Ka whakarērea te puha, ka whai te matariki.

The inferior reeds are thrown away, the superior ones are sought after

When one hears the term ‘deficit theorising’ one immediately thinks of students not being given an equal opportunity due to a perceived lack of academic ability.  Over the initial stages of this TLRI project, I too doubted my own ability to be in this project as I thought I was out of my depth.

There was too much to consider when I looked at the research process my students have to undertake.  It’s not that the process wasn’t there before, but it has been broken down into all the separate components, which forced me to actually introduce them to the students moving through it.  Each part of the process has a full skill set that my students need to experience and it looked way too much, and at times very overwhelming. However, this year as the project has intensified, I have immersed myself in it, and the gains for my students and I have been like night and day.  By unpacking all the different parts and understanding the complexities, my students are now more focused and they have a clearer direction about how to get to the end.

The problem of doing a research standard with a year 11-13 class in the Māori Performing Arts (MPA) domain, is that there is a lack of recent books for the students to be able to practice making decisions around information sufficiency and usefulness.  However, there is an increasing number of academic papers and articles available requiring new skills for my students to learn –  unpacking the academic language used in this literature for example.  A second ‘problem’ with MPA research standards was the traditional practice of using oral communication as a reliable source of information. Many Māori histories and stories were, and continue to be, orally transmitted as unwritten information or knowledge stored away on a shelf in someone’s mind. Accordingly, this practice gave weight and ‘mana’ to those who had orally handed down specific information.

In this new area of MPA and information literacy skills, it has been exciting for me to see students learning to take notes from readings and using in-text referencing and citations.  The biggest gains have been in the areas of locating and reading academic articles, while the challenges for them have revolved around using formal and informal writing styles to report what they have researched.  The same standard from last year is being moderated this year, so I am particularly interested in seeing what the moderation feedback says, because this year I have awarded students the highest grades in the last 10 years I have taught this subject.

As we move into a field in which subject specific literature will only grow in terms of the availability and access, the real challenge for my students will be to balance knowledge passed on by kaumatua with knowledge that has been rigorously dissected and even challenged in the literature.  However, this skill lies at the core of the Whanganui Iwi Education Plan where it boldly stated in 1993 that the iwi wanted the rangatahi to know about themselves, be able to articulate a critically formed response to the question of ‘To whom do you belong?’, and then move out to be citizens of the world secure in their knowledge, where they came from, and how they learned it.  Our Māori Performing Arts students are now learning to operate with two sets of knowledge, a ‘prehistory’ passed down through the oral pathway, and academic papers that the information literacy skills project helps them unlock.

2019 will see some students return and continue with their research at Level 2. We will also welcome new students into the programme, who will learn to discover and unpack information literacy research skills, important writing processes, and how to reference and note making. Hopefully we will instill this extensive learning so that these students can confidently explore where a Māori Performing Arts pathway can lead them.

Personally, in the past the level of skills and knowledge gained in the subject of Māori Performing Arts has been a matter of answering a closed question without the need to reference where that information came from. The early assessments were very basic and therefore the responses to assessment questions were unchallenging and unstimulating. So students were not concerned with the information gathered as MPA was merely a subject students chose to gain quick, easy credits.

Since then, the standard itself has expanded whereby students have the opportunity to gain a merit or excellence, but there are still no clear exemplars available via the NZQA website for the learner, or more importantly the teacher, to have as a benchmark to assess learning.

From my work as a student of Awanuiārangi studying for 3 years, I have used my own assignments, notes, references and more importantly experiences, as resource material and as a benchmark, so students’ work can exceed the expectations outlined by NZQA. As a result, their standard of writing emerging from this robust and clear framework of research and information literacy skills, is in my opinion the highest in the country. This is yet to be confirmed through moderation this year. However, compared with the past 10 years of teaching this subject, this TLRI project has advanced the level of work completed by our students, who have attained the highest grades I have ever awarded! The quality of the material students are working with, and their writing, research, reading, referencing, in-text citation, critical thinking, and their ability to integrate orally communicated information are at the highest levels, and in my opinion, just a notch below Wānanga submissions. There is a clear career pathway in this subject, and if students were to choose to continue this study after college, they are more than equipped to handle academic research and writing at that level.

Nāku iti nei

Sonata Karena-Saavedra

Head of Māori, Whanganui City College.


For our friends outside of Aotearoa…

Mana: power, authority, influence

Kaumatua: elders

Iwi: tribe

Rangatahi: young people

Awanuiārangi: a university specialising in Māori programmes

Wānanga: university, higher education