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Project 1.6
The Sociocultural Context of Hawaiian Language Revival and Learning

Integrated Summary

Project Description

The purpose of this project is to examine the genesis, development, educational practices and outcomes of Papahana Kaiapuni, the Hawaiian Language Immersion Program. The project aims to describe the program’s inception and development and its academic and social outcomes in order to assist other Native American communities who are interested in implementing an indigenous language immersion program for language revival and school reform. In comparison to national norms, Native Hawaiian students are among the lowest scoring minorities on standardized achievement tests. They are also under-represented in higher education and over-represented in special education. Thus, in addition to seeking to preserve and maintain a threatened indigenous language, Kaiapuni is an educational initiative that aims to increase the academic achievement of Hawaiian students.

Kaiapuni is an early total language immersion program. That is, beginning in kindergarten, instruction is conducted exclusively in the Hawaiian language, as a means of teaching this second language. For most students in this public K-12 school program, English or Hawaiian Creole English is their first language. In Kaiapuni classrooms, as in other second language immersion programs, the target language is used as the medium of instruction rather than as the focus of instruction. Immersion education is based on the premise that students can learn a second language in a manner that is similar to the way they learned their first language–incidentally, as it is used for meaningful communication (Genesee, 1996).

Kaiapuni is administered by the Hawai‘i State Department of Education (DOE). For the 1997-1998 school year, over 1,300 students and 85 teachers participated in the program at 15 sites on five of the eight major Hawaiian Islands. Although most of the sites also house a "regular" English language program, there are two sites designated exclusively for the immersion program.

Program evaluations indicate that the English language achievement of Kaiapuni students is comparable to peers in non-immersion classrooms, while students are also acquiring the Hawaiian language (Slaughter, 1993; 1997). One of the goals of this project is to discover how and why such an ambitious and unique reform effort has been so successful, amidst strong bureaucratic resistance.

Kaiapuni is a major effort of the Hawaiian community to revive the Hawaiian language. Prior to the program’s implementation in 1987, some estimated that there were only 30 Hawaiian speakers under 18 years of age (Dunford, 1991). According to language experts, the viability of a language can be gauged by the number and age of its speakers (Krauss, 1996; Reedy, 1982). According to these numbers, the Hawaiian language in the early 1980s was significantly "at risk" for language extinction.

Following the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, a formal policy was implemented in the territory which banned the Hawaiian language from use in all governmental activities, including public education. Prior to this time, most adult Hawaiians and many others who settled in Hawai‘i were considered literate in the Hawaiian language (Kloss, 1977). Similar to other Native Americans and their experiences in school, many native speakers of Hawaiian recall being punished in school for speaking their first language. Fortunately, there were a number of contexts in which the language continued to be used. For example, a number of churches continued to hold services in Hawaiian, and Hawaiian was also spoken privately within some households (Huebner, 1985).

In 1986, the formal restrictions on the Hawaiian language were lifted by a state constitutional convention, that established Hawaiian and English as the two official languages of the State (Hawai‘i State Constitution, Article XV-4; HRS 1-13). This lifting of restrictions coincided with what has been called a "Hawaiian renaissance," or renewal in pride and interest in the Hawaiian culture and language. Policy to lift the ban of Hawaiian from classrooms followed. In 1987, Papahana Kaiapuni was established by the DOE as an attempt to revive the Hawaiian language.

In order to thoroughly document critical milestones in the development of this program, the different perspectives of many of the individuals who were instrumental in developing the program are being sought. To accomplish this, extensive, semi-structured interviews with teachers, administrators, students and family members are being carried out. In 1996-1997 and 1997-1998, a study of the program’s history was conducted by interviewing people who were involved in its early development and by conducting an analysis of selected Board of Education (BOE) and DOE documents. The ten interviewees for this historical study were nominated by the DOE Hawaiian immersion program specialist, C. Puanani Wilhelm. Two hundred and seven documents BOE and DOE documents were also collected and analyzed. In addition, two extensive literature reviews were conducted. The first involved a review of the literature on other indigenous language immersion programs in order to compare Kaiapuni with other similar educational programs and to place the program within a larger context of indigenous language and cultural revival. The second literature review focused on the Kaiapuni program itself and involved collecting different kinds of documents including unpublished papers, newspaper and newsletter articles, and Kaiapuni program evaluations.

