Otaika Valley School (TLIF 2-050) - Enhancing writing outcomes for Māori students through the application of dramatic inquiry approaches within culturally responsive practice Publications
This project was sparked during an ERO review when the reviewers expressed interest in the informal inquiry teacher Renee Downey was running into the impact of using dramatic inquiry to teach across the curriculum in a year 3 and 4 class.
Author(s): (Inquiry Team) Renee Downey, Heidi Grove, Hayley Alchin and Courtney DeBoer
Date Published: March 2019
Renee’s interest had been prompted and encouraged by the school’s principal, who has his own story about why this approach appealed to him and how he intends to support it across the school.
Education Review Officer: What do you like about having drama in the classroom?
Māori learner: Because I care about what we’re learning now.
Exchange during an ERO review
This simple statement stuck with me and I thought, “If my haphazard use of dramatic inquiry approaches can help him care about his learning, what is its potential if used in a more knowledgeable, considered way with a much clearer focus?”
Renee Downey: Reflection in response to the above exchange
It was Renee who led the school’s TLIF project, working with colleagues to understand how they might integrate a dramatic inquiry approach to teaching and learning with deepened understandings of kaupapa Māori and culturally responsive pedagogy to improve writing outcomes for Māori students. The approach proved transformational. While the improvements in student writing achievement were relatively minor, improvements in their engagement, motivation, and ownership were significant. Teachers moved to a greater understanding and awareness of how to ‘teach Māori as Māori’. The school is convinced that with what it has learned, now embedded in its curriculum planning documents, it will see accelerated learning for all students in the coming years.
Renee Downey led this project. Renee worked with four colleagues:
- Heidi Grove
- Hayley Alchin
- Courtney DeBoer
Three external experts supported the inquiry:
- Dr Viv Aitken (University of Waikato and Eastern Institute of Technology
- Maia Hetaraka (Auckland University)
- Matua Charles Kauwhata (Te Wānanga o Aotearoa).
The inquiry story
This inquiry was led by a teacher who had already completed a master’s level paper in dramatic inquiry and implemented the pedagogy in her classroom, finding that it had led to improved engagement and writing outcomes amongst Māori students and those who initially identified themselves as ‘unwilling writers’. She worked with four other teachers who taught two junior (years 1–3) and two senior (years 4–6) classes. The teachers worked in pairs to closely plan, observe, and reflect on their practice. The group inquiry unfolded in ten-week cycles over a year.
Dramatic inquiry is an inquiry approach that uses drama to provide the context and purpose for learning. The project team didn’t want to simply implement the pedagogy of dramatic inquiry. Instead, they wanted to investigate how they could use it in concert with kaupapa Māori and culturally responsive pedagogy. To achieve this, the team sought the expertise of people in all their areas of focus and participated in group planning sessions to address their research questions.
What was the focus?
While the inquiry was intended to have benefits for all 96 students taught in the four classes, the teachers were particularly interested in the outcomes for the 30 per cent who are Māori. Nationally, and especially in Tai Tokerau, a lower percentage of Māori than Pākehā students achieve at or above the levels set by the National Standards in writing. Initially, the intention was to focus on three Māori students from each class, identified as low-, medium-, and high-achieving. It was later decided to expand the focus to all Māori.
All five members of the project team were Pākehā. While teachers at the school shared a genuine commitment to learning about te reo Māori me ōna tikanga, they had limited understanding of kaupapa Māori learning theory. They wanted to build their comfort and knowledge in these areas and to help realise the principles and objectives of Ka Hikitia. This needed to include addressing deficit models and shifting the balance of power in the classroom. More generally, they were interested in raising student engagement through more creative and purposeful approaches to their writing programme.
The team organise its inquiry around two central questions:
- “What writing outcomes and attitudes to writing are observed and reported among year 1–6 Māori students engaged in a dramatic inquiry approach within one rural New Zealand primary school?”
- “What do a group of five Pākehā teaching practitioners in one rural New Zealand primary school identify as key to their personal understandings of kaupapa Māori philosophy when working to support learning through dramatic inquiry within the writing classroom?”
