Decolonizing Language Arts Education


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  • Amanda:
  • Amanda:Extensive differences exist between and within tribes, so it’s impossible to discuss a single “Native American” experienceWhile tribal specificity best honors this diversity, it’s also not feasible in all contexts—like this one. For the purposes of this presentation, we utilize “Native” given the preference of most of the people we know. Despite the extensive differences, storytelling was, and continues to be, influential in many Native cultures given its ability to connect the present to both collective and individual historical experience.When discussing “story” or “narrative” in this way, it is important to realize that for many Native peoples we are talking about oral histories. Even stories with seemingly fantastic elements are not viewed as “myth”.Narrative inquiry allows us to think about experience, identity, and self-understanding since stories tap into our subconscious perceptions of the world and ourselves.
  • Amanda:In the earlier slide we mentioned Narrative Inquiry. Narrative can also serve as scholarly theory, meaning a person’s own experiences
  • Amanda:From a traditional Indigenous stance, the purpose of narrative is to…
  • Amanda:From the perspective of Western European or European-American dominant culture, the purpose of narrative is to…
  • Amanda:The resulting disconnect between decolonizing & colonizing assumptions regarding Narrative Inquiry causes several problems for language arts education. First, it allows for continued colonization of the Native experience by dominant culture teachers, scholars, publishers, & critics. Second, continued colonization of Native experience allows for dominant culture to completely interpret it in their own way instead of paying attention to the tools that are important to tribal identity (examples: “The Rough Face Girl,” Disney’s “Pocahontas,” “My Heart is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl, Carlisle Indian School, Pennsylvania, 1880” by the “Dear America” series). Third, it allows to claim the authoritative/authentic voice of the text – makes it individual instead of communally based. Fourth, dominant culture teachers believe they can objectively train students to understand narratives using the Western lens.
  • Christine:A second implication of the disconnect centers upon an incomplete understanding of the larger social narrative. If Native narratives are ignored, history, science, everything is distorted, therefore privileging the dominant culture story. In addition, the stories of teachers, including non-Native teachers, must be shared and critiqued, since those narratives provide a window to teacher thinking. This teacher thinking plays a significant role in professional growth, especially in terms of shifting to culturally responsive pedagogy.
  • Christine:The final implication stems from this previous concept. Through responsive narrative inquiry, teachers will begin to recognize the limitations associated with dominant culture narrative inquiry, they will better connect to Native students, and they will become more self-reflective, which allows for transformative teaching instead of reproduction of the teaching status quo. The teacher – student relationship will turn into a partnership instead of a parental relationship where the teacher gives off the impression of “father/mother” knows best.
  • Christine:My dissertation work involved collaborating with several Native community members, including Amanda, to learn about ways non-Native teachers can expand culturally responsive education in colonized settings like reservation bordertowns. The project centered upon the experiential narratives of the Native participants; these stories highlighted four lessons for teachers and scholars. To conduct culturally responsive, decolonizing narrative inquiry we should connect to members of the Native community in our work; show respect for the practices, beliefs, and goals of Native peoples; recognize the disconnect between Native ways of knowing and dominant culture interpretations of story; and provide options & opportunities for Native students and community members.
  • Christine:There are many ways responsive language arts teachers and scholars can connect to the Native community. One example includes working with community members to determine research goals and to define narrative in the terms of the tribal community, instead of identifying goals or definitions based upon dominant culture expectations. Another practice is to collaborate and dialogue with community members to interpret stories—both narrative texts used in curriculum and teacher stories about teaching practice.
  • Christine:In order to respect the experience and knowledge of Native communities, responsive educators and scholars can ask questions and seek guidance regarding the appropriate ways to share experiential narratives. It is important to consider all aspects of teaching—from curriculum to instructional approaches to assessing student understanding to cultivating a respectful learning environment—within that cultural context. I like to describe these four elements as the legs of a table. If you include Native narratives in your curriculum, but you measure student understanding about those narratives using Westernized assessment models, such as research papers or multiple choice tests, you end up with a 1-legged table. In a few moments, we’ll share examples that show how such efforts to support culturally responsive language arts teaching fall short in terms of advancing social justice.
