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Meeting the literacy needs of Aboriginal students

A diverse group of Aboriginal students were involved in the project, from a range of community and family backgrounds. Their community backgrounds ranged from the rural Aboriginal communities of Tabulam and Cabbage Tree Island, and families living within rural towns, to the inner-city Aboriginal community of Redfern, as well as suburban Sydney.

Teachers reported that the literacy skills of their Aboriginal students varied from amongst the top students in the school, to students who had never been known to write more than a sentence or two, and some who had never written at all. All the Aboriginal students were in a minority in mainstream secondary classes, with the exception of Alexandria Park Community School, where Aboriginal students are a majority in some classes.

All teachers agreed at the start of the project that a significant proportion of their students, including Aboriginal students, were rarely engaged actively in classroom activities and discussion, and many more students were not optimally engaged.

The Reading to Learn program has been developed over a decade in the context of Aboriginal education. The problems that Aboriginal students experience with schooling have been extensively researched in this program (Rose 1999, 2004, 2005).

As almost all Aboriginal students in NSW schools are in classes with a majority of non-Aboriginal students, their needs cannot be addressed without addressing normal classroom practices. The approach taken by Reading to Learn is not to withdraw or treat any of these students differently, but to train teachers to support all the students in their classes to successfully achieve the syllabus outcomes. Additional support can also be provided to weaker students, working with the same texts as the mainstream classes in which they are studying.

In general terms the solution is to integrate reading and writing with classroom activities, at all levels of schooling, in all curriculum areas. Teaching reading should not cease after junior primary, should not be separate from the curriculum content that is being read, and should be aimed at engaging all students equally. For this reason Reading to Learn trains teachers at all levels of to teach reading and writing as part of their normal classroom practice, and also trains support teachers/tutors to teach weaker students to read class texts (not lower level texts).

The needs of Aboriginal students in school are the context in which the project was planned and implemented. They are described in the following diagram, in three layers. The outside layer is the students’ home and community cultures. The most significant aspects of this environment for their schooling include:

  • the cultural and home issues that may impact on their well-being in the school, and their engagement in the school curriculum, and
  • the oral family culture of many students which impacts on their skills in engaging with the reading and writing demands of schooling.

The inner layer is the culture of schooling, in which the central goals for all students include:

  • achieving academic success, and
  • feeling that they belong as full members of the school community.

Learner identities in the cultures of home and school

 

 

The middle layer of the diagram represents what is needed to bring the cultural and home issues of Aboriginal students into the school culture and to meet the learning needs of students from oral home cultures. The aim is for all Aboriginal students to build strong integrated identities as both learners and community members. On one hand, an inclusive curriculum is required that can connect school learning with the Aboriginal family and community cultures. On the other hand, an inclusive approach is required that teaches reading and writing across the curriculum in all school grades, to ensure that all Aboriginal students can succeed. This model formed part of the submission from the Office of the Board of Studies to the 2003 NSW Aboriginal Education Review .

The focus of this project was primarily on showing how the latter goal can be achieved, using the Reading to Learn approach. But in addition, many texts chosen for lesson planning were either by Aboriginal authors or about Aboriginal issues, history and culture. Furthermore the project directly involved the Aboriginal community, through participation of Aboriginal Education Assistants in the final workshop, that considered strategies for bridging home. community and school for Aboriginal students

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Disclaimer:

These materials are provided for research purposes and may contain opinions that are not shared by the Board of Studies NSW.
Meeting the literacy needs of Aboriginal students