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(Many Paths)
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North Slope Inupiaq language teachers stress oral fluency
by JANA HARCHAREK - "The Arctic Sounder"

Residents of the North Slope have long been concerned with the continuing loss of Inupiaq language.

Despite numerous conferences and meetings convened to discuss ways to reverse language loss over the last two decades, language loss continues at a dramatic rate.

The youngest Inupiaq speakers on the North Slope today are in their late 40s and early 50s, a complete reversal of the norm of the 70s and 80s, when children spoke the language as their first language.

When children came to school then they were fluent in Inupiaq. Today, save for a few, their first and only language is English.

North Slope Borough School District LogoAs an institution, the North Slope Borough School District realizes that it alone cannot keep Inupiaq a living language.

The strength and vitality of Inupiaq is dependent on the Inupiaq speaking community. It is reliant upon the willingness of speakers to share their knowledge of language and upon the determination of learners to keep at it.

To do their part, Inupiaq language teachers at schools in the school district have shifted the focus of the Inupiaq language program to one of doing what they can in the limited time they have with children to cultivate their speaking ability.

Over the last several years all of the Inupiaq teachers received training in the accelerated second language acquisition methodology from Dr. Stephen Greymorning, professor of Native American Studies at the University of Montana.

The technique developed by Greymorning employs the use of images to teach in a unique system designed to build a “house of language.”

Teachers use images to teach a sequence of skill sets that require learners to produce the language, and facilitate the internalization of the way the language works.

The method requires that teachers speak only in the language when they are working with children. Translation into English is not allowed which means that teachers need to use the images, as well as gestures and body language, in order to facilitate comprehension.

Teachers and staff from North Slope Borough schools and the Inupiaq Language Department gathered in Barrow on Sept. 18-20 to further finesse their teaching skills.

They were joined by Fannie Akpik, assistant professor of Inupiaq Studies at Ilisagvik College and her assistant, Jamie Smith. The three-day in-service was quite intense covering a wide variety of topics.

Taking advantage of the Apple 1:1 program is an easy fit for teachers of Inupiaq especially considering that the emphasis of the Inupiaq language program at the district is on developing Inupiaq oral fluency.

Dr. Jason Ohler from the University of Alaska-Southeast provided some useful tips for teachers on how computers can be used for digital storytelling.

This practical workshop exposed the teachers to how oral and written storytelling, as well as storytelling using digital and art skills, are involved in the creation of digital stories.

Teachers tried their hand at creating stories using iMovie.

Reminiscences of growing up, “Qupqugiaq”, and “The Owl and Red Fox,” originally told by Pete Sovalik were among the productions the teachers created and shared.

These new skills will now be used to engage the children in projects that showcase their speaking abilities and involve elders and other community members in the telling of stories via digital media.

Linda Frink, instructional technologist for the district walked the teachers through PowerSchool, a software that allows teachers to monitor the students they work with.

The teachers discussed which attributes were important in gauging success and agreed upon participation, assessments and projects as the categories they would monitor for grading their students.

A goal for the program later in the year is to use PowerSchool as a way to keep parents informed on a daily basis as to what is being covered in class so that the learning of the language can be reinforced at home.

Teachers will be using art projects as incentive for mastering skill sets specified in the ASLA curriculum. Towards this end, they engaged in an art project with artist Dick Weyiouanna and made key chain handles out of caribou antler.

Weyiouanna showed them the process of sanding the slice of antler, inlaying baleen according to their design and buffing and shining the final product.

This process was photographed and the teachers then developed an instructional unit that not only will teach children how to make the handles themselves, but also will teach language simultaneously.

Additional units designed to engage children in Inupiaq language learning will be developed in the coming weeks.

To aid in elevating the status of the language the group of teachers formed a committee that will shape the first annual Inupiaqta Fair slated for February.

Criteria for judging individual and group categories in spoken language, language with music and dance, poster art with language theme, language film or multimedia and language advocacy essays along with a unifying theme will be developed as the fair takes shape.

The hope is that this fair will generate enthusiasm for the language and be a place where North Slope communities can showcase their communities taking responsibility for carrying on the language.

The community can also play an important part in preserving the language. People can speak Inupiaq at their work place, parents can learn alongside their kids, and speakers can volunteer to speak in front of children during class about values or traditional skills.

We can share this responsibility each of us doing our part to make the language a daily part of our lives. When we do, it will again be a living language just as it once was for our ancestors.

Jana Harcharek is the coordinator of bilingual/multicultural instruction at the Inupiaq language department of the North Slope Borough School District.

Inupiatun Podcastsñupiaq_Department_Podcasts/Paglagikpiñ.html

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