Kelly and Skye’s HASS unit
Teachers: Skye Miller and Kelly Blandford
School: Lake Windemere School B-7
Year: 6/7 (four classes)
In her seventh year of teaching, Skye entered the Culturally Responsive Pedagogy project after five years based at Lake Windemere B-7 School. 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 for teachers with her principal, Skye identified connecting to community and culture as her key area of focus. She recognises the importance of developing strong relationships with students and parents, as apparent in her work at current and earlier sites.
Skye is participating in the Culturally Responsive Pedagogy project with her colleague Kelly, who is in her fifth year of teaching, and who has been at Lake Windemere B-7 School for two years. During her initial years of teaching, Kelly had taught in a country site with a high level of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students (approximately 85%). She developed a passion for working with Aboriginal students and improving learning outcomes for students who had become disconnected from education. She was therefore very keen to participate in the CRP project. Being accredited in Accelerated Literacy and being a pilot teacher for John Fleming’s I Do, We Do, You Do teaching cycle, Kelly was familiar with trialling new approaches to quality teaching and learning.
Lake Windemere B-7 School opened in 2011 after the amalgamation of Direk Primary School, Direk Junior Primary School and Salisbury North West Primary School. Lake Windemere has a Child Parent Centre (CPC), mainstream classes across Reception to Year 7 and two Special Education classes. At the time of the CRP action research, Lake Windemere B-7 was registered as a Category 2 school in terms of Index of Disadvantage. A number of students are transient, with some moving between schools in close proximity to one another.
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 as a result of unemployment, sickness or parenting responsibilities.
Kelly and Skye collaborate with two other full-time teachers in the school’s open learning space, which is called the Lotus Hub. Together, they teach four Year 6/7 classes with just over 100 students in total. Lessons are conducted as a whole, or divided into two classes, or in the traditional four-class set up. Among the student cohort there are six students on Negotiated Education Plans, six students of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander heritage and 17 EALD students. Class Dojo educational technology is used as a tool to communicate with families, with varying levels of interaction on a case-by-case basis. For the action research, Kelly and Skye developed and led a HASS unit integrating History, Geography, Civics and English. All four teachers in the Lotus Hub taught this unit together, but only Kelly and Skye were attending workshops as part of the CRP project.
The pedagogical challenge
Skye and Kelly identified several inter-related pedagogical challenges in the Lotus Hub. They noticed that, in general, there was not a high level of connection to students’ families, except for reactive behavioural situations. Skye and Kelly wanted to involve families more in their children’s schooling experiences by providing information about learning before, during and after units were conducted. There was a need to teach for diversity (in relation to both Aboriginal and EALD students) and to include content related to the local community and local sites. Overall, the site had highly diverse classrooms with many students performing below their expected year levels. A disconnect from learning was particularly evident as students entered upper primary. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and those from minority cultures, seemed to be disengaged from learning and achieving less than students of Anglo-European backgrounds.
For their action research, Skye and Kelly focussed on two foundational readings:
Alaska Native Knowledge Network (1998) Alaska standards for culturally responsive schools. Alaska Native Knowledge Network, Adopted by the Assembly of Alaska Native Educators: Anchorage, AK.
Castagno, AE & Brayboy, BMJ (2008) Culturally responsive schooling for Indigenous youth: A review of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 78(4), 941-993.
The key themes that resonated with them in these readings included:
- Teaching for diversity
- Content related to local community
- Family and community involvement as partners
- Constant engagement with families and communities
The Alaskan resource offered a comprehensive list of attributes that characterise culturally responsive teachers and schools, and which Kelly and Skye felt were relevant to their own pedagogical and site-based challenges and directions. Castagno and Brayboy’s work confirmed what Skye and Kelly were observing in their own classes, and offered evidence-based approaches to improve outcomes.
The action research question
How does using pedagogy that utilises student voice, increases parent engagement and relates to the local community, impact student achievement and engagement?
