Supporting Indigenous children’s oral storytelling using a culturally referenced, developmentally based program


  • Meadow Schroeder University of Calgary
  • Erin Tourigny University of Calgary
  • Stan Bird University of Calgary
  • Jackie Ottmann First Nations University of Canada
  • Joan Jeary University of Calgary
  • Duane Mark Stoney Education Authority
  • Clarice Kootenay Stoney Education Authority
  • Susan A. Graham University of Calgary
  • Anne McKeough University of Calgary



storytelling, Indigenous learners, culturally-referenced instruction, cognitive scaffolding


Indigenous communities in Canada have struggled with systemic inequities that have affected education outcomes of their children. In collaboration with a Stoney Nakoda community in Western Canada, a university research team, composed of Indigenous and non-Indigenous members, offered an instruction program designed to use storytelling as a gateway to early literacy development. Indigenous researchers and collaborators guided program adaptation to increase its cultural relevance, and non-Indigenous researchers drew upon developmental research to tailor scaffolded instruction that supported increased story-structure complexity. A total of 100 children aged 5 to 7 years participated in an eight-month storytelling program, which included pre- and post-instruction assessments of storytelling and recall. After instruction, participants generated more complex, detailed stories that contained more references to their culture compared to same-age peers. They also more accurately recalled the gist of stories they were read. This study demonstrates the importance of making curricula relevant to Indigenous children by including content that is culturally relevant and developmentally appropriate.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Meadow Schroeder, University of Calgary

Meadow Schroeder holds a PhD in School Psychology and is an Associate Professor in the Werklund School of Education. She has held numerous leadership positions including the development and coordination of a First-Nations only school psychology master’s degree program.  Her research interests include the well-being of students with disabilities transitioning to post-secondary and self-regulated learning.  She is the past recipient of awards for teaching online and education leadership.

Erin Tourigny, University of Calgary

Erin Tourigny holds a MEd in Special Education from the Department of Educational Psychology, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. While enrolled in the Human Development and Learning PhD program, her research focused on storytelling as a bridge to early literacy development for Indigenous learners. Ms Tourigny has taught regular and special education and is currently a Principal with the Calgary Board of Education.

Stan Bird, University of Calgary

Stan Bird holds a PhD in Human Development and Learning from the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. His academic writing and presentations have focused on Indigenous narrative thought and the role of narrative in Indigenous students’ literacy learning. He is Anishinaabe and Nehiyawuk from Peguis First Nation, Manitoba, Canada. He divides his time between his community and Victoria, British Columbia where he works with Coast Salish, Nu-chul-nuth, and Kwak-waka-wak peoples.

Jackie Ottmann, First Nations University of Canada

Jackie Ottmann (Misiaykimigookpaypomoytung) is President of the First Nations University of Canada. Prior to this prestigious appointment, she was an educator, researcher, and administrator at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada and the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada. Her position as a leader in higher education is reflected in her appointment as current President of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education. Dr. Ottmann is Anishinaabe (Saulteaux), a speaker of the Nakawe language, and a member of the Fishing Lake First Nation in southern Saskatchewan.

Joan Jeary, University of Calgary

Joan Jeary has had extensive experience in all levels of public education. She was employed by the Calgary board of Education , initially as a Psychologist and then as a Principal. She also served as Deputy Superintendent in the Province of Alberta. Subsequently, Dr Jeary accepted an academic appointment in Applied Psychology, Faculty of Education, University of Calgary, where she taught graduate and undergraduate students, conducted research, and served as Director of Clinical Services for an on-campus clinic that provides psychology services to the community.  

Duane Mark, Stoney Education Authority

Duane Mark is a culture and language educator and public speaker. He resides in the community of Mîîthnî Mâkoché and speaks the Îethka Wîchasta language fluently. He holds a Diploma in Social Work from Mt Royal University and formerly worked with Îethka Wîchasta Child and Family. As a member of the Mîîthnî Mâkoché community school staff, he develops and implements culture and language curricula, which involves classroom-based learning as well as immersive land-based programming. He has worked with Elder Kootenay and others in revising published Îethka Wîchasta legends and developing the Stoney Vocab Builder.

Clarice Kootenay, Stoney Education Authority

Elder Clarice Kootenay resides in the community of Mîîthnî Mâkoché (formerly referred to as Morley) and speaks the Îethka Wîchasta language fluently. She is also widely recognised for her knowledge of Îethka Wîchasta history and cultural practices and has frequently been called upon as a public speaker. Elder Kootenay holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and has worked with others in revising published Îethka Wîchasta legends to make them more authentic and developing the Stoney Vocab Builder for use within schools and in the broader community.   

