Case Study:

Skye’s Cultural Stories

Teacher: Skye Miller
School: Lake Windemere B-7 School
Learning area: Language and Literacy
Year: R-7

Teacher Context

Teaching in an open styled unit of year 6/7 students, Skye was looking further at developing her pedagogy and cultural understanding as a teacher. After reviewing the Professional Standards of teachers with her principal, she identified connecting to community and culture as her key areas of focus. Skye recognises the importance of developing strong relationships with her students and parents which had been evident in her previous work at her current and previous sites.

School Context

Lake Windemere B-7 opened in 2011 after the amalgamation of Direk Primary School, Direk Junior Primary School and Salisbury North West Primary Schools. It is located on the previous Direk School’s site. Lake Windemere has a Child Parent Centre (CPC) that offers services to families through the Community Development and Family Service Coordinators. Playgroup, Occasional Care and Preschool program are offered along with Speech and Language an Occupational Therapy support. Two area Resource Special Classes cater for students with disabilities—a Junior Primary and a Primary class. The school has a range of new purpose built buildings including contemporary classrooms and gym, and extensive refurbishment of existing facilities. The school is underpinned by the values of Teamwork, Respect, Fun and Learning and a whole school focus on Positive Education to develop skills to engage with powerful learning.

Community Context

Lake Windemere students come from a community that is representative of a range of economic circumstances. The community has a mix of owner occupied and rental properties. There are a high number of both single and double income families who are buying their homes. A number of families are dependent on social security support through unemployment, sickness or single parent benefits. There are a number of students who are transient, some of whom are moving between schools that are within a short distance of each other. At the time of the action research in 2018, 86 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait islander student attended the school.

The pedagogical challenge

The pedagogical challenge that Skye continued to face was a disconnect from families of students, the ability of teachers in teaching for diversity (both Aboriginal and Torrres Strait Islander and EALD students) and having content related to local community and local sites. Skye wanted to engage students through emphasising the importance of their cultural background and helping them learn about who they are, where they come from and being proud to share this with others. The inability to connect as a school to appropriately and effectively acknowledge culture as an asset meant students kept their home life separate from their school lives.

After watching many teachers within the school teaching ‘traditional’ Australian History Skye wanted to model the use of Aboriginal perspectives in a variety of different ways within teaching and share this learning across the whole school site and ensure that perspectives were not limited to HASS-based topics.

Theoretical Basis

Skye’s attention for the second year of her research project was still influenced from the action research which came from the readings in 2017 on The Eight Alaskan Culturally Responsive Teacher Standards[1] and Castagno & Brayboy 2008.[2]

  • Teaching for diversity
  • Content related to local community
  • Family and community involvement as partners
  • Engage constantly with families and communities

In addition, her 2018 readings from Pat Thomson 2006[3] introduced idea of ‘place-based’ learningand the idea that people no longer have that connection to place or community, choosing to live their lives separately. Skye was also inspired from presentations and conversations she had with Jacqueline D’warte around her own Culturally Responsive research and case studies she had completed with schools interstate.[4]

[1]   http://ankn.uaf.edu/publications/standards.html

[2]   Castagno, AE & Brayboy, BMJ (2008) Culturally responsive schooling for Indigenous youth: A review of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 78(4), 941-993.

[3]   Thomson, P (2006) Miners, diggers, ferals and show‐men: School–community projects that affirm and unsettle identities and place? British Journal of Sociology of Education, 27(1), 81-96.

[4]      D’warte, J (2014) Exploring linguistic repertoires: Multiple language use and multimodal literacy activity in five classrooms. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 37(1), 21.

       D’warte, J (2016) Students as linguistic ethnographers: Super-diversity in the classroom context. In DR Cole & C Woodrow (eds) Super dimensions in globalisation and education. Singapore: Springer, pp. 19-35.

Links to the ‘five key ideas’

Skye chose to focus on three key ideas.

  • Strongly connected to the life-worlds of students

The unit of work she developed focussed on cultural stories and the value of the knowledge behind stories to Indigenous groups around the world. Skye introduced a variety of lessons that could be linked to many aspects of the curriculum which helped students to connect with the reasoning behind their learning and how it can be linked to ideas and beliefs from a cultural tradition that originated thousands of years ago. The unit directly connected to Aboriginal student’s life worlds—building on their lessons in Kaurna, the local Aboriginal language,and adding another layer to their own cultural connections.

  • Recognition of cultural difference as an asset

This unit allowed students an insight into cultural beliefs and understanding around the world and creation. The emphasis on integrating Aboriginal culture and stories from around the world allowed culture to be seen as an asset rather than a challenge to be overcome.

  • Multimodal literacies and public performance

Initially, aspects of the unit modelled various ways of storytelling. At the completion of this unit, students were able to be creative and produce their own stories with a purpose to teach and inform others of their own perspectives. The unit allowed for a range of ways to showcase learning including making physical books, digital presentation and oral presentation, allowing students to best match their preferences to maximise outcomes.

