Seeding success for Aboriginal primary students

Peer reviewed article

Research article on success strategies for Aboriginal primary school children by Rhonda Craven and Natasha Magson

Two images of two women, Professor Rhonda Craven and Dr. Natasha Magson
Image: Professor Rhonda Craven, Director for Positive Psychology and Education, and Dr Natasha Magson, Centre for Positive Psychology and Education, School of Education, UWS

The Seeding Success project team

The Seeding Success for Aboriginal Australian Primary Students research project study was conducted by a collaborative team which included:

  • Professor Rhonda Craven, Director, Centre for Positive Psychology and Education, School of Education, University of Western Sydney
  • Associate Professor Alexander Yeung, Deputy Director, Centre for Positive Psychology and Education, School of Education, University of Western Sydney
  • Dr Gawaian Bodkin-Andrews, Australian Indigenous Research Fellow, Centre for Positive Psychology and Education, School of Education, University of Western Sydney
  • Adjunct Associate Professor Geoff Munns, Academic Programs, Centre for Educational Research, School of Education, University of Western Sydney
  • Dr Nida Denson, School of Social Sciences & Psychology, University of Western Sydney
  • Dr Gurvinder Kaur, Centre for Positive Psychology and Education, School of Education, University of Western Sydney
  • Dr Natasha Magson, Centre for Positive Psychology and Education, School of Education, University of Western Sydney
  • Dr Robert Stevens, Manager Research/ Quality Assurance Systems, NSW Department of Education and Communities.

Seeding Success Project overview

Currently, there is little empirical research in Aboriginal Education, particularly in schools, that identifies strategies that seed success in educational outcomes for Aboriginal students and that can inform interventions. This lack of empirical Aboriginal Education research is impeding progress in addressing the educational disadvantage that Aboriginal children suffer and the development of new solutions for interventions aimed at enhancing the educational outcomes of Aboriginal students.

The Seeding Success Project aimed to contribute to addressing this gap. Specifically, this project aimed to identify which particular facets of quality teaching impact most on educational outcomes for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in Years 3 to 6 in urban and regional NSW Department of Education and Communities (DEC) schools. It examined Aboriginal/ Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) and non- Aboriginal/ Torres Strait Islander (non- ATSI) student views regarding their learning experiences, as well as those of their teachers, to help develop an understanding of which factors matter most for ATSI students in comparison to their non-ATSI peers. The following article summarises the key findings of this four year study.


While researchers have emphasised the need to achieve educational equity for Aboriginal Australian students (Craven & Bodkin-Andrews, 2011; De Bortoli & Thompson, 2010; Gray &

Beresford, 2008; Mellor & Corrigan, 2004; Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training, and Youth Affairs [MCEETYA], 2006), it has been recognised that, despite good intentions, policy and practice have struggled to close the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students’ educational outcomes (Ainley, Buckley, Beavis, Rothman, & Tovey, 2011; Craven & Marsh, 2004).

Some researchers have also lamented that Australian Aboriginal Education research has overly focused on deficit models of Aboriginal students as learners (Craven, 2011; Devlin, 2009; Mellor & Corrigan, 2004) rather than explicating what factors facilitate academic success. For example, Munns, O’Rourke, and Bodkin-Andrews (2013) argue that ‘the schools making a difference for Aboriginal students … focus on effective teaching and learning rather than student welfare programs and program funding’ (p. 2). Furthermore, the national and international research has produced a wealth of literature illuminating positive school, classroom, and psycho-social drivers (such as academic self-concept) of achievement for all students (Hattie, 2003, 2009; Ladwig & King, 2003, NSW Department of Education and Training [DET], 2003; Rowe, 2003). However, little is known about the salience of these drivers in seeding success for Aboriginal students.

While it is recognised that Aboriginal students need culturally appropriate support across all aspects of schooling specific to their needs and values (Munns, et al., 2013), determining which practices within the school and classroom best promote educational success for Aboriginal students remains vitally important. It is from this research base that the rationale for this article emerged with the overarching aim of explicating some of the factors that lead to academic success for Aboriginal primary students. Conducting such research is one of the first steps in breaking the cycle of underachievement experienced by many students, and generating new solutions to help shape a better future for Aboriginal students.

