What Can Schools Do? -- Teachers
Teachers need to use a variety of instructional approaches to increase understanding, motivation and productivity.
Rebecca turns sixteen years old and a couple of months later, she drops out. Emilia has not come to school for the last three years and she is only 17 years old. Kevin, a bright eyed, smart youth who never had perfect attendance gradually stops coming to school altogether and is asked to leave the system. What can a teacher do to encourage students to stay in school? What can teachers change? Of what should teachers do more? Of what should they do less?
Although their real names have been changed, Rebecca, Emilia and Kevin are not fictional characters; they are real students making real choices to abandon school. They are students for whom we should be afraid for with respect to their future and to the future of Nunavut. There needs to be more study on the dropout issue as it reflects on the Canadian Inuit population. Hopefully, one can gain a clearer vision of the situation and help students become lifelong learners.
Being a teacher gives you a unique perspective on into todays youth. Simply by keeping one eye and one ear open, you can begin to see and hear the problems that teens face. Over time, teachers are able to observe student changes in attitude towards school on both sides of puberty. It seems that, while younger students love school and love coming to school, it soon becomes a different picture. The apathy and indifference towards school is starting younger and younger each year with non-attenders found even in grade one. Some teenagers show their aloofness about school very openly whereas for other students it is surprising when they seem to suddenly stop coming to school. In September of 1998, out of an enrollment of 229 students, there were twelve non-attenders, seven of which were from grades K -9 and five from grades ten to twelve at Netsilik School. Therefore, over 5% of the school-aged children of Taloyoak are not attending school regularly. These figures are repeated all over the north and it has become a critical situation in many areas.
One thing teachers can do is to investigate their teaching practice. Tompkins (1998) talks about this need for teachers to understand culture and the unique learning styles of Inuit students with respect to how they impact teaching practice. Because of the various levels in Inuit classes, teachers need to figure out the best way to meet individual student needs . As mentioned earlier, Backes (1993) believes that there is inconsistency between learning styles and teaching methods that may influence the dropout rate among American Indians; if this is the case, teachers of Inuit students should examine how their current teaching strategies and classroom structures are affecting dropout rates.
Also instructional approaches and perceptual orientations (Caine & Caine, 1997) of teachers may be a factor in explaining the high rate of dropout of Inuit students. Inuit are known to be very observant learners; traditionally, they are not overtly verbal. To survive, Inuit children had to learn skills and they learned by modeling their elders and parents. They learned by watching and doing. Some teachers from the south may not be using the Inuit students natural learning abilities to foster success. Instructional approaches 1 and 2 (Caine & Caine, 1997) do not value this type of learning. The conflict of teaching approaches and mental models from traditional and the southern teachers may be responsible for increased downshifting of students (Caine & Caine, 1997). Readings from Making Connections and Education on the Edge of Possibility reveals the importance of considering brain-based learning in teaching practices and classroom climate.
1) the way teachers approach the learning of their students with regards to instructional approaches and perceptional orientations (Caine & Caine, 1997);
2) the way the school values cultural differences;
3) the elements of friendship and hostility between student - student and student - teacher relationships. There are many factors that contribute to dropping out that occur outside of the school domain. However, if teachers are able to make their schools and classrooms more conducive to at risk students, then perhaps fewer students will choose to opt out.
Caine & Caine (1997) describe the consequences of a high threat situation which results in a reaction they term as downshifting. Students who face continuous threats of racism and a loss of cultural identity go through a process of downshifting which leads to dropping out or escaping. In a seven-year ethnographic study of Navajo and Ute youth, Dehyle (1992) found that students who dropped out felt unwanted and faced institutional racism. In the questionnaire, students report that their teachers did not care and that the school was not related to American Indian cultures. The "school leaver perceived a cultural insensitivity or indifference on the part of teacher" (Dehyle,1992, p.26). Lin (1988) confirms these findings by reporting that hostility against them and the sense of isolation are greater for Indian students than non-Native in a predominately nonnative college.
Ledlow (1992) reveals that many teachers in these schools did not live on the reservation nor had even visited the place where their students lived. There is an element of cultural discontinuity or a clash of cultural perceptions within these schools. However, Ledlow (1992) argues:
There is simply not enough evidence to conclude that cultural discontinuity plays a significant role, but there is overwhelming evidence that economic and social issues which are not culturally specific to being Indian (although they may be specific to being a minority) are very significant in causing students to drop out of school (p.30).
