Learning among Traditional Native Americans (TNA)...


An Online Workshop developed and delivered by Leecy Wise

, 2000

Forward | Objectives | Introduction | Assessing Needs | Characteristics of TNA Students
Learning Concepts | Instructional Strategies | Sample Lesson Plan


The Teaching and Learning with Native Americans site, Arizona Adult Literacy and Technology Resource Center, Inc., has great resources addressing the issues discussed in this workshop. Please examine the table of contents at this site. Click on  Strategies for Teaching Native Americans for some nice suggestions.

Talk about it. Tell a Story.

"Research indicates that the instructional conversation (IC) can be an effective method for raising the low academic achievement levels of various groups of Native American students (Tharp, 1989; Tharp & Gallimore, 1988). The IC is a dialog between teacher and learner in which prior knowledge and experiences are woven together with new material to build higher understanding. IC contrasts with the "recitation script" of traditional western schooling, which is highly routinized and dominated by the teacher."

"... The instructional conversation with Native American students is most effective when this visual/holistic tendency is taken into account. That is, even when teachers want to emphasize verbal/analytic skills, instruction can be more successful when using a visual/holistic approach.

For example, during ICs, concepts can be embedded holistically in students' previous knowledge and experiences, particularly by linking concepts to the children's world outside school. Experiences with Navajo and Zuni Pueblo children suggest that the incorporation of holistic or visual elements into ICs make these lessons more interesting and engaging and ultimately produce more expanded discourse (Tharp & Yamauchi, 1994). Navajo third-grade children clearly preferred--and often demanded--to hear or read a story through to the end before discussion, rather than discussing it in successive piecemeal sections." (Instructional Conversations in Native American Classrooms. (ERIC Identifier: ED376733 Publication Date: 1994-12-00)

  Have students work in small groups where they cooperative to produce a joint activity
(Instructional Conversations in Native American Classrooms. (ERIC Identifier: ED376733 Publication Date: 1994-12-00)

"Barnhardt (1982) reported on several effective Native American classrooms. She emphasized that the majority of each school day was spent in individual or small group activities. The teachers characteristically moved among the students, kneeling or squatting down on the floor for individual discussion that could be lengthy and quiet because the other students were occupied with their own individual or small group tasks. To signal that another part of the lesson was arriving, the teacher raised her voice, which indicated to the larger group that it was once again part of the audience."

"A final feature of effective activity settings for instructional conversations is joint productive activity, a common interaction pattern in many Native American cultures. Joint productive activities refer to instructional activities that are given focus by actually producing something--a dwelling, a work of art, a performance, a science experiment--or by solving a problem or making a plan. Not only should there be adequate opportunity for cooperative work among groups of peers in the classroom, but the jointness of activities should also include the teacher working as a participant in the activity--"teacher" being understood to include elders and experts."

Example: "Grubis (1991) reports a joint productive activity from an Eskimo village school in the Point Hope region. A whaling boat constructed in the school by students and community members became the context for instruction in basic skills. In biology, a seal was dissected and whales were the object of scientific study. With knowledge provided by elders, the social and cultural dynamics of whaling informed social science in a unified K-12 curriculum strand."  

Dr. Bob Rhodes reminds instructors to "use the strength of the group.  The group is more important than the individual."

   Develop "webbing" around topics
[Countering Prejudice against American Indians and Alaska Natives through Antibias Curriculum and Instruction. (ERIC Identifier: ED400146  Publication Date: 1996-10-00)]

"Teachers can integrate antibias learning into the entire curriculum at any education level. One practical technique, called webbing, helps teachers and students identify an array of possible topics for interdisciplinary learning (Derman-Sparks, 1993-94). Webbing involves several steps:

  • First, determine the center of the web, the theme to be studied. An example is the agricultural techniques of American Indians of New England.

  • Step two involves brainstorming possible issues that stem from the theme at the center of the web. Examples could include indigenous dietary practices, the role of Native women in New England and food production, or the connection between the cultivation of land and Native American resistance to colonization.

  • In the third step, determine the level of awareness held by each member of the class pertaining to Native Americans and the specific antibias issues of study. Depending on the grade level, develop an exercise or set of questions that requires students to draw from their individual knowledge (including stereotypes) of American Indians in the region. Stories or role-playing can be used to stimulate discussions.

  •   In the final step, students help brainstorm a list of possible activities that the students and teacher can pursue to fill in the gaps in student knowledge. Incorporating the theme into all subject areas strengthens the antibias aspects of the curriculum. In language arts, students could read a legend about how corn came to a local Indian nation. In science, students could research the varieties of corn grown in the past and today by Native peoples. Mathematics students could calculate the yield produced by indigenous agricultural techniques." 

   Have students listen and observe before they have to perform 

Model what you want to teach. That's good teaching anywhere! Traditional Native Americans learn by observation. They watch and listen until they know. Careful, now...

That doesn't mean that you lecture your students. It means that you MODEL, REPEAT, REINFORCE, and have students watch as you SHOW what you want them to learn. 

Make it pertinent to the student.

Dr. Bob Rhodes suggests that teachers give reasons for lessons, assignments, and activities. They should also ask for information that the student and/or parents will know but the teacher won't.


  1. How does webbing differ from the approach traditionally used in our public schools?

  2. If you applied all of the teaching strategies that have been suggested in this section and course, how would your assessment strategies change? 


  • Develop a short lesson plan showing the objectives for one session of instruction in your course, followed by learning activities and outcomes. Apply what you have learned in this workshop to address Native American students and students of similar minority populations. Follow the sample lesson plan you have been given. For a sample short lesson plan, click on the link at the top or bottom of this page.


During this workshop, we have discussed a number of topics relating to how teachers can enhance the learning of Native Americans in public schools and other environments. We have mentioned that many of the characteristics and strategies we covered also apply to other minority groups. Think of the areas we covered in this workshop and consider how they apply to other student populations you presently serve.


  1. Fill in the information in a table similar to the one below as you apply each column to minority populations you presently serve. Add columns and rows as needed.

Student Group Additional Characteristics Teaching Strategies
Welfare Families
Other (List group.)

  1. TECHNOLOGY -Consider how the introduction of technology in and out of the classroom can enhance the learning strategies we have discussed. List four media elements that could reinforce the learning of Native Americans and other minority groups in your courses (TV, Internet, audio tapes, computer applications, etc..). Next to each item, note how the use of the media selected reinforces the learning strategies we have discussed in this workshop.

Sample Lesson Plan