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Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned Vol. II

Glacier Bay History: A Unit in Cultural Education


by David Jaynes
Kodiak Island Borough School District


Most students in Kodiak, Alaska, as in many of the larger communities throughout the state, are originally from somewhere else. The student population draws from a large transient population, including Caucasian families from the Coast Guard, Filipino families who are attracted by the fishing industry, and Alaskan Natives from the villages around Kodiak Island. In addition, Kodiak is home to Koreans, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Mexican families. The cultural eclecticism referred to in "Culture, Community, and the Curriculum" (LT/LL) is a natural part of community life and the school system. 

As a junior high language arts teacher, I have attempted to utilize this diversity in my curriculum, particularly in the study of literature. Using the "Whole Language" approach to reinforce the internalization and retention of knowledge gained, we have studied legends, folktales, and fables of many cultures. The resources kits developed by the Department of Education (for the study of the Republic of China, Japan, the Phillipines, and Australia) contain examples of national legends and stories, in addition to various cultural artifacts which can provide the hands-on, active learning so necessary to long term retention. I request the use of these kits during each school year.

The focus of this paper, however, will be on Alaskan literature, in order to encourage that "sense of place" referred to in Ron and Susie Scollon's article on "The Axe Handle Academy" (LT/LL). In fact, in developing this unit, I will integrate all three components of the Scollons' program: Bioregional Studies, Cultural Studies, and Communication Studies. I designed the lesson using the steps of the Clinical Teaching Model and my background in the Alaska State Writing Consortium.


The Unit

The text of this unit is a Tlingit legend, "Glacier Bay History," told by Susie James, transcribed and translated by Nora Dauenhauer and available from the Sealaska Heritage Foundation in Juneau. A summary, written by Richard Dauenhauer, follows:

In this story the granddaughter, Kaasteen, violates a tabu of her people by calling to the Glacier which results in the destruction of the village and the local ecosystem. Someone then has to pay the price of violating respect for these natural and spiritual forces. In this version the grandmother, Shaawat Seek', stays behind in place of the young granddaughter, Kaasteen. The woman in the ice is the older woman and the emphasis is placed on the sacrifice of the grandmother, on the Tlingit tradition of "standing in," and accepting the responsibility not only for one 'sown actions, but the actions of others.

There are a number of reasons to use this text. It provides students with an insight into traditions different from traditional Western culture. It serves as a comparison to other myths and legends we study from the ancient Greeks and Romans, African, and Filipino cultures (a study of legends, mythology and folklore is specified at the seventh grade level in the Kodiak Island Borough School District Language Arts Curriculum Guide). It heightens students' awareness of how they relate to their environment, glaciers and all. And it serves as a transition into the collecting of local myths and legends, a follow-up unit which I describe briefly at the end of this unit lesson plan.


Anticipatory Set

We begin with a discussion of glaciers in general. Most Kodiak students already have some familiarity with glaciers, having ridden the ferry from Kodiak to the Mainland or flown over the Harding Ice Field on the way to Anchorage. I also have a videotape which I purchased at Portage Glacier. I can further introduce the story with the National Geographic article (January, 1987) about the rapidly moving Hubbard Glacier near Yakutat. We would find all of these places on a state map. We would reflect on myths from other cultures which we have already studied to see that mythology explains how and why nature works. This variety of introductory activities serves to get students' attention. It also will be necessary to give some background on Tlingits and their language, and to relate this to the traditions of storytelling and oral language which we've already studied.



Next I pass out copies of the story. We would discuss the poetic format and the poetic devices, such as repetition, used in the story. Then I will read the story aloud, straight through, to give students an overall impression (what Pat Wolfe calls "chunking").


Check for Understanding

Before any discussion, I give them topics for a learning log entry:

What are you wondering about?

What confuses you?

What do you want to know? 

Students write for approximately five minutes on one or more of these questions. Now students have been provided with oral, visual, and kinesthetic opportunities to process the story.

Then I collect the papers and read them aloud, discussing them as we go. At this point in the lesson, discussion will be highly speculative and divergent, though we will frequently return to the text for answers and evidence.

