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Most parents want to help their children achieve. The best results for children come about when their teachers establish good relationships with the children’s parents and families. Genuine and effective collaboration between home and school can lift children’s achievement significantly.
Like all students, bilingual Pasifika students need a classroom environment that encourages them to be highly motivated to learn and enables them to participate fully. Bilingual students’ individual differences and needs are part of the language-learning context that teachers need to take into account. It’s important to explore and work with students’ attitudes, beliefs, and issues in relation to their two languages, to language learning, and to education.
The best evidence synthesis of the research on Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling (Ministry of Education, 2003) gives us important principles in relation to inclusive practices, whole-school alignment and integration, goals and assessment, and teaching and learning practices.
Teaching is a demanding profession. One of its most interesting challenges is to establish effective teacher–learner relationships with students from diverse backgrounds. (The video Effective teaching relationships looks at this.) Our personal attitudes and beliefs affect the relationships we create with people, including our relationships with our students. It is helpful to re-examine our personal beliefs from time to time to see if they match our goals for our own teaching practice.
Do this investigation with some colleagues. Begin by thinking about your own views and writing them down. Then discuss with your colleagues the similarities and differences in your views.
What do you think are some characteristics of good learners in general? List them below.
What do you think are some characteristics of typical Pasifika students?
The writers of this resource asked a group of 168 teachers of Pasifika students to describe the characteristics of high-achieving Pasifika students in their schools. Interestingly, the most frequent answers were about the students’ families, but the next most frequent answers were the following:
It seems that many New Zealand teachers consider confidence and enthusiasm in learning to be characteristics of good learners. Were these on your list of characteristics of good learners?
Students’ beliefs about learning and their opportunities to continue to develop and use their L1 will make a difference to how confident, enthusiastic, and successful they are as learners. Teachers can help students to continue to use their Pasifika languages and also to develop positive learning beliefs and attitudes.
There are three kinds of beliefs that teachers of bilingual Pasifika students should be aware of:
It’s also very important for teachers to reflect on the beliefs they hold about learning and learners, as these will inevitably affect the way they plan, teach, and interact with their students.
Epistemological beliefs – that is, beliefs about learning and knowledge in general – relate to the following areas:
Students will learn more effectively if their beliefs reflect their awareness that:
To a certain extent, epistemological beliefs are culturally prescribed. As well, not all teachers hold these more effective beliefs and, even when they do, the beliefs of teachers and students are not always aligned.
Jones (1991) investigated the fourth area above – where does learning ability come from? – with Pasifika girls at secondary level. She found that the girls in her study attributed their lack of success almost entirely to a lack of "brains", rather than to the need for a particular kind of effort. Jones and, more recently, Nakhid (2003) found that this "lack of brains" belief was frequently and unhelpfully reinforced by teachers in various ways.
Self-efficacy beliefs are the beliefs students have about how effective they are as learners. All students hold beliefs about how capable they are in a particular area or in a subject domain (for example, mathematics or language). Students who believe they are good at a subject often put a lot more effort into learning in that area, and consequently tend to be more successful.
Woolfolk Hoy (2004) suggests that it can be helpful for students to reflect on their self-efficacy beliefs, to evaluate them, and to regulate them. She explains that teachers can help students improve by providing specific feedback on their performance. She also makes the point that teachers can help their students become aware of the effects of their efforts and of the improvements in their work over time.
"Self-efficacy influences motivation through the choices we make and the goals we set … Even when students have the same level of academic skills, those with higher self-efficacy for the task perform better on schoolwork … when sense of efficacy in a given area is high, we will set higher goals, are less afraid of failure, and find new strategies when old ones fail."
Woolfolk Hoy, 2004, pages 4–5
When teachers set relatively short-term goals with their students and ensure that the students know the criteria for success and can tell when they have achieved their goals, they help their students to be aware of how their effort has led to achievement.
The beliefs bilingual Pasifika students have about language learning are particularly important. Students’ beliefs in this area centre on:
You can see that these areas are closely related to self-efficacy. Bilingual students’ beliefs about language learning will probably influence their use of strategies, their motivation, and their confidence.
Students’ epistemological beliefs, self-efficacy beliefs, and beliefs about language learning are not permanently fixed. They can be strongly influenced by teachers, who may either encourage or discourage the learners. The video Effective teaching relationships looks at some ways of encouraging Pasifika learners’ positive beliefs.
Beliefs about language learning are different from beliefs about other learning areas because they are associated with another set of beliefs and attitudes about the language that is being learned, its culture, and its speakers. Language learners also have attitudes about their own language, its associated culture, and its speakers. They may devalue their own L1, but value the majority language. In New Zealand, for example, they may perceive English as being more useful for getting a job.
