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Sound teaching method

Some University of Otago students are in the dark – literally – when it comes to learning.

Dr Karyn Paringatai (Te Tumu: School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies) has summoned a traditional Māori teaching method to help students in her Introduction to Maori Performing Arts course.

Paringatai explains that only a few of the 40 to 50 students who take the course each year speak Māori and more than a half of the class are international students, which has meant that learning Māori songs has been slow and pronunciation laboured.

“I thought there must be a better way of doing this.”

She found the answer in a pre-European Māori method of teaching used in the whare wānanga (institutions of esoteric learning), where teaching would continue into the dark winter evenings.

Instead of reading the words from a page or projected onto a wall, Paringatai's students experience total immersion – in darkness in a windowless room with the lights turned off, and with Paringatai or tutors saying the words and the students repeating what they hear.

“The darkness allows the students to focus on the words and their pronunciation. The first song we teach used to take students about four to five weeks to learn off by heart and their pronunciation was poor. They now learn the song within two hours and their pronunciation is much better.”

Paringatai says that the students are amazed at their rapid progress, gain confidence, have more time to put into their performance skills and achieve higher grades.

Photo: Alan Dove
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