Thursday, 30 June 2016

Student voice - Maori learners and learning

One of my favourite experiences as a staff member at Hobsonville Point was the Waitangi Celebrations at the start of 2015 as this introduced me to new activities, colleagues, students and whanau (blog post). It also provoked many thoughts as to how the HPPS model could effectively and authentically integrate Te Reo and Tikanga into the learning at school. Throughout my time at this school I've had many conversations with different staff and parents about this also.

Initially, I wondered whether Te Reo could be included as an independent learning activity, similar to independent reading or maths. Discussions made me doubt the quality of such learning, although adopting a tuakana teina approach may alleviate this, the real concern surrounds how setting a range of resources/tasks would provide students with an engaging, authentic task. This was reinforced when I watched a colleague set about a filming activity using myths and legends, our students recognised the importance of correct pronunctiation and so asked for some workshops to assist them. The learning was more powerful due to the student voice, authentic learning and timeliness of the task. However, students don't know what they don't know and this is where teacher voice is necessary.

As a school we provide a Kapa Haka group, teachers include Te Reo in their instructions, signage and in learning activities. The Practicing Teacher Criteria are explicit in the expectations to actively teach our children relevant content, respect culture and values and adhere to the principals of the partnership in the Treaty of Waitangi. I have often felt that I could do more but have felt empowered by some experiences (Waitangi Day Celebrations at HPPS and HNS visit to Awataha Marae) and embarrassed by others (blog post HIS). Recently, I met with a friend who is currently undertaking pre-service training to be a primary teacher, he asked about Te Reo in the classroom. On his placements across 2 years thus far, he had observed that Te Reo was very hit and miss and wondered if it was something that was true of all schools. I can't speak for all schools but can appreciate his question, my student teacher placements also reflect his thoughts but I am aware of many schools and teachers who provide have significant resources promoting Te Reo, Tikanga and the principals of the treaty.

Currently, as a school we are pursuing Culture and Identity through our immersion experiences, these are being taught through Visual Arts, Music and Technology with a clear nod to the Social Sciences curriculum. In LC4 students have completed artworks, biopoems and on Friday visited the Auckland Art Gallery. Completing the biopoems, we challenged students to include more than just their passions, interests and worries, but to acknowledge their ancestry and their culture. For some this has meant deciding to write their pepeha's and one boy even decided to translate his biopoem into Te Reo. I had created one of the biopoem templates myself, several lines were directly influenced by a pepeha and explained this during class. I didn't tell them to write a pepeha but acknowledged that some may want to and this was an appropriate learning pathway. Some students had clearly felt empowered to pursue their learning and I felt better for creating an environment which enabled this.

On Friday 3rd we visited the Auckland Art Gallery, students took a studio workshop called Portraiture and Identity and had a guided session that investigated some Maori portraits. The dynamics between the group of students I was with underwent a noticeable shift when we begun work with the portraits. Amongst the group were several children who identify as Maori or Pasifika, without any teacher/guide direction these children all stepped forward and took on the role of leaders as they presented their art piece to the group and shared their knowledge, interest and wondering of the portrait of each Maori chief. As we left this part of the gallery, one young girl sidled up beside me and told me that she really likes learning about Maori art and language. It was a shared comment that provided a deeper insight into how I (and the LC4 team) could better meet her needs as a learner.

The findings on each portrait had included references to the Treaty of Waitangi, some portrait subjects had signed whilst others did not. In our group of 12, the knowledge of the Treaty was minimal. I parked this and explained it to my colleague on the bus afterwards, had she noticed this in her group? Nicole hadn't noticed this but it gave me pause to reflect on my friend's comment and the nature of learning at HPPS. Could we be doing better? Could I do better? It had to be more than simply pouring knowledge. As our students reflected on their visit they provided the answer, they identified potential projects including carving, weaving, making Maori-inspired jewellery and creating Maori art.

Student voice suggesting these authentic projects switched my brain into 'excitable puppy' mode as I considered how this could be bound together for a powerful project. Nicole and I have been reimagining the way projects are created and instead of a free for all, we're wanting to deliver six authentic options where the integrated learning is more powerful. I uploaded my thinking into our potential project document and was satisfied with the result, the learning possibilities and the potential outcomes. This learning could provide literacy options that investigated myths and legends, create pepeha, learn about the culture behind each of the art forms, karakia, and allow the students to tell a story about the history of Hobsonville Point and their own identity. This project could involve visits to/from experts in each of these art forms, possibly even Awataha Marae where they could take part in a powhiri. Dreaming even bigger, it might lead to a beautiful carving or artwork that welcomes people to Hobsonville Point or the students might reignite the Waitangi Celebrations Day for in 2017.

All this would finally make me feel like I was living out the intentions of the Practicing Teacher Criteria.