Ngā Taumatua

Research on literacy practices and language development (Te Reo) in Years 0-1 in Māori-medium classrooms

Publication Details

Ngā Taumatua was developed in 2002 as a 12 month professional development programme for resource teachers of Māori. A subsequent professional development programme called Ngā Taumatua Whakapakari was developed for Ngā Taumatua graduates and has been operating since 2005.

Author(s): Stuart McNaughton, Shelley MacDonald, Julia Barber, Sasha Farry and Heneira Woodard, Research, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: 2006

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This report describes three interrelated studies. The studies involve a limited evaluation of a professional support programme in Māori medium, a developmental description of children's literacy and language over the first year in Māori medium, and an analysis of features of literacy instruction over the first year in Māori medium classes. The three studies were originally planned as one project but were effectively conducted separately. A brief introduction to each study is provided here and elaborations are provided with the report for each study.

Study 1: Formative Evaluation

Ngā Taumatua was developed in 2002 as a one year long literacy support pilot project in Māori medium education. The project involved twelve Resource Teachers of Māori, across Aotearoa NZ, who were undertaking extensive literacy training to function as specialist literacy experts providing specific guidance, planning and professional support for teachers in Māori medium. The Ngā Taumatua programme was designed to provide specialized professional development in Māori medium specific literacy initiatives. The training provides opportunities to develop further expertise in initiatives developed specifically to support Junior School literacy programmes in Māori (Years 0 – 3). It comprises a combination of theory, practicum and includes a research component. One of the outcomes of the programme is to provide policy advice to the Ministry of Education suggesting how Ngā Taumatua positions might become a more permanent feature of the support services for Māori medium education. The programme therefore explores the potential role of Ngā Taumatua as practitioners and researchers with a developing expertise in literacy that can contribute to the future development of Māori medium literacy initiatives as well as act as change agents in schools.

At the time of planning the evaluation it was not possible to design a full evaluation. Implementation of the project had already commenced when the research project was being developed; it was a pilot and was developing the training package as it progressed. A more limited evaluation was, therefore, designed. The evaluation focused on specific outcomes of the programme for the Ngā Taumatua teachers. Given that the programme is concentrated on building up the literacy expertise of the Ngā Taumatua teachers, the major focus was on describing changes in their ideas about best literacy practice for Māori medium and how they perceived the programme's effects on their roles. These areas of deep knowledge have been identified as significant in recent research on interventions to change teaching practice (Coburn, 2003).

Study 2: 'Best' Practice in Literacy Instruction

The original intention was to look at the Ngā Taumatua teachers and to examine the link between their knowledge developed on the course and their work developing aspects of best practice in schools. As mentioned above this was not possible. However, an opportunity was provided by the training of Ngā Taumatua teachers to establish some baseline features of best practice in literacy instruction in Māori Medium. The present descriptive research project worked in collaboration with their training to collect descriptions of how teachers respond to the oral language competencies of students upon arrival as new entrants. This involved descriptions of core instructional activities in literacy (e.g., reading to children; guided/ instructional reading; language experience / shared writing and guided writing). The focus was on the first year at school and how classroom activities provide vehicles for effective instruction at this crucial transition point. It was designed to add to descriptions of best practice at Harakeke A reading level (i.e., pre reading/emergent; Berryman, Rau & Glynn, 2001), and systematically explores the relationships between oral language and literacy activities in Māori medium classrooms.

There is very little research that provides this type of information. There are the seminal analyses for teaching and assessments at 6.0 years in Rau (1998; for Māori medium instruction), and general descriptions of teaching and learning strategies, materials and assessments from 5.0 – 9.0 years by Bishop, Berryman and Richardson (2001; for students receiving instruction in Māori). The former provides details for assessing progress and associated instruction in the first year and the latter provides a cultural and pedagogical framework for looking at best practice.

