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Topic: How do we respect history when teaching now?
Research Question: How can teachers respect history in the classroom?
As a future educator who is in a world that is increasingly culturally diverse and dynamically interconnected, it is important that students come to understand their world, past and present, and develop a capacity to respond to challenges, now and in the future, through innovative, informed, personal and collective ways. Teaching history in the classroom plays an important role in harnessing students’ curiosity and imagination about the world they live in and empowers them to actively shape their lives; make reflective, informed decisions; value their belonging in a diverse and dynamic society; and positively contribute locally, nationally, regionally and globally.
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Teachers today are being confronted by a growing crowded curriculum, but with the amount of professional development and school strategic plans, teachers are also gaining a crowded pedagogy (Australian Council, 2015). Modern schools today focus on inclusive education, positive relationships and 21st Century classrooms. Although an inclusive practice involves the inclusion of all individuals despite race, ethnicity, religion or gender; historical culture is a main focus because each individual develops an identity through his or her engagement with knowledge and understanding in all aspects of their lives. This occurs at school, while interacting with family, teachers, students and the wider socio-cultural context both locally and through popular culture. One of the many challenges a teacher faces within a classroom is how one influences students’ performance within a classroom, understanding approaches and how they manage to teach history respectfully and sensitively.
Students are exposed to their teacher’s and peer’s performances of teaching history through language, behaviour and the organisation of classroom practices. History is a continuous narrative about the past, a narrative that is neither neutral nor scientific, but is carefully constructed to give meaning to past events by selecting some for inclusion, leaving others out, and interpreting the ones that are recounted in order to convey certain conclusions (Kenney & Friedman, 2005, p. 2). Research into history indicates that primary students develop a sophisticated understanding of historical events, processes and reasoning with hands on approaches teaching history. As a future educator it is important to understand that there is no single-view of history, but rather multiple (and often competing) versions. While teaching students about history as an educator you need to acknowledge that history is always being re-written and there are long-standing disputes about national narratives and the representation of history elsewhere in the world. History links to citizenship and values education while contributing to many other learning areas in the curriculum.
An ongoing debate linking history to education is centered on ‘history wars’ to the extent to which the colonisation of Australia was marked by violence and conflict – the debate extends to the dissemination of Australian history itself (i.e. how history is taught in schools). The debate is important because the dominant historical dissertation fails to adequately acknowledge Australia’s shared and pre-colonial Indigenous history and include the voices and perspectives of Indigenous Australians (i.e. it is the history of the “coloniser” as opposed to the “colonised”). As a future educator you don’t need to be aware of the “history wars” as an academic debate or be familiar with the terminology of historical contest to understand multiple historical perspectives. Within teaching history you can see your own relationships with people and students who are Indigenous and Non-Indigenous. Everyone is guilty of permitting what others tell you about something or their bias thoughts and perceptions about history. Listening to former mentors, family, and friends and linking to knowledge of literature, on inclusion, you gain a certain expectation on how someone should view the world around them. Educators need to teach the students all different lookouts of history and accept that students might not know anything about history, have a different outlook, or be open to all possibilities.
Education can play a vital role in bringing a balanced perspective to the school system by challenging colonial values and negative stereotypes of Australia’s Indigenous peoples and encouraging reconciliation. Steps are already being taken in the form of the new Australian Curriculum (ACARA, 2013) which aims at providing a diverse education for all Australian school students. The history content includes specific aspects of Indigenous issues, traditional culture and different perspectives on Australian history. Much of the document contains content about respecting Australia’s Indigenous peoples (ACARA, 2013). While this aspect is important, to implement it effectively, all teachers need to understand its significance and wider impact on society. Furthermore, there are many obstacles to maneuver around to ensure this can take place.
In Australia there is a mandate for teachers to embed Indigenous Australian perspectives in the teaching of all curriculum areas. Indigenous populations have deep, rich and diverse traditional knowledge and ways of working linked to their identity and communities (Ma Rhea, Anderson, & Atkinson, 2012; ACARA, 2016). In the past, the Queensland curriculum required Indigenous perspectives to be embedded into teaching and learning to increase the awareness of both students and teachers of Indigenous perspective and to improve the learning outcomes for Indigenous students. The new Australian curriculum includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island histories and cultures as a cross-curriculum priority. In particular, it focuses on identity ‘through the interconnected aspects of country/place, people and culture. Embracing these elements enhances all areas of the curriculum’ (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority). Curriculum, in its most simple, essential, commonly understood form, is the “what” of education. It is crucial to academic performance and essential to culturally responsive pedagogy. Even the most “standard” curriculum decides whose history is worthy of study, whose books are worthy of reading, which curriculum and text selections that include myriad voices and multiple ways of knowing, experiencing, and understanding life can help students to find and value their own voices, histories, and cultures.
