I was at Womad last weekend in Taranaki ,and the range of different people, all ages, all walks of life, was phenomenal. They were all there because of a common passion – music. Conferences also bring together lots of different people. Their passion? Learning. Because they want to interact with like-minded people, they want to learn, they want to share their passion and their learning. Just like music festivals all conference goers are the ‘converted’; most have chosen to be there and they have often given up a Saturday or a holiday to be there.
Professional Development (PD) in school is different – people don’t usually choose to be there. For many, it’s a ‘must do’ as part of their professional standards, it is another thing on top of a very busy workload. And just like National Standards and NCEA credits, doing something because you have to, leads to ‘ticking the box’, compliance, low level thinking and no improvement to pedagogy and learner outcomes.
So, how do we make the PD pill palatable? Even more, how do we make the PD pill into an exciting and mouth watering feast? OK, maybe I’m getting carried away….
I am fortunate to work as a facilitator for PD and feel privileged to be invited into schools to ‘deliver’ their PD either for a one off session or on an ongoing basis over 6 months, 12 months or longer. With that privilege goes a huge responsibility.
Some schools want their ‘PD in a Box’. ‘What sort of package can you deliver?’ they ask. ‘We have an hour every Monday morning. That’s our slot. What do you have that fits in there?’ they say. And what do they do with the PD in a box? Unwrap it, enjoy it for an hour or so, then put it on the shelf and forget about it. Box ticked!
As facilitators, we need to support schools to align the differing PD initiatives – Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L), Digital Technologies, Change Leadership, Culturally Sustainable Pedagogy, Health and Wellbeing, and so on… so that teachers can see the connections, workload is not massively impacted and that they build sustainability and it leads to improved pedagogy and happy, successful teachers and learners..
I have asked myself more than once why schools have a “PD in a box” approach?
Is it because they don’t have a big picture vision?
Is it because they don’t have a plan?
Is it because of a lack of SLT engagement? – e.g. one DP given the PLD portfolio and the rest just checking out?
Is it because SLT have different portfolios and they don’t work as a team to align them? – each initiative is separate and piled on top rather than overlapping and enhancing?
Is it because of failing relationships, high staff turnover, unstable rolls?
Is it because they don’t get the WHY?
I think it is some of all of those things and maybe many more as well. But let’s take the last one. I think lots of schools do get the WHY, what they lack is the ability to fit the WHAT into the HOW given all the other constraints and competing imperatives they have. It’s very difficult to see the wood from the trees when you are lost in the forest.
Maybe we should help them to shift thinking from the PD Box to the “The PD Puzzle”.
They have the picture on the box lid – their vision, so now how do they go about fitting all the puzzle pieces of PD to make it?
I had the privilege of participating in Nethui 2017 in Auckland last week. I haven’t been to a ‘full’ Nethui before although I went to the regional roadshow in Rotorua last year. I believe that this is the best value for money, most enriching conference I have been to for a long time. I think it is because, although I love teaching, teachers and the education world, we can sometimes become wrapped up in it and forget that there is a real world out there too. According to the conference website;
“NetHui brings everybody and anybody that wants to talk about the Internet together. We’re not a conference and speakers won’t talk at you all day. NetHui is a community event – made for the community, by the community.
Participation and collaboration are at the heart of NetHui. The programme isn’t decided by InternetNZ – it’s designed by the community. NetHui is about issues that actually matter to your community.”
Given the political climate at the moment the theme of “Trust and Freedom on the Internet” was entirely apposite.
I am not going to say anymore but have put together a Storify of the tweets interspersed with a few of my own comments.
Just found this post from a while back which I started writing after the announcement about CoLs and CoOLs. I never finished it as plenty of others responded in a similar vein to me and in a much more eloquent way. See this post ‘Keeping our cool about CoOLs’ from Claire Amos. There was a lot of ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’ and cries that ‘the sky is falling’ about online learning. Things have gone quiet since then and we have seen the introduction of the new Digital Technologies|Hangarau Matihiko Curriculum and, of course a new government. The reason that I have come back to this post is, partly because I found it in my drafts, and having found it, it resonated with me as I am currently reading “Different Schools for a Different World” by Dean Sharesku and Scott McLeod. Now I don’t think that, for many of us who are steeped in the NZ education system with our flexible and forward thinking curriculum, they say anything particularly groundbreaking. Much of their commentary is of US schools and school system. But despite seeing plenty of excellent contemporary, collaborative, student centred learning happening in schools, I also know that there is plenty of mediocre teaching and learning happening which is not meeting the needs of all our learners.
