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Yup'ik RavenStorytelling in the Yup’ik Immersion Classroom

Introduction

I have taught for over twenty years as both an English and Yup’ik teacher but the 2006-2007 school year was unique. During the process of narrowing down my research topic, I decided to try Total Physical Response Storytelling (TPR Storytelling), also called Teaching Proficiency though Reading and Storytelling, in my classroom. After a year of teaching with TPR Storytelling, I wish I were just starting my career because of the wonderful results I have seen with my students learning a second language.

When I was considering a master’s degree topic, I wanted to examine a language teaching method that would promote language production. During that time, our school was seeking ways to promote language use because of low proficiency in the target language. Implementing the TPR Storytelling method made my classroom a better environment for children to acquire Yup’ik in a fun way.

Before I learned about TPR Storytelling, I enjoyed incorporating storytelling in other ways in my classroom. I told traditional stories in which I had the students act out the story; I used flannel boards to tell stories; and I gave them books with cassettes. When I first saw a book titled, Fluency Through TPR Storytelling, I had to read it. TPR is one of the language teaching strategies we use at Ayaprun Elitnaurvik, the Yup’ik Immersion School in Bethel, Alaska. To see storytelling linked to TPR sounded very appealing! The more I read about TPR Storytelling, the more interested I became. Active language learning, stories rich in comprehensible input and long-term retention of language all sounded inviting. Nevertheless, as a first grade teacher, I was frustrated because the materials were geared toward upper elementary and high school levels and stories in the existing books were not culturally appropriate to the Yup’ik context. With my curiosity peeked, I attended a TPR Storytelling workshop in Washington State only to discover the whole workshop was geared toward upper elementary and/or high school. After a long search, I eventually found someone specializing in elementary TPR Storytelling, Carol Gaab, who recommended I attend a summer TPR Storytelling conference in Burlington, Vermont.

I believe TPR Storytelling, my new strategy to teaching language, has changed the dynamics in my classroom. My students and I have had a lot of fun together learning Yup’ik. Many times my students and I would laugh while practicing a story. It boggled my mind to hear my first graders arguing in Yup’ik. At times I deliberately held back and listened to them defending their points on such topics as whether or not a story was make believe or not. Another surprise was how students began taking charge of a story once they became familiar with it. Once we were preparing to perform the story Yaassiicuar ‘The Little Box’, instead of waiting for my cues, as had been their style, they began the performance without me. On another day, I witnessed a Yup’ik second language student who went well beyond her student role of leading the calendar. She gave commands in Yup’ik. I was awed by her newfound confidence and control and that her peers followed.

To make TPR Storytelling work for my classroom, I had to make modifications and decide what I felt was doable for my students and for me. For example, most TPR Storytelling materials are for upper elementary or high school students. These stories were simply too long for my students. I decided to use a different mini-story each week. I felt at the first grade level my students were better able to comprehend the shorter stories.

My students performed their TPR Storytelling stories not only during weekly Friday Showcase, but also at an opening for a local college meeting and school potlucks . A memorable moment with my students was when they performed a few TPR Stories at the local Senior Center in front of delighted elders. Many of the elders knew the namesakes of my students so there was a personal and spiritual connection. Some of our stories probably brought back memories of their own traditional upbringing.

Because storytelling is an important part of Yup’ik culture, I believe TPR Storytelling is especially useful for teaching Yup’ik immersion. Elder Miisaq Frank Andrew (2008) of Kuigilnguq ‘Kwigillingok’ recalls how men rose early and retired early in the qasgiq (communal men’s house) listening to each other tell stories. These stories and other oral instruction formed the moral foundation of a properly lived life. Miisaq remembered:

“Then from somewhere in the room a person would begin telling another story. That was the way men relaxed and began to fall asleep for the night. We’d listen and enjoy the stories and eventually fall asleep. Stories were always told at night when everyone retired, stories passed down from generation to generation” (Andrew, Sr. 2008 p. xxvi).

According to Miisaq (2008), the elderly men constantly told stories in the qasgiq. Miisaq said they told the boys that even though they are just mundane stories, to listen intently, that what they heard would include lessons that would help them later in life. Elder Kangrilnguq Paul John (2003) of Toksook Bay refers to these storytelling accounts as either qulirat (legends or tales told by distant ancestors) or qanemcit (historical narratives related by known persons). Listening was considered a very important skill among the Yup’ik. Children were taught early on how to listen. Whether at home or in the qasgiq, children were told to observe the speakers carefully (Fienup-Riordan, 2005). Miisaq (2005) remembered how they should not pay attention to how the speakers looked but rather to pay close attention to what was said. Children were admonished to focus all their senses on the speaker so that what was said would stick inside their minds (Fienup-Riordan, 2005). Parents were to share their knowledge broadly within the community (Fienup-Riordan, 2003). The people of Nelson Island say that if people are stingy with their knowledge, their minds would rot (Fienup-Riordan, 2003).

In a phone interview with elder Igvaq Pauline Hunt (personal communication, September 3, 2008) of Kotlik regarding quliriyaraq, she understood that our ancestors became the legends and tales (...augkut-gguq ciuliaput quliraurtut-gguq) and that life became historical narratives (...yuuciq-gguq qanemciurrluni). She mentioned that advice was given in the qasgiq. She shared how her late mother gave advice in the morning. She shared one story of Qaagucungaq who was a giant who almost caught up with four children who had wandered away from the village. Igvaq mentioned other means of entertainment including yaarui ‘storykniving’, airraq ‘stringstories’ and naasaaq, a game of skill using wooden sticks.

My earliest recollection of storytelling is listening to qulirat back in the early 1960’s before we had electricity in the village. While my sisters and I were snuggled under homemade down blankets we listened intently to our mother while the kerosene lamp flickered as we fell asleep. Later on in life, I recognized some of the tales that were printed that I heard from my mother. When I put my daughter to sleep, I would tell her stories and if there was a printed version, I would then read it to her much to her delight. Over the years, I have shared some of those stories with my own students, usually to a captivated audience. For me, TPR Storytelling is a meaningful extension of the Yup’ik storytelling tradition into classroom language learning.

This handbook explains various second language acquisition theories related to language teaching. It describes TPR Storytelling and the steps for TPR Storytelling. I will describe how I implemented TPR Storytelling with my first and second grade class. I will share sample mini-stories that my students learned and performed. This handbook will provide other Yup’ik language teachers with an additional resource for instructional support.

Gesture Association
Character Selection
Sample Mini-Story: The Moose and the Bear
Sample Mini-Story: The Hungry Wolf
Whole Video

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements Introduction What is TPR Storytelling?
Total Physical Response The Natural Approach General Steps of TPR Storytelling
My Classroom: First and Second Grade Sample Mini-Stories References
Additional Resources Project (pdf)  
 

 

 

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Last modified April 7, 2011