This excerpt is taken from:

Indigenous Literacies: A Literature Review
Ninetta Santoro (PhD, M.Ed, Grad. Dip TESOL, B.Ed
Deakin University
Commissioned by the Catholic Education Office Melbourne 2006

Discussions about literacy education for Indigenous children often concentrate on the school environment as the means to engage students in the learning process. However, the literacies that Indigenous students bring to school are shaped by their cultural experiences at home and in the community. Much literature suggests that Indigenous communities use oral teachings to increase children’s knowledge of their past and present cultures as well as their place in the family and community. Stories are told by family members and elders and passed down to younger people through speaking.

So, what knowledge about Aboriginal English and Indigenous literacies do teachers need?

Many Indigenous students often do not speak Standard Australian English (SAE) at home, but speak Aboriginal English. According to Rose,

Various types of ‘Aboriginal English’ are spoken in all Indigenous communities in Australia, whether the variety is classified by linguists as a ‘creole’, a ‘pidgin’ or a ‘non-standard English’. In each of these varieties the lexical ‘content’ words tend to be mainly English, but grammatical structures may be hybrids of English and Indigenous grammar structures, and English grammatical items such as prepositions, reference items, relational verbs, or auxiliary verbs of tense and modality may be absent or transformed. Despite these structural differences, there is no question that the meaning potential of these Indigenous varieties is just as functional for spoken communication as are other dialects of English spoken by other speech communities (Rose 1999, p.10).

If teachers do not regard Aboriginal English as a valid language form there is the risk that they will assume that these students have language deficits or speech impediments that require intervention or remediation (Clancy and Simpson, 2002, p59). Malcolm (2003) suggests that a teacher’s attitude towards language varieties has a significant impact on how well they engage with learners. When students feel that a teacher values languages other than Standard Australian English, they are more likely to feel positive about school and to be more fully engaged in learning. (Malcolm, 2003, p12)

To access the full Literature Review by Ninetta Santoro, click here.
(The reference list has plenty of good resources)

If you have any practical resources, please email details to Brenda (and identify which category to list them under).


Guiding Tracks

Author: Catholic Education Commission of Victoria (2002) Guiding Tracks, Melbourne: Catholic Education Commission (CECV).

This is a resource for teachers consisting of a video and accompanying booklet.

It contains three sections. Section One, ‘Policy and Strategy Contexts’ outlines key national policies and the Catholic Education commission’s policies in relation to Indigenous Education. Section Two, ‘Learning Contexts’ offers information about the cultural backgrounds of Indigenous students and establishes a need for a curriculum inclusive of Indigenous foci. Section Three, ‘Professional Development Activities’ offers a range of practical suggestions for teaching and learning activities in an Indigenous culturally-inclusive curriculum. It also advises on the selection of resources and the need for community consultation.

Language Support Program (Appendix 4: Indigenous Students)

The Language Support Program (LSP) provides direct assistance to teachers in developing sound oral language competency in children and young people to maximise their learning potential. An assumption of the Professional Learning Guide is that both teachers and learners will be operating in Standard Australian English. While the Language Support Program provides a sound theoretical framework, teaching strategies and other support material that are relevant for all students, the program was primarily developed with the needs of speakers of Standard Australian English in mind.

The use of the LSP with speakers from other language backgrounds therefore needs to take into consideration the language and language learning differences of students who may not use Standard Australian English as their main language. It has been estimated that up to 80 per cent of Indigenous people in Australia speak Aboriginal or Koorie English as their mother tongue. Koorie English is a dialect of Standard Australian English.

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Narrative Life

Author: Neil Hooley

This book seeks to answer the question of how we structure education for the world’s 370 million Indigenous people so as to promote intercultural understanding, maximize opportunity and right colonial wrongs.

Hooley’s work details an innovative curriculum design for Indigenous school children based on the principles of participatory narrative inquiry, as well as exemplars of Indigenous knowledge. Written from an Australian perspective, the book discusses broad international issues that impact on schooling such as globalisation, democratic education and whiteness and raises significant questions regarding Indigenous culture and knowledge.

Engaging Indigenous Students at School

Author: Purdie, N. and Stone, A. (2005)

An article published in Professional Development Teacher April 2005, pp26 – 29.

Full article
Phonological knowledge and literacy learning by Indigenous students

Author:  John Munro

A presentation on Phonological knowledge and literacy learning by Indigenous students Presented in 2008.

Full article


Yarra Healing

The Yarra Healing website promotes the voices of local Indigenous people of Melbourne and its surrounding areas. It gives expression to their stories and to the growth of the Reconciliation movement not only in Melbourne but across the nation. For Inquiry Learning (Lesson Plans) visit the Teaching and Learning section on the Yarra Healing website.

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Yarn Strong Sista

Yarn Strong Sista Consultants provide support and information for educators (Pre-School to Post-Secondary) who aim to deliver an Indigenous inclusive curriculum. These programs include training, storytelling, and educational resources. Yarn Strong Sista promotes both traditional and contemporary Indigenous culture, people and values.

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Early language and reading skills in indigenous children in Australia

Professor Margot Prior from the Department of Psychology at the University of Melbourne has been working in Aboriginal child health for over 10 years. In this program she talks about the terrible state of literacy in Aboriginal children and some of the reasons for it.

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Deadly Vibe

The website for the magazine DeadlyVibe provides a very useful tool for teachers in the classroom. There are articles about sports, music and the arts that involve Indigenous people. The website provides downloadable, printable worksheets which allow students to practice their English comprehension, using a topic they are interested in.

The website provides teachers with activities specific to age/year level of the students. Also, these activities have been clearly designed to meet English standards within current curriculum frameworks.

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Indigenous Literacy Project

The Indigenous Literacy Project (ILP) is a partnership between the Australian Book Industry and The Fred Hollows Foundation.

Visit the Website