The information presented in the previous sections has a number of significant implications for teachers of American Indian students. In this section we address some of the most pertinent of these implications, including adapting instruction to support a broad range of learning styles, minimizing sociolinguistic discontinuities, and reducing the degree to which American Indian students view success in school as detrimental to their own culture, language, and identity.
Adapting Instruction to Support a Broad
Range of Learning Styles
It is sometimes suggested that the most appropriate method of addressing issues of learning style in regard to American Indian students is for teachers to adapt their teaching styles and methods of instruction to be more congruent with the learning style typical of these students (e.g., Diessner and Walker, 1989).17 However, such an approach is inappropriate for three primary reasons. First, this approach fails to address what is to be done in classrooms that are only partially composed of American Indian students. Second, although research suggests that American Indians often share similarities in learning style, research also shows that the variations among individual American Indians are as great as their commonalties18 and that individual American Indians, like individual members of other groups, should not be stereotyped in regard to their needs and abilities (Cleary and Peacock, 1998; Dunn and Griggs, 1995; Guild, 1998; More, 1989; Walker, Dodd, and Bigelow, 1989). Third, this approach overlooks the importance of increasing students’ learning style flexibility by assisting them in learning to learn in new ways. Increasing this flexibility is important for all students because it allows them to apply a broader range of approaches to learning (Leaver, 1997; More, 1989), but for minority students it is of particular importance since it better prepares them for success in those institutions controlled by the dominant societal group (e.g., schools) (Cleary and Peacock, 1998; Osborne, 1989; Ramirez and Castaneda, 1974).
A more comprehensive approach is for teachers to adapt their teaching styles and methods of instruction so that a broad range of learning styles is supported. In doing so, children can be provided with familiar, comfortable, and successful experiences while also being exposed to learning in new ways.19 Endorsing such an approach, Reiff (1992) states,
Planning appropriate and varied lessons will improve both instruction and management…. Realistically, a teacher cannot be expected to have a different lesson for every child in the classroom: however, lessons can reflect an understanding of individual differences by appropriately incorporating strategies for a variety of styles. (p.6)
However, Bennett (1985) asserts that in adapting their teaching styles and methods of instruction, it is important for teachers to evaluate their teaching strengths and preferences and determine how far they can stray from these and still be comfortable (Bennett, 1985, as cited in Swisher and Deyhle, 1989). Bennett further cautions teachers to “build classroom flexibility slowly, adding one new strategy at a time” (Swisher and Deyhle, 1989, p.10).
To the degree possible, children should be introduced to new ways of learning by “using a compatible style as a starting point or introduction” (Dunn and Griggs, 1995; Leaver, 1997; More, 1989; Ramirez and Castaneda, 1974; Wlodkowski and Ginsberg, 1995, p.148). More (1989) provides an example of such an approach in reference to reading instruction. He notes that the word recognition and sight-word vocabulary approaches to teaching reading are more consistent with the global learning style typical of young American Indians, but that these students nevertheless need to develop phonics skills (an analytic skill), which are more effective with complex words. He suggests that students’ “phonics skills, which involve individual sounds and letters, can be developed, in part, using the students’ global skill for completing the incomplete, viz: _nly, o_ly, on_y, onl_… [thereby] strengthening the weaker Learning Style using the stronger Learning Style” (p.23).
Examples of Classroom Modifications That Support the
Range of Learning Styles
Although it is beyond the scope of this document to provide a comprehensive guide for making classroom modifications in support of the range of student learning styles, several examples of such modifications are provided below. Teachers are encouraged to explore the literature on the theories of learning style and their implications for the classroom; recent works include Dunn (1996), Dunn and Griggs (1995), Gardner (1993), Leaver (1997), Reiff (1992) and Vail (1992).
One example of how teachers can support the range of student learning styles better is to supplement traditional forms of instruction (i.e., individual seat work and teacher dominated whole-class discussions and lectures) with cooperative learning. Although there are many variations to the cooperative learning model, the elements most frequently cited as distinguishing it from traditional, whole-class instruction are:
Heterogeneous groups of two to six students.
Lessons structured in such a manner that students depend on each other in a positive way for their learning.
An explicit focus on interpersonal and small group skills.
Teachers as consultants or facilitators of learning as opposed to transmitters of the material.
In a review of studies done on cooperative learning, Slavin (1995) notes that it “is one of the most extensively evaluated of all instructional innovations” (p.19). His analysis of 90 experimental and quasi-experimental studies concludes that cooperative learning has a positive effect on student achievement and race relations. Furthermore, the studies indicate the overall effects on “student self-esteem, peer support for achievement, internal locus of control, time on-task, liking of class and classmates, cooperativeness, and other variables are positive and robust” (p.70).20
Research also suggests that cooperative learning can be particularly successful with American Indian students, who tend to feel more comfortable learning in small cooperative groups than participating in whole-class instruction (Phillips, 1983; Walker, Dodd, and Bigelow, 1989). For instance, Phillips (1972, 1983) found that
it is in [small peer groups] that [Warm Springs] Indian students become most fully involved in what they are doing, concentrating completely on their work until it is completed, talking a great deal to one another within the group, and competing, with explicit remarks to that effect, with the other groups. (Phillips, 1972, p.379, as cited in Tharp and Yamauchi, 1994)
Reyes (1998) suggests the use of cooperative learning strategies such as cross-age peer tutoring, peer tutoring, reading buddies, and team projects.
It is often suggested that the reason American Indian students tend to be more comfortable in cooperative learning environments is because while many American Indian cultures have traditionally valued competitive effort on the part of individuals when that effort benefits the peer group, competition among individuals has been negatively sanctioned because to show oneself as better than others is considered inappropriate behavior (Cleary and Peacock, 1998; Swisher, 1990). As Wax (1971) notes,
Indian pupils hesitate to engage in an individual performance before the public gaze, especially where they sense competitive assessment against their peers. Indian children do not wish to be exposed as inadequate before their peers, and equally do not wish to demonstrate by their individual superiority the inferiority of their peers. On the other hand, where performance is socially defined as benefiting the peer society, Indians become excellent competitors (as witness their success in team athletics). (Wax, 1971, p.85, as cited in Swisher and Deyhle, 1992)
Hence, while American Indian students tend to be averse to demonstrating competence during whole-class instruction, they are usually comfortable using their knowledge and abilities to benefit a cooperative group.
