Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A Paradigm Shift pt.1 - Motivations

In the discussion on how we support Aboriginal students, our first Paradigm Shift is in how we understand their motivations to study.

When we understand that one of the most significant motivators to return to Year 11 & 12 is closely tied to the contribution they wish to make to their Community, our whole teaching design and language of success changes!

I find it interesting when our Indigenous students struggle at school but apologize for bad behaviour always say they want to carry on at school to 'make a difference' in their community!

It is this motivation which appears to be greater for Indigenous students than that of non-Indigenous students.

No matter what we may think would be a successful outcome for a kid, when we celebrate their achievements as they work closer to their motivations to study we begin to see a difference for the way students are supported!

What motivations have you noticed in your students? I hope to continue this discussion in future posts!

Monday, 11 July 2011

A Paradigm Shift

In our school we haved a strong number of students completing younger years (Years 8-10) thanks to a great team and a strong Accelerated Literacy program.
But, until recently, despite these strengths we continued to see high levels of student non-completions and low retention rates in Years 11 & 12.  We were facing:
  • Significantly low retention rates
  • Low attendance
  • Low numbers of students graduating and
  • Extremely low numbers of students transitioning into meaningful work post Year 12
Before 2009 the number of Indigenous students leaving Year 9 and graduating from Year 12 was 2.2% of the class.We had to consider the possibility that the barriers to successful outcomes for Indigenous Students were embedded in our model of education for Years 11 & 12, given that these issues were specific to the Senior years and not Middle school classes for Aboriginal students (our ‘L’ Classes). More to the point, we had to consider if the barrier lay with us, the educators.
Over the coming posts I will examine the aspects of change necessary to not just accommodate Indigenous students in the class, but to transform their experience in Senior School so that they experience the benefits of schooling for their real lives!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Race and Intelligence: Science's Last Taboo

If you haven't already seen this documentary it's worth checking out! It viewed on SBS 2 recently and parts are available on youtube.
In this documentary,  Race and Intelligence: Science's Last Taboo, Rageh Omaar sets out to find out the truth, meeting scientists who believe the research supports the view that races can be differentiated as well as those who vehemently oppose this view. By daring to ask the difficult questions, Omaar is able to explode the myths about race and IQ and reveal what he thinks are important lessons for society.

My Reflection:
Noel Pearson has a profound warning "Beware the soft bigotry of low expectations”. For me it begins when I plan my Literacy lessons...what do I really expect Indigenous students to be able to understand in each activity and is it at a high enough level for them? I constantly have to check to see if my activities 'dumbed down' or do they help every student engage their understandings, challenge them and give them opportunity to respond at a high level of understanding?
At this point we need to consider the cross-cultural difference in communicating these understandings, not cofuse them with intellect! While the Indigenous students may struggle to write to the same level of the Mainstream students, they are able to bring a high level of analysis and communication..we just need to allow for them to express it in their own way!

We watched this video in our Indigenous Education section as a reminder of how subtle it can be to draw a conclusion about other culture's abilities or understandings. We need to check ourselves - how do we subtly change the activities because of our expectations of the students? While it was a controversial release, it achieves an amazing result by getting us to ask ourselves the hard questions.

So the challenge is to keep the expectations for our students high and yet still allow for culturally appropriate forms in our assessment; otherwise we fundamentally prepare them for an unfair view of their intelligence!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Closing the Gap in Year 12

This graph is a map of success in how we are Closing the Gap in Education! It plots the percentage of Indigenous students at our school who have entered Senior School through to graduation. Our graph has a noticeable jump in 2009 - the year we introduced the Close the Circle model!

Now compare it to a similar graph from the Australian Government

The Government is right when they say there is a considerable gap in both attainment and attendance in Senior School between Indigenous and Mainstream students.But the results can change when we change our own models of education - not like the recommendation that: 'to halve the gap by 2020, Indigenous year 12 completion rates (or equivalent) would need to increase by up to 2 percentage points each year.' (Close the Gap)

Close the circle on Indigenous Education and you Close the Gap!

Moving from 'Pre-empter' to Listener

If you were to summarise the change you have needed to make in order to work more effectively with Indigenous students what would it be?

