Teaching Aboriginal
Perspectives through an
integrated inquiry approach
Catherine Henbest
Catholic Education Office
14th August 2009
Why inquiry?
• Not just about filling them up with
information or facts…
• Enabling students to grapple with big
ideas, ask questions, constructing and
challenging their views about the world in
which they live.
Big ideas
• Identity; personal, cultural, Australian identity
• Time, continuity and change; understanding their
place in the world
• The earth; sustainability and conservation
• Justice, inclusion and equity
• Tolerance; living together with respect and
First Finding
Students come to the classroom with
preconceptions about how the world
works. If their initial understanding is not
engaged, they may fail to grasp the new
concepts and information they are being
taught, or they may learn them for
purposes of a test but revert to their
preconceptions outside the classroom.
A starting point…
• Gathering prior knowledge
What do they already know…
• About the topic
• About Aboriginal perspectives
• What attitudes and beliefs
• What are their misconceptions
Common misconceptions
• Aboriginal people lived in the past- they are not
around today
• Physical stereotyping
• Aboriginal culture was/is simple and basic
• The only reason the Aboriginal population declined
drastically after European settlement is due to
introduced diseases
• Negative views promoted by the media
• All Aborigines play the didjeridoo and do dot painting
• Collective idea that there is one Aboriginal nation
and one culture.
Second Finding
To develop competence in an area of inquiry,
students must: (a) have a deep foundation
of factual knowledge, (b) understand facts
and ideas in the context of a conceptual
framework, and (c) organize knowledge in
ways that facilitate retrieval and
Sample Understandings
• There are many cultures that make up the Australian
nation. (1/2)
• Koorie people still have links to the local areas. (1/2)
• Understanding of the beliefs, values and symbols of
different groups can lead to respect and tolerance. (3/4)
• Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for more than
40,000 years and their culture is strongly connected to
the land. (3/4)
• Aboriginal people saw themselves as part of the
environment; they believed Mother Nature
provided for them and they had a responsibility
to care for her. (5/6)
• European settlement caused conflict and
violence and Indigenous people did not give up
their land passively or easily. (5/6)
A process for inquiry
Immersing students in the topic
Finding out prior knowledge
Engaging students
Introducing shared vocabulary
and concepts
Sharing common experiences
Building knowledge,
understandings and skills that
are essential for building
deeper understanding
More teacher directed
What is culture?
What makes up our local
Who is an Australian?
What is a celebration?
Why did the British come?
What was life like in Australia
prior to 1770?
How did the Aboriginal people
care for the earth?
What are some of the issues
around sustainability affecting
our world now?
Generating bigger questions- now you
know that what are you wondering about?
Deeper investigation of an aspect of the
topic students feel strongly about.
Investigation becomes more independent
and more student directed.
What was our local community
like in the past; what has
changed and what has stayed
the same?
What’s my cultural story?
How have people from different
backgrounds helped to make a
Why and how do different people
How did European settlement
impact on the lives of people?
Why do we need to be
Reflecting on the learning
What do I know now that I didn’t know before?
What do I know about myself as a learner?
How has my thinking changed?
Applying new ideas and understandings into real life contexts
Transferring understandings to everyday lives
Taking action on their learning.
Now that you know this how will it make a difference?
Demonstrating understandings
Personal reflections
Evaluating the learning
journey (pre and post)
Celebrating ideas and learning
Participating in projects and
Developing action plans
Sharing their learning
Third Finding
A “metacognitive” approach to instruction
can help students learn to take control of
their own learning by defining learning
goals and monitoring their progress in
achieving them.
Signs of
We Are One
Melbourne Dreaming
Closing The
Changing Lives
Changing Ways
Celebrating Culture (1/2)
Rich Question
• How do we celebrate our culture?
Indigenous Perspectives
• How Aboriginals express their beliefs and values
through art, music, dance and story.
• Explore similarities and differences between
• Investigation of Aboriginal myths and legends
Wurundjeri Wandering (1/2)
Rich Question
• How has life changed for the people in our local
Indigenous Perspectives
Explore what the community looked like long ago (when it
was first settled by Europeans and long, long ago
(before European settlement.) education, food, family,
transport, shelter, traditions
Learning about local Aboriginal people in Gisborne
(Gunung Willam Ballack)
Year 1/2s Walking With the
Signs of Celebration (3/4)
Rich Question
• How do symbols and celebrations reveal what
people value?
