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native americans - Native American Learning Stxles One of...

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Unformatted text preview: Native American Learning Stxles One of the difficulties in studying learning styles of Native Americans is the great diversity among their various cultures. The cultures of the Haida, the Malecite, the Navajo and the Creek are very different. Even greater variety has been introduced by the impact of non—indigenous cultures. Consequently, the discussion below must be interpreted in the context of significant inter-cultural differences among Native American cultures, as well as intra~cultura1 differences and individual differences within cultures. Visual~spatial One of the most common generalizations about Native American information processing is in visual strength, visual spatial strength and usual visual mode (Swisher & Deyhle, 1989). Visual and visual-perceptual strengths are reported among Canadian Indians and Inuit (McArthur, 1968), among Alaskan Eskimos (Kleinfeld. 1973), the Kwakiutl (Rohmer, 1965) and the Pueblo (John Steiner & Ostereigh, 1975). Reports of visual mode as a usual style are reported among the Navajo (John, 1972) and Alaskan Eskimos (Kleinfeld, 1973). Many studies of Native American studies have shown superior Block Design sub—scale scores on the WISC—R. Whether this shows a spatial strength (Kaufman, 1979) or simultaneous (global, holistic) strength (Kaufman & Kaufman, 1983), is unclear. Global-Seguential The global~sequential dimension is becoming increasingly prominent (Schmeck, 1988, p. 329; Kirby. 1984; Keefe, 1990). I have found it particularly useful with Native American students, although I have used the learning style strength rather than usual learning style conceptualization (More, 1988). Global processing emphasizes the whole, tends to use scanning, makes greater use of overviews and meaningful context. Sequential processing emphasizes processing the parts in a temporal order, and breaking down into component parts, analysis. A whole language approach to learning to read may be more effective with a more global learner: a phonetic approach may be more effective with a more sequential learner. A tendency toward global style strength over sequential for Native Americans compared to Non Natives has been demonstrated in a number of studies (More, 1988; Bryant, 1986; Krywaniuk, 1974). If it can be argued that Bannatyne's categorization "Spatial ability" is significantly a global measure and "Sequencing ability” a sequential meaSureI then we have additional indications of global~sequential learning style strengths among Native Americans. McShane & Plas (1982) recategorized WISC~R scores using Bannatyne for a group of Ojibwa an Sioux children. They found Spatial scores were indeed higher than Sequential scores. Kaufman and Kaufman (1983, p. 152~154), using the K~ABC, reported Simultaneous scores were greater than Sequential scores for a group of Navajo children but not with a group of more assimilated Sioux children [The K-ABC has been significantly discredited as a measure of intelligence (Steinberg. 1984). However the criticisms do not appear to affect the legitimacy of using some of the subscales as measures of global-sequential processing for groups]. Although the global— sequential continuum has been studied as a learning style strength for Native Americans, there is very little repcrted on it as a usual learning style. The major problem with the use of the global-sequential continuum is in its clarity as a construct. and therefore in its measurement. Is global processing an internal, holistic and simultaneous process, or is it a more external sensory-perceptual process, or is it two related processes? Is sequential processing the same as analytic processing? Are they two processes which always occur together? 15 global processing properly conceptualized as being at opposite ends of a continuum or should they be considered separately? These questions need to be answered more clearly for more effective investigation to be possible. Field dependence — Field Independence A significant degree of research has been done using the field dependence- field independence continuum and Native Americans. Field independence is the degree to which an individual can separate a figure from compTes background, restructure information to solve problems, distance oneself during social interaction (Berry, van de Koppel & Annis, 1988). Berry (1976) found high levels of field independence for hunting-gathering societies and industrial societies. He found high levels of field dependence for agricultural societies. For example, he found Native Americans who were migratory hunters and gatherers in north western Canada to be more field independent than the Native American in that area who relied on agriculture (Berry & Annis. 1974). In general, studies have found Native Americans to be relatively strong on field independence (Swisher & Dayhle, 1989: Dinges & Hollenbeck, 1978; Weitz, 1971). This nmy be related to the hunter-gatherer nature of most traditional Native American cultures. Or it may be related to the combination of strong native American visual-spatial abilities, and the usual. measurement of field independence with visual perceptual tasks such as the Rod and Frame on the Embedded Figures Test (Denny. 