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'If students can't learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn' (Ignacio Estrada, via Tomlinson)

Posts Tagged ‘Australian Curriculum’

Aboriginal Perspectives Resources (with thanks to Anita Heiss)

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 27, 2013

As teachers know, the new Australian Curriculum includes three cross-curriculum ‘priorities’, one of which is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures.  One of the science topics includes Year 2 students identifying toys from different cultures that use the forces of push or pull, and this made me wonder about traditional Aboriginal games and whether there was a concept of a ‘toy’ in nomadic lifestyles.  I’ve read a few memoirs and a quite a few children’s books by ATSI authors but I don’t recall any of them referring to this topic at all.

My Australian Story: Who am I?Keen to include Aboriginal perspectives on this topic if possible, I contacted Dr Anita Heiss who is Adjunct Professor at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, at the University of Technology, Sydney.  Many teachers will also know her as the author of My Australian Story: Who am I?

Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal LiteratureBut she also co-edited the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature which I recommend as an introduction to the diversity of indigenous writing  – see my review at ANZ LitLovers  – and she is also the author of these entertaining novels: Manhattan Dreaming, Not Meeting Mr Right, Avoiding Mr Right, and Paris Dreaming.  These popular novels are about sharing the highs and lows of being an urban Aboriginal woman but pitched at a mainstream audience.  Read more about the rationale for these ‘chick-lit’ novels here.

Manhattan Dreaming Not Meeting Mr Right Avoiding Mr Right Paris Dreaming

Am I Black Enough for You?Her most recent book is Am I Black Enough for You? which as the book blurb says is a rejoinder to racist remarks made about ‘being too ‘fair-skinned’ to be an Australian Aboriginal. Such accusations led to  Anita’s involvement in one of the most important and sensational Australian legal decisions of the 21st-century when she joined others in charging a newspaper columnist with breaching the Racial Discrimination Act. He was found guilty, and the repercussions continue. This book is on my TBR and I will be reviewing it on the ANZ LitLovers blog when I’ve read it.

Anyway, Anita generously gave her time to reply to my query with some suggested sites:

Yulunga, Traditional Indigenous Games is an ‘activity resource of over 100 traditional Indigenous games created to provide all Australians with an opportunity to learn about, appreciate and experience aspects of Indigenous culture’.   It’s available as a CD-ROM.  Order it here.

There are tips and advice about teachers self-educating about indigenous history and culture at The Critical Classroom.   It’s not about doing formal professional development (though that’s a good idea if you can access it), it’s about reading indigenous literature, listening to indigenous music, using social media and viewing indigenous music. I’d add checking out indigenous art wherever you can access it, and if you’re in Melbourne, keeping an eye out for relevant events at the Wheeler Centre or the NGV at Federation Square.   If you’re keen to read indigenous literature, you might want to join in Indigenous Literature Week at ANZ LitLovers, I’m hosting it there each year during NAIDOC Week.  (If you don’t know where to begin, I’ve also reviewed some lovely books about indigenous art, mostly published by Wakefield Press, and UQP who sponsor the David Unaipon Award and are great supporters of indigenous writing have also sent me some interesting memoirs.  Check the Indigenous Writing Category in the ANZ LitLovers RHS menu to see what’s available there.)

The Critical Classroom has all kinds of useful resources including this game: Birrguu Matya: A Wiradjuri board game.   Links for where to buy it are here and if you ‘like’ The Critical Classroom at Facebook you can keep in touch with all kinds of stuff.

If you know of any additional resources or bloggers who’re working on this too, please share what you know in the comments below.

Posted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Australian Curriculum, Indigenous Teaching Resources, Learning and teaching, Resources to share | Tagged: , | Comments Off on Aboriginal Perspectives Resources (with thanks to Anita Heiss)

Australian Curriculum – it’s all systems go!

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 22, 2011

News just in* is that MCEECDYA (the Ministerial Council for all stuff educational) has approved the final version i.e. the achievement standards of the Australian Curriculum as we have it so far (English, maths, history and science). This means that all ministers, state and federal, of whatever political persuasion and despite all the posturing that’s gone on, have given the curriculum the nod.

After all the work that’s been done, they would have been mad not to.  For well over a century we have had the absurd situation of each state having to fund curriculum development from their eight separate education budgets.  For any state to reject the AC would have meant them having to start again, at the beginning, at their own expense, and have an out-of-date curriculum until a new one was written.  Cash-strapped state governments were never going to abandon the AC at this stage of its development, whatever the political grandstanding.

