tangata whenuatanga – placed-based education

Place-based education is, literally, beginning where students are at and adapting the curriculum to reflect and respond to their local environment in meaningful and relevant ways. Sobel (2004) describes place-based education as a process of engaging students in authentic learning contexts with their natural and social-cultural surroundings.

Developing an understanding of place-based education, and a pedagogical approach which supports it, requires teachers bring down the walls of the classroom, which are metaphorical and physical barriers to exploring the local community and the world beyond. Schools have traditionally been places of learning about canons of knowledge which have little relevance to the places students come from, play in and explore in their out of school time unless explicit links are made.

The doubt and uncertainty teachers can feel as they begin dabbling in place-based education is described by Foran & Olson (2008) who assert that assumptions about teaching, learning and classrooms can cause teachers to doubt the place-based process. Classrooms are the places were knowledge and skills are taught and learnt, and it can be difficult to disrupt the assertion that learning is somehow synonymous with the building in which it has traditionally occurred.

Foran and Olsen (2008) go on to describe situations in which place-based learning have been subverted by the assumption that abstract classroom based learning has more validity and authority than a student’s experiences. Penetito (2009) describes how this subversion was reflected in the dialogue Māori students, like himself, had with their parents, indicating that the, largely Pākehā-centric, school-learned knowledge was somehow more accurate and truthful than the views of the adults in the community and their histories.

Traditional education has trained students to separate themselves from the environment and communities in which they live, in order to view standardised learning content objectively and develop abstract thinking abilities. This disconnection has been experienced significantly by Māori students, and has been identified as a cause of academic underachievement. It has also been a focus of interest for scholars and iwi who seek to address this trend. Prioritising the establishment of culturally responsive learning environments where Māori students can engage in supportive relationships and authentic contexts is identified as a leading factor in rectifying Māori student disconnection in education  (MacFarlane, Glynn, Cavanagh, & Bateman, 2007).

Place-based education affirms student identity by providing the context where they develop understanding of themselves as an active citizen in connection with community, engage with concerns and customs of their community culture, and make connections to the history and ecology of their unique locality. Tātaiako describes the tangata whenuatanga competency, required by trained teachers, as the ability to affirm “Māori learners as Māori [by] providing contexts for learning where the language, identity and culture of Māori learners and their whānau is affirmed” (Ministry of Education, 2011, p. 4) and identifies place-based learning as an effective way of providing those contexts.

When stating the relevance of place-based learning Penetito (2009) refers to the tangata whenua relationships of ancestral connection, roles and responsibilities and the spatial metaphors adopted to illustrate how these concepts relate to the environment. Penetito’s statement that Maori practices of pepeha, ‘who am I, where am I and what is the nature of this place’, illustrate place-based ways of knowing is confirmed by the sentiments of Zucker (cited in Sobel, 2004) when he suggests the place-based process enables student to ask ‘where am I, what is the nature of this place’ and position themselves within the cultural and natural stories of that place.

Place-based education has clearly been identified as a culturally responsive pedagogy.

"Taupo carvings" CC image courtesy of Steve Gilham on Flickr

“Taupo carvings” CC image courtesy of Steve Gilham on Flickr

Foran, A., & Olson, M. (2008). Seeking pedagogical places. Phenomenology & Practice, Volume 2, No. 1, 24 – 48.

MacFarlane, A., Glynn, T., Cavanagh, T., & Bateman, S. (2007). Creating culturally-safe schools for Maori students. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education Vol. 36, 65-76.

Ministry of Education. (2011). Tātaiako: Cultural Competencies for Teachers of Māori Learners. Wellington, NZ: Crown.

Penetito, W. (2009). Place- based education: Catering for curriculum, culture and community. New Zealand Annual Review of Education, 18, 5-29.

Sobel, D. (2004). Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms & Communities. Great Barrington, MA: The Orion Society.


