For Navajo children, a rigorous program draws on tradition to spur achievement

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Wed Mar 21 13:21:54 UTC 2007


Teresa:

The spelling of Navaho words in the story got mangled because my email
facility doesn't copy diacritics at all, so when I copied the article, they
all got lost (including the vowels they are attached to). I have to then go
in and try to replace the missing vowels, which I have trouble with in a
language I don't know.

Hal S


On 3/21/07, Teresa McCarty <Teresa.McCarty at asu.edu> wrote:
>
> I'm glad to see this outstanding program getting much-deserved attention.
> It is, indeed, an inspiring success story.  Just one note: The Navajo
> (Diné)
> spelling of the name is mangled in the article.  It should be:
> Tséhootsooí Diné Bi'ólta', The Navajo School at the Meadow Between the
> Rocks.  That translation loses some of its meaning, though, as "Diné"
> means
> The People (i.e., Navajos), and "Bi'ólta'" refers to "Their
> [Navajos'/Diné]
> School," so the name has a more powerful connotation than suggested by the
> English translation (which is also incorrect in the article): This is,
> literally, The People's School.
>
> For recent articles on the school, see:
>
> Florian T. Johnson and Jennifer Legatz (2006), Tséhootsooí Diné bi'ólta'.
> Journal of American Indian Education, 45(2), 26-33.
>
> Marie Arviso and Wayne Holm (2001), Tséhootsooídi Ólta'gi Diné bizaad
> bíhoo'aah: A Navajo immersion program at Fort Defiance, Arizona. In L.
> Hinton and K. Hale (eds.), The Green Book of Language Revitalization in
> Practice (pp. 203-215).  San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
>
> Teresa L. McCarty, Ph.D.
> Alice Wiley Snell Professor of Education Policy Studies
> Arizona State University
> Mary Lou Fulton College of Education
> Division of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
> Farmer Building 120 - PO Box 872411
> Tempe, AZ 85287-2411
> PH: 480.965.6357  FAX: 480.965-1880
> Teresa.McCarty at asu.edu
>
>
> On 3/20/07 5:37 PM, "Harold F. Schiffman" <haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu>
> wrote:
>
> >
> > A Culture Put to the Test
> >
> > For Navajo children, a rigorous program draws on tradition to spur
> > achievement.
> >
> > By Mary Ann Zehr
> >
> >
> > Fort Defiance, Ariz.
> >
> > Ask Marilyn Begay why the Navajo-immersion school where she is a 5th
> grade
> > teacher has fared well in meeting student-achievement goals under the No
> > Child Left Behind Act, and shell say its because the school integrates
> > Navajo language and culture into its curriculum. Put the same question
> to
> > Maggie Benally, the schools principal, and shell credit instruction
> driven
> > by analysis of students test scores. The Navajo Language Immersion
> > SchoolTshootsoo Din Bilta, to use its Navajo namemade adequate yearly
> > progress in all subgroups under the federal law last school year, Ms.
> > Benally said, because the teachers know exactly where their students are
> > in terms of data.
> >
> > The hybrid is viewed as a model in Indian Country and elsewhere. The
> > school has attracted visits from members of Apache, Cherokee, and Pueblo
> > Indian tribes, and its teachers and administrators have given
> > presentations at national conferences sponsored by the U.S. Department
> of
> > Education and the Washington-based National Association for Bilingual
> > Education. Its easy to see why. Tshootsoo Din Bilta (Tseh-HO-Tso Di-NEH
> > Bi-OL-tuh), which means the Navajo school in the meadow between two
> > canyons, has made AYP while many schools that serve Native American
> > studentsincluding three of the four other elementary schools in the
> Window
> > Rock districthave not.
