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Culturally Responsive Pedagogy Crucial For Native Youth

Many Tribal leaders are concerned that the increased focus on testing and standardized instruction has resulted in a decline in pedagogical approaches that are culturally responsive to Indigenous youth (Beaulieu et al., 2005). The typical teacher-centered direct instruction approach employed in most classrooms often fails to meet the needs of Indigenous students (Cleary & Peacock, 1998; Jacobs & Reyhner, 2002). This is, in fact, a widespread concern nationwide and among educators and researchers working with students from other ethnic and racial groups as well. This concern makes sense since studies have shown that when teaching methods are adapted to be more congruent with students’ cultural norms, academic achievement generally improves (see, e.g., Deyhle & Swisher, 1997; Grant & Gillespie, 1993; Vogt, Jordan, & Tharp, 1993).

Scholars have found that efforts at CRP for Indigenous youth result in students who have enhanced self-esteem (Agbo, 2004; Cleary & Peacock, 1998), develop healthy identity formation (Trujillo, Viri, & Figueira, 2002), are more self-directed and politically active (Garcia & Ahler, 1992), give more respect to tribal elders (Agbo, 2004), have a positive influence in their tribal communities (Cleary & Peacock, 1998; Pewewardy, 1998; U.S. Department of Education, 2001), exhibit more positive classroom behavior and engagement (Cleary & Peacock, 1998; Lipka, 1990), and achieve academically at higher rates (Apthorp, D’Amato, & Richardson, 2002; Demmert, 2001; Demmert & Towner, 2003; Klump & McNeir, 2005; Smith, Leake, & Kamekona, 1998; Swisher & Tippeconnic, 1999; Taylor et al., 1991; Zwick & Miller, 1996).

Researchers of CRP contend that teachers must use pedagogical techniques that explicitly connect learning to students’ everyday lives. When education takes a holistic approach with multiple and obvious connections to students’ worlds outside of school, it is both more interesting and more effective for Indigenous youth (Gilliland, 1995; Klug & Whitfield, 2003). The suggestion that schooling take a more holistic approach means simply that the goal is to understand “many aspects of a concept at the same time and the interrelationships involved” (Rhodes, 1994, p. 92).

Cleary and Peacock (1998) suggest that to motivate students to learn, teachers must connect “to the human need for self-determination” (p. 212). They argue that teachers need to tap into this desire to engage their students in the schooling process, and that teachers can help students develop strategies for understanding and acting on the world around them. When students feel empowered and have greater agency within their schools and communities, education is both more meaningful and socially responsible. The authors offer the following patterns of successful teacher practice: the need to build trust; to connect with the community; to establish cultural relevance in the curriculum; to tap intrinsic motivation for learning; to use humor; to establish family support; to provide situations that yield small successes; to make personal connections with students; to use highly engaging,, and activity-based learning; to be flexible, fair, and consistent; and to provide real audience and purpose for student work (p. 13).

Similarly, Swisher and Deyhle (1989) offer the following suggestions to teachers of Indigenous students: Be aware of the “pacing” of activities within a time framework which may be rigid and inflexible; Be aware of how questions are asked; think about the discussion style of your students; Remember, some students do not like to be “spotlighted” in front of a group; Provide time for practice before performance is expected; let children “save face,” but communicate that it is “okay” to make mistakes; Be aware of proximity preferences; how close is comfortable; Organize the classroom to meet the interactional needs of students; provide activities which encourage both independence and cooperation; Provide feedback that is immediate and consistent; and, give praise that is specific (pp. 9–10).

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your students and staff members gain an understanding of one’s sense of self and what they deeply value. Having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown it is linked to better well-being, less stress and delinquency, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed. Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally responsive practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Adults can also be trained in antibullying strategies and techniques to build an inclusive climate. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment.

To learn how you can create a safe and dynamic learning environment that honors your school community, visit our website at, or contact us at iinii@iinii.orgor 1800-507-2502.

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