The action research question

How does connecting learning to students’ life-worlds improve Indigenous student’s engagement and achievement in English/Language?

The action research

Skye’s original action research plan involved connecting the learning of Aboriginal students to Kaurna language lessons that had been recently introduced for Aboriginal students at Lake Windemere. But when the opportunity arose for her to teach across multiple year levels, she decided instead to model the implementation of CRP across the whole school so that it became at the forefront of teachers’ minds when planning units of work. Skye wanted to inspire teachers to think about their students and what they bring to the classroom, and to demonstrate to teachers how they can connect to their students’ lives outside of school. Skye also wanted to engage students in developing connections to culture. She created a series of lessons that could be adapted for a variety of year levels and build upon the work the students and teachers were already doing in the school. Through the use of Australian Aboriginal Dreaming stories, as well as incorporating stories from other cultures around the world, she wanted to open up discussion about culture and the important roles that cultural stories play in communities.

Data collection

  • Feedback from the Aboriginal Education Teacher and the classroom teachers
  • Student responses—annotated
  • Photographs
  • Student work samples

What happened?

Prior to the unit:

As an introduction to the lessons, Skye questioned the 206 students she worked with around their understanding of culture. Of those students, 45% could identify that they ‘had’ a culture, but of the group of students, only 13% could explain what this idea of culture meant. 28% of students believed they didn’t ‘have’ a culture and many justified this due to the fact that they were born in Australia and not overseas. 27% of students questioned had no understanding of culture and could not define the meaning behind the word.

At the start of this unit of work, there were mixed emotions from students, one actually stating ‘Not this again, I have already learnt Aboriginal stuff last year’. Students seemed hesitant of new learning but the first lessons using Jacqueline D’warte’s concept of ‘language maps’ opened up some important discussions around how we communicate with each other and how communication has changed over time. Two students from the same class had never discussed langauge before and it turned out that both spoke the same language at home and they had fun in the lessons showing their peers how they could communicate with each other in a common dialect.

As the lessons progressed more explicitly into Aboriginal Dreaming stories, students continued to reflect upon prior experience with popular stories, rather than referring to the morals and important messages behind the stories. Each lesson opened up in-depth and powerful discussions about what stories meant to individuals and how each person has their own interpretation. Student comments included:

  • Songlines are a map of their land so they can survive. It shows they knew not to destroy their land. Student 1, Year 3
  • Songlines is a map of the land where there is food and where the water is. Connect people to land and history shows they knew not to destroy. Student, Year 4
  • It is important that we hear the stories because they are so old and they help us learn. Student, Year 4
  • My favourite story is ‘how the birds got their colours.’ I think it is good when we can look at the animals and it tells us what happened to the animals. Student, Year 4
  • I think that you can learn lots from stories and little kids like stories so they should learn from the stories. Student 5, Year 6
  • My mum tells me and my sisters stories since I was little like the Dreaming Stories and the other ones. I’ve seen Tinga Tanga on TV. Student, Year 6

And in response to listening to and watching an Aboriginal Elder tell a story online:

  • I like listening to stories and not reading stories. Student, Year 3
  • It is interesting watching his face as he tells the story, I just watched his expressions and hear his voice. Student, Year 7

After the unit:

At conclusion of the lessons I received some feedback from the teachers of the classes I worked with:

  • As AET I taught aspects of Aboriginal and Australian history in first term with one of the classes now participating in the CRP. I was faced with comments like, ‘why do we have to learn this again?’ ‘This is boring.’ We had to have conversations about how history can be uncomfortable and that we talk about history to ensure we don’t repeat it. It took them a good few lessons to come around and to get over this idea of ‘us’ and ‘them.’ I found that story books such as ‘You and Me Murrawee’ helped to bridge some of those gaps, as this book compares children across hundreds of years and looks at all the ways we are the same. They began to come around, but it was hard work, and for some students the prejudices they may have from home or from media wouldn’t go away, no matter what we spoke about. Whereas Skye’s unit and the topics around the cultural stories seemed to give all students an opportunity to access the culture without feeling the divide. They began to develop a new respect for Aboriginal culture and history because they could see shared stories about the country we all have to share as opposed to a battle about who ‘owns’ the land. The more they learned, the more they could understand that we have similar views and we have to preserve our land, that Australia can be a harsh country and we all can be proud of it.
  • I have looked at the lessons and I think it is so well planned and you should be so proud of the work and dedication that you have put into the unit. I think you have taken a great approach and I would love to use this unit again next year. In the past, some of my students have been quite reluctant to engage in Aboriginal education but they were all so positive and enthusiastic about your unit.
  • I can’t believe how excited my students became with this unit. They kept asking when the next lesson was and had such rich discussions about things they had talked about. I didn’t always stay in the class during the lessons and the kids would always update me on what I missed in great detail. There were also a few occasions when in other lessons they would use examples from Skye’s unit in their explanations. I was also really pleased to see how engaged my ‘tricky’ students were as they can be reluctant to work on many occasions.
  • I have so many new ideas that I can add to my planning. I have never previously thought about using stories in subjects other than my literacy lessons.

