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Ngā ariā, ngā rangahau o te reo ā-waha

Background theories and research in oral language

He Awa Whiria – a braided river approach

Knowledge and theory are culturally bound. Values and practices are passed down in the traditions of each culture and do not always translate well into other contexts.

He Awa Whiria is a metaphor for considering the relationship between Māori and non-Māori (predominantly Western) streams of knowledge. In braided rivers the water flows through a number of channels separated by alluvial deposits. These channels intersect and shift over time as they respond to the changing water and soil conditions, but they all lead to the same destination. In Aotearoa, braided rivers are particularly common in Canterbury.

This idea is inspired by Professor Sir Mason Durie and developed by Professor Angus and Adjunct Associate Professor Sonja Macfarlane. He Awa Whiria draws from both Māori and non-Māori streams of knowledge and creates space where “the two streams of knowledge are able to blend and interact” 1.

A braider river with many streams connecting to the main stream.

Kaupapa Māori approaches and oral language

Te reo Māori is a language that uses huahuatau/metaphor, kupu whakarite/simile, kīrehu/idioms, kīwaha/colloquialisms, and reo whakaahua / descriptive language in everyday speech.

There are traditional ways of being, ways of knowing, and ways of doing3 that can be drawn upon in Kaupapa Māori to teach, model, and learn language within everyday activities and through play. These include whakapapa, waiata ā-ringa, karakia, haka, pao, pātere, kōrero tāwhito, pūrakau, pakiwaitara, and tuakana-teina relationships.4

Users of te reo Māori are encouraged to use these language features to engage with their environment and their listeners. Rich oral language can be caught as much as taught. This can be described as the difference between deliberately teaching te reo Māori and the modelling of te reo Māori.

Western science and oral language

The Western science tradition has examined relationships between oracy (oral language capabilities) and literacy (reading and writing). It promotes literacy as essential for social, cultural, and economic wellbeing. It recognises that both oracy and literacy are essential for communication, future learning, and positive life outcomes.

Recent studies on brain development and learning link early oral language, particularly breadth of vocabulary and phonological awareness, to literacy success far into the school years.5, 6

Creating a braided river

There are many opportunities for kaiako to be intentional in their use of approaches and strategies from Māori and non-Māori knowledge bases as they support children’s oral language. For the early learning service an example is integrating te reo Māori and tikanga within all daily care rituals. For kaiako an example is correct pronunciation of names and modelling the use of phrases in te reo Māori, such as "e noho" / "sit down" or "hoake tātou" / "let’s go".

Another simple and effective strategy that creates a braided river is using the 3 R’s plus actions in daily activities and play – repetition, rhythm, rhyme, and actions (non verbal communication).

By braiding the Kaupapa Māori approaches with those of Western science, we add richness to oral language teaching and learning and to the curriculum overall. Weaving approaches equitably avoids assimilating te ao Māori to suit Western constructs.

Story of practice: He Awa Whiria, a braided river approach

Braided river teaching practices are exemplified within a semi-rural, Northland centre. It is of key importance to the team to acknowledge the many cultures that enter into the centre's care each day by building and developing reciprocal relationships with whānau.

An opening example would be the learning and use of multi-cultural greetings. The team engages with parents to learn specific greetings for each child's cultural background and in turn teach parents the Māori greetings that kaiako use as part of their daily practice. The application of this approach is that each learner is able to turn to the other for support, correction, and continued growth. Parents are able to correct things like pronunciation and kaiako are able to encourage additional learning and vice versa.

The team incorporate the pillars of Professor Sir Mason Durie’s, Te Whare Tapa Whā in the centre's philosophies and practices. Through this and kaiako relationships with parents, kaiako see parents are confident with the holistic care the centre is providing. This is shown by parents being comfortable and able to share their cultural wealth with the team. Kaiako have connected with Thai and Japanese whānau learning about their spiritual practices and the meanings behind their belief systems. Kaiako explore how different cultures sleep, their soothing practices, the normal home practices, and thus how kaiako can support that within the centre's whare.

The result of this engagement process is a rich and full learning environment where children are empowered to share in their own cultural practices. Tamariki proudly sing waiata (songs) in their native tongue. They openly share images of relatives and taonga from their homelands and their general play reflects the implementation of learnt kupu (words) and values. This creates a space where each child is welcome to share their experiences as well as learning from others, thus creating a continually expanding and rich environment.

Māori philosophies are central to fostering the centre's inclusive models:

  • Whakawhanaungatanga – building relationships with centre whānau
  • Manaakitanga – caring for one another and building reciprocal relationships for the development of centre culture
  • Kotahitanga – creating unity and oneness in the ownership of collected cultural wealth.

The team see these as the riverbed on which they braid a diverse, creative learning environment for the ever expanding minds of the tamariki.