The impact of academic self-concept on achievement

The NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group Incorporated (Craven & Parente, 2003, p.91) argue that there is not:

  • a single problem plaguing Aboriginal children – alienation from school, high rates of absenteeism, non-enjoyment of school, significant under-achievement, reduced educational and career aspirations, youth depression and suicide, conceptions about employment prospects and inability to secure rewarding, productive careers – that is not traceable, at least in part, to the failure of education systems to maximize our children’s identity self-concepts as Aboriginal people, proactively enhance our children’s academic self-concepts, and ensure our children in general feel good about themselves.

In education, there is a plethora of international research positively linking specific domains of self-concept (for example, math self-concept) to matching achievement outcomes (for example, mathematics grades/test scores; see Marsh & Craven, 2006 for an overview) across a variety of cultural settings (Marsh, Hau, & Kong 2002; Marsh & Köller, 2003).

However, it is only recently that Aboriginal educational research has found that academic self-concepts are significantly and positively associated with higher levels of achievement, engagement, and school enjoyment for Aboriginal students (Bodkin-Andrews, Dillon, O’Rourke, Craven, & Yeung, 2012; Bodkin-Andrews, O’Rourke, & Craven, 2010; Craven, Tucker, Munns, Hinkley, Marsh, & Simpson, 2005; Purdie & McCrindle, 2004). For example, a recent longitudinal study conducted by Bodkin-Andrews et al. (2012) revealed that although Aboriginal students are more likely than their non-Aboriginal counterparts to become disengaged from school, the strength of this association diminished when the impact of academic self-concept was taken into account. These findings suggest that enhancing the academic self-concepts of Aboriginal students would be a beneficial strategy in reducing school disengagement which is often characteristic of many Aboriginal students.

Table of self concept. Factors. Academic self-concept, Reading self-concept, math self-concept. Example item. I learn things quickly in all school subjects. I am good at reading. Work in mathematics is easy for me.
Image: Figure 1. Self concept

Additionally, while reports and Aboriginal Education policy statements and organisations have emphasised the need to maximise psychological constructs such as students’ academic self-concepts as an outcome of schooling, lack of relevant research in Aboriginal Education means that education authorities and teachers have little basis on which to do so. As such, it is imperative to generate solutions for Aboriginal Education intervention grounded in theory and substantiated by sound empirical research to result in tangible outcomes.

The impact of the classroom teacher

The importance of the teacher role has long been recognised by Australian educational researchers (Craven, 2011; Ladwig & King, 2003; Lester & Munns, 2011; MCEETYA, 2003; Rowe, 2003). Much of this research emphasises the notion of quality teaching, which has been thought to positively affect educational outcomes through an emphasis on productive pedagogical strategies that foster higher level learning and student motivation (for example, setting high expectations; setting tasks of high intellectual challenge). The importance of this research is accentuated by the fact that a quality teaching framework has been adopted by a number of

Australian education systems (for example, NSW DEC & QLD DET). Importantly, some Australian research has emerged that quality intellectual learning strategies implemented within the classroom are associated with higher levels of achievement for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students (Amosa, Ladwig, Griffiths & Gore, 2007).

Recent research by Hattie (2009) aimed to identify what factors contributed most in fostering academic achievement and engagement in learning. Results revealed that the most frequent set of positive and meaningful predictors emanated from the teachers, and how they acted and taught within the classroom. This led Hattie to conclude that it is the differences in the teachers that make the difference in student learning (2009, p. 236). Furthermore, in an earlier study, Hattie (2003) found that, with the exception of a student’s individual attributes, the key source of variance (the largest effect size) in achievement levels was due to the classroom teacher (30%). Based on this rich research evidence, Hattie (2003, p. 2) concluded that ‘It is what teachers know, do, and care about which is very powerful in this learning equation’. Clearly, the implications of Hattie’s research for Aboriginal Education is that excellence in teaching is highly likely to enhance educational outcomes for Aboriginal students, and thus teaching strategies should be viewed as a prime catalyst for change.

