How can a teacher begin to help her kindergarten students gain "authentic" cultural understandings about Native North Americans through children's literature?

Margaret McNeil Pyterek
Reading and Language Doctoral Program, National College of Education
August, 2006


The goals of this Action Research study were to understand how to create an anti-bias curriculum project focusing on Native North Americans and how to teach children to recognize stereotypes in children's literature, while using The Project Approach (Helm & Katz, 2001) to do the formative curriculum development. The study weaves together three evolving story lines that were used to inform the teacher/participant researcher's growth: (a) the story of what was learned during the creation and enactment of this curriculum with the children; (b) the use of the discourse strategies (Daiute & Jones, 2003) to understand and to highlight the development of children, and (c) the way to identify, analyze, and use authentic literature for children.

This research project involved 29 kindergarten children in two separate heterogeneous groups (morning and afternoon classes). The children in this study included special needs, English Language Learners, and a blend of ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. Various methods of data collection and sources of data were used: children's drawings, interviews (both individual and group), large group discussions, small focus groups, and teacher observations. An analytical framework was developed to differentiate culturally authentic, ambiguous, and inauthentic children's literature based on expert researchers' points of view.

The major finding about the children was twofold: (a) when they became more critical of the Native American books, they showed less bias toward Native Americans as a cultural group; and (b) Daiute & Jones, (2003): "Discourse Strategies" (identifying, contextualizing, broadening, practicing, empathizing, universalizing, distancing, avoiding, and personalizing) were highly beneficial as an analytical lens to illuminate the students' development and simultaneously inform curriculum development in the unit. The major finding about the educator revealed that when working as the teacher/researcher using The Project Approach to teach, one could incorporate the children's ideas into the construction of the unit, make more appropriate adjustments to that curriculum and thus become more engaged when teaching the unit as well as better able to assess the students' learning progress.