LEARNING FROM COUNTRY

We work on Darug (Aboriginal) Country at Macquarie University, and we have been developing resources for  teachers that can provide students with a better understanding of Darug people and Darug Country.

The blog is designed to promote Learning from Aboriginal Country in Sydney. While there are many resources including videos of Aboriginal people in remote places talking about what their country (land) means to them, it is difficult to find appropriate teaching resources that include Aboriginal people talking about their lives in urban areas like Sydney. This site provides you with videos, lessons for the IWB, texts, and ideas for teaching about Darug on Darug Country.

How is Learning from Country important?

As teachers, we spend much of our time recreating real-life contexts inside the classroom in order to make learning more relevant. For many children, this mismatch between what happens inside and outside the classroom becomes much greater as they progress through school, with an increasing number of students asking how their learning relates to the real world. Of course many kids want to be out there, learning in the real world. Learning from Country is designed to get them out there. Lets take an example from our own teaching at Macquarie University.

The example is set within the context of Aboriginal education. When we were planning a unit of work for students, we wanted to include lessons on Aboriginal art. But how could we teach Aboriginal art without recreating the stereotypes of dots in the desert and cross hatching from Arnhem land? Aboriginal art is much more than two styles, and we wanted to make this clear to students without merely talking about Aboriginal art in a lecture or workshop. That would be just more talk and more misrepresentations of Aboriginal people. After discussing these issues with colleagues, we decided to take the students outside the classroom to work directly with a Darug artist from the Country upon which we were learning.

Renown Darug artist Leanne Tobin offered to work with us to plan and create three murals on university campus. At the beginning of a series of three workshops Leanne’s brother, Chris explained to students how the main mural would tell an old Darug story about the creation of the coves and inlets around Port Jackson. As the students painted, they learnt more about the Country upon which they were learning, the people and kinship networks, and the plants and animals that inhabit all the places on that Country. And most importantly, they learnt directly from three highly regarded Aboriginal artists. They had direct experience with their relationships and networks.

As the students worked in groups of 25 with Leanne and her family over a number of weeks, they were learning Darug art styles, techniques and stories. The books and lectures had been set aside for a short period in order that they could learn from Darug country through doing.  The endless theorising of human relationships and reconciliation that occurs in most classrooms had been replaced by the direct experience of student and Darug artist working closely together to create a piece of art. The mural as a product was unimportant, the process of students and Darug artists working together on-country to arrive at a mutual outcome was the crucial learning of this particular task. Reconciliation was an unconscious performance rather than a word in a book or an institutional requirement.

Learning from Country is about learning through practice, rather than sitting in a classroom reading about the world outside. It is learning to observe, listen, feel and sense how places, animals, people, plants and the seasons are connected; children can then develop a sense of being part of that web of relations on Country.

Neil Harrison
Macquarie University

Read more about the mural project here.

Some references

Somerville, M., Davies, B., Power, K., Gannon, S., & de Carteret, P. (2011). Place Pedagogy Change. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Gruenewald, D. A. (2003). Foundations of Place: A Multidisciplinary Framework for Place-Conscious Education. American Educational Research Journal, 40(3), 619-654.

Gruenewald, D. A., & Smith, G. A. (Eds.). (2008). Place-based education in the global age: local diversity. New York: Lawrence  Erlbaum Associates

 


 

NeilNeil Harrison is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. He started teaching in 1978, and has over 30 years of teaching and research experience in Aboriginal education, with his book Teaching and Learning in Aboriginal Education (Oxford) being used widely in Teacher Education Programs across Australia. His teaching and research is now focused on developing an approach to Learning from Country as a curriculum tool for connecting kids to Country in large urban locations such as Sydney.

 

8 Comments on “LEARNING FROM COUNTRY

  1. I am currently trying to put together a unit on the Importance of Country and Place (yr 3 History) to the Dharug people and am struggling with trying to find appropriate content because, as you have said. Most involves remote or rural areas. I have consulted with the local Dharug Reseach centre and will do so further to have my unit content approved. However, I’d love any information or links to appropriate information for year 3 that could be provided. We are based in the Hills area so I am trying to make it as local as possible but at the moment anything re art, dreaming, country and place would be helpful. Thanks,

    • Hi Emma

      Great to hear from you. Did you see the Smart Notebook files for stage 2 on the blog – under resources? There is a lot there on community
      Tell me how you go
      regards
      Neil

  2. Hello Neil – I’d like to learn more about your work in this area. I am interested in games for learning.

    • Great to hear from you Brett. We are trying to provide some resources for teaching on country/Sydney. We might need to work on a game too

  3. ‘A pedagogy of place’ sounds like a very powerful way of learning. It seems the mural project has done more for reconciliation for the student and artists involved than decades of government policy and traditional methods of education. Hopefully their experiences will ripple out further into their communities. Has there been any consideration of extending place based learning into other sectors? Imagine the potentially powerful opportunity for positive environmental/social change if a CEO sitting in his/her office in the Sydney CBD had learned through a pedagogy of place the importance of country, and developed a sense of belonging to place!

  4. Is there any scope to go out side of “art based learning”? Food, tracking/food, weather, relationships within a community? etc, etc

    • Absolutely. For example, weather-on-country would be more effective (in the primary school) than studying seasons in a far away place. It just makes more sense!

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