From this research it would appear that the cultural racism is only one element in a complex web of factors that students face when dropping out. Caine & Caine (1997) would argue that any type of stress or high threat environment would lead to downshifting. Downshifting affects students in ways that prevents them from doing well academically or socially. Without a sense of success, it becomes logical to assume that students will not want to remain within the school system.
A major body of research concentrates on the dropout student, the students attitude towards school, and the home support for education. It is often thought that students choose to leave school because they do not like learning; Dehyle (1992) found that many Indian students left school due to being "pulled out" because of family and community pressure or by being "pushed out" by an refusing Anglo society. Indian students are faced with the pressure of being "Indian" and doing well in a white school reflects badly on their sense of family. Dehyle (1992) reported that in the Navajo culture teasing is used as a means to maintain a position of cultural solidarity and social control; students who did well in school were the objects of jealously instead of pride. Many felt that institutional racism imposed a job ceiling in their community whether or not they completed high school (Dehyle, 1992). Rosalie H. Wax (quoted in Swisher & Hoisch, 1992) states:
Many state explicitly that they do not wish to leave school and see themselves as "pushouts" or "kickouts" rather than "dropouts." As a Sioux youth in the sample put it, "I quit, but I never did want to quit." (p. 23)
Students who dropout often feel a victim of others misunderstanding.
Other research explores the relationship between motivation and academic achievement of Native American students. Despite an overwhelming amount of literature indicating that minority students underachieve because of "lack of motivation" and "having no desire to excel", Rindone (1988) found that this does not appear to be the case. Rindone (1988) reported that family (stability of traditional values) is the way to academic success of high achieving Navajo. Stable family life with traditional values becomes an important determinant of achievement in high school; parents and family were able to motivate and encourage children to succeed (Rindone, 1988). These findings support what Caine & Caine (1997) would believe to be true about the learning environment of the student; in considering the student as a whole being, the value of a supportive home and family is crucial.
Many teachers try to motivate students to come to school by using external rewards: candy, pencils, stickers, skating parties, tokens etc. These types of rewards are used commonly in younger grades. However, even older students (those over 18 years of age) can claim social assistance by attending school at ten dollars a day. Nevertheless, many of these same students do not make it through the semester to gain credits. Monetary rewards do not appear to serve as a motivational tool.
An article by Kohn (1997) on character education implies that using rewards to motivate students to do well and come to school is ineffective. Research shows that "extrinsic incentives can, by undermining self-perceived altruism, decrease intrinsic motivation. . . Researchers have found that children who are frequently rewarded . . .are less likely than other children to keep doing those things" (Kohn, 1997, p. 430). Using extrinsic motivation, especially in the younger grades to keep students interested in school, becomes a big problem once those students become of age to dropout. Successful Inuit students must have intrinsic motivation to finish school. Educators must find ways to motivate students without using extrinsic rewards which only works to erode intrinsic motivation (Kohn, 1994, p. 430).
Learning style is another element to consider in the analysis of Inuit dropout. Backes (1993) investigated the effect that that learning style has on the learning success or failure of the American Indian Chippewa (Metis) as compared to non-Indian high school students. It was found that the dominate personal learning style of both Metis subgroups was abstract random (sensitive, emotion, personalisations, imaginations, interpretation, holistic view, flexibility , part of social group, discussion), whereas the dominate personal learning style of both the non-Indian subgroups was concrete sequential (orderly, step-by-step, structured, a reader, a researcher, evaluative, analytical , thinker, debater, studious) (Backes, 1993). The traditional teaching style coincided with this latter type of learning. It becomes apparent that teachers need to reevaluate their teaching style when dealing with Native students. Caine & Caine (1997) challenge teachers to transform themselves into a "Perceptual Orientation 3" mental mode, teaching with a variety of Instructional Approaches: "For us, brain-based learning depends on teachers being "Perceptual Orientation 3" thinkers, with the capacity to use all three instructional approaches" (p. 224 - 225).
It is safe to say that there are still many teachers who teach directly to the concrete sequential learner and do not tap into the potential of other dominant styles. The most effective application of the study by Backes(1993) is the understanding of the need for teachers to adapt to individual differences, recognizing and building on the strengths of various students. Hopefully, teaching in ways that Native students learn best will encourage students to come to school because their learning will be celebrated.