However, very little is known about teacher quality from the students’ own perspectives, and even less is known about what Aboriginal students see as the qualities of effective teachers and the impact this has on educational outcomes. An additional factor contributing to academic success and school engagement is the learning environment in which the students are immersed.

The impact of the classroom climate

A critical facet of the NSW Quality teaching framework is that of the ‘quality learning environment, where the focus moves from learning strategies to that of the actual learning environment’. A quality learning environment is one that allows positive relations (teacher–student; student–peers) within the classroom, whereby high expectations are set, and all members work productively together (NSW DET, 2003). Importantly, Aboriginal educational research has found that the relationships between students and teachers are of critical importance to an adaptive learning environment (Harrison, & Greenfield, 2011; Munns, Martin, & Craven, 2008; NSW AECG & NSW DET, 2004; Sarra, 2011).

It should be recognised that what constitutes strong positive relations between students and teachers is not a one-way process, as respect between teachers and students needs to be reciprocal (Byrne & Munns, 2012). Teacher humour, flexibility in learning styles, caring, understanding, and cultural competency are often cited as essential characteristics to more adaptive learning environments for Aboriginal students (Buckskin, 2012; Byrne & Munns, 2012; Harrison & Greenfield, 2011) and, therefore, should be examined closely when investigating what contributes to Aboriginal students’ academic success.

Image: Figure 2. Essential characteristics for more adaptive learning environments

The impact of cultural and Aboriginal education strategies

The empirical research examining the link between Indigenous students’ sense of cultural identity to increased classroom engagement and achievement has demonstrated some promising findings. One Australian quantitative study found that Indigenous students’ sense of self-identity was a diverse, multifaceted, contextually sensitive, and complicated construct, with some of the most important markers for a positive identity being a strong sense of identification with kinship groups, an understanding of the true history, languages, and traditional practices, and a strong sense of place (Purdie, Tripcony, Boulton-Lewis, Fanshawe, & Gunstone, 2000). Purdie et al. also found that, after family, teachers played one of the strongest roles in the formation of students’ sense of identity.

Furthermore, an increasing amount of qualitative research has also shown how identity is critical in promoting the engagement of Indigenous students (Harrison, & Greenfield, 2011; Munns, Martin, & Craven, 2008; NSW AECG & NSW DET, 2004; Sarra, 2011; Yunkaporta & Mcginty, 2009).

A review of the international research also suggests that culturally inclusive curriculum and pedagogy may also be related to higher levels of achievement (Castagno & Brayboy, 2008; Ladson-Billings, 1995). Taken together, these findings offer a critical insight into the importance of culturally inclusive teaching strategies in fostering and promoting the identities of Australia’s first peoples.

Critical to any understanding of cultural sensitivity, inclusivity, and Aboriginal education practices within the classroom is the need to move beyond surface inclusivity practices (Yunkaporta & Mcginty, 2009). For example, Amosa et al. (2007) found that, although the learning and environmental components of the NSW quality teaching framework were successful in increasing achievement patterns for Aboriginal students, practices surrounding significance (e.g. cultural relevance) were found to be counterproductive to closing the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students’ achievement. On closer examination of the findings, Amosa et al. concluded that schools were largely failing to fully commit to in-depth culturally inclusive practices.

One of the reasons for this failing may be gleaned from a study conducted by Harrison and Greenfield (2011). They found that although it has been a Department of Education requirement among all states and territories to incorporate Aboriginal perspectives into the school curriculum for more than a decade (Harrison, 2010; Konigsberg & Collard, 2002), teachers commonly reported knowing very little about Aboriginal people and their culture. Consequently, teachers had difficulties knowing how exactly how to incorporate Aboriginal knowledge and perspectives into the existing school programs.

Further compounding the problem, teachers and schools often reported having problems connecting with their local Aboriginal community which is particularly problematic because, as Dodson (2007) argues, one of the key features of a successful model of Aboriginal education is intense community involvement (p. 3).

