Updated: Apr 29, 2019
Auckland educators will know at least a little about Manaiakalani but for some of you, it may be an unknown. Here’s a link to explore and get a perspective on the what, why and how of Manaiakalani: http://www.manaiakalani.org/
Manaiakalani COL schools are situated in the Glen Innes-Pt England area of East Auckland where the largest social housing transformation in New Zealand is taking place. Move around the area and you’re likely to see stocks of remaining ‘old style’ state houses increasingly intermingled with newly built housing stock, some of which is social housing. ‘Pepper-pottering’ is the approach being taken here to develop a diverse community of integration, so that home owners and social housing dwellers are neighbours to shape this ‘best place’ community. Building and roading activities are everywhere and the orange cone company is smiling. There’s so much ‘new’ going on that as a local I’m not keeping up with happenings and so, there’s always a surprise around the corner.
Our community is described as per the census as ‘low socio-economic’, even though the word ‘gentrification’ is bandied about at times. Glen Innes-Pt England may well become ‘up and coming’ or already is, yet that shouldn’t blind another strong reality. Many, many families in Manaiakalani COL schools struggle financially, with the accompanying knock-on effects of this.
With the exception of one school in the COL where there is considerable ethnic diversity, most schools’ families are Pasifika and Maori. They follow the growing trend in Auckland where multi-ethnicities exist within a family – for example, a mix of Tongan, Cook Island Maori, Niuean and German influences. This diversity of language and cultures is enhancing and celebrated. Nonetheless, educational challenges abound, not least of which is the English language capabilities of learners who in most part are learning in and through English. English use in families is highly variable and context-dependent, where intermingling of Pasifika languages and sometimes Maori with English often occurs. Mix and mingling languages and cultural practices is overridingly the ‘norm’.
Although higher educational levels within the parenting group are increasing, the educational levels of the majority of caregiver groups in our community are overall low. This factor alone is hugely impacting on what’s on offer within families and their wider social settings. Offsetting this, is the richness of experiences and values Pasifika and Maori children and rangitahi live out day-to-day, hugely influential on how they are shaped culturally, linguistically and socially.
My role within this setting is as language expert to support educators and families in Manaiakalani COL schools. Supported by evidence gathered by the Woolf Fisher Foundation University of Auckland researchers, Aaron Wilson and Rebecca Jesson, there is consensus among Manaiakalani COL school Principals and senior leaders that languaging learning needs to be a major pedagogical lens and given high levels of intentionality.
Majorly, our quest is to provide quantities of quality texts – spoken and talk-accompanied written, to expand the expressive and meaning-making potential of our learners. Across ages and stages, this is a major focal point. It is a multi-faceted opportunity and challenge. There is no ‘one size’ fits all approach but what is important is that intentionality about providing and noticing text in meaningful contexts of learning, are continuously ‘on-stream’.
As with any Community of Learning, pedagogical preferences and strengths vary within and across schools. A common strong lens on languaging learning sits inside this variability. What is not to be lost sight of is all that has been so positively built up over the last decade or more in Manaiakalani COL, with Russell and Dorothy Burt at the helm of the waka. Languaging learning is a partnering ‘enabler’ with all else that has taken learners in Manaiakalani COL schools to learning ‘heights’ that may well have seemed ‘impossible’ 15 years ago.
Based on cross-school evidence measured formally or anecdotally, the English language gap of the majority of our learners is a critical factor affecting their learning pathways and achievements. Whether newer learners of English, or the third or fourth generation of Pasifika immigrants, the English language capabilities of our learners need to expand exponentially as they move through the Year levels of schooling. In some areas of language measurement, the gap between our learners and ‘national norm’ learners remains stubbornly wide. Closing that gap remains a major challenge, and sits alongside the increasing text complexity demand of curriculum contexts and topics as learners move up the Year levels. This reality sits front and centre for all involved as educators in Manaiakalani schools and our community at large, including our families as prime educators.
Research (e.g. Berman, 2004; Egalite, 2016), endorses the persistent nature of early years’ language gaps. This is not a fatalistic view of language disadvantage in the early months and years of a child’s life, but rather is an alert that those involved with young people whose language capabilities are constrained and misalign with the grammatical and vocabulary complexities of texts they need to manage, become ever more alert and effective in optimising the strong uptake potential of their learners. An important factor affecting that sometimes feels unpalatable socially and politically is that the poverty gap and educational achievement are strongly co-occurring. However, there is one overriding given – Manaiakalani learners have great brains and generally thirst to learn. They depend to a greater or lesser extent on opportunities being made available to them to meaningfully engage in quantities of quality texts.
In the next post, I will share further on some example initiatives occurring in Manaiakalani schools. With all teachers engaging in pedagogical enquiries, and PLG teachers and leaders directing their lenses strongly on languaging learning, there is a mindful pursuit to narrow and close learning ‘gaps’ by being intentional about language that carries learning.