Reyhner (1992) confirms this hypothesis; he reports that critical factors associated with higher dropout rates include "large schools, uncaring and untrained teachers, passive teaching methods, inappropriate curriculum and inappropriate testing/student retention, tracked classes, and lack of parent involvement." Reyhner (1992) cites an enthographic study of Navajo and Ute dropouts by Dehyle (1989); students who experienced minimal individual attention or personal contact with teachers felt neglected and believed that the teachers disliked or rejected them. This attitude and lack of respect for students transfers into a dissatisfaction for school and may result in dropping out.
One of the points on the Social Compass by Connor (1987) is Technology: "teaching techniques, philosophy of education, formal and informal methods used in school and out of school" (p. 32). Earlier, this paper discussed briefly the watch and learn methods of traditional Inuit teaching and the resulting hands-on approach. Stark contrast is found in the ways that are currently used to teach Inuit students. Constantly, teachers are talking, explaining, lecturing and telling students what they need to know. Although there is encouragement to use hands-on, relevant learning experiences in classrooms, the primary teaching methodology is still very passive.
Teachers who use passive teaching methods often rely on knowledge transmitted to students in the form of facts and concepts. Students are required to sit passively, to listen, read and memorize information. Caine & Caine (1997) would consider this method of teaching to be non-conducive to learning; this is termed as Instructional Approach 1 and is not considered appropriate for all students needs. Reyhner (1992) reports that students who refuse to sit quietly for long periods of time become considered discipline problems who "over time, are gradually encouraged in a variety of ways to drop out of school." In essence, students are being pushed out of school.
Teachers need to consider giving students the power to think independently. McCabe & Rhoades (1992) look closely at the ways that teachers can use cooperative learning to teach thinking skills. MacCabe & Rhoades(1992) hope that by teaching students about thinking paths, students will be more successful in school and make wise decisions about their education and future:
Teachers have the power to increase a students thinking paths. . . the more ways we have of thinking, the greater our chances of finding successful solutions to problems and making good decisions in the future (p. 50)
Using cooperative learning for this falls in line with what is happening globally in education. More and more, we are asked to work with others in a shrinking globe. Improved advancements in technology are allowing people to deal with others virtually anywhere. Students need to learn how to work with others while increasing their own thinking paths.
There are muddled views on what are true definitions of intelligence, knowledge and thinking. Intelligence becomes the ability to adapt, acquire and think abstractly (McCabe & Rhoades, 1992). McCabe & Rhoades (1992) believe thinking is a series of mental strategies used to organize and manipulate ideas in order to assimilate, formulate and evaluate new ones (McCabe & Rhoades,1992). Therefore, thinking skills that can be taught include metacognition, transfer, organization, internal dialogue, reflection, and higher level questioning. Cognitive modifiability or changing and enhancing the level of thinking can be achieved by teaching thinking skills. One of the best ways to achieve cognition is through a partnership with cooperative learning (McCabe & Rhoades,1992).
McCabe & Rhoades (1992) first discuss using frame of reference, an individuals experience and knowledge which influences their ability to assimilate new information. Frame of reference links very well to the concept of transfer where students are able to sort and combine information when it is relevant to their experience and transfer this new information to other understandings. As McCabe & Rhoades (1992) state: "Each time we are exposed to a new way to think about something, we add another strategy or path to our thinking ability" (p.45). This is indeed the case when we provide a frame of reference from which to start. McCabe & Rhoades (1992) go on to clarify thinking paths as strategies of learning. One important ability is organization. When children are given new information they cluster and connect the information into thinking banks (McCabe & Rhoades,1992). The complexity of these thinking paths depends on the input and feedback the child experiences (McCabe & Rhoades, 1992). McCabe & Rhoades (1992) link the complexity of feedback to Blooms taxonomy. They discuss children who grow up in command-only households which function on the knowledge or fact only taxonomy level. The negative result of constant fact-only responses is that children are not provided with options in their long-term memory bank (McCabe & Rhoades, 1992). Teachers must be careful to avoid command-only classrooms which do not foster a higher level of thinking. Not only may classrooms run on command-only principles, but when the commands are inconsistent children miss the structure and predictability that go hand in hand with increased thinking bank options.