Taken together, these findings suggest that, despite the NSW policy on Aboriginal Education introduced in 2009 stating that all teachers are required to undergo cultural competence training, the typical one-hour session offered does not adequately prepare teachers for teaching Aboriginal knowledge and perspectives (Harrison & Greenfield, 2011). By failing to adequately teach Aboriginal perspectives and knowledge, schools and teachers are in danger of perpetuating the very stereotypes and overgeneralisations that we are trying to avoid (Harrison & Greenfield, 2011). Even more concerning is the potential negative effect such misrepresentation may have on the Aboriginal students within the classroom in relation to their self-concept, engagement, and Aboriginal identity.

Finally, Harrison and Greenfield argue that, in order for Aboriginal education to be effective in the classroom, Aboriginal knowledge and perspectives need to be clearly understood by teachers and effectively distinguished. They state Aboriginal perspectives refer to the teaching of respect, and awareness whereas Aboriginal knowledge is where partnerships with Aboriginal communities and representatives ensure that lessons are taught in-place with direct relevance to the diverse Aboriginal communities and the knowledge contexts in which schools may be situated.

Image: Figure 3. Cultural strategies

What factors facilitate positive learning outcomes for students?

Within the NSW public education system, some noteworthy documents have driven a positive agenda for educational research and practice within the last decade. As discussed above, John Hattie’s (2009) ‘Visible learning’, provided a detailed synthesis of meta-analyses of international studies which identified the most significant drivers of student achievement. The Quality teaching framework (NSW DET, 2003) and ‘Freeing the Spirit: Dreaming an equal future’ (NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group Incorporated [AECG], 2004) both moved away from deficit theorising. Instead, they proposed what teachers, classrooms, and schools can do to promote positive learning outcomes for Australian Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students.

Furthermore, the review of ‘NSW Aboriginal Education Practice’ (NSW AECG & NSW DET, 2004), identified a diversity of strong pockets of educational and community commitment to the educational success of Aboriginal students gleaned from over 200 sites across schools and their wider communities. Although the Seeding Success research highlighted the breadth of the disadvantaged status of Aboriginal students across all levels of education, the pockets of strength were notable, and aided in the identification of nine key areas for advancing Aboriginal education and policy. These included:

  1. strengthening policy, planning, and implementation
  2. extending quality teaching and learning
  3. fortifying identities of Aboriginal students
  4. engaging Aboriginal students
  5. applying Aboriginal cultural knowledge
  6. collaborating in partnerships
  7. building community capacity
  8. challenging racism
  9. advancing leadership and accountability.

Following the recommendations of Mellor and Corrigan (2004), the Seeding success research focused on potential positive influences affecting the success of Aboriginal education rather than those that thwart Aboriginal students’ achievement. As such, the key area of racism identified in the NSW AECG and NSW DET (2004) review was not addressed in this investigation.

Of particular importance for the Seeding Success Project is:

  • extending quality teaching and learning
  • fortifying identities of Aboriginal students
  • engaging Aboriginal students
  • applying Aboriginal cultural knowledge
  • collaborating in partnerships
  • building community capacity.

All were recognised as critical factors that may directly influence the performance of Aboriginal students within the classroom.

Image: Figure 4. Seeding success in Aboriginal education conceptual model

While key areas outside the classroom (strengthening policy planning and implementation, and advancing leadership and accountability) were not addressed directly in the Seeding Successresearch, it is believed that the findings emanating from it will help inform these wider structural issues.

Finally, as highlighted within the report (NSW AECG & NSW DET, 2004), the fragmented nature of initiatives committing to the above key areas makes any generalisation across Australian education systems difficult. To address this gap the present study, Seeding Success for Aboriginal Australian Primary Students, sought to test the salience of these potential drivers across schooling environments and classrooms.

The Seeding Success investigation

The Seeding Success for Aboriginal Australian Primary Studentsresearch project study was conducted in partnership with the Centre for Positive Psychology and Education, University of Western Sydney; New South Wales (NSW) Department of Education and Communities (DEC); and NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group Inc. Taking a forward-looking and positive perspective, the research aimed to capitalise on recent advances in educational policy, research, and practice to identify what practices may be most conducive for success and engagement in primary school for Aboriginal students.