  • Christine:Perhaps the most important lesson that emerged from the project is that teachers and scholars must recognize the tensions that exist between traditional Native ways of knowing and dominant culture approaches to narrative inquiry. One of the ways we can monitor our own assumptions and practices is to look beyond our own repertoire of literature and tools for literary analysis. We should dialogue, self-reflect, and seek out new critical views. We must recognize the importance of INQUIRY in narrative inquiry; as a result, we should continue to learn throughout our careers.
  • Christine:Finally, teachers and scholars who seek to decolonize narrative inquiry should provide options and opportunities for Native students and community members. This means we should use and advocate for participatory approaches to research, where community members determine project goals, methods, and approaches to sharing results. For language arts teachers, it means utilizing reader response theory with a critical lens that validates cultural experience as an integral part of the reader’s identity.
  • Amanda:--I’d like to share an example of reader response through my own eyes and an example of my own experience with Native narrative inquiry inappropriately used in a predominantly white high school (digital story)
  • Christine:The digital story provides a great example of a way to respect oral storytelling. In addition, digital storytelling allows for the use of multiple modes of sharing the story (visual, audio, & written text), which helps students see the story as more experiential, dynamic, and interactive.Responsive narrative inquiry also holds tremendous potential for improving the quality of socially just language arts teaching. One way to do this is to have teachers share their own teaching narratives with Native community members. Together, the teachers and tribal members can reflect upon practice, and the teacher’s own thinking about culture and critical teaching pedagogy. Here is an example of that process.
  • Amanda:
  • Questions & comments
  • Decolonizing Language Arts Education

    1. 1. Decolonizing Language Arts Education<br />Learning from the Experiential Narratives of <br />Native Students & Non-Native Educators<br />Amanda LeClair, University of WY, English<br />Christine Rogers Stanton, Montana State University, Education<br />
    2. 2. The “Native” Narrative Experience<br />Great diversity between & within Native groups<br />Storytelling connects present understanding to collective & individual memory<br />Oral hiSTORY vs. “myth”<br />“The truth about stories is that that’s all we are” (Thomas King, Cherokee)<br />Stories tap the subconscious, which is a part of experience/understanding often ignored in scholarly work, teacher preparation, & education in general<br />
    3. 3. What is “Experiential Narrative?”<br />To decolonize language arts instruction K-16, we must recognize that:<br />Narrative is more than fiction<br />Narrative is more than written text<br />Narrative holds different meaning for people from different backgrounds<br />Narrative can provide a way for tellers & hearers to experience (or re-experience) events<br />
    4. 4. Decolonizing Assumptions & Narrative Inquiry<br />Purpose: to educate, share memory, & mobilize/inspire; story-as-experience<br />Form: story is dynamic & unfinished—writing it down limits its potential & gives too much power to the writer<br />Content: story connects to all knowledge systems<br />Audience: the audience is active, regardless of training; there is a dialogue between teller & hearer; the story is EXPERIENCED by both teller & hearer during the telling; power is shared<br />
    5. 5. Colonizing Assumptions & Narrative Inquiry<br />Purpose: to entertain/educate; experience-as-story<br />Form: text is “captured” in print so that it can be shared at any time & with any person<br />Content: outside of the language arts & some social sciences, “story” plays a minor role<br />Audience: the uneducated reader is disconnected & passive; to engage, he/she must undergo training to use formulaic criticism, which shifts power from the writer &/or actors to the reader; teachers can objectively deliver content & train student critics<br />
    6. 6. Implications of this Assumptive Disconnect<br />Continued colonization of Native experience<br />Native narratives are “stolen” for print in some cases<br />Written texts disrespect cultural requirements for storytelling (time of year, teller’s background, etc.)<br />“Understanding” the story stems from mastery of dominant-culture tools of criticism<br />Authorship assumes ownership & ignores role of community & tribe in the story’s creation<br />Primarily dominant-culture teachers believe they can objectively train students to understand narratives<br />
