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The Quality Teaching Indigenous Project in New South Wales

Report

The Quality Teaching Indigenous Project (QTIP) in New South Wales is enhancing Aboriginal students’ learning in literacy, numeracy and ICT, providing more inclusive environments, and assisting teachers’ professional development in schools around the State.

The 21 participating schools are operating in partnership with local Aboriginal communities and in collaboration with the New South Wales State and local Aboriginal Education Consultative Groups (AECG), and are assisted by regional Aboriginal consultants and school Aboriginal Education Officers (AEO). The QTIP also gives teachers access to an Aboriginal cultural awareness module developed by TAFE. The development of a culturally inclusive curriculum is linked directly to the schools’ management plans. The QTIP is informed by the New South Wales Aboriginal Education and Training Strategy 2006–08.

The project’s professional learning for teachers helps them to make local Aboriginal cultural knowledge relevant to non-Indigenous as well as Indigenous students, and aims to raise all students’ understanding of, and engagement with, local Aboriginal cultural knowledge.

The project draws on the New South Wales pedagogical model described in Quality Teaching in New South Wales Public Schools, which outlines three dimensions of quality teaching: Intellectual Quality, Quality Learning Environment, and Significance. The dimension of Intellectual Quality is of particular importance for the project. It refers to pedagogy focused on producing deep understanding of substantive concepts, skills and ideas, and treats knowledge as something actively constructed during the learning process. It also encourages students to question and analyse content they encounter during the learning process. The dimension of Significance is used to connect lessons with students’ prior knowledge, incorporates student viewpoints and different cultural understandings, and values different types of knowledge.

Working in school-based action learning teams, teachers use student achievement data and evaluation of Aboriginal student learning needs to inform their own professional learning. Teachers also extend and support their knowledge and skills through collegial networks. The action learning approach contributes to improving and updating teachers’ professional understanding and knowledge of Quality Teaching.

The project’s learning activities are supported by an officer of the New South Wales Department of Education and Training. Project teams are also supported by academic partners from various NSW universities, who assist in collecting, analysing and reporting on data related to the impact of activities on teacher professional learning and student outcomes.

Case studies

Five school case studies of the QTIP have recently been completed, based on evaluations conducted by participating researchers from the University of Sydney.

Macksville Public School: talking and listening ‘round-robin’
Since 2006, kindergarten and Year 1 students at this north coast school have taken part in an innovative program to develop their speaking and listening skills. The program, described as a ‘round-robin sports, but for talking and listening’, was introduced by a support teacher who felt that children in the early years of schooling often lacked the confidence and language skills to interact well with each other in group and whole-class settings.

The program operates in one class at a time for a 40-minute session each day over a four- to six-week period. The class is divided into four mixed-ability groups led by one of three teaching support staff or the classroom teacher. At the end of each cycle, the support staff member moves on to another group. The activities were initially designed by the support staff, but in 2008, with funding from the Australian Government Quality Teacher Programme (AGQTP), QTIP provided each classroom teacher with release time to refine activities to suit the needs of her class.

Moama Public School: universal discourse – speaking the same language
There are approximately 250 students at Moama Public School, on the border of New South Wales and Victoria – some from the nearby Cummergunga Aboriginal community. Programs at the school have successfully improved students’ numeracy levels, spurring teachers to achieve similar improvements in literacy for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. Following consultation with the Cummergunga community, the school implemented the Accelerated Literacy program in 2006, with funding from QTIP. Students are taught to access appropriate language choices for Standard Australian English, and to be academically literate. Key elements of Accelerated Literacy are the use of a scaffolded sequence together with age-appropriate, ongoing high quality literary texts.

One teacher used the program for one hour each morning with her kindergarten classes throughout 2006–2007. Prior to 2006, lessons had been based on structured learning around groups that worked on different activities according to students’ ability levels, with the aim of providing individualised learning. Owing to concerns about uneven progress between groups, the focus now shifted toward whole-class learning, a move which was also in line with Accelerated Literacy pedagogy.