Drawing on the policy frameworks offered by ‘Freeing the Spirit: Dreaming an equal future’report (NSW AECG & NSW DET, 2004), the Quality teaching framework(NSW DET 2003), and the empirical research analysed by Hattie (2009), the opportunity exists to identify the most promising antecedents for Aboriginal students’ success.

The current investigation drew from this research base and from recent international advances in theory and research that have identified significant contributors to higher levels of engagement and achievement for students from a diversity of ethnic and cultural backgrounds (Byrne & Munns, 2012; Castagno & Brayboy, 2008; Craven & Marsh, 2008; Ladson-Billings, 1995; Ladwig & King, 2003; Lester & Munns, 2011).

Driving the present investigation were the factors most prominent in the literature which included:

1. academic self-concepts

2. teaching strategies

3. classroom climate

4. cultural and Aboriginal education strategies.


Quantitative research design

The quantitative component of the research design involved initially identifying a random sample of 52 schools from NSW with a minimum of five or more Aboriginal students in Years 3 to 6. Aboriginal (n=495) and non-Aboriginal (n=783) students in the same class were invited to participate in the study. Students in each school completed a survey on three occasions, four months apart over a school year. Each group of constructs was assessed in a staged approach.

Initially, the quantitative component of the study focused on testing the psychometric properties of the instrumentation for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in Years 3 to 6 to ensure the measures were robust for the sample under consideration.

Next, tests were conducted to ascertain the extent of similarities and differences between mean scores of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students for each construct.

Finally, the raw associations (correlations) and the cause-and-effect impact of constructs on student engagement (as measured by desire for truancy, school enjoyment, and classroom participation) and English and mathematics achievement, using DEC developed measures across the three time-waves of data, were examined.

Qualitative research design

The qualitative component of the research comprised case studies in four DEC primary schools and conducting cross-case analysis to elucidate what seeds success for Aboriginal primary students. Schools for case studies were selected based on the scrutiny of the quantitative data whereby Aboriginal students in these schools:

  • achieved above-average reading comprehension and mathematics EMSAD scores
  • displayed higher levels of school engagement
  • perceived that their culture was respected in the school learning environment.

Participants were drawn from four schools. Individual interviews were conducted with teachers (2-10 per school), Aboriginal Education Officers (one per school), and principals (one per school) of each school. Also, focus group interviews were conducted with students from each of the Years 4 to 6 with a maximum of six students per group (one focus group interview per year).

Summary of key findings

Self-concept results

The results demonstrated that the self-concept measures employed are valid and reliable for the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students. They are equivalent in meaning for both student groups. As such, self-concept is a salient and multidimensional construct for Aboriginal primary students.

The results also attest to the important causal influence of academic self-concepts on nearly all of the schooling outcomes for the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students. More specifically, for the Aboriginal students, higher levels of the academic self-concepts (school, maths, and reading) were causally associated with higher levels of classroom participation, school enjoyment, and English achievement, and lower levels of desire for truancy. For the non-Aboriginal students, all outcomes were causally predicted by the academic self-concept measures.

For both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, the evidence suggests that the employment of a range of strategies to increase self-concept within school is likely to result in enhanced classroom participation, school enjoyment, and academic achievement to seed success and engagement for all students.

Teaching strategy findings

Overall, not only were the teaching strategies equivalent in meaning across the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, but, at the mean level, the two student groups were more similar than dissimilar in their perceptions of teaching strategies utilised in their learning environment. This result is in itself positive, as both student groups agreed about perceiving the diversity of strategies that teachers use.

Teaching strategies were also found to causally facilitate engagement outcomes (class participation and school enjoyment). Across the teaching strategies examined, five were found to be beneficial for Aboriginal students increasing levels of school engagement:

  • self-monitoring
  • literacy scaffolding
  • clear instruction
  • questioning
  • performance feedback.

In contrast, the influence of these teaching strategies on achievement was minimal. These results imply that utilising effective teaching strategies can seed success in classroom participation and reduced truancy for Aboriginal students, but have little effect on their achievement patterns in mathematics and English.

