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Weekly Reflection: Arohatia Te Reo

Image used under creative commons licence

This reflection is probably a week late give that it Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, Māori language week, was last week. However my class was on assembly so we didn’t get a chance to really get cracking on our contribution to our school’s competition  in celebration of our week to celebrate one of the official languages of New Zealand.

Māori language week was set up back in the 1975. Part of the reason that the celebration was instituted was due to New Zealand almost stamping the language out. Kids got the strap for speaking  te reo when my parents went to school. During the 1980s various Māori language recovery programmes were instituted including  Māori immersion schools.

However many pākehā New Zealanders have a rather odd disconnect when it comes to learning te reo. One of my friends was advised by one of her high school teachers that learning te reo was a waste of time because it was dead language and encouraged her to learn Latin instead. That was only 20 years ago and even today there’s still large pockets of pākehā New Zealanders who don’t want their kids to learn te reo.

What is really interesting is how many New Zealanders readily embrace Māori culture and language as part of our identity when they move overseas. Anyone who has witnessed any large gathering of kiwi expats on February 6 especially in places like London will know what I am talking about.

What I find interesting is this idea that we can only learn a finite amount of language and that pākehā kids should focus on the important stuff like learning English or French or even at a push an Asian language first before learning Māori. Yet the principles of language learning can easily be applied to different languages. For example when I looked at the theme Arohita te Reo for this year’s celebration I had no idea what it meant.  Yet I knew the word aroha meant love and Te Reo was Māori language. So I decided arohatia meant a love of something or to cherish something and I was right. I realized that my guess work was actually coming from my experience of learning Korean.

So even though my own knowledge of Māori is pretty bad, I could still help my students prepare an entry for the competition. The brief for the competition was rather simple, students were to produce as a class or as a group a teaching resource for others to learn about Te Reo or aspects of Māori culture. One of the most powerful things I did was get the kids to identify a learning need.

What the kids came back with was nothing short of amazing.

Some students noticed from the quiz we held during our assembly the previous week that many of the students in our school don’t know the colours in Māori so a group of students composed a song to help people learn the colours. Other students thought there needed to be more signage so went about making signs, mobiles and one group even made a Koru in minecraft.

What was amazing was seeing the students wander off to find their needs, for instance a group of students went up to the cooking room to look at the ingredients on hand, and the they started grabbing computers and the classroom ipod touches to look up the meanings of words. My job then became about steering kids back toward their goal of filling a need and giving groups encouragement, inspiration and sourcing resources.

It was noisy, it was messy but kids begging to stay in at lunch time to finish their projects. I immediately recognized that having my students so engaged and interested in a project was far more important than anything I could possibly teach them that day so I did something that would make some people cringe: I threw out my timetable and the kids spent the rest of the day working on their projects.

Because the head fake in this competition was the students weren’t just teaching others Maori language, they were actually teaching themselves.

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