How Digital Publishing Connects Students to Their Culture, Empowers Teachers, and Engages Communities

By Steve Nelson, AASB Project Coordinator

Yukon-Koyukuk School District’s digital book collection illustrates regional life, language, and culture from student perspectives.

All languages are fluid and ever-changing, requiring new speakers to perpetuate their evolution. It’s estimated that some of Alaska’s Native languages have fewer than 100 fluent speakers left, most elderly, placing them at risk of being lost. This urgency has sparked statewide efforts to make Alaska Native languages more accessible to younger generations.

To assist in these efforts, AASB has partnered with the Yukon-Koyukuk School District to facilitate the production of 30 interactive digital books over three years that highlight the language, culture, and customs of communities within the district.

This year over 100 students, 35 adults, and ten elders from the Y-K district have participated in AASB “Book Slam” workshops, resulting in the creation of ten digital books that feature written and spoken Denaakk’e language. Book topics were determined by each of ten participating schools and include themes that provide readers with a depiction of what life is like in the region, such as community relationships toward the natural environment, food gathering, and the importance of the Yukon River.

What’s a Book Slam?

A Book Slam is a highly focused onsite group workshop in which all content for a single digital book is created within 48 hours. The process includes the creation of a storyboard, page illustrations, dioramas, video clips, text and audio narration in English and/or a Native language. A Native language vocabulary and other cultural resources can also be included.

Stories for the Yukon-Koyukuk books were developed by students and incorporated local legends, poetry, songs, and artwork. Students and teachers created storyboards for the book pages that were used as the basis for creating the page illustrations. The audio narration of the story text, and of objects within the story, was recorded in the Denaakk’e language by elders and students. The final books were developed in-house by AASB staff and distributed from the district’s website.

What do language and culture have to do with education?

  • Integration of Learning & Identity – Increased access to culturally responsive content and place-based learning at school connects Alaska Native students with their cultural identity.
  • Cross-Age Collaboration – Involvement of parents, elders and community members in student projects and activities provides knowledge and support.
  • Improved Student Success – Strengthening the connection between Native youth and their culture helps improve academic success and well-being.

The Power to Publish

Smartphones, tablets, and computers have not only transformed the way we access information, but also provide the ability to create and publish it ourselves. For over a decade, AASB has been on the forefront of promoting the adoption of digital publishing by Alaska educators. Through onsite “Book Slams,” we have assisted school districts with producing over 25 interactive digital books that include local stories, languages, and culture.

Students at Andrew K. Demoski School work from a scripted storyboard to create dioramas that are photographed to illustrate the book.

Students of all ages, teachers, parents, and elders have taken part in AASB Book Slams, and the outcomes of their collaborations have produced exciting results. Traditions and stories told in local languages are gathered, assembled, and preserved in a dynamic, engaging interactive digital book format that can be shared and enjoyed by many. Book Slam participants—and their communities—have felt great pride in their finished creations.

Nulato elders Paulina Stickman (left) and Martha Demoski (right) translated the story, Hunter’s First Hunt.

Digital publishing enables a variety of interactive features to be included in the books, including dual language narration, songs, dancing, cultural activities, and Elders sharing local knowledge and history.

AASB strongly supports language revitalization efforts and recognizes that cultural identity is an important element of student success:

  • Creating digital books gives students the opportunity to share their perspectives with others outside of their communities, and provides validation and a sense of personal pride in their accomplishment.
  • Digital publishing tools give educators the ability to create engaging culturally relevant personalized materials for today’s tech-savvy learners.
  • Book Slams incorporate multiple academic disciplines, cross-age group collaboration, and local languages and cultures in an engaging format that can be shared easily and widely on a variety of devices.

The Yukon-Koyukuk district’s impressive and growing library of digital books demonstrates the quality, creativity, hard work, and collaboration of students and adult participants. Planning is underway for ten more books to be developed next year.

Read the entire Yukon-Koyukuk School District interactive book collection HERE.

If your district or school is interested in hosting a Book Slam workshop to create interactive digital books, contact Norm Wooten or Steve Nelson for more information.

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