Classroom approaches to history involves inquiry based learning by developing skills in chronology, terms, and concepts; historical questions and research; analysis and use of sources; perspectives and interpretations; and explanation and communication. Within teaching history there is a theme that students learn that there can be multiple perspectives on an event in the past, and that there is a need for critical sensitivity. There is a common ground between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous pedagogy where teachers can create a positive and deeper meaning of learning for all students. The 8 Aboriginal Ways of Learning is a pedagogy framework that allows teachers to include Aboriginal perspectives by using Aboriginal learning techniques (Yunkaporta, 2014). Teaching through Aboriginal processes and protocols, not just Aboriginal content validates and teaches through Aboriginal culture and may enhance the learning for all students. Using the 8 ways of Aboriginal learning will benefit students by:
- Story Sharing: Approaching learning through narrative – personal narratives are central.
- Deconstruct/Reconstruct: Modelling and scaffolding, working from wholes of parts – Holistic, global, scaffolding and independent learning orientation of students.
- Learning Maps: Explicitly mapping/visualizing processes – Images or visuals are used to map out processes for learners to follow.
- Non- Verbal: Applying into personal and kinesthetic skills to thinking and learning – Kinesthetic, hands on, non-verbal learning is characteristic.
- Symbols and Images: Using images and metaphors to understand concepts and content – Symbol, image and metaphor are central to pedagogy.
- Non-linear: Producing innovations and understanding by thinking literally – Nonlinear ways of learning are complementary, not oppositional.
- Community Links: Centering local viewpoints, applying learning for community benefits – Connections to real life purposes, contexts and communities, teams.
- Land Links: Place based learning, linking content to local land and places – Ecological and place based, drawn from the living landscape within a framework of profound ancestral and personal relationships with place.
The differences between the eight-way framework and western pedagogy is, western pedagogy has a sequential, behaviourist approach to teaching and learning where skills follow linear paths. In contrast, the eight way framework sees learning as non-linear involving much ‘repetition and returning to concepts for deeper understanding’ (Yunkaporta, 2007). As a future educator using the eight ways perhaps even more from western pedagogy, because of its introspective and reflective nature. Both the story sharing and non-verbal pedagogies encourage learners to look deeply and to reflect on their learning. Although thoughtful reflection is also a principle of constructivism, as a future educator I am yet to see this play out in the mainstream classroom. A final point of difference may also be in the ‘land links’ pedagogy. Indigenous teaching is highly contextualized with a strong sense of people and place. On the other hand, western pedagogy continues to deal with content predominantly in the abstract form, in spite of attempts to contextualise subject matter.
By incorporating the eight ways into teaching history in primary schools will benefit students through students frequently returning to learnt knowledge. I see this also as an advantage, as it allows for deeper understanding and introspection. Criticism of western pedagogy is that it is becoming too linear with focus on standardised testing at the expense of other skills. As Battiste (2002, p. 16) highlights western pedagogy ‘ignores knowledge that comes from introspection, reflection and other types of self–directed learning’. Surely an important part of any learning is being able to reflect on what and how one learnt. This is a component I have hardly seen during the numerous lessons I have observed this year in mainstream classrooms.
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Teaching young minds is a task that cannot be taken lightly. It is full of challenges, frustrations, and responsibilities. However, it is a task that is also full of excitement, wonder, and joy. As a teacher you need to aware of learning, motivation, behavior, and development theories in order to relate to students and push them to reach their full potential. They deserve time and full attention in regards to their education. Creating a classroom that is a safe learning environment for all.
Teachers can respect teaching history in the classroom through bringing a balanced perspective to the school system by challenging colonial values and negative stereotypes of Australia’s Indigenous peoples and encouraging reconciliation. It is important that educators teach their students history acceptance and all the different viewpoints to go along with it. Historical acceptance is not just about accepting and understanding our shared history and its ongoing impacts, it’s about making sure that Australia does what is necessary to ensure students come to understand their world, past and present, and develop a capacity to respond to challenges, now and in the future (AIATSIS, 2019).
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