Classroom climate results

In the classroom, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students were more similar than dissimilar in their perceptions of the positive classroom climate (and also found to be equivalent in meaning across the two groups).

In addition, the adaptive nature of these perceptions were further enhanced by the strong positive relations between the classroom climate factors and the schooling engagement outcomes (class participation and school enjoyment), and had negative relations with truancy (suggesting that such strategies lead to less truancy) for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students.

Like the results pertaining to teaching strategies, the relations between the classroom climate factors examined and achievement measures used were minimal in nature. Hence, these findings suggest that classroom climate facilitates schooling engagement outcomes and reduced truancy, but has little influence on mathematics and English achievement.

Findings relating to the cultural education measures

After an examination of how cultural education practices influence schooling outcomes, the current findings suggest that Aboriginal students can more readily perceive culturally inclusive strategies (with the exception of relations with family and community) in the classroom when compared to their non-Aboriginal peers. That perceptions of culturally inclusive teaching were positive for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students suggests that schools are implementing culturally inclusive strategies that are valued by all students.

The findings also imply that culturally inclusive strategies are positively associated with schooling engagement for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, suggesting that such strategies have benefits for all children.

Interestingly, only ‘strength of cultural identity’was associated with both achievement outcomes for Aboriginal students, implying that promoting Aboriginal children’s cultural identity has a positive association with higher achievement outcomes. This important finding supports calls to recognise and promote Aboriginal students’ identity in the classroom as a critical component of the learning equation to seed success.

Qualitative findings

Results emanating from the qualitative component of this study acknowledged that the conditions of school success for Aboriginal students are complex equations (see Munns et al., 2013 for further detail). They involve the interplay of cultural forces on individual dispositions and decisions as they interact with wider policies, contextually driven conditions, curricula, and pedagogies.

The case studies indicate that there is evidence to suggest that schools can make a difference for Aboriginal students, and offer future directions for school communities to consider as they work on their own approaches to enhanced social and academic outcomes. Although seeding success for Aboriginal students varied across case study schools, there was substantial evidence for the key eight themes that clearly emerged across the four schools:

  • strong community relationships
  • the centrality of Aboriginal cultural spaces and Aboriginal people to the work of schools
  • the prioritisation and embedding of Aboriginal perspectives and values in the school and classroom curriculum
  • the implementation of quality teaching strategies from an Aboriginal perspective
  • a conscious movement from welfare to learning communities
  • targeted support for Aboriginal students
  • establishment of relationships between teachers
  • Aboriginal students acknowledge Aboriginal learners as responsible and able to achieve.

Discussion and recommendations

The results imply that teachers and culturally safe learning environments are important factors in contributing to Aboriginal student engagement and achievement. However, much still needs to be done to enhance Aboriginal students’ academic self-concepts so that they are commensurate with their non-Aboriginal peers’ academic self-concepts. This is especially important considering the findings which demonstrate that academic self-concepts are associated with positive schooling engagement and achievement outcomes for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students. As such, the results attest to the centrality of academic self-concepts in facilitating desirable educational outcomes for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students. Therefore, no teacher is wasting their time in enhancing Aboriginal students’ academic self-concepts to seed success.

These results also attest to the fundamental importance of literacy for Aboriginal students and to the need to foster positive reading self-conceptto enhance school enjoymentto seed success. In addition, the current results imply that school enjoyment for non-Aboriginal students is causally influenced by a more diverse array of constructs as compared to Aboriginal students.

The findings also highlight the importance of holding positive maths self-concept for non-Aboriginal students to causally influence academic achievement in mathematics. For the Aboriginal students though, similar effects were not observed as ‘cultural identity’was the only positive causal predictor of mathematics achievement.

These findings also support the international self-concept literature that demonstrates that achievement and self-concept share dynamic and mutually reinforcing relations (see Marsh & Craven, 2006). Hence, enhancing both reading self-conceptand reading skills simultaneously is likely to enhance reading achievement.

Furthermore, the results also imply that holding a strong cultural identity has a positive causal influence on reading achievement for Aboriginal students. Consequently, the promotion of Aboriginal identity is a strategy that can improve reading outcomes for Aboriginal students.