Susan A. Graham, University of Calgary

Susan A. Graham is the Director of the Owerko Centre for Neurodevelopment and Child Mental Health, Scientific Director for the Azrieli Accelerator, and a Professor in the Department of Psychology. As a clinical-developmental psychologist, her research focuses on understanding language and cognitive development during the infancy and preschool years and is funded by SSHRC and NSERC.

Anne McKeough, University of Calgary

Anne McKeough is Professor Emerita, Faculty of Education, University of Calgary. She has taught, researched, and published in the areas of developmental and educational psychology. Her work, which has been funded by local and national granting agencies, has focused on documenting children’s and youths' cognitive growth to inform the design and delivery of educational programming. This research program has contributed to an understanding of the role of storytelling in early literacy development when factors such as cultural forms of narrative thought, learners’ processing capacity and multimodal conceptual bridging are integrated within the teaching process.


Allen, J. W., & Lalonde, C. E. (2020). Representations of natural environments, recurring characters and ways of living with the land in children’s retellings of First Nations oral narratives. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 53, 50–63. j.ecresq.2020.01.005 DOI:

Amato, S. (2021, March 31). “Faulty and incomplete”: Treaty Six Chiefs, Alberta Métis demand UCP rewrite new curriculum. CTV News Edmonton.

Ball, J. (2012). Equity for Indigenous children in early childhood education. In J. Heyman & A. Cassola (Eds.), Lessons in educational equality: Successful approaches to intractable problems around the world (pp. 282–312). Oxford University Press. DOI:

Battiste, M. (2005). Indigenous knowledge: Foundations for First Nations. WINHEC: International Journal of Indigenous Education Scholarship, (1), 1–17.

Bird, S. (2014). Indigenous peoples’ life stories: Voices of ancient knowledge. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples, 10(4), 376–391. DOI:

Bruner, J. S. (1990). Acts of meaning. Harvard University Press.

Cajete, G. A. (2017). Children, myth and storytelling: An Indigenous perspective. Global Studies of Childhood, 7(2), 113–130. DOI:

Canada Council on Learning. (2007). State of learning in Canada: No time for complacency. Report on Learning in Canada 2007.

Case, R., & McKeough, A. (1990). Schooling and the development of central conceptual knowledge structures: An example from the domain of children’s narrative. International Journal of Education, 13(8), 835–855. DOI:

Chalmers, J. (2006). Ten years of Aboriginal Head Start in the NWT. Northwest Territories Aboriginal Head Start Program.!0%20year%20evaluation%20booklet.pdf

Davis, L. (1998). Teaching grade 1 story composition: A comparison of developmental and process approaches [Unpublished PhD thesis]. University of Calgary.

Dickinson, D. K., McCabe, A., & Essex, M. J. (2006). A window of opportunity we must open to all: The case for preschool with high-quality support for language and literacy. In D. K. Dickinson & S. B. Neuman (Eds.), Handbook of early literacy research (vol. 2, pp. 11–28). Guilford Press.

Drummond, D., & Rosenbluth, E. K. (2013). The debate on First Nations education funding: Mind the gap. Queen’s University Policy Studies. Working Paper 49, 1–22.

Elders Gathering. (2000). Look, listen, learn, and live [Unpublished manuscript]. Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre.

Fivush, R., & Haden, C.A. (2003). Autobiographical memory and the construction of a narrative self: Developmental and cultural perspectives. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. DOI:

Freeman, C., & Fox, M. A. (2005). Status and trends in the education of American Indians and Alaska Natives (NCES 2005-108). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

Greenwood, M., & de Leeuw, S. D. (2007). Teachings from the land: Indigenous people, our health. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 30(1), 48–53.

Halliday, M. A. K., & Hasan, R. (1976). Cohesion in English. English language series; no. 9. Longman.

