Bonnie Anderson’s placement at a school in the Kimberley region was a valuable learning experience for everyone involved.
In June, I undertook a three-week teaching placement at a school in the Kimberley region.
The students are Kija people, who retain a strong link to Country, culture, language and values. This is reflected in the school community and approach to learning.
Participating in a teaching placement in the Kimberley gave me insight into the way education can be a linchpin in community, that learning is a group experience and that relationships are essential to student outcome success.
Trust between students, teachers and community is essential
To get ready for my placement I conducted extensive research into supporting the educational needs of Indigenous Australian students.
I spoke to my mentor and site coordinator in order to prepare for my teaching round; these conversations, along with personal research, confirmed the importance of establishing trust between students and teachers.
Knowing how important personal connection is, I created a video introduction for my students that I posted to their classroom blog.
This blog became a platform through which I communicated to the students in the weeks prior to my arrival and allowed me to build a sense of trust and connection with them, which greatly assisted my transition into the community.
Respect for students’ language improves learning outcomes
At the school, the students’ home language is highly valued. The school is a bidialectal learning environment, and while classroom instruction is predominantly in Standard Australian English it is bridged through the assistance of Aboriginal Teaching Aides and teacher knowledge of the students’ home language, Kimberley Kriol.
Students participate in Kija language classes, facilitated twice a week by community Elders and a Kartiya (non-Indigenous) linguist.
Literacy lessons include activities in which students can contrast Standard Australian English alongside Kimberley Kriol.
The students are excellent at switching between the two dialects, a process called "code-switching", which is celebrated and recognised by teachers.
Throughout my placement I experimented with code-switching between dialects in order to assist student comprehension.
Experience in teaching English as an Additional Language is important to teacher success
My placement at the school provided me with the unique experience of working in an almost entirely English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) classroom. I felt incredibly privileged to attend Kija language classes and be involved in learning a language connected to Country.
I felt deep pride in seeing my students engage in rich cultural learning. It was so powerful to see and hear Kija language shared by the Elders with the next generation of young Kija people, and to understand the importance of preserving the oral-based languages of Australia.
Throughout my placement I was able to see the implications of language barriers for both teaching and learning. In order to support my students I utilised EAL/D strategies I have learned throughout my course, such as the use of visual support, clear instruction, limited verbal instruction and non-verbal gesticulation.
I dedicated time to learning Kimberley Kriol phrases and words from the students to assist in communication and to extend my own knowledge.
Classroom management tools are important to creating an engaging learning experience
Classroom management dominated my initial practice as I struggled to maintain an orderly learning environment in an unfamiliar context.
I overcame this challenge through constant reflection, modification of teaching and engaging in professional discussions with colleagues.
I experimented with short rotational activities that improved student engagement. I researched a variety of brain breaks that utilised both sides of the brain, and found this strategy to be highly effective in bringing the students back from heightened situations.
Meaningful use of information communication technologies was incredibly effective in maintaining student engagement and as a form of motivation. The students responded well to positive affirmation, so I implemented an in-class monetary system that rewarded positive behaviours.
Students were able to purchase class games and time-out rewards with classroom tokens. I found this type of reward to be the most effective for classroom management.
This placement provided a setting in which I could explore, develop and implement effective classroom management systems.
Within my grade 4/5 class, I had several students with additional learning needs. This presented challenges, given that I was a new teacher and was unfamiliar with many of the classroom routines.
Through trial and error and mentor discussion I was able to develop strategies for de-escalating physical altercations and recognising student triggers. Several times throughout my placement I felt ill equipped to manage some situations.
I saw myself grow over the three weeks of teaching, and was able to develop an effective behaviour management system that was suitable for this particular learning context.
Classroom attendance impacts student results
Attendance at remote schools can be sporadic for various reasons. This results in an extremely wide range of achievement levels within the classroom.
To meet the learning needs of all students it is essential to differentiate their learning styles and provide adequate scaffolding.
Examining student data, ongoing observation and conducting formative assessments helped me to get to know each student and differentiate tasks according to their needs.
This experience has increased my knowledge, skills and experience, and will greatly improve my future practice.
Culturally responsive teaching is essential in the classroom
Prior to beginning my placement I thoroughly researched culturally responsive teaching, which greatly improved my experience. The school has a focus on two-way learning: teaching Kija knowledge, language and culture alongside Western disciplines.
Community Elders facilitate Kija learning and maintain a strong presence within the school environment. Students participate in learning on Country, connecting to places of cultural and spiritual significance.
Throughout this learning I found the Kija and Kartiya students to be highly engaged and noted their deep knowledge and pride of Kija culture.
As the learning styles of Aboriginal students can differ from those of non-Indigenous Australian students, in this remote setting I needed to deliver learning that met the specific needs of my students.
This included presenting learning as holistic rather than incremental. I would always display a finished model of expected work and then explicitly break down steps of the learning process.
The students at the school use many non-verbal cues to communicate meaning. During placement I learned to read the nonverbal gestures of my students and in turn replicate them as part of my own communication.
As my placement progressed I found that I had begun to use my voice less, and as a result my teaching became more effective. I feel very fortunate to have been involved in two-way learning and can see the outstanding educational benefits for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
Teaching Aides are allies in the classroom
Remote communities tend to have a high teaching staff turnover. Therefore, it is often the Aboriginal Teaching Aides who have the greatest understanding of the students and how they learn best.
I developed a strong relationship with my Aboriginal Teaching Aide and through her I was given an insight into student living conditions, which helped to explain classroom dynamics.
My Aide was integral to bridging language barriers and providing invaluable support with classroom management.
Through this experience I recognised the pivotal role that Aides have within remote learning environments.
They remain constant throughout the students’ education and provide the link between "home way" and "school way". I found that establishing a strong and respectful relationship with my Aide was crucial to my teaching practice.
I began my Bachelor of Education with aspirations of working in Indigenous education. Throughout my degree I have maintained these aspirations, which have been strengthened through my placement at the school.
I am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of knowledge I came away with from my placement.
I extend my gratitude to the students, community members, teachers and teaching aides who taught me so much.
The experience of teaching at the school provided me with deep learning, both pedagogical and interpersonal.
I have experienced profound change and significant professional and personal growth that I can apply to any future role in education that I may take.
Story: Bonnie Anderson and Courtney Johnson