The team’s intended outcomes were:
- Continued success in achievement data from students in the pilot class and improved outcomes for other students, including Māori students, in National Standards data.
- Learners, including Māori learners, reporting a sense of self-efficacy as writers.
- Improved sense of ownership over writing from all students, including Māori learners.
- Increased teacher understanding of dramatic inquiry and how to use it with all students within a kaupapa Māori, culturally responsive framework.
- Increased communication between school and whānau, celebrating student success in writing.
What did the teachers try?
The dramatic inquiry approach used by the teachers at Otaika Valley School was developed by famed drama educator Dorothy Heathcote and is called Mantle of the Expert. It involves students taking on the roles of experts engaged in a high-status project for a fictional client. The teacher moves in and out of role alongside the students. Projects are sustained for long periods and involve authentic tasks and problem-solving. Teachers carefully plan some tasks from the outset, while others unfold naturally, reflecting the way this happens in life. The tasks are framed as professional tasks that are necessary to achieve a particular purpose. Participants in the inquiry go into a state of ‘metaxis’ – they know that the world they are creating is fictional and can move in and out of this world to reflect on what is happening and support each other. But while in the imagined world, they experience increased agency as they deal with difficult problems and make important decisions. Cross-curricular learning is a natural consequence of the search to understand problems and weigh up responses.
The project team used what they learned about dramatic inquiry and culturally responsive pedagogy for Māori learners to design and develop a curriculum planning document that integrated these approaches with their school’s values. This template helped guide the teachers through the stages of the mantle process. The teachers used it to specify:
- the intended learning intentions, cross-curricular links, and links to the key competencies;
- the input required from the teacher to hook students into the ‘what if’ world and build their belief and commitment in it and themselves as experts;
- the commission the students would be presented with and the associated outputs that would be expected from them;
- inquiry activities and possible tensions that could be used to progress the drama;
- the process for reflection and closure.
In one example, students in role as journalists took on a commission to write a newspaper supplement featuring people who take care of others. The supplement they created included interviews with a range of people, along with examples and photographs of what they do. Two mini-commissions for smaller news items helped students build their journalistic skills and another, where they had to select a new intern for their client, helped clarify and embed them.
In another example, a group represented by the students received a letter from a local who was concerned that the local Māori History Museum was under threat of closure. This person asked them to write a piece about the lack of government funding to keep this important institution alive. The students conducted background research to write an article and make a presentation to Aiden Howell, the museum’s owner. The teacher in role as Aiden Howell asked for help and presented survey data, information about the current museum layout, financial details, and exhibitions. As the students developed and presented their case for the museum and its future, they used and extended their capabilities in English, mathematics and statistics, social studies, and technology.
Process drama is another approach that can help provide students with the tools for dramatic inquiry; its conventions and strategies and the experience of going into an imaginary world to address important concepts. Knowing that picture books are a great way of prompting process drama, the teachers purchased a selection of picture books and identified potential drama conventions that students could try and literacy links that could be made in relation for each of them.
Other resources developed by the team include:
- a student profile that describes how dramatic inquiry can help prepare students for learning as they move through the school;
- a visual image, using the metaphor of a tree, to represent the connections they made between te ao Māori and dramatic inquiry approaches to learning.
The teachers wanted to keep whānau up to date with the project and get their feedback on their children’s progress, and organised four parent meetings and sent two surveys to the community to do this.
What happened as a result of this innovation?
After a year in the project, the actual outcomes for students were as follows:
- Achievement outcomes: Of the 12 original focus students, nine made at least one full years’ progress in relation to the National Standards for writing, while three made accelerated progress.
- Self-efficacy: Most students felt greater enthusiasm for writing, saw themselves as writers, and understood the value of writing in their lives. The few exceptions were struggling with surface features, particularly spelling and handwriting.
- Ownership: Students did increase in ownership and engagement. Unexpectedly, this was not so much about the writing process but about control of the narrative of learning.
