Effective Methods for Teaching Native American Students – Part II

Reyhner (1986) studied the representation, in number of appearances and in the accuracy and realism of those appearances, of Native American students in basal readers, the reading textbooks used with young readers. A review of the literature showed that Native American students are more engaged and comprehend more when the reading materials represented their culture accurately. It was important that the representations of Native Americans include not only historical representations, but also depict Native Americans as a living culture in modern times.

The material for this study (Reyhner, 1986) was taken from textbooks and basal readers implemented statewide in states over 5 million residents. Textbooks for first, third, and fifth graders were analyzed. There were 8 books chosen to analyze, the 4 most used, and of the 15 series that qualified, the 4 least used. This decision is not explained or justified. They did not differentiate the differences in Native American representation form the most used and least used books among the 15 that qualified. Random samples of 25% of the stories in each of the 8 books were analyzed for six categories of realism identified as important by experts in the field. These included a broad range of ages, conflict between characters, aggression involving children, the presence of basic life situations, negative emotions, and intellectual activities.

Of the 203 stories analyzed, only 16 had Native American characters (Reyhner, 1986). Only one story was found in the first grade books, six in the third grade books, and the rest (nine stories) were found in fifth grade texts. Most of them were found to represent modern Indian culture. There was not a broad range of tribes represented, most represented southwestern tribes. No coastal tribes (Atlantic or Pacific) were represented, and the Plains Indians only had representation in one story. Most stories were fairly realistic.

Most of the stories had rural settings, instead of urban settings (only 2 stories) (Reyhner, 1986). It was found that some of the stories had stereotypical aspects. For example, in one story about the production of pottery, the purpose for making the bowls was to sell them to the tourists instead of making them to maintain tradition. This depicts Native American’s in a way that makes their traditions about catering to white culture instead of showing the spiritual or traditional importance for these people in making their art. In another story, the illustrations depict terrain (mountains and rivers) that were not accurate to the lands that Hopi Indians lived in. Another story, about ballerina Maria Tall Chief, left out any aspects of her culture or heritage other than her name.

When the study analyzed the other stories as well, it was found that there were seven times as many white characters and twice as many African American characters as Native American characters (Reyhner, 1986). This may make sense when you compare the population of White, Black, and Native American students. But the fact is that if students comprehend more when they are reading about characters that are like themselves, then white students will have a much higher proportion of the literature that is easy to comprehend than minority students will. The authors suggested that it is important to supplement the basal readers with trade books that represent Native American student’s culture, especially tribe specific books if possible.

To summarize, Fry and Johnson (1973) and Stage, et al. (2001) both found that socioeconomic status may be a higher risk factor than race for many Native American students. Reyhner (1986) found a real lack of authentic Native American characters in texts, and recommended teachers use a variety of trade books that represent Native American culture, especially tribe specific works.

Effective Methods for Teaching African American Students  Charity, Scarborough, and Griffin, (2004) explored whether familiarity with

School English, or a Standard English Dialect, affected reading achievement in the early grades. The study was conducted with 252 students spread across three different cities, Cleveland, Ohio, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Washington D.C. All students were African American and between kindergarten and 2nd grade. There was a roughly even gender split. This sample was taken from schools that were both low performing and low income. In New Orleans and Cleveland, one hundred percent of the students qualified for free and reduced lunch and in Washington D.C. ninety four percent qualified. Students were selected in a random sample from grades K, 1, and 2 in each of the schools.

The study (Charity et al., 2004) evaluated the participants in one on one sessions lasting fifteen to thirty minutes in April, May, or June in the 2000-2001 school year.

They were tested for reading achievement using the Woodcock Reading Mastery Tests- Revised. These tests assessed word identification, the phonological decoding pseudo- words, and comprehension. Students were then assessed on their ability to imitate School English. To determine this ability, students were asked to repeat sentences in a story in the same way the tester pronounced them. The story was designed to have elements that were pronounced differently in African American English and School English. The study was looking for a relationship between the students’ two test scores, and whether their familiarity or unfamiliarity with School English affected word identification, phonologically decoding pseudo-words, and comprehension. The examiners also asked comprehension and recall questions about the story the children had repeated. They were scored for grammar, phonological items, and memory in the story they had read.

The study (Charity et al., 2004) found that more imitations of School English occurred in the grammatical category (m=61.6, SD=22.6) than with phonological examples (m=50.8, SD=19.9). Results showed that children in New Orleans had less familiarity with School English than children in other cities. They hypothesized that in the South most people exhibit some language characteristics outside of Standard English, that have more in common with African American English. For example, the dialect may differ phonologically from Standard English, in terms of the reduction of the final consonant cluster from a consonant blend to only one of the consonants being pronounced, and a final s being deleted from plural words.

Kindergarten and 1st grade students’ test scores on phonological and grammatical imitation were correlated with the reading test scores on word identification, phonologically decoding pseudo-words, and comprehension (rs=.42 to .59) (Charity et al., 2004). In second grade, this correlation was not significant for phonological tests (rs=.08 to .29), but familiarity with School English was correlated to grammatical imitation (rs=.34 to .49). The results showed there was not a strong correlation between the familiarity with school English and story recall for any of the three grades (Charity et al., p. 1348).

According to this study (Charity et al., 2004), students’ familiarity with School English will affect the way they use grammar or phonetically decode and pronounce words, but that no matter how they pronounce words, and no matter their familiarity with School English, they will still comprehend what happened in the story, and be able to retell it.