1988; Swisler & Deyhle, 1989). Or it is likely a combination of both. There are two significant problems with the use of the field independence - dependence continuum and its use with Native American cultural groups. The main problem is confusion between the underlying construct and its measure. The underlying construct is degree of psychological differentiation across perception. higher level cognitive processing, social interaction and affect. But it is usually amasured only with a perceptual task. Is the construct "exaggerated" (Vernon, 1972, p. 366) far beyond its importance? A second problem is that, while it does discriminate between agricultural and industrial societies, it does not discriminate in a useful manner between industrial and hunter-gatherer societies. This limits its usefulness in understanding cultural differences between Native American and European cultures (Denny. 1988). Verbal—Imaginal Another continuum on which Native American learning styles can be investigated is verbal- imaginal. The use of imagery as a tool for understanding highly complex concepts was an important part of learning in many traditional Native American cultures (Tafoya, 1982; John, 1972). Systems of legends are an excellent example of such usage. The explanations of Susan's Grandmother and the elder. in my example above, included many images. These were not just visual images. Some were aural images, others were olefactory. Some images were very abstract, not directly related to any of the senses. Observations of Susan, and informal interviews witl1 Native Americans of many ages and many tribes, have led me to suggest a verbal-imaginal continuum of learning style. The imaginal end may be more than visual coding for long term memory as in Paivio's (1971) work. It may enable a deeper level of processing, especially in the use of analogies. It may be related to global processing or it may facilitate it. But when I try to understand the image behind the killer whale or the eagle, as Susan listened to a legend. I realize that it. is much more than simple visual imaginal coding taking place. There seems to be a type of abstract processing taking place that is qualitatively different from that which is possible from the verbal label "killer whale". This is conjecture at this point. But it appears to be a direction worth pursuing. Reflective — Trial/Error/Feedback The reflective — impulsive continuum is a more commonly used cognitive style continuum. A more impulsive learner responds more quickly and usually has a higher error rate: the reflective learner responds more slowly and usually has a lower error rate (Messer. 1976). Reflectiveness is often reported as an important aspect of many Native American cultures. Furthermore, based on reports of the way many Native American children learn to learn (e.g., Swisher a Deyhle, 1989), one would expect to find greater reflectivity. Study of this continuum as a learning style, is confounded by the problem of self~confidence. As a result of the cultural dissonance between home and school, many Native American students show low self—confidence in school (e.g., Bruneau, 1985). A student who has low self—confidence in school is likely to reflect longer before replying to a question, regardless of cultural background. There is an inconsistency“ between the expectation and the research results. The one study of Native American subjects in the literature failed to find significant differences between Native American and Non Native children (More, 1984). As I haVe tried to understand this inconsistency I reviewed my interviews with Native American elders. This led me to conceptualize the continumm as Reflective - Trial/Error/Feedback (or TEE). The Reflective end of the continuum is related to traditional learning. It can be described as watch—them-do (e.g.. learning to make a fishnet), listen-then-do (e.g., learning values through teachings of an elder). or think—then—do (e.g.. thinking through a response carefully before speaking). The term Trial/Error/Feedback is used rather than Impulsive to more clearly illustrate the process that occurs if this is to be an effective learning process. TEE learning involves the learner attempting a verbal response, knowing there will be some errors, and successively refining the response on the basis of feedback. Concern about the contrast between traditional learning styles of many Native Americans and contemporary classroom practice has been raised frequently enough to warrant further study of this approach to learning styles. Modality At one time modality preference and learning style were understood as synonymous by many people working in Special Education. The meaning of learning style has broadened. But the modality use and modality strength remain important in working with Native American learners. This topic has already been covered under the visual-spatial heading. The evidence indicates that Native Americans generally use the visual mode more frequently