It has been well established in the literature that Aboriginal students are at greater risk of becoming disengaged from school than their non-Aboriginal counterparts (Bodkin-Andrews et al., 2012; Bodkin-Andrews et al., 2010). However, the current findings offer some insight into diminishing this risk. If teachers can develop a strong rapport with their students, incorporate questioning techniques and fun into their lesson plans, and focus on enhancing reading self-concepts, then Aboriginal students are more likely to be engaged in school. Subsequently, this should lead to decreased rates of truancy.

A number of other teaching strategies were also found to be beneficial in facilitating the educational success of Aboriginal students. ‘Teacher questioning’was found to increase Aboriginal students’ class participation and enjoyment of school, as well as decrease rates truancy. As this strategy has been positively related to higher-order learning, it is recommended that teachers incorporate this strategy into their teaching of Aboriginal students to promote critical thinking and avoid surface learning or memorisation approaches.

As ‘literacy scaffolding’was found to promote learning and school enjoyment, it is recommended that all teachers ensure that each student is challenged with classroom reading tasks, regardless of their literacy levels. By acting as models for challenging learning tasks, teachers make success visible to all students. Then, building on this foundation, they allow the dynamic nature of the whole class to discover further pathways to success.

‘Performance feedback’was also found to be a critical factor. Therefore, teachers need to ensure that Aboriginal students know what success is, as it allows students to relate their learning development to achievement and their sense of confidence. As advised by Hattie (2009), feedback should not be about rewards, but about teachers giving information about tasks that reinforce the learner’s understandings, confidence, and self-evaluation.

Additionally, the findings associated with the benefits of teaching students to self-monitor demonstrate the need for teachers to promote self-monitoring in their classrooms. Self-monitoring allows students to directly link their progress to their achievement and, indirectly, to their confidence.

Lastly, ‘clear instruction’was found to enhance Aboriginal students’ educational outcomes. Therefore, teachers should provide clear explanations and guided learning strategies that involve making clear observable links between learning, assessment, and success.

Image: Figure 6. Factors influencing outcomes for Aboriginal primary children

It is also useful to note that, within the qualitative findings, a number of positive themes emerged that were comparable to the quantitative findings, particularly in relation to culturally embedded practices that enhance Aboriginal students’ positive sense of culture within both the school and classroom (Munns et al., 2013). Indeed, it may be argued that the inclusion of meaningful Aboriginal perspectives within the learning environment, and working in partnership with Aboriginal communities, will strengthen and reinforce the identity of Aboriginal students.

Research strengths and limitations

The findings of the Seeding Success investigation offer a rare longitudinal Aboriginal education study to the literature, with a systematic use of qualitative and quantitative methodologies. The qualitative research identified the multi-faceted and varying paths that schools navigate to seed success. The quantitative research examined the worth of increased levels of academic self-concepts, Cultural/ Aboriginal Education approaches, and adaptive teaching strategies for seeding success.

A key strength of the quantitative component of this research study was the rigorous attention paid to the psychometric properties and the validity of the measurement instruments used for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal primary students. This is particularly important in relation to Aboriginal education research as previous research has been plagued with methodological measurement flaws (Bodkin-Andrews, Ha, Craven, & Yeung, 2010; Craven & Bodkin-Andrews, 2011; Mellor & Corrigan, 2004). The established equivalence of measurement between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal samples ascertains that differences, associations, and causal relations identified are more likely to represent real findings rather than cross-cultural measurement biases (Byrne, 2003).

Finally, one of the strongest limitations plaguing the majority of quantitative Aboriginal Education research is its cross-sectional nature (Bodkin-Andrews et al., 2012). The longitudinal causal modelling methodology utilised in the Seeding Success Project has allowed a rigorous examination of causal effects pertaining to the constructs examined, and to educational outcomes.


In conclusion, the research has created a suite of valid and reliable measures for further research with Aboriginal primary student samples and has provided evidence of potent factors for seeding success in Aboriginal students’ schooling engagement and achievement.

This research has also successfully identified 16 factors that causally and positively influenced schooling outcomes for Aboriginal primary students.

