Situational Factors in Rural Schools

I have, for some time now, been  slowly  developing a side-project of mine. I want to create some sort of skeleton course: an Alaska Native literature (and possibly history) online class that rural schools can use to supplement or replace a high school English credit. The class is taking shape slowly and I’ve received a ton of input from a lot of different people, but the scope of my original idea keeps narrowing for practical reasons. I’ve created  ambitious  mock ups of projects in the past, but for this course I hope to do something more realistic. Every time I try to put the course together and show it to someone, the whole thing becomes a lot more difficult. The ultimate goal is to have something that teachers around the state can take and adapt to their own needs. Obviously you can’t teach the same Native lit course to someone in Togiak and someone on Haida Gwaii, but I imagine many of the projects and many of the basic readings don’t need to be changed, only modified. So that’s my plan. Based on the research I’ve done on failure rates in the state, it seems likely that this will end up being taught more out West and up North, so those are the village situations I’m thinking about in this post. I’ve spent some time thinking about the basics of the situational factors (student demographics, mostly) but have never run through a checklist like this. Some of the situational factors covered in the book that I am expecting for this course are as follows:

Context of Teaching/Learning:

Probably no more than a couple students at a time working mostly independently, high school level students who are probably behind in terms of content level, online class, probably all asynchronous. Projects or units last between 1 and 3 weeks if the class is a semester long, longer units if it’s a year. No synchronous meetings because of the spotty village internet.

Expectations of External Groups:

Well, it’s an Alaska Native literature course, Alaska Native input on course selection, appropriate interpretation, appropriate writing projects, etc.  is required. Any where I was to use this, it would need input from the local community members. Still has to meet state and federal standards. NCTE standards too but those are easy. Most schools don’t have a department that would cover this, so I don’t know if that’s a concern.

Nature of the Subject:

Subject is divergent – English has few “right answers,” and is primarily cognitive and social. I guess I’m not sure if the field is “relatively stable” or not…the study of Alaska Native literature, and American Indian literature in general, is relatively new and there aren’t nearly as many Native teachers or scholars being published in literary journals as one would think (and you wouldn’t think there’d be a lot). I guess in an academic school sense it’s a kind of new-ish topic but to Alaska Natives it is quite old…stable, I guess, but not stationary.

Characteristics of Learner:

Rural Native students are the target. All the things that typically go along with that – time for subsistence, unsteady home lives, school issues, history of weak schooling for a variety of reasons, possibly spotty internet at home. Enrolling in the course as credit recovery – that’s what I’ve always envisioned. At least a mid-ish high school level of writing skills. Learning styles will be all over the place but the research I’ve read indicates that most Native students are kinesthetic learners…hard to accommodate in an online class. English isn’t really the most kinesthetic to begin with. I don’t know how I would work with that, short of creating kinesthetic projects that they would do away from a computer, which is possible but difficult.

Characteristics of Teacher:

Fairly knowledgeable on topic, I think, and really looking to blend Western literary approaches with Native interpretations and place-based / community-based projects and skills. Never taught the class before but I’m pulling in lots of input from those who have. I’d like to teach the course again, but, really, I’d like to send it out as a template for lots of people to use if it’s successful. Very confident in the subject, not as experienced in the delivery.

Special Pedagogical Challenge:

Biggest issue I’ve realized from this chapter is that I was planning it project-by-project and topic-by-topic, not really “integrated.” Gotta work on that. Also have to revamp some things because I didn’t realize until I was typing this that synchronous meetings might be impossible…at least videos. In certain school districts  it might not be totally out of the question to have students occasionally meet face-to-face (say, once a semester) but I don’t know what that’d look like. Another big question I’ve thought about is how the writing process seems to develop much differently in online courses than in face to face courses. There’s a potential, especially in Google Docs, for some kind of more organic and more consistent teaching-while-writing, but I haven’t worked out how that will work yet.


PS – tried my hand at being succinct this week 🙂

2 thoughts on “Situational Factors in Rural Schools

  1. Hi Nicolas, succinct worked!

    You painted a very clear picture of your goals for the project and I think a really effective situational analysis. It feel like a really worthwhile exercise to me. I mean, even though I knew all the answers to all the questions, I hadn’t really stopped to organize them into a single reflective moment. I can see adding it into my workflow. And reading yours, I can also see the huge benefits for an instructional designer working with someone else to help them with their course, to really paint the big picture.

    “there aren’t nearly as many Native teachers or scholars being published in literary journals as one would think (and you wouldn’t think there’d be a lot).”

    Will finding enough content be part of the challenge? One idea on meeting the kinesthetic challenge would be to have students create an infographic as part of their literature review. Another would be to have them discuss the piece or a theme from within the piece with a community elder and create a story about their discussion.

    It sounds like a great project and It will be fun to watch where you go with it.

  2. Hi Nicholas,

    Nice work and a triumph for succinct-ness. This is a great idea with a lot of potential.

    I thought of a couple questions/ideas while I was reading your assumptions about situational factors:

    Why do you think the course would have to be localized for each potential audience? Is an Alaska Native Lit course NOT a survey course?

    Secondly, I would question your assumption about such small localized cohorts. Why not teach the course through UA (one of its many branch campuses or a main campus) so students from across the state could participate and offer their local perspectives? Dual credit courses are expanding rapidly across the state and a course on Alaska Native Lit would potentially have both high school and higher education appeal.

    Lastly, I think the potential for offering evidence of kinesthetic learning online is there. With images and video, it is possible to capture one’s creations/presentations more easily than ever. Bandwidth in rural Alaska is an issue, but it diminishes each year and a mix of written/photo/video creations might be successful. Also, synchronous audio courses are the standard in rural Alaska and much more common than asynchronous ones.

    You are right to identify the factors you have, these are some things that came to mind and may challenge your thinking a bit.

    Nice work!

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