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Te reo Māori and language acquisition

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Nadine Malcolm from Hukanui School describes the way that teachers have been supported in their learning and teaching of te reo Māori. Teachers are mentored in their own learning as well as being supported with professional development in language acquisition teaching skills. In this way teachers are not only equipped with support for the language, but also with how to effectively teach the language to others.

Hukanui School stories

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

Promoting professional conversations

An effective language learning task is one that:

  • requires the students to focus primarily on meaning
  • has some kind of gap that the students can close by communicating
  • requires the students to construct their own productive language (language output) rather than only to manipulate language that the teacher provides (language input)
  • has a clearly defined outcome (other than producing “correct” language).

Curriculum guidelines, Ngā tino māramatanga whai hua mō te ako i te reo/Key understandings about effective language learning

  • Hukanui School use deliberate acts of teaching and mentoring, modelling, and feedback to support te reo Māori acquisition. What steps could you take at your school to enhance the teaching and learning of te reo Māori and tikanga Māori? How can you learn from, and support each other?
  • What expectations do you currently have of staff and students' proficiency of te reo Māori? Could you have higher expectations?
  • Could a series of progressions be developed by teachers specifically for your school?


Kia ora koutou, nau mai haere mai ki tēnei kura, te kura o Hukanui.

Ko Nadine Malcom tōku ingoa. Nō Kirikiriroa ahau.  I te taha o tōku pāpā ko Te Arawa te waka, ko Ngāti Tarawhai te iwi.  I te taha o tōku māmā ko Ngāti Awa te iwi, ko Mataatua te waka.

Kia ora koutou.

I think it’s vitally important that teachers upskill themselves in te reo and tikanga Māori but also marry that and use effective second language acquisition techniques. You know, you could give teachers lists of vocabs and sentence structures, but what are the most effective ways to teach it, so that embedding happens effectively for the children? You know posters up on the wall and a couple of songs although is really great but what are the nitty grittys? What are the actual nuts and bolts of how you teach, how that makes it effective for the children? And I think that's why our programme, our te reo Māori programme, has worked because the teachers are getting confident in that knowledge of te reo and tikanga Māori but they’ve actually got some practical techniques on how to deliver it so it’s effective and so the children are acquiring the language successfully.

We started our te reo Māori programme nearly two years ago. We established a working committee of passionate teachers within the school. I had heard of Jeanne Gilbert and her work with the languages and so I contacted her because I felt there was a gap in the pedagogy aspects of how we were going to teach te reo Māori. So there were two things happening: one we wanted to upskill and build confidence in the teachers of using te reo and teaching te reo, but we also needed them to employ effective principles on actually how to deliver te reo Māori as a second language.

The structures and systems we put in place across the school I like to think of it - it was really multilayered. So on the outside we had the go ahead from the board and the principal supporting the programme and giving the funding which funded my position to lead. Then we had myself and Jeanne who worked together and she acted as sort of mentor/coach and we’d do some whole school planning. She then worked with the Māori team, the group of teachers. So it was like a filter down process. So we’d work together up here, then I’d work with the Māori team leaders and then I would go into each of the classrooms and we worked in the cycle model. We’d used this model before with our literacy and writing development PD across the school. So we timetabled up slots for me to go into each classroom for half an hour and model a lesson. It might be a specific te reo Māori something modelled or it could have been a second language acquisition method that I would model. The second half of the term was devoted to me going back into those same classrooms and the teachers would then model back for me, I would observe them and I would provide written and verbal feedback and feedforward, and we would go from there.

I think having that trusting relationship with that person that’s coming in is really, really important and it’s something that develops along the time as well to get the buy in of teachers.

For the te reo Māori programme I think you have to allay fears first of all. That it is okay to start no matter what level you’re at. It’s absolutely okay to start if you are at the level of the child, and make that explicit to the child, to the class.

I knew that I was going to be on a big learning continuum. It wasn’t one of my strengths and I knew that it wasn’t one of my strengths but then I knew that we were all in the same position. For us as teachers there was a continuum of people like me who were learning and people who had more skills. So I think that was really positive for me to think well I don’t know all the answers but I can find out, and I’m going to be learning with the children, and I might make some mistakes along the way but hey that’s what learners do.

Key shifts I’ve seen in classroom practices probably would be the formulaic language that the teacher is using, that’s the everyday instructional language. That has increased hugely. They’ll have prompts on their whiteboards around the rooms for them to always remind them to as much as they can use the instructions in te reo Māori. Also in our planning we have changed the way we planned for te reo Māori. Planning is more purposeful and the expectations are that every class at Hukanui is teaching te reo Māori. So planning has changed as well.

Published on: 08 Apr 2013