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Student voice

Student views about learning

One teacher followed up some suggestions in What do students believe about learning? to find out what his students' views were. He asked students in a Year 11 class:

  • What are the general characteristics of good learners?
  • What are some characteristics of Pasifika, Māori, Asian, and European students that make them good learners?

Responses

The table records the answers from the 10 Pasifika students and 12 Pākehā students who participated

Characteristics of: Pasifika student answers Pākehā student answers
Any good learners

Listen carefully to the teacher (6)

Do their homework (3)

Do not get distracted (3)

Take good notes (2)

Ask questions (2)

Have commitment (2)

Have determination (2)

Are not shy (1)

Have a willingness to learn (1)

Read a lot (1)

Study extra hard (1)

Put in a lot of effort (5)

Listen really well (3)

Study hard (2)

Pay attention really well (2)

Have help from parents (2)

Show determination/desire to succeed (2)

Have help from friends (1)

Give everything a go (1)

Are not afraid to ask questions (1)

Are naturally smart (1)

Do their homework (1)

Have a good memory (1)

Good Pasifika learners

As for any good learner, plus:

  • Are relaxed
  • Are interested in learning
  • Think outside the box.
  • Are funny and entertaining

As for any good learner, plus:

  • Learn in different ways
  • Learn from their mistakes
  • Work well in groups
  • Are committed to their work
  • Are thankful for help they are given
  • Are helped by their religion
Good Māori learners

As for any good learner, plus:

  • Are relaxed
  • Are not scared of learning
  • Join in all parts of the class
  • Have common sense

As for any good learner, plus:

  • Learn in different ways
  • Learn from their mistakes
  • Gain from their culture
  • Have innate intelligence
  • Work hard
Good Asian learners

As for any good learner, plus:

  • Can concentrate well (2)
  • Are not scared of the work
  • Sit at the front (2)
  • Are quiet in class
  • Are pushed by their family to succeed

As for any good learner, plus:

  • Have strong perseverance
  • Work hard to understand the language of the subject
  • Don't talk in class
  • Have a supportive family
  • Have access to modern technology
Good Pākehā learners

As for any good learner, plus:

  • Are quiet in class
  • Use fancy words
  • Answer questions promptly
  • Know what it takes to succeed
  • Realise that to get a good job you need to be successful

As for any good learner, plus:

  • Understand the work well
  • Show perseverance
  • Speak their thoughts
  • Have high achievement expectations
  • Put education first
  • Have friends that help them

Analysis

You might be interested to see if there are differences between the Pasifika learners' views and the Pākehā learners' views in the number of times they mention characteristics related to:

  • putting in effort to learn
  • paying attention
  • having the confidence to participate and learn
  • having support from others.

One analysis of the comments suggests that Pasifika students put more emphasis on paying attention and on confidence, and less emphasis on students putting in effort.

More Pākehā than Pasifika students mention support from other people as a characteristic of good learners.

You might have noticed the considerable difference in the way Pasifika and Pākehā students describe good Pasifika and Māori students. The Pasifika descriptions of good Pasifika and Māori students are very positive and relevant to effective learning. It seems they have good role models among their Pasifika and Māori peers.

How might you help extend these characteristics to all Pasifika students?

Among other approaches, you could consider the suggestions in A caring and inclusive classroom environment.

Student views on language

Example 1

One secondary school teacher found that her students gave a range of responses to the statements in Identity and motivation. She commented:

What I found interesting was the depth of their (students’) awareness of where they were "at" culturally in comparison to their parents. Almost all of the students acknowledged that they had a "lacking" of some sort when it came to their first language and culture. However, they all stated that they were "someone" because of their bilingualism. As one student said, “I feel weird because my Tongan language is not much (spoken), but without it, I'm not much!"

From my findings, I can evaluate that, on a positive note, most Pasifika students in my geography class are keen to use their first language as a "hook" to hang their self-identity on, especially at school. However, these students are not completely confident in using their first languages at home, based on the notion that they are not as well-spoken as their parents or not as culturally engrained as their parents.

One girl mentions "…but, my cultural background would not be strong like my mother". Another student states: "Sometimes I try to explain something to my family in Tongan but it doesn't work out well." Yet another claims: "At home explaining stuff to my parents in Sāmoan, it’s hard to explain."

This indicates to me that there is a vital link to the students’ motivation and identity through their first language and that I must provide opportunities within the class for these students to use/utilise/develop/strengthen their first languages as much as possible in their learning at school where they are most comfortable using it (without the pressure of their more eloquent family members looking on).

Example 2

Another teacher used the following statements (adapted from those in Identity and motivation) with his students at a boys’ secondary school to explore their views on language, identity, and learning.

  • If I speak in a different way to the rest of the people around me, it makes me feel strange.
  • Mates are likely to tease me if I speak different from normal, such as with a strange accent.
  • If I speak a language other than English at school, I feel strange.
  • If I speak another language at school, people don't listen to me as well as when I speak English.
  • If I put a lot of effort into my schoolwork, my mates give me a hard time.
  • If English is not your first language, how do you feel when you have to use your native language?
  • If you spend a few years learning something new, it makes you different.

You may be interested to read some comments below from a Year 11 and Year 13 class. The teacher's summary of the findings is at the end.

