Re-aligning the way we teach bilingual children

06 March 2017
Sophie Tauwehe Tamati
Sophie Tauwehe Tamati

An outstanding PhD thesis by Sophie Tauwehe Tamati, senior lecturer at Te Puna Wānanga - School of Māori and Indigenous Education, is poised to radically re-align the way we teach bilingual children.

Tauwehe’s name has been placed on the Dean of Graduate Studies List (Dean’s List) in recognition of excellence achieved in her PhD thesis titled, Transacquisition Pedagogy for Bilingual Education: A Study in Kura Kaupapa Māori Schools.

About the research

Tauwehe describes her research as “the first to provide strong empirical evidence for a pedagogical approach in kura kaupapa Māori that uses the students’ languages in mutually supportive ways to accelerate literacy development in English while enhancing their pre-existing literacy in te reo Māori”.

Using a mixed-methods investigative approach, she theorised, developed and assessed the effectiveness of Transacquisition pedagogy in an 8-week intervention programme with 24 Year 7 and 8 students in 2 kura kaupapa Māori. The results show that the kura students who participated in the intervention improved their English literacy at a rate of change 5.87 times faster than that of the quasi-control group in a decile 10 English-medium school. These results suggest that Transacquisition pedagogy is effective in developing kura students’ academic register, academic understanding and reading comprehension in English.

“Transacquisition is an example of proactive pedagogy for all bilingual students because it engages their bilinguality to accelerate academic achievement.” says Tauwehe.

Wider implications

The implications of this research go beyond the context of kura kaupapa Māori. In Auckland, which has the largest and most diverse population of immigrant families in New Zealand, Transacquisition has the potential to dramatically improve the educational experience and academic achievement of immigrant students. At an international level, Transacquisition pedagogy has implications for bilingual education around the world, particularly in the education of indigenous and minority group students.

Summing up, Tauwehe says, “The originality of Transacquisition pedagogy lies in the Kaupapa Māori underpinnings of the ‘kahikatea metaphor’ which is used to theorise the cross-linguistic processes of the bilingual student’s mind. This prompts me to salute everyone in the kura communities of this research as powerful proactive protagonists for a global paradigm shift in the pedagogical practices of bilingual education.”  

Dean's List

In a letter to Tauwehe, the Dean of Graduate Studies said that her examiners, who are international authorities in her field, were “especially complimentary regarding the high quality of the content and presentation of her thesis”. The thesis examiners were Dr Jim Cummins, Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto and Dr Richard Benton who is one of New Zealand’s foremost linguistics experts and Honorary Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Waikato.