Doing the action research
Kelly and Skye’s main focus was to re-engage students and connect families to classroom learning. Their usual channels of communication with families through newsletters and Class Dojo was, in some cases, one way. Kelly and Skye needed a way to connect with families face-to-face, and they wanted to shape a unit of work that would provide an opportunity to do this.
With the principles of culturally responsive pedagogy guiding their decision-making, Kelly and Skye fully developed a HASS unit on Indigenous Rights Since Federation in Australia and Compared to the World, with a specific curriculum focus on:
- Continuities and change over time
- The impact of significant people and events
- The world’s cultural diversity and interconnections.
Over five weeks, the unit looked at citizenship, rights, democracy and the development of society in Australia. Across the unit plan there was a particular focus on Aboriginal Australians, their cultures and histories, and on Indigenous peoples around the world. Previously, when covering these themes, Skye and Kelly had typically focussed on key events from a broader perspective and at a more superficial level, but in this new unit, they allowed for much more depth. Aboriginal perspectives and the perspectives of other Indigenous groups were incorporated in teaching and learning. Inclusion of the wider community was an additional focus, with local Aboriginal guest speakers invited into the learning space.
There were three smaller summative tasks:
- History (Timeline)
Create a timeline that shows at least 10 of the key events in Aboriginal Australians’ battle for rights and citizenship from 1900 to present. This can be pictorial or all written and should include as much detail as possible, to show your knowledge and understanding of each event depicted.
- Geography (Venn diagram)
Create a Venn diagram that compares an Indigenous group from another country to Aboriginal Australians, with a focus on citizenship, rights, democracy and development of society. Include as much information as you can, from your notes and learning.
- Civics (Quiz)
Complete a closed book quiz covering Australia’s democracy (process for changes, significant people and institutions), as well as the rights and responsibilities of citizens.
As a primary summative task, students investigated an inquiry question of their choice (in consultation with the teacher):
Create your own inquiry question through negotiation with a teacher or use one of the set questions offered.
You will need to investigate and answer your inquiry question by creating a poster and presenting it to the class. The poster should be A3 minimum and accompanied by a short (2 min) oral presentation to summarise your findings and learning.
At the end of the unit, families were invited to an after-hours Learning Showcase of the students’ work. A BBQ and raffle were held during this event.
The research data collected included:
- Student attendance data
- Assessment/rubric results, comparison with HASS work from Semester One
- Parent survey: Their observations about their child’s engagement and interest in the unit
- Student interviews: Their self-reports of their interest in the unit, reflections on their work and effort
- Teacher reflections/observations
Initially, students were apprehensive about the unit. Previous experiences of this curriculum area had tainted their openness to another HASS unit, and there were many students who believed they already ‘knew’ this aspect of Australian history. In the initial lesson, racist opinions and stereotypes were immediately evident from a number of students.
As the unit progressed Kelly and Skye noticed:
- In relation to Australian Aboriginal issues and the Stolen Generations, many students began with a ‘they were helping them’, ‘their kids weren’t being looked after’ attitude.
- Students were most shocked by stolen wages, killings, rapes, ‘breeding out’ efforts and Australia’s initial failure to endorse the UN Declaration of Indigenous Peoples.
- EALD students seemed most empathetic, shocked and outraged about the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
- EALD students found that the information challenged what they had previously believed about Australia and the country’s purported acceptance of other races.
- Facts like 90% of Aboriginal girls in 1915 ended up pregnant to white men really hit home and resonated with kids.
Summative assessment tasks:
- Timeline: The students showed good understanding of events. Dates were sometimes inaccurate but the significance of the events was explained and generally understood.
- Venn diagram: Students readily found similarities and differences between their two chosen Indigenous groups. Students were fascinated to discuss what they found.
- Civics quiz: This was the first closed book test the students had undertaken, other than in English and Maths. The students recalled a lot more information and got to the core of topics much better than expected.
Inquiry topics chosen by students, included:
- Why is there such debate about same sex marriage and what needs to be done to change the law?