Mahi māra – to garden

Again and again in the classroom, my mind returns to gardening; not only because my own plot, so carefully tended last spring, is looking unkempt; but because it is becoming my metaphor for teaching. I have always thought of learning as a journey, but this is changing with everyday spent in the classroom I share with 24 amazing little people.

Initially, the gardening metaphor was applied to developing routines; I was referring to the constant restatement and reinforcement of the rules as ‘weed-picking’. “Got to get those weeds cleared before this garden can flourish”, I would cheerfully announce to other staff.

Then came goal setting and the new metaphor of growing towards the light. “We need a bright goal to strive for, something to guide us… Shine brightest on that which we want to grow…”. Which was of course quickly followed by praise being the water (of course), nourishing and nurturing these budding brain-fruits (do I sound like a loony yet?)

Then, today, I discovered an amazing brain-as-garden concept, used by an expert, which is based on research and facts!

Nathan Mikaere-Wallace has seeded the idea (see what I did there?) that
If the brain is a garden… then endorphins, released by singing, laughing and movement, are brain fertilizer; and that cortisol, released by stress, anger and fear, is weed-killer. 

In short, interactive FUN helps children’s brains to grow; and negativity is killing their brains! Negativity can be sparked by even innocuous comments (think of a parent asking the age-old question “And just what do you think you’re doing… insert first, middle and surnames here” in the most bowel-freezing tone possible – even a sudden “Don’t!” switches off the endorphin taps and turns the cortisol on full).

If my students are unsure of what is happening next, find the learning frustrating, or are always feeling that they (or anyone) are about to receive a bowel-freezing dose of negative attention; then they surely aren’t growing their brains / experiencing quality learning.

My goal for next week is to make sure I see every one of my little charges sing, laugh, and dance around each day to get those brain-fruits fertilising.


Cauliflower grown by author

Hātepe – proceed in an orderly manner

Four years of hard slog at University has paid off – a wonderful and supportive school just outside of Christchurch offered me the opportunity I’d been dreaming of and I am officially a teacher.

The first task I set myself was to write the mother of all to-do lists. There must have been at least 50 tasks on it – from ‘get a code for the photocopier’, right through to ‘arrange furniture’, and ‘organise reading groups’ (yep, I really wrote that – before I had even seen my class list). I am a list maker – I have lists for everything and anything.

The night before school began there was not a nervous twitch to be found – I had organised my students first week with military precision. The next day, it rained. Of course, rainy day activities were not on the list *sigh*

Lessons from week 1:

  • When working in a room with 24 other people (who are under the age of 8) things can often get away from the plan.
  • Students don’t want a perfectly planned programme anyway – they want to know their teacher is a human being who is interested in them and cares about what is happening in their lives.
  • Knowing how to set-up routines and expectations is far more important than making reading groups – reading groups aren’t going to work if the students don’t know what to do when they’re not reading!

Most importantly, try to enjoy every moment – planned and unplanned. That first week went so fast that I have only just had time to sit back and reflect on it, two weeks later.

“When you study great teachers... you will learn much more from their caring and hard work than from their style.” ― William Glasser

“When you study great teachers… you will learn much more from their caring and hard work than from their style.”
― William Glasser






Whakaaroaro rua – reflection II

What will the constructive learning community look like in the 21st Century?

4 teacher actions & 4 constructive community characteristics

The four key teacher actions will be enhanced by ICT tools:

1. Developing reflective attitudes in their students – through learning about and using editable spaces where participants can observe others learning processes and learn about and appreciate diverse ways of problem solving and developing ideas, for example Google Docs and wikis

2. Explicit teaching of metacognitive language, skills and processes – through learning about and using ICT tools which can become creative and constructive learning artefacts such as Prezi and blogs

3. Making space for reflection in the classroom – sharing knowledge digitally, through text, images, audio and video creates a dynamic repository of ideas that can be reflected upon and becomes a record of learning

4. Using and encouraging a responsive interaction style – digital communication and collaborative interaction which can be stored, shared, published and is not the property of one individual but becomes the artefact of all

Can you see how using ICT tools can support students’ exploration of diverse ways of thinking?
… And support students striving for a shared objective – one that advances each members knowledge and skill?
… And maintains an emphasis of learning about learning by making learning visible?
… And provides methods and motives for sharing what is learned?
When ICT is aligned with the characteristics of a constructive community of learners, we have effective e-learning.

