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Wednesday, 13 April 2016

The excitement of being Maori

Today, Foundation years went to Takipu Marae, one of our local Maraes.  It was everything I hoped it would be.  My concept was to spend time at the marae and to Be.  To be present, to be there, seeing, sensing, hearing, smelling, focusing.  At Te Karaka Area School we are all about local curriculum.

There is much research that proves the strong link between well-being and achievement.  Students well-being is strongly influenced by a clear sense of identity and access and exposure to their own language and culture.  As a person bought up in another culture other than maori, the challenges of understanding this concept have been many.  Not because I haven't wanted to understand.  I love Maori language and culture.   Mainly because I had not experienced another culture.

It has taken me five years at Te Karaka Area School to come to a place of confidence and understanding to allow the magic of today happen.

We were welcomed on to the Marae by the tolling of the bell.  We entered the wharenui.  We sat, boys in front, girls behind.  The Kohanga based at the marae came to take part as Tangata when.  The Teacher aide a male was in the front.  The whakatau begun.   Matua Steve returned the speech in English with a lovely genuine piece about our welcome.  Then we sung as a group.

Next we sat on mattresses in the Wharenui where Nanny Ruby spoke to us about the history of the marae and the beautiful carvings.  The students sat for 15 - 20 minutes, still and listening, asking questions. Unusual.  In Foundation years we do not practice sitting still and listening to adults very often, but here in this environment the students sat still and quiet.  They genuinely were interested. Today I saw their faces, lit up with excitement and wonder. We felt welcomed, we felt comfortable, we felt the sense of the marae.  The presence of generations before us, the significance of our identity.  The students belonged here, taking their place in a line of many.  And when students genuinely get something, they pay attention.  It is not hard or difficult.  It is natural and that is what learning should be.

As we sat and ate kai, the adults spoke about the next 50 years, and how some of these tamariki would be welcoming young children.  This is their place.  We want to come back again and again.  To hear the names of ancestors, to hear the sound of Maori spoken, to learn, but more than that to Be.

The children then played, some outside with soccer balls, and with imagination playing cops and robbers.  Others inside next to carvings, drawing and talking.  Naturally being in this place which signifies identity.  Eyes lit up with expectation with genuine questions.  Faces smiling at this special place.  I would like to thank Nanny Ruby, Tamaiti and the Kohanga for the genuine welcome.

For me as a professional, a teacher, it has given such confidence.  An Aha moment.  I have gotten over all my excuses and in the end see how simple it can be.  I did not feel afraid, or threatened, but welcomed and partnered with.  These are our Tamariki and together we want them to succeed.  We want them to have the things mentioned in research.  Success as Maori. Enjoying and achieving success.   If our Tamarki get this, to know how special they each are and how special the place where they grow up is and who their ancestors are. If they begin to grasp identity, then they will succeed.

Friday, 8 April 2016

I can't read - I can't write

"I can't read"  "I can't write". These were two statements on consecutive days from a new student in Foundation Years in response to me asking them to read and write.   They had come from another school.  11 months at school.

The 'I can't' stood out because I don't remember hearing those two words in any student in Foundation. I have heard "No" or "I won't"  but these are matters of will that sometimes get expressed when I ask students to come and read to me, mainly because they are involved in their own play and I am disturbing them.  Completely different to this child who sounded demoralised and as if they really believed they could not read or write.  It made me feel very sad.
There are students who are at similar levels academically in Foundation, but they believe they are learners.  They believe in "I can".

Developing the atmosphere for "I Can" is what developmental learning is really great at supporting.  Two students stand out for me when I think of "I Can".  They are both a little older and have had difficulty learning to read and write.  The literacy skills do not come easily to them.  Late last year as I shared with whanau (family) where their child was using National Standards measurements.  I think  whanau understood their children were not being naughty or dumb, they just needed some extra help and extra time.  I arranged for some books to go home and showed the parents how to support the teaching of sounds for the students.  This term, I have seen the benefits of this.  Both students have begun to make real progress.

I first picked up on this progress in play.  One boy started to draw.  I had couldn't remember seeing him draw before by choice.  He didn't draw just one picture but five.  This term, most days I see him drawing and writing.  He also started to have 'light bulb' moments, where before he wasn't hearing the connections between letters and sounds, now he was. He can shout out the answer in our reading sessions with delight on his face. This week he wrote a sentence by hearing sounds and recording them.  The other student started to pick up books and read them, again by choice.  Both students are integrating literacy into play.  This self determined motivation acts like a wind blown on to the seeds of academic skill to produce further progress.  Both these students in National Standards Terms are 'Well Below' students but I have protected them from any knowledge of this.  How can 5 and 6 year olds be 'well below' when they are just at the start of a life of learning? Both students are creative, kind, compassionate, full of life, beautiful learners.  It is just that the literacy side of learning is taking a bit longer than other adults who have decided on a measurement would like.

We flood the learning environment with words and numbers.  Teachers expertly support play sessions with words, both oral and written and with numbers in context, helping to solve problems. Once the child's face has turned to see the numbers and the words, then the time is right to start to teach them formally.  If they haven't noticed the numbers and the words, then we need to wait to see real progress.  Meaningful progress will happen when the child sees where literacy fits in to their world.  It is like a dance, knowing when to add in the skills and when to support the real world context through play.  This part of teaching is something I am still developing, but it is the part I most enjoy.

I think it is important to grow the 'I can' and have students who are real learners as a foundation on which to build literacy and not the other way around.

The Learning Continuum and play

I'm into my 6th year of teaching through play.  Long enough to explore some of the edges. I use this continuum from the England Earl...