> >
> > Nationally, only 30 percent of the 184 Bureau of Indian Education
> schools
> > run by the federal government on reservations and formerly called Bureau
> > of Indian Affairs schools are making AYP, the central gauge of
> performance
> > under the 5-year-old No Child Left Behind law. In Arizona, 55 percent of
> > the 141 regular public schools on American Indian reservations made
> > adequate progress last year. Educators at the Navajo-immersion school,
> in
> > which 71 percent of students are from low-income families, have embraced
> > state academic standards and federal accountability requirements under
> the
> > law through a school improvement plan.
> >
> > But the school also teaches standards for Navajo culture published by
> the
> > tribe and operates a program intended to teach literacy and improve oral
> > proficiency in Dinthe word Navajos use for their people and language.
> > Kindergartners and 1st graders receive all instruction in Navajo.
> Lessons
> > in English, including reading, begin in 2nd grade and occupy an
> increasing
> > amount of class time with additional grades. By 6th grade, children
> > receive half their instruction in each language. There is no question
> that
> > school leaders see the infusion of native culture and language as a key
> to
> > its success.
> >
> > This staff is saying, We can compete with anyone in America, and we can
> do
> > it in two languages, said Thomas A. Jackson, the superintendent for the
> > 2,900-student Window Rock school system. Cultural Preservation The
> > Navajo-immersion school started in 1986 as a strand of classes spread
> out
> > among several schools. A 2003-04 school year study showed that students
> in
> > the immersion strands scored significantly better on the state
> assessment,
> > Arizonas Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS, than did their peers
> > who were receiving instruction only in English. Three years ago, the
> > immersion classes were consolidated into one school, which became
> > Tshootsoo Din Bilta.
> >
> > Navajo-Immersion Schools Test Performance In the 2005-06 School Year
> >
> > The percentage of students passing the reading and math portions of the
> > Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, the state assessment, was high
> > enough for the school to make adequate yearly progress under the No
> Child
> > Left Behind Act. Saving an indigenous language often is the primary
> > motivation for immersion programs, according to William G. Demmert Jr.,
> a
> > professor of education at Western Washington University, in Bellingham,
> > Wash., who is leading a study of four indigenous-language-immersion
> > schools in the United States, including the Navajo school.
> >
> > That's certainly been an issue in Window Rock. The loss of the use of
> > Navajo has been so great that English is the first language of all the
> > children who attend the Navajo-immersion school. A language survey by
> the
> > school district shows that in 1979, 89 percent of children entering
> > kindergarten in schools in Fort Defiance were fluent in Navajo, but by
> > 1989, that proportion had dropped to 3 percent. Few quantatitive
> research
> > studies have been done that measure the impact of a culture-based
> > curriculum on student achievement, said Mr. Demmert, whose team
> developed
> > the indigenous-language test used as the benchmark given by the
> > Navajo-immersion school three times a year. But Mr. Demmert, a member of
> > the Oglala Sioux and Alaska Tlingit tribes, believes that culture-based
> > education is promising for Native Americans, many of whom havent done
> well
> > in conventional schools.
> >
> > When you talk about an extended family in the Native American community,
> > you talk about clans and tribes, he said.  What some of these schools
> are
> > doing is creating a new kind of extended family that includes parents,
> > students, teachers, school administrators, and the leaders of the
> > community. They work as a group, as a part of this extended family, to
> > make sure that the students do well. For culture-based schools to
> survive,
> > they have to pay close attention to state standards, said Jim Barta, an
> > associate professor in elementary education at Utah State University, in
> > Logan, who has studied how to make mathematics culturally relevant for
> > Native American students. But he also lamented the failure of many other
> > public schools to integrate the culture of students and their
> communities
> > into the curriculum.
> >
> > We have minority kids, Native Americans in particular, who are at the
> > bottom of the list in terms of national data in realizing math
> potential,
> > Mr. Barta said. If our culture-less instruction worked, we wouldnt be
> > having this problem.
> >
> > Parental Support
> >
> > Parents say they are sorry about the loss of the Navajo language in
> their
> > own generation and are happy their children are helping to revitalize
> it.
> > While many schools on the reservation teach a class in Navajo language
> and
> > culture, Tshootsoo Din Bilta is the only Navajo-immersion school. Some
> > think the school is the Navajo Nations best chance to save the language.
