8 Ways of Learning

I really enjoyed reading about the 8 Aboriginal ways of Learning. It’s very insightful and I’m sure it is very much an eye opener for many teachers to see it presented in such a way.

The Best Aboriginal Pedagogy section gives a clear indication of how to use Aboriginal perspectives to present core aspects of teaching units rather than as peripheral stories of ‘fun’ anecdotes that do little to include the Aboriginal students a teacher may have in the class. Of particular interest was the way in which each school, of varying groups of Aboriginal peoples interpreted and adapted the 8 ways for their own educational purposes. There is a strong link between the seen aspects of Aboriginal culture and the unseen, deeper knowledge. It’s more than just a presentation of artifact or stories, it’s more about the deeper understanding of lore and culture and practice of these that gives relevancy to the perspectives that teachers are including in their lessons. Educators must be aware of the restrictions of knowledge between genders. There must be a balance between the handling of secret knowledge and the non-sexist climate that schools must have.

Of particular interest was the guide for displays of Aboriginal Culture:

  1. Story
  2. Learning Maps
  3. Non-verbal objects and items
  4. Symbols and Images
  5. Land Links
  6. Non-linear information
  7. Deconstruct/Reconstruct community profiles
  8. Community Links

The 8 Ways philosophy has begun to be interpreted as a way to observe 4 key aspects of local Aboriginal culture, namely:

  • values
  • systems
  • protocols
  • processes

and the integration of these into the local school system.

What is important to remember is that this is a very generalistic guide and that ‘one size does not fit all’ when it come to implementing the 8 ways into a classroom.

Of greatest interest to me personally was the Personal Identity Reflection Questionnaire at the end of the website. Did you try it? If not, here it is for all to try. It’s a very challenging experience, if you answer it completely honestly. It shows that there is “a strong link between culture and the way people think and learn”. (Your Identity Map – https://8ways.wikispaces.com/Your+identity+map)

The Questionnaire

1. Ways of being. 

Where do you belong? Who do you belong to?

How do you know that something is real?

List some categories of the things you know are real in this world.

From the following sets, select the land orientations you feel most comfortable with:

Saltwater / freshwater
High ground / low ground
Hills / plains / ridges / mountains / coast
Open country / forest
Wet / dry
Red soil / black soil
Sand / dirt / rock
Warm / cool
Fur / feathers / scales / fins
Wood / rock / earth / wind / fire

Where are your ancestors from and how do you connect with them?

How are you accountable for maintaining relationships with ancestors, people and the environment? (What are your personal consequences for damaging these relationships?)

How will the knowledge you have learned in this life be passed on, and to whom?

What things in your life-world must change, and what things must always stay the same?

2. Ways of knowing. 

How did you know the answers to the questions so far – how did you learn these things?

Sketch a diagram of the way you solve problems. What shape does this take for you?

When you access knowledge from memory, what form does that take in your head? (e.g. images, sounds, print, language, shapes)

What are the stories that have had the biggest impact on how you relate to the world around you? (Might be books, films, oral histories, fables etc.)

What symbols are most meaningful for you? (e.g. crucifix, tag, icon, flag)

How do these symbols inform your life and work?

What sorts of things do you know implicitly, without having to be taught?

Do the answers to any of these questions make you want to change any of your answers back in section 1? (Because our ways of knowing shape our ways of being.)

3. Ways of doing. 

Do you learn new knowledge best with others, for others, alone, or for yourself?

Do you internalise new knowledge through dialogue, reflection or both?

Do you achieve learning outcomes at the end of a process, or during the process?

What are the signs you look for to know if what you are doing is right?

What does it usually take for you to change your mind about something?

What tools do you use for teaching and learning?

What are your main cultural practices, your ways of expressing your culture (e.g. singing, sport, events, rituals)? How do these cultural practices impact on the way you do your work?

4. Ways of valuing. 

What is truth?

What would be your top three rules for living? Top three for learning?

What is the most important thing in the world to you?

How did you learn your values? Where did they come from?


Now, track back through your responses and find the points that relate to:

  1. Stories and histories
  2. Knowledge pathways/processes
  3. Unspoken/instinctive/ancestral knowledge
  4. Metaphors and symbols
  5. Land and place
  6. Non-linear/contradictory/irrational/creative ideas
  7. Wholes vs parts / Macro vs micro / Communal vs independent
  8. Family, community, cultural base

These points relate your identity to the 8ways framework. Match these with the 8ways diagram and reflect on your identity within this framework (starting top left with story sharing, then working anti-clockwise).

Overall, it must always be remembered that this is a guide across many Aboriginal cultures and by no means is a complete representation of all, or any Aboriginal Culture.

As part of the reflection its important to examine how we can, as teachers, incorporate these aspects of culture into our teaching for all students who have the whole cross-section of learning styles. We must remember not to stereotype our Aboriginal students by the mere fact of Aboriginality. Being Aboriginal isn’t a guarantee of having Aboriginal learning styles.

For me personally, and this must not reflect on other Aboriginal people in any way, my Aboriginality is only one facet of who I am. I have German heritage, I have British, I have Arab, Russian, Spanish, French and I have West African background. I can talk about percentages and genetics, but the fact remains that I am of very mixed background and that makes me an individual. It rankles me when people. upon hearing that I have Aboriginal heritage, give the all knowing “Ohhhhh!” exclamation, as if that explains everything about me. How little they know. So we must treat all of our students as individuals and ajust our teaching to cater for ALL learning styles and remember to be culturally sensitive and, most importantly, inclusive in our teaching of Aboriginal culture.

As an anecdote….

From 2004 to 2006 I was the AERT at Narrandera High and Primary schools. My background is Anaiwan/Kamilaroi from northern NSW. I was expected to teach Wiradjuri language classes in the schools. The students knew that I’m not Wiradjuri and questioned me on every word meaning and pronunciation. I was an outsider trying to teach them about themselves. This is where community contacts come into play.

Involving community, especially Aboriginal Elders as part of the learning process is vital. It gives authenticity to the teaching if the involvement follows the 8 ways and is not just a fun distraction from other lessons. Keep the elders involved. Get the whole class used to having cultural components in everything you teach. Make the cultural aspect as equally valued a part of learning as every other part and cater to all learning styles wherever you can.

All works refer to: 

8 Aboriginal Ways of Learning. (2009). Retrieved from http://8ways.wikispaces.com/URL


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