deschooling, Schooling, Unschooling

Much can be learned by unschoolers from Indigenous pedagogies

If you haven’t checked out Tyson Yunkaporta’s web site: then you really need to give it a check out.

Indigenous ways of teaching/learning are very unschooling-friendly.

The best teaching day I had in my whole teaching career was when I employed two of Yunkaporta’s motifs.  I had a great time, and the students in my class had a great time, and time flew, and the day looked nothing like a day at school.  By the end of the day we had learned so much that was really interesting, and the students remembered everything that we had learned.  It was a class of Indigenous students who had previously not produced very much school work.  However, they produced pages and pages of stuff in response to the fun learning that we all had.

The best un-school day in my school career (from my Master of Education (Leadership) dissertation: Warlpiri Business as Pedagogy: A Learning Journey :

“I will illustrate how the application of Indigenous pedagogies makes a difference in the classroom of Indigenous students, by sharing a personal experience. I recorded the following on Thursday 12 July, 2012. It is a reflection on my experience of consciously applying two of Tyson Yunkaporta’s 8 ways Indigenous pedagogies (Yunkaporta, 2009, pp. 35-38). The experience had previously taken place on Monday 28th June, 2012, and it proved to be the most satisfying experience that I have ever had in a classroom.  I had read Tyson Yunkaporta’s (2009) PhD thesis, the night before, Sunday 27th June, 2012, so I was not overly familiar with his ideas, but they rang true, and the two that I used had particularly stuck in my head.

“The students in the class that I worked in were all speakers of Central Desert Indigenous Languages, and English is possibly their third, or fourth or subsequent language. The student cohort was an ungraded Middle School cohort (Years 7-10), made up of boys and girls, notorious for their disengagement from mainstream classroom learning situations. Some of the students were barely literate, and reluctant copiers, and did not exhibit independent writing behaviours. The following is an account of what transpired:

“I work in a private school that is funded at the level of other private schools, but does not collect fees from the parents (because they are amongst the most disadvantaged minority group in Australia). Getting teaching relief for the school is very difficult due to the isolation of the city in which the school is found. The teacher for the ungraded Middle School class phoned in on the Monday morning to say that he would be away for three days for health reasons. As the Curriculum Coordinator, it was my responsibility to act as relief teacher for the class. However, I was only notified half an hour before the school day began of the teacher’s absence. To add difficulty to impossibility, I have morning duties, which have to be attended to, and they occur during the half hour that would otherwise be used for preparation for lessons for the day. There was no time to gather resources. There was no time to sketch a plan for the day. There were no available instructions from the classroom teacher to follow.

“Two and a half years earlier, I had been the Middle School teacher in the same school, and memories of the very difficult times experienced trying to teach Middle School aged Indigenous students, using the strategies learned in teacher training, flooded back to me with a rush. Oh the deep, gut-wrenching dread!

“As the bell rang for the school day to begin, I walked into the classroom with some of the early arrivers. The students meandered around the classroom, while I drew two of Tyson Yunkaporta’s 8 Ways icons (Yunkaporta, 2009, pp. 35-38) on the blackboard (blue-tongued lizard icon and returning boomerang icon).

“Using the classroom interactive whiteboard (IWB) with internet connection, I then located clips of blue-tongue lizards, watching short excerpts until one was found with two blue-tongue lizards walking across the screen.

“This was viewed several times, and acted as a stimulus to draw the interest of the students as they variously arrived over the first thirty minutes of the day. When sufficient students gathered around the IWB, observations were made about the behaviour of the lizards, and students began to engage in the conversation that opened up. When there seemed to be general interest in the conversation, I pointed out the blue-tongue lizard icon on the blackboard, and commenced doing an improvised dance, imitating the blue-tongue lizard’s movements in search of food. Some discussion was then had around the lessons we can learn from blue-tongue lizards, and how our food is knowledge, and if we ingest knowledge, and allow it to become a part of our lives, it can make us strong.  The returning boomerang icon was then pointed out to the students. One of the students asked the question, “How does a boomerang come back?” I entered the question into a google search, and came up with the Charlie Drake song, “My Boomerang Won’t Come Back.” After listening to the song, the students thought it was quite funny. I continued to google the question, and came up with a cartoon clip that demonstrated the aero-dynamics of the flight of a boomerang. It also demonstrated the techniques of throwing and catching boomerangs.

