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Yup'ik RavenOur Language Our Souls:

The Yup'ik bilingual curriculum of the
Lower Kuskokwim School District: A continuing success story.

Edited by Delena Norris-Tull, University of Alaska Fairbanks,
School of Education, Fairbanks, Alaska
copyright 1999

Chapter 2
The Balanced Literacy Program in Yup'ik
By Pamela Yancey and Sophie Shield
Bethel, Alaska
Copyright 1998

Parents, educators, administrators, and community members continue to raise questions about the proper choice of instruction and materials for the Yup'ik first language and Yup'ik immersion programs. People are concerned about the quality of education in the Yup'ik program as compared to the English program. The mission of providing quality education is not simple either in Yup'ik or in English. However, since most of the instructional materials are written in English, it is less of a struggle to teach in English than in Yup'ik.

The development of Yup'ik materials is a complex task. However, the devotion and dedication of the people here in the Lower Kuskokwim School District continues to drive the program forward. We are fortunate to have the support of the Curriculum/Bilingual Department in our district, which is responsible for providing training and development of Yup'ik instructional materials. We have the graphic arts department which devotes most of its time to support and develop Yup'ik reading materials. The reading materials that they produce include big and small books, posters, computer interactive stories, alphabet cards and so forth.

Since 1995, the Curriculum Bilingual Department has offered a four-week Bilingual Summer Institute each summer to provide more training for both certified and classified Alaska Native staff. During the Institute, the participants also help develop Yup'ik instructional materials. The training includes Yup'ik orthography, thematic units, science, health, etc. In the 1997 and 1998 Summer Institutes, we focused on the balanced literacy program and produced appropriate reading materials at the students' developmental reading levels. The Bilingual Summer Institute has had significant positive effects in providing effective Yup'ik literacy instruction.

There are many ways to implement reading instruction, but the most successful method we have found is using the balanced literacy approach. The balanced literacy approach, also known as the comprehensive literacy program, is firmly established on the whole language philosophy. It integrates reading, writing, and content subject areas into thematic units. Students are immersed in a literate environment. Using the holistic approach emphasizes learning within the whole context rather than through parts. The students learn to read in meaningful and zestful text instead of doing tiresome worksheets. Skills are developed through comprehension, not drill and practice.

Whole language also involves students in using all modes of communication: speaking, listening, reading, writing, observing, illustrating, experiencing, doing, and creating. Students are not only learning to read by reading and learning to write by writing; they also have numerous opportunities to learn how to express themselves in different ways. Last but not least, holistic learning encourages students to use higher order thinking skills, such as the three cueing systems: semantic, syntactic, and graphophonic, which requires students to use the analytical thinking process.

The holistic approach for literacy development is extremely appropriate for the Yup'ik language programs. Since the programs help foster students' language development, they not only learn how to read and write, but also learn to speak and to listen with understanding. Even though most of the village students speak Yup'ik as a first language, many do not speak Yup'ik fluently. Even if they are fluent speakers in any language, children are continuously developing their language skills. This is especially true at the kindergarten through third grade levels. In the 1997 and1998 Summer Institutes, the training for the balanced literacy program has been targeted on the primary grades. Teachers who attended the Summer Institutes and implemented the balanced literacy program in their classrooms comment that they like the literacy program very much because it makes sense and is effective with students in multiple language skill levels.

Marta Russell-Hanes, a veteran kindergarten/first grade teacher at Mikelnguut Elitnaurviat in Bethel, and Pamela Yancey (a non-Native, non-Yup'ik speaking teacher) taught the first balanced literacy program in the summer of 1997. We introduced the components of the comprehensive (balanced) literacy program and modeled how to implement them. The Juneau School District identified the following components in the balanced reading program: reading aloud, shared reading, guided reading, independent reading, familiar rereading; and they identified the following components in the writing program: modeled writing, shared writing, interactive writing, guided writing, and independent writing.

We spent a majority of the time teaching two of the components, shared reading and guided reading, because they are quite complicated. We showed the participants how to make a lesson plan for shared reading and how to do a new book introduction for guided reading. The teachers worked in small groups and then individually to practice making lesson plans. The shared reading lesson plan is a five-day plan, which consists of two or three warm up activities (songs, rhymes, or chants), the big book of the week, five books for reading aloud, skills lessons, and extension activities. A new book introduction for guided reading includes a brief introduction of the book, mini language skills, writing structure, predicting /locating words, and a follow-up activity.

The reading material for the shared reading is picked according to a particular theme. The shared reading lesson is composed of students who are grouped heterogeneously while the guided reading lesson is grouped homogeneously for emergent level readers. Guided reading is derived from the reading recovery program in New Zealand, which is an individualized remedial reading program. Guided reading is used for reading intervention and it is done with a small group instead of one-on-one tutoring. Like reading recovery, in guided reading students are assessed and placed at their instructional levels. The teacher provides opportunities for learning reading strategies, conducts mini language lessons, and evaluates students' progress. A new book is introduced in each guided reading lesson and each student has his/her own copy of the book to read. To support this program, we need an ample amount of big books for shared reading and leveled books for guided reading.