In the book, the authors offer 6 arguments for why schools need to be different. As I read the book I am tweeting the thoughts and questions it is provoking in me. The first deals with information, where we get it from, how we get it, and what we do with it.
We, and our students, can find all the information we need online; what our kids need is to ‘master the skills of information filtering and critical thinking’ so that they have the skills to thrive in their world. That is the role of the teacher.
The 2nd argument is that of economics. We’ve all heard it said – the jobs our kids will do haven’t even been invented yet, automation has taken our jobs, a job won’t be for life. Shareski and McLeod suggest that manufacturing jobs are being replaced by higher skill service jobs and creative jobs. They ask ‘what value do human workers add that software robots don’t’? Critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, high level communication, collaboration…
Then we come to learning. How we learn, how we teach, what our role as teacher is, whether we are meeting the needs of our learners.
A blend of digital and kanohi ki te kanohi learning provides both content and the interactions necessary for developing the soft skills needed to manage the information. We need to prepare our students to be fluent navigators of an online world, to have a positive digital presence, to understand the ethics and legalities of a digital landscape, to be able to share their knowledge and skills as both consumers and creators. We need to prepare students for learning agility – they need to know how to ‘flounder intelligently’. (Guy Claxton)
I think online learning offers us some really positive options especially for kids who are isolated or marginalised, but also for those who sit in a system that sort of works for them but sort of doesn’t. I’m thinking of the majority of middle of the road kids who get by in spite of a school system that is out of date and not a good fit for them. The kids who are ‘passively disengaged’.
This is dealt with in Chapter 4: The Boredom Argument. A question for every teacher….
How much time is spent in your classroom when the student is ‘passive’? What activities motivate your students to learn? My wero to you is to time some of your lessons, or someone else’s, and reflect.
‘Different’ schools could be online schools but there is a danger that all we do is extend a traditional model of learning into an online environment. We need to think of ways to allow our kids to learn without just replacing an exercise book with a device. Teachers need support to design blended learning opportunities that allow pathways for all learners. Students need to collaborate – the classroom should be a space for ‘doing’, asking, sharing, exploring, then go home and use a computer to reflect on content, write up notes etc. So, there has to be a lot of thought as to how online education is blended with face to face interaction. And online doesn’t mean ‘robots’ delivering courses as some have said. It means carefully constructed pathways of learning created by teachers, with discussions facilitated by teachers and learners with multiple ways of accessing content and creating responses.
This brings us on to the Innovation Argument; Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen (2009) suggest that innovators possess 5 key skills;
and that we need to create an environment in school which allows for those skills to be developed and flourish. My question is;
We are constrained by top down drivers – results and standards, which can be used as an excuse not to provide opportunities for genuine inquiry and experimentation, to limit questioning, to stimy divergent thinking, and to prevent kids from forming and using networks to amplify their learning. I can see so many possibilities to support and develop these 5 key skills by using a powerful blend of online and face to face learning. At the moment, though, our assessment system isn’t playing ball and too much testing is still geared towards passive ingestion and thoughtless regurgitation.
The final argument is one of equity. The obvious is a lack of access to digital technologies and thus online opportunities. But it is also a question of usage – even with access what do kids from different socio-economic backgrounds use digital technology for? Studies done in the USA suggest that substitute tasks such as drilling and practice are overwhelmingly done by African American kids whilst more affluent students use technology for creative, higher order thinking activities.
I haven’t had time as yet, to explore my thinking about how online learning would solve the issue of equity – my initial thought is around attendance. It is clear that lack of attendance at school has a profound effect on kids learning outcomes. Barriers to getting to school are many but if kids can access learning from home when they can’t get to school, surely that helps to reduce the inequity in some small way? It is also a question that Shareski and McLeod don’t really answer either apart from suggesting that we ask questions of our communities to get a clear picture of who has access and who hasn’t, and to build partnerships with community and businesses to support access.