A second example of how teachers can support the range of student learning styles better is to provide “multisensory instruction” (Cleary and Peacock, 1998; Reiff, 1992; Swisher and Deyhle, 1989; Wallace, 1995). It is often suggested that typical classrooms are more supportive of auditory learners than of visual or tactile-kinesthetic learners. For instance, Swisher and Deyhle (1989) note that “in most classrooms there is a tendency for teachers to introduce almost all new concepts and give all instructions verbally” (p.9). By presenting information not only verbally, but by conducting demonstrations, providing visual aids and manipulatives, et cetera, teachers can support the range of sensory modality strengths among their students.
Reiff (1992) notes that “with comparatively minor curriculum modifications, most lessons can be adapted in such a way that visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic learners can benefit” (p.17–18). For instance, more visual learners can be supported through the use of films and videotapes or by providing lesson outlines on the blackboard or transparencies so that they can “see” what the teacher is talking about (Wallace, 1995). Similarly, tactile-kinesthetic learners can be supported through role-playing, creative dramatics, and hands-on activities (Reiff, 1992). However, Reiff stresses that the key to “consistently improving achievement and attitude” among students is “variability and flexibility on the part of the teacher … research supports the use of all modalities when teaching all students” (1992, p.20). 21
Increased Holistic Emphasis
A third way that teachers can support the range of student learning styles better is to modify classroom instruction so that global and analytic learning styles are more equally supported, since in most mainstream classrooms today there is an unequal emphasis on the latter.22 As Walker, Dodd, and Bigelow (1989) note,
The focus of public school curriculum over the past several decades has become increasingly fragmented, emphasizing the separate parts of content through narrowly defined objectives… Students are taught isolated skills, which are practiced in workbooks. To evaluate mastery of the subject, students are given short-answer or recognition tests that assess the specific task taught rather than the integration of the skill with the entire content. Facts are emphasized rather than interpretations. Right answers are emphasized rather than the application of information. (p.65)
Reyes (1998) suggests that such a fragmented, analytic focus may be particularly problematic for American Indian students whose cultures’ traditional ways of teaching and learning are more holistic in nature.23
One way teachers can provide greater balance in the classroom is by incorporating thematic units into the curriculum (Cleary and Peacock, 1998; Rhodes, 1988). Used to integrate the curriculum across a variety of subject areas, thematic units “permit students to learn while seeing the wholeness of the topic and of the endeavor, and while seeing the way different disciplines fit together to accomplish real end results” (Cleary and Peacock, 1998, p.222). Teachers can also provide greater balance by describing to students the overall purpose and the overall structure of a task, as well as allowing them to view the completed task, before explaining the series of steps required to perform it (Dodd, Nelson, and Spint, 1995; More, 1989). More (1989) notes that this is quite different from the form instruction often takes in which “the overall picture (the global view) of the topic is not presented until the end of the teaching sequence” (p.24). Nevertheless, for a child who is more comfortable with a holistic approach to learning, and does not typically view tasks sequentially, this failure to initially provide a holistic understanding of a task may result in him or her viewing the steps for accomplishing that task as having little meaning.
Minimizing Sociolinguistic Discontinuities
The first step teachers should take in minimizing the difficulties American Indian students face as a result of sociolinguistic discontinuities is to learn about the languages and cultures of their American Indian students’ communities. This process should help to provide teachers with insight into the culturally derived assumptions that their American Indian students bring with them to the classroom about what constitutes appropriate language use, as well as how these assumptions differ from their own. This insight can be used to recognize the sources of the miscommunication that often occurs between American Indian students and their teachers which, in and of itself, may reduce the degree of miscommunication.
Teachers can also use such insight to modify instruction so that it presents fewer difficulties for their American Indian students. For instance, increasing wait-time, or “the time a teacher pauses after asking a question and also after a student’s response,” is often suggested to be an effective method for reducing the sociolinguistic discontinuities American Indian students face in the classroom (Boseker, 1998, p.48; Littlebear, 1992; Tharp and Yamauchi, 1994). Increased wait-time is believed to be more consistent with the communication patterns of many American Indian communities. As Littlebear (1992) notes,
Indian students take more time to answer questions not because they are less intelligent, but because they want to digest the question and then formulate a correct response. The response must be correct because Indian cultures require precise communication, not just haphazard utterances. (p.109)
Increased wait-time can also support student learning:
Increased wait-time is actually thinking time, giving both the speaker and the listener time to think or engage in speculative thinking; it has been shown that extended wait-time encourages higher-level thinking rather than simple recall (Rowe, 1978). Winterton (1976) found that extended wait-time results in: (1) significantly longer student responses, (2) significant increase in number of student-student comparisons of data, (3) more active verbal participation of usually low-verbal students, (4) decrease of students failing to respond, and (5) students tending to contribute unsolicited but appropriate responses and to initiate appropriate questions. (Boseker, 1998, p.48)
Also believed to be more consistent with the communication patterns of many American Indian communities are classroom participant structures in which there is less teacher domination of verbal interaction during instruction, while allowing for more voluntary (yet appropriate) verbal participation by the students. Swisher and Deyhle (1992) note that
research indicates that some Indian children are more apt to participate actively and verbally in … situations where they volunteer participation. Conversely, these Indian children are less apt to perform on demand when they are individually “put on the spot” by teachers who expect them to answer questions in front of other students. (p.88)
Hence, a teacher may be able to increase the participation of American Indian students in classroom discussions by reducing the degree of direct questioning of students while wording more of his or her speech in the form of comments for students to respond to, as well as by encouraging student-to-student dialogue and group problem solving (Little Soldier, 1989; Swisher and Deyhle, 1992). Little Soldier (1989) suggests teachers should avoid formal, large-group lessons in the lecture-recitation mode because American Indian children tend to withdraw during a formal dialogue pattern.
