My experience of learning te reo Māori is that unless you hear it, see it and speak it every day then it just won’t stick. When I was a kindergarten teacher I felt comfortable speaking te reo in context as there are no “lessons” or times in which te reo must be spoken. It was natural and organic in the way that it grew in use. Fast forward to primary and we get stuck in the rut of thinking we need to teach te reo Māori as a lesson. Year after year students gets the same old “Kei te pēhea koe?” conversation which is level 1 of the curriculum. Te reo Māori is much more than that.
So this year I looked at ways to bring the reo into my classroom and have it be more organic, just like it was at Kindergarten. I decided to have a new Kīwaha each week. Kīwaha are sayings and are really easy to remember because you use them all the time. I got my ākonga (students) to answer the roll with a kīwaha to practise pronunciation and challenged them to use it during the week. That is 25 of us using the same kīwaha for 5 days and hearing it over and over. This ended up being quite effective as the ākonga could remember them easily and then started to use them in context.
When the Education Review Office (ERO) observed my class I had a reading group having their own Socratic discussion about the text. They casually flung “he tika ana” or “tika” into their discussion as they agreed with each other. It was natural and nobody was whakamā (shy) about speaking. The ERO lady thought this was a bit of a fluke so stayed longer to observe another group. Again, this group agreed with each other in te reo Māori. It wasn’t forced and it was not a requirement.
With the whānau group of Māori students I work with I tried several ways to introduce confident te reo speaking and did not get the same outcomes. I only see these ākonga once a week and I have gone out of my way to find them before school or when I am on duty to speak to them in te reo. They answer me back in English mostly, knowing what I am asking but not feeling confident to reply in te reo. The question is more like a puzzle than a genuine conversation. Each week these ākonga head back to their own classrooms and don’t hear any te reo (or very little) until the following week (or when I chase them down in the playground). This method just does not work. The reo cannot live in isolation.
A lot of teacher lack confidence in teaching te reo but I would like to propose that teachers learn with their students instead. That they choose phrases or sayings that are useful for their classrooms. That they make a commitment together to see, hear and speak te reo Māori every day at their pace. There is such a resurgence of learning te reo at the moment and plenty of resources out there to assist. Make it part of what we do not an extra.