Histories curriculum: Building a deeper understanding

Issue: Volume 100, Number 3

Posted: 17 March 2021
Reference #: 1HAHxo

The Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum content will provide schools and kura with the opportunity to use local stories that resonate with students and explore key ideas and themes such as the impact of colonisation and mana motuhake.

Education Gazette spoke to three of the writers of the draft curriculum content about how it will look in schools and kura throughout Aotearoa. 

There were two writing groups charged with updating histories content in the national curriculum and they included Māori and Pākehā historians and secondary and primary school educators for schools and kura.

“Everybody brought something to the process with their knowledge and experience. We just worked together really well in terms of listening and debating the issues that were raised,” says Michele Whiting, a retired principal with decades of experience as an educator in primary schools using The New Zealand Curriculum.

Bronwyn Houliston is head of social sciences at St Mary’s College in Ponsonby and was thrilled to be asked to be part of the reference group. She graduated with a PhD in 2020 that looked at Pacific students and how they engage with history. 

“The fact you can explore those big ideas and national contexts through your local and rohe contexts means that the school has the opportunity to create a really rich curriculum that respects the needs and interests of these students, as well as taking those local issues and extrapolating them out into wider issues at a national level,” she says. 

“I think it’s going to provide the opportunity to do some really cool history in the classroom.” 

Anahera McGregor worked on the Māori medium curriculum content with Hēmi Dale, who features in Issue 2 of Education Gazette(external link)

“We’re at a point in history now where it’s important that other perspectives are truly heard and I think that is one of the really powerful things about this – especially for Māori and those of us who think from a mātauranga Māori space: it’s sharing the multiple histories and narratives of the land that for a very long time weren’t widely acknowledged,” she says.

Coherent curriculum

The draft histories curriculum content for The New Zealand Curriculum provides a coherent continuum from Year 1-10, explains Michele.

“There has to be an ongoing relationship between primary and secondary schools around what that continuum is going to look like,” she says. 

Teachers from Years 1-13 will work together around local contexts so students will eventually be able to make connections to the wider New Zealand context. 

Schools will need to consult with their communities about the stories that matter to them, says Michele. 

“For example, in Porirua – what are your memories of Porirua in the 1980s when Todd Motors closed its doors? Or for newcomers to New Zealand, what are some of the experiences you’ve had where you have felt welcomed or not welcomed and why do you think that is?

“Schools will have to get their head around putting the big ideas and the knowledge about their local area together. I think that schools will need to do a lot of work around engaging with local iwi to get those histories accurate,” she says.

The Leading Local Curriculum Guide – Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories gives good guidance on how to build relationships with local communities and iwi when trying to develop the local curriculum, says Bronwyn.  

“There are also some fantastic resources on Social Science online and Māori history on TKI. So, it’s remembering we’re not starting from scratch, because we’ve already got great resources there that we can start accessing and building on,” she says.

New whenu/strand in Te Marautanga o Aotearoa 

Te Takanga o Te Wā is the new whenu that can be aligned to all areas of learning within Te Marautanga o Aotearoa but is best explored within the Tikanga ā-Iwi social sciences learning area. 

Originally, Te Takanga o Te Wā was developed as a resource for Years 1-8 in 2015 incorporating huatau matua (big ideas): tūrangawaewae, whanaungatanga, kaiatikaitanga, mana motuhake, and whakapapa. The five huatau are deeply embedded in mātauranga Māori. 

The content has been designed so that kaiako can use the richness of the themes as lens for teaching the diverse histories, says Anahera, Kaihautū (leader) Māori for CORE Education. 

“Privileging the huatau matua as kaupapa ako and bringing them to the fore of teaching and learning programmes provides an opportunity for local narrative sharing and learning history in a new way, framed by hautau Māori,” she says. 

Using local histories draws on ākonga and kaiako knowledge, and the knowledge of the iwi, the whānau associated with the kura to determine the types of things that they would like to teach.

“For example, if we were to use the whakapapa lens to look at history, it might go right back to Māori migration, the journeys through the Pacific, when we get to Aotearoa, the way the whakapapa connects to the land and the people, the iwi and into whānau. 

“It’s ensuring that mātauranga Māori [knowledge] is fundamental to the history teaching that we do. It’s really important for Māori medium schools to take that vantage point because it underpins everything that happens in kura Māori,” she explains. 

Anahera says that to be successful, the teaching and learning needs to draw on a localised approach. 

“Especially when there are iwi associated with a particular kura, then they will have a natural disposition to tell the stories of the rohe where they are culturally located. We were very mindful of that when we were thinking about what to incorporate: to not be a heavily prescriptive curriculum, but taking that localised approach,” she says.

Inquiry and critical thinking skills

The draft content in The New Zealand Curriculum features three key inquiry processes, or practices, which include identifying and using sequences, critiquing sources and perspectives and interpreting past decisions and actions.

“They are to help students think critically about the past, and the processes get more complex as the students move through,” explains Bronwyn.

