This paper offers a discussion on the representation of cross-curriculum priorities in the Australian Curriculum (AC) and pedagogical considerations in the Key Learning Area (KLA) of History. Many schools in Australia are still struggling to adopt and implement the AC, due to the many changes involved especially in the emphasis on cross-curriculum priorities.
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The current AC is more oriented towards the study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, sustainability, globalization, and creative thinking. These fields are essential to learners in Australia as they relate to their lives while tackling the contemporary problems that they face. The draft syllabus in the KLA of History mirrors the changes called for by the national curriculum.
This curriculum presents novel challenges for educationists to adapt their pedagogy to mirror these considerations well in their classrooms. The presented curriculum materials are not free from criticism, as they are inadequate in terms of pedagogy that promotes self-autonomy (Harris & Bateman, 2008).
The term curriculum has many definitions. Some scholars define curriculum as a series of written documents such as books (Wiles, 2008). Other scholars define curriculum as a group of school encounters (Allen, 2008). This definition considers extracurricular programs such as sports and other non-academic tasks. The last definition of curriculum relates to the ends of schooling (Newton & Fisher, 2009).
This perspective views curriculum leadership at aiming specific attitudes, knowledge, and behavior for learners and the pedagogy that the teacher uses to realize those ends.
For the sake of this study, we shall take the word curriculum to denote the documents produced by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) as the new national requirements for Kindergarten-Year 12 students. The definition will also encompass the Draft NSW Syllabus documents (ver 2) on the KLA of History.
The AC emphasizes on three Cross-curriculum Priorities and one area of General Capabilities. These Cross-curriculum Priorities include Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia (AAEA), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and culture (ATSC) and Sustainability (SUST) (Allen, 2008). Similarly, AC emphasizes on Critical and Creative thinking (CCT), which is a field in the General Capabilities.
The AC acknowledges histories of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It considers the history of these people, before, during and after colonization by the British (Allen, 2008).
Other areas recommended by AC for study in the history of these people include political movements and policies related to this group, in the last two centuries. The goal of the study in this priority area is to allow learners to develop an understanding of the important contributions of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia.
In the same way, sustainability as a priority area allows learners to understand mechanisms that influence changes. History in AC offers substance that promotes the advance of students’ perspectives concerning opinions on accessibility and use of the Earth’s resources as well as economic systems.
Learners also develop an appreciation of transformations in environments in the end and the function played by societies and people in preserving the environment.
According to Harris and Bateman (2008), incorporation of AAEA into the AC aims at enlightening young people on Australia’s deals with Asia. The rationale behind this is that when young people develop an enhanced understanding of their nation and the Asian culture, they will start to value the political, cultural and economic relations between Australia and other nations.
If, for instance, the syllabus integrates AAEA in a unit on Ancient Societies, the significance of the customs, celebrations, and beliefs of communities in the Asia region could form a basic research area.
Conversely, incorporation of CCT into the History syllabus aims at enabling learners to analyze past situations critically to understand socio-political interactions as well as the part that history of people governments and other groups play in making associations between nations. History education mostly centers on constructive and reflective learning, most tasks that the learners complete within this syllabus focus on this domain.
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The NSW Syllabus in History suggests that learners in Years K–2 be taught time continuity and change, which falls under SUST. Besides, the curriculum includes a unit on ancient history in Years 11–12, and this falls under ATSC. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander are central to Australian history and thus, must face consideration in the Curriculum.
The concepts of AAEA and CCT are very applicable to learners in Years 3–6, who are typical learners aged between 8 and 12 years. According to the NSW Syllabus documents, History at this level should focus on how Australians lived in the past, how people in other places lived in the past, as well as how the past has influenced the present.
In studying how people in other places lived in the past, instructors should focus on the people of Asia in efforts to integrate AAEA into the curriculum. Instructors may ask learners to dwell on customs beliefs and ceremonies of people from Asia region and their interactions with the Australians in the past.
Equally, studies on how Australians lived in the past should integrate topics on interactions between the Asian people and Australians. Some topics that denote relationships between the two countries are in the areas of trade, intermarriages, and boundaries.
On the other hand, incorporation of CCT into History in AC curriculum is very applicable when tackling the unit on how the past has influenced the present. Connecting the past with the present requires a lot of reflection and constructing ideas logically. Therefore, the ability to think critically becomes crucial in this unit.
Creative and critical thinking is central to tasks that call for learners to think intensely by way of evaluating actions using aspects like logic, innovation, and imagination (Newton & Fisher, 2009). The AC suggests that students develop ability in critical and creative thinking through knowledge evaluation, elucidation of ideas, seeking possibilities, solving problems and reflecting on alternatives.
