Journal of American Indian Education

Volume 30 Number 3
May 1991

STUDY ORIENTATION, PERSISTENCE AND RETENTION OF NATIVE STUDENTS: IMPLICATIONS FOR CONFLUENT EDUCATION

Graham Hurlburt, Randy Kroeker, and Eldon Gade

Using the Survey of Study Habits and Attitudes inventory this study evaluated the study habits and attitudes of Native students in a band-controlled school in Manitoba. Junior high Native boys had weak study habits and some negative study attitudes. Senior high girls had average study habits and attitudes (possibly confirms school is a feminine activity). Low educational acceptance scores suggest that attitudes about relationships and relevancy (i.e., is school "user friendly") rather than specific study habits may be the key factors in addressing the problem of Native students' high drop out rate. A confluent educational philosophy (systemic and holistic) and using confluent educational strategies (through which students' social-emotional and personal empowerment needs are met) may enhance the school experience, improve study habits and attitudes, and ameliorate the high drop out rate among Native students.

That there has been a high drop out rate from school classrooms by native students is indicated by many studies. Sealey (1980) reported that in a 12 year period from 1951 to 1962, 8,441 Indian students out of 8,782 in Manitoba did not complete high school. This was a 94% loss of school population between grades 1 and 12 compared to a national drop out rate for non-Indian students of approximately 12%. Lee (1983), in a study of the native students in the Frontier School Division in Manitoba, found that the retention rate for grade 9 decreased slightly from 50% in 1975 to 48% in 1979. The 611 grade 2 students in 1972 fell to 292 grade 9 students in 1979, and to 136 grade 12 students in 1982. By grade 9, only 48% of the original students were still in school, and by grade 12, only 22% were in school compared to the provincial average of 86%. Coladarci (1983) reported a 60% drop out rate of American Indians making up 90% of the student body of a Montana high school. They dropped out due to poor teacher-student relationships (the students believed that the teacher didn't care about them), trouble at school (disagreements with teachers), content of the school (not important for what they wanted to do in life), and school didn't reflect American Indian culture.

More (1984) concluded that in every single measure of student achievement in every study reviewed, Indian students were behind their non-Indian counterparts. Ludwig (1984) observed that Indian students revealed themselves as having a higher incidence of feelings of rejection, depression and anxiety. Sealey (1980) concluded that Indian students begin as happy, industrious, delightful little children in primary grades who can achieve well in school and are readily accepted by their classmates, but begin, about the age of puberty in grades 5 and 6 to withdraw and become sullen, resistant and indolent, in the classroom setting. Lenton (1979) observed that teachers associated Indian children with negative attitudes, lack of career goals, low motivation, and poor performance.

Elliot and Wendling (1966) stated that 75% of academic failure among all students in high school is the result of poor study and examination habits. They also pointed out that 75% of students who drop out of school have the ability to do passing or even superior work.

The purposes of this study are to provide comparison data about the study habits and attitudes of native Indian students, and to consider the implications of these findings in addressing the problem of their high drop out rate. The authors believe that this problem is contextual and systemic: It is embedded in the educational process shared by students and schools, and therefore reflects the degree to which students persist in their educational pursuits as well as the degree to which schools are successful in retaining students. Confluent education, a systemic and holistic educational philosophy which aims at enhancing the school experience and promoting students' personal empowerment, is discussed as one possible educational approach to ameliorating this problem.

METHOD

Participants

Participants in this study consisted of 160 native Indian students enrolled in grades 7 to 12 at a reserve school in Manitoba, Canada. This school is locally controlled and students are members of the Plains Cree and Saulteaux tribes. The school follows the standard curriculum of the Department of Education of the Province of Manitoba, a curriculum primarily based on cognitive, sequential, and linear learning and not on the concept of affective growth such as in learning conflict resolution or improving self-worth. In 1985, the school district enrolled 635 students from kindergarten to grade 12. Native Indians made up 40% of the faculty. The sample consisted of 160 students in attendance on the testing dates: 71 % of the total enrollment of 226 students in grades 7 to 12. Daily attendance in these grades averaged 72% of the total enrollment. Participants included 96 students in grades 7 to 9 (64 girls and 32 boys) and 64 students in grades 10 to 12 (32 girls and 32 boys).