Finally, learning about the languages and cultures of students’ communities can help teachers to identify classroom practices that may cause confusion or discomfort among American Indian students because they contradict the cultural norms that these students bring with them to the classroom. For instance, children from many American Indian cultures generally receive indirect reinforcement from adults who are teaching them, and therefore may feel embarrassed by being singled out for public praise by a teacher (Swisher, 1990; Tharp and Yamauchi, 1994).24 Similarly, within many American Indian communities inappropriate behaviors are dealt with differently than they are in typical mainstream classrooms:
When children err, their elders “explain,” which … means that they painstakingly and relatively privately illustrate or point out the correct procedure or proper behavior. However … teachers in school do not understand this. Their irate scolding becomes an assault on the child’s status before his peers. (At the same time, the teacher diminishes his own stature, inasmuch as respected elders among Indians control their tempers and instruct in quiet patience). (Wax, Wax, and Dumont, 1964, p.95, as cited in Swisher and Deyhle, 1992)
By becoming knowledgeable of such differences, teachers can modify classroom practices to be more compatible with the cultures of their American Indian students (Tharp and Yamauchi, 1994).25
Learning About the Languages and Cultures of
Because American Indian communities vary greatly in terms of language and culture, it is important for a teacher to learn about the particular communities of the American Indian students in his or her classroom. Although ethnographic literature may provide a valuable resource in this regard, books are not a substitute for teachers directly learning from American Indian communities (Cleary and Peacock, 1998; Osborne, 1989; Swisher and Deyhle, 1989). Swisher and Deyhle (1989) urge teachers to “become participants in the community; they must observe and ask questions in such a way that genuine caring and concern is communicated” (p.12). Cleary and Peacock (1998) note that “when communities see that teachers are interested in learning about their customs, they usually appreciate those efforts” (p.25).
The importance of teacher knowledge about the specific linguistic and cultural backgrounds of their American Indian students cannot be understated. Even instructional approaches such as cooperative learning, which is widely believed to support the school success of American Indian students, may be ineffective or counterproductive if not implemented with an understanding of the distinctive cultural features of students’ communities (Farr and Trumbull, 1997; Vogt, Jordan, and Tharp, 1993). For example, Vogt, Jordan, and Tharp (1993) found that cooperative learning techniques that were very successful among Native Hawaiian children were not successful when similarly implemented among Navajo children. These researchers state that the heterogeneous groupings that were effective with Native Hawaiian children were culturally incompatible for Navajo students because, for instance, in the latter’s community there is a separation of sexes both in roles and for purposes of interaction. Only when the groups were adjusted to be more culturally compatible for these Navajo students, including a change to same-sex groupings, did cooperative learning become effective with these students.
In attempting to reduce the discontinuities that American Indian students face in their classrooms, teachers should also recognize that the degree to which these students display sociolinguistic and other cultural differences may vary. Even among children from the same community, the degree to which these students display such differences may vary according to their exposure to, and attitude toward, mainstream culture (Cleary and Peacock, 1998).
Addressing Oppositional Identity
The work of Ogbu (e.g., 1991) has a number of broad implications regarding ways of increasing the academic achievement of American Indians, not the least of which is the need for fundamental changes in American society as a whole. However, a more immediate implication for teachers is the need to modify their classrooms in ways that reduce the degree to which American Indian students view success in school as detrimental to their own culture, language, and identity. As was noted above, viewing school success in this way tends to lead to resistance or ambivalence toward school learning among involuntary minorities.26
One important classroom modification is the adaptation of instruction so that it is more compatible with the cultural norms of American Indian students’ homes and communities. Depending on the individual backgrounds of the students, this could include increasing wait-time, the use of cooperative learning, or other methods discussed above. Erickson (1993) notes that such modifications “may, even for young children, be perceived by them at some level as a symbolic affirmation of themselves and their community by the school” (p.31).
A second way to reduce the degree to which American Indian students view success in school as detrimental to their own culture, language, and identity is for curricula to reflect a balanced, multicultural focus that integrates the contemporary, historical, and cultural perspectives of Native Americans (Indian Nations at Risk Task Force, 1991). As Erickson (1997) points out,
If only the … standard American history, and the voices and lives of White men appear in the curriculum, the further implicit message (by what is left in and what is left out of the knowledge presented as legitimate by the school) seems to be that real America and real school is only about the cultural mainstream and its establishment ideology. This approach especially marginalizes the students of color who come to school already marginalized by life experience and by the historical experience of oppression in their ethnic or racial communities… Marginalization is alienating, and one response to alienation is resistance [to school learning]. (p.49)
This assertion is consistent with the Indian Nations at Risk Task Force’s finding that “the perspective from which a school’s curriculum is presented can significantly influence Native students’ attitudes toward the school, schooling in general, and academic performance … Schools that adjust their curriculum to accommodate the variety of cultures served are more successful than schools that do not” (Indian Nations at Risk Task Force, 1991, p.16). Similarly, Cleary and Peacock (1998) state that “schools that acknowledge, accept, and teach a child’s cultural heritage have significantly better success in educating [American Indian] students” (p.108).
In addition to using a balanced multicultural curriculum as a means of reducing American Indian student alienation, teachers should also utilize such a curriculum to foster intercultural harmony in schools (Butterfield, 1994). As was noted previously, testimony gathered during the U.S. Secretary of Education’s Indian Nations at Risk Task Force hearings in 1990 and 1991 suggests that American Indian students often experience racism in school: “Students who identify themselves as Natives often are subjected to taunts and racial slurs that make them feel threatened and ashamed” (Butterfield, 1994, p.1). A more balanced curriculum should help all students to develop a greater awareness of, and respect for, the cultures of other peoples of the world, as well as help non-Indian students overcome their unfamiliarity with American Indians and facilitate an increased respect for the contributions of American Indians to the United States (Charleston and King, 1991; Garcia and Ahler, 1992). During the provision of such a curriculum, teachers should focus on developing students’ “critical thinking skills to help students address common fallacies in reasoning such as overgeneralization and failure to follow a line of reasoning through to its logical conclusion” (Butterfield, 1994, p.2).
