How to teach First Nations content and concepts across all levels of education

AAR-Australian-Indigenous-FlagEducators around the world – from early childhood up to university – struggle to teach First Nations content. Are drama-based lessons the answer?

Monash University Faculty of Education researchers have found that drama helps students understand difficult and complex First Nations concepts, and can contribute to the survival, dignity, and wellbeing of Indigenous peoples. The study by drama educator and PhD candidate Danielle Hradsky and Dr Rachel Forgasz was published in The Australian Educational Researcher.

Many nations, including Australia, have mandated the inclusion of First Nations content in the curriculum following the adoption of The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.

However, more than a decade on, teaching these complex concepts remains a challenge. Ms Hradsky says many educators are scared of “getting it wrong” when it comes to teaching First Nations content, but drama can be a way to “get it right”.

“A lot of teachers lack the knowledge, skills, confidence, and relationships to appropriately share First Nations knowledges and perspectives with their students,” said Ms Hradsky. “In their fear of failure, too many teachers don’t teach this content at all.”

The study analyses the use of drama-based teaching strategies, including teacher-directed games, creative exploration, child-directed dramatic play, scriptwriting and performance.

“Drama is an incredibly engaging way to teach. Students embody roles and stories, and become active participants in their learning,” said Ms Hradsky. “In the right environment, students, educators, and communities develop strong relationships that last well beyond a lesson or even a semester.”

Drama also engages students’ emotions, enriching their learning in ways that are particularly important for teaching First Nations perspectives and histories.

The analysis confirmed this type of learning has some parallels to First Nations’ ways of knowing and sharing information, and has the potential to build closer ties between First Nations and non-Indigenous people.

“Teaching through drama can create culturally safe spaces, develop and nurture relationships, strengthen cultural knowledge and practices, empower all students in their cultural identities, and critically engage with decolonisation,” said Ms Hradsky.

Ms Hradsky said teachers can start to embed First Nations content into their classes by building trust and engagement through simple games, before creatively exploring topics as diverse as history, the environment, health, social justice issues, students’ identities, and more.

“Starting local and connecting with local communities is the best way to make sure what you’re teaching truly supports the survival, dignity and wellbeing of First Nations people,” she said.

However, teachers must guide and support students when difficult emotions arise through the learning, and be aware of the potential toll on their own wellbeing.

“Drama is a powerful way to learn, but it can also be risky. By acknowledging the problems along with the exciting possibilities, teaching First Nations content through drama can encourage new imaginings of change,” said Ms Hradsky.