Case Study:

Jake’s Indigenous Games unit

Teacher: Jake
School: Sheoak Secondary
Learning Area: Health and Physical Education (HPE)
Year level: 9


Jake is an early career teacher who has been teaching Health and Physical Education (HPE) at Sheoak Secondary since graduating three years earlier. He is also the SAASTA Coordinator. SAASTA (the South Australian Aboriginal Secondary Training Academy) provides Aboriginal high school students with a sporting and educational program.

Sheoak Secondary is located about 25 kilometres north of Adelaide. The school serves a culturally diverse community, with over 40% of people speaking a language other than English in the home. These languages include Nepali, Italian, Vietnamese, Hazaraghi (spoken by the Hazara peoples of Afghanistan) and Khmer. The Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander population in this region is slightly lower than the state average. Socio-economically, the community is experiencing hard times, and unemployment is approximately double the state average.

In 2017, more than 800 students were enrolled at Sheoak Secondary. Almost half of these students were eligible for financial support through the state government’s School Card system. Approximately 10% of students at Sheoak Secondary were of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander heritage.

For his action research project, Jake decided to focus on his Year 9 HPE class. There were 21 students in the class: 12 males and 9 females. Four students were learning English as another language. Two students were of Aboriginal heritage. He described one of these students as a ‘chronic non-attender’.

The pedagogical challenge

Jake considered that one of his significant pedagogical challenges was to increase the level of student engagement and participation in his HPE practical lessons. In what he termed ‘traditional’ HPE lessons, the disengagement of some students was ‘alarming’. These students dreaded coming to class and would do anything to sit out and not participate. He decided to experiment with peer-to-peer teaching and have students lead or model the lesson, in order to move away from a traditional teacher-directed model.

Theoretical Basis

Jake’s approach drew on the Kaupapa Māori framework for culturally responsive pedagogy. This framework is based on five principles:

  • Power is shared
  • Culture counts
  • Learning is interactive and dialogic
  • Connectedness is fundamental to relations
  • There is common vision of excellence

Links to the five key ideas

  • view cultural difference as an asset
  • offer high intellectual challenge
  • promote multimodal sharing of learning

The action research question

How does peer teaching CRP positively influence the engagement and participation of students in a Health and Physical Education setting?

Doing the action research

To investigate this question, Jake decided to introduce a unit of work on Australian Indigenous games. Previously, he had collaborated with colleagues to develop an Australian Indigenous games unit for HPE teachers at Sheoak Secondary. The main reference point for this unit was the ‘Yulunga Games’ teacher resource.  After engaging with action research workshops and readings, Jake adapted this unit to integrate CRP principles, particularly the idea of sharing power with students.

This unit aimed to:

  • Encourage individual students to explore their culture and identity
  • Explore Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
  • Specifically focus ion the Kaurna culture, as this is local group and links to the school community.
  • Turn away from the traditional (teacher-driven) approach and allow the learning to be mainly student-driven through peer teaching.

The unit began by exploring the cultures represented within Jake’s culturally diverse classroom and the various games that the students and their families played. The focus then moved to Australian Indigenous games. The students learnt a range of Indigenous games, and explored their cultural significance, real-world purpose, and movements. 

For their main assessment activity, the students were randomly placed in groups or two or three. Each group worked together to research an Australian Indigenous game, practice the moves, and finally teach the game to the class.

Data collection included:

  • Teacher journal entries
  • Significant teaching moments: Photos, videos and observations
  • Evidence of student learning: Classwork and grades
  • Assignments: Peer teaching assessment task

Student outcomes

Jake’s main focus of data collection was Joel, a Narungga Aboriginal youth who he described as a talented sportsperson who was nevertheless disengaged and unmotivated during HPE lessons. Jake didn’t really expect much from Joel and reported that his behaviour was often a major distraction in class and on the sports field.  He would often walk off from class or refuse to complete any form of written work. However, as soon as Jake told the class about the Indigenous Games unit, Joel’s attitude and behaviour changed—he was actually excited to be in class! He stood up in front of the class and explained the Australian Aboriginal language map, showing the Narungga region, and answering his peers’ questions about his life on Country.

At first, Joel was not happy at the two students he was required to work with for the group task. Previously, Jake considered him to be a bit of a ‘lone wolf’ who refused to participate in group work. However, after some initial bickering, the group settled down and Joel took on a leadership role. He also became Jake’s teaching assistant during the unit. When it came time for Joel to demonstrate his group’s chosen Indigenous game, he was calm and relaxed, and the normally rowdy class listened attentively. 

Joel went from below average to sound grades in this and the subsequent unit of work. In addition to these academic outcomes, Joel’s relationships with his peers, and with Jake, changed significantly.

Regarding other student outcomes, Jake noticed that the EALD students particularly enjoyed the cultural focus. They were keen to bring their own cultural games into Physical Education. Jake did notice, however, that this unit did not increase the engagement of some of the female students in his class—although they did enjoy the peer-teaching element.

Teacher outcomes

The professional learning also had a big impact on Jake. He realised the importance of sharing power with students by allowing them greater choice, talking ‘at’ them less, making better use of group work and peer-to-peer learning, and giving them opportunities to take ownership of their learning. In doing so, he developed stronger relationships with most of his students, and particularly with Joel.

Interestingly, at an end-of-year research interview, Jake confided that he was initially rather unconvinced about CRP and the action research. ‘I was kind of dreading it … I put it off as long as I could. But when I started doing it, I actually really enjoyed it’. Referring to Joel, Jake reported, ‘I didn’t think it would work, I didn’t think he’d respond, and he definitely did’. And despite earlier cultural competence training that he had participated in through the SAASTA initiative, Jake acknowledged that, ‘Previously, anything to do with culture, I don’t know, I was a little stand-offish to ask them about it’. After participating in the CRP project, Jake now intends to ‘find out more about my students and encourage them to find out more about their own identity’.


In relation to his pedagogy, Jake made the following observations:

  • It’s continuing to develop
  • Allow students more POWER and to take ownership of their learning
  • Provide students more time to learn about their identity
  • Provide students more time to get to know their peers. 
  • Continue to connect to their life worlds.
  • This unit has allowed me to improve my relationship with most students. 
  • Continue to reduce (teacher) talk time and allow students to work

Jake’s learning about his students included the following:

  • They thoroughly enjoyed a cultural focus
  • The majority of students loved having the power to influence their learning
  • Students can surprise you! 
  • You do not have to hold their hand and guide them through every situation. Allow them to discover things for themselves. 
  • A large proportion do not have a strong connection to culture. 
  • Students need to spend more time talking to their families about their culture and identity

And in relation to CRP, Jake learned:

  • Allows you to critically analyse the teaching and learning
  • Allows you to improve your pedagogy
  • Allows you to develop your relationships with the students.
  • Culture is Powerful
  • Connecting to students lives increases motivation, engagement and participation.
  • Allows students to feel safe and cherished.  

In future, Jake plans to:

  • Continue to use Peer Teaching (power must be shared)
  • Provide greater student choice
  • Allow students to become independent learners
  • Find out more about his students and encourage them to find out more about their own identity
  • Create a World Games Unit: Focus on multiple cultures

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