Integrating a Multicultural Perspective Into Curricula
James Banks, one of the leading voices in multicultural education in the U.S. today, asserts that the traditional, mainstream-centric curriculum is not only alienating to American Indians and other students of color, it also has negative consequences for students from the dominant societal group (i.e., white middle-class students). According to Banks (1997), this is because it
gives them a misleading conception of their relationship with other racial and ethnic groups, and denies them the opportunity to benefit from the knowledge, perspectives, and frames of reference that can be gained from studying and experiencing other cultures and groups. A mainstream-centric curriculum also denies mainstream American students the opportunity to view their culture from the perspectives of other cultures and groups. When people view their culture from the point of view of another culture, they are able to understand their own culture more fully, to see how it is unique and distinct from other cultures, and to understand better how it relates to and interacts with other cultures. (p.229)
Furthermore, according to Banks, the traditional mainstream-centric curriculum fails to help students
acquire the knowledge, values, and skills they need to participate in social change so that victimized and excluded ethnic and racial groups can become full participants in U.S. society and so the nation will move closer to attaining its democratic ideals. (p.239–240)
In discussing methods for moving beyond the mainstream-centric curriculum, Banks argues that current approaches to integrating multicultural content into curricula can be categorized in terms of four hierarchical levels, with the fourth level being of greatest value:
Level 1: The Contributions Approach
Level 2: The Additive Approach
Level 3: The Transformation Approach
Level 4: The Social Action Approach
In the following discussion we provide an overview of Banks’ typology, including his analysis of the relative value of these approaches as well as suggestions from other sources regarding multicultural curricula and American Indian students.27
Level 1: The Contributions Approach
Level 1 of Banks’ typology is characterized by the insertion of ethnic heroes or heroines and discrete cultural elements (e.g., foods, dances and holidays) into the mainstream curriculum without changing the curriculum’s basic structure, goals, and salient characteristics. De Melendez and Ostertag (1997) note that
using level 1 requires very little knowledge by teachers about the multicultural material added to the curriculum. Because these topics are presented as brief snapshots, relevant aspects of specific cultures are not really focused. Actually, if teachers are not careful in their selection and presentation of the topics, it is possible to find concepts displayed in stereotypical ways. Although well intentioned, this practice communicates misleading information to the child. An example of commonly shown stereotypes is the sole use of “gauchos” to depict Argentinians, or to portray Calypso dancers as representative of all the people in the Caribbean. (p.184–185)
Other researchers voice similar concerns regarding this type of approach. For instance, Farr and Trumbull (1997) assert that the “inclination toward developing a curriculum that is ‘multicultural’ by adding insignificant details about foods and festivals, or other surface cultural details, will not allow students to think deeply about the meaning of cultural and linguistic differences” (p.94). Similarly, Reyhner (1992a) notes that attempts at providing a balanced curriculum through “a Thanksgiving unit or an American Indian Day, rather than developing a culture-based, culture-embedded curriculum that permeates both the school day and the school year,” are not sufficient (p.44).
Banks echoes these concerns, as well as being critical of the contributions approach because “the criteria used to select ethnic heroes/heroines for study and to judge them for success are derived from the mainstream society and not from the ethnic community” (1997, p.233). Because of this,
Individuals who challenged the dominant society’s ideologies, values, and conceptions and advocated radical social, political, and economic reform are seldom included…. Thus, Booker T. Washington is more likely to be chosen for study than is W. E. B. Du Bois, and Sacajawea is more likely to be chosen than is Geronimo. (p.233)
Furthermore, when ethnic heroes or heroines are studied,
The focus tends to be on success and the validation of the Horatio Alger myth that all Americans who are willing to work hard can go from rags to riches and “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”… The success stories of ethnic heroes such as Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and Jackie Robinson are usually told with a focus on their success, with little attention to racism and other barriers they encountered and how they succeeded despite the hurdles they faced. (p.234)
Nevertheless, Banks argues that the contributions approach may serve as a commendable initial step for teachers wishing to integrate a multicultural perspective into their curricula.
Level 2: The Additive Approach
Level 2 of Banks’ typology is characterized by “the addition of content, concepts, themes, and perspectives to the curriculum” (p.235). However, as with the contributions approach, the curriculum’s “basic structure, purposes and characteristics” remain unchanged (p.235). Banks states that
the additive approach … is often accomplished by the addition of a book, a unit, or a course to the curriculum without changing it substantially. Examples of this approach include adding a book such as The Color Purple to a unit on the twentieth century in an English class, the use of the film Miss Jane Pittman during a unit on the 1960s, and the addition of a unit on the internment of the Japanese Americans during a study of World War II in a class on U.S. history [italics in original]. (p.235)
Banks argues that this approach shares several disadvantages with the contributions approach. The most serious of these is that the events, concepts, issues and problems selected for study are chosen using mainstream perspectives only. For instance, within the additive approach a history unit on the westward expansion of the United States may include content about the Oglala Sioux, yet will remain fundamentally mainstream-centric in its perspective and focus. Because of this, the additive approach “fails to help students view society from diverse cultural and ethnic perspectives and to understand the ways that the histories and cultures of the nation’s diverse ethnic, racial, cultural, and religious groups are interconnected” (p.236). Despite its disadvantages however, Banks believes the additive approach can be a valuable first phase in a curriculum reform effort “designed to restructure the total curriculum and to integrate it with ethnic content, perspectives, and frames of reference” (p.235).