When we think about ‘different schools’ we are not talking about the physical or virtual space, we are talking about pedagogical philosophy. As teachers we can all be part of the conversation, pushing for dialogue, questioning our own assumptions about how we teach and how our kids learn. We can demand (in reasonable terms) that those in power think very carefully about how to implement what could be a very positive model for learning. We also have a responsibility to read widely all of the information and assess critically, not jump to conclusions and onto the ‘sky is falling’ bandwagon. Online learning in some shape or form is going to happen so we might as well work together to ensure that we implement the best model possible which works for all our learners.
A year on and I am kickstarting my reo journey by following Te Reo Manahua. In the year since I completed Te Reo Pouāwai I have tried to keep my Reo going and embed vocabulary more deeply in my mahi. I have become more comfortable saying my pepeha and have extended it and improved the way that I say it as I have listened to feedback from Māori speakers.
I get the Kupu o te Rā delivered to my inbox everyday but mostly it passes me by after I skim read it. Earlier this year I joined the 100 Day Project and decided to use the Kupu o te Rā as a focus for my creative challenge. I know that some of my sentences are incorrect but the process of trying to work them out was good for me!
It is exciting as the start of the course follows hot on the heels of Te Wiki o te Reo Māori and there has been lots of kōrero about the language and tikanga in the media. I enjoyed the focus on using the language as much as possible by joining in with Mahuru Māori. I committed myself to always greeting people in Māori and my husband I practised our numbers by using them when we played cribbage in the evenings! I have loved that there seemed to be so much more engagement with Te Wiki o te Reo Māori across the country this year.
I likethis article aboutGuyon Espiner – RNZ presenter, who has made a real effort to learn Te Reo and use it as much as possible on the radio. He talks about how he felt when he first started learning – about not wanting to get it wrong and feel humiliated. I guess for him it is a bigger step than for most of us as he has a large audience! He also talks about how people send in feedback, sometimes positive and sometimes negative and how easy it could be to focus on the negative when in reality there are more positive comments. But it hurts when someone puts you down when you are trying. It is interesting that he says that he encouraging comments come from Māori who are pleased that he is having a go and that the mistakes don’t matter too much. We have had mixed messages about that and there are now one or two people who I am reluctant to try speaking Māori in front of. They are people who, I think, have my best interests at heart and don’t want me to put myself in an ‘unsafe’ space where I may offend if I get the tikanga or the language wrong.
The pākeha who have criticised Guyon seem to be those who have been brought up in NZ, they may well be 3rd generation Kiwis and see the resurgence of Māori as a threat to all that they have ever known. Other radio and TV presenters spoke about what they believe is their role in promoting the use of Te Reo; Duncan Garner said about the people who don’t believe that Te Reo should be used more widely; “It’s sad because it’s a taonga, it is a treasure. And once we lose it, it’s gone mate.” Kanoa Lloyd says she reckons New Zealanders are too scared to give it a go, and she doesn’t think that’s a decent excuse either.
Recently, we stayed at Michael King’s house in Opoutere (it is now owned by the University of Waikato and is available to rent for employees and their whānau). Whilst I was there I read his book “Being Pākeha Now“. It is not a long book and it is very readable; it tells his story as a Pakeha and his ‘growing up’ and his developing understanding of Māori tikanga and reo and his sense of identity as a Pakeha. He talks about our responsibility to know where we fit as Pākeha in New Zealand, about not being afraid to find our own identities but to also respect others’ cultures and language and value the place of Māori tikanga and reo in Aotearoa. Inan interview with Terry Locke he talks also about how New Zealand attitudes, values and habits as well as his experiences growing up ‘have contributed to or intensified that feeling I have that my culture is not European. It’s something different, it’s Pakeha, and it’s something which I now would define, as I say, as a second New Zealand indigenous culture.’ Both are well worth a read.
A few weeks ago I attended a panel discussion about copyright and how fair use of media, copyrighted material promotes or inhibits creativity. It was hosted by the University of Auckland Law Department.
A panel of international experts on copyright and innovation led the discussion about copyright, fair use of intellectual property, open access and how it all works in the media, education and business.
But how does all this apply to schools, teachers and students?
Mention copyright in staff rooms and people’s eyes usually glaze over. The only real exposure most teachers have to it is in ignoring the poster over the photocopier warning them about what percentage of a book they can legally copy! Some schools have a vigilant admin person who manages all the photocopying and enforces the rule strictly, in other schools the law may as well not exist.
