Nunavut models literacy program after South Slave

Nunavut models literacy program after South Slave
Twelve delegates from Nunavut’s education system visit schools in the South Slave to observe the successful Leadership 4 Literacy initiative.Photo: Steven Lee.

Only a week after the government of Nunavut announced a new youth literacy initiative, the territory’s education leaders were in the NWT learning how they can successfully implement a program based on the South Slave model.

The Nunavut department of Education is looking to create a territorial literacy program similar to the South Slave Divisional Education Council’s (SSDEC) successful Leadership 4 Literacy initiative.

Shelley Pepler, executive director of Curriculum and School Services for the Nunavut department of Education, led a delegation of 11 Nunavut educators, principals and administrators to multiple SSDEC schools last week to observe the literacy program first hand, her second visit following a similar trip in December.

The delegation spent two days in Fort Smith at Paul William Kaeser high school and Joseph Burr Tyrrell elementary school and one day at Deninu School in Fort Resolution to get a sense of how the literacy program is implemented in the classroom.

“Our minister (of Education), we’ve apprised him of why we’ve decided to come to the South Slave and what he’s told us is, ‘Please learn as much as you can.’ He sees us and the Northwest Territories as partners in this work together,” Pepler said.

The Nunavut government announced in its throne speech last month that education is a top priority for the territory, but a lack of literacy data makes it difficult to guide educators on best practices, Pepler said.

“We have perceptions of how well our children read and write, but we have nothing we can look at across the territory or nothing we can look at across the three regions. We don’t know where our strengths are and we don’t necessarily know where our weakness are,” she said.

From the little data they do have, Pepler said they know the majority of Nunavut students have difficulty making a seamless transition from high school to postsecondary, which is indicative of a gap in literacy skills at the secondary level.

Part of the draw of SSDEC’s literacy program is the collection of data through monthly student literacy examinations.

Pepler said modeling their literacy program after the South Slave makes sense on a cultural and linguistic level, since a majority of students in both the NWT and Nunavut are Aboriginal.

The Nunavut minister of Education held a press conference on Friday announcing a new Literacy 4 Life initiative, modeled after the SSDEC’s, that will be implemented in the territory as early as the 2014 – 2015 school year for Kindergarten to Grade 4 students.

South Slave happy to help

SSDEC superintendent Curtis Brown said he’s not surprised their literacy program is being looked at by Nunavut since it has been the focus of other provincial, territorial and even international attention in the past.

The school board launched the program back in 2007 in response to data suggesting literacy levels of students in the South Slave were sub par to the rest of Canada. The school board threw itself into implementing the latest research on improving student literacy, which meant changing teaching practices in the classroom, Brown said.

“If we really wanted to get more students meeting the Canadian norm and having better life chances, then we needed to help teachers become the best that they can be in the classroom,” he said.

The result was to establish full-time literacy coaches in every school in the South Slave who would work with teachers on a daily basis to improve literacy in their classes. Teachers were also asked to instruct students in reading exercises, including reading aloud, shared reading and a revolutionary guided reading approach that has teachers assess each student’s literacy ability.

Brown said part of the school board’s role in the program is to make sure teachers are receiving due recognition for their efforts that go above and beyond in terms of teaching literacy.

“Without their hard work and without their commitment to being the best that they can be, we wouldn’t be where we are now and we wouldn’t be a model for other jurisdictions,” he said.

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