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.

 

 

An Unlikely Conversation

Rāpare, 21 o Hōnongoi 2016

First of all I tried to find the Māori word for ‘journey’ because we were asked to reflect on our ‘journey’ of learning Te Reo so far as part of our course. My little Dictionary of Modern Māori said ‘rerenga’ or ‘haere’ or ‘haerenga’. Which one should I use? So I back referenced and found that ‘haere’ is a verb, and ‘haerenga’ and ‘rerenga’ are nouns.

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Still not sure which to use I went to the online Māori dictionary and ….there were even more options! All sorts of nuances for the word journey!
Journey

I think that finding out which word to use in which context is the most challenging thing for me about learning Te Reo. I love that in the online dictionary there is so much detail, every nuance of how the word ‘journey’ can be used from personal growth, to setting out, to carrying responsibility, to sunrise and moonrise, to preparation, to actually being on a physical journey. It is fascinating reading all the whakatauki, and the kiwaha and the history around the words but sometimes I just want to know which word to use…quickly!! I think I have resigned myself to the fact that learning Te Reo is going to be a long journey, a journey of discovery. I have long believed that learning a language is far more than putting words together to communicate. It is about learning about the culture, finding out what makes a people tick, it’s about the whakapapa and the feelings and the memories.

Which brings me to an interesting conversation I had yesterday sitting in the hot stream at Spa Park as it flows into the Waikato River in Taupō. A group of Māori men ranging in age from mid teens to mid thirties, I suppose, were there. Some were heavily tattooed with what looked like gang insignia, others were not. This is an observation which has some relevance and is not intended to be a judgement. I will come to that later. They were doing what young men do – larking about, having fun, probably laughing at some of the tourists! One of the older ones was climbing up and down through the pools picking up litter and debris that had been washed down or left there.

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Normally, I am not someone who strikes up conversations with strange men and I have to confess that whilst I don’t believe in making judgements about people based on their appearance, given the negative media coverage of gang members, I would generally not have engaged in conversation. However, I ended up talking to him along with a young woman who was travelling around NZ from Australia. She was asking him about where he came from, the Māori language, she wanted him to teach her a few words.  After a few moments thought he asked her who she was and why she was there.  He seemed to suggest that it is not all about words, it is about who you are. He talked about Māori language being a ‘native tongue’ specific to who you are and where you come from.  He talked happily about how his family had lived in the area for generations, he was proud of his history, that his family had been Queen Victoria’s warriors, that his grandfathers house was over 200 years old – one of the oldest in the area. I didn’t hear everything very clearly (we had a waterfall pounding in our ears!) but he also talked about the difference between gangs and iwi and bloodlines and connectedness.

When she asked him what his relationship with the other men there was he said they were all brothers. She asked how many brothers he had. He thought for a bit, as if counting them up and then said that he had 9 brothers but he had lots more sisters. I wondered then at the different understanding of what ‘brothers’ might be. He may well have had that many biological brothers and sisters, but I think from what he was saying it was more the idea of brotherhood and sisterhood. The sense of belonging that comes from shared experiences, from a belief, from a shared history, something that comes from the heart. And he talked about everyone being answerable to a higher being – ‘rangatira’ – and how we had a responsibility to look after the land – he said that his ‘mahi’ of cleaning out the pools was something he did because it was part of who he was as a custodian of the land. He called it his ‘mahi whakapapa’ – a task that was part of who he was. It was fascinating listening to him and I think he would have talked happily all evening but unfortunately I had to go.

I take a few things from this experience;
1. My belief that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover has been totally endorsed
2. Language and culture are inextricably entwined and the meaning of words is entirely dependent on personal experience, feelings, context and history.

3. My pondering is how on earth do I ever get to even scratch the surface of being able to communicate in Te Reo in any meaningful way if the language is so specific to whakapapa?

4. Learning a language is all about listening to stories, making connections, immersing yourself at every opportunity.

5. It’s weird how really interesting conversations can happen in the most unlikely of places such as sitting in a hot pool in my underwear in the middle of a river with two complete strangers!

My Passion Project

I am a bit of a photograph nut and always have my eye out for an interesting subject, odd angle, quirky perspective and tricky bit of light.  I have always had cameras – my Dad got me started when he bought me my first camera – an Olympus Trip – for my 18th Birthday.  Before that I was allowed to borrow his camera occasionally and I remember having a  little Instamatic camera to take away with me when I was lucky enough to visit Berlin when I was 12 years old.  I still have all the photos in albums. Some are rather faded now but they still prompt memories.  