Drama and music departments have a better understanding of copyright laws as it directly impacts the work they do. Some media is available for use in an educational context but the limitation lies in that the content cannot be published or presented to the public. It may be possible to perform plays, use musical scores, sing songs within a school context to an audience composed of people within school, but as soon as you invite an outside audience in you may find yourself breaching the terms of the copyright unless you have sought permission to use it. (https://www.tki.org.nz/Copyright-in-Schools/Guidelines-for-schools/For-teachers-and-contractors/Guide-to-performances)
So far so clear. But what about films? I know that films are used extensively to support learning in many subjects. They are also used as ‘end of term fillers’. The philosophical and pedagogical rights and wrongs of this I will not go into here. However, it is clear from the guidelines on the TKI page Guide to copying and showing films that the showing of films should be for educational purposes only.
“You may not show a hired or purchased video/DVD in your school simply for entertainment purposes. For example, you can show the film Shakespeare in Love when it relates to your drama course, but you may not show it to your drama class merely to entertain them at the end of term.”
And you cannot copy the film multiple times to enable every student to have their own copy, nor can you make it available on the school learning management system. Read more at Electronic copying and works on the internet.
OK, so all this is well and good, and the law is quite clear if we bother to find out about it and pay any attention to it. But there are areas around use of media and ownership that are less clear (or more open to interpretation).
Who owns what you produce as a teacher for your students? At any time of the day or night, term time or holidays?
The answer is simple: your employer. The Board of Trustees. Not you.
What does that mean? It means that legally speaking anything that you create in the course of your employment has to stay in the place of your employment when you leave and you cannot take a copy of it with you. WHAT?! My work, my time, my blood, sweat and tears, my creativity, my imagination!
How does not being able to share my work fit with Kāhui Ako (Communities of Learning)? How does it encourage collaboration across schools and between teachers? How does it encourage me to be creative, spend my time working on great resources if I can’t keep them? How will anyone know if I take a copy anyway? Who is going to stop me?
Well the answers are, it doesn’t and nobody. Unless you start to sell them and make megabucks, or if you take them and don’t leave a copy behind for your colleagues to use and they are left in the lurch.
So, how can I legally own what I feel I morally own because I created it?
A CREATIVE COMMONS policy provides teachers and schools with a way forward. Put simply, if a school adopts a Creative Commons Policy, then the BOT maintains ownership of resources but agrees that those resources can be shared as long as they are shared under the same license.
So what about images and media that you and your students use in your work? How do I know who has created media on the internet? Who owns the photos in “Google Images”? How do I know what I can use and what I can’t? How do I attribute ownership? Creative Commons provides answers there too. There is heaps of ‘free to use’ media if you know where to look. In Google images, go to Tools and then Usage rights to get a return of open source images. Photos4Class is a great one to send kids to as it inserts appropriate referencing too. The Creative Commons website has a heap of links to open source resources as well as useful information on how to appropriately attribute and reference media you have used. Saying “Retrieved from Google Images” just doesn’t cut it! Or take your own photos and use them and apply a Creative Commons License. Encourage your kids to be creators rather than consumers.
Nobody is very likely to prosecute you if you use an image or a piece of music that is not yours to use unless you are particularly unlucky. Although, there are plenty of examples when that has happened, especially where music is concerned. And I have heard plenty of teachers and students say, “But how will anyone know if I have used a photo, a video, a piece of music?” and “Why should I care?” and “Will anyone really stop me?”
But it comes down to trust, to values, ethics and morals. The values of citizenship that we instil into our kids, that are enshrined in our school charters, that we live and work by everyday. Taking what is not legally yours without asking permission is theft. Pure and simple. Using media that is created by someone else without attributing it to them is just bad manners and shows lack of gratitude. And as educators we have a responsibility to model good practice.
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?
Remember 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.
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 informedthe 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
This week our task in Te Puāwai is to record and share our journey integrating some of the classroom commands into the classroom or home. Our kōrero must include the following:
1. A list of the different commands in te reo Māori that you have been using
2. What challenges you faced integrating these commands into everyday conversations
3. What benefits or growth you may have noticed as a result of speaking the commands in te reo Māori rather than in English
4. What are your next steps, what will you do next to continue learning and using more te reo Māori in your class or home
Over the last few weeks I have been working on integrating as many Māori kupu into my mahi as possible. Working at home doesn’t make that easy – I can hardly talk to myself! Well, actually, I do! I have post it notes all over my office with kupu and kiwaha written on them and I say them out loud to myself whenever I look up and see them. We have a morning coffee Skype group and always start off asking each other ‘Kei te pēhea koe?’ and responding appropriately. Renee helps us work out words we don’t know, which is great.
