Learning to be literate in Aboriginal communities: the significance of text

Kathleen Rushton

PhD thesis, conferred 2015

In Australia the model of reading outlined in many syllabus documents and the Australian National Curriculum: English acknowledges that reading is a socio-cultural practice and that both the contexts of culture and situation define the meanings individual students will make when approaching a given text. The difficulty of any given text therefore varies for individual students, depending not only on their skills but their understandings about the cultural context and the situation in which they encounter the text. Many students might find school a “natural setting” in which to learn, and may therefore be acquiring knowledge at school because their understandings about language and education predispose them to learning in such an environment. Many Aboriginal children however, do not find their understandings of language and culture reflected in the school environment.

The purpose of this multi-site case study was to better understand the significance of authentic local texts in the teaching of reading in four Aboriginal communities. The project that formed the basis of this case study, was the development of the One Mob books community writers kit, aimed at creating local books in these four communities and involving teachers, community workers and members of the local community.

The role of story for Aboriginal children and the importance of the local community in becoming literate were central features of the research findings. Under achievement in literacy was identified as a barrier to educational success in each context. Sharing local stories and language provided the Aboriginal communities with a positive way to interact with the school community, to engage their own and other children in their history and culture and to support their children’s literacy learning.

Supervisor: Dr Karen O'Brien