“I took a sheet of scrap paper, and blew across the top of the sheet whilst it was held at one end. At rest, the paper curved downwards. However, when I blew across the top of the paper, it rose to the horizontal position. When I stopped blowing, the paper sank to its curved position again. This was repeated several times, and the students were then invited to find scrap pieces of paper, and try the same experiment.  I then showed the students how to make a ruler boomerang, by tying two wooden rulers, with their curved sides facing in the same way, in the middle with string. This made an X shape. All of the students then made their own ruler boomerangs.

“The class then went outside to the school oval, and the boomerangs were tested. It was observed that in whichever direction the curved side of the ruler boomerang was facing, that was the direction the ruler boomerang tended towards. It was established that the boomerang needed to be thrown vertically, with the flat side facing away from the body, and this enabled the boomerang to curve across the body, and eventually to come back to the thrower.

“Initially the girls sat on the sides of the oval and watched the boys. No attempt was made to coax the girls to participate, but as they saw how much fun the boys were having experimenting with different throwing techniques, the girls soon joined in and had a lot of fun also.

“The class returned to the classroom, and there was some lively discussion about what was observed. We talked about the principle of lift, using the language of: “When air moves over a curved surface, it has to travel a longer distance than the air that moves over the flat surface. This makes the air moving over the curved surface weak. The arms of the boomerang try to fill up the space made by the weak air, which is what makes the boomerang curve in that direction.” (It should be noted that I have subsequently been advised that my explanation was poor science. This was the explanation I was given in school 45 years ago, but not being a Science-oriented teacher, I have not kept up with the developments of knowledge in this area. However, the explanation worked for us at the time.  A better explanation can be found at:

“There was then discussion about how this principle applied to the wings of aircraft and the wings of birds. Aircraft wings and bird wings were found on the internet and projected onto the IWB, and the curve and flat sides of the wings were commented on.

“One of the ruler boomerangs was then hung up by a piece of string from an air-conditioner duct, and remains as a reminder of the lessons learned from the question.

“Then I posed the question, “Where do boomerangs come from?” Two visiting students from the continent of India were sitting in the back of the classroom. I proposed to them that boomerangs came from India. Both of the students protested strongly that this was not the case. Both denied this as a possibility.

“The rest of the class was asked, “Who thinks that boomerangs may have come from India?” Half the class put up their hands for yes, and half of the class put up their hands for no. I then googled the question, “Where do boomerangs come from?” An article was found which identified boomerangs as having been discovered in the Ancient Cultures of America, the Middle East, Australia and Southern India (Wikipedia, 2012b). The Indian students became very interested in this novel discovery – they in fact had some cultural connection to what many have identified as an Australian Aboriginal technology. The students in the classroom then engaged in some discussion with the Indian students, and there was a deeper connection that had not been in the classroom before.

“I then drafted a report, with input from the students, and projected it onto the IWB, and the students copied the report, with diagrams. They wrote far more than they normally write, and were fully engaged in copying down all the notes and filing them in their writing folders. This was about 1½ pages of notes, with half a page of diagrams. This was far more than most of the students had ever written in a single sitting.

“The students then went out for morning Recess. The time flew for the morning session, and I have never seen Indigenous students as fully engaged in school-based learning, as they were engaged throughout the morning, without any need to consciously bring the students back on task.

“After Recess, the blue-tongue lizard dance was rehearsed, and the top-most dot was pointed out on the icon. I explained to the students that this represents the first feed of knowledge. The second dot was then pointed out, and it was explained that we were moving on to the next feed of knowledge. As we take knowledge in, like a blue-tongue eats insects, the knowledge is absorbed by us and makes us strong.

“I then remembered that the classroom teacher had previously planned to run a soup stall during Recess of the approaching Friday.

“A spreadsheet was projected onto the IWB, and categories of: Price, Number of Customers, Income, Costs, and Profit were put into strategic cells.

“Formulae were placed next to these headings, and variables were placed in each of the cells that contained a formula. As the variables were changed, it was projected that the class could make a range of between $0.00 and $198.00 profit, depending upon how the variables were decided upon. The students became more and more interested as they learned that their decision-making processes could determine the size of the profit that their stall could make. It provoked a lot of discussion.