Links to the Australian Curriculum

This unit of work links to the ACARA’s Framework for Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander Languages: Rationale

Links to the Australian Curriculum are identified below.

Year

Content Descriptions

Achievement Standards

3

The role that people of diverse backgrounds have played in the development and character of the local community (ACHHK062)

Understand that languages have different written and visual communication systems, different oral traditions and different ways of constructing meaning (ACELA1475)

Discuss texts in which characters, events and settings are portrayed in different ways, and speculate on the authors’ reasons (ACELT1594)

Draw connections between personal experiences and the worlds of texts, and share responses with others (ACELT1596)

Create imaginative texts based on characters, settings and events from students’ own and other cultures using visual features, for example perspective, distance and angle (ACELT1601)

Students understand how language features are used to link and sequence ideas. They understand how language can be used to express feelings and opinions on topics.

Their texts include writing and images to express and develop, in some detail experiences, events, information, ideas and characters.

Students create a range of texts for familiar and unfamiliar audiences. They contribute actively to class and group discussions, asking questions, providing useful feedback and making presentations.

They choose vocabulary and punctuation appropriate to the purpose and context of their writing.

They re-read and edit their writing, checking their work for appropriate vocabulary, structure and meaning.

Students identify individuals, events and aspects of the past that have significance in the present.

4

The diversity and longevity of Australia’s first peoples and the ways Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples are connected to Country and Place (land, sea, waterways and skies) and the implications for their daily lives. (ACHHK077)

Make connections between the ways different authors may represent similar storylines, ideas and relationships (ACELT1602)

Plan, rehearse and deliver presentations incorporating learned content and taking into account the particular purposes and audiences (ACELY1689)

Create literary texts that explore students’ own experiences and imagining (ACELT1607)

Students understand that texts have different text structures depending on purpose and context.

They explain how language features, images and vocabulary are used to engage the interest of audiences.

They describe literal and implied meaning connecting ideas in different texts.

They explain how and why life changed in the past and identify aspects of the past that have remained the same. They describe the experiences of an individual or group in the past.

5

Understand that the pronunciation, spelling and meanings of words have histories and change over time (ACELA1500)

– exploring examples of words in which pronunciation, writing and meaning has changed over time, including words from a range of cultures

Develop appropriate questions to guide an inquiry about people, events, developments, places, systems and challenges (ACHASSI094)

Show how ideas and points of view in texts are conveyed through the use of vocabulary, including idiomatic expressions, objective and subjective language, and that these can change according to context (ACELY1698)

Examine different viewpoints on actions, events, issues and phenomena in the past and present (ACHASSI099)

Understand that patterns of language interaction vary across social contexts and types of texts and that they help to signal social roles and relationships (ACELA1501)

Plan, draft and publish imaginative, informative and persuasive print and multimodal texts, choosing text structures, language features, images and sound appropriate to purpose and audience (ACELY1704)

Students explain how text structures assist in understanding the text.

They understand how language features, images and vocabulary influence interpretations of characters, settings and events.

They analyse and explain literal and implied information from a variety of texts.

They describe how events, characters and settings in texts are depicted and explain their own responses to them. They listen and ask questions to clarify content.

They identify the causes and effects of change on particular communities and describe aspects of the past that have remained the same.

 

Conclusions

The aim of this unit was to engage students through emphasising the importance of their cultural background; helping students to learn about who they are and where they come from through the use of Aboriginal perspectives within teaching across the whole school site. Skye used Dreaming Stories as a way to facilitate conversation about cultural perspectives. The unit helped students understand how stories can reinforce societal norms, preserve history and strengthen cultural identity through shared knowledge and experience. Students recognised at the conclusion of the unit that they all have a culture and to value who they are and where they come from. It is important that students are connecting to learning in different ways than previously experienced so their own views are continuously challenged and explored on a deeper level.

Skye has always believed that the ability to build relationships between teacher/student, teacher/parents/carers, school/home, real life/classroom learning is critical to students’ engagement. At the conclusion of the two year project, Skye transitioned to a new site in Gawler where further opportunities arose to demonstrate her understanding of culturally responsive pedagogy to others. Right from Term 1 she worked with another teacher to deliver a new culturally responsive unit on community service which was delivered in a showcase of learning to six other sites. She is now mentoring a newly graduated teacher around developing strong and meaningful relationships with students to support their participation and engagement in learning.

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