Effective Methods for Teaching Native American Students

Fry and Johnson (1973) explored the relationship between oral reading fluency and reading achievement in a group of Native American subjects. Subjects for the study included 69 students. Forty five attended public schools and 24 attended a Bureau of Indian Affairs school in a nearby city. Both Schools were in Arizona. Students were Native Americans from the Pima Maricopa tribe.

The students were assessed using the Lorge- Thorndike Intelligence Test and the Metropolitan Achievement Test (Fry & Johnson, 1973). Students were separated into above average and below average groups based on these scores. Students were then asked to respond to 20 pictures to get a language proficiency sample. The amount of and difficulty of words produced by the students in response to these stimuli were recorded and analyzed to provide a score. Students who produced at least 30 Communication Units were included in the study, leaving 52 subjects. Then to control for sex, 10 more students were eliminated from analysis, leaving 42 students, 21 males and 21 females.

All students were in second grade.

For males, there was not a relationship between IQ and oral language scores, but there was a connection with female Native American students (Fry & Johnson, 1973).

It was also shown that males often needed fewer pictures to score at least 30 communication units. The above average group used more complex sentences. Below average students used more simple structures more often. This was also true for conjoining verbs.

The study (Fry & Johnson, 1973) showed that the above and below average readers did not differ very much in reading achievement, above average scoring a median of 2.1 on the exams and below average readers just three tenths of a point less, at 1.8 median for the group. It also showed that there were more above average students in the public school than the tribal school, but acknowledged that could be due to the difference in socioeconomic status rather than the schools, since attendees of the BIA school did have lower income in general than those attending the public school. A factor not considered in this analysis is the possibility that traditional Native American people may be less verbal than in mainstream culture. This is not a rule, but a trend that has been observed. Students taught by teachers who expect them to be more verbal will indeed produce more communication units than students in a tribal school, where verbal communication is not as highly stressed. The test given also may have not been a setting students at a tribal school would be verbal about; where as other activities might elicit more dialogue from them. It would depend on how their schooling is structured, but classroom practices are not covered by the study.

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The study is hard to generalize to Native American students in other settings, due to the small study size, and the inclusion of only one tribal group, when there are over 200 Native American tribes in the country.

Stage, Sheppard, Davidson, and Browning (2001) studied students’ oral reading fluency. Since many students are referred to special education because of difficulties with reading, these researchers found it important to study early predictors of reading difficulty in students, so interventions can be implemented. Since knowledge of the alphabet has been shown to be a predictor of future achievement in reading, researchers used this to study its predictive value for a culturally diverse sample.

This study included 59 subjects (Stage et al., 2001). Seventy percent were Native American, 18% Hispanic, and 12% Caucasian. Students were followed throughout their kindergarten year. Most students were low income, 70% received free or reduced lunch. They attended a rural school in Washington State. There was an almost even gender split, with 47% of the students as male and 53% as female.

The study (Stage et al., 2001) focused on students’ familiarity with the alphabetic principle, that is, knowledge of letter names and phoneme grapheme relationships. The study investigated the connection of this knowledge in kindergarten to the development of oral reading fluency in the first grade. The researchers used Hierarchical linear modeling to create growth curves for different factors influence on oral reading fluency.

Students were asked to identify upper and lowercase letters that were randomly ordered (interrater reliability was 99%), and also using the same sheets, were asked to identify the sounds each letter made (interrater reliability was 98%) (Stage et al., 2001). They were also tested using curriculum based measurements of oral reading fluency.

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These measures were taken in October, January, March, and May.

Kindergarteners received the normal curriculum used in the district, which included “print awareness, letter name knowledge, and letter sound knowledge.

Specifically, each letter name and its corresponding sound were taught in sequence….instruction was delivered in small groups of 4 students/ session” (Stage, et al., 2001, p. 229). In first grade, students learned phonological awareness and phonics rules.

It was shown that all students improved in oral reading fluency over the year (Stage et al., 2001). Kindergarten sound fluency and letter naming fluency predicted this growth. For sound fluency, t=2.98 (p<.01) and letter naming fluency t= 2.32(p<.05).

Letter naming fluency most strongly predicted first grade oral reading fluency. No differences were found on the basis of race in oral reading fluency.

The study concludes that letter naming may be an even stronger predictor of at risk students than letter sound identification (Stage et al., 2001). Students who can name letters already have a start on the letter sounds, since they are apparent in letter names for most letters. Also, familiarity with the alphabet may indicate pre-reading experiences with preschool or with family, who has taken the time to expose the child to literacy and teach them the alphabet. The study also concludes that race had little to do with performance, though socioeconomic status did, and may be a stronger risk factor overall. The researchers conclude that low SES students with difficulty in letter naming should receive early intervention to strengthen letter naming fluency in order to ensure they do not fall behind peers in first grade and beyond.