Instrument and Procedure

The Survey of Study Habits and Attitudes (SSHA), Form H (Brown & Holtzman, 1967) measures a student's attitude toward teachers, his/her acceptance of education, his/her work methods, and his/her time management ability. It was administered by one of the authors to all students in grades 7 to 12 who were in attendance on the day of the examination. The SSHA is one of the most Popular study skills instruments, and its norms have been established on the basis of more than 11,000 students in 13 school systems. Relationships of the total score of the SSHA and grade point average range from a correlation of .46 in grade 12 to .55 in grade 7. Test-retest reliabilities over a 4-week interval range between .93 and .95.

Statistical Analysis

Means and Normative Percentile Ranks for the Sample by Grade Levels on the SSHA for each of the seven SSHA scales were computed comparing junior to senior high students. As well, Means and Normative Percentile Ranks on the SSHA for girls and boys by grade level groups were presented. Finally, SSHA scores for the sample were converted to percentile scores and compared with the normative data reported in the SSHA manual. There are seven scales on the SSHA, an instrument which is not culturally sensitive (and which limits, therefore, the validity of the test results), but which does reflect mainstream educational values:

1. Delay Avoidance--a measure of the degree to which a student is prompt in completing assignments and is efficient in time management (a concept perhaps more prized by non-Native urban and industrial society).

2. Work Methods--a measure of effective use of study skills.

3. Teacher Approval--a measure of student opinions about teacher classroom behavior and methods.

4. Educational Acceptance--a measure of student approval of educational objectives, practices, and requirements.

5. Study Habits--a combined score of the Delay Avoidance and Work Methods scales.

6. Study Attitudes--a combination of the scores of the Teacher Approval and Educational Acceptance scales.

7. Study Orientation--an overall measure of a student’s study habits and attitudes (The SSHA does not take into account important issues such as satisfactory conditions for home studying such as privacy, quiet, and proper light and heat).

RESULTS

Compared to the percentile norms found in the SSHA manual, Native junior high school boys recorded a study habits and attitudes (study orientation) score in the 15th percentile, a teacher approval and educational acceptance (study attitude) score in the 10th percentile, and an approval of educational objectives (educational acceptance) score in the 10th percentile (see Table 1). Native junior high boys did not appear to like teachers, school, or educational goals.

By contrast, Native senior high girls scored at average or slightly above average levels compared to the non-Native norms, with a score at the 60th percentile for work methods and 55th percentile for study orientation. They used study skills effectively and employed effective study habits and attitudes.

 

TABLE 1
Means and Normative Percentile Ranks on the SSHA for Girls and Boys by Grade Level Groups

 

7-9th Grade

10-12th Grade

 

Girls
(N=64)

Boys
(N=32)

Girls
(N=32)

Boys
(N=32)

Scales

M

%

M

%

M

%

M

%

Delay Avoidance

19.78

(40)

14.66

(20)

20.53

(50)

17.06

(40)

Work Methods

21.79

(50)

15.78

(30)

24.59

(60)

23.00

(50)

Study Habits

40.85

(45)

30.44

(25)

45.12

(55)

40.06

(45)

Teacher Approval

23.28

(30)

16.06

(15)

31.41

(55)

28.78

(50)

Education Acceptance

22.13

(25)

16.44

(10)

26.94

(45)

25.19

(40)

Study Attitudes

45.41

(30)

32.50

(10)

58.35

(55)

53.97

(45)

Study Orientation

86.26

(35)

62.94

(15)

103.47

(55)

94.03

(45)

 

In the Native sample of this study, approval of school objectives (Educational Acceptance) and opinions about teacher classroom behavior and methods (Teacher Approval) were generally less positive than non-Native students. One exception to this finding was the Native high school girls who were comfortable with teachers and educational goals. Native high school girls appear to find schools more "user friendly", thus indicating that schools may incorporate more feminine activities that fit their needs. There were large differences in the percentile ranks between the scores of the junior and senior high Native students, with the former scoring a study habits and attitudes (study orientation) score at the 25th percentile and the latter at the 45th percentile. Senior high school Native students were generally more accepting of school teachers and procedures.

The biggest difference between junior and senior high scores in the Native students was in teacher approval (junior high at the 25th percentile, and senior high at the 45th percentile), and educational acceptance (junior high at the 20th percentile and senior high at the 45th percentile).