As a result of the 1997 Summer Institute, the Curriculum Bilingual Department translated and reproduced twelve big books to go with the twelve Yup'ik thematic units for shared reading and translated fifty small books for guided reading. Each participant also wrote and illustrated one big book and a small book. They were trained to recognize book characteristics for each developmental level: early emergent, upper emergent, early fluency, and fluency. When they were writing their books, they were required to write at a given developmental level. The district published most of these books created by the participants.

In the 1998 Summer Institute, Loddie Jones and Pamela Yancey taught the balanced literacy program. Loddie was the recipient of Bilingual, LKSD, Milken, Native Educator, and Alaska Federation of Natives Teacher of the Year awards from 1995 through 1997. Loddie is currently teaching immersion kindergarten at Mikelnguut Elitnaurviat School in Bethel. The format of the institute was a little different than the summer before. Our district adopted the Sunshine literacy program for this year, so we used the professional resource guide as our text and guide for the Institute. We taught the teachers how to use the resource book. It was very helpful because the teachers will now know exactly where to look to get information in their resource manual when they are implementing the program.

One unique experience about this Bilingual Summer Institute was that Loddie and Pamela worked as a team. Pamela taught a lesson in English and Loddie taught the same lesson in Yup'ik. We wanted to impart the message to the Yup'ik teachers that whatever we do in English; we can do in Yup'ik. It was crucial for them to see more lessons taught in Yup'ik, so we provided more opportunities. They cooperatively presented the shared reading and guided reading lessons. The participants reviewed lesson plans, songs, chants, and project ideas from other groups. The Summer Institute was a community of sharing knowledge and materials. Everything we did was a cooperative effort. Working and learning from one another are the best ways to understand the concepts and to stimulate teaching ideas. Transferring the English language program to the Yup'ik language program, the Alaska Native teachers needed time to talk and work together in order to be able to apply the concept in Yup'ik. In the 1997 Summer Institute the participants had to produce the books individually. It was difficult for most people because some people could not illustrate while other people had trouble understanding how to write books according to developmental levels. We learned by experience, so in the 1998 institute we asked each small group to produce two books. They had a joyous time working together. They wrote over twenty quality books that summer!

Assessment is an integral element of the balanced literacy program. In order to plan effective instruction, the teachers must evaluate what their students know and do not know. We examined the Sunshine assessments, which were very similar to Marie Clay's Observation Surveys. Marie Clay developed these assessments for authentic evaluation to help at-risk students in the reading recovery program. We decided to translate the Sunshine assessments into Yup'ik. The translation of the assessment was interesting but difficult, especially on some issues. For example, translating the running records into Yup'ik was extremely complicated. Running records are used to determine students' reading level and the reading strategies they used or did not use. The teachers use the information to place a child in a small reading group and guide his/her instruction. First, we needed to translate a set of books for assessment purposes, known as the benchmark books. Then we developed the running record forms. To calculate the accuracy of the student's running record, the teacher subtracts the number of errors from the running words and then divides the difference into the number of running words.

We ran into major problems in figuring out the running words. Since the Yup'ik words are extremely long, we wanted to be in alignment with the English program. How to divide the words was a controversial issue. Some teachers thought it would make sense to divide words into syllables, some teachers believed the words should be divided into post bases, while other teachers wanted to keep the words intact. Everyone defended their positions, and sounded reasonable, but nothing was resolved. Finally we decided that since we had never experienced the running records in Yup'ik before, the 1998-99 academic year would be the year for trial and error to see which system works the best.

The running record dispute is a minute example of the obstacles we encountered in this extended project and there are numerous ones to overcome. For example, the translation from English to Yup'ik is an enormous assignment, which Sophie Shield, our district translator, will address. As John Holt said, "There are two ways to reach to the top of the oak tree, either climb the branches or sit on the acorn and wait." The journey is difficult, but we are on our way!

Table of Contents

  • Introduction to the Kuskokwim Delta - Delena Norris-Tull
  • Introduction to the Yup'ik Language and Culture Programs of the Lower Kuskokwim School District - Delena Norris-Tull & Beverly Williams
  • Chapter 1: The Yup'ik First Language Program: Lower Kuskokwim School District - Mary Lou Beaver & Evon Azean, Sr.
  • Chapter 2: The Balanced Literacy Program in Yup'ik - Pamela Yancey & Sophie Shield
  • Chapter 3: Creating Yup'ik Books, Translating, & Orthography - Pamela Yancey & Sophie Shield
  • Chapter 4: Ayaprun Immersion School - Loddie Ayaprun Jones
  • Chapter 5: Analysis of the Yup'ik Immersion Program In Bethel - Agatha Panigkaq John-Shields
  • Chapter 6: Yup'ik Language and Culture: A Description and Analytical View of the 4-6 Yup'ik Thematic Unit - Dora E. Strunk
  • Chapter 7: K-3 Thematic Units and the Alaska Cultural Standards - Nita Yurrliq Rearden
  • Chapter 8: Yup'ik Language and Culture: A Description of the 5th-12th Yup'ik Curriculum and its Revision - Rosalie Lincoln
  • Chapter 9: Yup'ik Discipline Practices Inerquutet and Alerquutet To Implement Into Yup'ik Schools - Theresa Arevgaq John
  • Chapter 10: Recommendations for Yup'ik Curriculum at Lower Kuskokwim School District - Sally Casey

email the editor, D. Norris-Tull


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Last modified August 18, 2006