Ākonga build a love of learning through tuakana-teina

Issue: Volume 101, Number 4

Posted: 6 April 2022
Reference #: 1HATZa

The introduction of tuakana-teina classrooms is transforming learning experiences for tamariki at Fruitvale School in West Auckland.

Technology is a big focus at Fruitvale School.

Technology is a big focus at Fruitvale School.

Tuakana-teina is a concept from te ao Māori and refers to the relationship between an older (tuakana) person and a younger (teina) person. Within teaching and learning contexts, this can take a variety of forms such as peer to peer, younger to older, older to younger, or able/expert to less able/expert.

Like many schools, Fruitvale has a diverse range of learners, including those who experience anxiety, find it hard to settle, or need more support with disruption and trauma.

To address this, the leadership team analysed data across the school and extended a tuakana-teina approach already in use in the technology classroom.

Technology teacher Shobek Singh led the change.

“I use a lot of technology and integrated that learning into reading, writing, mathematics and other areas of the curriculum, which showed a lot of progress for students,” he says.

Through conversations with the principal, Shobek says they strategised ways that all curriculum subjects could be taught in the first teaching block of the day, while utilising the second and third blocks of the day to take the tuakana to other classrooms and share their knowledge on digital fluency and literacy with the teina.

Programme success

After a couple of years, Shobek noticed that colleague Erin France’s junior classes were highly engaged and asking for more tuakana-teina.

Shobek and Erin joined forces and led the school’s first tuakana-teina MLE in 2021 with tamariki sharing all learning time in literacy, maths, inquiry, and technology, as well as choosing to spend play times together. Progress was impressive, especially in the context of extreme disruption caused by lengthy lockdowns in Auckland.

“We’ve noticed a real increase in the juniors’ oral language skills as they’re getting vocabulary that they were not getting before. They’re also able to engage in the same learning that Year 5 and 6 ākonga are,” says Erin.

After presenting to the Board where the data clearly showed the growth in learning, the school decided to extend the tuakana-teina model to a second MLE this year, meaning 90 of the 420 students are in full-time
junior-senior classrooms.

Culture of wellbeing

“We have noticed that the older students look after and foster the wellbeing of the younger ones,” says Erin.

“If someone falls over, they’ll come to ask for a plaster, and look after each other until they have tackled the issue. There’s a real culture of care both for each other and for their environment.”

Shobek adds, “We also notice that when there’s an incident at lunchtime, the teina will automatically look for a tuakana from their class instead of asking a teacher for help.”

He has also observed leadership skills growing amongst the senior students.

“I have the luxury of taking my tuakana into a teina environment to lead, while fostering and nurturing the teina at their own pace and being a positive behavioural role model.

“The tuakana realise ‘If I act up, my buddy who is sitting next to me might act up too.’ We haven’t asked them to sit together, they have just taken it upon themselves to do that,” says Shobek.

“It’s quite funny how they manage each other’s behaviour,” adds Erin. “If one of the teina isn’t sitting properly, their tuakana will say, ‘You need to sit properly, it’s time to listen now’.”

The tamariki themselves are vociferous in their preference for the whānau class.

“Even when their parents are wanting to keep them home to be safe during the pandemic, they want to come and spend time learning. They don’t want to take a day off, they don’t want to miss out, they want to be part of their school whānau,” says Shobek.

Conversations with parents have changed, too.

“They used to ask, ‘Is my child going to be left behind because he is a senior and he’s working with juniors?’ But by the end of the year, we had multiple phone calls and emails from parents asking if their child could be in the tuakana-teina room.”

Tuakana like to stay with teina even during break times.

Tuakana like to stay with teina even during break times.

Creative thinking

For Shobek and Erin, the mahi is both challenging and rewarding, and requires a lot of creative thinking.

“We were running a virtual reality lesson and the teina were not joining in, they were silent,” says Erin.

“We asked ourselves how to encourage them and provide them with an opportunity to have a voice. We talked about the fact that creativity can decline as you get older, that young students can have more creativity than older students.

“We really sold it to those five and six-year-olds and we now hear their voices emerging, particularly during STEM activities.”

Science, technology and creativity are a big focus at Fruitvale. Robotics, coding, 3D printing, virtual and augmented reality and laser-cutters are all on offer, and the school has its own radio station and web group.

A typical presentation by ākonga will include use of virtual and augmented reality, PlayStation, and robots. Shobek’s tuakana regularly lead technology lessons throughout the school with robots, drones and much more. This provides an opportunity for both tuakana and teina to grow their strengths and skills in the digital technologies curriculum content.

“A teacher may come and ask for ideas to help and change their mindset towards writing, and we’ll plan together based on students’ strengths.

“The other day, the tuakana used Spheros in a teina classroom. The tamariki used Lego and chairs to create a maze to drive the Spheros through, which became a writing provocation that links to the key focuses at Fruitvale. The tuakana used scientific vocabulary with the teina, so the teacher could promote learning the next day, with the unpacking of the new language and concepts.

“If we go to a senior classroom, it’s the same but more complex. We decorated the Spheros to create different modes of transport and raced to see which one was the fastest. We looked at how speed was another scientific concept affected by the weight of the load being carried.”

In another lesson, tamariki used PlayStation, Lego, robots and VR to create a marae and learn about
Te Tiriti o Waitangi. They created a scene of what William Hobson might have seen when he arrived, and what Māori saw when Hobson arrived.

“We asked, ‘How do you introduce yourself if you’re Māori and you do not speak English and you want to introduce yourself to someone who only understands English?’ They created pepeha and a waka and used pictures to decorate them.

“Everything is linked. Reading, writing and mathematics are not separate, they are integrated, and we show the tuakana and the teina that you can enjoy and interact creatively while learning.”

Shobek says the Fruitvale kaiako focus on ensuring that every student can demonstrate 21st Century skills (creativity, critical-thinking, communication and collaboration) and the school values (respect, responsibility, risk-taking, reflection and resilience).

“We want to be a pioneer of education in New Zealand and have more of these tuakana-teina classrooms.” 

Kaiako have observed that the senior children have developed excellent leadership skills.

Kaiako have observed that the senior children have developed excellent leadership skills.

Ākonga and whānau feedback

When we first started doing Spheros we got to choose our buddy. We decided to go with Alicia because she has kindness, trust, and curiosity. Alicia gave us the instructions and she gave us a turn first before she did. What I enjoyed about my older buddy is that she was very creative with the obstacles course that we made, and we had so much fun with Alicia. I learnt a lot of things about Spheros. 
Naleiya, Year 4

I learned a lot about the international space station through VR. My buddies were Naleiya and Alicia. Naleiya was number 1, I was  number 2 and Alicia was number 3. I had fun at the VR because I got to learn about the international space station.
Tatyana, Year 3

I have noticed some growth. The work Aimee puts into preparing for her debates, and the eagerness to do them is not something I would have thought possible given her shyness. It is effortless to manage her learning at home. With Aimee’s engagement with the work, the only problem we have is getting her to stop and have breaks.
Mark, Aimee’s father, Year 6

Omna seems to have made some deep connections with some of the older children, bonding over similar interests. He comes home wanting to talk more about what he did, who he hung out with and what he learned.
Kreepa, Omna’s mother, Year 1

I often see older children say very genuine ‘hellos’ to Indigo, and I’m really happy to see this. It seems like there is a genuine mutual respect between the younger children and the older children, and this makes me feel like it would strengthen his sense of belonging at the school. I feel like this kind of mutual respect would help younger children to feel ‘protected’ or ‘supported’. Luke, Indigo’s father, Year 1

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 11:40 AM, 6 April 2022

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