How do I make my classroom a Lakota Stories classroom?

Tip #1: Use the language. Certain words lend themselves to being said in Lakota rather than in English, including color words, number words, animal and plant names, words that pertain to Lakota beliefs and customs, and so on.  For these salient words, use the Lakota and the English name at least once each day until it becomes clear that all students know that Lakota word.  From thereon, use the Lakota  word only.

Tip #2: When coming up with examples and illustrations to concepts, use the Lakota culture and history. Many times each day, there is an opportunity to use an object or place in illustrating an academic concept through example.  I found that in my own experience, it was tempting to choose the example that would elicit the most laughs.  (In my first year as a third grade teacher, there was much talk of toilets and robots.)  Then I got some experience under my belt.  It sounds trivial, but the more buffalo or tatanka served as the exemplar animal, Bear Butte as the exemplar South Dakota destination, and Crazy Horse as the exemplar historical figure, the more comfortable my students felt expressing themselves culturally.  I found that when I spoke of toilets and robots, my students followed suit, and the classroom was not a place for them to have a cultural identity.  As soon as I began showing my own interest in the Lakota culture by bringing it up casually throughout the day, I discovered that, indeed, every single student had a cultural identity.  Given the questionable historical legacy of Indian education in the United States, it is crucial, as I learned, for the classroom to be friendly to cultural expression.

Tip #3: Don’t be afraid to mispronounce a word. If Lakota is not your first language, or even if it is, you might say a word that sounds different from the way a student has heard the word at home.  I was laughed at the first time I tried to speak Lakota, and didn’t try again for months!  I eventually explained to my students that Lakota was not my first language, but that I was trying to learn it.  I will definitely mispronounce a word, I told them, but I won’t laugh if you try to say a hard word in English and don’t quite get it the first time.  Then, we talked about what they could do to nicely correct me if I consistently mispronounced a word.  My students came up with several good options: (1) Raise your hand and correct me, (2) Drop a note in the Note Jar on my desk, or (3) Tell me after class, at lunch, or on the playground.  Although at first, I was worried that trying to speak Lakota words and failing would undermine my authority in the classroom, it became clear that seeing my persistence (in spite of initial difficulty) was inspiring to my students, some of whom were struggling English speakers and readers.

Tip #4: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you teach at a school with a high Lakota population, you will undoubtedly encounter co-workers and parents with specific views on cultural beliefs and practices.  If you’re a native Lakota speaker, it can be helpful to ask for other perspectives.  If you’re not a native Lakota speaker, you’ll find that talking to fluent speakers is infinitely more helpful than, say, reading about the Lakota culture and language online.   The Lakota language is highly nuanced.  Many words have multiple meanings, or carry erroneous meanings due to their having been appropriated by the church, 19th century European traders, etc.  If you’re not sure about something, ask.

I am not fluent in Lakota…. Should I teach students Lakota words with their accents?

In the Lakota language, many letters have accents that assist with pronunciation.  As a former teacher of Lakota third-graders, I learned much from a Lakota language speaker who taught my students basic words and sentences.  Her philosophy was that at the younger grades, students should learn to speak the language without worrying about writing accents.  (There are at least 29 of them.)  Students would learn to write more accurately (with accents) at later grades.

This, of course, is only one philosophy on teaching the Lakota language, based upon only one person’s experience.  If you would like to include accents when you teach Lakota words, please do.  After all, the whole point of having accents is to assist with pronunciation.  Also, note that different dialects sometimes use different spellings and accents.  I cross-referenced spellings and accents whenever possible, drawing from my notes from meetings with elders, The New Lakota Dictionary, Buechel’s Lakota-English dictionary, and Every-Day Lakota: An English-Sioux Dictionary for Beginners.  When sources contradicted each other, I attempted to follow the spelling and accent patterns explained by the elders I met with.

Why is the Lakota Stories project so dependent on technology?

Many lessons in the Lakota Stories unit plans assume that the teacher has access to a laptop computer and an LCD projector.  If you would like to use the unit plans but do not have a projector, a print-out of the website material used as a handout usually suffices.

However, teaching with an LCD projector has three important advantages.   First, it minimizes the amount of paper that is used.  If students are made aware that using the LCD projector saves trees, this in itself promotes the Lakota ethic of environmental-consciousness.

Second, kids like technology.  It is easy to tune out a textbook if the format and presentation of material is repetitive.  (And it often is.)  Using different websites to teach content brings novelty into the classroom every single day.  And, with an LCD projector hooked up to the internet, it is easy to switch between text, video, and interactive activities.

Third, since it is up to each school to purchase its own curricular materials, making liberal use of an LCD projector and the internet for teaching science and social studies content makes it easy for teachers from different schools to collaborate and share lessons.  If the Lakota Stories project depended upon teachers having access to a certain textbook series, this would leave many teachers behind.  Textbooks, after all, are expensive!  Most of the materials that this project makes use of are made freely available for educational purposes.

What if I don’t have an LCD projector?

If you do not have and cannot borrow an LCD projector, a print-out of the website material used as a handout usually suffices.  However, there is an excellent website called Donors Choose (www.donorschoose.org) which matches teachers with donors who want their dollars to go directly to classrooms.  If you create an account and ask for a LCD projector, explaining that the Lakota Stories curriculum assumes that classroom teachers have access to a projector, it is likely that your request will be funded.  (It worked for me!)

Shouldn’t there be unit assessments or tests at the end of each unit?

Yes, there should be, if you’re looking for information about whether your students remember the content of the Day 2 objective on Day 15.  But you have to write those yourself.  Unit tests would look very different for a 3rd grader and for a 5th grader, and while it’s possible to have a lesson that can be adapted to 3rd grade, 4th grade, or 5th grade, unit tests should be written by someone who is intimately familiar with his or her students’ reading level, background knowledge, etc.   I don’t know your students as well as you do.

Is this a scripted curriculum?

Heck, no!  There is absolutely no need to read every word in italics.  When I would write lesson plans for myself, I’d write out everything that I wanted to say, and the act of writing a script for myself—even if I didn’t read it—helped me teach effective lessons that covered all the bases.  So, this is just my style of lesson planning. You surely have a unique style.  Please make my words your own!

Who are you?

I’m Jen.  I used to teach third grade on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.  Currently, I’m a graduate student, but this project has nothing to do with my program.  I just miss teaching.

Where did you get your information?

Remember Tip #4: Don’t be afraid to ask for help?  I ask a lot of questions.  Most of the cultural knowledge found in these units comes from friends and former co-workers whose first language is Lakota.

Are there going to be units for the older grades?

Hopefully!  Want to help out?  Contact [email protected]

What if I find something in one of the units that I think is wrong?

Don’t teach it!  And please leave a comment on the unit page.  Your concerns will be addressed as soon as possible.

This website rocks!  How can I thank you?

Share your thoughts on the units!  Many teachers, especially new ones, find it useful to reflect on their teaching practices in a journal or on a blog.  If you teach a Lakota Stories lesson, help out fellow teachers by leaving a comment on the home page of the unit.  Say what works, what didn’t work, how long an activity took, etc.  Thank YOU!