Structure in learning
Consultant brings curriculum formula

Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Mar 26/99) - Gwich'in and Inuvialuktun teachers at both Samuel Hearne and SAM schools are now taking courses at Aurora College which will help them develop a language curriculum as well as teach a second language.

Consultant Jim MacDiarmid, who speaks several European languages as well as Inuktitut and some Dogrib, arrived in Inuvik last month and will be here until June to help language teachers understand and work within a template curriculum.

"This is really the first curriculum they've ever had that spans kindergarten to Grade 12, including activities," MacDiarmid says.

"We're also developing support materials for the curriculum and teachers are also learning a process on how a curriculum can be developed."

MacDiarmid explains language is taught through themes -- such as clothing or food -- that are the same through all grade levels. What changes is the kinds of activities and sentence complexity expected as students advance in grades.

When teachers learn more about how the curriculum functions and is developed, they will be better able to add elements on their own.

"For example, if muskrat is not there and they want to add it, at the end of the course (teachers) will have a process down to be able to develop the units such as are presently in the curriculum," says MacDiarmid.

"That's what the (curriculum development) course is designed to do."

Students currently in kindergarten through Grade 3 have no written component to either Gwich'in or Inuvialuktun instruction. Basic reading and writing comes in grades 4 through 6 and then gets progressively complex toward Grade 12.

Teacher-made and not standardized testing is one curriculum element MacDiarmid says is important because tests both show how much the kids have learned and, if the kids do well, it makes the language teacher feel good.

And according to MacDiarmid, this testing is not only important soon after the lesson in question, but also several months later to assess whether the language content has seeped into students' long-term memory.

"Very often when people refer to a cultural program, they're referring to a culture that these kids have never lived," MacDiarmid says.

"This language program is not teaching language content that is no longer being used."

He gives an example of how in English, learning the parts of a horse-pulled buggy would be less accessible or important for kids to learn than the parts of a car.

Similarly, in Gwich'in and Inuvialuktun he says all efforts are being made to teach concepts and aspects of life that kids will be interested in so they will have fun learning, and therefore, want to learn the language more.