On the next day, I will reread the story, or ask for student volunteers to read, this time stopping frequently for discussion. This will provide another way to access this information in their long term memories and reinforce retention.

As a follow-up means of checking for understanding, we will brainstorm possible purposes for the story. I imagine that some purposes will relate to this specific story ("to explain the movement of glaciers"), but I would also direct the discussion to include wider purposes ("to learn about ancestors").

We could also brainstorm lessons to be learned from the story (follow customs). We would then incorporate this into our general understanding of myths and legends (how are they alike? how are they different?).


Guided and Independent Practice

Next we brainstorm other natural phenomena that could be explained by legends. I focus the class on Alaskan and Kodiak topics because of the next activities, and to increase the awareness of our local environment. Topics might include tides, salmon cycles, eagle migration, etc.

Then students select one of these topics and write their own legends. Depending on the level of interest at this point, the legends could be fast writes (rough drafts) and read aloud, or they could be revised as final drafts to be posted or published as a class book.


Extended Activities

Students will naturally be interested in how others have explained these same natural phenomena. This will give us an opportunity to extend our learning outside the classroom (the "school without walls" concept discussed by Barnhardt). We might do a library search for Alaskan or Aleut myths and legends. We might make a trip to the local museum. Or we could develop this into an oral history unit where we could interview community elders to find out what stories they know. The Alaska Oral History Resource Kit, available through the Alaska Council of Teachers of English, provides samples and a how-to videotape.



This unit provides for all of the components discussed in the "Axe Handle Academy." It integrates reading, writing, speaking, and listening in a Whole Language approach. It addresses culture and community through the curriculum, It interrelates literature with many of the social studies and could even be extended into science. It provides students with an understanding of the Tlingit culture in the same way we become familiar with the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, Japan and China. It contains the elements of the Clinical Teaching Model. It incorporates basic thinking skills and higher level thinking. And finally, I think it is an enjoyable unit to teach and learn.


Ray Barnhardt

Part I * Rural School Ideals

"My Goodness, People Come and Go So Quickly Around Here"
Lance C. Blackwood

Parental Involvement in a Cross-Cultural Environment
Monte Boston

Teachers and Administrators for Rural Alaska
Claudia Caffee

The Mentor Teacher Program
Judy Charles

Building Networks
Helen Eckelman

Ideal Curriculum and Teaching Approaches for a School in Rural Alaska
Teresa McConnell

Some Observations Concerning Excellent Rural Alaskan Schools
Bob Moore

The Ideal Rural Alaska Village School
Samuel Moses

From Then To Now: The Value of Experiential Learning
Clara Carol Potterville

The Ideal School
Jane Seaton

Toward an Integrated, Nonlinear, Community-Oriented Curriculum Unit
Mary Short

A Letter from Idealogak, Alaska
Timothy Stathis

Preparing Rural Students for the Future
Michael Stockburger

The Ideal Rural School
Dawn Weyiouanna

Alternative Approaches to the High School Curriculum
Mark J. Zintek

Part II * Rural Curriculum Ideas

"Masking" the Curriculum
Irene Bowie

On Punks and Culture
Louise J. Britton

Literature to Meet the Needs of Rural Students
Debra Buchanan

Reaching the Gifted Student Via the Regular Classroom
Patricia S. Caldwell

Early Childhood Special Education in Rural Alaska
Colleen Chinn

Technically Speaking
Wayne Day

Process Learning Through the School Newspaper 
Marilyn Harmon

Glacier Bay History: A Unit in Cultural Education
David Jaynes

Principals of Technology
Brian Marsh

Here's Looking at You and Whole Language
Susan Nugent

Inside, Outside and all-Around: Learning to Read and Write
Mary L. Olsen

Science Across the Curriculum
Alice Porter

Here's Looking at You 2000 Workshop
Cheryl Severns

School-Based Enterprises
Gerald Sheehan

King Island Christmas: A Language Arts Unit
Christine Pearsall Villano

Using Student-Produced Dialogues
Michael A. Wilson

We-Search and Curriculum Integration in the Community
Sally Young

Artist's Credits



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Last modified August 14, 2006