In 1997-1998, the project focused on assessing the multiple perspectives of various stakeholder groups who are currently involved in the program, and this focus continues through 1999-2000. In 1997-1998 and 1998-1999, 27 teachers and five principals were interviewed by the principal investigator and two graduate student researchers. (Three additional teachers are currently being interviewed, so that teachers from every Kaiapuni school will eventually be represented in the sample.) Each 1 1/2 hour interview was audiotaped and later transcribed for analysis. Interviews focused on participants’ roles in the program, their reasons for being involved, and their perspectives on the programs’ goals and challenges (see Appendix for the interview questions). Potential interviewees were identified through contacts in the schools. In some cases, focus group discussions were conducted instead of individual interviews, when interviewees included three or teachers at the same school. Results from the educators interviews will be presented in April, 1999 to the Special Interest Group on Bilingual Education at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (Yamauchi, Ceppi, & Lau-Smith, 1999). The target audience for this presentation includes researchers, teacher educators, and policy makers who are interested in bilingual education. The results will also be written as a research article and as a CREDE report.

Adding to our study of teacher perspectives on the program, this project also includes classroom research conducted by immersion teachers. Since 1998, five teachers at one of the Kaiapuni sites, have been meeting with the principal investigator and a graduate student researcher, who is also a parent of a student in the lead class at the school. These teacher research projects include a study of family involvement through family language classes and a study of the effects of various literacy practices in a third grade immersion classroom. These classroom research projects will assist in documenting effective practices in immersion classrooms.

Finally, in order to examine the program’s impact on students and their families, 40 students and 40 family members will be interviewed in 1998-1999 and 1999-2000. The participants in this study have been nominated by teachers, principals, and other program contacts. This will be the first in-depth study of participation by Kaiapuni students and their families, regarding their roles in the program and the ways the program has impacted their lives. The study will also examine students’ achievement and their beliefs about themselves, their schooling, and their language learning. Given the strong and consistent involvement by Kaiapuni parents in the program’s inception and development, these results will be particularly helpful in understanding the role of successful family involvement in language programs for minority students.

Relation to the Plan of Work

There have been some modifications to this project in relation to its description in the Plan of Work. First, the Plan places the project in Program 5, Integrated Reform; however, in 1997, CREDE moved this project to Program 1 in order to be able to compare the outcomes and practices of second language immersion education to that of other second language models. The Plan of Work also describes this project’s theoretical foundation as based on Brofenbrenner’s ecological perspective. However, the project’s theoretical perspective is rooted in sociocultural theory, rather than Brofenbrenner’s theory. The project description in the Plan of Work was based on an earlier draft of the project description, which was inadvertently included in the Plan.

Originally, the Plan of Work called for semi-structured interviews with 15 teachers. However, the project researchers decided to double the sample size in order to increase representation of more teachers and of all 15 Kaiapuni sites. This has led to a delay in completing the teacher interviews. The Plan of Work specifies that teacher interviews were to be conducted in 1997-1998. Although the majority of the interviews were conducted that year, the last three teacher interviews will be conducted by December, 1998, and data analysis will not be completed until March 1999. Consequently, the technical report of preliminary findings of the educator interviews (Deliverable for 1997-1998) will not be submitted until June, 1999.

Finally, the Plan of Work did not include the classroom research conducted by immersion teachers. This aspect of the project was added to better document classroom practices.

Relation to Program 1 Themes.

The current project is part of Program 1: Language Learning and Academic Achievement. Program 1 is unified by the following three themes:

1. Diverse educational programs for linguistically diverse students.

2. Programmatic features and instructional strategies that facilitate the acquisition of English for academic purposes among LEP students so that they can benefit fully from instruction through English.