Educational publishers must also be breathing a sign of relief.  Instead of commissioning and publishing materials for all the different school systems, they can now produce better, cheaper materials that can be used right around the country.  Thank goodness for that, because that will keep Australian educational publishing profitable, and so schools will be less at risk of having to make-do with inappropriate imported materials from you-know-where.

Given that each state is coming from a different base, it does make sense for implementation plans to be state specific.  Victoria’s plans are laid out at the VCAA  Australian Curriculum page; readers from other states can find what their state is doing from the ACARA Implementation Coordination page.   But for all of us right around the country, it means reporting against those new achievement standards from 2013 onwards.

So we’re going to be busy in 2012.  We’ll have a hybrid curriculum until the rest of the AC is available but we have a lot of work to do in the four subjects that we currently have.  At the school level, we’ll be auditing existing curriculum, tweaking what we have and developing new units where needed.  What will really matter is that we design first-class assessment strategies and tasks that allow kids to show what they know and can do.

However, the most important thing is that we use this curriculum to create engaging learning that’s fit for 21st century kids, many of whom will be 22nd century adults.  After all, five-year-olds in a 2013 Prep class will most likely live to be over 100, what an exciting thought!

Resources to support Victorian schools will be available at this VCAA page from October 24th.

*You can sign up for an email newsletter to keep abreast of AC developments at the ACARA website.  Click on this link and find it on the LHS menu (on their Home page).

Posted in Australian Curriculum, Opinion | Tagged: | Comments Off on Australian Curriculum – it’s all systems go!

Keynote address History Teachers Conference: Prof Stuart McIntyre

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 3, 2011

(Prof McIntyre along with Tony Taylor, has been a Lead Writer involved in the writing of the Australian History Curriculum)

It’s three years since work on the National Curriculum began: it’s now at an advanced stage and ministers for education have agreed to staged implementation.  It’s hardly been rushed…and while it’s been making slow progress….

…the consensus about implementing it has since  weakened due to the federal election and successive state elections, and there have been discouraging statements from the opposition. 

Prof McIntyre has some reservations about some changes:  Some recent revisions have altered the underlying design of the curriculum, and some have taken no account of the consultative process.

It was initially determined that the curriculum had to start from first principles, not be an amalgam of existing curricula, have a futures perspective and so on. The issue of there being distinct disciplines is one that McIntyre agrees with, and he was pleased that History is conceptualised as it is in AC. It’s important that history be a World History, it needs to go beyond what’s familiar and dear to us. The writers also recognised that most Australian children found history classes boring and they wanted to redress this.

The AC document partially realises its aims. The primary curriculum is less than he had hoped, because it’s constrained by lack of time available, and because it’s mostly taught within an integrated curriculum.  most primary teachers are not trained historians. Remains to be seen how much time it gets given the focus on literacy and numeracy.  It’s not much about a world history; it’s about home, community, and the nation (in later primary years).  It’s very Australian – some minor comparisons e.g. NAIDOC day can be compared with Bastille Day, but it’s overwhelmingly local – given that Australia has an immigrant background, it’s remarkable that there’s no greater attempt to invoke their histories. There’s still a lot about military history, and it’s a bit Eurocentric. In later years Asian history is episodic, and there’s not enough about other countries.   No history can be fully comprehensive, but it could be better, he thinks.

Digitisation has brought history out of its previously specialised academic limitations – the problem now is not opportunity. School history needs to excite so that students have the skills to evaluate what’s online.  But many teachers want to hang on to topics they’re comfortable with, and the history curriculum has had to cede some of its topics to social science, that is, many of the big picture issues that history might excite students with, e.g. globalisation, were criticised because that was ‘current affairs’. 

So – what happens next rests with the teachers who have to implement it!

Posted in Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Conferences Attended | Tagged: , | Comments Off on Keynote address History Teachers Conference: Prof Stuart McIntyre

Gender, Literature and the Australian History Curriculum by Dr David Rhodes 2011 HTAA National Conference

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 3, 2011

How does ‘difference’ manifest itself in the history curriculum?

This session, (which I thought was going to be about the omission of women from history), was actually about people who are same-sex attracted.  It turned out to be very interesting, even though there wasn’t much about literature.

Rhodes began by showing a continuum clarifying the difference between

  • sex (biological)
  • gender identity (how I feel on the inside)
  • gender expression (what I show to the world) and
  • sexual orientation.

