A Framework for Effective Bilingual Education in Inuit Nunangat
The Akuttujuuk literature review of promising practices in bilingual education revealed the six following pillars of effective bilingual education.
1. Effective bilingual education is first and foremost effective education, built on pillars that are relevant to any model of education. These include appropriate resourcing, curriculum, leadership, teachers, support, infrastructure, and information sharing.
2. Effective bilingual education builds on existing language practices and expands opportunities for language learning.
3. Effective bilingual education affirms and builds on identities and cultures.
4. Effective bilingual education is sensitive and responsive to its specific sociopolitical and linguistic context.
5. Effective bilingual education is understood and supported at all levels. It is led by people equipped to pursue its goals.
6. Effective bilingual education is an integrated component of broader efforts toward language and culture reclamation (where such reclamation is one of the goals of bilingual education) as well as lifelong learning.
1. Effective bilingual education is first and foremost effective education, built on pillars that are relevant to any model of education: appropriate resourcing, curriculum, leadership, teachers, support, infrastructure, information sharing, etc. (NCIE, 2011).
Efforts to evaluate bilingual programs’ process and outcomes must take into account the education system as a whole. Failure to do so can lead to the bilingual component of the program being inaccurately blamed for students’ academic difficulties.
Within a strong education system, bilingual education has additional characteristics that contribute to its effectiveness toward its specific goals. These are explained in the remaining five pillars.
• Effective bilingual education affirms the value of two or more languages.
• Effective bilingual education uses two or more languages as mediums of instruction (language of instruction = teaching other content in the language) and also teaches those languages as subjects (e.g., reading, writing, storytelling, persuasive writing, public speaking).
• Effective bilingual education promotes continuously expanding proficiency in two or more languages.
Many different strategies or models can be effective in teaching expanding proficiency. Some models of bilingual education emphasize biliteracy and parallel academic proficiencies in two languages as an outcome (more of a skills focus, e.g., May, Hill, and Taikiwai, 2004; Nunavut Education Act, 2008). Other models of bilingual education emphasize development of proficiencies in the two languages linked to relative functions of each language, which may result in different proficiencies in each (more of a functional approach, e.g., Hornberger, 2009). The commonality in effective bilingual programs is ongoing development in each language (Cummins, 2000).
• Effective bilingual education provides opportunities to learn and effectively use various aspects of each communicative system, including body language, gesture, facial expressions, story-telling, singing, art, humour, politeness, etc. (Hornberger, 2011).
The wide range of communicative practices¬—from speech to gesture to dance—is referred to as “multimodalities” and “multiliteracies” in the research.
• Effective bilingual education uses what is known and learned in each language (oral, written, non-verbal, singing, etc.) as a stepping stone or bridge to further progress in each language and across languages (Hornberger, 2011).
Whatever we learn in one language helps us to develop in other areas of that language, and across languages. For example, learning to understand a language (receptive proficiency) helps learn to speak it (productive proficiency). Learning to speak a language helps learn to write it. What we know in our first language helps us to learn a second language. Learning a second language helps us become more aware of, and develop in our first language.
• Effective bilingual education creates “intrinsic motivation…to use [each] language…to generate…knowledge, create literature and art, and act on social realities” (Cummins, 2000, p. 47).
• Effective bilingual education is responsive to each language’s actual and desired functions in the broader community and country.
• Effective bilingual education affirms students’ cultural identities.
• Effective bilingual education builds a growing and strong sense of identity (e.g., Hornberger, 2011; Taylor & Wright, 2003).
• Effective bilingual education activates students’ home language(s), culture(s), identities, and prior knowledge as foundations for further learning (e.g., Cummins, 2000; Parker Webster & John, 2013).
• In effective bilingual education, all teachers collaborate in creating a strong sense of identity, including non-Indigenous/non-bilingual teachers.
• Effective bilingual education critically assesses interactions in the school environment and how these impact student success (Cummins, 2000).
• Effective bilingual education fosters attitudes and practices that resist the temptation to blame students or families for low achievement (Cummins, 2000)
• Effective bilingual education uses appropriate tools for assessing learners’ successes and difficulties (May et al., 2004).
• Effective bilingual education policies and practices are grounded in understanding of and explicitly address the relative power of English and of the Indigenous language (Hornberger, 2011).
• Effective bilingual education policies and practices are grounded in understanding of and explicitly address relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people (Hornberger, 2011).
Relevant aspects of these relationships include issues such as historical and current trauma; overt and covert racism; and white/English-speaking privilege.
• Effective bilingual education can be facilitated by policies and legislation that create space(s) for bilingual education to occur (Hornberger, 2009).
Even if policies in themselves cannot save a language, or make bilingual education effective, they protect against overt assimiliationist policies. The history of residential schools is one example of what can happen when no protective laws are in place. The No Child Left Behind in the United States is another example of policies that (perhaps unintentionally) undercut bilingual education. International declarations have also been effective in creating popular support for bilingual education (e.g., Patrick and Shearwood, 1999).
• Effective bilingual education depends on the actions of local teachers, principals, school-community organizations, parents, community members, etc. (Hornberger, 2009).
