January 23, 2007 Features

American Indian Stories Enrich Intervention

Students from Washington State University (WSU) are integrating the oral storytelling tradition—one of the richest cultural resources in American Indian culture—with evidence-based practice to create an early intervention program for American Indian children with hearing impairment.

Storytelling has served as one of the primary means for passing on knowledge from one generation to the next in American Indian communities. Speech-language pathologists seeking tools to bridge home and school cultures for American Indian students will find a rich intervention resource in the traditional stories of tribal nations.

Using an EBP Approach

Implementation of evidence-based practice (EBP), as advocated by ASHA (Evidence-Based Practice in Communication Disorders [Position Statement]), has three components—use of the best available empirical evidence, consideration of client values, and clinical expertise. This project focused on the first two components.

The first concern was whether scientific evidence supports a storytelling-based early intervention program for children with hearing impairment. Indeed, research indicates that early speech and language intervention for children with hearing impairment was critical (Yoshinaga-Itano, 1998); that an auditory-oral approach contributed significantly to speech and language gains (Geers, 2002); and that use of storybooks with a focus on phonemic awareness, vocabulary, and overall language development made a difference in later reading skills acquired by children at risk for language/reading disorders (National Reading Panel, 2000). This finding was particularly important for the target group, as children with hearing impairment have, historically, not reached their full potential in reading development (Holden-Pitt & Diaz, 1998).

EBP also emphasizes client values, recommending that clinicians select intervention practices responsive to the cultural and linguistic background of the children and families served. For American Indians, this principle is also supported by the 2004 Presidential Executive Order directing practitioners to carry out the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 "in a manner that is consistent with tribal traditions, languages, and cultures" (p. 1). American Indian story units provided an educational tool that met EBP guidelines for responsiveness to client values and empirical evidence.

University Students Take the Lead

Undergraduate students in WSU's Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences developed the American Indian story units as part of their Senior Seminar, a capstone course designed to integrate content from across the undergraduate curriculum. In spring 2006, Senior Seminar students participated in the development of a new service for children with hearing impairment at the WSU Speech and Hearing Clinic—the Oral Language Enrichment Program (OLE!). This program was developed to meet a local need for services focused on the development of auditory-oral language skills by children whose hearing aid amplification and/or cochlear implants allowed them auditory access to spoken language. Children from the Skokomish Nation in Washington State (with both normal and impaired hearing) would be participating in OLE! The students set out to create intervention materials and applications based on components of the children's cultural background—Skokomish stories.

Michael Pavel, a Skokomish Tradition Bearer, provided students with background information on the use of stories in the traditional education process. Each student team then selected one of the Skokomish stories from The Indian Reading Series, such as "Raven Helps the Indians" or "Why the Codfish Has a Red Face." Based on the story, students developed goals and objectives appropriate for intervention with children with hearing impairment. They identified key vocabulary, and developed pre-story, during-story, and post-story activities to address specific auditory, speech, language, and literacy skills. They also created materials such as stick puppets, hand puppets, or flannel board figures to facilitate retelling of the stories by the children. The stories were printed in black and white, so the students added a variety of colors to make the books more visually appealing, then laminated and bound them. To extend the impact of their project, students made two extra copies of all of the materials—donating one to the WSU Clearinghouse on Native Teaching and Learning (http://education.wsu.edu/nativeclearinghouse/) and presenting the second to the Skokomish Nation Head Start.

Promoting Student Outcomes

The American Indian story units were developed as part of a university-funded project (WSU Office of Undergraduate Education Teaching and Learning Grant) designed to promote undergraduate student outcomes in the areas of critical thinking and understanding of self as a member of a culturally diverse society. Exploration of the stories gave students the opportunity to examine their own values, goals, and perspectives, and to consider similarities and differences in relation to the depicted world views. Students explored cultural variations on a philosophical level through discussion and a learning journal, as well as on a very concrete and practical level when constructing the story units. Students also were required to share their projects with a broader audience, and the American Indian story units were showcased at the Washington State Indian Education Association Conference. American Indian educators responded with enthusiasm to the efforts to bring culture into the therapeutic process.

Did the project make a difference for the Skokomish children involved? OLE! participant Kaid'dub Pavel went away from his experience saying for the first time, "I'm Skokomish," with his head held high and with obvious pride in his cultural identity.  

More information about the Native American Professional Preparation Program can be found at http://libarts.wsu.edu/speechhearing/.

Note: The terms Native American and American Indian are used here to refer to the original inhabitants of North America, including individuals enrolled in American Indian tribes or affiliated with Alaska Native villages.

Ella Inglebret, is an assistant professor and director of the Native American Personnel Preparation Program in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at Washington State University. Contact her at einglebret@wsu.edu.

Desirae Bear Eagle, is a graduate student in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at Washington State University. She is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. Her research interests relate to language assessment for American Indian children.

D. Michael Pavel, (CHiXapKaid) is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling Psychology at Washington State University, as well as a Tradition Bearer of Southern Puget Salish traditional culture and an enrolled member of the Skokomish Nation.

cite as: Inglebret, E. , Bear Eagle, D.  & Pavel, D. M. (2007, January 23). American Indian Stories Enrich Intervention. The ASHA Leader.

American Indian Stories

The preservation of traditional stories is a priority for tribal nations. Stories, as one of many components in the communication process, lie at the core of cultural identity. Each tribe has its own unique stories that communicate its identity, creation, and guiding values. Stories are used to teach children to make sense of the world around them and to get along with one another. Reflecting a view that all things in life are interconnected, many stories are told through the elements of the natural environment—animals, plants, and the forces of water, wind, fire, and earth. These stories often carry a message of the importance of caring for Mother Earth.

Historically, tribal stories were passed down orally by the elders, who served as "wisdom keepers" for their tribes. Only in recent times have some stories been written down. Many stories, such as family stories, still exist only through the oral tradition. It may be appropriate for only certain members of a tribe to tell particular stories, or the storyteller may need to ask for permission to share a specific story. Some stories may be told only in connection with certain places and times of the year. Therefore, it is important to consult with the tribal culture coordinator, elders, or Tradition Bearers to ensure that storytelling is approached in a culturally responsive and respectful manner.

In the 1970s, representatives from 12 Northwest Indian Nations envisioned their stories integrated into school curricula, and worked with the Northwest Regional Education Laboratory (NWREL) to develop The Indian Reading Series: Stories and Legends from the Northwest. This series of 140 stories, written and illustrated by tribal members, was originally available in print form, and is now available in a downloadable version through the NWREL Web site, www.nwrel.org. These stories served as the starting point for the development of the American Indian story units described here.


Geers, A. E. (2002). Factors affecting the development of speech, language, and literacy in children with early cochlear implantation. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 33, 172–183.

Holden-Pitts, L., & Diaz, J. A. (1998). Thirty years of the annual survey of deaf and hard-of-hearing children & youth: A glance over the decades. American Annals of the Deaf, 142, 72–76.

National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. U.S. Department of Health and Social Services, NIH Pub. No. 00-4769.

Yoshinaga-Itano, C., Sedey, A. L., Coulter, D. K., & Mehl., A. L. (1998). Language of early- and later-identified children with hearing loss. Pediatrics, 102, 1161–1171. 


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