3. Professional development for teaching linguistically diverse students.

This project contributes to our understanding of Program 1’s first theme. Kaiapuni is the only K-12 immersion program in the world that uses Hawaiian as the target language. Our research contributes to Program 1’s agenda by providing a unique example of indigenous immersion education. The effects of this model can be contrasted with those of other bilingual education models included in Program 1 projects. Although most Kaiapuni students are not second language English learners, most students speak a non-standard variety of English, Hawaiian Creole English, as their first language. The majority of Kaiapuni students are also members of a minority group (Hawaiian) that is significantly at-risk for academic failure and face similar challenges to those observed among second language English learners. In addition, there are many misconceptions about foreign/second language immersion for English language learners. This project will assist our understanding of the goals, practices, and outcomes this educational model.

Documentation of the Kaiapuni program is also important because many other indigenous communities are considering indigenous language immersion education for native language revitalization. These communities need assistance in deciding whether immersion education is a feasible alternative given their communities’ goals and particular situations. This project will provide information to these communities about what is needed and the potential outcomes, including effects on student achievement, academic motivation, and family involvement in their children’s education.

Integration of the Sociocultural Theoretical Perspective.

In the Plan of Work, CREDE stated that all Center projects would be unified by a common theoretical perspective. The Center proposed to conduct its work from a sociocultural theoretical perspective that highlights the three planes of analysis described by Rogoff (1995). The sociocultural perspective has its historical roots in Vygotsky’s theory of development. According to Vygotsky (1978), all psychological phenomena originates through interpersonal interactions. Thus, the social and cultural context is crucial to understanding how students learn (and why they may have failed to do so). The current project is based on a sociocultural perspective in that it seeks to understand the beliefs, values, and other perspectives of various Kaiapuni stakeholders and how these perspectives have influenced program development. One of our primary goals is to understand Kaiapuni’s development over the last 11 years. To achieve this, project researchers are interviewing different stakeholders about their participation in various Kaiapuni activities. Interviews focus on how participation in the program has influenced individuals’ ideas and beliefs. This information will enhance our understanding of the effects of more specific language program practices on outcomes such as students’ academic motivation, achievement, and self concept and minority family members’ involvement in their children’s education. This can assist policy makers and educators in their planning of effective language programs for minority and second-language learners.

Rogoff (1995) suggests that one implication of sociocultural theory is that there are three planes of analysis that researchers can bring to the foreground of their investigations. These three planes are: (a) the personal or individual plane, which has been the focus of much traditional research in psychology; (b) the interpersonal plane, which highlights the interactions between two or more people; and (c) the community/institutional plane, which focuses on the activities and values of groups of people across time (this plane also includes a historical dimension).

While all CREDE projects highlight at least one of the planes of analysis, this project focuses on all three. The personal plane becomes important when we analyze the beliefs, values, and actions of the individuals we interview, and the development of individual student competencies. The interpersonal plane is highlighted in our analysis of teacher-student and student-family interactions and how they influence both individual and program development. (This plane is particularly important for our work in the Teacher Study Group activities.) Finally, we focused on the community/institutional plane in Year 1, through our analysis of the historical and political influences on Kaiapuni’s initiation and early program development.

Relation to CREDE ’s Unifying Themes.

In addition to a common sociocultural theoretical orientation, CREDE projects are united in addressing five generic principles for effective education. These five principles are:

1. Facilitate learning through joint productive activity among teachers and students.

2. Develop competence in the language and literacy of instruction throughout all instructional activities.

3. Contextualize teaching and curriculum in the experiences and skills of home and community.

4. Challenge students toward cognitive complexity.

5. Engage students through dialogue, especially the instructional conversation.

The current project focuses on Principles 2 and 3. Second language immersion education is based on the premise that students can learn a second language incidentally, through its use as the medium of instruction. The goals of the Kaiapuni program include competency in both Hawaiian and English languages. Students are expected to develop literacy skills through their participation in all instructional experiences (Principle 2).

One of the challenges of an indigenous language immersion program is the development of appropriate curriculum in the target language. Much of materials in Kaiapuni classrooms are Hawaiian translations of text that were originally in English. Currently, many Kaiapuni educators are rethinking this approach to curriculum development and working toward developing a culturally appropriate curriculum that originates in the Hawaiian language. In this way, much of the current developments in Kaiapuni curriculum is focused on Principle 3: contextualizing teaching and curriculum in the Hawaiian community and traditions. This project’s documentation these efforts will provide a model for other educators and policy makers who are interested in cultural contextualization. Project activities will also provide documentation of the effects of cultural contextualization on student motivation, achievement, and family involvement.