“So, the way you get a student to sequence a historical narrative in Year 1, would be quite different from Year 10, when they are looking at missing narratives or different perspectives and evaluating or weighing them up. I think it’s the content, but also the approach to the content and the inquiry processes that become more complex and really develop that critical thinking,” she says.

“The way we have started thinking about the curriculum content at St Mary’s is through using the Ministry’s Leading Local Curriculum Guide – Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories. It’s got some awesome frameworks you can use for self-reviews of how your school is currently incorporating history in the social sciences curriculum and some strategies you can use to engage your staff,” she says.  

Michele believes that a pedagogical approach to using local stories to shape contexts for inquiry practices will be integral to teaching the new curriculum content. 

“First of all, teachers have to understand the three big ideas and then they need to understand those inquiry practices to know how to teach the knowledge or the context: the knowledge part of it is going to be shaped by their inquiry practices,” she explains.

“Primary teachers are generalists, but we can teach inquiry practices very well. Enriched resources and a structure around how to teach are going to make it much easier for people to do that curriculum – and to keep it open so they are exploring their own thinking and developing their understanding.” 

Michele says there are opportunities, particularly for secondary schools, to integrate cross-curricular learning. 

“For example, Pacific migration and the impact of New Zealand’s economic slump, which led to the Dawn Raids: there is an excellent book about it – studied in English – which would be able to connect them to the history curriculum content, particularly issues of power and racism, which is one of the three big ideas.”

Anahera says the inquiry process is one way to engage with the content in Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, digging into the stories and critically thinking about what happened and why.  

“One of the great things about learning our histories, is considering the multiple perspectives. For Te Takanga o Te Wā, this inquiry and analysis is done via a mātauranga Māori lens,” she says.

Building understanding

Bronwyn says it’s important that the new approach to the design of  The New Zealand Curriculum pulls out national contexts and ideas which are too important to leave to chance so that all ākonga have access to the understandings and learning no matter what school they go to.

“I like the fact that the three big ideas that we’ve got underpin the curriculum and that the learning is taking place across the different year levels and that it’s building and deepening student knowledge through stories and interpretations of history.

“It’s a much clearer for teachers about how they should be progressing student understanding and I think that is quite different from what we’ve had- especially in the social sciences.”

She says the progression can be seen in the different contexts that the Treaty is being taught through.  

“Learning about how Te Tiriti impacts our lives and how it has impacted history can be done through so many different contexts where you’re layering different understandings. So, for example, you could look at Te Tiriti through the Kingitanga context. At different year levels, the understanding is being layered and deepened,” explains Bronwyn.

“I really hope the new curriculum content is going to encourage our tamariki to study Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and also be able to grow in empathy and understanding of different perspectives because we’re such a diverse community,” she says. 

Critical thinking

All three curriculum writers agree that offering different perspectives is a key factor in developing critical thinking.

“Understanding your history informs your understanding of the present. It’s central to making sure that students have a really good understanding of the diverse perspectives and stories that our history holds,” says Bronwyn.

“We have included explicitly acknowledging multiple histories and the bias that we bring to them,” says Anahera. 

“There have been many that have been crying for a long time for these stories to be heard, but here we are, it’s finally coming across the line.”

Future-changing for Aotearoa

Anahera reckons the new content will change the future of Aotearoa New Zealand. 

“It’s going to give light and voice to stories that have previously had a limited platform to be heard. Now they are actually going to be part of teaching and learning, and the stories are going to be told and from different perspectives,” she says. 

“Knowledge brings enlightenment to the facts and the notion of facts is what really inspires me - you are just laying down the story. There are so many different things in my experience of teaching Māori history that people, even teachers, don’t know a lot about. I am SO excited about it. I am thankful that my children will know a lot more than we certainly learnt in school anyway.”

“It’s an opportunity to dispel a lot of myths as to what has happened in the past,” adds Michele.

“For me as an historian, I believe that history teaches us amazing critical thinking skills that you can transfer to any other profession or field of study,” says Bronwyn.

“For my learners, I want them to grow up with really informed, considered understanding of our history, being able to take on people’s different perspectives, and to respect them and evaluate them and work out how they inform their own knowledge and understanding of the world around them,” she adds.

Curriculum Resources

While new resources will be developed to support schools, the curriculum writers say there are a lot of resources already out there.

“It’s really important that schools start to do the background work to gain understanding of those three big ideas before they even start to shape up what their local curriculum is going to look like,” says Michele. 

Staffroom discussions, Radio New Zealand podcasts, resources at the National Library, Ministry of Culture and Heritage, Te Papa, local museums are all good starting points, she says. 

Bronwyn adds that the New Zealand History Teachers’ Association (NZHTA) is going to be focused on helping to provide PLD for all Year 1-10 teachers, with the Ministry of Education working to pull the wide range of resources available to teachers together in one place.

NZ History Resources

Have your say

An online survey is open now to gather feedback on the draft curriculum content for The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa.

The survey runs until 31 May 2021. Once approved, the curriculum changes will come into effect in 2022.

Please have your say. Find out more on Aotearoa New Zealand's histories inour national curriculum(external link)

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

Posted: 1:35 pm, 17 March 2021

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts