Understandings
draft report.doc
Since the initial reporting for the 8ways research in 2009, many people have reached a more nuanced understanding of both the philosophy and the eight elements themselves.
Of the philosophy, it is now understood by a number of teachers and community members that 8ways is about identifying local Aboriginal
  • values
  • systems
  • protocols
  • processes
then integrating these into the mainstream schooling system. These four can be found on the diagonal lines in the 8ways diagram, as follows:
diagonals.jpg

The element of “Story Sharing” is now understood by more practitioners in terms of Aboriginal yarning modalities, narrative as pedagogy, narrative as process, narrative as ethics/values, storied experience, cultural meaning-making, place-based significance, and as dynamic frameworks for memory and cognition.

The element of “Learning Maps” is now understood by more practitioners in terms of Aboriginal intellectual processes that can be visualised using metaphors grounded in culture and country. More people are using this in their planning and as a tool for communicating explicit quality criteria.

The element of “Non-verbal” pedagogy is now understood by more practitioners in terms of Aboriginal ways of relating and connecting to knowledge reflectively, critically, ancestrally and physically. Teachers are using this primarily for behaviour management and problematic knowledge.

The element of “Symbol/Image” is now understood by more practitioners as a visual metalanguage, the building blocks for memory and the making of meaning, which is cross-cultural and dynamic. Teachers are finding this useful in helping students to understand and remember new concepts. Increasingly, it is being understood more as "metaphor", with images being created orally as well as visually in support of learning new concepts.

The element of “Land Links” is now understood by more practitioners in terms of Aboriginal concepts of place and country – a dynamic set of relationships containing vast schematics, knowledge systems and intellectual processes that can guide and enrich school systems and curricula.

The element of “Non-linear” pedagogy is now understood by more practitioners in terms of Aboriginal traditions of cultural innovation through the interaction of cultural systems, which can be applied today to a more productive integration of community and school knowledge. It is also known as a way of approaching higher order thinking by incorporating seemingly unrelated domains to create complex, real-life problems to be solved by learners using holistic thinking and innovative processes.

The element of “Deconstruct/Reconstruct” is now understood by more practitioners in terms of Aboriginal scaffolding methodologies that engage with whole processes and texts, modelling and building upon students' basic skills and identities and then transferring these successfully from familiar to unfamiliar contexts.

The element of “Community Links” is now understood by more practitioners in terms of Aboriginal relationships with both insiders and outsiders, and the centrality of these relationships to the development and acquisition of all knowledge. We know that any learning (or program, or policy) that fails to connect to this system of relationships will ultimately fail.

Implementation

The most successful outcomes have been achieved by individual teachers who have been able to work with community to identify local Aboriginal systems in country and culture, explore the values inherent in these, respect enduring protocols and follow the ancient processes that still inform our ways of interacting with changing social and ecological landscapes today. Then they have brought all this alongside the school organisational system, vision, rules and learning sequences, developing new understandings to inform real change in their classrooms.

Successful teachers don’t see “lost” or “dying” cultural artefacts; they see the real-life ways of our contemporary communities and cultures. Though the contexts, words and technologies may have changed, the core ancestral processes of learning, creating, managing – these remain the same, in the city or out bush. Successful teachers see the sophistication of our systems and processes, that these can give any school a competitive advantage if used with integrity, in both curriculum and management.

However, those who have been driven too long by simplistic ideals of assimilation and “back to basics” policies, informed by deficit logic, tend to be unable to understand the basic shift we are talking about – the shift from content to process. So unfortunately, there have been no entire systems - neither regions nor clusters nor schools - who have taken the 8ways research on board at the level of process, rather than at the mere level of content. What is missing in these cases is a genuine respect for Aboriginal values, protocols and relationships at the systemic level. Most of the advanced work done so far has been by individuals with close community relationships – we have yet to find an entire organisation that is capable of this.


But it’s not all bad news – there are hundreds of teachers who are working with this individually, across New South Wales. Even a lot of our 4th year undergraduate teachers are learning 8ways at university and bringing exciting new ideas to their prac’s. Most of these teachers and pre-teachers share one common trait – they are nervous about sharing their programs and results online. This means the wiki remains a good training tool and keeping place, but has not quite become the democratic, grass-roots knowledge development space we had hoped it would be. Most remain reluctant to share their programs and results with others in a public space.

The grass-roots knowledge development still occurs, but it occurs informally, socially and organically. There are a lot of questions we will need to ask about this as we continue, to ensure ongoing traditional ownership of the knowledge and management through the Bangamalanha centre. There are stickier questions too, such as who is accountable for this knowledge and its effects? The uncertain status of 8ways within the department has its advantages and limitations. For example, it has often been described as “not a government-approved program”, and then dismissed. Although arguably, anyone looking for another “program” is probably not the best candidate for working with this knowledge…

Development

2011 has seen 8ways extend beyond Western NSW, following Aboriginal people who come from the west but who now live in the Blue Mountains, and beyond that range into Sydney and coastal NSW. We are not concerned about people “stealing” the framework beyond western NSW, as there is a kind of built-in mechanism that makes this pointless. Basically, the framework is only intended as an example of what can be done, including some general qualities of Aboriginal pedagogies. So people who take it at the content level as a “brand” like Thinking Hats or Multiple Intelligences will not go very far with it, because they will only be dealing with it at the surface level of content. Those who have gone deeper, finding the meanings in the diagonal lines of the diagrams, have been able to reach a higher understanding and develop their own new frameworks in a relationship of integrity with local Aboriginal communities.

Currently we are getting over a thousand hits a week on the 8ways wiki, and we have over 600 members (September, 2011). A quarter of our hits are coming from other countries (mostly America), and it is exciting to think that our work may be inspiring new directions in Aboriginal pedagogy research and practice around the globe. We are constantly receiving emails and phone calls from academics, teachers, Indigenous people and education leaders from all over, who report that our work here has extended the scope of their enquiries and caused them to dig deeper in terms of Indigenous community protocols, relationships, values, systems and processes. We’re proud to know that our work here is increasing the profile of our Western NSW region and drawing attention to the great work that is being done in our schools and communities.

In sharing our work with so many, we’ve found that our understanding of aspects like “relationally responsive pedagogy”, Aboriginal-centred cognitive processes, cultural knowledge pedagogy, and so forth has increased exponentially, with input from so many sources across Australia. We are collaboratively finding new metalanguage to describe aspects of the framework we were unable to describe in words before – such as the four elements on the diagonal lines of the diagram.

In 2011, two days in every week have been set aside for development and management of the framework, which has involved (in part) corresponding with hundreds of people who are engaging with the process academically, culturally and educationally, then incorporating deeper understandings arising from these dialogues into the growing body of knowledge. From these understandings, five new teacher training modules have been developed this year and a number of papers have been written, most to be placed on this wiki. One paper has been published recently in ACER’s book on Two-way Teaching and Learning.
Our work has also been presented at a number of conferences and symposia this year, including the Closing the Gap summit in Canberra.