Presumption of heterosexuality is automatic in schools, schools are highly gendered places and transmitters of social values. 

Should it be like this?  The Melbourne Declaration (2008) asserts equity in education in all systems that is free from discrimination of any kind including gender and sexual orientation.  An inclusive classroom wouldn’t make school so problematic for adolescents who are same-sex attracted.

The AC is guided by this Melbourne Declaration. A national curriculum that is inclusive ought to enable the 10% of students who are same-sex-attracted to know about people like themselves who have thrived and achieved great things in the past.

From its earliest times the colonial government was keen to stamp out homosexuality: only murder and sodomy was punishable by death. (The sentences was to be handed over to the New Zealand natives to be eaten!)

The ‘love that dare not speak its name’ (a term coined by Oscar Wilde’s lover, Lord Douglas) was talked about, mainly in terms of stamping it out.  Rhodes showed extensive research that shows the extent of discrimination, e.g.

  • in 2000 26% of those  surveyed had suffered discrimination during their education, e.g. non directed homophobic comments, to
  • serious physical assaults over a number of years. Disturbingly this often happened with the knowledge of teachers.

GLSEN 2009 (US) National School Climate Survey showed that

  • 75% of LGBT teens hear slurs such as faggot or dyke frequently or often at school
  • 9 of 10 report hearing anti-LGBT language frequently or often
  • Homophobic remarks such as ‘that’s so gay’ are most commonly heard.

In Australia WTi3 research shows that

  • 61% reported verbal abuse because of homophobia
  • 18% reported physical abuse
  • 80% said school was the most likely place for it to occur
  • 69% reported other forms of homophobia including exclusion and rumours.
  • 10% reported that there was no sexuality education
  • 40% said there were no social or structural support features fro sexual difference
  • Only 19% reported a school supportive of their sexuality
  • Over 1/3 reported the school as homophobic
  • The internet was the most important source of information about homophobia and discrimination, gay and lesbian relationships and gay and lesbian safe sex.

Schools have an obligation to teach about homophobia, but within the secondary curriculum homosexuals do not exist.

‘They are ‘nonpersons’ in the finest Stalinist sense. They have fought no battles, held no offices, explored nowhere, written no literature, built nothing, invented nothing and solved no equations’. (Unks, 1995, p5)

The message is that they have done nothing of consequence, and the new curriculum offers an opportunity to redress this. Using a positive psychology framework, Rhodes’ school has a Y7-12 program called Love Bites which aims to build positive relationships, adapted from NSW for the NT. 

Research shows that a whole-school approach is essential. One teacher challenging ‘that’s so gay’ achieves nothing; a whole school approach can have an effect. Anti-homophobia is part of their no bullying approach. 

Such a program needs to

  • Be age appropriate
  • Offer consistent messages
  • Be incorporated into an inclusive multicultural curriculum
  • Identify GLBT historical figures/issues
  • Offer literature as a resource for students.

For example, no study of Nazi Germany could be complete without reference to the number of homosexual people who were murdered by the Nazis, (Estimated to be 100,000, equal to the population of Darwin).  It should be mentioned.

Literature: there is a great Gay canon available which can be used as a resource. Often a heterosexual background is mentioned (i.e. wife, family of author) but there is a silence about the home life of homosexuals. 

Rhodes showed some interesting resources from the US but they would need to be adapted for Australian schools. is a photography campaign that has been set up to fight homophobia.  There are gay role models featured on the site.

It’s important not to focus on the negative, which is mostly society’s negative responses: there has been homophobia in history, e.g. the Holocaust, but there should also be a focus on their achievements, the books written, the armies led etc.

It’s important to be alert to this issue: there have been recent examples of a return to previous attitudes around the world, not just for same sex attracted people but also for women and other aspects of social justice.


This session made me think that it’s interesting that other areas of discrimination are specifically addressed in our latest curriculum, e.g. against women, Aboriginals, awareness of Asia, but not this one. I wonder if that’s the influence of the religious right??

Posted in Australian Curriculum, Conferences Attended | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

HTAA Conference opening address: Closing the Achievement Gap

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 3, 2011

Closing the Achievement Gap: will the national education agenda be a help or a hindrance?

Prof Alan Reid, University of South Australia

NB These are notes taken at the History Teachers Association conference, and they are done ‘on the run’ so they may not fully represent what was said. If I had made any errors please contact me ASAP and I will correct them.