The Bishop et al. (2001) aimed to identify effective teaching and learning strategies and effective teaching materials for improving the reading and writing in Te Reo Māori of students aged five to nine in Māori-medium education. In addition the study sought to identify the ways in which teachers assessed their effectiveness of their teaching of reading and writing.

Bishop et al. (2001) found that effective teachers were able to create culturally appropriate and responsive contexts for learning. These effective teachers reported that the purpose of monitoring students' progress was to inform their own teaching in order to progress student learning. They reported that assessments were taken over time in order to match student behaviour to teaching strategies and resources and the assessment of progress was reported to parents and included in planning for teaching. In addition, effective teachers attempted to set up an 'oral rich environment', usually through the use of prior or real-life experiences of the children and they organised their literacy programmes to cater for a wide range of Māori language skills. The focus was on a language saturated environment to extend the children's vocabulary and understandings. (In the present study we have demonstrated how this may happen in literacy). The effective teachers were also actively seeking and participating in developing their own skills and knowledge. This demonstrates that issues in professional development are clearly needed.

Detailed descriptions of practices across the primary years of teaching in Māori medium are critically needed to inform the practice of Ngā Taumatua specialists. The Resource Teachers of Literacy (RT:Lit) English / mainstream specialists can draw on a range of resources including extensive research-based descriptions over many years of teaching and learning in English medium settings (Education Review Office, 2004). There are multiple descriptions of literacy practices (for use in English medium settings) available from the Ministry or Learning Media (such as 'Reading in Junior Classes'; 'Effective Literacy Practice'; 'The Learner as Reader'; 'Dancing with the Pen'). The provision of targeted guidance through Ngā Taumatua and the development of interventions in Māori medium need as much research-based knowledge of current practices and children's development as is possible.

In essence there were two research questions here. One was a description of literacy instruction at the beginning level. But secondly and more directly the question was how the instruction provides a basis for language acquisition for the range of control of Te Reo Māori children had on entry to school. 

Study 3: Language (Te Reo) and Litercy Development in Māori-medium

In addition to developing the research base in instructional practices, as mentioned above, there is a pressing need to examine relationships between features of children's language development in Te Reo Māori and their literacy development. An international literature exists on relationships in an L1 (meant here in this report as a child's first language developed at home) and some beginning studies of relationships in bilingual and biliteracy circumstances (Snow, Burns & Griffin, 1998). For example, strong relationships are known to exist between vocabulary development and comprehension; and between phonemic awareness and decoding abilities. In the latter area there is research that shows strong development in an L1 is related to effective literacy acquisition in L2 (a child's second language) and simultaneous bilingualism has advantages for biliteracy development (Tabors & Snow, 2001). But these situations do not easily apply to the circumstances of elective bilingualism and the various patterns of Te Reo Māori and English relationships that exist for children in Māori medium. Tabors and Snow (2001) introduce notions of children having different degrees of bilingual and biliteracy status associated with variability in language inputs. Children who have a strong first language input in the early years, complemented by early childhood settings which provide rich first language experiences (in bilingual to full immersion programmes), yet who live in communities in which the dominant language is English, nevertheless arrive at school as 'incipient' or 'emergent' bilinguals. Other children who have had mixed inputs under conditions where the input does not complement and add to the first language experiences may be 'at risk' as bilinguals, and not strong in either language. This description mirrors an analysis by researchers who identified different groups of children on entry to school who ranged from strong in Te Reo Māori and relatively strong in English, through to children who had limited control over either Te Reo Māori or English (Berryman, Glynn, Walker, Reweti, O'Brien, Langdon, & Weiss, 2001).

The presence of children with different degrees of control over two languages in Māori medium classrooms, together with different degrees of emergent literacy knowledge and skills in two languages raises important developmental questions. The third study explores these relationships, and provides some limited time series analyses of how acquisition in Te Reo Māori oral language and literacy might be related at the beginning of school and over the first year at school.


  1. The training now extends to Year 8.

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