Pedagogical issues in designing a social and emotional learning program for Australian Indigenous youth in remote communities

Year: 2016

Author: Harper, Helen, Robinson, Gary, Franck, Linel, Gore, Cecelia

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Skills for Life' is a strengths-based social and emotional learning program that aims to promote resilience, coping and problem-solving skills for Indigenous youth in remote communities. It has a focus on mental health, wellbeing and help-seeking and aims to help reduce risks of self-harm. It represents a synthesis of the best available evidence-informed research into teaching of social-emotional learning (SEL) in schools. 'Skills for Life' has been developed by a team of researchers at Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin, and is funded by an NHMRC grant (APP1076817). The program was piloted in 2015 in Maningrida, a coastal town West Arnhem Land, and is now being scaled up in a number of Northern Territory schools.Evidence-based resources to support social and emotional learning are now widely used in Australian schools. However to date, SEL materials have not been systematically adapted, much less explicitly designed, for Australian Indigenous youth in remote and very remote communities. An essential consideration in developing the 'Skills for Life' program was that in the target communities lifestyles and social relationships are largely shaped by traditional concepts of kinship and associated relational patterns and social-emotional competencies. In the pilot school, as in most remote settings, it was also necessary to cater for students with a wide range of literacy skills (in this case ranging from Year 3 to Year 9 equivalent).In this paper we discuss some of the measures we took to develop the content and pedagogical approach for Skills for Life in order to best engage with students’ cultural realities and preoccupations, and to match the materials to students’ literacy levels and proficiency in English. These measures included staging activities carefully to help students build language and abstract concepts, and developing short scripts to help teachers frame each activity in an intentional and explicit way. We also designed specific resources, such as cartoons that represent scenarios students can relate to, and that provide a narrative prompt for in-depth discussion.