A comparison of the means of the Native girls and boys scores of the SSHA scales showed that the girls scored significantly higher than the boys did (p < .05) on all seven scales of the SSHA (see Table 2), possibly indicating that school is a feminine activity.

 

TABLE 2
Means, Standard Deviations and t Tests Comparing Girls and Boys
on the SSHA and the Teaching Rating Scales

 

Girls
N=%

Boys
N=64

 

Scales

M

SD

M

SD

t value

Prob lev

Delay Avoidance

20.03

8.97

15.86

5.26

3.70

.000

Work Methods

22.71

8.08

19.39

7.41

2.88

.008

Study Habits

42.74

15.61

35.25

10.64

2.68

.001

Teacher Approval

25.99

10.38

22.42

9.43

2.25

.026

Education Acceptance

23.73

9.12

20.81

7.42

2.22

.028

Study Attitudes

49.72

18.11

43.23

15.85

2.34

.021

Study Orientation

92.46

32.01

78.48

24.51

3.19

.002

 

DISCUSSION

Previous literature has suggested that the high drop out rate of Native students may be at least partially attributed to poor study habits, poor teacher-student relations, and schools' lack of emphasis on personal and cultural relevance. In this study, the low educational acceptance scores, especially for junior high Native boys, may suggest that their felt needs are not being met in contemporary schools, and therefore their attitudes toward studying may be poor. Students face issues of power, control, sexuality, self-worth, peer approval and societal acceptance, issues not currently focused on by the contemporary school curriculum which stresses cognitive and academic excellence in a sequential, time-pressured setting. Native student attitudes about personal relationships and relevancy of subject matter, rather than concern for specific study habits, may be key factors in addressing the problem of Native students' high drop out rate. More specifically, the data also suggest that negative attitudes about school may be more prevalent in junior high and particularly among junior high boys. Although this finding could be interpreted to mean that attitudes improve through further schooling, it could also indicate that students (and especially boys) with negative attitudes about school, drop out before reaching senior high. How then, as researchers and educators, can we address the problem of these students' high drop out rate?

We believe that confluent education (e.g., Brown, 1971; Brown, Yeomans, & Grizzard, 1975; Brown, Phillips, & Shapiro, 1976; Shapiro, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987) holds promise as an educational philosophy and curriculum which addresses Native student issues such as identity, self-worth, interpersonal relationships, and societal pressures and which may contribute to lower Native student attrition rates. Confluent education, as a subset and refinement of certain aspects of humanistic psychology and education, is a holistic philosophy which emphasizes personal and societal relevance, self-determination, creative learning processes, and the integration of cognition, affect, and responsible action (Shapiro, 1983). Confluent education is also systemic in orientation: Students are not viewed as objects to be molded into predetermined forms; rather, students and teachers work together in what one hopes is a mutually empowering learning experience.

While formal achievement such as the learning of specific subject areas is still highly valued, confluent education also recognizes that educating the whole person in all of his or her facets encompasses intrapersonal, interpersonal, and societal development (Brown et al., 1976). In pursuit of these ideals, confluent education values the participation of learners in deciding what and how to learn through experiential and integrative means. The use of peer group mentoring, symbolic and allegorical teaching tales, and cooperative group exercises revolving around real life issues contributes to a context where students are empowered and challenged according to their own individual developmental stages and learning styles. For example, teaching a unit on racism could include asking students to "fantasize entering a room full of persons of a race different from their own and then to share what they experience in the fantasy" (Brown et al., 1976, p. 18). In this way, students may become more aware of societal ramifications and their own personal attitudes, feelings, and behaviors related to a personally and culturally relevant issue. Additionally, group membership and morale may be strengthened (Shapiro, 1986) as a teacher becomes more the facilitator than lecturer and as students become more comfortable and adept at creatively drawing on their own personal experiences in setting up learning agendas and working collectively with others in the class. This approach may ameliorate the native students' generally lower educational acceptance scores by focusing on their real and immediate affective needs within the context of issues that are salient to the students' lives.

