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Digital workshops help train teachers of Native students

WASHINGTON - Teachers of American Indian and Alaska Native students can find free online workshops that will provide additional strategies for increasing student achievement.

Available through the U.S. Department of Education;s Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative's Web site, the Office of Indian Education and the Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative collaborated to develop three digital workshops that provide strategies for teachers who may not be familiar with American Indians and Alaska Natives, and their cultures.

The digital workshops became available in November and require no registration. In the online environment, teachers access the workshops via the Internet and can take the workshops at any time. Two of the workshops, ''The Reading Circle'' and ''Mirrors and Windows,'' are for teachers of students in grades K - 12; the third workshop, ''The Wisdom of Words,'' provides language development strategies for elementary students.

The Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative program has provided workshops, teacher updates and roundtables in a number of cities across the country for the past four years. But through two workshops in Phoenix and Albuquerque, N.M., the Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative was able to focus on specific areas of need for teachers of American Indian and Alaska Native students, said Carolyn Snowbarger, the program's director.

''We've realized there's been a need [for workshops for teachers of Native students] for a long time,'' Snowbarger said.

Although the three digital workshops focus on language and literature strategies that can be used across content areas, the Office of Indian Education continues to receive suggestions for additional subject workshops, said Cathie Carothers, OIE acting director. The OIE is specifically looking at developing math and science workshops, she said.

''Even though over 90 percent of Indian children are in public schools, Indian students are still a very small portion of the student population in public schools,'' Carothers said. ''Many teachers are not familiar with working with Indian students. The digital workshops provide professional development opportunities to enhance the skills of teachers in working with American Indian children.''

The ''Mirrors and Windows'' workshop provides strategies for teachers in understanding the importance of how literature taught often ''mirrors'' a culture and provides a ''window'' for students to learn about a new culture.

Master teacher Donna Sabis-Burns, Mohawk/Tuscarora, provides tips for teachers on how to determine whether books and other resources about American Indians are authentic or historically accurate.

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In this particular workshop, the downloadable material, ''Evaluating American Indian Materials & Resources for the Classroom Textbooks, Literature, DVDs, Videos and Web sites,'' includes worksheets to help teachers assess books, stories and other literary resources for classroom use.

This resource, distributed by the Montana Indian Education Department, provides information covered by Sabis-Burns and gives a listing of Web sites that teachers can visit to determine if the materials they want to use provide an accurate and authentic view of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Teachers will also find an evaluation form to research materials, including DVDs, videos and Web sites, for their classes.

The workshop helps teachers determine whether classroom materials include stereotypes and misinformation about American Indians and Alaska Natives. One site Sabis-Burns suggested visiting is, which provides a listing of materials American Indian reviewers have evaluated and suggested for classroom usage as well as materials the reviewers do not recommend.

Sabis-Burns also teaches the workshop ''The Reading Circle,'' which provides strategies for partnering with indigenous families and communities as well as identifying ''appropriate, positive literature for Native and non-Native students across content areas.''

''For teachers who are not familiar with American Indians, it's important for them to work with the parents of Indian children and tribal elders and to familiarize themselves with the culture of the community,'' Carothers said. ''The workshops offer a number of suggestions for doing this.''

In the ''Wisdom of Words'' workshop, master teacher Brenda Whitehorse, Navaho, provides strategies for improving language, reading comprehension and vocabulary as well as improving communication. For example, the workshop provides examples of how reading aloud and storytelling are helpful. Whitehorse also provides tips for teachers to keep student discussions on topic.

All three workshops provide many more methods for teachers who may take the workshops individually or with a group. The digital workshops also allow participants to pause to complete exercises as well as to stop at the end of chapters to return to the workshops at another time.

Both Carothers and Snowbarger say they have received positive feedback from teachers who have taken the workshops.

''We are getting daily feedback,'' Snowbarger said. ''Teachers are asking for more workshops, and they are finding them very, very helpful.''

For more information or to take the digital teacher workshops, visit