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Berlin 1975
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From top left anticlockwise: Paris Zoo 1975; Family on holiday 1975; Noel and Grandmere, Siran, 1975; Christine, Andre and me, Siran, 1975

I have most of the negatives too, all collated in envelopes and numbered according to month, year and which photo album the prints are displayed in. I started with the albums that have sticky pages and the cellophane leaves that hold the photos in place as well as protecting them but soon found that I couldn’t fit enough in them and they were bulky to store.  So I turned to scrapbooks.  The size of the pages also allowed me to create collages with the photos.  I rarely got the perfect shot but every picture told part of the story so I would cut around the bits in focus or smiling faces and put them together to form a pictorial story of an event.  Real cropping, cutting and pasting!  Later on I got a bit arty and started to take panoramic pictures.  Of course, the light and the varying height as I turned around as well as the curvature of the land meant that the individual photos never quite matched so I ended up with semicircles of pictures that were too long to fit in the album.  I would carefully sellotape them together so that they would concertina together when I closed the book.

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Caucasus Mountains, Georgia, USSR 1990
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The Kremlin, Moscow, USSR 1990
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Torridon, Scotland
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Family Holiday in the Jura, France

In those days I also had to be careful about how many photos I took – after all a film reel only held 36 photos. Remember the anticipation when you sent the reel away to be processed and waited for the envelope to arrive back in the post? How many times was I disappointed when what I imagined were going to be amazing photos turned out to be not up to expectations?  

By this time I had a fancier camera; as my Dad replaced his cameras I would be the grateful recipient of his old ones.  I now had an SLR and I also moved on to slides rather than prints.  Slides are difficult to display in an album but don’t you just love slide shows?  I think the magic for me stems from when we were kids and Dad used to show us slides of our holidays. We used to love it when there was a photo of us; very narcissistic, but I used to wait in anticipation of the photos of me and be very excited when there was one!  A few years ago when I inherited my Dad’s books of slides I excitedly set to and scanned them all and shared them with my sisters – delight and embarrassment in possibly equal measure!

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The Hodgson Family on an East Coast Beach: Kate, Anne, Mum (Shelagh) Steph, Paul (cousin), Jo
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Me, collecting flowers behind our house (33 Coal Hill Lane, Farsley)

I think by this time I was seeing myself as a bit of a photographer – I had a couple of lenses and spent time taking photos of plants and landscapes. I also had time pre-children to stop and compose a picture, fiddling with f-stops and apertures and focus.  My Dad still criticised the technical shortcomings of my photos (his were always technically excellent) but I reckon mine had more interesting perspectives and had more “soul”.  

So there is a period in my life missing from the photo albums when I search through them as it is represented on slides tucked away in boxes.  Slide boxes were a bit like how we stored digital photos originally – hidden until we had the means to look at them.  We had to get out the slide projector and screen and load the slides into cartridges, close the curtains, switch out the lights and enjoy the magic.  For photos stored on our computer we needed to connect to a projector or all peer around a small screen. Not as easy as just whipping out the albums.  Although, of course, all the photos were in one place and certainly much easier to carry one computer around than a box of albums!  But now with mobile devices and easy to share to sites like Flickr, Google Drive, Dropbox, Facebook our photos are so much more available an visible.  We can share across continents to family and friends and get instant feedback, we can also edit and create so much more easily.  And did I say I was also an Instagram nut!  I have my phone in my hand all the time, just looking for a photo.  My Instagram account is linked to FB and Twitter and the notifications “Anne-Louise has just uploaded a photo” that my husband receives several times during a day have become a standing joke in the family.Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 15.46.34.png

Once children arrived the focus of my photos was people – well my children to be more precise!  And we have a comprehensive photo history for us and them to pore over.  My eldest son was 21 last year so I spent a few evenings taking photos of old photos and making them into a digital slide show and video with WeVideo which I then uploaded to You Tube.  

There is something about those old albums, though. The tactile nature of them is so much more in the present than the collection of digital photos. Maybe it’s the time and effort it took to put the book together, the story they tell, the fact that there are only a few photos rather than the hundred I can take with my phone or a digital camera.  Who knows?  But my plan for this year is to organise my digital collection more efficiently and put them into albums or slideshows that tell a story.  I will also create some picture books like the one I create to mark our very first year in new Zealand so that we have books to pick up and thumb through. 

 

 

Notre Histoire en deux minutes

An impressive piece of work. Quite scary how much I am left with the impression of violence and war rather than the creativity of humanity.  Maybe that is because those images are more graphic, or maybe they are the events that the creator felt represented our history?  I wonder if you gave this task to 10 different people from 10 different countries they would come up with some common images but there would also be plenty of variation….  An interesting thought.