Case Study:

Josh’s HASS units

Teacher: Joshua Bradbrook
School: Paralowie R-12 School
Learning Area: HASS
Year level: 9

Year 2: HASS (Geography focus)

Reflecting on the first year of action research, Josh and Mark felt there needed to be more emphasis on student self-reflection around the interconnectedness between cultures, not only in the local school context, but also on a national and international scale.  After consideration of the challenges of the first action research cycle, Josh decided to focus his second year of action research on a younger student cohort. 

Class Context

In this second year, Josh developed a unit of work around geographical inquiry for his Year 9 HASS class. The class was predominantly male, with 17 males and 7 females. Of these 24 students, 18 students identified with one of 12 international cultures. Nine students were also in an EALD class taught by colleague Mark, who was conducting action research on CRP in parallel.

The pedagogical challenge

Given the high level of cultural diversity in the classroom, Josh was interested in developing strategies to encourage all students to bring their cultural knowledges and strengths into classroom activities and discussions. He was also keen to share power in the classroom through the concept of ‘Student as researcher’, in order to encourage students to play a meaningful role in shaping their own learning.

Theoretical Basis

The theoretical framework used as a foundation of this second action research cycle was again Ladson-Billings’1995 publication.

Links to the five key ideas

  • intellectual challenge
  • connection to student life-worlds
  • recognition of cultural difference as an asset
  • sharing learning with an authentic audience / multimodal literacies
  • activist orientation

In addition, Josh was keen to emphasise the importance of developing meaningful pedagogical relationships between himself and his students, and among the students.

The action research questions

In the first year of action research, Josh asked:

How can inquiry-based learning about the importance of maintaining and promoting culturally significant sites develop students’ cultural responsiveness and sensitivity?

To this, he added a further question for the second year of research:

How does the explicit teaching of Critical and Creative Teaching through exposure to cultural perspectives of one’s self and the ‘other’ improve students’ cultural awareness, promote cultural identity and foster empathetic agents of change?

Doing the action research

The unit started with an exploration of cultural identity, and initially students struggled with the concept. A brainstorming activity enabled students to think more deeply about identity, and in particular their own cultural identity.

The primary focus of students’ geographical inquiry was place. Students used Scribble Maps to locate their cultural ‘place’ of origin on a world map. In classroom discussions, they shared aspects of their cultural heritage, such as favourite cultural activities and foods. This brought out interconnections between cultures, and between students of similar cultures, that had not been previously identified. A pre-unit survey indicated that students did not rate themselves as highly knowledgeable about their own culture, and 20% of students reported that they knew very little about their culture.

The subsequent learning sequence had four elements:

  • Indigenous perspectives: Discussion of Indigenous Knowledge and the role that Aboriginal peoples play in environmental management; cultural connection to land and its role in Aboriginal identity.
  • Experience of the ‘other’: Discussion of varied perspectives of the ‘other’ within Australian society. Students shared their own experiences of cultural ‘othering’.
  • Cultural appreciation: Students shared their life experiences, including ‘dark funds of knowledge’ (Zipin 2009), which led to a greater appreciation of each another.
  • Maintenance and preservation: Students discussed the maintenance and preservation of culturally significant places, and provided recommendations towards a more sustainable future for their culture.

To complement the Indigenous perspectives element of the unit, students participated in a walk along the Kaurna Trail in central Adelaide to learn about sites of significance to the Kaurna peoples—the traditional owners and custodians of the Adelaide Plains.

The summative assessment task required students to investigate a specific location of significance to them and/or their culture (e.g. own backyard, a home country site).

Task:

To develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of one’s culture, you are given the opportunity to create your own poster that explores a particular geographical location that may be important to your culture or personal identity. You will create a multimodal presentation of your chosen place and showcase your research to the class through a community style presentation.

Process:

  • Brainstorm definitions of Cultural Identity
  • Make a list of places that are significant to your cultural heritage
  • Choose one place from the list as your focus
  • Make notes about this place with consideration to the following questions:
  • What is the place?
  • Where is it located?
  • What is the history of the place/region?
  • How is this place connected to   you and your culture?
  • How can this place be maintained and preserved and why is it important?