Level 3: The Transformation Approach
Level 3 of Banks’ typology differs fundamentally from the previously discussed approaches. In the transformation approach, the fundamental assumptions, structure, and perspectives of the curriculum are changed with the goal of enabling students to view concepts and issues from the perspectives of the various cultural, ethnic, and racial groups “that were the most active participants in, or were most cogently influenced by, the event, issue, or concept being studied” (p.237). In this approach, “The mainstream-centric perspective is one of only several perspectives from which … problems, concepts, and issues are viewed” (p.237). Banks states that the emphasis of this approach “is on how the common U.S. culture and society emerged from a complex synthesis and interaction of the diverse cultural elements that originated within the various cultural, racial, ethnic, and religious groups that make up U.S. society” (p.239).
Level 4: The Social Action Approach
Level 4 is the approach that Banks considers of greatest value in his typology. It “includes all the elements of the transformation approach but adds components that require students to make decisions and take actions related to the concept, issue, or problem studied in the unit” (p.239). The primary goals of this approach are to empower students and help them become skilled participants in social change “so that victimized and excluded ethnic and racial groups can become full participants in U.S. society” (p.239). This is done through teaching students decision making skills and helping them to become reflective social critics.
De Melendez and Ostertag (1997), in discussing the social action approach, warn that teaching with this approach
lends itself to introducing children to topics that are not often studied in the classroom. Some of these topics, such as prejudice and racism, might be considered controversial by school colleagues and parents. Therefore, teachers who decide to teach about such issues will need to carefully select materials and topics and spend more time preparing to teach. Communication with families must be incorporated into the process if this approach is to be successful.
De Melendez and Ostertag also warn that given the substantial curricular modifications required to implement level 4 of Banks’ typology, teachers should try other levels before attempting the social action approach.
Teachers of American Indian students should not simply integrate a generalized consideration of American Indians into their curricula, but should localize their curricula “to reflect the historical experience, culture, and values of the local and regional Native communities” (Charleston and King, 1991, p.8). This is necessary because of the diversity of American Indian cultures, both historically and in the present day. However, given the limited amount of culturally relevant and regionally specific curriculum materials, this may require an openness on the part of teachers to generate materials through collaboration with resource persons in American Indian communities who can provide insight into their culture, language, and history (Cummins, 1992; Littlebear, 1992).
It is also important for teachers to guard against curricula that address American Indians in purely historical terms and fail to recognize the current realities of American Indians in the United States (Almeida, 1996). Teachers should also present students with more than just the exotic or unusual components of American Indian cultures (Almeida, 1996). A curriculum that is limited in either way will fail to provide non-Indian students with “the tools they need to comfortably interact with American Indians and Alaska Natives” (p.2). Instead, such a curriculum teaches simplistic generalizations about other peoples and leads to stereotyping rather than understanding (Almeida, 1996).
Aside from the other benefits discussed above, providing a multicultural curriculum and instruction that is sensitive to both sociolinguistic differences and diverse learning styles can help to increase students’ intrinsic motivation toward school learning (Wlodkowski and Ginsberg, 1995). Although increasing intrinsic motivation may enhance the learning of all students, the work of Ogbu (e.g., 1978, 1991) suggests that it is of particular importance to the academic success of involuntary minorities. As Cleary and Peacock (1998) note,
The incentives that work for many students in mainstream schools (a beckoning college career, attention accorded by the family for good grades, rewards that are meaningful, enjoyment of competition, potential shame in failing grades) are simply not there to pull many American Indian students along. These extrinsic motivators, motivators external to the individual, just do not work for students who have been marginalized by society, who rarely see how academic endeavor has served/rewarded the adults in their community, who do not see real purposes for the knowledge and skills they are supposed to accumulate. (p.203)
Of particular importance in increasing intrinsic motivation among American Indian students is increasing the curriculum’s personal relevance to them. Research conducted by Walker, Dodd, and Bigelow (1989) suggests that American Indian students tend to
prefer to learn information that is personally interesting to them…. When these students are not interested in a subject, they do not control their attention and orient themselves to learning an uninteresting task. Rather, they allocate their attention to other ideas that are more personally interesting, thus appearing detached from the learning situation. When a subject is interesting, they learn the information and then creatively express this new learning … This variation in response to learning new information confuses teachers. Teachers of these students often comment: “I know Calvin can do the task because just last week he wrote the most creative essay on Battle of the Little Bighorn. He must be just lazy. I don’t know what to do with him.” This troublesome situation can be avoided with appropriate instructional adjustments. (p.69)
Wlodkowski and Ginsberg (1995) argue that such instructional adjustments include contextualizing instruction in the learners’ experience or previous knowledge:
Personal and community-based experiences can be drawn upon to provide a foundation for developing skills and knowledge … When learners’ previous circumstances and current knowledge have not allowed for a development of personal interest in the topics and concepts to be learned, experiences need to be constructed to allow the learners to appreciate the emerging relevance [that] such new learning activities afford. (p.119)
Similarly, Cleary and Peacock (1998) note that it is important to find connections between American Indian students’ lives and the content to be covered:
Teachers can help students see the meaning in the act of reading by providing them with meaningful texts, texts connected with their own experience, or by helping them find relevance in texts they must read by helping them search for the universals in human experience. (p.184)
Other ways of increasing the intrinsic motivation of American Indian students include (1) connecting academic endeavors to real purposes valued by the students, (2) generating products for real audiences, and (3) giving students a choice in how and what they learn (Cleary and Peacock, 1998).28 Furthermore, teachers should replace passive teaching methods (i.e., instruction in which students are considered passive recipients of teacher knowledge) with active learning in which students are encouraged to interact with peers, teachers, and their environment and in which students are encouraged to be active participants in their education (Reyes, 1998; Reyhner, 1992a). Teachers can provide more active forms of learning through the use of “instructional conversations” (Goldenberg, 1991; Tharp and Yamauchi, 1994),29 cooperative learning (Cohen, 1994; Slavin, 1995), et cetera.
