New marae-style teaching spaces a good fit for tamariki
A strong focus on tikanga is sparking a leap forward at an inner-city Auckland primary school, which is shaping its own Māori learning environment.
Newton Primary School is seeing fast progress in te reo Māori learning by its bilingual and full immersion students. The school has a new teaching block with flexible spaces for the students, and Principal Riki Teteina says the school is taking the opportunity to explore what it means to have a Māori learning environment.
He says the students are rapidly learning complex waiata and recently mastered a whole new series of kapa haka at a fast pace. “It was so easy for them because of how quickly their te reo skills are advancing.”
Upstairs, only te reo Māori can be spoken at all times by staff, parents and students as it is a full immersion learning space. The ground floor is the bilingual learning area.
He says there’s been a significant spike in te reo Māori skills because students get the opportunity to use it so much more than they did in the previous classrooms, which were single cell.
Each floor has three teachers, and 100 students out of the school roll of 300 are in the full immersion or bilingual units.
“In the previous environment of single cells, there was confusion and constant switching during classes between Māori and English. There was no clarity,” he says.
“A teacher would speak in Māori and the children would respond in English. But not here. The single cell structure in Māori learning environments limit possibilities – it’s artificial.
“Being immersed sets up expectations. The children know this is a Māori learning space. The building works very much like a marae, with groups of children moving fluidly from one activity to another in a large, flexible space. However, at the start of the day everyone is together, and we begin with a karakia and mihi mihi, so that sets the mindset for the day.
“They are familiar with the tikanga, so we are constantly reinforcing those links,” Riki says. Tuakana teina relationships – younger students being guided and helped by older – is also marked in the new environment.
“Even after school we see it, where the seniors are helping the younger ones with kapa haka.
“We are also finding that behaviour is better in the full immersion area upstairs, and there is greater focus amongst students. We hadn’t anticipated that, but children have greater respect for each other in the new space, and they regulate themselves. When something needs to be done right away, they do it, and older children help the younger ones.”
He says the building is helping enrich links with the wider community as it is a very hospitable environment, and the kitchen on the ground floor, which has large doors opening to a covered area beyond, can provide food for large numbers of people, unlike the tiny school kitchen they used to have in the former school buildings.
“Children can see the connections between everything, the warmth and manaakitanga, and genuine relationships with our community.”
The school has a dual governance model, and relationships with local iwi Ngāti Whātua and Tainui. Three-quarters of the students are from those iwi.
Ruia Aperahama, the school’s Vision and Strategy Coordinator, says, “The wider whānau is being included in shaping the education of their children. They set the vision and we implement it. We are walking on two pathways.
“It’s a cooperative or collective approach, which is truly Māori. Our new building reflects all these factors, plus student agency, which is very strong, and it’s producing a culture of shared guidance that helps achievement.”
Children guardians of language
Two 10-year-old students in the immersion class are so keen on te reo Māori that they believe all signs at public places like swimming pools and supermarkets should be in the language as well.
In a sense, they act as kaitiaki of the language, says Principal Riki Teteina.
Year 6 girls Awanui Hope and Mihi Te Rauhi are friends as well as fellow students and can switch with ease between languages during the day at school. Awanui says it’s important to speak in te reo as much as possible, “because people had to fight to speak it, and if we don’t use the language it will become extinct”.
They both use it constantly at home, but in each case only one of their parents is fluent, the other is a learner. “I give my mum a new word each day,” says Mihi Te Rauhi.
They have a tuakana teina relationship with the younger students aged 5–7, and both speak and play with the little ones using the language to encourage and teach them to use it. Only te reo Māori is allowed in the immersion class, but rules do get broken, and the girls sometimes have to remind teachers and other adults not to use English words. “We remind them that this is a te ao Māori space,” Mihi Te Rauhi says.
And what happens when one of the students slips back into English?
“We’re supposed to do 10 burpees, or say a whakatauki”, Awanui says.
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