Te Marama Pūoru Waiata Māori – learning for all

On my way back from EducampBOP yesterday afternoon I listened to the Mixtape on RNZ.  I hadn’t realised that following on from Te Wiki o te Reo Māori there was a Māori Music Month.  I can be forgiven for not knowing about it as this is its inaugural year and there hasn’t been a lot of mainstream media coverage about it.  The guest on the Mixtape was Rob Ruha  who “is from the East Coast, and is recognised as a leader of traditional Māori music. He has a unique style of which has been described as an eclectic mix of soul-roots-reggae with a touch of RnB, rock-blues and jazz” (see Stuff.co.nz article).

This afternoon I listened to the Mixtape of Moana Maniapoto and one of the things she said struck me – she introduced herself as a musician, a songwriter, always learning and she went on to say that her life has been about storytelling whether through music, documentary making or writing in general.

I have talked before about the power of storytelling for learning. Recently I was involved in a Facebook conversation about the relative merits of teaching handwriting in primary school. As usual, there were many opinions and I have written about this before too, so I am not going to revisit it. But one of the comments that was made was that learning how to read and write brought Europe out of the Dark Ages and another said that people will not be able to contribute to society fully if they don’t know how to read and write. It was also said that not knowing how to read and write would seriously hinder a person’s ability to learn.

So this is the nub of this post.  Why do these people think this is the case?  And how does the emphasis reading and writing meet the needs of all our learners?  It is true that up until relatively recently, while reading and writing have been the main ways that we have accessed ‘knowledge’ in educational systems in western societies, there have been people who have struggled to learn and progress.

My contribution to the conversation was that for generations we learned through storytelling and song which developed active listening skills, the ability to communicate orally, articulate ideas and responses to stories and retell them.  They were adapted and embellished on the way, maybe to fit the context of the situation or maybe because some details had been misinterpreted or misunderstood and people filled the gaps to make the story work.  People learned how to craft language and think on the spot and they were creative, they used verse, songs, jokes and prose.  The places we listened, often alongside a  ‘master’ as he/she went about their trade, or around a fire or in the kitchen or in the fields meant that we spent time with our community elders and built connections and relationships, learned respect and shared ideas.  And listening to stories helps our learning because it activates not just the processing language parts of our brains but the sensory and motor aspects too.  And telling stories is just as powerful for learning as we have to articulate what we mean, we have to process our thoughts and organise them.  I know we do that when we write too – I have edited and re-organised the paragraphs and my ideas in this blog post as I have written, but when we speak we have to do that on the go, dynamically as people listen to us and they can question and interrupt and ask for clarification.

Now I am not saying that reading and writing hasn’t enriched learning, it is an essential tool in the education box and we should make the most of what it offers us.  However, the emphasis over the last century or two has been on the written word and the process of writing as a means of learning.  And I think that it has been a barrier to learning in terms of how we measure learning for many people. Their learning in school, the ability to pass exams has been almost entirely predicated on reading and writing. So if we have a child in a class that finds it difficult to read or write,  we make them do more of it so they can catch up. If they don’t reach a certain level of literacy they will not be able to access ‘learning’ across other subjects, even maths because they are all based on reading information and then writing about it.  My boys are creative kids with heaps of ideas, they both struggled with the physical aspect of forming letters and making their writing legible. They were slow at writing so they stopped thinking up big ideas, or at least writing them down because it took too long.  So they never really explored their ideas, articulated them, ordered them and crafted them fully to the satisfaction of their teachers in an essay format.  Fortunately, my boys are ‘good’ readers so they developed a wide vocabulary,  they identified how to form sentences and worked out how language works through the range of genres that they read.  If they had greater access to typing and being able to use a computer for their writing the barrier for them may have been removed. If they had been able to record their voice and speak their ideas out loud rather than writing them, how might that have affected their learning?

20150930_223616Remember that the very first way of communicating was through gesture and voice, through songs and images. The rhymic nature of poetry and songs stimulates the brain but also the body so that we move and sway in time, the words somehow stick in your brain, just think how much easier it is to learn a poem with rhyme and rhythm than one without and how the words of catchy tunes rattle around your head without you even wanting them to!   So my boys also loved listening to stories; we read often to them and they had tapes and CDs which they listened to in the car or at bedtime.  The power of listening and how it impacts on the ability to memorise (I won’t say learn because they are very different)  was reinforced once when I came upon my eldest at the age of 3 ‘reading’ Winnie the Pooh. He had memorised the words from the tapes he listened to regularly and from us reading to him and was ‘reading’ to himself, turning the pages as he went!