When teachers, principals, or parents resist favourable bilingual policies, they effectively block their implementation. In contrast, when parents, teachers, and administrators teach bilingually, even against negative policy, effective bilingual education can still occur.
• Effective bilingual education is delivered by teachers who, in addition to being effective teachers overall, are also fluent in the language being taught, have specialized training or experience in teaching emergent bilinguals, and are culturally and linguistically sensitive to the context in which they are teaching.
• Effective bilingual education is facilitated by principals who create a school-wide climate of valuing and modeling bilingual and intercultural practices (May et al., 2004; Tulloch et al., in press).
• Effective bilingual education links homes, communities, and schools in ways that affirm and equip parents and allow for reciprocal influence (Cummins, 2000).
• Effective bilingual education is supported when administrators, teachers, and parents can access ongoing education and support (Avataq, 2012; May et al, 2004; NCIE, 2011).
• Effective bilingual education can be facilitated by locally relevant and credible research that systematically tracks its process and outcomes, particularly when these results are clearly communicated to parents, teachers, and others involved in bilingual education (May, Hill, and Tiakiwai, 2004; Taylor & Wright, 2003).
6. Effective bilingual education is an integrated component of broader efforts toward language and culture reclamation (where such reclamation is one of the goals of bilingual education) as well as toward lifelong learning (including intergenerational learning, early childhood education, post-secondary, and adult learning).
• Effective bilingual education creates spaces for traditional knowledge and culture to be passed on, and for the expertise of local teachers and Elders to be recognized (Avataq, 2012; Hornberger, 2011; NCIE, 2011).
• Effective bilingual education is supported by corpus development in each language, particularly when education is a domain that the language is expanding into/has not previously been widely used in, e.g. working to develop materials in the language, address questions of standardization, develop vocabulary, etc. (Hornberger, 2011; NCIE, 2011)
• Effective bilingual education relies on concurrent efforts to strengthen the Indigenous language in homes, communities, workplaces, etc. (Avataq, 2012; Hornberger, 2011)
• Effective bilingual education fosters disposition and opportunities to continue learning and using the languages outside of school (Avataq, 2012).
• Effective bilingual education is part of a broader strategy equipping learners for lifelong learning, starting with early childhood education and continuing through post-secondary and non-formal adult learning (NCIE, 2011; Nunavut, Department of Culture and Heritage, 2011).
A great deal of research on bilingual education has already been done in Inuit communities and around the world. By reading the prior research, we can learn what others have found works well or does not work well in bilingual education. Our reading of past research identifies six pillars of effective bilingual education.
Sources that we considered in coming up with these pillars include:
• Scholarly frameworks of bilingual education. These include, for example, Jim Cummins’ (2000) four organizational principles for empowering education; Nancy Hornberger’s (2009) ten certainties in bilingual education; and May, Hill, and Tiakiwai’s (2004) indicators of good practice in bilingual/immersion education.
• Inuit-driven research and analyses of promising and desired practices in Inuktitut or bilingual education. These include, for example, Nunavut’s Education Act (2008); the National Committee on Inuit Education [NCIE]’s national strategy (2011); and Avataq Cultural Institute’s Ilirijavut – That which we treasure report (2012).
• Case studies of bilingual education in Inuit and other relevant contexts.
• Syntheses of theories and practices in bilingual education (e.g., Wright, Boun, and Garcia’s 2015 Handbook of Bilingual and Multicultural Education)
Dialogue between members of the Akuttujuuk Inuit Educators Research Network and the Network’s academic support team also helped interpret and contextualize findings from the literature review within Inuit experiences.
A complete list of the sources we considered is available here.
Avataq Cultural Institute. (2012). Illirijavut – That which we treasure – La langue que nous chérissons. Inukjuaq, QC: Author.
Cummins, J. (2000). Language, power and pedagogy: Bilingual children in the crossfire. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Hornberger, N. H. (2009). Multilingual education policy and practice: Ten certainties (grounded in Indigenous experience). Language Teaching, 42(2), 197–211.
May, S., Hill, R., & Tiakiwai, S. (2004). Bilingual/immersion education: Indicators of good practice. Final report to the Ministry of Education. Wellington, N.Z.: Ministry of Education.
National Committee on Inuit Education. (2011). First Canadians, Canadians first. National strategy on Inuit education. Ottawa, ON: Amaujaq National Centre for Inuit Education.
Parker Webster, J., & John, T. A. (2013). On becoming a “literate” person: Making meaning with multiliteracies and multimodal tools. In P. Marlow E. & S. Siekmann (Eds.), Communities of practice: An Alaskan Native model for language teaching and learning (pp. 73–100). Tucsan, AZ: University of Arizona Press.
Taylor, D. M., & Wright, S. C. (2003). Do Aboriginal students benefit from education in their heritage language? Results from a ten-year program of research in Nunavik. The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, 23(1), 1–24.
Wright, W. E., Boun, S., & Garcia, O. (Eds.). (2015). The Handbook of Bilingual and Multilingual Education. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.