e.g. Lightening Ridge

Here's some photo's from Rhonda Ashby's Yuwaalaraay Language class at Lightning Ridge.

Here's some photo's from Rhonda Ashby's Yuwaalaraay Language class at Lightning Ridge.

In the pic above you can see a learning map for the story the class is studying about Narran Lake. The teacher reads a version of the story that has been written in 13 sentences in Yuwaalaraay language. For each sentence, the meaning is made clear by referring to parts of the learning map and making hand gestures. So the students are scaffolded to understand the whole text in the first lesson, visually and non-verbally. No English translation is provided. From the start, learning protocols are established around Aboriginal ways of listening and observing. It is made clear that we are using an Aboriginal way of learning that involves watching first, then joining in for increasingly larger parts of the activities as knowledge increases. Expectations of behaviour are made clear in discussions of this story as sacred and having Law status - placing students in a cultural framework for learning and behaviour. High expectations also are made clear by the tasks ahead - creating texts and performances based on this story to impact on community language revitalisation. There are zero behaviour management incidents noted in the course of this learning. Students are observed to be calm and engaged with every part of their minds, hearts and bodies. Total concentration is sustained over each hour-long lesson.


Another map of the story is referred to for additional information. A copy of an old painting of this Story is also examined in depth. It is noted that there is not a left to right, top to bottom orientation in this culture, as in western texts. Lots of new information about the story is recovered from this analysis of the painting. Students also learn more about how to convey deep meaning using images (for the next activity).


The students pair off and each pair is given a sentence strip from the story. The story is read again and the students identify which sentence they have. Teacher checks for understanding, using gestures and actions. Whole class repeats the actions for key words. Students then draw a picture for each of the sentence strips. Students are already starting to identify language patterns independently. For example, they point out that "-dju" is added to Baayami's name whenever he is acting upon something.


The pictures are sequenced by the students, then the sentence strips are shuffled and students must find the right picture, match them up. Then the teacher reads through each sentence in segments with students repeating and doing the actions and gestures, reconstructing the story from start to finish visually, kinaesthetically, orally and in print.


Teacher asks students to find patterns in the language. Attention is paid to suffixes of verbs and subject nouns. Also suffixes on places - suffixes for at, in, on etc. Students note these change depending on the word endings. Another version of the story is read from an old transcript in Aboriginal English. Students compare the structures and find that Aboriginal English carries a lot of the same structures as the original Aboriginal language. Discuss the concept of language loss, and debate whether the language has been lost at all if the structures are still there in the way the students speak English. Share examples of common Aboriginal English use in students' home language.


Looking deeper now at the structure of the text. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc are colour coded.


Lists are made in the colour code of the different kinds of words used. Pronunciation and spelling is only now addressed. New words are also added to each list to incorporate new information from different versions of the story. Versions are studied from male and female elders, and the gender differences in focus are noted and discussed. Extra words for animals, actions, descriptions, weapons, foods, family etc are added to the lists and practised.


Posters showing the rules for the complex grammar system are explored in relation to the text, so students can master how to find the correct endings for verbs, subjects and locatives. Then the class co-constructs some new sentences using the new vocabulary. Students try some sentences independently and teacher checks for understanding. Then students begin their writing assessment task of rewriting the story themselves in language, their own version of the story.

From the beginning the students have been told they are working towards creating texts for storybooks and performances to return to the community, with the goal of language revitalisation. The rest of the term now is spent on these community-based projects, using the language they have learned. There are excursions to the story site on Country, Elders' visits and the making of tools for men and women that are featured in the story. The class also makes message sticks using symbols and images learnt during the unit, to present at Naidoc week.

This unit shows the depth and integrity that our culture deserves when used as content. It also shows the eight ways used to maximise academic outcomes, and to ensure learning occurs through the culture, not just about the culture.

The exact process used here could be used for any subject, with any text. It does not just have to be just for Aboriginal language class. Even without the cultural content, the Aboriginal perspectives come through in the pedagogy that is used and made explicit for the students.

Special thanks to the Dharriwaa Elders Group for researching and providing Narran Story resources.