As a language teacher, I have frequently bemoaned the paucity of listening skills amongst the young people coming through to me in my classroom as well as the unwillingness of students to articulate their ideas orally unless they have had time to craft ideas in written form first.  As we have assigned more emphasis to reading and writing, to decoding words on a page we have neglected to understand the power that the spoken words has on children’s ability to learn.  When children come into a school they have spent 4-5 years listening and developing oral language. They have amazing memories, they can retell stories, they are good active listeners and mimickers. They have learned as they have watched their parents, elder siblings, caregivers, and asked countless Socratic questions about the world, life, and the meaning thereof.  So,what do we do? We put a pencil in their hands, we sit them down, we tell them to be quiet and we teach them to read and write.  I am being harsh.  I know that primary schools do so much more than that and I am well aware of the constraints that schools are under to ‘deliver’ the curriculum and ‘meet the standards’ and I am not going to go into any of that now.  But I think you get my meaning. They get out of the habit of ‘listening’ and speaking and they become over-reliant on reading and writing.

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© Copyright Ewen Rennie and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

 

From symbols painted on cave walls, on skins, carved into wooden posts and stone pillars to the artistic calligraphy on vellum of the monks, to the printing press and then to typing and word processing, language and, more importantly, communication have informed the way humans have lived, adapted, survived and flourished in an unpredictable world.  But language developed orally, it was honed and refined by people talking to each other. As we have travelled more widely, explored new places, tasted new foods, seen spectacular and interesting new sights and immersed ourselves in different cultures, our vocabulary has grown to reflect those new experiences.  Language absorbs and assimilates new words to represent new inventions forming them from old words, trying to capture the spirit of the object and how we interact with it and the affordance it has with our lives.

When we listen we hear nuances; tone of voice, feeling, volume, accent, we can sense mood and emotion, we can also see the facial changes and the gestures that people use when they speak and we make connections.  When we talk we have to think on our feet, search for words sometimes or explain our way around a word that we can’t quite remember or that we don’t know.  We adapt our own tone for the context, for our audience, and we make eye contact and build connections.  We also have to listen actively so we can recall what has been said, interpret it and respond.  ‘A picture paints a thousand words’ and listening conjures up a million images and feelings and emotions.  So why would we limit ourselves to writing and reading?  Why would we limit our learners to a narrow range of ways of learning?

What is exciting today is that our means of communicating are becoming richer at an exponential rate.  The technological advances that brought us Gutenberg’s printing press in the 1400s and disrupted the world of learning and acquisition of knowledge have continued apace, and now we have a range of different media that we can use to communicate and be creative.

It is important that we start to ascribe a more equal importance to all means of communicating so that all our children can learn in whatever way works for them. We have a responsibility to provide them with all the tools at our disposal, let them make their own choices and not hinder their learning because we are fearful of change.  Just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean that it is the best way. Equally, it is important not to adopt new ways of doing just because they are new.  We should question and reflect, consider what they add to the mix, use them with caution but embrace the opportunities they offer for learning.  It is not the tool alone that helps us learn, it is choosing the right tool at the right time for the right purpose.  But the toolbox needs to be full and it needs to be open and accessible.

Postscript

So, to go back to the start and Te Marama Pūoru Waiata Māori – just as with many cultures the habit of storytelling through song, waiata, chants, stories and poetry has been an important way of passing knowledge and cultural ways of being and doing down through the generations.  Language is a key component of the sense of identity because language can never be truly translated word for word into another language.  Māori, like many languages existed for generations only in its oral form, passed on and enriched through song and stories. My strong belief is that it is important that we do not lose our oral languages, or we lose sight of who we are and where we came from.  So embrace storytelling in all its forms –  written, visual and oral and why not listen to a few waiata and find out more about Te Marama Pūoru Waiata Māori.

This waiata called Rariri from Rob Ruha is very powerful and retells historical accounts of the East Coast forces that supported the Kingitanga, the Pai-mārire faith and the people of Tauranga-Moana in the battle of Pukehinahina (Gate Pā) and Te Ranga from the perspective of the families, hapū and iwi that stood against the crown and its Māori allied forces.

 

 

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Technology Integration: tips and tricks for BYOD a few weeks in

We have started off the year by throwing ourselves wholeheartedly into the BYOD ocean.   It has been a positive start to our BYOD journey.  It was interesting, too, to hear the enthusiasm of most of our parents at our Meet the Teacher Evening & Showcase last week around the benefits that technology is bringing to their daughters’ learning. However, it has not all been plain sailing and I know that some students and teachers have encountered some choppy water.  Some parents too, expressed some concern to me about the steep learning curve that they were on in terms of getting to grips with technology.  So I put together these thoughts for my semi-regular IT Update for teachers yesterday.

