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Linking to the general capabilities

Teachers are guided through a series of activities that focus on the general capabilities and how they can be taught in English and History. Videos of teachers discussing intercultural understanding in English and History classes is provided as stimulus for reflection. What Works in teaching intercultural understanding in English and History provides a research base for teachers to explore ideas and strategies.

Task 1: Twenty-first century skills and the general capabilities in the Australian Curriculum

Cisco, a private company in the USA, said in its paper Equipping every learner for the 21st century (Cisco Systems Inc 2008, PDF 3.9 MB) that:

'…70 percent of jobs created in the last decade were "interactive intensive" … these interactions increasingly occur on a global scale putting a premium on cross-cultural knowledge and understanding, such as multilingualism, and the values of appreciation, understanding and respect. … The importance placed on creativity is matched by a need for employees to be far more adept at collaboration.

  • Consider how English and History provide opportunities for students to build their 'interactive intensive' skills.

The General capabilities in the Australian Curriculum provides a pathway for teachers to use to support students becoming individuals who can manage their own wellbeing, relate well to others, make informed decisions about their lives, become citizens who behave with ethical integrity, relate to and communicate across cultures, work for the common good and act with responsibility at local, regional and global levels. (ACARA 2013)

The Australian Curriculum includes seven general capabilities:

  1. Literacy
  2. Numeracy
  3. Information and communication technology (ICT) capability
  4. Critical and creative thinking
  5. Personal and social capability
  6. Ethical understanding
  7. Intercultural understanding
  • Each of the general capabilities has organising elements such as in Critical and creative thinking: inquiring – identifying, exploring, generating and reflecting. Audit your learning sequences to identify these pedagogies.
  • Each of the general capabilities has a learning continuum such as in Personal and social capability: appreciate diverse perspectives, work collaboratively and understand relationships. Audit your learning sequences to identify these pedagogies.
  • List the factors that are contributing to the need for actively teaching critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability, ethical understanding and intercultural understanding in English and History.
  • The general capabilities are listed in no particular order. In your view list the general capabilities in order from most to least important. Why have you chosen this order?
  • Consider whether all of the general capabilities can be taught in English–History.

Task 2: Weaving the general capabilities into the Asia content in English and History

Many teachers already incorporate the general capabilities into their teaching. The Australian Curriculum brings these to the fore as a clear reminder to teachers that they are integral to all teaching.

Watch the video of Dr Deborah Henderson, to the right. She says that teachers need to look for opportunities for teaching intercultural understanding in History. After watching the video consider the following:

  • What is her view on teaching controversial issues in History and how they relate to the general capabilities of intercultural understanding and ethics?
  • Consider how the inquiry process in History allows teachers to explore the general capabilities.

Task 3: Teaching intercultural understanding through English and History

You know the difference between you and me is that l think the world is a circle, and you think it's a line … The Chinese believe in constant change, but with things always moving back to some prior state. They pay attention to a wide range of events they search for relationships between things; and they think you can't understand the part without understanding the whole … Every Chinese was first and foremost a member of a collective, or rather several collectives – the clan, the village and especially the family.
(Nisbett 2004, pp 1–2)
  • 'To assume that the economic miracle that has occurred in parts of Asia over the past ten years will bring more modernity, and therefore, a greater westernisation of Asia is a misunderstanding of Asian values, practices and beliefs.' Do you think that as the countries of Asia become wealthier and more modern their values, practices and beliefs will change and become more Western? Does this have an impact on the need to teach intercultural understanding?
  • Looking people in the eye, not looking people in the eye. Body space too close, body space too far. Consider a time when you have been involved with or observed, either directly or as a third party, a cultural misunderstanding. What skills were used to resolve the misunderstanding?
  • What does intercultural understanding mean for English and History teachers teaching the Asia priority?
  • What pedagogies do you use to incorporate intercultural understanding in English–History classes?
  • Read the intercultural understanding assessment task (after activity 13) in the year 9–10 English module, Understanding China through literature. How can this assessment task be adapted for the other general capabilities?

Task 4: What does the research say about teaching intercultural understanding in English and History?

Indonesian teachers visit Marlborough PSIndonesian teachers visit
Marlborough PS

The skills of an Asia-literate teacher have been highlighted in a recent research report, Asia Literacy and the Australian Teaching Workforce. From surveys of approximately 2,000 school leaders and teachers, findings show that almost three quarters (73 percent) of respondents believed that a key feature of the 'Asia-literate teacher' was effectiveness in building intercultural understanding, not only through their teaching practices but also through their character, disposition and behaviour (that is, 'accepting', 'open-minded', 'compassionate', 'flexible', 'adaptable', 'forward thinking', 'outward looking', 'culturally inquisitive', as having a 'non-judgemental approach' and 'a strong sense of justice'). (Halse et al, 2013, p 81)

  • Interrogate your teaching practice. Consider the degree to which you model acceptance, open-mindedness, compassion, flexibility, adaptability, forward thinking, outward looking, cultural inquisitiveness, a non-judgemental approach and a strong sense of justice.

The geography of thought – how Asians and Westerners think differently … and why Nisbett (2003) is a must-read for teaching intercultural understanding. See the Resources section for a brief overview of this text.

  • Consider the strategies used by the two teachers below in teaching intercultural understanding:
  • Watch the video of Tom Ryan, to the right, discussing how he focuses on intercultural understanding when teaching about Asia in History.
  • Watch the video of Jane McGennisken, to the right, discussing how she focuses on intercultural understanding when teaching about Asia in English.

Task 5: What works in teaching intercultural understanding in English and History?

The research from the What Works 3: Achieving intercultural understanding through the teaching of Asia perspectives in the Australian Curriculum – English and History tells us that schools and teachers who are developing their practice of intercultural understanding will manifest one or more of the following enablers.

  • Decide which of the following intercultural understanding enablers are used by you in teaching the Asia priority in English and History:
  1. starting points: ongoing review, resulting in curriculum and pedagogic renewal
  2. authentic contexts: an understanding of English and History as rich contexts for developing intercultural understanding through use of Asia perspectives
  3. range of perspectives: use of a wide range of resources, including ICT, that bring to the fore different 'voices' and perspectives to any story, text, key historical figure, or event
  4. challenging content: willingness to deal with content that may be complex and even uncomfortable
  5. critical thinking: understanding the difference between learning about 'culture' and developing intercultural understanding, which is required to ensure deep and meaningful engagement with intercultural content
  6. life skills: understanding that where one's curriculum and pedagogic practice sits along an intercultural understanding spectrum is important in recognising what might work in one's classroom and school context, and what else might be possible in the future.

Task 6: What are schools doing to teach intercultural understanding?

Two primary and seven secondary schools across Australia describe what works 
for them in teaching intercultural understanding in English and History.

  • Choose one school from each category: contributions, additive, transformation and social action and read about what their practice is in intercultural understanding and where they are on the continuum. Decide where you are on the continuum.
  • What steps could to be taken in English and History classes to move towards the action-oriented stage?

Task 7: Assessing intercultural understanding

  • Read the intercultural understanding assessment task (after Activity 13) in the year 9–10 English module Understanding China through literature.
  • How can this assessment task be adapted for the other general capabilities?


Image: AEF
Videos: AEF

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