Equity: increasing national influence over education which has been the province of the states. Reid supports the principle, but has some concerns re equity.
Equity = dominant theme in national agenda, revival of its importance, talk of closing the achievement gap and used to make judgements about education programs.
Reid thinks most programs are counter productive because processes are superficial and lacking in education research – won’t achieve the rhetoric.

History of education and equity in Australia –

1870- 1960s
concept of equity weak – schools established for working class children, basic, elementary schooling for the purposes of social control.  Secondary education was for middle and upper class children who’d be leaders – over the century access broadened via an emerging ideology that had a liberal, meritocratic agenda – people could succeed if they had the ability, interest and capacity for hard work. But it didn’t take account of child’s background so it tended to replicate existing patterns.  Most children still left at 14 or went to tech.  Exceptions ‘proved’ that this system ‘worked’. 
1960s – early 1990s
Post-war demand for better opportunity – age of compulsion rose to 15,  economy needed more skilled workers, need for more mass education, finishing secondary education

became the norm, and 70s and 80s states funded eg disadvantaged schools program to redress unequal outcomes.  Realisation that equity was not just an individual concern, also collective and social – wanting all children to contribute.  Recognise of barriers e.g. from particular barriers which needed to be removed, curriculum and resource barriers.  Research showed that tackling inequity was more complex than first thought.  Strategies – funding policies, curriculum reforms, teaching strategies to broaden away from favouring certain cultural groups. Not a golden age, some inroads made and recognise that sustainable long  term change would be difficult.

1990s – 2007
Education as a key factor in economic reform.  Economic purposes of education strengthened with ideological twist: market ; talk of equity waned: a positional good for individuals not a social good, choice and competition.

2007 -present (Rudd/ Gillard)
– equity returns to centre stage – goal lifting retention rates to 90% , lifting participation for disadvantaged groups, improving outcomes for Aboriginal children etc.  Equity has a visible presence in rhetoric, but there’s no clear meaning of what equity means, so equity is shaped by 3 dominant ideologies:
1. preparation for workforce
2. schools operate best when they compete against each other in an  education market
3. Best way to achieve quality is via transparent accountability to enable consumer choice and strategies to motivate teachers.

PISA and NAPLAN are used to assess progress. These enable assertions about gaps, but not in effective strategies to change anything.  Only simplistic policy solutions, which don’t and won’t work.

Reid’s analysis:
1. Policy simplification
2. Policy borrowing
3. Policy catch-up

1.  Policy simplification
Tanner shows how policy is being dumbed down in Australia – in education this is true too. e.g.
* Causes of problems rarely explored with frequent leaps from problem to solution. e.g. research about quality teaching has leapt into focus as the sole factor instead of looking at other matters such as child background and it sets up false expectations and is doomed to failure.  Any criticism is met with response that you don’t care about quality teaching.
* language of certainty: ‘it’s the right thing to do’.  NAPLAN raised as ‘real and true’ sole arbiter of truth, more nuanced data excluded as soft.
* strident over-claiming about its benefits – first draft of national curriculum said it was a world class curriculum, claiming world status. Politicians chest thumping about standardised testing showing improvement = result of policies they’ve put in place.
* Professional educations not trusted, often blamed and rarely consulted.
* Increasing trust of people with no expertise in education, non-experts in education gaining a hold in policy circles.  e.g. business people, lawyers, journalists, etc. Bill Gates is involved in policy in the US. Here in Australia, Murdoch in 2008despite spending more and more money presented Boyer lectures Golden Age of Freedom, one dedicated to education, an American businessman talking about education during the GFC, in Australia, UK and US, ‘our public education systems are a disgrace’ ‘children learning less and less’ – no evidence given for this, apportioned blame to the public school educators.  His reasons for wanting equity are economic not social justice, 3 strategies needed: set higher standards; holding schools to account, corporations should get involved in schools especially at the lower leaders b/c they know better than anyone else what’s needed to make sure children ‘at least a basic education’.  (Don’t quote this online without checking properly).  Quoted some very amusing and reductive ideas from Murdoch which would be funny if he had no influence. The speech was widely reported and very favourably.  Since then he has outlined plans for the Murdoch corporation to become a major provider of educational materials, and has recently spent big on this agenda. 

