Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Earl H. Cheek, Jr


The purpose of this ethnographic research was to begin the process of identifying the literacy characteristics of Navajo readers and writers. The study replicates aspects of the research project, Home Environmental Characteristics of Successful Navajo Readers, by Dr. David Hartle-Schutte (1988). Home and school discontinuities were investigated in a traditional Navajo environment to determine literacy development (Cazden, Courtney, 1982). Ethnographic data collection consisted of six months of participant observations in two sixth grade classrooms. Structured interviews were used to gather information from teachers, students and parents about the school and community literacy characteristics. A researcher designed instrument was used to survey parents. Field notes were taken and emerging themes were analyzed to triangulate the data. Two key Navajo informants provided assistance with the language and with sensitive community issues. School records were reviewed to determine tribal membership, socioeconomic levels of parents, attendance patterns, behavioral patterns and standardized test scores. A reflective journal was kept that was used to record impressions of the emic observer. Photographs and videos were used as secondary reporting sources. This study was conducted at Small Tree, Arizona on the Navajo reservation. The classrooms consisted of one Navajo female teacher, one Anglo male teacher and twenty Navajo, Hopi and Anglo children ranging in age from eleven to thirteen years. There were eleven girls and nine boys represented. The findings of this study are unique. First, this study offers an emic (within culture) view of how Navajo children in a traditional reservation acquire literacy skills. The researcher lived and interacted daily with the children and teachers. Secondly, this study suggests that Navajo children in Small Tree achieve literacy in unique and varying ways. No home environment was the same. However, those homes that fostered literate environments through valuing reading and writing activities produced more successful readers and writers as determined by traditional academic standards. Authentic assessment procedures were also used to document students' writing performance. Finally, the study suggests that sociocultural issues directly affected the literacy development of students. Cultural dissonance created home, school, and community tensions that increased student ineffectiveness and decreased teacher effectiveness.