Saturday, March 26, 2011

Indian Education - Expectations and Setting the Scope

Students who know what to expect are more likely to have better self-moderated behavior and direction in learning.

A common misconception among teachers who teach in schools where Native American children are the majority (85% and greater percentage American Indian/Alaskan Native) is the notion that the newest strategies and methods in the classroom is the solve-most problem in "Indian schools."  Undoubtedly it is significant to have well-trained teachers and research-based methods, complimented by a good regiment of strategy and planning on the teacher's part, but without the student's "buy-in" to the concept being taught -- the lesson in itself is for naught. 

Simply put, "You can stand on your head and teach strategy until you are blue in the face; but if Johnny and Jackie haven't made a personal decision to learn, they simply will not learn what is intended."'

The ten (10) most important things to know about teaching Native American students are:

1)  Native American/Alaskan Native children are bright, intelligent, and only the ones who test well in Reading and Math will be given much ado about anything during their entire careers as public school students.  This undermines the fact that there are more than 8 intelligences (Dr. Thomas Armstrong):

     •Linguistic intelligence ("word smart")

     •Logical-mathematical intelligence ("number/reasoning smart")

     •Spatial intelligence ("picture smart")

     •Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence ("body smart")

     •Musical intelligence ("music smart")

     •Interpersonal intelligence ("people smart")

     •Intrapersonal intelligence ("self smart")

     •Naturalist intelligence ("nature smart")

2)  Native American/Alaskan Native children are "masters of the unwritten word."  Children who grow up watching people interact in large family systems throughout their growing years understand body language; many children understand this almost as well as someone who is deaf.  The Native child knows by how a body responds when someone doesn't like them, thinks little of them, and/or wants to shame them.  They also know when the teacher is tense, angry, sad, impatient, and liable to quit within the first year.  The key to being successful when teaching Native American children, when you are not from that culture group is: 

    a)  Stand your ground.  Don't tell the students you are the boss.  BE THE BOSS.  Rule not by force, but through patience, understanding, and a willingness to listen.  Do not tolerate any disrespect, but never disrespect.  Address your students as "Miss," "Mister," "Ma'am," "Ladies and Gentlemen," "Students," "Learners."  They will return that respect to you in time.  If a student comes up to you and tries to argue with you, simply state, "You may be right, and I may be wrong.  I am not saying it is either way.  But you cannot get anywhere talking to me that way.  I will come to talk to you in a few minutes in your space, but you cannot accomplish anything with that tone."

    b)  Enforce, "Basic Classroom Skills."  These are:  a)  Sitting down; b) Listening; c) Time on Task without being reminded.

3)  Provide timeframes for the class.  Write the entire schedule for the day or teaching period/block on the board, complete with time frames.  This helps students who hate your particular subject of learning, because it allows them to see how the time is going to pass.  It also helps for visual learners to gauge the time for being in that space, and also for children who have a hard time sitting still and paying attention.

4)  Present lessons giving:  a)  Unit overview - Big Picture of the entire assignment base, especially if you are expecting an end project (i.e. paper, Science project, speech);  b)  Learning Standards as appropriate (students who see this begin to understand why you are making them do something, and understand after a while that you don't plan lessons and assignments to torture them);  c)  Timeline - list of tentative dates and due dates for all the different "parts" of the project or lesson;  d)  Materials list - remember that many families live far away from a city and/or have income that is sparing at different times of the month, so if you spell this out right away and communicate to children if things are needed for home, this should also be noted on the timeline for things that are due.

5)  Always encourage children to speak to members of their family about things:  a grandparent, parents, big sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles.  When you acknowledge the wealth of knowledge that the child's immediate community has, you help build the value of the child's home education.

6)  Expect nothing but the most and the best from your students.

7)  Hang in there.  If its your first year in a Native American populated school and you want to quit about Thanksgiving, this is probably normal.  If you wait until after the New Year, things will get better.

8)  Know every one of your students' names.  Know one thing about each of them, who their brothers and sisters are in the school, and don't judge them based on a name - even if others do.  Touch on the one thing you know about them from time to time.  This shows you are interested in the student's life. 

9)  Share appropriate things about yourself, your family, your likes.  Use journal writings to tell your students funny stories.  Laugh about yourself and the mistakes you have made.  Encourage them to write about their own mistakes.  Humility is always important.

10)  Keep a tight schedule.  Start with quiet time.  Enforce a schedule that allows for a short journal writing that either sums up something they learned before, written notes for a lesson, creative writing about themselves or responses that allow them to give their opinion, and/or prediction writings that help students lead into something you are going to talk about.

I hope any of these tips may help.  Good luck and take a deep breath.  Remember that Native American children see people come and go all the time.  They are good at testing teachers.  You will know if you are worth your salt after a single year!

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  1. One quick comment to add here is: Another thing that a teacher can do who works in this population is learn about the culture group of the student. This can be done via: study, learning the oral history and traditions, home visits with families who are open to your visit, and attending the cultural programmings in the community.

  2. Indian student is very bright compare with other country.


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