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Using a Two-way or Intercultural Approach

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this resource may contain images and voices of deceased persons.

The BOSTES would like to acknowledge that some of the video clips used in this resource have been reproduced from the Education Department of Western Australia's resource, Ways of Being, Ways of Talk (2007) with their permission.

Using a two-way or intercultural approach

It is clear that teachers need to be explicit in helping their students identify the linguistic and cultural resources that they bring to the classroom. Teachers can help their students by being aware of different cultural expectations, for example, the discomfort many Aboriginal people feel about being singled out. They can then design their classroom activities to both accommodate these cultural differences and to scaffold Australian English literacy and cultural literacy for their students.

How can teachers facilitate two-way or intercultural learning?


What we would like to see is that the teacher has got at the back of the mind, that this is the situation, ‘So, I’ve got this variation here’, and in devising every single task to be mindful of this fact that they’ve got this variation that there are some students who might be speaking Aboriginal English, and incorporate that. Or let’s say it would be best if whatever educational activity they are going to get involved in, they somehow, that educational activity is informed by the principles that I’ve been talking about now and by the conscious awareness that some of the kids might be speaking Aboriginal English.

So this starts from text and constructing text, from developing and writing text that of course, again as I said, some students might be actually writing, constructing texts, that might be a mixture of both varieties of their home dialect as well as their school. It is the teacher’s task to help students identify which features are the features of the first language, I mean Aboriginal English, which is not an easy thing to do. But I think simply to ignore the fact that some of the features of the text production might be features of Aboriginal English would have negative consequences, both for teachers and students in terms of achievement.

Teachers, again as I said, can use variation and the use, the existence of Aboriginal English in the class, as a kind of resource, as I said, in terms of helping students write journals and come to the blackboard and have one section for Aboriginal English and one section for Australian English, and try to identify certain words and ask their students to ‘Can you, you know, this is the word family, can you write what you think on the board, or draw some pictures or something?’ Because sometimes, you know, pictures best reflect what is going on in the mind of the students, so they can show other students that, for example, for these Aboriginal students that the notion of family is associated with so many people, you know, little and older people.

We need, I think, to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of linguistic and cultural diversity that we have within our educational context, but use them as a kind of resource to our benefit. I think it would be beneficial for us to use what we know about Aboriginal approaches to learning in general, and if we can cultivate it and use it within the classroom, that would benefit and that would speed up the process of learning by Aboriginal children.

Some of the activities that have traditionally been used in the Western system of education are more individualistic in nature and require an individual, for example, to stand in front of a class and to talk to an audience. Now children who come from more collectivist backgrounds, and group-oriented backgrounds, including Aboriginal children, may not be so much comfortable with this approach.

I’ve been talking about the notion of shame, they might feel ‘shame’ in the Aboriginal English sense of the word when they’re being asked to stand in front of the class and give a talk. Therefore they might not say anything and remain silent and that’s when they are described as being shy, or not having enough information or knowledge to reproduce it to the class.

Now, we could, for example, think about what is called the ‘yarning time’, as opposed to the ‘news time’ when an individual might be uncomfortable, I’m talking about an Aboriginal English-speaking child, uncomfortable in standing there and just giving an account of news or something under the ‘spotlight’ and being singled out. Let’s think about the yarning time for example and in some classes it might be appropriate to ask the children to sit around pretending that you’ve got a fire there and you can use paper and colours and everything to produce an environment which looks like a campfire or something and they can start talking about this, that they start to what we call ‘yarn’ in Aboriginal English.

Sharing stories, and often in yarning what happens is that one student starts something, but then you might see five students at the same time contributing to the construction of this yarn. So it’s not one person’s account, it might be a group person account, and I remember when I was doing the research that I was talking about, one of the teachers said, ‘Sometimes I’ve got 12 Aboriginal students standing up in my class and all at the same time to tell one story and it’s difficult for me to ask them to sit down and say, ‘No, this is not your turn’.

So why not, if that is a culturally appropriate way, an approach to learning, why not foster that kind of approach to learning and provide an opportunity for Aboriginal English-speaking children to actually learn from each other and share stories with each other to help them in terms of learning.

Giving Aboriginal English due recognition


We've got to remember that when most Aboriginal students start school, they assume everyone speaks the same as them and if teachers are not familiar with Aboriginal English, it's likely they'll assume the Aboriginal student has a language deficiency.

Can you see the value there in using how they speak at home to build? Absolutely, I can. I think, you know, it's essential that you tune in to your children and so I think this is, you know, an obvious way of doing it.

You have to remember that language is the carrier of culture and identity. If we don't recognise and value this, it can undermine a child's self-esteem, self-concept and ultimately affect reconciliation.

By giving Aboriginal English due recognition, Indigenous people have a far greater chance of developing higher competency in Standard Australian English, as they no longer see it as a threat to their cultural maintenance.

Aboriginal people want their children to learn Standard English so they can use it as a tool to access Western institutions, such as health, education, finance and politics, in a more powerful way so they can take control of their own lives within the non-Aboriginal system.

What are the main aspects of two-way or intercultural learning in the Aboriginal education context?

The first step is to build a relationship between staff and students. Second, students and teachers work together to identify when misunderstandings occur and only then does explicit teaching of the differences between Australian and Aboriginal English begin. The final stage is learning about the contexts in which each will be used.

The main aspects of two-way or intercultural learning in the Aboriginal education context


As part of our two-way approach to learning and teaching, we have been talking about four dimensions. The first one is relationship building, and that really involves building relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal staff and students in terms of wanting to learn from each other and respecting each other, on an equal basis. That’s to start with, that we need to start working on building a kind of relationship between staff and students as a start and, as I said, wanting to learn about each other.

