Effective Methods for Teaching Native American Students – Part IV

Wilson-Jones (2003) investigated African American males’ attitudes and feelings on finding success in school. The study summarized that the research in this area has shown that often African American students, especially males, withdraw from engagement in their education because of wanting to reject mainstream culture. Also, “negative stereotypes associated with race cause students of color to under achieve academically and to disassociate with academics, because of fear of predicted failure” (Wilson-Jones, 2003, p. 2). Research has also shown that conversely, African American students with high levels of parent involvement, not necessarily parent education, performed better in school.

Subjects for the study came from a rural school where one fourth of the students are African American. One troubling statistic given was that half of the students who attended this school did not graduate from high school. Most of the families were low income, and there were high unemployment rates for families in the area. 16 African American males in the school qualified for and agreed to participate in the study. They ranged from grades three to six, and in age from eight to 13 years old. Seven of the students included in the study had repeated a grade level.

Students were interviewed six times, one on one with a researcher. Each time the interviews lasted half an hour. The interviews were tape recorded and analyzed later for common patterns. Their scores on the Mississippi Curriculum Test Scores and current grades were compared to their answers to find correlations.

It was found that students felt strongly about the influence their families had on their reading success. Students mentioned adults reading to them as small children, and expressed that they felt these events prepared them for learning to read and success in school. Students also felt it was important to have family to help with homework, to check it for correctness and also to help them understand what it was about. The students reported feeling more confident and competent in class on a day after they had received such help at home. Students also felt that having their parents come to school and be involved in their education in that way helped them to be successful. One student reported “It makes me feel proud, like I know someone is here to help me and explain it [school work]. It makes me feel funny inside. I am proud and excited that they are here” (Wilson-Jones, 2003, p. 11).

Subjects also seemed ready and willing to talk when there was someone (the researcher) willing to listen to their problems. Some students expressed concern about the threat of violence at home or school, while one felt safer at school because it was a smoke free, quieter environment where he could concentrate. Students also spoke of difficulties staying focused when teachers talked, and not understanding the directions on assignments causing them problems in school. Students reported they thought they could do better in school if they studied harder and listened more. Also, they reported that they thought that students who do well listen more to the teachers.

In looking at the connections between the students reported attitudes surrounding literacy and their test scores and classroom grades, it was found that students who said they had been read to before learning to read themselves had higher grades. Also receiving higher grades were students who received help from their parents on homework. Conversely, students who did not get help from their families did not do as well on the test or in class. Even students whose parents came to school when they were falling behind or in trouble did better than students whose parents did not involve themselves in their child’s schooling at all. Of the 9 children who had not repeated a grade, their parents more often were involved in their education than students who did repeat a grade.

The researchers recommend promoting pre-literacy activities in the community, designing programs for the schools that promote parental involvement, organizing programs for students to talk about their problems with peers, teaching study skills to students and parents, and programs that encourage reading

In critiquing this study, I would say that it would be interesting to see how much the scores correlated with the attitudes of the children. Since this information is not given, it is hard to know how much to trust the conclusion. When there is evidence in the article that a reader can see, it is much more believable, and can be confirmed by others who are analyzing the information. The fact that it is left out makes one wonder how strong it really was. We can see that the findings did agree with studies conducted in the past, so it is dependable in that way, but a reader can’t scrutinize information that is not presented.

Durkin (1984) studied African Americans with low SES who were good readers to find what factors contributed to their success. The 23 subjects included in the study were chosen by their performance on the fifth grade standardized test. They were spread across 13 different schools. Twelve of the subjects were female, and 11 were male. The students that scored half a year above grade level were included in the study. The students also all qualified for free lunch. They lived in a large Midwestern city.

The methodology of the study (Durkin, 1984) included finding what classes these successful students had been in, and then interviewing the teachers. Unfortunately it turned out that most of the students had transferred from other schools, and had transferred so many times that there were no patterns of teachers that provided more success than others. Only three of the subjects were students in the same school the entire time. Students transferred schools an average of nearly three times each.

Family structures of the participants included 7 students who lived with two parents, either biological or step parents (Durkin, 1984). Sixteen families had one parent, and only one of those was a single father. Of these 16 families, 9 of them also had grandparents living with them.

According to Durkin (1984), after students were identified, interviewers talked with the principals and asked them about the students in question, what factors might have contributed to their success, and what the school did to help that specific student succeed. Most principals knew little of the students in question unless they or a sibling had been in trouble. Even the three students who attended the same school from kindergarten through fifth grade were mostly unknown to the principal. They also were unable to articulate what the school had done to help with reading, chalking the success up to the student being bright.

Since no patterns were found for teachers more successful students had in common, the researcher (Durkin, 1984) was unable to interview the past teachers. She did interview the subject’s sixth grade teachers to see if they could shed some light.

Teachers knew little about the students’ families. They tended to suggest that these students in specific achieved more because they were intelligent, liked to read, and worked hard.  This information was not coming from the teachers who had actually taught the students to read, though, so it seems to not cover the aspect of the study the researchers had hoped for. Perhaps selecting a few of the highest readers in the study and going to their teachers as a case study might have shed more light, and actually gotten some results to analyze. The researcher had no way to get the information that he or she was searching for since patterns in the teachers the students had were not found. This causes major credibility issues.

The top 15 students were interviewed about reading, and were told that they were being interviewed so “their answers might provide information about how to help other students who did not read as well as they did” (Durkin, 1984). Almost all students said they had their own books at home and checked out books from the library often. Also, the students enjoyed reading. Parent expectations played a role for 14 of the 15 students in that their parents expected them to go to college.

Parents of these top 15 students were also interviewed (Durkin, 1984). The parents reported in 12 of the 15 cases that the students could read before they started kindergarten. Parents also said they read with their children often, and from an early age. Also, several had older siblings or cousins who played school with them and modeled and taught reading to them before they started school.

The finding that so many of the students had been reading before they came to school surprised the researcher (Durkin, 1984), and early childhood programs for reading were a recommendation of the research.  Durkin also noted the possibility that the students early achievement caused teachers to view them as students who were going to succeed, and so their expectations for these students were higher. This could have become a self fulfilling prophecy and helped these students to achieve while students the teachers did not expect to do well would not. The article concludes that information from all interviewed suggested that students love of reading and frequent reading is what caused them to be a good reader.

The critique of this study (Durkin, 1984) is the failure to collect the data it set out to find, that is classroom techniques that promote the success of readers. There could have been modifications made to the study to find this data, but this did not happen. I do not think that the results are credible or convincing. Durkin reported what the teachers, students, parents and principals said, but did not correlate this with the grades of the students or give proof that this was valid information, other than the fact that most interviewees said the same thing. This does add some dependability to the information, but there is still not enough proof that “reading often” and “working hard” caused the students to be successful in reading.

In summary, Wilson-Jones (2003) found that students attributed their success in school to the influences of their family, both in reading with them and in getting help with their homework. Durkin (1984) found that students who were successful in reading reported an enjoyment of reading and visited the library often.  Charity, et al (2004) found that students were successful at comprehension even when they couldn’t reproduce the story in School English, but rather used African American English.