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Case studies taking guesswork out of new programs | Language, Bull, Aboriginal, School, Teachers, Students, Studies, Lessons | FATSILC, Fed. Aboriginal Torres Strait Island Languages and Culture
Case studies taking guesswork out of new programs PDF Print E-mail

Some of the most commonly asked questions at language forums relate to the setting up of both community and school based language teaching programs. In New South Wales the Board of Studies has responded to the need for this information with the publication of Teaching Aboriginal Languages — Case Studies'. The book presents six case studies, including one from the Northern Territory, which allow readers to gain from the experiences of those who have already established effective language teaching programs.This extract is from the case study of the Bowraville Central School.


Bowraville Central School
Bowraville Central School
Bowraville Central School

Bowraville Central School Gumbayngirr Language program was chosen because of its success and the involvement of the Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-operative (MALCC).The Gumbayngirr people are trained at the MALCC and they then go to schools within their language area and teach the Gumbayngirr language.

Bowraville Central School is a Kindergarten to Year 10 school situated in the Nambucca Valley on the mid-north coast of NSW. The school has an enrolment of approximately 250 students in K6 and 150 students in 7-10; around 10% of the student population is Aboriginal.

The following groups were involved in the planning:

• The Aboriginal Student Support and Parent Awareness (ASSPA) Committee of Bowraville Central School
• The Aboriginal Education Worker
• Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-operative
• Head Teacher L(Secondary)
• Aboriginal Studies Teacher (Secondary)
• Principal

Planning commenced once staff became aware of the expertise available through the Muurrbay Cooperative.All the Aboriginal language teachers have relatives at the school. Parents were contacted through the ASSPA Committee and students were surveyed-positive responses were received from both parents and students.The staff was asked if Aboriginal K-6 students could be released from class to join secondary students during their double period of Aboriginal Studies.

Several Bowraville people who played important roles in the Cooperative accepted an invitation to conduct language lessons at Bowraville Central School in 1994 on a voluntary basis.These classes were timetabled as part of the Secondary Aboriginal Studies elective, with all K-10 Aboriginal students eligible to attend for two periods (80 minutes) per week.The Aboriginal Studies teacher (Secondary) was also present during the language lessons.

The Gumbayngirr teachers were keen to use their newly developed skills in a teaching situation; what started as an occasional language lesson quickly became a regular part of the school program in 1994. (The teachers' work remained strictly voluntary until late 1994.)

What were the objectives of the program?

• Cultural pride:
• Revival of language and culture:
• Reinforce aspects of culture taught in other lessons:
• Development of a group identity based around culture:
• Links between school and home:
• Career paths for Aboriginal teachers:

What were some of the major issues to consider?

One of the major issues concerned how to structure material for K-10 classes that have a wide range of ages and abilities. This problem was overcome in 1995 when two classes were formed, K-5 and 6-10.1n 1994, however, teachers started from a low resource base with a mixed ability class.The resources that were in use included flashcards, examples of conversation and role playing. During 1994, three to four language teachers supervised about 15 students, therefore individual help was readily available. Some funding for development of resources was provided through the ASSPA Committee.A classroom teacher supported the language teachers - in 1994 this was the Aboriginal Studies (Secondary) teacher.

Another major issue is that these lessons are only available to Aboriginal students.This was a request made by the language group, which has been fully supported by the school.The teachers believe that the Gumbayngirr language needs to be learnt by the people themselves. Bowraville Central School feels that Aboriginal ownership of the Gumbayngirr language program is an important factor.

Programming and resources

The teachers determine the structure of lessons, although the Program Co-ordinator from the school helps with suggestions regarding lesson structure and format.The regional LOTE Consultant has been helpful in providing ideas for the delivery of certain lessons. Some ideas for lessons were based on those conducted by the Pitjantjatjara language group in South Australia. Writing and reading are given emphasis, especially with the older age group.

The Gumbayngirr teachers have developed their own range of resources.They have their own computer and printer, high speed dubbing facility, laminator and photocopier. Resource quality is extremely professional.The Muurrbay Co-operative has produced many books, tapes and artwork relating to history and culture.

Resources used to date include;

• Tapes of conversation
• Written conversations/ flashcards
• Animals/names
• A Gumbayngirr language dictionary (an ongoing project currently containing 2000 words)
• Gumbayngirr/English comic books
• Taped songs for students to sing
• Body parts
• Cloze activities
• Traditional/Dreamtime stories
• Video and audio tapes of children

Cooperative learning approaches work well in the classroom; peer tutoring also plays a vital role. Most lessons are delivered in a fairly traditional way, ie in a classroom with teachers at the front. However, excursions to Dreaming sites, guest speakers and also role-playing prove popular.

There are no tests/evaluations during lessons; this is to prevent the idea of 'failure' entering the lessons. Students are very keen - it is one of the few times that they actually run to class! Many students, especially in K - 5, have achieved high levels of word recognition and have correct pronunciation. It is very rewarding to see how successful the program is.

What has been achieved?

Since the start of 1998 the program has had Board of Studies endorsement as a School Certificate subject: students can be accredited with either 100 or 200 hours on their School Certificate. This has become a high profile program: various media (newspaper, radio and television), language consultants, other schools and ASSPA Committees have shown interest.

The language teachers have been swamped with requests to implement similar programs in other schools in the area — the teachers have wisely resisted the temptation to try to do too much. They feel that though they are competent, they still have a lot to learn and need the time in their week to study. Nevertheless, the teachers have made time to teach another class of infants and primary students and a class of adults one night per week. The Bowraville Central Program Coordinator is developing more resources for the program, as are the teachers.The future looks good — interest is high, students and parents are keen and the Government is making funds available.

`Teaching Aboriginal Languages. Case Studies'— copyright Board of Studies NSW, 2000