Waiarani was a mature beginning teacher with us from the start of 2011. She has taught in both the upper primary and lower primary in the last three years. Waiarani shares her opinions and experience related to developing young writers- and particularly young Maori writers.
Rite! Right! Write!
A colleague recently attended a conference on writing. A comment was made about how writing wasn’t a Maori thing; in fact the speaker went even further to posit that writing wasn’t a Ngati Porou thing. Being of Ngati Porou descent, my whakapapa compels me to respond.
Nowhere in my upbringing do I remember ever being told that I couldn’t write because I was Ngati Porou. If anything, I was raised to believe the opposite - I could do anything I wanted as long as I was prepared to work for it. Just as well… I’d hate to think where I’d be today if I’d been told I couldn’t write or worse still; believed it.
While Maori traditions and stories were transmitted orally through the generations that alone does not justify the comment. What concerns me more is that there are educators out there that actually think that. That thinking does not move Maori learners forward but rather hinders and keeps them boxed within the teacher’s own prejudices and limitations. Why bother teaching writing if it’s pre-ordained that Maori learners won’t be able to learn how to write anyway?
As a teacher in a junior class that is predominantly Maori, I see the daily challenges my own students face as they learn writing. What I have learned is that good writers, regardless of ethnicity, have strong oral language skills and are able to articulate their thoughts and ideas clearly. These students are likely to be from homes where they are engaged in conversations that provide the foundation for deeper thinking skills. I’ve also noticed that these students have a strong grasp of stories. They are read to and have access to a wide range of reading materials in the home. They are familiar with book language before they come to school. All this helps towards their journey as writers.
Last year, a colleague and I were fortunate to visit a school, similar to our own, that was having success with a writing programme they had developed. We wanted to see how we could use and adapt a writing programme to meet the needs of our own students. Our programme used fairy tales to introduce our students to the rich language found in stories. We focussed solely on retelling those stories; learning about how to sequence, looking at character development and becoming familiar with language used in stories. Far from our students not being able to write, it was as if a door had been opened and suddenly we had students eager to fill the pages of their books.
Two and a half terms later, our writing programme is continuing to develop and recent assessment shows steady progress. There is always room for improvement however; and already we are thinking about what we need to focus on in Term 4.
My challenge to educators who think Maori can’t write is to stop coming up with excuses as to why your students can’t do it. More succinctly, you need to think about what it is about your practice that is not engaging Maori learners in writing.
And if you think there’s no need to do this then it’s time you left the profession.