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  What Works - The Work Program

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Developing skills

Over the years, a considerable amount of attention has been paid to ideas about learning styles which might be specific to Indigenous students. However, the general principles of good education seem to apply as widely to Indigenous students as they do to any others.

Research and experience have consistently confirmed the centrality of skills in literacy in Standard Australian English (SAE) and numeracy to success in formal education — for all ages and across learning area boundaries. These must be given the highest priority.

Some of the biggest challenges come in contexts where few, if any, students have English as a first language and where there are few social or economic demands for its use. But a more common need is the requirement for code-switching to modify dialectal variations of English to make it more ‘correct’ in school terms. Success comes from acknowledging and accepting dialectal differences and teaching the variations in SAE explicitly. This is an essential alternative to describing students’ everyday language use as ‘bad’ or ‘incorrect’.

While we do not advocate particular approaches to literacy and numeracy, we do strongly believe that only established, proven techniques should be used. These matters are too important to be dealt with in any other way.

Similarly, ensure that credible tests are used to assess student progress. NAPLAN is mentioned elsewhere, but a range of other instruments is available in literacy and numeracy. If you are not sure about these, refer to professional associations or appropriate consultants in your local jurisdiction.


Some suggested strategies:

  • Providing intensive individual or small group support for students whose skills in reading and writing Standard Australian English (SAE) and numeracy are below conventional levels.
  • Teaching features of SAE explicitly and, where relevant, defining and explaining its differences from students’ dialectal forms of English.
  • Establishing and maintaining high expectations of success, by explaining what you are trying to achieve together, how you intend to get there, what a ‘good result’ will look and be like.
  • Showing students how what they are learning is useful, and bringing ‘real life’ examples into the classroom.
  • Translating high expectations into achievable steps, ‘scaffolding’ them and teaching them specifically. Successful achievement of developmental steps should be noted, celebrated and, where relevant, accredited, promoting a sense of competence and mastery.
  • Providing opportunities for students to work cooperatively as well as individually.
  • Expanding the range of media through which learning occurs and increasing its level of ‘practicality’ (using ICTs, relevant excursions, visits to workplaces and so on).
  • Making regular use of the culture, life experiences and knowledge of students to make connections with other curricular content.
  • Arranging for the presence and example of Indigenous teachers and other education workers in the classroom.
  • Using teaching materials that deal with Indigenous cultures in an accurate and relevant way as a conventional part of the content of the curriculum. Increasing the cultural relevance of curricula requires getting to know students and their cultures better, and being sensitive to their capacities and interests.

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