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Native Pathways to Education
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Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned Vol. II

Inside, Outside and All-Around: Learning to Read and Write


by Mary L. Olsen
Aleutians East Borough School District


It is my belief that the world inside each of us is every bit as vast and profound and exciting as the world outside and all around us. To be a total person we must know who we are, who the people around us are, and integrate ourselves into the great commonality of our oneness as individuals and as units of living humanity. 

This paper will focus primarily on writing and communication, and the students of my class will be the central facilitators and focus. One prong will be an "Adopt-a-Student" project where each student will write to a college student or successful role model outside the community, exchanging letters and ideas for a year. It will work like a "Big Brother" or "Big Sister" program. Another prong of the project will be a local community and government facet in which students will learn about state and particularly local government, invite speakers in from the community, and observe meetings. The third prong will be the production of an elementary newsletter that will tie the teachers and students of the elementary classrooms together and inform the community-at-large of school activities. The fourth prong will be an inter-school exchange of student letters, with a focus on information about Native customs and culture. Some exchanges will be by mail and some by computer modem. The fifth prong will be that of teleconferencing and travel between district schools and utilization of onsite times for a variety of activities. The sixth prong will be the production in class of at least three publications for our class and the library at each district site.

All of these prongs will center around my students who will be both generating and receiving massive amounts of information. Within the classroom itself they will be using journals, learning logs, and other writing activities to internalize, respond to, and express feelings, ideas and values about information they receive. These activities will provide experience in the three modes of writing: expressive or personal writing, transactional (letters, information or persuasive pieces), and poetic (drama, poetry, song). Their reading will correlate with their social studies curricula in both place and time. Upon completion, students will engage in further reading and research, writing and art projects, which they will summarize to demonstrate their learning.


My Philosophy of How Writing Should Be Taught

Long before writing was viewed as a process, I had practiced and learned the "writing process." As a young child, I often spent Saturday afternoons composing what I felt to be some powerful thought on Dad's typewriter. On Sundays I rushed to my grandfather when he came to dinner to ask him what he thought of my idea. I respected his opinion because he wrote a column in a county newspaper. He always responded, asked questions, and made suggestions for improvement. Under his tutelage I learned to organize, economize or expand, focus, reread and rethink, edit, and value my thoughts on paper.

I would like my students to have the privilege of the same environment of writing in my classroom. There should be plenty of information and ideas available for them to become saturated. They should be asked to think about, use, feel, respond to the ideas and information. Excellent models of literature and writing should be presented, thought about, analyzed, responded to, internalized. An atmosphere that questions and discusses variant points of view freely and respectfully should be fostered. Students should read and write a lot because fluency and skill come with practice and direction. There should be a purpose to guide them and an audience to respond to them. As teacher, my role will be like that of my grandfather. I have expertise but I will use it to guide their writing toward higher expectations, not to impose my style or authority upon their works. Their peers will help each other by responding and helping them direct and evaluate their works. They must proceed through the process of writing - pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, publication -so that they become so intimate with it that it becomes their own and part of themselves. They must be the creator and proprietor, the pilot at the controls, and take responsibility for their telling.


My Philosophy of How Reading Should Be Taught

With regard to reading, I believe that I as teacher should diagnose where my students' skills are and encourage them to board the train of improvement and proceed full-steam up the road as far as we, working together, are able in our appointed time. It is also vital that they learn reading strategies that will stay with them forever, long after I have faded from view. It is also in my job description to interest them and get them hooked on reading as a habit, pleasure, and hobby. Also, I believe reading is an active, not a passive process, and the more actively students are involved in what they read, the more they will learn by having a sense of ownership in what they read because they have expended a great quantity of time and energy in their ideas.

Language in all forms (reading, writing, speaking) has both a process and a content. We need to analyze, respond to, and evaluate its content for its effectiveness, purpose, and style. Students must also learn reading as a process just as they do writing and speaking. They must be aware of how they go about reading, developing an intimate awareness of what steps and actions they and good readers go through as they read. Once they are aware of how they proceed to read and make connections, they must learn strategies to make them the most effective readers they can be.