Definitely, mediation can enhance intellectual functioning for these children. McCabe & Rhoades (1992) describe a scene where a father is making a cake and he is giving auditory input to the steps of the process. Traditionally, the Inuit are a "watch and learn" people. In most cases, this way of learning was successful in the past but changes have happened and these students now require different thinking skills to adapt. Time is required for mediation to occur and the mediator must share thought patterns openly (McCabe & Rhoades,1992). Unfortunately, children are not often given enough time for building thinking skills. A major hurdle for schools and parents is to raise the complexity level beyond just the facts. Teachers should be mindful of the thinking skills that they are fostering in their planning. McCabe & Rhoades (1992) touch on the aspect of conscious intent, meaning that selecting a skill and having a plan will enhance the mediation process.
Cooperative learning is a fantastic way to facilitate the teaching of these thinking skills (McCabe & Rhoades,1992). Cooperation is particularly important aspect of Inuit life both now and in the past. In small groups, students benefit from mediators other than the teacher. Each student takes on this role at various points during their time together. Students must not only state their answers but they must share and explain their thought processes. Metacognition is enhanced by modeling metacognition through sharing, labeling and verbalising thought processes, and encouraging others to participate (McCabe & Rhoades, 1992). In the cooperative learning setting, students share their internal dialogue and self-talk with others in the group as well as how they arrived at their answers. McCabe & Rhoades (1992) believe that all students should understand the concepts of thinking paths, internal dialogue and mediation. They must realize that there is more than one way to think and that different strategies are better suited to one time than another. Successful effective students are those who are self-talkers and this metacognition makes students more effective thinkers.
Teachers can help students learn to think independently so that they become better learners and better able to make wise decisions for their future. Successful students are those who are able to think in a number of ways. Teachers can help prevent dropout by teaching a variety of thinking skills to at-risk students who will benefit greatly from the success they will achieve through their knowledge.
Brain-based teachers are those who use techniques that work for the child. Often students who are at-risk for dropout, do not learn in ways that are typically emphasized by teachers in the typical classroom. Teachers must consider carefully their teaching methods to be sure that they are providing each student with an opportunity to learn in the ways that they are able. It is hoped that students who feel success in school will be more likely to remain in school and complete their education. The awareness of the links between teaching methodology and dropout rate will spark teachers and administrators to promote brain compatible teaching in northern schools. For the sake of Nunavut, it is important to make sure that the future government is run by educated people who believe in their culture and traditions. As teachers, we need to try all methods possible to make students decide to stay in school.
Tompkins (1998) expresses the need for teachers to understand culture and the unique learning styles of Inuit students. She states that:
Good teachers everywhere should have a strong understanding of how to individualise instruction for the wide range of students in a class. The wide ability level found in any regular southern class is perhaps further widened in the North by factors of second-language usage and varying attendance patterns on the part of the children. . . Teachers must have a good understanding of first - and second - language learning . . . Qallunaaq teachers should be able to work effectively in a cross-cultural situation - with children, with fellow workers, and with the large community.. . And it would help immensely if teachers had some firsthand understanding of poverty and isolation so that they could start to understand some of the forces at work in the community. Ambitious challenges indeed! (Tompkins, 1998, p. 28)
These challenges are ambitious and they can be considered from all perspectives. Connor (1987) forces educators to question if these methods are concurrent with the techniques of Inuit peoples. Going beyond this question lies the more serious issue at hand: Are the current teaching techniques, methodologies and philosophies used in northern schools negatively effecting the dropout rate for Inuit students? Unfortunately, more study is needed in this area to truly determine the influence of teaching techniques on dropout rates for Inuit.
Summary: link to Factors Leading to Dropout for Inuit Students
One of the factors contributing to dropout are feelings of inadequacy. Students often feel negatively towards their ability to achieve success in school. These students need to be taught in ways that help them see their abilities in a positive light. Teachers who are mindful of their teaching practices and who are able to adapt to the unique situation of teaching Inuit students will foster success for Inuit students and thus help to reduce dropout. It is important that teachers know their students well and are able to adjust their teaching techniques, methodologies and philosophies to meet the learning needs of all Inuit students.
Assignment Paper - I-Search: Out of Step: Inuit Youth and Dropout
Assignment: Analysing Inuit Dropout as an Issue in the North