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Keeping language in place: from Dene transitional-immersion at school to a local Dene teacher education program

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Title: Keeping language in place: from Dene transitional-immersion at school to a local Dene teacher education program
Authors: Klein, Mark
Lovick, Olga
Jung, Dagmar
Issue Date: 02 Mar 2017
Description: Dene Sųłiné, a Dene (Athabaskan) language spoken in North-western Saskatchewan, remains the dominant language in the communities of La Loche and Clearwater River Dene Nation. Out of a total population of 3,400, more than 90% speak Dene. Until recently, children who entered the school system were dominant Dene speakers. Responding to this situation, the Clearwater River Dene School introduced a transitional-immersion program in 2007. In grades K-3 Dene is used as main medium of instruction, with a gradual phasing in of English-taught classes. Grades 4-12 are primarily taught in English, with complementing Dene language classes. This set-up proved to be highly successful, as evidenced in a dramatic increase at comparative provincial testing results. Such programs are possible only because of fully trained teachers who are also fluent speakers of the Aboriginal language. The number of such individuals remains low, nowhere near enough to fill the demand in schools across Canada. Language teachers have the potential to contribute directly to the maintenance and revitalization efforts within their linguistic community and beyond. While the transitional immersion program in Clearwater River continues to benefit from the presence of several local teachers fluent in Dene, the need for additional Dene teachers and teaching resources became apparent especially in two areas: as high school teachers, and as a response to the increasing shift to English especially with the under 10-yr olds. Due to the remoteness of the community, many strong language speakers are reluctant to leave their home to train at a university in an urban centre. In a newly established cooperation between the Clearwater River Dene Nation, the First Nations University of Canada, and the Northern Lights School District, an innovative Dene Teacher Education Program (DTEP) was implemented in 2016. This program is offered on the Clearwater River Dene Nation and thus enables a large cohort of students to access a full 4-year Education program. Within the four-year B.Ed. program two unique aspects will emerge. The first involves the students’ practicum experience that will involve the students and current teaching staff of Clearwater River Dene School Transitional Immersion program. Secondly as Dene Sųłiné is a land-based culture and language, the focus throughout will be to relate all learning outcomes from course work to the context of a land-based education.
Appears in Collections:5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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