Another area where AAEA is very applicable as seen in the NSW Syllabus documents is the unit on ancient history. This unit exists for learners in Years 11–12 aged between 15 and 18 years. Incorporation of both histories of Australia and Asia into the AC curriculum can lead to an understanding of Asia’s involvements in the region and the globe, as well as an understanding of the significance of Asia region to Australia and the globe.
Pedagogy is the application of educational theories in the classroom through teaching (Hall, 2008). Application of quality pedagogical practices in classrooms enhances students learning. Therefore, teachers are very cautioned when selecting pedagogical approaches. Quality pedagogical approaches should use strategies that are meaningful and those that address the students’ needs.
Besides, quality pedagogical approaches should match the particular learning content (Cornish & Garner, 2012). The learning and teaching of History follow a transaction model of direct instruction (Huitt et al., 2009). In this approach, the teacher first presents materials to learners. The teacher reviews earlier materials offer an explanation on knowledge, skills of learning, and the rationale for the approach.
The teacher then presents questions for discussion to learners. As such, History learning is also problem-based learning. Problem-based learning is an investigative practice that seeks to unveil unknown answers to questions. It is usually task-oriented and requires active participation and problem-solving skills. Since learning History is task-centered, the teacher gives learners questions that they answer in groups, or individually.
Learners make discussion groups to find answers to the questions, or else, consult books and other scholarly materials through research. Some historical questions need specific answers, while others are open questions that entail the application of problem-solving techniques. Students analyze, evaluate and compile their responses to various questions, and present them in the form of classroom discussions.
During these discussions, students take crucial points from their colleagues and seek clarification from the teacher in areas that do not seem logically consistent. The teacher only acts as a facilitator in classroom discussions.
A problem-based approach is particularly valuable when a variety of learners with diverse levels of knowledge or skills, even learners with mild physical challenges could take part wholly, with the right attention, and attain success. Every learner plays a part at their rate, with their backgrounds as well as within their own mental and physical limits and explores from that place.
Learners apply the curriculum element of CCT in all phases of the problem-based learning process. They explore various historical sources critically and use their creativity to compile answers to these questions in a logical way. The process also applies constructivism, reflective and inquiry-based aspects, all which relate to CCT (Ritchhart et al., 2011). Constructivism is learning as transformations in internal cognitive systems.
Transformations in cognitive systems of learners occur through discussion of answers from different sources, as well as, evaluations, analysis, and synthesis of the answers (Ritchhart et al., 2011). Refection, in contrast, calls for learners to build mental pictures when exploration questions, as well as when giving responses and making evaluations about the answers.
Closely related to reflection is inquiry-based learning, which involves self-directed activities. Learners come up with self-directed questions that seek to clarify historical concepts under research. They offer concise explanations to such questions if they come up from peers during discussions. Therefore, History must integrate critical thinking at all stages, starting from evaluating material sources through answering questions and discussions in the classroom.
The AAEA is also applicable to pedagogical practices in History. In the course of problem-based learning, the teacher can pose a question that relates to AAEA, depending on the topic undercover. For instance, when learning about ancient history, the teacher formulates several questions about the history of China.
As learners answer these questions, they come across many facts about Asia and thus meeting the goals of the curriculum. To drive points home, the teacher may consider getting a person of Asian origin to act as a case study. Case-based learning considers social interaction as such; learners acquire first-hand experience and retrieval of information about the learned are becomes easy to retrieve.
Thus, both the AAEA and curriculum element of CCT are easily applicable in the KLA of History. However, the idea of incorporating SUST in the History curriculum does not hold water, and this makes the adoption of suitable pedagogy quite intricate.
While the curriculum recommends that learners should learn time and continuity of change as core areas of SUST application, the topic has little material or content to cover, as it seems like a common sense issue. Generally, someone would expect SUST to deal with realistic environmental issues such as global warming, environmental degradation, deforestation and pollution (Gough, 2011). H
istorical aspects of these issues such as the earliest movements to discuss these issues and steps that the society took to guarantee sustainability in the past could then face address. Besides, SUST does not relate well with CCT. The contents of SUST in the AC are one-sided and limited.
These aspects have faced lots of criticism, as they do not create room for CCT (Kennedy, 2009). Thus, the nature of SUST content in the AC should face evaluation as it limits the application of efficient pedagogical models.
In conclusion, the inclusion of cross-curriculum priorities in the Australian National Curriculum seeks to enable young Australian to understand and interact with their world in a more concise way, while generating the skills of critical and creative thinking. These goals are contained in both the Draft NSW Syllabus documents and the National Curriculum.
However, some areas of the cross-curriculum priorities make the process of realizing the educational aims of Australian education impossible. Such areas do not have adequate adjustments for use in education.
For instance, the area of critical and creative thinking does not match well with sustainability and thus making the adoption of suitable pedagogical approach difficult. Therefore, the Australian Curriculum must make sure that there is relevance, consistent and adequate content for coverage in each learning area.
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