Friday, December 02, 2005
Unlocking the treasure within
A whaka huia - to keep toanga or treasures
Perhaps there is no way for schools to develop their Maori students learning unless they dramatically change their style of teaching – and if they did all this students would benefit.
There is a worry that this emphasis on failing Maori students indicates all is well with all the other students. This would be a mistake because what is being suggested to ‘engage’ Maori students is good for all. To suggest there is a particular Maori pedagogy is confusing because, although there are special cultural understandings, the pedagogy is required by all. And little of it is new. Progressive educators from past decades would recognize most it. The problem is that for too long pedagogy, or the art of the teaching, has been lost in all the technocratic nonsense of imposed ‘one size fits all' standardized curriculums.
For example who would argue with the idea that schools must believe that all can learn given the right help and time; or the importance of a schools holding high expectations for all students; or the idea that it is the teachers that make the difference.
Why these ideas are considered so remarkable?
Ideas suggested to endure Maori students succeed have a ring of universality about them.
Ideas such as:
(1) Engage students in the learning process and share responsibity with them for setting learning goals; learners are to be seen as co-enquirers, raising their own questions. Teachers need to value student's current knowledge (prior ideas); and encouraging students to self evaluate how much they have learnt.
(2) Learning is to be seen as active, problem based, real life, integrated and holistic - premised on students being their own ‘meaning makers’.
(3) There is need for respectful mutual relationships with the students and an appreciation of the each student’s cultural background.
(4) The teaching and learning roles are reciprocal and the teacher is to be seen as an experienced learning guide or coach. Teachers are only significant if they form respectful relationships and mutual partnerships with their learners – and give the attitude that they will never give up on their students.
(5) Teachers need to build on the interests and cultural backgrounds of students and the community. For all students ‘culture counts’ – but it is vital for Maori students. Teachers need to appreciate that many of their Maori students have learnt to feel marginalized by their school experiences. Student’s beliefs and expectation about themselves (self efficacy) can be raised and enhanced – and that these positive self beliefs are crucial.
(6) Teachers need to make sure Maori students feel our high expectations and belief in them. This may well be the key issue as so many teachers hold what is called a ‘deficit theory’ which blames students backgrounds for their lack of success and, as well, gives students an excuse for their lack of achievement.
(7) All students ought to leave education with what Hattie (2002) calls a ‘reputation as effective learners’.
Schools, and each teacher, need to ask themselves how much they put into practice such beliefs about teaching. Do they genuinely belief all students can learn? Have they really thought about what needs to change to ensure all students succeed? Have they considered how the school can reflect the culture of the students as quality teaching ought to confirm cultural identity? Do teachers understand and appreciate the lives of their students.
‘Culture does count’ and no more so than in every individual classroom in the country. Schools need to create an environment where students can feel proud of being Maori. The local history and heritage, the local people, and the environment that the school is placed, should all feature strongly in the school.
Now if schools transformed themselves to reflect these understandings Maori success would be guaranteed and, as well, all students would benefit.
It is not Maori achievement that should worry us – we should be more concerned with the schools lack of success in introducing such well known ideas about teaching and learning. It is the schools (secondary schools in particular) that are the ‘slow learners’!
Our schools are failing – not our students.
The 'treasure within' is waiting, there to be found.
Reference: ‘Teachers Making a Difference for Maori students ‘– Ministry of Education