14 May 2018


by Patricia Grace

The grandmother plaited her granddaughter’s hair and then said, ‘Get your lunch. Put it in your bag. Get your apple. You come straight back after school, straight home here. Listen to the teacher, she said. ‘Do what she say.’

Her grandfather was out on the step. He walked down the path with her and out on to the footpath. He said to a new neighbour, ‘Our granddaughter goes to school. She lives with us now.’

‘She’s fine,’ the neighbour said. ‘She’s terrific with her two plaits in her hair.’

‘And clever,’ the grandfather said. ‘Writes every day in her book.’

‘She’s fine,’ the neighbour said.

The grandfather waited with his granddaughter by the crossing and then he said, ‘Go to school. Listen to the teacher. Do what she say.’

When the granddaughter came home from school her grandfather was hoeing around the cabbages. Her grandmother was picking beans. They stopped their work.

‘You bring your book home?’ the grandmother asked.


‘You write your story?’


‘What’s your story?’

‘About the butterflies.’

‘Get your book, then. Read your story.’

The granddaughter took her book from her schoolbag and opened it.

‘I killed all the butterflies,’ she read. ‘This is me and this is all the butterflies.’

‘And your teacher like your story, did she?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘What your teacher say?’

‘She said butterflies are beautiful creatures. They hatch out and fly in the sun. The butterflies visit all the pretty flowers, she said. They lay their eggs and then they die. You don’t kill butterflies, that’s what she said.’

The grandmother and grandfather were quiet for a long time, and their granddaughter, holding the book, stood quite still in the warm garden.

‘Because you see,’ the grandfather said, ‘your teacher, she buy all her cabbages from the supermarket and that’s why.’

Rākau or ngākau


"Do [our] values stem from the rākau (in the context of this piece, rākau is abbreviated from pene rākau, or pencil) – where they are penned merely to tick the ‘culturally-responsive to Māori’ box – or do they emanate from the ngākau (from the heart) – where they are authentically experienced in all aspects of school life by learners, teachers, school leaders, and whānau?" 

Excerpt from From the rākau to the ngākau: Exploring authentic approaches to leadership, policy, and pedagogy.

I am in the process of writing individual plans/Toi Whenua for the Māori children in my class. So, I've been reflecting deeply on the best way to do this to ensure that it is authentic and useful to my akōnga and whānau. 

I reflected on the work of Anne Milne at Kia Aroha College (I listened to her almost 10 years ago) talk about her research at a conference I organised for early childhood teachers in Auckland. You can see her video below, and her research "Colouring in the White Spaces" here. She encourages us to 'interrogate' our practice, to look at our school, our interactions, our words and our behaviours and 'step up' for our tamariki. She asks "How might you work and engage with our Maori learners so that they might "enjoy educational success as Maori?"

After living overseas for so long, I am excited about reigniting this kaupapa and making an impact on the learners in my class. While I have some work to do, I am confident that the hard work will pay off. I have no doubt that this work stems from the ngākau (especially being a young Maori student myself struggling with my own identity).

Spiral of Inquiry - Developing a hunch around Phonemic Awareness

Developing a hunch
How are we contributing to the situation? "Hunch" is an important word – hunches may not be totally accurate, but it is essential to get them all on the table because they guide the focusing. Sometimes they might be well-established routines of the school or the classroom, and be relevant to your own school. Hunches need testing.

Overarching inquiry
What strategies are most effective when supporting WRS learners with reading?" 

Sub-question Two:
Will regular phonemic awareness sessions improve students letter/sound identification? 
In your book, you wade into the reading wars and argue that the debate over phonics vs. whole language is largely to blame for the poor reading skills of American students. But you say it's not a question of "either/or." Kids need to be exposed to great books and rich literature and they need to know the symbols and sounds of letters. Where are we on that front? from The Gap Between The Science On Kids And Reading, And How It Is Taught
Over the years I have mostly sat in the 'whole language' camp for literacy learning. It wasn't till I completed a paper with Massey University entitled "Foundations to Literacy" where I explored Louise Moats' resources on phonological awareness where I truly looked into the impact this might have on children's learning.

This article written by Louisa has a host of reasons why phonemic awareness is important for reading, this quote "Instruction in speech-sound awareness reduces and alleviates reading and spelling difficulties (Adams, Foorman, Lundberg, & Beeler, 1998; Gillon, 2004; NICHD, 2000; Rath, 2001). Teaching speech sounds explicitly and directly also accelerates learning of the alphabetic code. Therefore, classroom instruction for beginning readers should include phoneme awareness activities" suggests that including these types of learning engagements/systematically in daily routines will help children with reading and decrease the likelihood of later reading difficulties.

So what might this look like in practice?
From the very first day of school, I have implemented a range of 'alphabet/phonics' work in our daily routines, including phonics songs, alphabet card games and sound bingo. Most recently we have started to use Yolanda Soryl phonics resources to support children with their letter/sound correspondence.

Alphabet Card game
Invite children to sit with their alphabet card and ask questions like "Can you find the S sound?" or "The first one to find a K" etc. 

Sound Bingo Game
Encourage children to listen to the sounds and identify them, first one to fill their card with counters wins.!

My hunch: 
My hunch is that daily work on letters and sounds will help children become more conversant in recognising letters/words. However, this will complement the vast range of stories and literature in the classroom. In contrast to my previous thinking on Guided Reading groups, I would also like to look at 'flexible' learning groups as a way of supporting all of our learners. I hope for the work of Professor Christine Rubie-Davies’ High Teacher Expectation Project to inform me in my thinking around this.

07 May 2018

A change of direction in my inquiry..

I recently wrote about my hunch around Guided reading in my class and the impact this might have on the learning progress of my students. I've attended a couple of webinars about Guided Reading - one with Fountas & Pinnell here and one I wrote about here with Create-Abilities and I am slowly becoming more familiar with this as a teaching strategy. 

I have my station all set up with my Reading Progress booklets, my highlighters, my guided reading templates reference sheet and my levelled books and my super keen students who love the idea of taking books home. 

AND THEN...I saw this...and as any overworked, time deficient teacher does - I read through the comments, and read and read and read... 

I have to admit, I have lived in the 'whole language' camp for many years and have recently realised (after studying) that children actually require a balanced approach an either/or approach just won't cut it anymore. Unfortunately, this seems to be a political football in NZ, and the whole vs phonics approach has left teachers feeling disillusioned and confused. 

This article got me thinking about phonics, phonemic awareness and letter identification (which is an assessment used in the Observation Survey by Marie Clay/Reading Recovery work). Some of my children are reading, but the comments section of this post got me thinking. Are my learners guessing or reading? In my class, we have a lot to work on with regard to Letter Identification. For those of you who haven't seen this assessment (see below), to administer this assessment you ask the learner to read the letters on a line and then you gradually go down as they read across, obviously, the letters are not in alphabetical order rather they are jumbled. There are a total of 54 symbols and children are given a point if they can name the word, give the sound or give it in a word.  

The comments and related articles suggest that it is much more important for children to 'decode' texts. That is, understand letter sounds associations. So, with this in mind, it looks like my second inquiry might take on a new direction. My new sub-question will be:

Overarching inquiry
What strategies are most effective when supporting WRS learners with reading?" 

Sub-question Two:
Will regular phonemic awareness sessions improve students letter/sound identification?