- What was the impact of the Vietnam War on the soldiers that were sent to fight?
- Why were Aboriginal Australians taken from their families and what was the effect of this?
- What parts of Maori culture are strong today and what has been lost?
- Who is AO Neville and how did he affect Aboriginal culture?
- How are the Native American people still effected by colonisation today?
- How does the Maori and Aboriginal experience with colonisation differ?
- Why was Charles Perkins significant to Australia?
- What lasting impact did the Stolen Generations have on Aboriginal people?
- How was the female Indigenous populations affected after the arrival of European settlers, what impacts/changes were made and have they improved since then?
- What kind of medicine did the Indigenous Australians use? How is it different to the medicine used in hospitals today?
- What happens in Aboriginal culture when someone passes away?
There were some significant pedagogical or relational outcomes for particular students. For example:
Year 6 Aboriginal boy:
- Disengaged with learning
- Previously had spent most afternoons out of classroom in ‘Reward Time’ (doing favourite non-curricular activities such as helping with gardening or playing with Lego)
- During this unit, he chose to stay in class and skipped his Reward Time
- Approached Kelly for the first time (other than to ask for a break) to tell her his Nanna was in the Stolen Generations
- He indicated he had spoken to his Dad about it
- He stated ‘She is dead, but I feel like I understand more now. I know what it means’.
Year 7 Aboriginal boy:
- Disengaged with learning and frequently suspended
- During this unit he was more engaged and showed great effort in all tasks
- He approached Kelly to share that his Nanna was in the Stolen Generations
- He indicated he would like to know more of her story, but he’d lost contact with her
- Kelly and Skye arranged for him to call his Nanna and he actually did his inquiry project on her story
- He has since indicated he wants to connect with his Aboriginal culture more and wants to know his Nanna’s birth family
Post-unit student interview responses indicate an understanding of Aboriginal and Indigenous issues:
Aboriginal people got kicked out of that home which wasn’t good. (Aboriginal student)
Aboriginal people were not treated fairly, they got punished and tortured for really no reason just because they are a different colour; just because someone is a different colour, you shouldn’t judge someone cause of how they look. (Aboriginal student)
I know the Orang Asli were treated really badly, the kids had to go to the school far away and parents responsible and they were not treated equally … American Indians were there first and then the British sent people in and they took over but they got their rights back. (EALD student)
People are not treated equally because of the marriage thing … Aboriginal Australians have gone through a lot …I know that the Māori, American Indians were treated a lot like the Aboriginal Australians, lost their land. (EALD student)
Aboriginal history hasn’t been the best, they were not treated very well … Aboriginal people are just another person, not worse or better. (Student who had previously expressed openly racist sentiments)
Twice a year, Lake Windemere conducts student-led parent interviews instead of traditional parent teacher interviews. At these sessions, students present their learning to their parents, with the support of a teacher. At the end of the HASS unit, around 75% of families attended student-led interviews. Unlike previous years, this was the highest attendance rate of all the year levels.
Some families had a negative perspective of education as a result of their own schooling experiences or because they were only contacted when their child was in trouble. Trying to make parents feel more welcome was a huge challenge for Skye and Kelly, as was finding times that suit working families. They broached this issue by making the Learning showcase casual, focussed on students sharing informally, and with food as an ice breaker.
Students became really involved in the learning and as a result they asked deeper and more complicated questions. Teachers had to be comfortable with not having all the answers straight away. This became a learning opportunity where teachers could model research and how to find information.
There were some students and families who were vocally against Aboriginal people and learning about Indigenous cultures. For some students, it was because they had ‘done’ Aboriginal content every year—dot paintings, making damper and watching dance performances—and they felt tired of the content. Other students had clearly been influenced by stereotypes and negative views of Aboriginal peoples derived from their families, friends and experiences.