My Reflection:
I had a wonderful conversation with my friend Rachel from Menzies this weekend and the word 'pre-empter' hit me the most as to what barriers we have in working as a Non-Indigenous educator. How often have we, as Westerners, been listening to someone and indicated while they were speaking that we have something to add...just today alone I think I have lost count!
We are prone to preempting those giving us knowledge with our ideas & opinions - while our students are not and this can be the cause of a major cross-cultural barrier!

Western culture and learning is largely built around Verbal Interaction while the Indigenous way is to through  Observation, Participation & Imitation. We like to talk through our learning - often at the same time as each other - while our Indigenous students will Wait, Watch and Respond Slowly.

Basket Weaving is beautiful example of this - out in the remote communities young girls will follow older ladies to the right plants, correct roots to make dyes and observe as they prepare & weave beautiful baskets from Pandanus trees...all without explicit instructions...and they are expected to apply that knowledge successfully. It takes a skill and value to learn that way, something our students bring into our teacher-directed classrooms!

So, the first challenge in my teaching day is to slow down my response time and allow space for students to respond according to how they learn.I try to remember that my impatience while waiting for answers is my culture of learning at work, not necessarily the right one at that time!

How will you cater for the learning styles of others & across cultures? I suggest moving from being a 'Pre-empter' to a 'Listener'!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Creating Community in Class

Originally posted by

Two of our students - Baykali Gunumbarr and Wakara Gondarra (Elcho Island Dancers) performed at Adam Hill's "Not a Proppa Aborigine" exhibition at the Mosman Art Gallery in October 2010 (Sydney Australia) before joining us here in Darwin. It's worth watching as they also perform the Chooky Dancer's Chooky Dancer's incredibly popular version of Zorba the Greek Yolngu style, from having personally danced in that group.

If you can, take a minute to see our school's version here!!

These young men are from a very remote island community who have had the insight and creativity to blend traditional Yolngu and Greek dancing styles into their own unique style.

My Reflection:
While many of our students have incredible talents, we don't often seem them display it (because of 'shame')  but these videos are a wonderful way to unlock their sense of humour and confidence! When I showed this in class today (with Baykali) the whole atmosphere changed - from a serious quiet to cheering and dancing, from embarrasment to confidence and openness! Aboriginal students are deeply relational so we often use pictures, videos and music of the their activities to create a fun, sharing atmosphere - what a wonderful way to create a strong sense of community in our classes!

What do your students relate to? What ways unlock confidence and create a fun atmosphere for your Indigenous students?

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Two Pairs of Shoes: Indigenous student's experiences

Originally posted by Apple Green Amy

So, if you were going to study in another country, a foreign culture, a different language and be expected to meet all expectations there, how well do you think you would do?

We like to think of it this way: our students have two pairs of shoes - those they wear in their community and those they wear when they come onto our campus.
The picture of the shoes helps me remember that our students are not only here to learn new knowledge and skills, but that they come to us with a wealth of learning and experience already; and that they happily swap shoes to live a different experience when they go home!

In thinking about the further reaching effects of our cross cultural teaching I like McGivney's point on this - that while the Aboriginal students we have are here for educational progress towards a formal qualification, albeit a desirable outcome, is not necessarily the most important benefit of learning: we need to think about how their experience with us will have a far more reaching benefit to individuals, families and communities all across the NT.

So, when they struggle to follow the timetable, to re-write things in their own words, to understand the speaker on the stage or behave differently outside of school we need to remember that they wear different shoes - they are in a foreign culture, language and set of standards; and what they need is support for their motivation, cross cultural experiences, through their barriers and to also celebrate their matter how different to ours!

Friday, 6 May 2011

8 Aboriginal Ways of Learning

The challenge in teaching for Indigenous learning styles begins with ourselves. How well we know our own perspectives and how we cater for others through our pedagogy is vital to the success of our student's understanding and future applications of the knowledge.

8 Ways is a fantastic site that not only documents Aboriginal Pedagogy but has useful resources which show ways this has been implemented by teachers around Australia. There are examples from a wide range of Key Learning Areas, from both Indigenous and Mainstream teachers.

