Te Kotahitanga – raising achievement for Maori students in secondary schools (Russell Bishop)

The ‘long tail’ of underachievement of Maori students in a generally well performing education system in NZ, compared to other OECD countries, is widely recognised and significant problem.

This interview with Russell Bishop explains the progress of the Te Kotahitanga project which aims to tackle this problem.

Project starting point
A series of interviews with teachers, students, and parents to identify the views of the key stakeholders taking a no-blame starting point to try and find out exactly what the problem was and how it might be tackled.

In brief, the interviews found out that teachers recognised that there was a significant problem, but felt unsupported in finding a way to address it. Students on the other hand, articulated a dissatisfaction in the way they were being taught preferring approaches that enabled interaction with teachers in small groups or 1:1 with an increased amount of commentary and feedback about their academic progress. They were also keen that prior knowledge gained outside of school should be valued in the classroom.

Intervention developed
The outcome of this initial phase of research was a professional development programme with three major parts:
1. Induction Hui (meeting)
2. Intensive term by term support observation and feedback
3. Out of class developing teaching directions and identifying student outcomes

Focus of PD is to support teachers changing practice so that they:
1. Demonstrate on a daily basis that they care for Maori students as individuals
2. Demonstrate on a daily basis that they have high expectations for Maori students
3. Demonstrate on a daily basis that teachers are well prepared, organised, and knowledgeable
4. Change the way of interacting with students including much more feedback, feed-forward and co-construction of curriculum – negotiation
5. Increase the range of teaching strategies
6. Use student outcomes to inform practice including formative and summative feedback

Any teachers reading this will probably be of the view ‘tell me something new’ as the strategies identified will be very familiar with the Vygotskian / social constructivist flavour – interaction, discourse, negotiation of meaning…

It is, arguably, self-evident that after investing a significant resource into teacher professional development an improvement in student outcomes should be expected. The headline figures given by Russell include:
– numeracy achievement was 50% better compared to a non-intervention control group
– literacy progress for both Maori and non-Maori was significant, especially the lower achievers

As with any other educational initiative, a difficult challenge will be the ‘massification’ or national rollout which will require significant and ongoing funding and this like many other worthy projects will need to fight for its share of the cake.

Congratulations to all addressing this problem as it is clearly an important task and making a difference is always hard work!

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