When a constructive learning community has mastered learning-oriented patterns of practice necessary for working together as partners in learning, the next step may be to take their skills and apply them to a wider field. Creating connections with other communities is a way to develop student’s authentic participation and socially responsible citizenship.

When students begin exploring beyond the classroom there are a variety of platforms available for different purposes – depending on whether students are primarily producing and publishing still image, audio, written or video content; and how they intend to communicate and collaborate with their cyber-peers. As the teacher you will need to consider the most appropriate platform and then explicitly teach the language, skills and processes involved. The eLearning Action Plan for Schools 2006 – 2010 (MoE, 2006) States that, “…it is the teacher’s strategic and deliberate planning of the learning and use of ICT that will ensure the desired learning takes place…”(p.10).

There are many experienced teaching practitioners available to guide teachers – many using the same information and communication mediums that students can benefit from. So here is an ideal opportunity for the teacher to learn alongside their students. In fact, the eLearning Action Plan for Schools states that “Effective teaching for all students will depend on teachers becoming confident and capable users of ICT and understanding how to integrate ICT effectively into the classrooms in order to achieve the desired learning outcomes for students” (MoE, 2006, p. 10). One of the easiest ways for teachers to learn about ICT integration is to seek out what other teachers are doing and many ICT savvy teachers are sharing their experiences through professional and class blogs.

Why “promote a collaborative, inclusive and supportive learning environment”, that “provides opportunities and support [students] to engage with, practise and apply new learning to different contexts” and “assists [students] to think critically about information and ideas and to reflect on their learning”?

Well, for a start, doing those things covers a couple of the Registered Teacher Criteria for New Zealand teachers, it also covers many of the characteristics for quality teaching of diverse learners described by Alton-Lee in the Best Evidence Synthesis as well as fulfils the vision written for students in the New Zealand Curriculum statement. The Ministry of Education also defines best practice for e-learning as “using technologies effectively across the curriculum to connect schools and communities and to provide accessible, relevant, and high-quality learning…opportunities that improve student engagement and achievement.”

Creating Constructive Communities embraces modern teaching practices and tools for learning to support our youngest citizens as they become confident, connected, actively involved life-long learners.

Whakaaroaro tahi – reflection I

It has been a lengthy blog hiatus. At one stage I thought I might never get back on the wagon – that the momentum would continue to propel my forward trajectory into learning and teaching. After nearly four years of tertiary training though, I have learned a thing or two about the importance of taking a time-out, resting, regenerating and reflecting on the journey…

So … let’s reminisce with the first in a series of reflection highlights:
Here is my theoretical basis of teaching, which I call
“Creating Constructive Communities”.
I hope there are some points of interest for teachers and learners…

What is a constructive community and how do they work?

Classrooms are considered the training ground for young people destined to take their place in society as responsible citizens. The rules and responsibilities students are exposed to and engaged in socialise them into patterns of practice. This belief is founded on the socio-cultural theory of  Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) – who asserted that children acquired the knowledge, skills and attitudes of their community through social interaction.

Constructivist learning theorists, such as Jean Piaget, John Dewey and Maria Montessori, assert that children construct knowledge and develop understanding of the world around them through experience, and believe that students should be encouraged to reflect on their own learning and thinking, rather than being taught to recall facts or mimic processes without deeper understanding.

