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From Kawakawa to Tāwari

Michael Draper – Physics and Digital Technology Teacher – High School

“When are we ever going to use this?” This is a common question from teenagers in conventional schools. Yet we rarely hear this question in Tāwari. Why is that?

Maria Montessori identified that the primary drive for adolescents is learning what they need to function as an adult. Part of this is social. In the 2nd plane (6-12yo) children learn through social play, safe in their place as a child within a family/whānau.  In the adolescent (3rd) plane (12-18yo) ākonga move to preparing to participate in adult society. Their social experimentation and learning suddenly becomes very real and earnest as they work to establish their own unique identity and self-expression, and fit in with others beyond the safety of family/whānau. Part of this is occupational.  Where 2nd plane ākonga build their knowledge of the world, in the 3rd plane, the adolescent is learning how to be a contributing and therefore valued member of society. Historically, adolescents would enter some form of apprenticeship, working at the feet of a master to learn their trade or occupation. These would start with learning simple tasks and being of basic assistance to others. Then, as their confidence and familiarity with real work progresses, they would move on to more skilled and complex tasks.  This progression corresponds with both Maria Montessori’s observations of adolescents and our modern understanding about the adolescent body and brain development: culminating in greater physical capabilities and the blossoming of abstract thinking.

Adolescents want to learn. They are driven to learn what they perceive will be useful for them as adults. Just telling them there is purpose isn’t enough. If they can’t see for themselves a connection between what they’re learning and its usefulness as an adult, they struggle to maintain attention. The key here is relevance. When ākonga see relevance in what they are learning they learn faster, understanding and retaining more and being more able to apply what they have learned.

At Wā Ora this is reflected in the different learning and work patterns of Kawakawa (school years 8-10) and Tāwari (school years 11-13).  In Kawakawa, the emphasis is on social development and on building practical experience of working with others and the physical world. While still important, there is less emphasis on academic learning in Kawakawa, partly because the brain changes underway during this time slow this academic learning and partly so they can build experiences that prepare them for future learning. In Tāwari the priority shifts to academic development and self-management, consistent with the greater aspirations and growing capacity for abstract learning of the older adolescent.  Here the social and practical work in Kawakawa pay off, providing the questions, problems and awareness of opportunities that become launching points for their engagement with the learning in Tāwari. The foundations they build in Kawakawa make the question “When will I ever use this?” redundant as they tackle the more rigorous and academic work of Tāwari.

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