The emergent findings from this project come primarily from our historical analysis of the events that led to the initiation and early development of the Kaiapuni program. The results of the historical study have been presented in a number of formats and to different audiences. They appeared in two journal articles targeting policy makers, teachers, and teacher educators (Yamauchi & Ceppi, 1998; Yamauchi, Ceppi, & Lau-Smith, 1999b) and in two CREDE reports (Yamauchi & Ceppi, 1997; Yamauchi, Ceppi, & Lau-Smith, 1998b). The results were also disseminated through four presentations by project researchers. Presentations were made at three conferences, two aimed at researchers and teacher educators (Yamauchi & Ceppi, 1997; Yamauchi, Ceppi, & Lau-Smith, 1998a) and one aimed at Pacific Island educators (Rutherford, Yamauchi, & Ceppi, 1998). A presentation was also made at a research colloquium in Hawai‘i (Yamauchi, 1998).

In brief, results of the historical study indicated that many of educational problems facing Native Hawaiians are similar to those of other Native American groups. For example, Hawaiians, like other Native Americans, are significantly at-risk for educational failure and dropping out of school. Kaiapuni program evaluations suggest that compared to English program peers, students perform at a comparable level with regard to English language achievement, while also learning Hawaiian as a second language. In addition, students report positive attitudes about their culture and their developing bilingualism. These outcomes suggest that other indigenous and minority groups may be able to improve education for their children through a second language immersion program

Hawaiians are also very similar to other Native Americans with regard to their native language. Krauss (1996) conceptualized four stages of language endangerment. The majority (72%) of indigenous languages spoken in the United States and Canada fall into the least healthy stages of survival. Before the initiation of the Hawaiian immersion program, the Hawaiian language was considered seriously at-risk. However, 11 years after its initiation, the program has significantly reduced this threat. Other indigenous people may want to implement an indigenous language immersion program for language preservation and maintenance.

Historically, the Kaiapuni program can be traced to the resurgence of interest in the Hawaiian culture and language that originated during the 1970s. Initiation of the program was also closely linked to the political activities of parents and language activists who founded a private Hawaiian medium preschool. Many who were involved at a grassroots level view the program as a way to perpetuate the Hawaiian language and culture. Family involvement in the program continues to be very strong. Parent groups are organized at every site and representatives from these families also participate in policy making through their membership on a statewide advisory board. The program has had a positive impact on family members’ educational endeavors. Many Kaiapuni family members attend language and culture classes associated with the program. Involvement in the program has also prompted some family members to pursue higher education. These results have implications for other communities wanting to implement an indigenous immersion program. An indigenous immersion program provides a number of ways to encourage involvement among families of minority groups who may have felt alienated from schools. Families can be involved through organizations at both the school and broader policy making levels. Immersion education can also promote family education for minorities, who have not traditionally done well in school.


Contribution to increasing knowledge of practice and theory. This project contributes much to our understanding of indigenous total language immersion education as an educational model for language revitalization and minority education. This project will assist other indigenous people whose native language is threatened with language extinction. A language immersion program is one way a native community can take proactive steps to revitalize its language. Documentation of Kaiapuni's successes and challenges can be helpful to other indigenous groups who choose language immersion education for language revitalization.

The project will also contribute to our understanding of foreign/second language immersion for English language learning. Second language immersion is often misunderstood as an educational model for English language learners. Documentation of the Kaiapuni's program development, practices, and outcomes can be helpful to policy makers and educators interested in the goals, practices, and outcomes of this educational model.

Finally, this project contributes to understanding parental activism and involvement in public education. Many may find it incredible that a relatively small group of parent’s could effectively lobby a state BOE to initiate such a revolutionary program. The project will assist in understanding the circumstances that allowed this to come about.