Together, these two theories create a new approach to education, social-constructivist learning communities – classrooms where rules and responsibilities are learning-oriented, teachers and students work together as partners in learning, and patterns of practice are based on democratic ideals to prepare students for active citizenship. In these learning communities children actively participate in constructive learning experiences at their particular level of readiness and are encouraged to take responsibility for their learning and develop reflective thinking skills.

The characteristics of a constructive learning community are,
according to Bielaczyc and Collins :
1. recognition of the diversity of each member of the learning community
2. a shared objective – that of continually advancing each members knowledge and skills
3. an emphasis on learning about learning
4. methods and motives for sharing what is learned

In the learning community, the patterns of practice are modelled and supported by every member, as they work together towards their learning objectives. Teaching of the language, skills and processes required for full-participation and critical reflection is explicit. Time for discussion about the learning objective and the learning process is provided, so students can share their thinking with others, learn from others ideas, and develop understanding about their learning and about the learning of others.

The role of the teacher

The role of the teacher in the constructive community is to model and guide student development of pro-social behaviour and constructive classroom conduct; as well as facilitating engaging learning projects, challenges, and scenarios for students to explore. Teachers are guided by their one core teaching and learning responsibility – to support learning. Teachers do this by respecting the agency of the learner, demonstrating respect, ensuring clarity about what is being learned, and maintain responsive reciprocal relationships with each student, work group and wider school team.

4 key teacher actions underpin the successful adoption of the four community characteristics:

4 teacher actions & 4 constructive community characteristics

1. Developing reflective attitudes in their students – this is done by encouraging students to be open-minded to new ideas and the ideas of others, to take responsibility for their learning, and to take risks in order to learn from mistakes.

2. Explicit teaching of metacognitive language, skills and processes – this empowers students to take control of their learning and thinking and allows them to articulate their ideas in order to share them with others and engage in meaningful explanations and dialogues.

3. Making space for reflection in the classroom – providing time for students to think critically and reflectively about their knowledge, skills and attitudes. These reflections are also informative windows into the student learning process that is valuable for teacher understanding of student progress.

4. Using and encouraging a responsive interaction style – this is done by demonstrating commitment and respect for the learning relationships in the community, and by acknowledging and encouraging the learning that is occurring, as well as recognising and affirming student contributions to the development of the community.

The role of the student

The role of the student in the constructive community is to be an active participant in learning, taking responsibility for their learning, collaborating with others and maintaining respectful and responsive relationships with other members of the learning community, both teachers and students. The constructive community model is an environment in which students can develop the patterns of practice required to become a socially responsible citizen.

These learning-focused relationships are reciprocal and are infused with the concept of ako – or the acknowledgment that knowledge is: developed by incorporating each student’s unique strengths and prior knowledge; strengthened by shared experience; and that teacher and student interaction is a constructive force for both participants.

Coming in my next blog post…
What a constructive learning community could look like in the 21st Century and why digital collaboration is the new best practice…

Whakatika – preparation

It’s hard to believe that after four years of study that I will still be in training for another two! Every teaching graduate in New Zealand must undergo a provisional period, where they receive advice and guidance from an experienced mentor teacher, before they can become a fully registered teacher.

After drafting my philosophy (phew, that took a while too) I began planning out my pathway for getting from provisionally-registered to fully-registered. This means I have to think about what happens after graduation (still seems so far away) and what happens next… And then I remembered my advice to online learners – to use every (non-assessment) opportunity to experiment.

So, here is my Photoshop experiment for mapping out my pathway to teaching success!

Template by brad frost web
Text by me!

Feedback and/or comments on the content or the tool (Photoshop) most welcome!

Pānekeneke – vulnerability

Over the past month I have been doing a lot of deep thinking, about my developing teaching philosophy, traits of good educators, and the nature of knowledge and certainty. A few keys words kept coming up for me – ‘connection’ in particular and ‘authenticity’ – two key elements (I think) vital to successful learning communities. With that, and my hectic schedule, in mind – I share this with you. Enjoy.

“Brené Brown studies human connection — our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk at TEDxHouston, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity.”