If I speak in a different way from the rest of the people around me, it makes me feel strange.
  • A little.
  • I use more advanced vocab than those around me.
  • Unlikely.
  • They would see it as a joke.
  • Yes, because it would be odd.
  • Yes, because I can get mocked.
  • Possibly be left out.
  • Some people are strong.
  • Possibly you may be left out.
  • Results in mocking but I can also feel proud.
  • Enjoy being able to speak another language.
  • Don't care. (3)
  • Don't feel different.
  • It’s normal.
  • Okay by me.
Mates are likely to tease me if I speak differently from normal, such as with a strange accent.
  • They find it funny to point out the obvious.
  • Unlikely – they see it as a joke.
  • Tend to get ridiculed as odd one out.
  • People respect me and don't tease me, no matter what language I'm speaking.
  • People tend to tease those different from themselves.
  • They like to point out the obvious.
  • People don't like those who are different.
  • Yes, if they talk brainy.
  • No, my mates are all PI.
  • They do it all the time. (Korean student)
  • Tease anyway. (5)
  • Only if I try to impersonate someone.
  • Yes, to make people tough.
If I speak a language other than English at school, I feel strange.
  • People accept it as the way I am.
  • No, because I am proud of who I am.
  • Yes, because it's not my first language and I have to think about what I am saying.
  • What's to feel strange about?
  • Only speak English. (2)
  • It's part of a culture and should not be forgotten.
  • People might not understand the language if they don't speak it.
  • At school I have no need to speak another language.
  • Part of culture, important.
  • Learning a new language, you need to think about every word.
  • Because I have knowledge, no-one else has.
  • Sort of – only speak one language at home. (Sāmoan).
If I speak another language at school, people don't listen to me as well as when I speak English.
  • People wouldn't understand as much as in English.
  • People listen harder to understand what I am saying.
  • Of course – they would not know what I am saying.
  • People don't understand and don't listen.
  • 'Cause there is no other person at school of the same nationality to talk to.
  • Because they cannot understand me.
  • Because they might not understand the language if they don't speak it.
  • People don't listen at all.
  • People listen because I'm me; it doesn't matter what language I speak.
  • People don't understand.
  • People may not understand what I am saying, so they won't listen.
  • They listen to me – my mates are Sāmoan.
  • No problem, I speak this way always. (Tongan)
  • People switch off if English is not spoken.
If I put a lot of effort into my schoolwork, my mates give me a hard time.
  • Depends if they take that class seriously or not.
  • When I was younger they would have, because they thought it was cool not to do much work.
  • At Year 13, people seeing me do work know I am trying to get something out of school.
  • No – my mates pride themselves on high academic level.
  • They do the same thing.
  • No – because the people I hang out with do the same.
  • Possibly when younger.
  • When younger I had this problem, but students of my age are more mature.
  • "Tall poppy" syndrome.
  • Now they strive to beat me.
  • No – because it is respected.
  • More when younger, people more mature now.
  • Depends on circle of friends.
  • They say "hard out".
  • They call me "serious". (2)
  • They are jealous because people pass and they don't.
  • Supportive.
  • They congratulate me.
  • No – I work hard at home, not at school.
  • Last year – mean to me. (Korean)
  • Give them a slap on the back and say well done. (Sāmoan)
If English is not your first language, how do you feel when you have to use your native language?
  • Probably feel embarrassed
  • Determined to learn English.
  • When in Japan, I spoke English with pride.
  • Determined to speak English.
  • I don't feel any different, I'm proud to have another language.
  • Proud to be different.
  • Determined to use that language.
  • Pride – I know another language.
  • Pretty happy and confused. (Can't speak Sāmoan fluently.)
  • I don't use my native language any more. (Sri Lankan)
  • All good. (4)
  • Don't care.
If you spend a few years learning something new, it makes you different.
  • Sense of achievement. (2)
  • Particularly when doing that in front of others who can't.
  • Being able to converse with people from other nationalities makes me proud.
  • I feel proud.
  • Yes, because your hard work is finally rewarded.
  • When I tried to learn French, I felt stupid because I found it very difficult.
  • You feel like you achieved something.
  • I speak more than one language and I feel good
  • Makes me feel superior.

Summary of student responses

Year 13
  1. Those that make it through to Year 13 have been able to survive the hard time they got when they achieved.
  2. The class has high-achieving Indian and Sri Lankan students who have always worked hard, and they realise that success is worth all the hard times.
  3. At this level everyone accepts everyone [else] as a peer and works as a team.
  4. The students are proud of their heritage and are not afraid to say so.
  5. The students do not speak their own language much because they know that English is the language of the school and the external assessments.
  6. The non-Pasifika boys use their native language less than the Pasifika boys (around the school). This is due to there being fewer of them. When this topic was introduced in the class, they showed pride in saying greetings in their own language, but did not see it as appropriate. This needs to be worked on in future.
  7. I hope that I can get the boys to say more terms in their own language.
Year 11
  1. When surveyed, over half the class spoke a second language, which surprised me.
  2. It is very encouraging that 80 per cent feel pride in speaking their native language.
  3. I was surprised that 66 per cent were not teased when speaking differently – very encouraging for this age group.
  4. The Pasifika boys definitely have a pride in their language.
  5. To these boys, language is very important, and others respect that. This perhaps reflects the ethnic composition of the school and the class. Eight out of 27 are Pasifika, four out of 27 Māori.
  6. Still a need for these boys to feel confident to make replies like “good morning”, and so on in their own language.
  7. Good to see that 66 per cent of the boys are congratulated and not put down when they succeed. The culture of success may be slowly changing for the positive.
  8. If we can continue this obvious trend towards the boys having positive affirmation by their peers when they succeed, then we will see an improvement in their academic success.
  9. The boys obviously enjoy learning new things, so as a staff we need to work hard to keep this attitude going.
  10. We need to get the boys succeeding and believing that academic success is achievable and worthwhile across the board. This class is a cross-section of the Year 11, so the basis is there for positive outcomes.


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