Benefits for the work in relation to cost. The budget for this project is modest, considering its goals. Documentation of the program will be accomplished with a relatively small staff, primarily paid by the hour. Personnel costs are also minimized because the principal investigator is able to devote half of her time to this project, at the minimal cost of replacing her teaching assignment with lecturers (rather than a percentage of her salary). Teacher research projects are being conducted as part of the teachers’ graduate degree requirements. As such, these activities are conducted at a minimal cost. Recently, the principal investigators recruited two graduate student researchers who will conduct their dissertation research on topics related to the project. One dissertation is a study of the literacy activities in Kaiapuni classrooms. The other is a policy analysis of the Kaiapuni program. The graduate student researchers have agreed to include their research in the project activities, without compensation for their time. These kinds of cooperative arrangements expand the scope of the project, while minimizing costs.

Connections to other CREDE programs. This project also relates to Program 5: Integrated Reform. In particular, we focus on the third theme in that program: Contexualized School Reform: Latino, Native-American, African American, Hawaiian, and Appalachian settings. Indigenous language immersion education will be compared to other reform efforts studied by Program 5 researchers. In addition, cooperation with Program 5 researchers promotes communication with the two other CREDE projects that focus on Native Americans.


The activities of this project have the potential for impact both locally and nationally. The DOE immersion specialist agreed that this project can assist Kaiapuni itself, as a means of self-reflection and dissemination of ideas and perspectives within the program. Project researchers are also discussing the possibility of assisting the Kaiapuni program in developing a series of documents that describe the program and its theoretical foundation for interested parents, teachers, and community members (including the media).

The project will impact the community of other indigenous peoples in the U.S. and elsewhere, who are interested in indigenous language immersion as a means of revitalizing a native language. One of the major products of this work is a monograph that summarizes the project findings for practitioners and others interested in Kaiapuni’s developments over the last 11 years. Project researchers attended conferences targeting indigenous educators and focusing on language revitalization for the purpose of planning how to best present this material to educators in indigenous communities.

Next Steps

Currently, project researchers are continuing to conduct our interviews with educators in the program and are analyzing this data for a publication and conference presentation in Spring 1999. Researchers are also beginning to contact students and parents to be interviewed this year and in 1999-2000. Teachers who will be conducting classroom research are meeting with the principal investigator to plan and implement their projects. Project researchers are also continuing to study the needs of indigenous communities in order to plan for dissemination activities.

The project recently moved its program affiliation from Program 5 to Program 1. Researchers are continuing to shape their efforts so that they better coordinate with other Program 1 activities. Recently, project researchers collaborated with Program 1 researchers in developing a publication that will assist educators and policy makers in considering the array of alternatives in bilingual education. Project researchers will continue discussions with other Program 1 researchers to plan for other potential projects around which they can collaborate.


Dunford, B. (1991, December). Language and heritage: A controversial language immersion program in Hawai‘i is preserving the native culture. Executive Education, 38-39.

Genesee, F. (1996). Second language immersion programs. In H. Goebl, P. H. Nelde, Z. Stary, & W. Wolck (Eds.) Contact linguistics: An international handbook of contemporary research (pp. 493-502). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Huebner, T. (1985). Language education policy in Hawai‘i: Two case studies and some current issues. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 56, 29-49.

Kloss, H. (1977). The American bilingual tradition. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Krauss, M. (1996). Status of Native American language endangerment. In G. Cantoni (Ed.), Stabilizing Indigenous languages (pp. 16 - 21). Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University.

Reedy, T. M (1982, December). Fostering the growth of indigenous languages. Paper presented at the meeting of the Indigenous Peoples International Conference, Honolulu, HI.

Rogoff, B. (1995). Observing sociocultural activity on three planes: Participatory appropriation, guided participation, apprenticeship. In J. V. Wertsch, P. del Rio, &A. Alvarez (Eds.), Sociocultural Studies of Mind. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Slaughter, H. (1993). Learning to read English outside the school: Patterns of first language literacy acquisition of Hawaiian language immersion students. Educational Perspectives: Journal of the College of Education University of Hawai‘i Mänoa, 28, 9-17.

