- Communities of Practice: An Alaskan Native Model for Language Teaching and Learning ed. by Patrick Marlow, Sabine Siekmann
This volume provides a detailed account of advanced training programs for teachers of both heritage languages and English working in the Yup’ik communities of Alaska. The editors and contributors were instructors in the program and hence intimately acquainted with its design, challenges, and successes. The program at the University of Alaska was developed to serve the needs of heritage language teachers in Alaska, and drew inspiration from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Research in Language Acquisition and the University of Arizona’s American Indian Language Development Institute. Each chapter focuses on specific ways that the training program addressed the interests and needs of teachers working in the Yup’ik communities. This volume is especially valuable for documenting the creation of a program for training Indigenous language instructors and teachers of English working in Indigenous communities. As the authors note, documentation of such programs is generally sparse, and thus works like the one reviewed here are extremely useful for the contribution that such knowledge can potentially make to similar programs in other regions.
While the authors discuss the challenges of the training programs, as professors and participants in the program they also have a vested interest in providing a positive portrayal of the outcomes. Their focus is on the training program, and does not examine in detail the ways that the training affected teaching and learning at the community level. The volume addresses ways that the training program was conceived in order to reflect Yup’ik cultural practices and values, and emphasizes that the students in the program were encouraged to think critically about all aspects of curriculum development. This is an especially challenging undertaking because a great deal of the educational system, including curriculum content and language teaching methodologies, are routinely taken for granted, even though they differ significantly from historical and contemporary indigenous modes of teaching and learning. In this program, the proposed models for teaching heritage language and English closely follow successful techniques that are being used for other languages in school settings, while adding elements that may appeal to teachers and learners in the Yup’ik communities. [End Page 102]
The authors make use of the relevant contemporary theory in education and other fields, both in designing training programs and in discussing program features. The literature on some of the topics is extensive, however, and the authors tend to focus on sources with practical implications rather than probing the deeper relevance of their work. The chapter by Sabine Seikmann and Hishinlai’ (Kathy R. Sikorski), “Reinventing Technology: Computers as Tools for Coconstructing the Local Voice in Materials Development” (pp. 51—72), is characteristic in this regard. As the authors point out, it is often difficult to find heritage language websites that can be used by language instructors to enhance their language teaching. Since there are many possible benefits of using such materials, one of the goals of the training was to enhance the participants’ knowledge of computer-based technologies for use with language learning. Seikmann and Hishinlai’ identified an initial resistance on the part of the Yup’ik heritage language instructors to the use of computers because they had limited experience with their use, and previous experiences with using such tools had been imposed by school administrators in unsupportive ways. The trainers scaled back the applications that they planned to cover, but it is clear from the excerpts from course evaluations that some of the participants still found the technology component overwhelming. There are opportunities for a wider discussion of the implications of the challenges in facilitating instructors’ use of computer technologies in language teaching. The authors say that “within [Socio-Cultural Theory] . . . technology is viewed as one of many tools humans use within goal-directed activities” (p. 56). In actuality, much of the literature theorizing the use of media is concerned with its positive or negative effects in particular contexts...