'8 Ways' is built around the 8 Aboriginal Ways of Learning:

Tell a story. Make a plan. Think and do. Draw it. Take it outside. Try a new way. Watch first, then do. Share it with others
  1. We connect through the stories we share.
  2. We picture our pathways of knowledge.
  3. We see, think, act, make and share without words.
  4. We keep and share knowledge with art and objects.
  5. We work with lessons from land and nature.
  6. We put different ideas together and create new knowledge.
  7. We work from wholes to parts, watching and then doing.
  8. We bring new knowledge home to help our mob.
I always begin planning a unit with this in mind: how explicit am I being with the personal and wider narrative? How much do include applications for the students and family connections? How much will this connect with real life purposes and contexts?

In our Circle model we meet students from communities and we hear their stories for the future; we then teach the content so it connects back to their real story; as they leave the program and use their skills & new knowledge for their community life - the Circle closes!

It's worth exploring 8 Ways and discover how you could implement it - it's one of my favourite 'bookmarks'!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Impacts on Indigenous Students

Can't see the video? Watch it here:

Have you ever thought about the difference in life our students face? There are many impacts on learning that are easy to overlook because we focus on our own experience.

This video by Menzies has been playing on TV over the last few months and is a refreshing take on the statistics we normally read in reports.

It was Erik Jensen who identified these three primary reasons for lack of student motivation:
  1. Negative experiences
  2. Environmental factors
  3. Student's relationship with the future
When you get a minute, check out the video and then think about what challenges your students may be facing!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Two Cultures, Two Journeys

Two roads originally posted by Matt Lew and Peter Visontay

My friend Matt Davis introduced me to the concept of Two Roads, inspired by Little Fish in Alice Springs. Check out their site - it has some fantastic graphical tools for communicating cross culturally!

On the left the freeway represents a very Western way of traveling: focused on the end goal, high speed to get there, not stopping along the way unless necessary. This way isn't done with others unless it suits the driver and achieves the end result.
On the right, the bush track represents the journey many of our Indigenous students are on: they will reach the end goal but along the way are many impacts on the travelers. The road pulls you to the left and to the right, there are beautiful views to stop at and wait, there are others with you and they may be setting the pace or even the route.

We need to remember there are many factors influencing our Indigenous students that we might not face - cultural obligations, community & family expectations, funerals and health issues, carer roles and even the unresolved issues that lead to 'payback' which are happening back in their communities.

If our model does not effectively cater for Sorry Business, hunting trips, ceremonies and family expectations we are fundamentally preparing them for the wrong thing - an unsuccessful assessment of their education.
But, when we have the grace to accept their journey may be different to ours, we are able to adapt to support our students through all the impacts on their journey as well as celebrate their arrival at the end!

I made this image my laptop wallpaper as a daily reminder of this - even though I work with Indigenous students every day it's still so easy to lose sight of the difference!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Twelve Ways to implement Aboriginal processes in schools

Tonight I'm reading the Aboriginal Pedagogies at the Cultural Interface Report by Tyson Yunkaporta, Aboriginal Education Consultant, in Western NSW Region Schools.

I'm so excited to read though the 12 recommendations to implement Aboriginal processes in schools as it confirms much of what our 'Closing the Circle' stands for and achieves! At least 10 of them make up the  foundations of the Circle model of education in our senior school!!
Not only is our model built around deep understandings of Aboriginal pedagogy but it has already begun to improve outcomes for our Indigenous learners!

What do you think of these 12 ways? Which ones are you doing - I'd love to hear about your model!
Which ones stand out to you and which of them challenge you?

Stages of Competence in Aboriginal Pedagogy:
Teacher uses Aboriginal learning processes to…
Foster pride and confidence in Aboriginal intellectual capacity
Find common links between mainstream practice and Aboriginal ways
Help students understand aspects of mainstream content
Indigenise the learning environment
Indigenise/contextualise curriculum content
Inform behaviour management approaches
Change paradigms in and out of the classroom
Inform approaches to Aboriginal cultural content
Inform the structure of lessons, units and courses
Increase the intellectual rigor of learning activities
Inform understandings/innovations of systems and processes
Implicitly ground all teaching and learning in Aboriginal ways of knowing

'Working Together'

'Working Together' is a series of 5 Cross Cultural training resources I developed in 2009. These are designed for teachers new to the NT who are looking to develop their understanding of how to work effectively as a Non-Indigenous person in Indigenous Ed.