Policy borrowing
Risky to import from other countries with a different culture.  Education Revolution borrows from New York. In 2002 Joel Klein lawyer and businessman was appointed in charge of education system – they had to change the rules b/c he had no background in education.  he used to lifting the gap rhetoric, and designed an education program to improve it i.e. he set up

  • the use of standardised test results,
  • awarding schools public grades with consequences, i.e. the school got grants if A, principals removed or school closed down if graded E or F
  • Bonuses to principals and schools for rewards
  • Charter schools offering ‘choice’
  • Promoted the ‘Teach for America’ program – recruitment of top graduates from other areas, gave them 6 weeks teacher training and then put them into disadvantaged schools.

Two years later Klein claimed great improvement, though there were vociferous protests from communities when disadvantaged schools closed.  Julia Gillard was education minister at this time and invited him here, and she had no doubt about his effectiveness, claiming his ideas to be ‘morally compelling and intellectually convincing’.  So our ‘Education Revolution’ resembles Klein’s agenda:

  • My School 1 & 2
  • Performance bonuses for schools with improved NAPLAN
  • Performance bonuses for teachers and principals
  • Autonomous schools (like Charter schools)
  • Teach for Australia

What’s wrong with this?  Apart from the fact that we have different circumstances, and different contexts, there are these problems:

1. If we’re going to borrow, borrow from successful countries. Assuming international PISA tests have validity, US was ranked 29th and Australia 15th in Maths results, and Australia 9th and17th US in reading results.  We should have borrowed from Canada or Finland who are ranked higher than us not below us.
2. It ignores research from US and UK which shows the failures of these ‘accountability’ regimes. They narrow the curriculum, and they get phony results because schools exclude students, teach from the test, they cheat etc. There are NO improved outcomes overall.   Performance bonuses show they don’t work, and they diminish teacher collegiality as well. 
3. We should investigate in depth the claims made by people like Klein before transplanting the policy. In 2009 84% of schools were A rated – apparently huge advances, and Klein was riding high then.  The US mayor used these results to bolster his re-election, and Gillard became enamoured of this approach. But claims subsequently surfaced that the tests were getting easier, and teachers could prepare the students because the test didn’t change from year to year, and the benchmark was being lowered.  When a new test was introduced due to public pressure, (a national test) – results plummeted.  Over half the schools failed English, worse for black and Latino students.  This revealed the agenda as sham, and NY parents protested about exaggerated results because it denied help to children.  The equity gap as wide as ever it was…

These results were replicated in other US states which adopted the regime too. Klein quickly resigned and went elsewhere, i.e. to Murdoch’s education division.  

But this is the regime that Gillard wants to impose.  *sigh*

3. Policy catch-up (policy ‘Spakfiller’)
As problems emerge from implementing AC Phases 1 & 2, curriculum writers have to paper over the cracks,  handicapped by previous policy statements that were made. 

The National curriculum began with just 4 subjects and had no sense about the other subjects, no coherent ideas about them and then they were gradually added in phases 1 & 2. (ACARA says this was always intended because of the Melbourne Declaration).  But the subjects not in The Big 4 can only pick up the scraps so the lack of an overall curriculum design is problematic.

The Implementation timetables had to be altered anyway because the original timetable was unrealistic – so they could have actually redesigned the whole curriculum while they had time.  Conceptually opportunities have been lost.  Catch up work still needs to be done to patch the gaps, for example:. 
1. Assessment and reporting: the nature of achievement standards not thought out well, there’s no common approach within subjects or between them.  Some are just summaries of content.
2. General capabilities – were supposed to be so important e.g. creativity: but naming and defining them has not been done well so individual writers had to do the best they could.  Catch up now being done, but there’s still no conceptualisation about what they are.
3. Approaches to equity and curriculum – no statement about principles to be followed, ACARA is currently advertising for people to give advice about that.
4. Interdisciplinary work – should/could have provided triggers or signals for this to be done, again catch up being done.

The curriculum has a narrow, emaciated, individualised view of equity: it’s counterproductive to achieving equity- public test results and holding individual schools to account won’t change anything.  It’s a complex area, and it’s galling that instant non experts are destroying the hard won gains over the years. 

Our curriculum should 

  • Be based on a developed and articulated view of equality
  • Be thorough and systematic and recognise complexities
  • Be based on research
  • Not reinforce inequities
  • Trust the profession
  • Be wary of hyper inflated claims

Thanks to the History Teachers Association of South Australia for hosting a great conference!

PS I will tidy these notes up a bit when I get home and it’s not costing me  a mint to be online.

Posted in Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Conferences Attended | Tagged: , | Comments Off on HTAA Conference opening address: Closing the Achievement Gap