The teacher's role in reading, as I view it, is the same as in any endeavor -to nurture (feed, prune, protect), guide (point the direction, help along the way, but let them do the traveling), and extend (their abilities, interests, vision). We are to help them explore knowledge, ideas, horizons, both inside and outside of themselves.

Reading, as with all language experience, should help build confidence and self-esteem. I believe in a transactional approach to literature, reading, and language. Reading (the content) is a springboard and starting point. The reader composes meaning from the text as s/he proceeds through it. Just as we teach the writer, not writing, we must also teach the reader, not just the text.

Students should have the greatest posssible input into reading and writing. They should be encouraged to initiate strategies, systems, and plans for carrying out activities as much as possible to engender a sense of responsibility and control over the program. I believe that reading and writing should be taught across the curriculum and integrated as much as possible. The selection of our reading is strongly connected and correlated to our social studies, math, and science, so that it is difficult to determine where, if ever, they separate. I believe that in reading and all language experience students should work in groups or pairs, for language cannot exist in a vacuum, but flourishes when met with response and sharing. I believe that in reading, a format and activities should be provided where everyone is allowed and expected to contribute. I believe that a classroom should provide and foster a literate environment. The students should themselves all affirm, "We all can read; we all can write; we all can think." The class should involve their individual and collective lives, their feelings, and their relationships -all that they are as people.

Reading must provide strong, inseparable connections to writing. By reading a wide variety of works, students will expand their world view and have a clearer awareness of options possible for them. By exposure to and analysis of reading materials ranging from cheap pulp to the finest works of literature, they will devise and internalize standards of measurement. They will have a clearer sense of the qualities of "good" writing - in others' writing and in their own writing.


Prong I: Adopt-a-Student - A Mentor Relationship

September - the teacher will read Dear M. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary. This book will serve to introduce the mentor relationship. It is a story of letters written by a boy to his favorite author. Although he starts out writing because he wants a famous author to help him with his writing, it turns into much more. The boy's parents have recently been divorced and he shares with the author his feelings regarding his parents and his problems at school.

Students will compose a list of possible mentors, such as local college students or other older people from the community but not presently living there. The mentor list should be composed of people from varying backgrounds who are of different ages, live in different locations, and have a wide variety of jobs.

Students will establish a list of activities - we will send Christmas cards, pictures, relate incoming news and information in our newspaper, etc.

Students will set rules and guidelines -we will discuss topics of privacy and confidentiality, how often to write, expense involved in any gift giving, what topics can be discussed, etc.

Students will compose a newsletter about their plans and mail it to a mentor of their choice, along with a personal invitation explaining why they have chosen that person.

Students will send a letter to parents explaining the program and asking for suggestions.

Students will review friendly letter form and addressing envelopes.

September-December - operate under the guidelines outlined above.

January - students will decide what they have liked, disliked, suggest improvements. Each will send the class evaluation to their mentor, asking for response and suggestions for changes for the remainder of the year.

End of April - teacher/students compose and complete an evaluation sheet.

May - send final evaluation results to mentor, write a thank you letter for participation. Ask mentors for input as to whether it was worthwhile, should it be continued. If a relationship has developed which both parties have enjoyed, they should be encouraged to continue it.

The aims of the "mentorship" program cover many areas. In addition to giving the students actual practice writing different kinds of letters to actual people, it also serves: 1) to provide role models; 2) to provide mutual support and communication between an older and younger person; 3) to stimulate interaction between different age groups; 4) to provide links with the past and learn about how things were different; 5) to learn of past events and the history of the area; 6) to gain a sense of where we have come from and where we are going as individuals, and as a community.


Prong II - Local Government, Community and Citizenship

This unit will be integrated closely with social studies and an introductory study of local government. Students will read some books of other lands and peoples: 

Julie of the Wolves - a story of Eskimo and tundra people

White Stag - a story of Atilla the Hun and Hungary

Heidi - a story of the Swiss Alps

Hans Brinker - a story of Holland

We will invite local people to come in who represent various cultures -Japan, Hungary, Mexico, the Philippines, and the Aleuts. They will be interviewed and tell about their customs, foods, and culture, and tell how they have become citizens of the United States and what it means to them. They will be encouraged to share arts and crafts, pictures and slides, letters, etc. Students will attend various local meetings - City Council, Shumagin Corporation, School Board, Indian Education, Health Board. Students will interview local leaders and committee members, write reports, and send thank-you letters.

