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Your first and best resource is always the local Aboriginal community. So what are you doing in here? Get out there and yarn with people...


Next best resource is your students. Talk to them. Don't get trapped by notions that "they've lost their culture," and don't get stuck in some fantasy of what they should be as Aboriginal people, using this as an excuse to give up. Talk to them and find out who they really are.

  • What are their families' attitudes towards money, success, power, knowledge, technology?
  • How is labour divided along gender lines at home?
  • What are standard pet-care practices in the neighbourhood?
  • What is their attitude towards law enforcement?
  • What is their perception of government?
  • Which media and texts are giving them their information about the outside world?
  • How is status determined in their social circle and what is their position in that pecking order?
  • What decision-making processes do they employ from day to day?
  • What kinds of instructions are they used to following, if any?
  • Who and what are they responsible for at home?

These kinds of questions will reveal the genuine lived reality and authentic living cultures of your students, the key factors that will impact on how they can best come to the knowledge you are trying to share with them.

In Aboriginal community contexts, the 8ways may manifest as:

  • Stories, histories, songs and yarning
  • Knowledge stages/processes, navigating mental landscapes, visual records/sites of Law/Story
  • Unspoken/instinctive/ancestral knowledge, signing, body language, communicative silences
  • Symbols, signs, pictures, imaginings, messages, designs and images
  • Knowledge of/connection to land, waters, climate, skies, plants, animals and place
  • Non-linear/contradictory/"irrational"/creative ideas, circular logic, indirect processes/management, adaptive capacity
  • Holistic knowledge, balance of communal and individual needs, wholes to parts, observation before action
  • Kinship, community, culture base, communal governance/knowledge/ownership

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Sample learning map from Megan in Kilcoy, Qld.

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The thesis from the 8ways research project won the Cum Laudae Award (top 5% of research internationally) from JCU and the AARE award for best thesis nationally. You can read the thesis here: http://eprints.jcu.edu.au/10974/2/02whole.pdf



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Good explanation of 8ways from a CSU student. (click link)




Here are some posters of the 8 ways that you can use with students:

Value statement for students on Aboriginal ways of learning: sameoven.jpg


Here's a picture that is a good stimulus for discussion. The rocks there used to be at the bottom of an old ground oven, but the sheep farming in this place has eroded the area so much that now these rocks are at the top of a mound rather than at the bottom of a hole. For me this has deeper meaning - it shows that culture is not lost, but the context around it has changed its shape. The integrity of ancestral core knowledge is hard like the rocks - because of this it still stands proud and is now coming out on top, despite what is washed away around it.

How could you work with this picture using the 8 ways in a literacy lesson?

Share stories about land, climate change, erosion, cooking styles. Hear the students' stories of the same about the local area. Discuss from local, national and global points of view. Draw out the students' land knowledge of what they see in the picture - is it near a river, which way does the water run when the rain falls, where did the soil go, do we have any place similar near our community, etc. Brainstorm about the picture from two different viewpoints - farmers and Aborigines. Place these points in a venn diagram to find the common ground and differences. Study a short text on soil erosion, cultural sites or climate change. Create a diagram (learning map) for the text using the picture - write the keywords of the text on the rocks and the rest of the information on the eroded ground. Draw symbols and diagrams to reconceptualise the main points.

Short text example:
Soil erosion is the removal of topsoil by wind or water, leaving the infertile subsoil. It is encouraged by:
  • no vegetation cover
  • exposed soil
  • compact soil surface
  • dry and friable soil
  • steep slopes

Erosion is one of the major factors in forming the earth's land mass.
For farmers, soil erosion is a great concern as the ability to grow plants is directly associated with the amount of topsoil available.


Study the text in depth and identify the cultural background of the author, questioning how this has influenced his/her writing. Read between the lines and draw out the beliefs and values (e.g. do they blame farming practices or the climate of a "harsh land", or do they avoid identifying causes altogether?). Identify the generic structure and grammatical structures. Examine the metalanguage (e.g. scientific terms) and work with the vocabulary and spelling. Brainstorm new vocab that expresses what the students want to say about the picture and the text.

Practice rewriting parts of the text with these new ideas and words as a whole class. Support students to write their own versions of the text. Desktop publish these and place them in the community - in a display, class publication or read out on local radio. The class might visit a local site and take photographs to add to their texts.

Imagine the knowledge learners could find (and better, could produce) working with the following images in this way...

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"...as we are shown a way to knowing, another unfolds like petals on a flower, like flowers on a plant. There are many petals, many flowers, many plants, each with its own knowledge. They in turn grow from the earth and its knowledge, which is in turn nourished by the elements, recycled life and all their inherent knowledge. Thus through these cycles of life and learning, knowledge becomes encoded within each and every thing. Learning is part of the process not only in acquiring new knowledge, but also in accessing that encoded or stored knowledge” (Semchision,2001 p. 1).

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Links to readings:



Aboriginal Pedagogy powerpoint

Readings about European Indigenous peoples, for those imagining "whiteness" as a barrier to working with Indigenous knowledge...

Aboriginal ways of learning defined. (from "Aboriginal Ways of Learning" research in the 90's)

Marie Battiste on Indigenous Knowledge and Pedagogy (Native American)

Aboriginal law and learning.

Aboriginal ways of learning in maths (1)

Aboriginal ways of learning in maths (online unit of work)

First Nations Pedagogy Readings

Non-Aboriginal Drama Teacher Working with Aboriginal Ways of Learning

"We need to rethink numeracy as a technology, and Aborigines have a good track record of adopting useful technologies."

Program evaluation in terms of Aboriginal Ways of Learning

Aboriginal Knowledge Systems