomas Wadsworth, 2007) 13-16.

"Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," Department of Justice, 29 September 2010.

"History of Bilingualism in Canada," Canadian Heritage, 25 September 2010.

Michigan Department of Education, Social Studies Grade Level Content Expectations (PDF)* Lansing, MI, 2007, 1-8; 34-35; 43-57.

"Official Languages Act," Department of Justice, 30 September 2010.

*Adobe Acrobat Reader Opens in new window is required to read PDF documents.


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