Friday, November 28, 2014

Native language initiatives enhanced

The Rainy River District School Board is continuing its effort to engage teachers, students, and parents in native language and culture through technology and by developing new tools to enhance the aboriginal curriculum.
Through a partnership between the board, Seven Generations Education Institute, the Ministry of Education, and local First Nations’ communities, the Ojibwe language is being revitalized and restored.

“It’s so important to the First Nations and the elders that the Ojibwe languages continues on,” said Brent Tookenay, the board’s aboriginal education leader.
He explained since schools only can offer five hours a week of native language instruction, some of the responsibility to teach the language and culture falls back on the community, which is why the partnership is beneficial.
“The school board can’t be the sole entity responsible for native language,” Tookenay stressed. “But we can certainly help.”
About two years ago, the partnership expanded to include Mike Parkhill of SayITFirst, a company dedicated to using technology and community participation to Modernize, Expand, Revitalize, and Localize (MERL) aboriginal languages.
And the work they are doing is ongoing, creating resources and strategies for the delivery of native language.
Parkhill, with assistance from Nancy, Dan, and Jason Jones for many of the translations, now has published seven “snuggle” books, as he calls them.
And another one will be launched today—focused on anti-bullying—to coincide with the “Day of Pink.”
The books are written in English and Ojibwe, and also offer a phonetic representation. In addition, there are audio recordings available for free at www.sayitfirst.ca
“[They] are written so parents and children can read in their native language, both written and orally,” Parkhill explained.
“Parents can share these books with their children and pass on their language traditions,” he added, noting the books are designed to allow both speakers and non-speakers the ability to pass the Ojibwe language onto their youth.
The books also include cultural teachings that have been passed down by elders.
Tookenay said the books are being incorporated into the curriculum, but also are getting out into the communities and into the hands of parents.
“The idea is simply to create tools, used by the education system, parents, and communities to reach a level of 20 hours per week for a three-year period, to achieve an acceptable level of fluency in the native language,” Parkhill noted.
“There are not many books in the dual languages,” Tookenay noted. “So I think we’re hitting on something really good.”
He added since people who don’t speak Ojibwe can read these books, even if they don’t understand it, the child can develop the language.
“And we’re starting with the earliest learners,” Tookenay enthused, citing some of the Early Learning students within the board have been given copies of the books and have been learning about aboriginal teachings—even though they won’t formally study the language until later.
“Children at that age can pick things up so easily, so it’s really great to get them started [rather than] waiting until later when it’s harder to learn,” he reasoned.
Tookenay also said he’s received a lot of positive feedback about the books.
“The native language teachers love them,” he remarked. “And the Early Learning teachers have enjoyed having them.
“It’s something different,” he added. “The aboriginal students need to see themselves in the curriculum.”
And with a local student population who are 40 percent self-identified as aboriginal, Tookenay said the additions to the curriculum are key to supporting them.
In addition to the Ojibwe books, the MERL project also will be piloting a Sesame Street-like show, called “The Koko Jones Show,” to engage students and the community.
It is earmarked for launch sometime next month.
In the meantime, students also are becoming engaged in the Ojibwe language through the innovative use of technology.
Jason Jones, the board’s Native Language Curriculum Co-ordinator who taught himself the language, has helped create the Ojibwe Language Reverse Engineering Project, which aids in teaching the structure of the Ojibwe language as a second language.
It facilitates learning by deconstructing sentences using online tools in order to listen to the sentence pronunciation, introduce its written format, and gain understanding through analysis of the individual word’s description or cultural meaning.
“In combination of written lessons, an oral tool has been added for students and teachers alike to practice pronouncing the words properly,” he explained.
The school board’s aboriginal education department edublog allows parents to submit common sentences for translation, and also offers quizzes and other resources for anyone interested in learning the Ojibwe language.
To explore and participate in language learning with their children, parents can download these translations to any device.
The department’s “Ask an Elder” feature, meanwhile, allows students and parents to “twitter” a question for review by Jones and by a local elder, who provides a response on YouTube.
“I think there are a lot of great things going on and we plan on continuing to work with our partners to support our students in learning the native language,” said Tookenay, citing he’s happy to see all the elements of their efforts are aligning.
“We’re doing it because we need to do it,” he stressed.
“We need to provide these resources to the teachers and the community so they can better help the students.”

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