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Research Base

The educational experiences of Native Hawaiian children and other minority children are often marked by incongruity and conflict between the school culture and family/community/ethnic culture, making school less relevant and engaging for them. PALS draws from several bodies of scholarship and research in constructing a more engaging, culturally responsive approach to curriculum called a Place-based, Cultural Projects (PBCP) approach. In taking up a Place-based, Cultural Projects curriculum, PALS draws from a number of important areas of research on culturally responsive teaching, place-based and project learning, and the development of assets in children's lives.


Culturally Responsive Teaching

Best practices among successful teachers of Native Hawaiian students are culturally responsive drawing upon children's lives (Meyer, 1998), communicative styles and learning strengths, (Au, 1980, Au & Mason, 1981, 1983; Vogt, Jordan & Tharpe, 1987) and identity affiliations (Reed, 2001). The place-based, cultural-project approach (PBCP) used in PALS situates learning in what is significant to children within culturally responsive pedagogies. This approach begins with children's lives and communities, using place or the environment as the integrating context across disciplines and doing so with an awareness of children's cultural learning strengths and needs. Place-based learning itself is particularly culturally responsive in this context as such an approach is often connected to the environment. Hawaiian culture evolved in close relationship with the 'āina or land and with island geography (Kame'eleihiwa, 1992; Kana'iaupuni, Malone, and Ishibashi, 2005). Thus, indigenous Hawaiian scholars emphasize the particular significance of place and identity (Kame'eleihiwa, 1992; Kana'iaupuni & Malone, 2006) arguing that indigenous knowledge systems view people and place as overlapping and interacting and that people carry the energy of place as part of their being (Memmott and Long, 2002). Given the deep and spiritual connection of 'ohana (family) and 'āina (land, or 'that which feeds us') in Hawaiian culture and epistemology, the land and the community become a natural starting point for curriculum. The expertise of the küpuna (elders) is a critical link within this learning process (Kana'iaupuni, 2005). 'Ike 'Aina, a form of place-based learning (Ho'omanawanui, 2009) can be seen as an approach to, "cultivating culturally based literacy learning" (p. 1) for Hawaiian and non-native children alike.


Place-Based, Project-Based Learning

One of the most promising curricular theories and practices in recent research and scholarship has been that of place-based curriculum (Gruenewald, 2003; 2008; Smith, 2002; Yamauchi, 2003; Yamauchi, Wyatt & Taum, 2005). A hallmark of place-based learning is that the curriculum adapts to the unique characteristics of particular communities, thus overcoming the incongruence between school and children's lives (Smith, 2002) and uses the natural and cultural history of the community as the foundation for the curriculum. Place-based learning draws from a long history of research on the positive impact of project-based approaches in general. In reviewing the literature on active, inquiry-based approaches Barron & Darling-Hammond (2008) maintain that, studies that, "students learn more deeply when they can apply classroom-gathered knowledge to real-world problems, and when they take part in projects that require sustained engagement and collaboration" and that, "active-learning practices have a more significant impact on student performance than any other variable, including student background and prior achievement" (The Take Away Section).


Thomas'(2000) review of the research on project-based learning approaches indicate that such approaches demonstrate marked increases in student achievement on standardized assessments while other studies reviewed by Smith demonstrated that project-based approaches resulted in greater conceptual gains in math, enhanced problem-solving skills, metacognitive strategies, and enhanced attitudes towards learning, and increased motivation in students in third, fifth, and tenth grade students who were identified as having low motivation.


Developing Assets in Children's Lives

The concept of wrap around support has gained important traction in educational research and scholarship as projects like the Harlem Children's Zone (Tough, 2008) and The Developmental Asset Framework (Benson, 2006) have found their way into federal grants such as the Promise Neighborhood Grants Program. It's clear from this work that comprehensive strategies and broad, community-based efforts to are needed to successfully impact and transform the social contexts in which children grow and develop and that it takes collective attempts to work on the behalf of children and toward the goal of boosting academic achievement and school success.


In developing a broad-based, community effort to provide support for children across multiple contexts within their lives, PALS draws from the research that explores the ecologies that promote health and success in young people (e.g. Anderman, Urder, & Roeser, 2005; Barber, 2005; Barber, Stone, & Eccles, 2005; McNeely, 2005) and that focuses on the development of assets within these ecological contexts. PALS uses a Developmental Asset approach (Benson, 2006) which is aimed at "transforming the developmental contexts in which young people are embedded" (Benson, 2006, p.10) through the intentional and sustained development and delivery of a framework of assets connected to healthy behaviors in children and adolescents. This framework of assets is divided into external and internal assets and is the result of a synthesis of more than eight hundred studies related to the kinds of assets important for children's healthy development (Benson, 2006; Scales & Leffert, 2004). Longitudinal and large-scale research demonstrates that the more assets children have in their lives, the greater the likelihood that they will avoid high risk behavior (alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, vandalism, violence, school problems, etc.) and the more likely they are to engage in positive behaviors that lead to engagement in school, increased academic achievement, leadership, and maintaining good health (Search Institute, 2003, p. 81). PALS leverages school-based and community-based resources in order to organize and deliver a set of experiences that increases the number of assets a child experiences. Assets such as positive relationships with 3 or more adults, service to community, engagement with the arts, music, and regular participation in physical activities and other after-school clubs are organizations are just a few of the assets delivered through participation in PALS.


Brain-Based Research and The Arts

Research on the brain and learning points to the connections to brain development, contexts for optimal learning, academic capacity and the arts. For instance, Jenson (2001, 2005, 2010) synthesizes research on the brain and learning in order to develop new ways of thinking about optimal teaching and learning. He maintains that in order for children to thrive in schools and learn at an optimal level, they must have a well-developed academic operating system which includes among other parts, ability to defer gratification and make sustained effort to meet long-term goals, attentional skills that enable the student to engage, focus, and disengage as needed, and short-term and working memory capacity. Out of the kinds of experiences that actually improve this system, experiences within the arts have been shown to have a consistently positive impact. Jenson (2010) maintains that a good arts program physically changes the brain and this is supported by neuroscientists who have studied the impact of participation in the arts, particularly in music, on the brain. For instance, learning how to play an instrument actually changes brain mass and can drive cortical plasticity – or changes in the brain in a very short amount of time (Hyde et al. 2009; Moreno, et. al 2009). PALS draws theoretically and empirically from research on the brain, learning, and the arts to increase the quantity and quality of opportunities for children to participate in the arts, music, sports, and other creative activities both in and out of school.

University of Hawai'i at Manoa

Student Equity, Excellence & Diversity (SEED)

2600 Campus Rd., QLSSC 413

Honolulu, HI 96822

PALS (Place-based After-school Literacy Support)