'Working Together' slides include real life examples of what you could expect in the class, tips from experienced teachers as well as general worldview & cultural awareness.

Topics include:
  • Non Verbal Communication
  • Eye Contact
  • Feeling ‘Shame’
  • Learning Styles
  • Cultural Relationships
  • Skin Groups
  • Promoting Understanding
  • Ways of Seeing Things
  • Two Worldviews
  • Our Different Approaches
  • Enjoying the Journey
  • Classroom Tips
If you are interested in the 'Working Together' series feel free to email me!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Don't Worry about Spelling

A Spoonful of Words - by Marsball

Before I start any Literacy class I always try to remember that I have a room full of kids who are already proficient in their own language/s! The difference is between how we use our Indigenous and English languages.

With this in mind I started an experiment in class about 18 months ago where I tell Indigenous students not to worry about spelling at all. What, but you are an ENGLISH teacher I hear you cry! True, and the Department of Ed reminds me of it everyday in the Learning & Assessment Plan for my unit!

I like to take a step back and remember: Indigenous people view things through the grid of relationship. Everything has a connection and a meaning. In our Western thinking the importance is placed on the action - how we execute the words is of most importance; not the relationship of how they are applied.

So I tried this - after years of helping by sitting and manually spelling out every second word to kids I finally told them that spelling doesn't matter - instead, i want them to 'have a go' and show me you can use your language and communicate with someone. I received many confused looks from Teacher Aides and students but they happily decided to try.
Within weeks I was receiving longer pieces of (incorrectly spelled) writing - their confidence to use their words was growing! Even the use of plurals, tense and structure had improved!

At the end of 2010 I received a perfectly written two page report from a student who had previously struggled to write a whole paragraph - spelled perfectly! The difference? By encouraging the networking of words for the purpose the students began to communicate more..and later on realise their spelling could be corrected using a number of online tools! This year I plan to explore this confidence & skills development relationship this blog space!

Supporting Low Attendance Rates

After this May Day long weekend, last week's Easter & ANZAC 5 Day break as well as a week of School Holidays I can truly say tomorrow we are back into it! Most of our Indigenous students have had a 3 week break, compare to the 1 week holiday for the rest of the school.
This is a common story - that Aboriginal students head home to remote communities for extended amounts of time (whole terms even) and it can be very confronting for teachers who work to a term planner & want their kids to meet all deadlines!

Low attendance rates (or literacy, for that matter) do not come from Aboriginal people being unable to complete schooling or learn, they are simply experiencing a different set of expectations and commitments to the one within which we teach.
If our model does not effectively cater for Sorry Business, hunting trips, ceremonies and family expectations we are fundamentally preparing them for the wrong thing - an unsuccessful assessment of their education.

In supporting Indigenous students through their journey to their NTCET we have to allow for their sense of timing, travel and commitments. Being a Non-Indigenous teacher in the Indigenous section at school requires a commitment to re-examine how we view success - and this can be especially challenging in terms of attendance.

So tomorrow as I head into school my challenge is: how do I work with the student who has arrived back after being away for 9 weeks unexplained?
How will I view those who have had an extended three-week holiday compared to those who came back in Week 1? With flexibility and grace to find a way, or through a punitive lens ("you'll never catch up mate, it's not worth it")?

TEDxDarwin 2011

I had my first meeting with the guys from TEDxDarwin last night!
I went pretty much happy to volunteer and hopefully get a place in the limited seating event (6 Aug 2011) but we got chatting and the opportunity came up to pitch my idea of Closing the Circle (well, they asked!).

I feel strangely scared for the first time about presenting the Circle idea as i'm realising how closely linked it is to what I'm passionate about. So far I've only presented this within the framework of those connected to what we do and TEDx has become an opportunity to pitch it beyond that - and who knows what the response will be?
So, this coming Saturday at 1pm is my time to present the idea in this space!