Gillen Primary School

The school

Gillen Primary School is a co-educational government primary school in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.

Indigenous Australian students make up half of the school's population of about 353.

For further details about the school, visit their website at:

The lands surrounding Alice Springs are those of the Arrernte people. Permanent European settlement began with the establishment of an Overland Telegraph Station in 1871–2. Alice Springs is now a large regional centre which services the tourism, mining and pastoral industries, and outlying communities.

Further information about Alice Springs can be found at:  

Program overview

In term 1, 2001, this unit based on the Discovering Democracy unit 'Joining In' was developed by classroom teacher Lyndsay Thomas for year 5 students in a year 5/6 class (year 6 was completing another unit of work in Social Education). The program ran for four one-hour lessons per week for a total of four weeks.

The aim was for students to:

  • compare shared interests and common needs that link individuals to form groups and communities
  • encourage students to work as team members
  • research issues that are affecting the lives of different members of the community.

Students took part in the following activities:

  • investigated the kinds, structures and functions of groups in the community
  • examined how and why people participate in groups
  • organised and participated in groups themselves
  • investigated the ways in which people can participate in community groups.

Material was adapted from the Discovering Democracy Middle Primary unit 'Joining In'.  

The students

'Joining In' was adapted for the year 5 students in a year 5/6 class, of whom 75 per cent were Indigenous Australians.

There were 11 students in the class: five girls and six boys, seven of whom are Indigenous Australians, the other four being non-Indigenous Australians.

Three of the class group receive additional help in English as a Second Language (ESL) and three receive additional help in the Special Education (SN) unit.

The students already had an idea about what constituted a community group and were either already members of groups or they could relate to joining groups.  

Learning needs

The main focus was developing the students' ability to work as team members.

The school is currently trialing the new NT Framework (Outcomes Based Focus); the unit of work was used as a vehicle for the development of the EsseNTial Learnings.

The specific learning needs for the year 5 class were related to the new Framework document. Lyndsay Thomas says: 'I wanted to use something that was relevant to the students and was, therefore, easier for the students to discuss and complete the tasks. I also used the unit of work to observe the dynamics of the group and how certain individuals interact. Thus, the Collaborative Learnings were another emphasis and reason for the choice of material.'  

Learning outcomes

Northern Territory Framework document

Essential Learnings

  • Collaborative Learner 1: interacts in ways that allow others to convey their meanings and intent before responding
  • Collaborative Learner 2: shares own ideas and opinions and considers the interests and viewpoints of others
  • Collaborative Learner 4: fulfils their responsibilities as a team member and actively supports other team members
  • Constructive Learner 4: develops a sense of social responsibility through active, informed participation in chosen areas within their community and family structure
  • Creative Learner 4: uses imagination and insight to experiment with ideas and resources for self expression

Unit details

  • Social Education Band 2: Social Structures and Society – describe the roles and purposes of community groups
  • English Band 2: Listening and Speaking, Writing and Reading and Viewing

Indicators – on completion of the unit students can

  • Social Education
    • describe the roles and purposes of community groups; evaluate the benefits and costs of membership in community groups
    • actively participate in project planning and decision making
  • English
    Listening and Speaking
    • interact with others about familiar ideas and specific purposes
    • use appropriate language structures and features of spoken language for expressing and interpreting ideas
  • Reading and Viewing
    • identify and use the language structures and features of text to construct meaning
    • integrate a variety of strategies to interpret written and visual text, to identify resources and find information
  • Writing
    • compose short text which contains several interrelating ideas
    • identify and use most basic language structures and features when writing text
    • use familiar strategies and experiment with new strategies for planning, composing and reviewing own writing

Program outline

Working cooperatively, students undertook the following activities:
(See 'Activities completed within the 'Joining In' unit' and 'Student work samples')