The objectives of this exercise are to learn about people in other places; to see and learn about the different kinds of local government; to observe how meetings are conducted and the kinds of issues each deals with; to learn people's reasons for serving in government; and to become aware of the varied backgrounds of our citizens.


Prong Ill - Elementary Newsletter

The third unit will be the production of a monthly newsletter about the elementary school. Each month students will sign up for a job which will rotate. These include reporters, submissions directors, word processors, production jobs (artwork, graphics, layout), and distribution.

Reporters will select people and topics, write interview questions, conduct interviews, write news articles and edit them.

Submissions directors will solicit, collect and choose writings or drawings students or teachers have submitted and arrange them by topic, content and appropriateness of time and theme.

Word processors will type and save news articles and submissions selections.

Producers will use Pagemaker, Thunder Scanner. MacPaint and the laser printer. They will design and produce the newsletter.

Distribution will derive and maintain lists and schedules for distribution and implement it.

The objectives of this unit are to communicate with and inform students, elementary teachers, and parents; to provide a format for student writing; to learn and practice interviewing and reporting techniques; to sharpen selection skills; to learn computer production techniques and programs; and to learn cooperation and management skills.


Prong IV - Inter-school Information and Letter Exchange

The fourth unit will be the inter-school information and letter exchange. The methods of communication will utilize both mail and computer modem. The purposes are to link a village school with a town school and set up three types of exchanges - student pen pal letters, information about their school and our school, and information having to do with Aleut culture and heritage. We are attempting to unify and link our schools, districts, and communities more closely in this transition. Since the villages still have traditional language, customs and activities, we will compile the information they share with us.

At least once a month students will compile a packet of stories or letters to send. They can each type their letter on disk and save it. Then it can be coded and sent at once over the office modem. When we receive replies, students may compose the next correspondence either in class or at home.


Prong V - Teleconference and Inter-school Travel

The fifth unit will be the teleconference and inter-school travel component. The students in grades 5-8 travel several times during the year to King Cove for intermural basketball and volleyball/wrestling. We would like to extend and better utilize the on-site time. Also, we would use local teleconferencing equipment to link similar classes for practice rounds of such activities as spelling bees and Battle of Books. On-site activities could include:

a. those mentioned above

b. participation in the regular classroom activities

c. author days, where students share their writings

d. academic decathlons or contests

e. special topics classes, such as gun safety, pottery/ceramic making, swimming and water safety (where the visiting students use the facilities and program of the host school).

The purposes of this unit are for students to meet and make friends with other students their age, to bind us closer by working and playing together, and to broaden horizons and create interest in learning new things.


Prong VI - Student Publications

The sixth and last component of our network will be our publications unit. Students will proceed through the writing process to its end, publication, at least three times during the year. They will publish a book of Halloween stories in October, a book of poetry by January, and a composite publication of various writing activities and selections from journals and logs by April. Students will:

1. Write and edit selections suitable for publication

2. Plan and design the format of the publication

a. Cover

b. Page layout/design

c. Artwork

d. Binding

3. Word process stories

4. Cut and paste

5. Dummy up the book

6. Run off copies/collate/bind

The purposes of the unit are to gain self-esteem through seeing a finished product; to learn the writing and publication process; to develop cooperation and a sense of authorship; and to show parents what their children are capable of doing.

Needless to say, this is an ambitious program for the year, but if we accomplish most of our goals I shall be very satisfied. I believe this program utilizes and synthesizes the best of what I learned in my two Rural Academy classes (Desk-top Publishing and Higher-level Thinking Skills) and the Writing Consortium. I look forward to next year's well-planned and well-integrated programs.

 An Icy Perch


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



Go to University of AlaskaThe University of Alaska Fairbanks is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and educational institution and is a part of the University of Alaska system.


Alaska Native Knowledge Network
University of Alaska Fairbanks
PO Box 756730
Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
Fax (907) 474.1957
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Last modified August 18, 2006