Providing background knowledge of the class text has helped bring students to the same starting level and, as a result, differences in students’ literacy learning and the levels at which groups were working have been minimised.

Moruya Public School: using contextual units for mathematics learning
There are many Aboriginal students at Moruya Public School. Consultation with the local Indigenous community on ways to improve the academic connectedness of these students resulted in three suggestions to provide meaningful learning contexts.

One suggestion was to use the Dreaming Track, situated between the Congo and Bingi headlands, and of major importance to the local Aboriginal community. The other two suggestions were related to fishing and wood-carting, activities integral to both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in Moruya.

Based on these suggestions, the teachers developed a set of three contextual units as part of mathematics learning for Stage 1 and Stage 2 students. The Aboriginal students brought to the units their expert background knowledge, making the learning richer for all students. Community members were also involved. For example, an Aboriginal elder spoke to the class about wood-carting as an occupation and some of the traditional uses of wood. The school’s Aboriginal Education Officer was present during the lessons.

The effectiveness of these units led to increased teacher uptake. A buddy system was instigated to guide and mentor novice teachers through the implementation. The units have been refined and supplemented, with ongoing revisions made possible through sources of support that included funding from the QTIP.

Narrabri West Public School: improving student engagement
When teachers at Narrabri West Public School embarked on an action learning project funded by the QTIP, they identified the need to improve the engagement levels and thinking skills of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. The QTIP team reviewed the school’s pedagogical practices and decided that by better catering for students’ preferred ways of learning, their overall engagement might improve. Students could then be challenged and extended, regardless of their ability levels.

Using the QTIP funding support for release time, the teachers, with input from regional consultants and the school’s Aboriginal Education Officer, cooperatively designed a unit that utilised Bloom’s Taxonomy, Multiple Intelligences and strategies to develop higher thinking skills within the framework provided by the New South Wales’ Quality Teaching model. The unit also included an Aboriginal perspective.

The new approach was then extended to all units of work throughout the school. Bloom’s grids formed the basis for unit planning, with teachers first seeking out or creating relevant grids, and adding local perspectives. Each sequence commenced with a concentrated period of explicit teaching to cover the content and knowledge required. Students then decided how the learning and its assessment would be undertaken by selecting from diverse activities designed to cater for individual learning styles.

Quirindi Public School: teacher ‘buddies’
Through the QTIP, teachers at Quirindi Public School undertook action learning to investigate ways to improve student writing, in particular the writing of Aboriginal students. The team found that students’ work improved when teachers used classroom assessment information to plan and scaffold each teaching and learning cycle. This also resulted in a stronger embedding of the New South Wales Quality Teaching elements, in particular the dimension of Significance and the element of Cultural Knowledge, into classroom practice.

A key feature of Quirindi’s approach was a ‘buddy’ system, where teachers, typically taking the same year level, worked in pairs. As classes were often in adjoining locations, walls could be opened up to create larger, combined learning areas. Buddies observed each other’s lessons and made use of Quality Teaching criteria when recording their findings. Buddies devised appropriate student assessment instruments such as A-E rubrics, and reviewed the outcomes of these assessments together.

The information gathered was used to determine students’ existing knowledge and skill levels, guide the direction of the forthcoming teaching and learning sequence, and set work for students at individually appropriate levels.

For Aboriginal students, this work was further strengthened by the inclusion of individual learning goals into documented Personalised Learning Plans (PLPs), which received strong support from parents and community.

The Australian Government Quality Teacher Programme

The Australian Government Quality Teacher Programme (AGQTP) provides funding to strengthen the understanding and skills of the teaching profession. This initiative is aimed at improving teacher quality and increasing the number of highly effective Australian schools to maximise student learning outcomes. The AGQTP projects are funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations as a Quality Teaching initiative. The QTIP operates within the AGQTP and is linked to previous AGQTP programs.

KLA

Subject Headings

School and community
Rural education
Primary education
Professional development
Numeracy
New South Wales (NSW)
Literacy
Education research
Civics education
Aboriginal students