American Indian Student Silence
Mainstream teachers are often presented with what to them is a confounding degree of silence from their American Indian students. Tharp and Yamauchi (1994) note that
it is a consistent finding that American Indian students, with experience in school, become progressively more quiet, withdrawn, and non-responsive…. Until third grade, American Indian children are reported to come to school interested, engaged, and oriented toward the teacher. From fourth to sixth grade, this enthusiasm changes, and children pay more attention to peers than to their teachers. Teachers describe these Indian children as quiet, sullen, and withdrawn. (p.5–6)
Depending on the particular classroom and students, this silence is probably a variable and complicated mixture of student discomfort, student conformity to traditional rules of discourse and community norms of behavior, and student resistance (Cleary and Peacock, 1998; Plank, 1994; Tharp and Yamauchi, 1994), each of which is discussed below.
As was noted previously, American Indian students often feel a great deal of discomfort when confronted with classroom norms of behavior and language use that are incongruous with the norms they have learned in their homes and communities. An example of this is provided by Phillips (1976, 1983) who found that the type of verbal interaction typical of traditional mainstream classrooms during whole-class instruction, in which teachers dominate the discussion and regulate turns at speech, was different from the participation structure for conversations Warm Springs Indian students were familiar with in their community:
Turn taking by their [the students’] system was self-directed: Anyone who wanted to speak did so and for as long as they wanted. Thus, when students came to school and encountered this foreign and complicated participation structure, they reacted by withdrawing from classroom activities. (Tharp and Yamauchi, 1994, p.5)30
American Indian student silence may also result from student conformity to traditional rules of discourse and community norms of behavior. For instance, as was previously discussed, publicly displaying knowledge during whole-class instruction, which is usually encouraged by mainstream teachers, is not in keeping with community or group norms of appropriate behavior for students from many American Indian groups (Swisher and Deyhle, 1989, 1992). Similarly, the prescribed etiquette for student/teacher interactions is often different in many American Indian cultures than what is considered the norm in typical mainstream classrooms. As Weider and Pratt (1990) note,
Although White Americans find it proper to ask questions of someone who is instructing them, Indians regard questions in such a situation as being inattentive, rude, insolent, and so forth. The person who has taken the role of “student” shows that he is attentive by avoiding eye contact and by being silent. (Weider and Pratt, 1990, as cited in Plank, 1994, p.5)
Finally, American Indian student silence may also result from student resistance toward the school and teacher. As previously noted, the work of Ogbu (e.g., 1991, 1993) suggests that American Indian students often perceive success in school as detrimental to their own culture, language, and identity. This may be a particularly important factor in student silence in the later grades, since while “the reluctance to cross cultural/language boundaries or to ‘act white’ appears to begin at the elementary school level, [it] becomes increasingly manifest as the children pass through junior and senior high schools” (Ogbu, 1993, p.102). Among these older students, another factor contributing to resistance may be the perception that teachers do not care about American Indian students. Dehyle (1992) found that among the American Indian school dropouts she studied,
The issue of a teacher “caring” was very important to many … When asked about good teachers, students consistently explained a good teacher was one who “cares” … The issue was a demonstration that the teacher “cared.” And the form of this demonstration was direct help on work in class…. When youth experienced minimal individual attention or personal contact with their teachers, they translated this into an image of teacher dislike and rejection. (p.30–31)
Similarly, Little Soldier (1989) notes the importance of warm personal relationships between teachers and students in regard to student motivation.
These explanations for American Indian student silence have a number of implications for addressing this silence in the classroom. First, they reinforce the need for teachers to learn about the norms of behavior and language use that students learn in their homes and communities and for teachers to minimize the discontinuities these students experience in the classroom. Second, they also reinforce the need for teachers to modify their classrooms in ways that reduce the degree to which American Indian students view success in school as detrimental to their own culture, language, and identity. Third, they suggest that, at least among adolescents, student silence (and resistance) may be decreased by providing these students with increased individual attention31 and by the fostering of warm personal relationships with students by their teachers.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Indian Nations at Risk Task Force found that American Indian parents “are still not part of the [school] system despite efforts to increase their involvement” (Charleston and King, 1991, p.7). This is a troubling finding, given that the importance of increasing parental involvement with their children’s schools has become almost axiomatic within the literature on educational improvement. For example, Butterfield and Pepper (1992) note that “according to the research, parent participation in almost any form improves parental attitudes and behaviors, as well as student achievement, attendance, motivation, self-esteem, and behavior” (p.49). In the following discussion we address issues surrounding teacher facilitation of greater home/school collaboration in regard to their American Indian students.32
A primary benefit of increasing the degree of collaboration between teachers and American Indian parents (as well as other involuntary minority parents) is the amelioration of parental perceptions that schools, as institutions controlled by the dominant societal group, lack legitimacy. As Ogbu (1991) notes,
Since involuntary minorities do not trust the schools and those who control the schools, they are usually skeptical about the schools’ ability to educate their children…. Indeed, involuntary minorities sometimes interpret the school rules and standard practices as an imposition of the dominant group members’ cultural frame of reference, which does not necessarily meet their real educational needs. (p.28)
probably make it more difficult for minority parents and communities to teach their children effectively to accept, internalize, and follow the school rules and practices that lead to academic success, and for their children, especially as they get older, to accept, internalize, and follow the school rules and standard practices. (Ogbu, 1993, p.104)
For American Indian parents, perceptions of school legitimacy are often particularly poor due to the U.S. government’s historical attempt at forced American Indian assimilation through education (as discussed in the first section of this document). For example, Kramer (1991) found that among Ute Indians, schools were viewed as a pernicious force (rather than as a beneficial one) in the lives of their children, in large part due to the role schools have played, and continue to play, as agents of assimilation. Similarly, Littlebear (1992), in addressing American Indian suspicion of modern American education, notes that “this kind of education is still associated with punishment and deprivation because that is what it meant to the grandparents and parents of today’s children” (p.106).
