Early Literacy Research Library (ELRL) - Article

Talking Together: The Effects of Traditional Māori Pedagogy on Children’s Early Literacy Development

Derby, M. (2023) Talking Together: The Effects of Traditional Māori Pedagogy on Children's Early Literacy Development. Education Sciences, 13, 207.,

Access: FREE/Open Access

Publication year


study description

Case-Study / Crossover / Pilot

core topic(s)

Early Literacy

Population Characteristics

International , Lingually Diverse , Race, Ethnicity, and Culture , Toddler/Preschool

Exposures, Outcomes, Other

Language and Literacy Development , Parent Behaviors and Skills , Programs and Interventions (other)


This article presents findings from a project that sought to determine the effects of a home-based literacy intervention on bilingual (English and Te Reo Māori) preschool children’s early literacy skills.


Culturally responsive home-based literacy intervention

outcomes evaluated

Early literacy skills


The early childhood centre involved in the study was Nōku Te Ao, which is located in Christchurch, New Zealand. It provides early childhood education to children aged 0–5 years... They are classified as a dual language centre, meaning the teachers engage with the children in both English and Māori. The participants involved in the study were four-year-old Māori children attending Nōku Te Ao and their families. The two criteria for selection were that children were four years of age for the duration of the 12-week intervention, and that they attend Nōku Te Ao.


The culturally responsive intervention, which was adapted from Tender Shoots, incorporated traditional Māori teaching and learning approaches, such as the use of storytelling, songs, games, and reminiscing about the past, as practices for supporting key cognitive skills crucial to foundational literacy, specifically phonological awareness and vocabulary knowledge. Over a 12-week period, during which the intervention was conducted, data were gathered from eight Māori preschool children and their families. The study utilised a crossover design. Four children and their families participated in the Rich Reading and Reminiscing (RRR) component of the intervention, which ran for six weeks, followed by the Strengthening Sound Sensitivity (SSS) portion of the intervention. The remaining four children completed the intervention in the reverse order of delivery. The crossover approach established a control in the study and allowed the effects of each part of the intervention on the aforementioned cognitive skills to be more clearly revealed.

sample size

n=8 (cases)


Measure of Early Literacy Skills: children were asked to identify initial phonemes in both English and Māori words, to syllabify English and Māori words by clapping the number of syllables in each word, and to name a series of objects by completing a picture naming task.


The crossover design revealed that it was only after each child had completed the SSS portion of the intervention were they able to identify initial phonemes in English and Māori words and identify the number of syllables in English and Māori words, at a rate that was significantly above chance. In other words, the children were not simply guessing the correct answer but rather were able to draw on their skills in phonological awareness and use these to identify the right response to each question. All the children, irrespective of the sequence in which they completed the intervention, improved to a point that was significantly above chance, thus allowing conclusions to be drawn about the positive shifts that occurred in their phonological awareness skills as a result of the intervention [9]. The data gathered using the picture naming task, which revealed any changes to vocabulary knowledge, were analysed by comparing the mid- and post-intervention results with those gathered pre-intervention. Each child scored 0 out of 8 pre-intervention, but after completing the RRR portion of the intervention, which focused specifically on expanding children’s vocabulary, children were able to name an average of 4 out of 8 new words. Again, the crossover design allowed conclusions to be made about the effects of each component of the intervention on the specific skills they targeted, as well as on the impact of the intervention as a whole on children’s early literacy skills. Crucially, all the children maintained, or in some cases, further improved, their skills in phonological awareness and vocabulary knowledge six months after the intervention ceased.


Overall, the data indicate that traditional Māori pedagogical practices helped to strengthen the early literacy skills of the children participating in the study.


Despite the smaller number in this pilot study, which could be interpreted as a limitation of this work, the methods used here were well received by families and provided strong and conclusive data sets needed by the researcher to answer the research questions. Further studies employing these methods, but possibly of longer duration and with a broader focus, would reveal subsequent shifts in children’s learner identity and self-efficacy as a result of the intervention.