  • Examining why groups exist and looking at the different types of groups in our community
  • Classifying these different groups according to students' own classification (Collaborative 4, Collaborative 1, Social Education, English)
  • Examining how groups function and conducting a role-play of these ideas; organising a group to solve a problem around the school (Collaborative 4, Collaborative 2, English)
  • Producing a poster stating the key points of group participation (Creative 4, Collaborative 4, Collaborative 2, Art, Technology)
  • Discussing and analysing how certain groups get things done (Collaborative 4, Collaborative 2, English)
  • Discussing and analysing how groups can make a difference (Collaborative 4, Collaborative 2, English)
  • Discussing how and where people can join in groups and examining the reasons why people might not join in groups (Collaborative 4, Collaborative 2, English)

Curriculum resources

Discovering Democracy Middle Secondary unit: 'Joining In'  

Developing the program

Rather than modifying 'Joining In', Peer Tuition was used as a method for delivering content. That is, students with greater literacy skills assisted those who had ESL and SN difficulties in completing the tasks successfully and producing the same piece of work.

There was little need for a collection of worksheets for each ability group. The Discovering Democracy handouts 1-8 were used only by the more able students. This in turn enabled them to guide the discussions on the topics they had to complete.

The teams of students aided each other with the presentation and a vast proportion of the work was oral, or presented as a poster.  


Methods of assessment

Lyndsay Thomas comments:

'During my assessment, I not only marked the completed work, but I also recorded conversations and looked for specific communication: evidence of team work and sharing of information between the team members.

I was very conscious of the more able students taking over the discussion. But while observing them, I found that there was an equal amount of discussion because I had told them that I was looking for the group that showed evidence of sharing opinions and also considering the viewpoints of others. In order to complete the work requirements satisfactorily, there had to be cooperation between the pairings.

I could record assessment with both the Discovering Democracy activities and the way the end product was achieved by observing group dynamics for the EsseNTial Learnings focus.'  

(See 'Work habit checklist')  

Learning outcomes

  • Students were able to achieve learning outcomes related to the new Framework document for the Northern Territory and the teacher was able to use the activities to concentrate on the EsseNTial Learnings.
  • Students fulfilled requirements for Band 2 of the SOSE document in Social Structures and Society.


Factors contributing to success were:

  • Using Peer Tuition to enable the less able students to complete tasks (while allowing the more able students to become the teacher by buddying students) ensured that students, who normally would not work together, cooperated.
  • The emphasis on how the end results of the lesson were reached, not on the content and the retention of the facts.
  • The work instigated discussion about issues that affected the students as well as those areas around the community which they have opportunity to join; for example, groups that are accessible to them within the community in which they live.
  • Using posters instead of written work as an assessment tool was suitable for most students.
  • Worksheets were easy to complete and to adapt for the less able students.

Obstacles to be overcome included:

  • The choice of groups mentioned in Discovering Democracy handouts 1-8 were not suitable for the Indigenous students as they tended to be groups that they would not have access to.

    A football club was used as the sporting club. Other than that the students generally had an understanding of what the role of the other clubs were from the title and the discussion we had prior to completing the task.

    By establishing students in partnerships, the more literate students assisted those with ESL or SN problems to interpret materials and complete tasks.

  • Handouts 1-8 contained too much information to make them a useful tool for the lower ability students. This was overcome through the partnerships mentioned above and through simplifying the work requirements for ESL and SN students. (See 'Activities completed within the 'Joining In' unit' and 'Student work samples'.)
  • The poster contained in the pack was not age appropriate for this group of students, although the year 4 teacher currently undertaking this unit of work is using the poster.

Changes in future programs

Lyndsay Thomas commented that next time she would like to ensure that after the group developed their posters and their speeches that they presented them to the school assembly so that they could see if they could make a difference.  


Curriculum Corporation wishes to thank Ms Lyndsay Thomas for her assistance with the development of this case study and the year 5 students at Gillen Primary School whose work contributed to the development of the curriculum unit on which it was based.

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