and more effectively in relation to the aural mode compared to Non Native learners (Kaulback, 1984). Adapting Instruction to Native Americans' “Learning Styles": An Iconoclastic View This paper examines the claim that instruction adapted to the "observational learning styles" of Native American students will increase achievement. Many studies do suggest that certain groups of Native American children have special strength in such areas as spatial abilities and visual memory. In a review of the educational literature, however, we fail to find support for the common conclusion that adapting instruction to Native Americans’ learning styles will increase achievement. Several reviews of the literature on the ability patterns and "learning styles," variously defined, of Native American groups are already available (McShane 8v. Plas, l984; Osborne. 1985; Kaulback. 1984; More, 1984; Kleinfeld, 1973; Shade, 1984). We, therefore, only briefly summarize this research in the first section of this paper. We devote the major portion of the paper to a detailed examination of research empirically testing the hypothesis that instruction adapted to Native American learning styles will result in greater learning. Finally, we discuss the reasons for the popularity of the learning style concept despite the paucity of findings showing that instruction adapted to Native American learning styles actually has educational benefits. Research on Cognitive Ability Patterns and Learning Styles Psychological Research The term "learning style" in research on Native American education is commonly used to refer to an ill-defined assortment of abilities and modes of processing information: spatial abilities. right-brain hemispheric dominance. visual memory. field-independence. holistic or successive rather than sequential patterns of information processing. preference for visual sensory modality, and so forth. As More (1984. p. 4) points out, "There is a confusing array of definitions of learning style. Indeed few studies ever define the term precisely....The semantic problem is exacerbated by confusion with related terms such as cognitive style. teaching style. and learning abilities.” In studies 01 Inuit groups. Berry (1966. 1971) elegantly develops the theoretical basis for the assertion that particular Native American groups may have elevated visual and spatial abilities. The ecological demands of a particular environment along with a group's cultural adaptations to that environment may press for the development of a particular pattern of cognitive abilities. In several studies. Berry (1966, l969) found that Canadian Inuit indeed scored considerably higher on various spatial and visual tests than either the Temne of Sierra Leone (an African agricultural society What is clear is that visual-spatial abilities are an area of relative cognitive strength. Native Americans typically show a pattern on cognitive tests characterized by relatively high scores on performance measures and substantially lower scores on verbal measures (McShane & Plas, 1984; Kaulback, 1984; Connelly. 1983; Zarske & Moore, 1982; McShane & Plas, 1982; Diessner & Walker, 1986). In sum, psychological research on the performance of Nat? 'e American groups on various tests indicates a cognitive ability pattern characterized by higher spatial and visual skills and lower verbal skills. Ethnographic Research A similar conclusion about the strength of visual as opposed to verbal skills appears to follow from ethnographic research on the characteristic mode of learning among Native American children outside the context of formal schooling. Many researchers have pointed out that different Native American groups share an orientation toward "observational learning" (Cazden & John, 1969; John—Steiner, 1975; Moore. 1982; Kaulback, 1984). Reviewing this literature. Kaulback (1984, p. 34) concludes: Although far from conclusive, there is a growing body of research to suggest that distinctively different child-rearing practices--one stressing observational learning and another 7 emphasizing learning through verbalization--has fostered the development of very different styles of learning among Native and white children. Whereas many white children. by virtue of their upbringing and their linguistic exposure. are oriented towards using language as a vehicle for learning, Native children have developed a learning style characterized by observation and imitation. Such differences in learning styles have far-reaching consequences in the formal education of Native students. particularly in view of the fact that the formal educative process almost always favors those who are highly verbal. In sum. both psychological research on Native Americans' cognitive ability patterns and ethnographic research on Native Americans' observational learning style lead to the hypothesis that Native American children would do better in school if instruction were not so verbally saturated and drew more upon visual and spatial abilities. This conclusion seems so straightforward. so logical. and so compelling that it is difficult to believe it is not valid. ...
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