$1.3 million grant to create teacher-training, language program

Fairbanks, Alaska -- The applied linguistics program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks recently received a three-year, $1.3-million federal grant to support a project that will offer K-12 teachers in Southwest Alaska graduate-level training in second-language acquisition.

The grant will allow College of Liberal Arts faculty members Sabine Siekmann and Patrick Marlow to create the Second Language Acquisition and Teacher Education, or SLATE, program. The new program will focus on the Yupik language, predominant in the region, and will be open to both educators who teach students for whom English is a second language and those who either teach Yupik or teach in schools that use Yupik in the classroom.

"They are going to learn how to marry teaching the content and teaching the language," said Siekmann, principal investigator on the SLATE project. "We are hoping that through the training we provide for these teachers, they will have the tools to increase fluency."

The program will build on existing partnerships between the UAF linguistics program, Alaska Native Language Center, UAF School of Education, Association of Village Council Presidents and the Kuspuk, Lower Yukon and Lower Kuskokwim School Districts to create a comprehensive graduate program in second language acquisition and teacher education. Through SLATE, UAF will recruit, educate and graduate about 20 masters students and about four doctoral students whose efforts will enable local communities and schools to improve the quality of language instruction and assessment in the region. Marlow said the new program answers a call from throughout the state for training for educators who teach English-language learners.

"Your typical teacher-training program is, by necessity, a general program. It assumes students will come largely proficient in the language of instruction," Marlow said. "Having that background does not prepare the classroom teacher to address second-language issues in the classroom."

Teachers who complete degrees through the SLATE program will be more prepared both to teach Yupik-speaking students in English-dominant schools and students with varying degrees of Yupik proficiency who attend Yupik-dominant schools, he said.

The SLATE program also builds on previous UAF programs that worked to train teachers and education paraprofessionals in the Yupik region, as well as strong school-district programs in the area, Marlow said. The UAF Kuskokwim Campus already has certificate and associate’s-degree programs in Yupik-language proficiency and Native-language education. Oscar Alexie, a faculty member at the campus, is now in the process of developing a baccalaureate program in Yupik language and culture. With the SLATE program, teachers will be able to earn graduate degrees in the related fields of Yupik- and English-language teaching.

While the SLATE grant focuses on the Yupik region, both Siekmann and Marlow say the program and its concepts are adaptable to other languages and regions.

"Our goal is to have a statewide program after the grant is over," Siekmann said.

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CONTACT: Sabine Siekmann, assistant professor of linguistics and foreign languages, at (907) 474-6580 or via e-mail at ffss5@uaf.edu. Patrick Marlow, assistant professor of linguistics and education, at (907) 474-7446 or via e-mail at ffpem@uaf.edu. Marmian Grimes, UAF public information officer.


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