Regenerating Indigenous Literacy Resourcefulness: A Middle School Intervention

By Godinho, Sally; Woolley, Marilyn et al. | Literacy Learning: The Middle Years, February 2014 | Go to article overview

Regenerating Indigenous Literacy Resourcefulness: A Middle School Intervention


Godinho, Sally, Woolley, Marilyn, Webb, Jessie, Winkel, Kenneth, Literacy Learning: The Middle Years


Introduction

This article discusses a literacy intervention strategy undertaken with middle school students at a remote Indigenous community school in the Northern Territory. This intervention was implemented by members of the Sharing Place, Learning Together project, an interdisciplinary team comprised of educators from the Graduate School of Education and the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of Melbourne. A key project aim is to support the development of English literacy through Science, Health and IT cross-disciplinary connections. It is the project's intent to place the cultural and intellectual resources students have acquired outside the classroom at the centre of planning for learning, and to ensure that culturally appropriate pedagogies inform teaching practices.

Maningrida College, a P-12 government school, is situated on the coast 550 kilometres east of Darwin in North Eastern Arnhem Land. It is one of the largest and most diverse towns in the Northern Territory (NT), and home to more than ten Aboriginal cultural groups. Seven main languages are spoken in the area, predominantly Ndjebbana, Burrara, Nakara, Kunwin'ku, Gurrgoni, Rembarrnga and Jinang, with English being spoken to various degrees of proficiency. The My School website reveals that the College has an enrolment of 554 students--97% being Indigenous students with a language background other than English. The level of student disadvantage is reflected in the school's Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) rating of 581-1000 being the average--and a school attendance rate of 53% (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA], n.d.).

In an attempt to address issues of middle school disengagement, the College's Language and Cultural Coordinator, has fostered a Learning on Country program. This government-funded program, one of four piloted in Arnhem Land, is designed for Indigenous students to physically learn 'on country' through day trips and bush camps within the large Djelk Indigenous Protected Area surrounding the Maningrida township. The Learning on Country approach acknowledges that, in remote communities, Indigenous knowledge and local development aspirations must be a central component of teachers' practice and their pedagogic design (Altman & Kerins, 2012; Fogarty & Schwab, 2011).

Support from the Sharing Place, Learning Together team was sought by the College's principals to assist in delivering both the literacy aspect of its Operational Plan (Northern Territory Department of Education and Training, 2011) and its commitment to their Learning on Country program. A major goal was to increase school attendance and halve the achievement gap between Indigenous students and the wider school population in English reading and writing within a decade. The College's plan takes into account the First four hours of English only policy (Northern Territory Department of Education and Training, 2008) and the College's National Assessment Program--Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) data, which revealed very poor results for remote Indigenous students. The Operational Plan also responds to a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) (2008) agreement to halve the gap in reading and writing achievement by 2018, one of six broad Closing the gap targets to address disadvantage faced by Indigenous Australians. To implement this particular target in 900 identified schools, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan was endorsed by COAG in May 2011.

An underlying focus of the Sharing Place, Learning Together team's early visits to Maningrida College was to explore the possibilities of an authentic integration of literacy, the environment, science, health and technology. A bush trip with students, elders and teachers to Mangrove Country, along with activities whereby students illustrated, painted, spoke and wrote about their knowledge, led to a multimodal website featuring student profiles and group presentations. …

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