Thursday, March 29, 2007

Making a real difference!

Poutama, the 'Stairway to learning' tukutuku pattern.
Te Kotahitanga Project
While the general population is being distracted by conservative schools claiming that old fashioned Cambridge pass/fail exams are the way to the future rather than the new national Certificate of Education ( NCEA) where all students are able to gain credit for their learning, there are more important issues to focus on.
The focus ought to be on about how best to teach so all can learn - particularly the so called 'achievement tail'.
So it was great to hear Russell Bishop, University of Waikato, talking on national radio about the Te Kotahitanga project which is clearly demonstrating Maori student achievement; students who, all too often, make up the poor achievement tail.
If I were a secondary school principal, with students who are failing, I would be learning as much about this project as I could and not just for Maori students but for everyone.
And their is plenty of material to read. A good start would be the book 'Culture Counts' by Russell Bishop and Ted Glyn. What 'counts' is the culture of the students, their life experiences and their existing knowledge; what 'counts' is involving students and their parents in the learning process; what 'counts' are the relationships between teachers and their students; what 'counts' are the teaching strategies teachers use in their classrooms and what 'counts' is the total culture of the school.
All the above challenges the current traditional approaches of many schools.
For progressive, or creative teachers, little will seem new. Even though the focus is on Maori students the ideas are relevant for all learners. And it is in line with the idea of 'personalising learning'. It is all about changing the power relationships in schools.It is all about the importance of respectful relationships and placing the learner at the centre of his, or her, own learning.
Most of all it has been shown to be successful. Students are succeeding, teachers , who once might have felt overwhelmed, are seeing positive results; it is a 'win win' situation for everyone.
And at heart it is all very simple ( even if it is hard to change both teachers and students mindsets).
It comes down , according to Bishop, to the following points.
Teachers who demonstrate they care for their students.
Teachers who hold high expectation of all their students.
Teacher who are well organised and prepared.
Teachers who have changed the way they interact with their students; who provide commentary and feedback to learners; who work with students to co-construct learning; who value students prior ideas; and who introduce relevant learning experiences.
Teachers with an expanded range of teaching strategies - who have developed an informed teaching practice. Maori students prefer small group or one to one involvement.
Te Kotahitanga is an approach based on respectful relationships.
The role of the teacher is vital - all too often teachers hold, what Bishop calls, 'deficit theories' about their Maori students leading to poor performance. Teachers involved in the project, given appropriate support, have had no problem adapting. The problem of low achievement has been in the performance of the teachers rather than the students.
Rather than being distracted by the Cambridge or NCEA 'debate' we ought to be putting into practice the ideas as outlined by Bishop and his co researchers. And it is not that the ideas are in themselves new ( although their emphasis on Maori learning is ) but it is the proven results that 'count' the most.
For information check out Te Kotahitnga material on the Ministry of Education site and the Te Mana Korero 2 kit available in all schools called ' Teachers making a difference for Maori students.
It would be a shame if such great ideas were to be sidelined because they are seen as suitable only for Maori students.


Anonymous said...

Let's hope you are right and secondary schools listen to, and action, the fine researched results of Bishop's work.

Lyn Ross said...

Thanks for this article, Bruce. I heard Russell speak at the 2007 Learning@School Conference and found his keynote very moving. Every single teacher (primary and secondary) should be challenged with practising the points you mention (care, high expectation, well organised and prepared, changed interaction style and using an expanded range of teaching strategies.) Some teachers might start taking professional development more seriously! What a difference that would make!

Bruce said...

Thank you Lyn for your comments.

I couldn't agree more - every single teacher, primary and secondary, should be aware of the Te Kotahitanga research as it is about developing teacher professionalism. That such ideas are not taken up as they ought is a worry - maybe it is because teachers have been de- professionalised by all the tasks they have had to comply with along with working in structures that do not allow such ideas to be introduced? It would be a shame if Te Kotahitanga was seen as of use only for Maori students as it is all about up to date pedagogy.

Such ideas will only be effective when a majority of teachers, in any school, decides to implement them and are prepared to hold themseves accountable to actioning them.

It is the same for any innovation.