What learning strategies are employed by Native American
graduate students in order to cope and succeed in academia?
All subjects were graduate students at the University of Utah. They
were in a Master's of Social Work Indian Education program. All subjects
were Native American women. Eight women were from traditional reservation
communities and three were from urban areas. All women were bicultural;
being aware of their cultural heritage as well as mainstream society's culture.
Three women were Navajo and the other represented Yurok, Yakima, Shoshone-Bannock,
Oglala Lakota, Mandan-Hidtasa, Wasco-Delaware-Shawnee, and Yankton Dakota.
Three of the women were in their twenties and the rest were in their
late thirties or early forties. Seven had were mothers.
Private interviews were used to gather data. The interviews lasted
one to two hours and the interviewer used a predesigned list of topics related
to academic experience. The interviews were recorded with audio tapes
and field notes or quotes were used a primary data. The recordings
were used to verify field notes and quotations then they were given to the
All women expressed difficulty with heavy expectations to return to their
communities with the degree. They indicated performance anxiety because
of the type of writing required in academia. For example, using impersonal
language. This was compounded by the academic language used in journals.
All preferred essay exams to true/false or multiple choice. Some
studying strategies were keeping a systematic schedule, for example, reading,
exam preparation or writing and internal reflection. All expressed
a multimodal learning style: more than one mode for remembering (listening,
writing, copying important phrases, integrating it with cultural knowledge).
The findings or results are in contrast to cultural learning styles
that propose Native Americans learn best with visual presentations. It
was found that the students used the ability to critically evaluate while
maintaining a subjective, accepting perspective and to synthesize extensive
and diverse information; taking what was practical applicable and using it
or throwing out what was not useful.
Instructors must be aware of these learning styles in order to better serve
their students. Native American success in graduate school is not dependent
on acculturation into mainstream society but upon culturally transmitted
I felt like someone understood the way I think and use my brain. I
felt validity in the way I do things and my ideas in connection with my own