Slaughter, H. (1997). Indigenous Language Immersion In Hawai‘i: A case study of Kula Kaiapuni Hawai‘i, and effort to save the indigenous language of Hawai‘i. In R. K. Johnson & M. Swain, (Eds.), Immersion education: International perspectives (pp. 105-129). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Yamauchi, L. A. (1998, November). Research from the National Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence (CREDE): Sociohistorical influences on the Hawaiian immersion program. Presentation for the College of Education colloquium series, Honolulu, HI.

Yamauchi, L., & Ceppi, A. K. (1997a, March). The Sociocultural Context of Hawaiian Language Revival and Learning. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL.

Yamauchi, L. A., & Ceppi, A. K. (1997b). Indigenous Language Loss and Revitalization: A Review of Language Immersion Programs and a Focus on Hawai‘i. Technical report submitted to the Center for Research on Education, Diversity, & Excellence. Santa Cruz, CA.

Yamauchi, L. A., & Ceppi, A. K. (1998). A review of indigenous language immersion programs and a focus on Hawai‘i. Equity and Excellence in Education, 31, 11-20.

Yamauchi, L. A., Ceppi, A. K., & Lau-Smith, J. (1998a, April). A Sociohistorical Analysis of the Hawaiian Language Immersion Program. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA.

Yamauchi, L. A., Ceppi, A. K., & Lau-Smith, J. (1998b). Sociohistorical Influences on the Development of Papahana Kaiapuni, the Hawaiian Language Immersion Program. Technical report submitted to the Center for Research on Education, Diversity, & Excellence. Santa Cruz, CA.

Yamauchi, L. A., Ceppi, A. K., & Lau-Smith, J. (1999a, April). On the Threshold of Language Revitalization: Educator Perspectives on the Hawaiian Language Immersion Program. Paper accepted for presentation at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Montreal.

Yamauchi, L. A., Ceppi, A. K., & Lau-Smith, J. (1999b). Sociohistorical influences on the development of Papahana Kaiapuni, the Hawaiian language immersion program. Journal of Education for Students Placed At-Risk, 41, 25-44.

Rutherford, W. B., Yamauchi, L. A., & Ceppi, A. K. (1998, August). Five Standards for Effective Practice. Workshop presentation at the annual meeting of the Pacific Resources for Education and Learning (PREL), Kapa‘a, HI.


Interview Questions

1. Would you state your name and spell it for us?

2. If you don’t mind, would you tell us your age?

3. What is your ethnicity? (If multiple, is there one that you particularly identify with?)

4. Where did you grow up?

5. Do you speak Hawaiian?

a. If yes, when and how did you learn the language? And from whom?

b. In what contexts do you use the language?

6. You were named as someone who would have a unique perspective on the development of the Hawaiian Immersion program. Could you describe your role in the program’s development?

7. Are you still involved in the program? In what capacity?

8. What were your goals or reasons for getting involved in the program?

a. In what ways are the program goals similar to or different from your own goals for the program? (Show list of program goals.)

9. What have you learned about the program since you have been (or were) involved in it?

a. How, if at all, have your feelings about the program changed over this time?

10. We are interested in documenting the history of the program. What do you think led to the creation and development of the program?

11. Who are some of the people that you think were instrumental in getting the program started and developing it to where it is today?

12. What do you think are the most successful program outcomes so far? In other words, what has the program been able to do best?

13. What do you see as the most difficult challenges of the program?

a. How do you think the program can move to overcome these challenges?

14. From your perspective where and when in the curriculum do you think the English language should be introduced and used? Why?

15. In what ways, if any, do you think the program influences students and their families when they are outside of the school setting?

16. In what ways, if at all, do you think the program influences how Hawaiian students in the program think about themselves as Hawaiians?

17. In what ways, if at all, do think the program is important for people who are not of Hawaiian ancestry?

18. In what ways, if at all, do you think the program is important for people who are not Hawaiian speakers?

19. How supportive do you think the general public is of the program?

20. What advice do you have for other Native American communities who are considering developing an indigenous immersion program?

21. What are important points for such communities to consider in making a decision to start an immersion program?

22. Are there any other comments that you would like to make regarding your perspective on the program’s history and development?

23. Are there other people that you recommend that we talk to about these issues?