Tips and tricks for successful technology integration.

Keep it balanced – remember that the aim is to blend technology with your already excellent teaching strategies.  You don’t have to use technology every lesson. Students welcome breaks from their screens and it is good for them.

Provide time – time to work things out like uploading work to Google Classroom, or to learning portfolios.  It may be frustrating at first to not be able to get through your programmes but laying down the foundations of digital literacy will be worth it in the long run.  Time is also needed for homework.  Some students may not have internet at home, or they may be on a limited bandwidth or data limit.  So give them a few days to complete work that necessitates online access and encourage them to manage their time and prioritise effectively.

Lay the foundations of Digital Literacy – Our students are not all “digital natives” and they don’t all know how their devices work let alone the tools we are asking them to use. To start off with give them some choice of the tools (software) they want to use but limit it to what you and the majority of the students know.  That way they can build their competency and then spread their wings.

And talking of wings – why encourage those students who do know how things work to be “Digital Angels” in your classes and ask them to support the others.

Differentiation & Learning Readiness – just as you do when using traditional approaches to Teaching & Learning, think about differentiating when using technology.  Let the students choose what they are comfortable with whilst encouraging some risk-taking and exploration but give them the choice not to submit digitally if they prefer to write on paper. When they are ready they will go for it.

Provide some hard copies of google docs or other online resources so that students who are having trouble getting online, or those that prefer, can still access the work.  I usually photocopy about 10 copies and share them around.

Work in pairs or threes – encourage sharing of devices.  Not everyone needs to be on a device all the time. Group work that allows for mixed tasks is still seen to be the most effective use of devices in a classroom.

High stakes – start small – avoid stress.  Try to do some small tasks to start off with using the technology that you want to use for assessments in the future so that you and the students build competency and confidence.  When the important assessment comes you and they then don’t spend time stressing about how the technology works and you can focus on the task.

Distraction – off task behaviour. One of the issues many teachers encounter is  “off task” use of devices in class.  This is something that will not go away completely.  How many of you played noughts and crosses or other games, or wrote notes to friends in the back of the class when you were at school?  Or maybe I am the only naughty one here! And how many of you check your phones in staff meetings?  Are you engaged? Are you focussed on the task?  We can employ similar classroom management strategies to those we use to minimise traditional off-task behaviour for off-task digital behaviour.  It comes down to expectations and each teacher will have slightly different expectations for their classroom and they may also vary according to the activity.  Here are some of the ideas that have been discussed in our staffroom over the last few weeks;

  • Make it clear to students what you expect as they come into the classroom and ready themselves for the lesson.  Some teachers are happy for the girls to log on immediately and be working on online activities, others prefer to start the lesson off without a device.  It is up to you.
  • Ask students to close the lids of the laptops and fold covers over smaller devices when you are talking to them or when you are having class discussions. Or, you could ask them to turn their computers around so they are facing away from them and the keyboard is not a magnet for those itchy little fingers!
  • Suggest that phones, which are secondary devices are kept in pockets unless specifically needed to supplement a task.  Often the girls prefer to use their phones for quick research but they are perceived to be the biggest source of distraction. Personally, I am happy for them to have them at their fingertips as they are such a powerful tool for learning.  Trust is a huge factor here and everyone “focusses’ in different ways.
  • Listening to music as they work, has always been a contentious topic.  Again, make your expectations clear.  For some tasks it doesn’t cause a problem and will help focus concentration.  I find, though, that unless they have a playlist set up, they spend more time choosing songs than working.
  • Use situations where digital behaviour is not what you expect as an opportunity to have a class discussion about citizenship (both digital and non-digital) and our responsibilities as global citizens.
  • Knowing how to “drive” their own device  is important.  If students want to use a particular tool to complete a task you have set, it is their responsibility to know how it works before they have to submit.  As above, provide time to explore and learn in a preparation task so that you and your students can develop your skills.
  • Plagiarism, referencing, use of digital media and software. Please insist that everything is referenced and as far as is possible they have used images, music, videos that are licensed to re-use.
  • But the most important strategy for minimising off task-behaviour is engagement.  If your students are engaged in their learning, they won’t engage in off-task activities!

Finding the Balance – and taking the plunge!