“After an optimum array of variables was decided upon, I proposed a chant that the students could memorise: “If you got no profit, then you got no business; and if you got no business, then you got no business to be in business.” This was chanted several times, until all the students had it down perfectly.

 “We then talked about the importance of marketing, and its capacity to increase the number of customers; the importance of selling the value of the product, so that customers want to buy at the optimum price for the optimum profit.

“Using the internet, and projecting the results onto the IWB, I googled pictures of differe nt kinds of soups, to include on two large advertising posters that the class eventually made. However, before we moved to making the posters, we conducted a spelling activity, using dictionaries. I wrote the names of the soups that appeared in the pictures on the IWB onto a blackboard. Many of the names were written with incorrect spelling (deliberately). Students had to find the words in dictionaries, and indicate as to whether I had written the words correctly or incorrectly. Previously students were very reluctant to use dictionaries, but this time the activity was made a competition between the boys and the girls, with points allotted to each side, and most of the students entered into the activity very enthusiastically.

“The soup words, after their spelling was corrected, were then collated to make a class rap: “At Friday’s stall we’ve got onion soup, We’ve got potato soup, we’ve got, pea and ham soup, We’ve got … “  This became a reading activity, as the students had to read the soup names in the rap to be able to chant the rap with the rest of the class. Once again, most of the students participated in this activity.

“The remainder of the time, leading up to Lunch, was taken up with making the two large advertising posters. Interesting invitations to customers were written, various pictures of different kinds of soups were drawn, and an optimum price was committed to.

“Students then went to Lunch having been fully engaged for the one and a half hour block.

“After Lunch, once again I performed the blue-tongue lizard dance, and the third eating spot was introduced. Yunkaporta’s story of the integrative nature of the returning boomerang was discussed with the students (Yunkaporta, 2009, p. 25). At the lower level, the details seem to be very far apart, and perhaps unrelated. But, as you follow the arms of the boomerang to the apex, you find that the parts are integrated at a higher/lower level. I threw out the challenge of finding a way of integrating the various feeds of knowledge that we had dipped into during the day.

“A spreadsheet was projected onto the IWB, and this time we looked at how to create formulae. As a group we took the raw commands: = , A1(etc.) , + , – , / , sum , ( : )  and combined them in various ways and observed the different results that happened when the same data was associated with a different formula. Students wrote these formulae by hand into their work books.

“Because the students had worked so hard for most of the day, we finished off the day with a game of basketball in the school hall.  At the end of the basketball game, just before being dismissed to go home, I once again did the blue – tongue lizard dance for a final time. At each of the stops where the lizard eats food in the dance, students were challenged to recite the things that they learned at that part of their learning journey through the day. The students were able to recall, in some detail, all the pertinent pieces of knowledge that they had been exposed to (Box, 2012b, pp. 143-146).

“Without any preparations, with only the resources that were at hand, and with the availability of an IWB connected to the internet, the class had a continuous stream of higher level learning, which was accessed by applying two of Yunkaporta’s Indigenous pedagogical concepts and processes. Nurtured by my input, the Indigenous students explored this learning with some support from technology and simple resources which just happened to be on hand at the time (rulers, string, paint, and so on). Points of frustration and resistance (which had been my every day experience when I previously applied Western-inspired pedagogies to the same class level in the same school, 2½ years earlier) – points at which, in the past, the lesson would collapse and melt down – simply did not arise.

“Everyone enjoyed the day. Everyone learned something (even the Indian students visiting the classroom learned something). From my perspective, it was the best day of teaching and learning that I have ever experienced in my whole teaching career – best day ever.

“This kind of teaching requires that teachers have a broad range of life experiences to draw upon. A resource-rich classroom would be an asset. A detailed study of Tyson Yunkaporta’s 8 ways Indigenous pedagogies needs to be internalised and automated, so that his icons evoke layers upon layers of application, and the most appropriate icon being available for recall for the specific context being explored. A personal experience of participating in Indigenous dance would also be helpful.

“From this recount it can be seen that employing Indigenous pedagogies can elicit responses that often do not follow the application of Western pedagogies in classrooms with tradition-oriented Indigenous students”   Box, L. A. (2013) Warlpiri Business as Pedagogy: A Learning Journey. Sydney: National Institute for Christian Education. Dissertation submitted for partial fulfilment of a Master of Education (Leadership) degree.


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