Aboriginal Pedagogy Research Review

Student works on marketing and manufacture plans for his new invention "The Fishing Bundi" in a Design and Technology class in Walgett.

Student works on marketing and manufacture plans for his new invention "The Fishing Bundi" in a Design and Technology class in Walgett.

Aboriginal Pedagogies are:

Story-based, Flexibly-planned, Values-based, Transformative, Nature-centred, Adaptive, Authentic, Communal, Connected, Independent, Emotional, Responsive, Place-based, Holistic, Modelled, Cooperative, Spontaneous, Inquiring, Reflective, Creative, Experiential, Problem-based, Imitative, Person-oriented, Auditory, Visual, Non-verbal, Imaginal, Kinaesthetic, Trial and error, Repetitive, Oral. 

Our review of the literature and research on Aboriginal pedagogy found:


  • that culture impacts on optimal pedagogy for all learners
  • that explicit Aboriginal pedagogy is needed to improve outcomes for Indigenous learners
  • that there is common ground between Aboriginal pedagogies and the optimal pedagogies for all learners
  • that the work in this field to date has been inaccessible and culturally divisive
  • that a practical framework is needed for teachers to be able to organise and access this knowledge in cultural safety
  • and finally that a reconciling interface approach is needed to harmonise the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal pedagogical systems.

The complete review can be found in the draft report from the 8ways research:

Here is an excerpt organising the main points from the literature into the 8ways framework:

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Deconstruct/ Reconstruct

This way of learning organises notions of the holistic, global, scaffolded and independent learning orientations of Aboriginal students. This is about successive approximation to the efficient end product – learning wholes rather than parts (Harris, 1984). Students master activities and texts beginning with the whole structure, rather than a series of sequenced steps (Hughes, 1987; Stairs, 1994). There is a broad consensus in the literature that the Aboriginal learner “… concentrates on understanding the overall concept or task before getting down to the details.” (Hughes and More, 1997)

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Learning Maps

This way of learning is about making those overall shapes of structures in texts, activities and courses explicit in a visual way for Aboriginal learners. Teachers use diagrams or visualisations to map out processes for students to follow. In optimal Aboriginal pedagogy, the teacher and learner create “…a concrete, holistic image of the tasks to be performed. That image serves as an anchor or reference point for the learner.” (Hughes and More, 1997)

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Community Links

This way of learning draws together the research describing Aboriginal pedagogy as group-oriented, localised and connected to real-life purposes and contexts. In Aboriginal pedagogy, the motivation for learning is inclusion in the community. Aboriginal teaching refers to community life and values (Stairs, 1994).

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Symbols and Images

This way of learning enfolds the recurring concept in Aboriginal pedagogy research of our students being primarily visual-spatial learners (Hughes, 1992). But it goes beyond that, as in our way a teacher would utilise all the senses to build symbolic meaning in support of learning new concepts in classes, as a specifically Indigenous pedagogy involving the use of both concrete and abstract imagery (Bindarriy et al, 1991). It is different from the pedagogy of Learning Maps, in that it focuses on symbols at the micro level of content rather than the macro level of processes.

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Kinaesthetic, hands-on learning is a characteristic element of this Aboriginal pedagogy (Robinson and Nichol, 1998). Another element is the role of body language in Indigenous pedagogy (Craven, 1999) and the use of silence as a feature of Aboriginal learning and language use (Harris and Malin, 1994). But this element is more than just the idea of language being reduced in Aboriginal instruction due to a predominance of imitation and practical action as pedagogy (Gibson, 1993). Wheaton (2000) gives an idea of the scope of this pedagogy, when she talks about the way Aboriginal learners test knowledge non-verbally through experience, introspection and practice, thereby becoming critical thinkers who can judge the validity of new knowledge independently.

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This pedagogy is about connecting and relating classroom learning to the land. The strong Aboriginal connection between land and knowledge/learning is widely documented (Battiste, 2002; Shajahan, 2005). Aboriginal pedagogies are intensely ecological and place-based, being drawn from the living landscape within a framework of profound ancestral and personal relationships with place (Marker, 2006). Indigenous land-based pedagogy is affirmed by the work of place-based education researchers, with links between western place-responsive practice and the narrative pedagogies of Native Peoples clearly demonstrated (Cameron, 2003).

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This way of learning harnesses well-documented Indigenous teaching methods that make use of personal narratives in knowledge transmission and transformation (Stairs, 1994). It has long been observed that Elders teach using stories, drawing lessons from narratives to actively involve learners in introspection and analysis (Wheaton, 2000). This element is about grounding school learning in all subject areas in the exchange of personal and wider narratives. Narrative is a key pedagogy in education for students of all cultural backgrounds (Egan, 1998).

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This way of learning encompasses non-linear Aboriginal pedagogy – a complex cycle of learning composed of processes that occur continuously (Wheaton, 2000). Aboriginal students can have an indirect rather than direct orientation to learning concepts, as can be seen in the avoidance of direct questioning (Hughes 1987) and in the avoidance of direct instruction and behaviour management (West in Harris and Malin, 1994). Additionally, Aboriginal people think and perceive in a way that is not constrained by the serial and sequential nature of verbal thinking (Gibson, 1993). That linear perspective in western pedagogy has been identified as a key factor in marginalising Aboriginal people and preventing us from constructing our own identities (Wheaton, 2000). However, this is the point at which western and Indigenous pedagogies are often incorrectly constructed as irreconcilable. To remedy this divisive tendency, this way of learning also encompasses non-linear Indigenous ideas of overlap and synergy, choosing to view the two worlds as complementary rather than oppositional (Linkson, 1999). After all, it is limiting to view all mainstream knowledge as linear when there are excellent western non-linear frameworks available like De Bono’s (1996) Lateral Thinking. So this way of learning is not only about presenting learning in cyclic and indirect ways – it is also about avoiding dichotomies by finding common ground between diverse viewpoints.