Aboriginal students inspire associate professor

October 23, 2012 Laura Harris, ATA News Staff

It was a light bulb moment that illuminated a career path.

Lynne Wiltse was fresh out of university in the late 1970s and had her first teaching job in a remote Aboriginal community in British Columbia. At the teacherage where she lived, some students dropped by to welcome her. As they talked amongst themselves, Wiltse overheard the students referring to everyone as a “he,” whether the person was male or female.

Later, Wiltse learned her students spoke Carrier, a northern Athabaskan language in which terminology differentiating the sexes didn’t exist. Her career-forging light bulb moment came when she realized she’d made a judgment about her students’ linguistic abilities without having knowledge of their language.

“The fact that my first impressions of these children was ‘there’s something wrong’ really had a huge impact on me when I realized I was the one who had something wrong in that I didn’t know about this,” said Wiltse. That experience and those acquired through more than 10 years of teaching in Aboriginal communities led her to focus her graduate studies on Aboriginal language and English language learners.

Wiltse, now an associate professor in the University of Alberta’s Department of Elementary Education, is this year’s recipient of the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s Educational Research Award (see article on page 4, ATA News, October 9, 2012). Her research project was designed to learn how the cultural knowledge that Aboriginal students bring from their homes and communities could reshape teaching and literacy practices. The project took place between 2007 and 2011 and used “third space theory,” which is commonly described by researchers as the hybrid space created when knowledge and discourses from the “first space” (home, community and peers) are merged with the knowledge and discourses from the “second space” (more formalized institutions, such as school).

Explore Wiltse’s third space

In upcoming weeks, a look at findings and insights related to each of the three groups involved in Lynne Wiltse’s research project—students, preservice teachers and practising teachers—will be available in the Web Extras section of the ATA’s website (www.teachers.ab.ca).

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