However, Littlebear also states that changes in schools can lead to changed attitudes. One important change is an increase in teacher efforts toward greater home/teacher collaboration.33 But such collaboration means more than just teachers encouraging “parents to get after their children to attend school and study,” or simple crisis intervention (Butterfield, 1994; Reyhner, 1992a, p.47). It should be an ongoing effort at outreach that focuses on positive contacts with homes: “Teachers must make it their business to get to know parents, share information with them, and enlist their involvement with the school” (Charleston and King, 1991, p.7). (See, for example, McGee Banks  for specific suggestions regarding home/teacher collaboration.)
In attempting to increase home/school collaboration however, teachers should be sensitive to the numerous factors that can hinder American Indian parental involvement. Not the least of these is suspicion of the schools that teachers represent and poor perceptions of school legitimacy. American Indian parents also, like other ethnically and linguistically diverse parents, often face formidable cultural and linguistic barriers to school involvement (Finders and Lewis, 1998). Furthermore, Butterfield and Pepper (1992) note that large numbers of American Indian parents are inhibited from participation with schools by other factors that they have little control over, such as “illiteracy, low socioeconomic status, poor parental self-esteem, dysfunctional family relationships, and poor health conditions” (p.48). These authors go on to suggest that despite such barriers, given the importance of extended families in American Indian cultures, teachers may be able to nonetheless facilitate greater home/school collaboration through outreach involving students’ extended families, who “may be very effective supporters of education for Native children” (p.48).
American Indian Students and Reading
Given the concern of educators in our state over the performance of American Indian children on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning tests in 1998 and 1999 and given the tremendous role reading ability plays in the academic success of all students, reading-related issues should be of great concern to teachers of American Indian students. Hence, in this section we address issues of particular significance in regard to reading instruction as well as several issues of particular importance to teaching reading to American Indian students. However, this section in no way covers all of the issues that are relevant to teaching reading to American Indian students and is simply intended as an important supplement to Research into Practice: An Overview of Reading Research for Washington State, published by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (1998a). We also strongly recommend that educators interested in issues of reading turn to Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (Snow, Burns, and Griffin, 1998).
Reading is the process of constructing meaning through the dynamic interaction of the reader’s existing knowledge, the information suggested by the written language, and the context of the reading situation (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction [OSPI], 1998b). As Devine (1988) notes, “Reading is an act of creation … The meaning … emerges anew in each encounter of a reader with the text” (p.260). In each reading situation the reader needs to possess two kinds of knowledge: (1) knowledge of the language, which Eskey (1986) calls the “formal knowledge,” and (2) appropriate background knowledge for understanding the content information of the text, which Eskey calls “knowledge of the substance” (p.17).
Learning to read starts very early in the life of a child. In fact, most young children in literate societies are involved in pre-reading activities almost every day. They are surrounded by print; they observe their siblings, their parents and caregivers reading; they are involved in interactive language games; and they are given educational toys that emphasize early literacy development. “Children’s concepts about literacy are formed from the earliest years by observing and interacting with readers and writers as well as through their own attempts to read and write” (Snow et al., 1998, p.44). These experiences prepare them for the point at which reading-related development crosses over from the knowledge of the parts of the reading and writing processes to achieving a functional knowledge of the principles of the culture’s writing system and the details of its grammar and spelling rules. “This is the point at which ‘real reading’ begins, when children read unfamiliar text without help, relying on print and drawing meaning from it” (Snow et al., 1998, p.42).
There is no precise age at which all children are ready to make this transition. According to Snow et al. (1998),
The capacity to learn to read and write is related to the children’s age related developmental timetable, although there is no clear agreement on the precise chronological or mental age, nor on a particular developmental level that children must reach before they are ‘ready’ to learn to read and write. (p.43)
Nonetheless, there are certain expectations concerning the range of skills that children should possess upon entering kindergarten in preparation for learning to read. Snow et al. (1998) note the following prerequisites among others:
Several thousand words in their speaking vocabularies.
A certain level of phonological awareness34 attained through some prior exposure to rhymes and alliterations.
Practice writing their own names and “reading” environmental print.35
Other sources of information about the language the children will be expected to have (metalinguistic awareness).36
Snow et al. also note that irrespective of when children are ready to begin the transition to real reading, their ability to progress beyond the initial level depends on:
“Having a working understanding of how sounds are represented alphabetically.
Sufficient practice in reading to achieve fluency with different kinds of texts.
Sufficient background knowledge and vocabulary to render written texts meaningful and interesting.
Control over procedures for monitoring comprehension and repairing misunderstandings.
Continued interest and motivation to read for a variety of purposes” (p.3–4).
Although most children acquire reading skills in a relatively predictable way, successful literacy development depends on a variety of factors. Well-trained teachers need to make their own informed choices, based on their students’ needs, regarding appropriate approaches, methods, and materials. As Snow et al. state,
Effective reading instruction is built on a foundation that recognizes that reading ability is determined by multiple factors: many factors that correlate with reading fail to explain it; many experiences contribute to reading development without being prerequisite to it; and although there are many prerequisites, none by itself is considered sufficient. (p.3)
Risk Factors for Developing Reading Difficulties
A student’s reading ability has a profound influence on all other aspects of his or her education. This is vividly expressed by the work of Dehyle (1992), who found that among the American Indian school dropouts she studied, over half felt that reading difficulties contributed to their problems in school. She notes that among all the American Indian school dropouts in her research, most were at least six grade levels behind the national average in reading ability.
Unfortunately, research suggests that American Indian children tend to be at a higher risk of developing reading difficulties. In a thorough summary of variables found to be correlated with the development of reading difficulties, Snow et al. (1998) state that there are three categories of factors that place children at a relatively higher risk:
Individual risk factors, such as having a primary medical diagnosis with which reading problems tend to occur as a secondary symptom (e.g., hearing impairment, specific early language impairment, and severe cognitive deficiencies), lack of age-appropriate literacy skills, and lack of age-appropriate skills in literacy-related cognitive-linguistic processing (e.g., phonological awareness, story recall, and general language ability).
