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  What Works - The Work Program

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The AAMT Project

School developed and implemented strategies that were owned by the school communities


The Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers ran an IESIP project which explored varying teaching practices to improve levels of numeracy acquisition among Indigenous students. The project operated at five sites across South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia and a total of 77 primary and junior secondary students were involved. Appropriate data about learning targets was a focus. More about findings and outcomes can be found in a report about the project.

An interview with Will Morony

Will Morony was the project manager. Here he discusses the ideas behind it and the processes put in place.


Will Morony

At the start, our project was about a very simple proposition. Find some places around the country where people could put programs in place that showed Indigenous kids achieving well, achieving at least as well as mainstream kids...

I was really interested in the responses I got when I rang around and said, what do you think. Because the people said — yes, this is just what we want to do. We don't want to muck around any more. We know these kids can learn. If you're saying you are going to give us some support to really show the world that's the case, then we'll be in it. It was a terrific way to kick off.

Being a professional association gave this project a stamp. Because we exist for teachers, our starting point is that we trust teachers. So our role was about helping people to articulate what they were going to do and how, in terms of teaching and learning programs. And then several things I guess — networking those people with each other so they were in a team, providing them with support and coordination. We could put them in touch with anyone they needed to know. But these were school developed and implemented strategies that were owned by the school communities. You've got to remember that what happened was worked up through local partnerships. Very important.

We got off to a really slow start because it was hard getting people in place. We were able to offer some time release, but in a place like Shepherdson [College, at Galiwin'ku off the coast of Arnhem Land], that's a pretty tricky thing to manage because there isn't anyone to do the replacement. We had a basic plot and then we needed to work with that and they needed to work out what would actually work. I guess it's easy to talk about what we found out in a sense...

Thinking about it now, what we found out wasn't that surprising. They are all straightforward kinds of processes and things that people do in schools, except they were done in really interesting and unique local ways. Given the chance and support, teachers are often very inventive.

So... an intervention program that provides some withdrawal for kids — a standard kind of thing when kids are struggling in maths or in other areas. But one of the ways in which this was done in one of the schools was just so clever and so interesting. It really empowered them instead of the reverse.

The building of relationships with paraprofessional people, the drawing in of local community — we know that's an important element of good practice. But these people just went about it in their own way. I walked down the main street of Marree [in northern SA] and the woman who sold me my lunch wanted to talk about the project that her kids were involved in — 'It's going really well and we're talking about maths at home' — you can't buy that kind of thing.

In a learning sense, probably the most important thing that the teachers kept coming back to was language issues. The five project sites included a couple where the kids had English as a second, third or foreign language. But the issues of Standard Australian English and the 'mathematicalness' and the precision of the language was really important in a lot of ways across every site.

In retrospect, they clearly reflect the findings in What Works. They are just another version of those things. No major revelations, just little lights of intensity and inventiveness.

There's still a lot of work to be done which really picks up the learning issues. Obviously the language one is not going to go away and that's a big one. Another is the setting of high expectations and the issue of trying to deal with kids, Indigenous kids in particular, not as ritual learners — happy to sit down and do a page of sums but as soon as things change minutely from the page of sums the understanding is not there.

The whole ritual learning performance in maths is really seductive. Teachers can say — 'Hey I've got these kids busy' — the kids can feel good about getting a whole bunch of ticks, but it isn't what matters. It is part of what matters, being able to go through the rituals of writing out a computation, but only part of it. The understanding and the knowledge of the mathematics isn't robust. This is by no means unique to Indigenous kids and their teachers, but certainly the people we've talked to have said it's a particularly dogged issue to get at.

Another one of the learning things is connecting with kids' lives — 'Why are we doing this?' they ask. Again, not unique.

Assessment. We've got assessment regimes around the country that frankly aren't geared to enabling Indigenous kids to demonstrate what they know and can do. We have to get the processes for assessing in that way right, and then get the community and the bureaucrats and the school principals and so on to actually value that as a real measure of real learning that's important and empowers people in their lives.

Lots of kids fall off the truck of learning as it goes through, and that certainly happens for lots of Indigenous kids. Absenteeism is an obvious issue. There's all sorts of issues around why people might not have kept up with the average pace of learning in mathematics. No point in dwelling on those. The issue is welcoming those kids back into learning mathematics and making it feasible for them when they say — 'Okay, I need to catch this up', 'I want to get an apprenticeship', or whatever.

We really don't have the mechanisms, because what happens it seems to me is that it goes back to baby stuff and these teenagers aren't babies. They are people with real adult needs and we need to deal with that sensibly. So, we have to have this notion of ramping people back into the learning and getting them back on track quickly. We have to be very serious about that because otherwise people are going to get left out. And Indigenous people are clearly among them.

I come back to where we started with this project and say there are people in schools who know this stuff and can make it work.


© Commonwealth of Australia 2020