Image: Figure 6. Teaching strategies

The findings show that excellent teachers and the strategies they use facilitate success for Aboriginal primary students is important. It implies that teachers should proactively enhance Aboriginal students’ academic self-concepts, promote Aboriginal students’ cultural identity, and utilise teaching strategies that raise the expectations of Aboriginal students to achieve excellence.

It is these excellent teachers that are helping us to illuminate the path to seed success for Aboriginal primary students and forge a bright future for all Australians.

References and further reading

Ainley, J., Buckley, S., Beavis, A., Rothman, S. & Tovey, A. 2011, Analysis of Year 12 Certificate II attainment of Aboriginal young people – Stage 1, ACER Press, Camberwell, Vic.

Amosa, W., Ladwig, J., Griffiths, T. & Gore, J. 2007, ‘Equity effects of quality teaching: Closing the gap’, in Proceedings Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, Fremantle, 25-29 November, 2007.

Bodkin-Andrews, G., Ha, M.T., Craven, R.G. & Yeung, A.S. 2010, ‘Factorial invariance testing and latent mean differences for the Self-Description Questionnaire II (short version) with Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian secondary school students’, International Journal of Testing, vol. 10, pp. 47-79.

Bodkin-Andrews, G.H., O’Rourke, V. & Craven, R.G. 2010, ‘The utility of general self-esteem and domain-specific self-concepts: Their influence on Indigenous and non-Indigenous students’ educational outcomes’, Australian Journal of Education, vol. 54, no. 3, pp. 277-306, accessed 14 January 2018.

Bodkin-Andrews, G. H., O’Rourke, V., Dillon, A., Craven, R.G. & Yeung, A.S. 2012, ‘Engaging the disengaged?: A longitudinal analysis of the relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian students’ academic self-concept and disengagement’, Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 179-195.

Buckskin, P. 2012, ‘Engaging Indigenous students: The important relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and their teachers’, in K. Price (ed.), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education: An introduction for the teaching profession, pp. 164-178, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, Vic.

Byrne, B.M. 2003, ‘Testing for equivalent self-concept measurement across culture: Issues, caveats, and application’, in H.W. Marsh, R.G., Craven, & D. McInerney (eds), International advances in self research, vol. 1, pp. 291-313, Information Age Press, Greenwich, CT.

Byrne, M. & Munns, G. 2012, ‘From the big picture to the individual student: The importance of the classroom relationship’, in Q. Beresford, G. Partington & G. Gower, Reform and resistance in Aboriginal Education, pp. 304-334, UWA Publishing, WA.

Castagno, A.E. & Brayboy, B.M.J. 2008, ‘Culturally responsive schooling for Aboriginal youth: A review of the literature’, Review of Educational Research, vol. 78, pp. 941-99.

Craven, R.G. (Ed.) 2011, Teaching Aboriginal studies, 2nd edn, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, NSW.

Craven, R.G. & Bodkin-Andrews, G.H. 2011, ‘What research tells us’, in R.G. Craven (ed.), Teaching Aboriginal Studies, pp. 210-228, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, NSW.

Craven, R.G. & Marsh, H.W. 2004, ‘The challenge for counsellors: Understanding and addressing Aboriginal secondary students’ aspirations, self-concepts and barriers to achieving their aspirations’, Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 16-33.

Craven, R. & Parente, A. 2003, ‘Aboriginal Education and the importance of self-concept research’, in Journal of the Aboriginal Studies Association, vol. 12, pp. 91-104.

Craven, R.G., Tucker, A., Munns, G., Hinkley, J., Marsh, H.W. & Simpson, K. 2005, Indigenous students’ aspirations: Dreams, perceptions and realities, Department of Education, Science and Training, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, ACT.

De Bortoli, L. & Thomson, S. 2010, The achievement of Australia’s Indigenous students in PISA 2000– 2006, ACER Press, Camberwell, Vic.

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Keywords: pathway; research; Aboriginal education strategies; cultural identity;

How to cite this article: Craven, R. & Magson, N. 2014, ‘Seeding success for Aboriginal primary students’, Scan 33(1)

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