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Supporting native languages & encouraging early literacy with children's books

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Title: Supporting native languages & encouraging early literacy with children's books
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: In April of 2014, the President of the National Alliance to Save Native Languages provided testimony to the U.S. House on the need to support programs that help meet the linguistically unique educational needs of Native students while also preserving, revitalizing, and using these students’ native languages. These educational needs are especially prominent in Alaska, as Native students currently have lower rates in literacy achievement (Sparks, 2012; ISER, 2009) and higher rates of high school dropouts (Alaska Dept. of Education, 2011) than any other group of students. However, the need to preserve their native languages might be even greater, for the average Alaska Native tongue has fewer than 1,000 speakers, the majority of whom are over the age of 70 (Twitchell, reported in Kelly, 2014), a trend not likely to change when only two of the twenty languages in use in Alaska are being picked up by younger generations (Verdugo, 2006) and all but one are listed as declining (ANLPAC, 2014).

To combat both issues, we are working on a project that provides dozens of children’s books to families, children, and teachers in Alaska Native languages through the use of a free digital library with translated texts, as delivered through This approach was formulated based on recommendations from the Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council, who suggested the best method to reinforce Alaska Native languages and culture was to promote whole family learning and speaking, which is best fostered in learning opportunities that focus on early childhood language acquisition (2014). Additionally, we kept in mind research that suggests one of the best indictors of children’s success in school is related to how much they have been read to (Kern & Friedman, 2009). Attention was also paid to recommendations from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, who indicated that the number of books in the child’s home and the frequency with which they read was also related to higher test scores (U.S. Department of Education, 2013).

While results from this project are still forthcoming, the aim of this presentation is to share our approach, implementation efforts, and resulting artifacts and anecdotal records. There is no reason that these efforts have to be limited to Alaska Native languages and thus our hope is that others interested in language conservation see this is a viable option for preserving and promoting their native language while also increasing educational outcomes for students.


Alaska Department of Education (2011). Statistics & Reports (Data file). Retrieved from

ANLPAC (Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council). (2014, July). Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council: Report to the Governor and Legislature, Juneau, AK: Evans Smith, A., Counceller, A.G.L., Churchill, D., Alvanna-Stimpfle, B.Y., Charles, W.

Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER). (2009). Kids Count Alaska, 2009/2010. Anchorage, AK: Hanna, V., Schreiner, I., DeRoche, P., Ikatova, I., & Trimble, E. Kern, M.L. & Friedman, H.S. (2008). Early educational milestones as predictors of lifelong academic achievement, midlife adjustment, and longevity. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30(4), 419-430.

Twitchell, L. (2014), as quoted by Kelly, C. (2014, February 18). Supporters cheer Alaska Native languages bill. Message posted to KTOO News.

Sparks, S. (2012, July 3). NAEP Scores Still Stalled for Native American Students. Education Week, 31(36).

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Educational Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2013 Reading Assessment.

Verdugo, R.R. The Invisible Minority: The Education of the American Indian Population. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Montreal, Canada. (As referenced in National Education Association. (2006, September). Focus on American Indians/Alaska Natives, Endangered Indian Languages. As retrieved from
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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