The second step is what we call mutual comprehension building, and that's where as a result of our research we realised there's a lot of potential for misunderstanding, so the aim here is to identify those differences that might cause misunderstanding and miscommunication. So this is the second important part and working towards identifying, as I said, the differences between the two varieties that might lead to misunderstanding and breakdown in communication.

The third one is what we call repertoire building and that’s exactly where the explicit teaching of these differences between Standard Australian English and Aboriginal English starts. Okay, let’s be explicit about the features of Standard Australian English and, of course, about the differences that exist between these features and the counterparts in Aboriginal English.

And the last part is what we call skill building, and that's really the stage where we would help Aboriginal English-speaking children to understand the benefit of learning Standard Australian English. What is the use of Standard Australian English, in what context? In what ways and in what contexts it would benefit you? It would empower you, both now and future. In what areas, what kind of access to what levels of the society would it give you? And also again, to make it clear, the differences and contexts in which they would need to use Aboriginal English, and it would be more culturally appropriate to use Aboriginal English.

So these are the four fundamental points of reference, if you like, in our two-way approach to learning and teaching.

What are the advantages of using a two-way or intercultural approach to teaching students who speak a different variety of English?

Here you can here Anthony Galluzzo speak about the importance of non-Aboriginal teachers respecting Aboriginal English and using it as a resource to help their students succeed.

The importance of non-Aboriginal teachers respecting Aboriginal English


Without even knowing what Aboriginal English was and what it looked like, I knew I spoke differently at times to non-Aboriginal people that I grew up with, or non-Aboriginal friends and colleagues.

I certainly realised that I had this different English or a dialect of English, but I didn’t know what it was. But I think I worked harder, subconsciously worked harder to ensure that I could do both. And try to make non-Aboriginal people understand what I was saying without making them feel uncomfortable or making them feel that they didn’t know about Aboriginal culture, because I certainly always, always talk to people about the importance of being Aboriginal to myself and being Italian and how Aboriginal English is my first language at home, and the importance of it to me, but to Aboriginal people, and why we speak it and why it’s not a poor lazy language of English or dialect of English. It certainly has historical meaning and cultural significance for Aboriginal people and that’s something that I recognised growing up.

I think that’s something that needs to be encouraged by non-Aboriginal teachers in the classroom. If you have Aboriginal students, you need to support them. Certainly you are going to say, 'Well, how would you say this?’ Talk to the students about it, use the students’ understanding of Aboriginal English, making them feel that they are certainly knowledge givers of Aboriginal English, but they also can and do use Standard English in other forms, so they need to maybe share that with the rest of the class so that not only is it a resource that can be used in your classroom or as a teaching tool for yourself, but it certainly makes us Aboriginal kids feel safe in that classroom, encouraged in that classroom and part of  that classroom.

And I think that's something that non-Aboriginal people and certainly other Aboriginal people when you go to a different community as well that you need to know that Aboriginal people and Aboriginal students in a classroom do have that knowledge of both and they're working with both languages at any given time and that's something that they need to be encouraged to make positive, is that they are, first, speakers of Aboriginal English, but they also do use Standard English as well.

The message is clear, that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people can benefit from learning more about each other’s culture and language. In this way, communication is less likely to
break down.

Using an intercultural approach to teaching students who speak a different variety of English


I would like just to make a comment on the fact that some teachers might find the whole package of information as overwhelming and say, ‘Wow, it’s too difficult!’ Probably if we sum up everything in about half an hour, it might sound daunting and a lot of information and a lot of work. But it really doesn’t need to be so.

If we start today in terms of awareness, first of all acknowledging awareness, and move towards implementation and, as I said, in terms of bridging the gap and cultivation, it might take some time. But I am sure, as I have seen with many teachers in Australia, the end point is very refreshing and very rewarding when you see the children do not stop coming to a class. They do come to a class. They also bring cousins to a class and you see more students in your class than you’re supposed to have, and I’m talking from experience, that these teachers say, ‘My Aboriginal students bring more cousins into the class because we provide a chance for them to share stories and everything’. So definitely it doesn’t need to be very daunting.

Nowadays we are providing a lot of information packages, such as videos and things that teachers would be able to watch at their own leisure. They don’t need to, such as the one, the great job that you are doing in terms of providing video, that they don’t need to read a lot of academic boring stuff, just watching someone having a chat about some of these issues. That hopefully might help a bit.

But, as I said, at the end of the day, it’s about getting to know your students, and helping them to achieve the best potential, to bring in the best in your students, and that starts with acknowledging where they are. If we want to build on what students bring to the class, first of all we need to start knowing what is it that they bring into the class. And we’re talking about that, we’re talking about the cultural and linguistic capital that they bring into the class and they use it as a kind of investment, to build on it. This is to empower teachers. We have great teachers in Australia, we have one of the best tertiary systems in terms of training teachers at the university level, and really all this is about empowering teachers to just giving them a bit extra information to achieve their best, to achieve their best potential in their daily job.

As I said, it goes back to really just respecting our students by acknowledging who they are in terms of their language background, their cultural background, and this is the basic, really, level, and this is the basic that students can ask for, can ask the educational system to respect them for who they are, rather than say, ‘Park your language and cultural background at the door, and then come to the school’. It’s impossible. People do have identity in terms of culture and language and they bring it to the school, no matter what you ask them.

This is really the basic principle of simply respect, which brings about, we are talking about a mutual respect, which brings about mutual harmony and understanding in education that I'm sure would lead to success and this is all we wish for. All the best, thank you.

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Using a Two-way or Intercultural Approach