    7. 7. Implications, cont.<br />Incomplete understanding<br />Native experience is downplayed or ignored in academic narratives (textbooks, scholarship, literature, critical works, etc.)<br />Hearing the counter-story of Native peoples is vital to balance dominant-culture narratives & content<br />Teacher narratives (including those of dominant culture teachers) must also be considered given the role of teacher thinking in effective education<br />
    8. 8. Implications, cont.<br />Biased & ineffective teaching<br />Teachers continue to privilege dominant culture narratives, forms of sharing story, & approaches to interpretation (the “hidden curriculum”)<br />Teachers do not connect to non-dominant culture students, which perpetuates achievement gap, increased dropout rates, & other challenges<br />Teacher narratives are ignored, given the assumption that understanding is static & objective<br />Without a focus on dynamic, reflective, & collaborative narrative inquiry, teachers will simply reproduce existing systems <br />
    9. 9. Responsive Narrative Inquiry<br />Connect to the Native community<br />Honor history & potential of Native peoples<br />Confront tensions between traditional ways of knowing & dominant culture expectations<br />Provide options & opportunities for Native peoples<br />
    10. 10. Connect to the Native Community<br />Center (or re-center) the Native experience<br />Collaborate with tribal members in critical exploration of various forms of story<br />Work with tribal members to define narrative, research, or educational goals<br />Utilize qualitative methods that value story<br />Create curriculum that reflects decolonizing views of narrative & narrative inquiry<br />Engage teachers in dialogical evaluation of their teaching<br />
    11. 11. Honor the history & potential of Native people<br />Prioritize story-as-experience in your work & classroom; include storytelling formats that bring the experience to life for students, scholars, etc.<br />Learn from Native community members in terms of interpreting the stories <br />Ask community members questions about representations in literature, film, etc.<br />Seek guidance regarding appropriate ways to share stories with others (cultural insiders & outsiders)<br />Infuse all aspects (instruction, curriculum, assessment, & management) of teaching with connections to Native narratives<br />
    12. 12. Confront tensions between tradition & dominant-culture inquiry<br />Look beyond mainstream representations & interpretations of Native experiences/narratives<br />Ground criticism in culture by engaging in discussions with elders & leaders<br />Seek out works (narratives & critiques) by Native authors, scholars, etc.<br />Dialogue with colleagues, students, etc. to continuously monitor assumptions & practices<br />Utilize self-reflective narratives to check own teaching & learning<br />
    13. 13. Provide options & opportunities<br />Use community-based participatory research (CBPR) methods<br />Encourage creative representations of understanding that recognize the many ways to share experiences<br />Ask people to share their reasons & choices<br />Encourage reader response approaches to criticism<br />Advocate for the voice of Native critics & storytellers to be heard in your schools, institutions, communities, etc.<br />Support responsive methodologies in scholarly fields <br />
    14. 14. Experiential Narratives & Student Learning<br />Critical reader response theory in practice<br />Native stories in predominantly white institutions<br />
    15. 15. Experiential Narratives & Teacher Learning<br />Teacher narratives & collaborative reflection<br />
    16. 16. Future Directions<br />Thesis work<br />Teacher education & professional development<br />Presentations & publication<br />
    17. 17. Acknowledgements & Contact Info<br />Thanks to the Social Justice Research Center at the University of Wyoming for supporting projects that contributed to this presentation<br />For their continued guidance, we thank the communities of the Wind River Indian Reservation, as well as communities across Indian Country<br />Thanks to the University of Wyoming & Montana State University for encouraging critical work to enhance culturally responsive language arts education<br />For more information, contact Amanda LeClair ( or Christine Rogers Stanton (<br />