12. Encourage student self-awareness

The Approaches described here deal with some of the more personal dimensions of students' ongoing learning development. These exemplars follow on from those provided in 11.1 and 11.2, where students' and teachers' prior personal background and experiences are drawn on (where relevant) to enhance teaching and learning. The exemplars here also connect to the Approaches in 5. which deal with how to handle students' sometimes emotive responses to certain subject matter.

 The exemplars in this section require students to (re)assess their own values (12.1) and to reflect on their own learning pathways (12.2). This can be uncomfortable territory for some students.

12.1 Help students to know themselves and their own values better

Teaching in order to bring about truly transformative learning can be very rewarding. Certain risks, however, may need to be anticipated in the contested arena of Indigenous teaching.

Being challenged to question one's own most personal values is never easy, whether for Indigenous or non-Indigenous students (let alone for teachers), and students may respond in emotional ways. Careful strategies are therefore required, as these experienced teachers demonstrate, to negotiate this territory successfully.

12.1.1 'You can't assume any prior substantive knowledge - which you normally would assume in a Masters program. Not only that, but the knowledge they do have is partial … So basically my "program" is to turn them around in the seat of consciousness - to spin them around 360 degrees, so that they understand that the issue is not an Aboriginal problem, it's a problem of our society, a problem of consciousness…If you think about transformative pedagogy - that's my project.' (Melbourne)

12.1.2 'I might have a standard essay, but I also ask them to be subjective. For group work, the students run a Reconciliation Learning Circle for a whole semester. I use material from the Council for Reconciliation, where they have reflective questions, for example: "How would you respond if your children were taken"? I get them to engage at the level of Self, not just to focus on the Other.' (Newcastle)

12.1.3 'In my teaching I want students to be engaged in topics relevant to them - not some abstract learning. It's about them. I think a lot of them get a different insight into their identities as Australians. We had to do a de-briefing session once. It's emotional - and that's tricky. We did a session on how German society responded to the Holocaust - it made it all a bit bigger than just Australia… They understand that what happened is not their fault. They understand how consciousness is shaped by society. Their identity as Australians shifts, although not for everyone…' (Melbourne)

12.1.4 'An intellectual understanding can only take them so far… If learning is about changing yourself, then it means changing yourself emotionally, not just intellectually… And you have to open their eyes to the idea that you can change the world, not just yourself. This is important for Indigenous students, who are so often seen as victims.' (Sydney)


12.2 Require students to reflect on their own learning

Reflection is a widely-used tool for learning, and is particularly appropriate for the transformative agenda underpinning much Indigenous teaching. Integrating structured critical reflection into assessment requirements - as suggested below - will encourage students to take reflection more seriously. Learning journals are often used in such contexts.

12.2.1 'I get them to do reflection too - they have to write a letter to a friend telling them what they've learned in the unit.' (Macquarie)

12.2.2 'I try to get them to learn about themselves… By challenging their notions of where they get their information from - the media, or whatever - and how they value it. When you're teaching cultural competency in medicine… first, you have to know yourself .' (Melbourne)

12.2.3 'At the beginning of the semester I start with my non-Indigenous students by asking them to write down: "What I know about Aboriginal people" and "What I would like to know about Aboriginal people". Then they have to put that aside. At the end of the unit they have to write: "What did I learn in this unit?" And they also have to compare and critique what they have learnt, in comparison to what they wrote at the start." (Macquarie)

12.2.4 'If you just tell them Aboriginal health is bad, they get disempowered, helpless. But if you relate it to their skills - and these students have an excellent set of skills: empathy, communication - then they can link [it to] those skills in ways that can make an improvement.' (Melbourne)


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