Family risk factors, including being a member of an ethnic minority family, a family with low socioeconomic status, a family with a history of reading difficulties, or a family in which a language other than English or a nonstandard dialect of English is spoken in the home.
Group risk factors, such as having limited English language proficiency, residing in a poor neighborhood, or speaking a dialect of English that substantially differs from the one used in school.
It is important to note that even though these factors have been shown to be correlated with a higher risk of developing reading difficulties, just because an individual child is at higher risk does not mean he or she will not reach high levels of success in reading and other academic areas.
Language Development and Reading Instruction
The challenge for teachers and caregivers is to provide American Indian children with experiences within a culturally relevant and appropriate learning environment.37 Instructional materials should mirror the experiences and speaking vocabulary of early readers to the greatest extent possible. At the same time, teachers need to provide active, purposeful vocabulary instruction.
Reyhner (1992b) urges teachers not to use basal readers and textbooks designed for teaching suburban, middle-class white children. Instead, he proposes reading books that are culturally relevant and appropriate for American Indian students.38 Reyhner concludes,
If Indian students are to become productive tribal members, informed citizens, and problem solvers of the future, they need to start reading with meaningful realistic literature about which they can think and hold discussions. Reading textbooks can, at best, only provide an appetizer to encourage students to explore classroom, school, and community libraries as well as bookstores. If meaningful and interesting stories are too difficult for beginning readers to read, then teachers need to read them aloud to students. (p.166–167)
The Indian Nations at Risk Task Force (Brown, 1992) suggests that reading and language arts teachers should:
Recognize the cultural heritage of American Indian students as an asset.
Create warm, accepting environments to encourage risk-taking in learning and skills.
Provide contextual clues.
Adapt content and concept to American Indian students’ current skills levels.
Incorporate frequent comprehension checks.
Kirk (1989) recommends using dialogue journals as an effective way to increase reading and writing skills for cultural minority students. He views the role of the journal as helping the students clarify their feelings and reflect upon their values and experiences. In addition, dialogue journals provide a low-risk opportunity for the students to establish a personal relationship with their teachers.
No research was identified that provides teachers with the precise sequence of steps they should follow in order to develop the reading readiness of American Indian children, nor was any research identified that provides the exact sequence of steps that should be followed in teaching reading skills and strategies to these children. Nonetheless, American Indian children follow the same developmental path as other children and, like all other children, benefit from a loving, supportive, and challenging environment. It is for this reason that we include the following table, reprinted from Snow, et al. (1998), which lists the typical reading-related developmental accomplishments of children.
DEVELOPMENTAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF LITERACY ACQUISITION39
Birth to 3-Year-Old Accomplishments
Recognizes specific books by cover.
Pretends to read books.
Understands that books are handled in particular ways.
Enters into a book sharing routine with primary caregivers.
Vocalization play in crib gives way to enjoyment of rhyming language, nonsense word play, etc.
Labels objects in books.
Comments on characters in books.
Looks at picture in book and realizes it is a symbol for real object.
Listens to stories.
Requests/commands adult to read or write.
May begin attending to specific print such as letters in names.
Uses increasingly purposive scribbling.
Occasionally seems to distinguish between drawing and writing.
Produces some letter-like forms and scribbles with some features on English writing.
3- to 4-Year-Old Accomplishments
Knows that alphabet letters are a special category of visual graphics that can be individually named.
Recognizes local environmental print.
Knows that it is the print that is read in stories.
Understands that different text forms are used for different functions of print (e.g., list for groceries).
Pays attention to separable and repeating sounds in language (e.g., Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater, Peter Eater).
Uses new vocabulary and grammatical constructions in own speech.
Understands and follows oral directions.
Is sensitive to some sequences of events in stories.
Shows an interest in books and reading.
When being read a story, connects information and events to life experiences.
Questions and comments demonstrate understanding of literal meaning of story being told.
Displays reading and writing attempts, calling attention to self: “Look at my story.”
Can identify ten alphabet letters, especially those from own name.
“Writes” (scribbles) message as part of playful activity.
May begin to attend to beginning or rhyming sound in salient words.
Knows the parts of a book and their functions.
Begins to track print when listening to a familiar text being read or when rereading own writing.
“Reads” familiar texts emergently, i.e., not necessarily verbatim from the print alone.
Recognizes and can name all uppercase and lowercase letters.
Understands that the sequence of letters in a written word represents the sequence of sounds (phonemes) in a spoken word (alphabetic principle).
Learns many, thought not all, one-to-one letter sound correspondences.
Recognizes some words by sight, including a few very common ones (a, the, I, my, you, is, are).
Uses new vocabulary and grammatical constructions in own speech.
Makes appropriate switches from oral to written language situations.
Notices when simple sentences fail to make sense.
Connects information and events in texts to life and life to text experiences.
Retells, reenacts, or dramatizes stories or parts of stories.
Listens attentively to books teacher reads to class.
Can name some book titles and authors.
Demonstrates familiarity with a number of types or genres of text (e.g., storybooks, expository texts, poems, newspapers, and everyday print such as signs, notices, labels).
Correctly answers questions about stories read aloud.
Makes predictions based on illustrations or portions of stories.
Demonstrates understanding that spoken words consist of a sequence of phonemes.
Given spoken sets like “dan, dan, den” can identify the first two as same and the third as different.
Given spoken sets like “dak, pat, zen” can identify the first two as sharing a same sound.
Given spoken segments, can merge them into a meaningful target work.
Given a spoken word, can produce another work that rhymes with it.
Independently writes many uppercase and lowercase letters.
Uses phonemic awareness and letter knowledge to spell independently (invented or creative spelling).
Writes (unconventionally) to express own meaning.
Builds a repertoire of some conventionally spelled words.
Shows awareness of distinction between “kid writing” and conventional orthography.
Writes own name (first and last) and the first names of some friends or classmates.
Can write most letters and some words when they are dictated.