> > But parents are also concerned about student achievement.
> >
> > Along With Praise, a Note of Caution
> >
> > While the Navajo Language Immersion Schools blend of traditional culture
> > and modern assessment enjoys widespread community support, its
> popularity
> > is by no means universal. Delphine Chief is one dissenter. Listen to an
> > interview with Chief . A Navajo and a devout Baptist who home-schools
> her
> > four youngest children, Ms. Chief said that in teaching the Navajo
> > language, teachers often convey traditional Navajo beliefs that she
> > contends are contrary to her familys Christian faith. "I dont have any
> > belief in it, she said of the ceremonies that are an important part of
> > Navajo culture and spiritual practice, and which Ms.  Chief said often
> are
> > featured in a Navajo-language classroom.
> >
> > Ms. Chief, who lives in Window Rock, a few miles from the school, said
> her
> > children get enough exposure to the Navajo language through their church
> > and interaction with a grandparent. She and her husband, Wally Chief,
> > speak Navajo with their children about 5 percent of the time, she said.
> > One of her sons, who is 15, attends Window Rock High School and takes a
> > Navajo-language class there. Ms. Chief would rather that he didnt and
> said
> > she warns him not to put stock in any myths that he might be taught. But
> > Marilyn Begay, who teaches 5th graders at the immersion school, said
> some
> > parents confuse culture with religion. Religion is ceremonies and songs
> > and prayers, Ms. Begay said. We don't do that here [in a public school].
> >
> > Since language and culture are linked, she describes ceremonies to the
> > students. Usually, I tell them, if you are Christian, Im just telling
> you
> > about this; Im not telling you that you have to do this, Ms. Begay said.
> > That way Im safe. She also said that some Christian families send their
> > children to the immersion school and see its value in reinforcing
> > childrens self-identity. Mary Ann ZehrWhen Laurinda Davis Moore first
> > looked into enrolling one of her daughters, Lailauni, now 13 and in 7th
> > grade, she worried about whether it would be too demanding for the girl
> to
> > study in two languages.  I spoke with the principal, Ms. Moore recalled.
> > She said, Dont worry.  Their test scores are quite good.
> >
> > She and her husband, James Moore, now have four children enrolled in the
> > school. Both parents are high school graduates of Window Rock schools
> and
> > wish they had had a chance to learn Navajo in school when they were
> young.
> > Ms. Moore speaks fluently in English and Navajo, but regrets that she
> > never learned to read and write in Navajo. Mr. Moore grew up speaking
> only
> > English and said his children are helping him learn Navajo. Ms. Moore
> said
> > the school reinforces her familys interest in keeping up Navajo
> > traditions. For example, the family held a traditional Navajo-language
> > puberty ceremony for Lailauni at the sheep camp owned by Ms. Moores
> > family.
> >
> > Nancy Yazzie, another parent, said she has monitored the achievement of
> > her daughter, Shandiin, now a 5th grader, in the Navajo school. Shandiin
> > read at below grade level in English in 3rd grade, she said. Ms. Yazzie
> > was concerned, but by the middle of 4th grade, Shandiin was once again
> > reading on grade level.
> >
> > Emphasizing Standards
> >
> > Teachers who use Navajo in their instruction also have been teaching
> their
> > fair share of state content standards. They decide each year which will
> be
> > taught in Navajo and which in English at each grade level. Marilyn
> Begay,
> > who teaches several subjects to the schools 5th graders only in Navajo,
> > has been helping students improve in mental math, an area that has been
> > identified as a weakness of all students on the AIMS.
> >
> > Two recent mornings in a row, she started the day by having her students
> > try to solve a word problem. They worked from a problem written in
> > English, but class discussion was in Navajo. Ms. Begays block of time
> for
> > literacy instruction on one of those mornings reflected many of the
> kinds
> > of activities that would occur in a class in English as a second
> > language--except that, in this case, the second language is Navajo. Most
> > of the 5thgraders test at the low-intermediate level in spoken Navajo,
> > which means it is hard for them to discuss some subjects fluently in
> > class, Ms. Begay said.