The outcomes for teachers and the home–school relationship were:
- Teacher practice: All teachers developed their understandings of dramatic inquiry, te ao Māori, and culturally responsive pedagogy. They expressed greater confidence, and their reflections became more refined.
- Home–school communication: Participation in surveys and parent meetings was disappointing. Informal communication worked best.
- Connections between te ao Māori and dramatic inquiry: These links include the shift to tuakana-teina relationships between peers and to a more holistic, student-centred, and student-led pedagogy that is culturally responsive and values Māori as Māori.
- Mantle of the Expert: This approach repositions students to take on the roles of experts and engage in exciting, motivating learning that feels authentic and that matters to them.
- ‘Prepare to play’ time: Before dramatic inquiry, it is important to teach a range of dramatic conventions, to teach students about the difference between the ‘what is’ and ‘what if’ worlds, and to establish a conducive classroom environment. Process drama in response to picture books works well for achieving this.
- Ownership: Students’ engagement and ownership of learning increase when they have greater control of the learning narrative.
- Tuakana-teina and ako: Dramatic inquiry helps foster tuakana-teina relationships and ako by having students work together in flexible, mixed ability groups. It’s important to ensure that everyone has opportunities to be the expert and share their unique skills and to take time to explicitly develop students’ teamwork and ‘talk for learning’ skills.
- Curriculum links: For students to see them, links between learning activities and the intended learning outcomes need to be made explicit.
What did they learn?
Culturally responsive pedagogy: Culturally responsive pedagogy requires teachers to make conscious decisions, for example, about how to incorporate the local culture, tikanga, and environment in the context of the learning and how to make connections to whānau, hapū, and iwi.
Abbott, L. (2012). Two key components of the drama system known as ‘Mantle of the Expert’. Journal for Drama in Education, 28(1), 28.
Aitken, V., Fraser, D., & Price, G. (2007). Negotiating the spaces: Relational pedagogy and power in drama teaching. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 8(14),1–19.
Blank, A., Houkamau, C., & and King, H. (2016). Unconscious bias and education: A comparative study of Māori and African American students. Auckland: Oranui Diversity Leadership
Edmiston, B. (2005, April). Building social justice communities: using drama to make power more visible. Paper presented to Researching Theatre and Drama in Education International Conference, Exeter, England.
Edmiston, B. (2007). Mission to Mars: Using drama to make a more inclusive classroom for literacy learning. Language Arts 84(4), pp. 337–346.
Fraser, D., Aitken, V. & Whyte, B. (2013). Connecting curriculum, linking learning. NZCER Press: Wellington.
Heathcote, D., & Bolton, G. (1994). Drama for learning. Dorothy Heathcote’s Mantle of the Expert approach to education. Heineman: Portsmouth, NH.
Huxtable, C. (2009). Mantle of the Expert and the key competencies; an exciting and valuable partnership. (Dissertation) University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Jones, A. (2012). Dangerous liaisons: Pākehā, Kaupapa Māori, and educational research. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 47(2).
Lee, J. (2005). Māori cultural regeneration: Pūrākau as pedagogy. Presented to Centre for Research in Lifelong Learning International Conference, Stirling, Scotland, 2005.
Milne, A. (2009). Colouring in the White Spaces: Cultural Identity and Learning in School. ASB/APPA Travelling Fellowship, 2009.
Ministry of Education. (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum for English-medium teaching and learning in years 1–13. Wellington: Learning Media.
Ministry of Education. (2013). Ka Hikitia — accelerating success 2013–2017. Wellington, New Zealand: Learning Media.
Ministry of Education. (n.d.) Educationally powerful partnerships for Māori learners’ success. An inquiry and knowledge-building cycle. Retrieved from http://partnerships.ruia.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Inquiry-cycle
Tuhiwai-Smith, L. (2012). Getting the story right, telling the story well. Dunedin: University of Otago Press.
Twist, J. (2012). Purpose-based writing. SET 3, pp.75–77.
For further information
If you would like to learn more about this project, please contact the project leader, Renee Downey, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to find out more
Education Data Requests
If you have any questions about education data then please contact us at:
Email: Requests EDK
Phone: +64 4 463 8065