Links to the ‘five key ideas’
When they reviewed their unit retrospectively, Skye and Kelly identified links to all five of the ‘key ideas’:
- High intellectual challenge
Kelly and Skye expected high standard work aligned with the Australian curriculum, rather than reduced or simplified outcomes to meet the previous output of the students. With appropriate scaffolding, they challenged students to really push beyond their previous learning to redefine what success looks like.
- Strongly connected to the life-worlds of students
The unit focussed on Australia’s history and connections to other colonised Indigenous cultures of the world. For Aboriginal students, the unit was a way to acknowledge their rich cultural histories and to validate the reality of Aboriginal oppression and resistance since Federation. Many Aboriginal students deeply connected to this unit and explored their own family histories and stories. For EALD students, this unit opened their eyes to Australia’s real histories and the reasons for current issues. Many EALD students were able to share their own experiences of persecution, segregation, and struggle for human rights.
- Recognition of cultural difference as an asset
This unit allowed all students to express their own opinions without prejudice. A safe space was created where deeply challenging issues were explored. Rather than closing down confronting views, teachers allowed students to express themselves and followed up with reflection on these different views as a group.
- Activist orientation
The unit provided students with a factual base to Australia’s uncomfortable history, with an emphasis on Aboriginal experiences and perspectives. Students were encouraged to come into this unit with an open mind and show empathy, something new for many students.
- Multimodal literacies and public performance
At the completion of the unit, students presented their inquiry to peers and community members at the Learning Showcase in a way chosen by them This built a positive pressure on students, who wanted to really show their ability.
The broader picture
The Lake Windemere Site Improvement Plan 2016-2019 included the following goals:
- Vision: To develop positive and powerful learners who possess personal qualities that support their academic success and social and emotional learning and wellbeing.
- Mission: To co-construct relevant, rigorous and engaging programs that connect to students’ lives and maximise their participation, learning and wellbeing.
- School Target—Powerful Learners: Students develop a wide range of skills in problem solving, creativity, communication and collaboration.
- Attendance: Students’ attendance meets or exceeds DECD target of 95%
Skye and Kelly’s unit aligned with these goals by enabling students to become powerful learners through self discovery, independent inquiry and communication of their learning with peers, staff and families. Attendance during the unit improved, and the students were not just present but engaged. Students still had behavioural challenges in other lessons throughout the day, but during the HASS lessons they self-regulated and participated at a much higher level.
Skye and Kelly also identified specific links to the Australian Curriculum
This project enabled Kelly and Skye to embed Aboriginal perspectives within their teaching, which led students on a cultural journey around the world. Students felt empowered as they took charge of their own learning through their chosen inquiry question. Due to the pride they felt with their inquiry, many students encouraged their families to attend the Learning Showcase. For those families that could not attend, students shared their inquiry project during student-led interviews the following week. Skye and Kelly believe that the culturally responsive approach adopted in this unit enabled them to connect home and school, acting as a hook for families to enter the classroom and initiate conversation with teachers, their child and even other students.
In responding to their research question:
How does using pedagogy that utilises student voice, increases parent engagement and relates to the local community, impact student achievement and engagement?
Kelly and Skye found that using pedagogy that utilises student voice, increases parent engagement and relates to the local community did have a significant impact on student achievement, and exponentially increased student engagement and effort. They provided more choice and options for students instead of always having predetermined tasks. This enabled students to be more engaged, responsive and to seek and produce deeper understandings.
Regarding their own practice, this project enabled Skye and Kelly to reflect on and refine their pedagogy. They explored current theories and examples of CRP from Canada, Alaska and New Zealand and put their learning into practice. Their data analysis skills improved and allowed them to respond to their findings reflectively throughout the unit. As educators, Kelly and Skye now feel more confident in their own teaching and also more confident in having tricky conversations, with parents and students. They feel this is helping them make inroads into racism and negativity in the school community. Skye and Kelly feel confident in sharing their experience of CRP with others and leading other teachers to experiment with CRP in their own practice. They see the value of CRP to students and families and will continue to build on their use of this approach.