> >
> > She read the children a story about a sheep herder who is bothered by a
> > glzhii, or skunk. She taught them vocabulary and had them practice
> > pronunciation of vowels. The children read the story aloud to each other
> > in pairs and then wrote paragraphs on their own. Lastly, Ms. Begay had
> the
> > students test themselves on how fast they could read another story about
> a
> > skunk. Timed readings are an important part of the benchmark tests the
> > students take three times a year in math, reading, and writing. Teachers
> > say the results of those tests, given in Navajo or English, depending on
> > the grade, and introduced three years ago by outside researchers, are a
> > good predictor of how well the students do on the AIMS.
> >
> > Staying true to the immersion schools mission, Sherri Miller, who
> teaches
> > social studies, reading, and writing in English to 7th and 8th graders,
> > chose Navajo beliefs about sickness and healing as a theme for her
> lessons
> > on a recent day. She designed learning activities around a Jan. 21
> article
> > in The Denver Post about Ronnie Tallman, a Navajo who joined the U.S.
> > Marines and then wanted to obtain conscientious-objector status so he
> > could leave the military and become a medicine man, or healer.
> >
> > Ms. Miller read the article to a class of 7th graders, and they then
> read
> > a section about Navajo medicine men in a textbook. In addition to its
> > cultural component, Ms. Millers lesson aimed to teach specific skills,
> as
> > she had the students browse opinions on the talkback section of the
> > newspapers Web site about Mr. Tallman and copy down five strong
> > statements. In meetings with teachers and other staff members, Ms.
> Miller
> > had learned that the schools students did poorly on the
> persuasive-writing
> > section of the AIMS. Her lesson focused on that type of writing.
> >
> > Special Circumstances
> >
> > Even some of those who admire the achievements of Tshootsoo Din Bilta
> > caution that the results may be difficult to replicate. John L.
> McIntosh,
> > the principal of the 527-student Window Rock Elementary Schoolwhich
> failed
> > to make AYP with a similar populationagreed that the immersion schools
> > performance shows that a bilingual approach can work.  But the fact that
> > it has fewer special education students put it in a better position to
> > make AYP than other Window Rock elementary schools, he said. Delia
> Pompa,
> > the vice president for education for the National Council of La Raza, a
> > Washington-based Latino advocacy group that runs a network for charter
> > schools, sees a connection, though, between culturally relevant
> curricula
> > and school success. If you use relevance as a big umbrella, you cant
> leave
> > out culture and be successful, Ms. Pompa said. We need to look at
> culture
> > in broader terms, beyond ethnic culture. We need to look at culture as
> > inclusive of community values and of youth culture.
> >
> > In the Window Rock school system, tools such as surveys have informed
> the
> > district about what local parents want for their childrens education.
> > Right now, our states set the standards; we dont, said Jennifer Wilson,
> > the federal-projects coordinator for the district. But here, because we
> > are on the Navajo Nation, we are teaching our children through the
> culture
> > and language.
> >
> > Vol. 26, Issue 28, Pages 25-28
> >
> > The American Indian Education Foundation, an advocate for American
> Indian
> > education, coordinates programs to support American Indian students in
> > K-12 education.
> > The Office of Indian Education Programs at the Bureau of Indian Affairs
> > posts information and resources on American Indian education.
> > The Arizona Department of Education sponsors initiatives to improve
> > academic achievement for American Indian students in Arizona.
> >
> > http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2007/03/21/28navajo.h26.html
> >
> >
> ******************************************************************************
> > *****
> >
> > N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
> its
> > members
> > and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner or
> > sponsor of
> > the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who
> disagree with
> > a
> > message are encouraged to post a rebuttal.
> >
> >
> ******************************************************************************
> > *****
> >
>
>
>
>
>
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/lgpolicy-list/attachments/20070321/92ad0119/attachment.html>


More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list