In surveying research studies on the effects of confluent education in the schools, Brown et al. (1976) and Shapiro (1983) suggested that it usually "appears to improve classroom climate, interpersonal relations, and attitudes toward learning" (Brown et al., 1976, p. 23) with "inconclusive cognitive effects" (Shapiro, 1983, p. 89). Cognitive gains were not measurably different than for those students taught by other means, leading Brown et al. (1976) to suggest that "formal achievement is not sacrificed for gains in other areas" (p. 23). These are important findings: Critics of affective and meaning-oriented education (such as confluent education) often suggest that if education focuses on "real life" issues, and shares power with the students in determining how to study these issues, then formal cognitive learning will suffer. Clearly, this has not been the case; just as clearly, retaining students through giving them a relevant education will facilitate more long-term formal cognitive gains than will creating an educational context which is boring, impersonal and dehumanizing and which contributes to a student dropping out.

Perhaps obviously, confluent education should not be viewed as a panacea for addressing issues which Native students face. Shapiro (1983) stated that education must pay "much more attention to the economic, political, historical, and organizational factors that profoundly influence individuals" (p. 93). Further research, perhaps including qualitative and interdisciplinary approaches, must address these and other factors such as possible gender differences in attrition rates. Most importantly, systemic educational changes such as those described do not mean changing students while keeping the school system static, but rather facilitating growth in both individual students and the school (and the community, and the local and national political structures). Persistence and retention are the two sides of the same coin; study habits and attitudes are nothing less than a reflection of the core values inherent in and imparted by school systems and the communities in which they exist. In spite of these caveats, confluent education's strengths may hold some promise in facilitating more meaningful and personally relevant education, and thus contribute to a lower drop out rate among Native students, especially for Native males who scored lower than Native females on all scales of the SSHA.

Dr. Graham Hurlburt is currently a travelling professor with the Brandon University Northern Teacher Education Program. He has published extensively in the areas of Native Education, vocational interests, and study habits and attitudes of Native high school students.

Dr. Randy Kroeker is a Counsellor/Assistant Professor with Student Counselling Services at the University of Winnipeg. His most recent research has focused on using confluent education to promote social responsibility and social change.

Dr. Eldon Gade is a Professor of Counseling in the Department of Counseling at the University of North Dakota. Now in his 30th year at this position, he has focused his research in recent years on Native vocational and educational interests, and on the personality characteristics of alcohol abusers among minority groups.

REFERENCES

Brown, G. I. (1971). Human teaching for human learning: An introduction to confluent education. New York: Viking.

Brown, G. I., Yeomans, T., & Grizzard, L. (Eds.). (1975). The live classroom. New York: Viking.

Brown, G. I., Phillips, M., & Shapiro, S. B. (1976). Getting it all together: Confluent Education. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.

Brown, W. & Holtzman, W. (1967). Manual: Survey of Study Habits and Attitudes. New York: Psychological Corp.

Coladarci, T. (1983). High school drop out among Native Americans. Journal of American Indian Education, 23(l), 15-22.

Elliot, D. & Wendling, A. (1966). Capable dropouts and the social milieu of the high school. Journal of Educational Research, 60, 180-186.

Lee, L. (1983). Frontier school division students and post-secondary education: A study of accessibility. Winnipeg: Planning & Research Branch, Frontier School Division, p. 4.

Lemon, S. D. (1979). The education of Indian children: Long Plains, Dakota Plains, Dakota Tipi Indians, Manitoba, 1965-1979. Manitoba: Queen’s Printers.

Ludwig, J. (1984). Career education and native Canadian students: Issues, strategies and programs. The Manitoba Counsellor, Fall, 20-37.

More, A. J. (1984). Quality of native Indian students in Canada: A review of research. Paper presented to the Mokakit Indian Education Research Conference, London, Ontario.

Sealey, B. D. (1980). The education of native peoples in Manitoba. University of Manitoba Monographs in Education, Spring, 53-73.

Shapiro, S. B. (1983). Confluent education: Paradigm lost? Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 23(2), 85-96.

Shapiro, S. B. (1985). An empirical analysis of operating values in humanistic education. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 25(l), 94-108.

Shapiro, S. B. (1986). Survey of basic instructional values in humanistic education. Journal of Humanistic Education and Development, 24(4), 144-158.

Shapiro, S. B. (1987). The instructional values of humanistic educators: An expanded, empirical analysis. Journal of Humanistic Education and Development, 25(3), 155-170.

 
 
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