To assess the impact of this project, data was collected in the form of:

  • Student responses and feedback
  • Student interviews
  • Summative task
  • Teacher observations
  • Multimedia recordings

Student outcomes

In relation culture, 60% of students reported at an end-of-unit survey that their knowledge of their own culture had improved. Almost 80% of students reported that their knowledge of Aboriginal Australians had also improved during the unit. Students also expressed a much more sophisticated understanding of Critical and Creative Thinking, compared with the pre-unit survey responses.

Bringing student’s own life-worlds into classroom discussions and activities increased student engagement as the learning became more purposeful and relevant to their lives. This engagement was reflected in the summative assessment activity. For example, one student who is academically capable but usually reluctant to engage with and submit assessment tasks researched the Royal Tombs of the Korean Joseon Dynasty, which was an aspect of his cultural heritage that he had previously been unaware of.

Challenges

In addition to the low levels of initial student engagement observed in the first year of action research, a further challenge in this second year was that students initially had little knowledge of, or interest in learning about, their own culture. However, over time, students became more confident in sharing their own experiences and cultural perspectives with each other through class activities and discussion.

The Kaurna Walking Trail excursion was met with mixed responses. The length of the walk (3 hours) was a barrier to sustained engagement, and many students struggled to make meaningful connections with the experience. Due to cost and availability, it was not possible to engage an Aboriginal guest speaker to guide the walk and provide a richer experience.

The broader picture

This unit made explicit links to the Australian Curriculum in relation to Critical and Creative Thinking and the Geography.

The General Capability of Critical and Creative Thinking was a fundamental reference point that guided practice throughout the unit. According to the Australian Curriculum, by the end of Year 9 students should be:

  • Inquiring – identifying, exploring and organising information and ideas element
  • Generating ideas, possibilities and actions element
  • Reflecting on thinking and processes element
  • Analysing, synthesising and evaluating reasoning and procedures element

In the Australian Curriculum, Year 9 students study two Geography units, one of which is Geographies of interconnections. Josh’s unit developed students’ awareness of:

  • The perceptions people have of place, and how these influence their connections to different places (ACHGK065)
  • The effects of people’s travel, recreational, cultural or leisure choices on places, and the implications for the future of these places (ACHGK069)

Conclusions

In this Year 9 Geography unit, Josh provided opportunities for students in his culturally diverse class to connect curriculum to their cultural life-worlds and, in some cases, dark funds of knowledge. Students concluded the course feeling a greater sense of cultural connection, respect and empathy towards other cultural groups. The content and assessment were connected to the Australian Curriculum with a focus more on students’ personal inquiry.

On reflection, Josh believes that this unit of work was much more successful than the previous year’s senior school Tourism unit. Attendance, engagement and participation in activities was far more consistent, which promoted deeper learning and a greater understanding of the concepts.

This second year of action research reaffirmed the skills that Josh had been developing over a short career and strengthened his commitment to harnessing culture as an asset in school learning via students’ real-world cultural connections. In future, he plans to

  • Embed CRP within his classroom practice
  • Continue to collaborate with colleagues in order to implement successful strategies.
  • Present his findings to staff and lead other staff in learning about Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and Critical and Creative Thinking
  • Work further with students and staff to create innovative units of work
  • Develop as a reflective practitioner, and continue to learn

References

Bishop, R, Ladwig, J & Berryman, M (2014) The centrality of relationships for pedagogy: The Whanaungatanga thesis. American Educational Research Journal, 51(1), 184-214.

Hinkson, M (2003) Encounters with Aboriginal Sites in metropolitan Sydney: A broadening horizon for cultural tourism? Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 11(4), 295-306.

Ladson-Billings, G (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465-491.

Zipin, L (2009) Dark funds of knowledge, deep funds of pedagogy: Exploring boundaries between lifeworlds and schools. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 30(3), 317-331.

The student posters covered a range of cultures in the classroom, including Vietnamese, East African and Māori.

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