Finding the Balance

This evening I did my first Eduignite presentation! Very nervous and I am sure I gabbled but it seemed to be well received. What is an Eduignite evening? 20 slides on a fifteen second auto transition which gives you five minutes to speak on any topic dear to your heart! We heard eight inspiring talks this evening interspersed with good conversation and drinks and nibbles. The aim is to bring educators together to share and learn from each other in an informal gathering. There are Eduignite evenings held throughout the country usually in the penultimate week of each school term. Although we are often tired and feeling the pressures of the end of term by then if you make the effort to get to one it certainly gives you a boost in terms of ideas and creativity.

Here is the transcript of my presentation – the link to the slides is above.

Connections are important – our first connections with our parents help us to develop who we are, how we behave, how we interact with other people. Those habits inform our interactions with the the global online community.

It is important to maintain some balance in our relationships and our lives so that we don’t lose sight of our humanity in a world that is increasingly played out online. We have to maintain connections, build relationships and stay grounded.

We have to nurture our connections to nature if we are to maintain our dignity and humanity in the face of constant change. Maoist philosophy sees life as endless change in which we have to keep our minds open to grow and learn.

For me humanity is our ability to empathise, to care, to connect, to communicate, to feel, to believe, to be spontaneous; it is the spirituality that you can’t pin down but you know to be the essence of our relationships.

People are the root of our connections to the earth and our humanity so this sculpture called “Tangata Whenua” represents the idea of humanity. My son’s hand connects with the sculpture, connects him to the earth and to the people who inhabit it.

In adverts for new technology – I don’t know if you have seen the adverts for Corning Glass, nature often seems to be missing from visions of the future. Everything is white or glass and sterile. But I was struck by this description of an exhibition at the Hamilton Sculpture Park. ‘We sometimes forget our connection to nature and our instinctual selves when we are immersed in a society of fast information and constant stimulation.”

One of the artists suggested that our own experiences inform how we see the future, how we interact, how we cope with change. Is the past a beginning that opens up and generates connections? Does the past empty into the future? And is there a danger that our potential is limited by the limits we impose on ourselves.

So what effect has technology had on society and our humanity? Wide swathes of native bush and forest were cleared in the 1870s to make space for the extraction of gold. Massive stone pillars, towering buildings and huge cyanide tanks dominated the landscape which was once home to native flora and fauna.

Just over 100 years later nature has reclaimed the land. The amazing technology that belched steam, smoke and poison into the atmosphere has gone; the remnants of a once powerful technology are overgrown with flowers and shrubs and the birds are starting to return.

The online world has the capacity to reach across the world, across continents, into our living rooms, into the palms of our children’s hands. We have to engender a sense of responsibility, a sense of morality, a sense of belonging to a world that feeds us and nurtures us.

Nothing else has had that power since, perhaps, Gutenberg’s printing press, radio and then television. It is up to us to teach our children to filter, to be critical, to assess and to analyse what they see, hear and read; to consider their digital footprint as well as their environmental one – they are, after all, inextricably linked.

Midway is an island in the North Pacific 2000 miles from the nearest continent which is the subject of a film. It explores the plight of Layson albatross who ingest the plastic waste that we carelessly discard. It is a graphic and shocking expose of how our actions impact on nature and the environment.

And if our thoughtlessness about physical waste wreaks untold damage on the other side of the world, what might carelessness with our personal information do to humanity? Do we consider how what we post, how we share and how we interact with each other online affects other people and ourselves.

Technology is part of our lives. Technology is everywhere; In school we use pens and pencils, books, slates, blackboards, whiteboards, interactive whiteboards, tape recorders, computers, CD players, video players, data projectors.

At home we use telephones, mobile phones, dishwashers, washing machines, we watch television, we listen to radio, toast bread in toasters, heat food in microwaves. We drive cars, we have electric lights, heaters to keep us warm and air conditioning to keep us cool. The list is endless, so what is the problem?

What we accept today, without even thinking about it, is the disruptive technology of the past. Technology that made people stop and think about the status quo, it challenged people’s thinking, it changed the environment for better or for worse, it changed society and the way that we behave communicate, connect and interact.

There is always something new, but how long will it last? And what will be along to take its place? How does the way we use technology affect our humanity? If technology is always and has always and will always be with us, then we have to find our place within it. Where do we fit in as teachers and learners?

I believe there will always be a need for face to face teaching and learning. Online courses provide an extra dimension; they democratise education = anytime, anyplace, anywhere for anybody. But technology is just another tool to enhance learning….

The key to effective learning according to Dr John Hinchcliff is relationships and you really need to be face to face, in the same room to build relationships, don’t you?

John Hinchcliffe says “learning is taken to a higher level when it is done with humility, and with unconditional personal regard.” Which brings us back to relationships, to the way we interact, to the way we make connections and to humanity.