Indigenous Perspectives
• The importance of celebrations in all communities
• Identifying Aboriginal symbols and their significance
in Aboriginal culture
• Compare different celebrations such as Eucharist,
Aboriginal smoking celebrations and Anzac Day
We Are One (3/4)
Rich Question
• What inspires ordinary Australians to do
extraordinary things?
Indigenous Perspectives
• ‘Who are Australians?’ recognising that Aboriginal people
have lived in Australia for more than 40,000 years
• Very strong focus on identity in relation to
• Study the contribution made by a variety of individuals,
including Aboriginals
Melbourne Dreaming (3/4)
Rich Question
• How have changes in Melbourne affected the
lives of people?
Indigenous Perspectives
• Investigate the people who make up the Kulin
Nation and their role as traditional owners
• The importance of preserving stories and
artefacts from the past
• Gaining an understanding of what Melbourne
looked like prior to white settlement
Sacred Land (5/6)
Rich Question
• Will continuing the practices of the Aboriginal people
allow us to have a sustainable future?
Indigenous Perspectives
• How Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders cared for the land and
their spiritual connection between the people and their land
• Make links about what they have learned between the sustainable
practices and conservation practised by Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islanders with current environmental issues
Changing lives, changing ways
Rich Question
• How does an accurate knowledge of events in
Australia’s past help us to understand Australia
Indigenous Perspectives
• The arrival of the First Fleet and its impact on the
Aboriginal people
• The changes to their lives as a result of this event
• View a range of sources with a critical lens questioning
the perspectives of the authors
Closing the Gap
Rich Question
How can we work to a more ‘equitable’ world?’
Indigenous Perspectives
• Comparison of the living conditions and health
related issues round the world, including
Aboriginal people
• Close examination of ‘Close the Gap’ campaign
in addressing these inequities.
Ancient Civilisations Year 7
During the unit the students learn about Ancient
Aboriginal society, and how it is the world’s
oldest surviving culture. They will also
investigate other Ancient civilisations: Sumer,
Egypt, Rome, Greece and China. They analyse
change and continuity over time and compare
key aspects of these past societies. Students
also make links to today and examine the
influences of ancient societies on contemporary
Ancient Civilisations
Essential Understandings
The organisation and lifestyle of ancient
Australian Aboriginal communities, the
world’s oldest enduring culture.
Essential Questions
 Why has the Aboriginal culture endured
when many other ancient cultures didn’t?
Environment & Sustainability Year
During this unit students investigate ways of
maintaining a sustainable planet for the
future. They examine the cause and effect of
people’s use of the earth’s resources and human
impact on the environment. They explore the
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander philosophy
and connection to the land, and question how
their sustainable practices can be used to
contribute to a healthier sustainable environment
for all Australians.
Environment & Sustainability Year 8
Essential understandings
• How Aboriginal people have always assumed stewardship of the
earth. Aboriginal people saw themselves as part of the environment;
they believed Mother Nature provided for them and they had a
responsibility to care for her.
• Aboriginal people’s beliefs about and approaches to sustainable
land management, which can continue to contribute to a healthier
sustainable environment for all Australians.
Essential Questions
• Can Aboriginal beliefs and practices in particular, enable us to have
a sustainable future?
Questions/concerns of teachers
Not being an expert
Political correctness
Family/parent attitudes
Coverage of VELS
Key learnings
• Imperative to find out prior knowledge
• It is essential to incorporate authentic
• Use understandings to keep you focussed
• Need to dig below the surface when finding
• Be critical when selecting resources -Some
of the older resources are still good
Key Learnings
• Make links to today and students’ lives
• Flexible planning
• Perspectives can sometimes be subtle
and at other times be very explicit
• Passion
• Teacher as learner
• Build partnerships within the local and
wider community
Victorian Aboriginal Education Association
Incorporated www.vaeai.org.au/

Social and Emotional Learning