Hare, J. (2011). “They tell me a story and there’s meaning behind that story”: Indigenous knowledge and young Indigenous children’s literacy meaning. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 12(4), 389–414. DOI:

Hudson, J. A., & Shapiro, L. R. (1991). From knowing to telling: The development of children’s scripts, stories, and personal narratives. In A. McCabe & C. Peterson (Eds.), Developing narrative structure (pp. 89–136). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Inglebret, E., Jones, C., & Pavel, D. M. (2008). Integrating American Indian/Alaska Native culture into shared storybook intervention. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 39(4), 521–527. DOI:

Kotaman, H., & Balcı, A. (2017). Impact of storybook type on kindergarteners’ storybook comprehension. Early Child Development and Care, 187(11), 1771–1781. DOI:

Loftus-Rattan, S. M., Mitchell, A. M., & Coyne, M. D. (2016). Direct vocabulary instruction in preschool: A comparison of extended instruction, embedded instruction, and incidental exposure. The Elementary School Journal, 116(3), 391–410. DOI:

MacDonald, C., & Steenbeek, A. (2015). The impact of colonization and western assimilation on health and wellbeing of Canadian Aboriginal people. International Journal of Regional and Local History, 10(1), 32–46. DOI:

Mark, D. (2007, June 9–11). Conducting research in Aboriginal communities: Perspectives on collaboration [Paper presentation]. Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network Conference, Calgary, AB.

Mayer, M. (1969). Frog, where are you? Dial Press.

Mayer, M., & Mayer, M. (1975). One frog too many. Dial Press.

McKeough, A., Bird, S., Tourigny, E., Romaine, A., Graham, S. A., Ottmann, J., & Jeary, J. (2008). Storytelling as a foundation to literacy development for Aboriginal children: Culturally and developmentally appropriate practices. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 49(2), 148–154. DOI:

McKeough, A., Case, R., Bereiter, C., Anderson, V., Adams, M., & Hirshberg, J. (1995). Story thinking. Open Court.

McKeough, A., Davis, L., Forgeron, N., Marini, A., & Fung, T. (2005). Improving story complexity and cohesion: A developmental approach to teaching story composition. Narrative Inquiry, 15, 241–266. DOI:

Menzies, C. R. (2001). Reflections on research with, for, and among Indigenous peoples. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 25, 19–36.

Naqvi, R., Thorne, K. J., Pfitscher, C. M., Nordstokke, D.W., & McKeough, A. (2013). Reading dual language books: Improving early literacy skills in linguistically diverse classrooms. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 11(1), 3–15. DOI:

Neeganagwedgin, E. (2013). A critical review of Aboriginal education in Canada: Eurocentric dominance impact and everyday denial. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 17(1), 15–31. DOI:

Nicolopoulou, A. (2008). The elementary forms of narrative coherence in young children’s storytelling. Narrative Inquiry, 18(2), 299–325. DOI:

Ottmann, J., Abel, J., Flynn, H., & Bird, J. (2007). A survey of the literature on Aboriginal language learning and teaching. Alberta Education.

Palmer, B. C., Harshbarger, S. J., & Koch, C. A. (2001). Storytelling as a constructivist model for developing language and literacy. Journal of Poetry Therapy, 14, 199–212. DOI:

Peltier, S. (2010). Facilitating language and literacy learning for students with Aboriginal English dialects. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 32(Supplement: Aboriginal Englishes and Education), 114–142, 155.

Rogoff, B., Coppens, A. D., Alcalá, L., Aceves-Azuara, I., Ruvalcaba, O., López, A., & Dayton, A. (2017). Noticing learners’ strengths through cultural research. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12(5), 876–888. DOI:

Saracho, O. N. (2017). Parents’ shared storybook reading – learning to read. Early Child Development and Care, 187(3–4), 554–567. DOI:

Scull, J. (2016). Effective literacy teaching for Indigenous students: Principles from evidence-based practices. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 39(1), 54–63.

Snow, J. (1977). These mountains are our sacred places: The story of the Stoney People. Samuel Stevens.

Statistics Canada. (2016). Census profile.

Strong, C. J., Mayer, M., & Mayer, M. (1998). The strong narrative assessment procedure. Thinking Publications.

Timmons, V., Walton, F., O’Keefe, A., Wagner, M., Gerg, B., & MacGillivray, T. (2006). A family literacy program for the Mi’kmaq community in Atlantic Canada: Final report. National Literacy Secretariat.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Calls to action. DOI:

Westby, C., Moore, C., & Roman, R. (2002). Reinventing the enemy’s language: Developing narratives in Native American children. Linguistics and Education, 13(2), 235–269. DOI:




How to Cite

Schroeder, M., Tourigny, E., Bird, S., Ottmann, J., Jeary, J., Mark, D., Kootenay, C., Graham, S., & McKeough, A. (2022). Supporting Indigenous children’s oral storytelling using a culturally referenced, developmentally based program . The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 51(2).