When I send emails to schools and colleagues I try to use the appropriate greetings for the time of day such as ata marie, morena, kia ora… Last week we ran a workshop for a group of schools and we incorporated a few of our greetings and commands. e.g. saying hello and introducing ourselves, e tū, e noho, whakaporowhitia, he whakaaro anō ā koutou, kuamārama koutou. I think the main difficulty was that the group of people were all Pākeha and so using Te Reo sounded quite unnatural and the teachers didn’t respond until we repeated in English so we didn’t get the immediate feedback which encourages more language.
The use of the target language followed immediately by English has been a constant tension in my world as a language teacher. It is generally accepted that immersion in a language is the absolute best way to learn but, of course, that leads to people, however open they are to learning, frustrated when they don’t understand. My life in the classroom has been one of hand gestures, role play and generally looking bonkers as I jump around acting out my own version of charades to try to get across what I am trying to say to my students! By following up with an English translation, accepted wisdom is that learners don’t bother working out the target language as they know that you will say it in English eventually. But I guess that at the moment the aim of my using Te Reo in workshops is not necessarily to teach others but to learn myself, become familiar with using the language and to develop ways of working which are culturally responsive. And although I still feel a bit awkward using Te Reo, as I become more confident, it is getting easier. A positive by-product is that by integrating Te Reo in my everyday and working life it becomes embedded not only for me but for others, and starts to become more of a ‘lingua franca’ in this supposedly ‘tri-lingual’ and ‘bi-cultural’ country!
Next steps are to keep going and using Te Reo when and where possible. I had an interesting situation last week when in my role as a BOT member I had a meeting with some Māori students and their whānau. I was very conscious of the fact that the BOT are all Pākeha and I wanted to greet the students and the whānau in a culturally appropriate way. It is difficult to know what the impact was but I would like to think that it made a difference. I have decided too, after reading one of the “strategies for learning” posts in the Moodle course that I will write the date in Te Reo in my notebook each day and as I am trying to post a photo a day this year on my blog, that I will start writing the date in Te Reo – could be a challenge but it will make me think every day!
Last week I attended the Core Breakfast “Non Māori roles in supporting Māori success” by Alex Hotere-Barnes. It was a thought-provoking sessions and made me question a few things and re-spark thinking around language learning and culture. I storified the tweets of the session – while there are not many (and most of them are mine!) I think they briefly capture the main ideas. I will come back and explore them more deeply once I have had time to formulate my ideas.
I am trying also at the moment to learn some Te Reo. As a linguist I completely understand the benefits that learning a language can bring to the understanding of the culture. But I am also nervous of offending by getting things wrong or appropriating a culture that is not my own. Alex talked about Pākeha Paralysis – the idea that we are so afraid of making mistakes in our interactions with Māori and offending that we don’t even start.
This week were the inaugural Matariki Awards and the words of Scotty Morrison who was awarded the Te Waitī Award for Te Reo & Tikanga gave me heart. I can still only recognise a few words in the linked video but on National Radio this morning I heard him say this:
“If you’re living in New Zealand the Māori language belongs to you. You are most welcome to take ownership of it, to learn it and make it your language because there’s heaps of benefits. Once you open that door and you start learning Te Reo you’ll start to see what the benefits are“.
He went on to say that we cannot underestimate the power of the media – TV, Radio, Social Media to raise the profile of a language. Using the language in any way starts to give it ‘mana’ and others will start to use it too. But there is a tension sometimes and not all Māori are as welcoming as Scotty to Pākeha using Te Reo. That can be one of the causes of Pākeha Paralysis. Alex talks about (see video link above) how knowing who you are, what your identity is, knowing whose land you stand on and acting with humility, honesty and integrity helps us to interact in such a way that we build good relationships. That this is an ongoing evolution and that by constantly reflecting those relationships can flourish and people’s acceptance of Pākeha using Te Reo grows.