American Indian Education KnowledgeBase

The American Indian Education KnowledgeBase is an online resource to aid education professionals in their efforts to serve American Indian students and close the achievement gap American Indian students have faced in public, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and other schools.

This KnowledgeBase is currently being updated to reflect recent changes under federal law. The current version is provided for your reference as much of the information may still be relevant.

Element 1: Foundations and Current Status of American Indian Education

Purpose: To ensure educators working with American Indian students are aware of past efforts at improving the academic achievement of these students, the limited success of these efforts, and current federally funded Indian education programs

Educators will:

  1. Understand past efforts to assimilate Indians through English-only assimilationist schooling and the opposition Indians may show to efforts at forced assimilation.
  2. Know the lasting effects of the Indian New Deal of the 1930s on American Indian education.
  3. Understand the effects of the Indian Self-Determination and Civil Rights movements on American Indian education.
  4. Understand the relationship between Indian tribes, states, and the federal government's Bureau of Indian Education.

Activity 1: Understand the History of American Indian Education

Activity 2: Understand the Current Status of American Indian Education

Element 2: American Indian Cultures

Purpose: Educators will understand the great cultural diversity among American Indians, as well as some of their commonalities. Educators will understand:
  1. What makes someone an American Indian, and what is a tribe today?
  2. What is an extended family?
  3. What is the significance of traditional American Indian values, such as humility, interconnectedness, and reciprocity?
  4. What should all Americans know about American Indians?

Activity 1: Be Aware of Tribal and Family Structures

Activity 2: Understand American Indian Traditional Tribal Values

Element 3: Understanding Your School and Community

Purpose: Assessing American Indian students' academic performance and working with local tribes and other Indian organizations are necessary to develop culturally responsive teaching methods. Educators should:
  • Examine current American Indian student test scores, attendance rates, and dropout rates;
  • Work with tribes and community organizations; and
  • Work with national American Indian organizations and the National Indian Education Association.

Activity 1: Take a Snapshot of Your School and Community

Activity 2: Work With and Involve Community and Parents

Task 1: Be Aware of American Indian Learning Styles

Guideline: Students learn in different ways. For example, some students prefer to work individually, while others like to work in groups. Some students are happy enough to sit and listen to a teacher lecture or read a book, while others need to learn through hands-on activities. Since classrooms are full of students with different learning styles, it is benerficial for educators to vary the way they present instructional content so all students have an opportunity to learn in their preferred way.

Overview: There are differences among children in terms of how they "learn to learn" in their homes. These differences can affect how successful they are in school. For instance, in some homes children are expected to be very respectful of adults and to be "seen and not heard," while in other homes children are encouraged to ask questions about anything and everything because the parents think that is how children learn. Dr. Lori Alvord Arviso, the first female Navajo surgeon, recalled in her 1999 autobiography The Scalpel and the Silver Bear that subject matter preparation was not the only problem she faced when she went to college. She writes, "Navajos are taught from the youngest age never to draw attention to ourselves. So Navajo children do not raise their hands in class. At a school like Dartmouth, the lack of participation was seen as a sign not of humility but lack of interest and a disengaged attitude." Later in medical school she was viewed as "remote and disinterested" for similar reasons.

American Indian Learning Styles Survey: An Assessment of Teachers Knowledge

This article reports on a survey of non-Indian and Indian educators, investigating the knowledge of learning styles on the part of the educators. The study also addresses how much the educators believe that cultural values of American Indians influences a student's learning style and demonstration of learning.

American Indian and Alaskan Native Learning Styles

Authored by Karen Swisher, Ed.D., this article reviews the effect of learning styles in the teaching of American Indian and Alaskan Native students. It provides an overview of the research on learning styles and suggests how teachers should approach understanding how their native students learn. As Director of the Center for Indian Education at Arizona State University, Dr. Swisher was instrumental in recognizing learning styles as an important element in the professional development of pre-service and in-service teachers in schools attended by American Indian and Alaskan Native children.

Classroom Implications of the Learning Styles of American Indian and Alaska Native Students

Authored by Soleste Hilberg and Roland Tharp, "this Digest begins with a brief discussion of two prominent definitions of learning styles and then describes studies that have found differences between the learning styles of American Indian students and students of other cultural groups. The Digest then presents instructional interventions stemming from learning styles research."

Holistic Teaching/Learning for Native American Students

Based upon his experience with the Native Americans of Northeastern Arizona Dr. Robert Rhodes explains how Native American students learn through a holistic approach. Through his experiences he describes a Native American learning style, and how it impacts teaching styles and the learning environment.

How American Indian Students "Learn to Learn"

The resource is a August 1989 Special Issue of the Journal of American Indian Education devoted to the topic of how American Indian students "learn to learn."

Learning Styles of American Indian/Alaska Native Students

Authored by Dr. Cornel Pewewardy, this resource offers a review of the literature and practice implications as it relates to learning styles of American Indian/Alaska Native Students. The paper addresses the following topics: Learning Styles - Fact or Fiction; Historical Basis of the Problem: A Curriculum of Genocide; Current Approaches and Findings Toward Understanding the Learning Styles of American Indian/Alaska Natives Students; and Relationship to Current Practice.

Native Indian Learning Styles: A Review for Researchers and Teachers

This Journal of American Indian Education article provides an explanation of the theory of learning styles and the implications of such theory in educating American Indian students.

Teaching and Learning Across Cultures: Strategies for Success

Authored by the Univeristy of Alaska-Fairbaks' professor Ray Barnhardt this article reports that learning is improved when educators are aware of the indigenous worldview and incorporate such knowledge into the curriculum.

Element 4: Use Culturally Responsive Teaching Methodologies

Purpose: Some research suggests one reason for the achievement gap faced by American Indian students is cultural conflicts between American Indian homes and schools. Accordingly, culturally responsive teaching methodologies should address:
  • American Indian learning styles;
  • Indianizing curriculum;
  • Ethnomathematics and ethnoscience;
  • American Indian charter and magnet schools; and
  • Language revitalization.

Activity 1: Helping American Indian Children to Learn

Activity 2: Integrate American Indian History and Culture into School Curriculum

Activity 3: The Role of American Indian Charter and Magnet Schools

Activity 4: Teaching Indigenous Languages