Learners’ motivation and need to learn a majority language may be greater than their motivation to learn their first language, and there is also likely to be greater support in the community for learning the majority language. In that sense, bilingual Pasifika children’s learning of English is supported by the values and resources of the wider community.
You could find out about the students’ views by getting them to brainstorm their ideas, conduct role-plays, write and rank statements about learning, or write advice for younger students about how to learn well. Alternatively, you could conduct a "Say it", with roles for teachers and various different students. (See The "Say it" activity – example)
Your students need to believe:
Work with a colleague or colleagues to read, brainstorm, and plan how you can ensure your learners have experiences that lead them to hold the more effective beliefs about learning that are discussed above.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 1 to 4 (Ministry of Education, 2003b), Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5 to 8 (Ministry of Education, 2006), and Effective Literacy Strategies in Years 9 to 13 (Ministry of Education, 2004) all have suggestions for helping students become more effective and independent as learners.
Personal identity is linked to motivation in learning. Both affect learning in general, and language learning in particular.
Most Pasifika learners will experience some of the feelings and choices described in the statements above. This means that they and their parents may have to make some difficult choices or juggle some conflicting factors in their lives. Some of these issues are discussed in the video Parents and bilingual learning.
Pasifika researchers Anae and Pasikale have identified three different types of identity commonly available to Pasifika youth. The differences are based on the extent to which the person relates to the Pasifika cultural traditions and practices, including the languages, of their parents and grandparents.
Pasikale writes about these identity issues:
… suffice to say that "identity" is a critical issue for many Pacific Islands learners, and understanding the issues can mean the difference to our positive cultural continuity and the alienation of a generation more comfortable with other forms of sub-culture. It can also mean the difference to continued academic failure and educational success based on the realities of future Pacific Islands generations. I have come to appreciate that ‘identity’ is not a static product but a process of constant navigation, based on a core of convictions that provide a foundation for self-acceptance.
(Cited in Coxon et al., 2002, page 91)
Various conflicts related to other students, friends, family, schooling, and the wider community may push Pasifika students to reject success in curriculum learning and academic English, and/or to reject the continued development of their home language.
The best educational outcomes for students come about when they are able to use both their home language and English in their schooling, in a context where they are both valued. This reduces identity conflicts for Pasifika students and motivates them to learn both languages and succeed at school.
Here are some statements for you to consider. If possible, discuss them with colleagues. Print the statements and, next to each one, note down an example from your personal experience or that of your students, or make a comment.
Explore some issues about language and identity with your class, using some of the statements listed above. You may have to rewrite them to suit your class.
In the associated material Student Voice, you can see the statements one teacher used with his secondary students, and the comments they made.
As an aid to exploring the statements, get your students to use the Individual, Pair, Group (IPG) approach, described in the associated material Encouraging oral participation.
The cross in the first box (which is given as an example) indicates that the student has a conflict about whether or not to use academic English – this is the focus of the conflict. The source of the conflict is the student’s classmates, perhaps because they don’t support using more complex language and "fancy words", as one student expressed it.
|Developing the Pasifika language(s)|
Brainstorm some more ways in which your classroom or school could help reduce the conflicts or difficulties for the students.
Teachers can ensure that bilingual Pasifika learners have good opportunities to show their confidence and enthusiasm and to develop their confidence further in more demanding contexts at school.
We often think that the person who speaks most in a group is the most confident and enthusiastic. We possibly think that person is the most knowledgeable as well. However, studies of how people speak in groups show that certain groups and individuals get far more opportunities to talk and look confident than others (Holmes, 2001). For example:
Our impressions of the amount of time different people in a group have to speak are often quite incorrect. To be really sure, you have to measure the actual amounts of time different people speak.
It’s difficult to teach and time students’ talking at the same time, so this is a good opportunity to collaborate with another teacher. You can check out patterns of speaking time in each other’s classrooms. You could compare some of the following groups:
You may find that those who are effective learners get more chances to become even better learners through their dominant role in classroom interaction.
The next step is to find out how to create conditions so that all students have good opportunities to participate and to show competence, confidence, and enthusiasm.
Explore ideas, and find a way that works for you, for extending your contacts with one family or a group of families of your Pasifika students. (See items 3 and 4 under the heading below.)
"Connecting with your students" means caring for them and creating a caring and inclusive learning community.
It also means connecting with their wish to be taken seriously as learners by teaching them in the best possible way.
Best practice for teaching bilingual Pasifika students integrates understandings from research in bilingualism, second language learning, and teaching diverse student groups.
|Major categories of best practice statements||Specific characteristics of best practice|
|1. Inclusive school||
|2. Whole-school alignment|
|3. Appropriate goals for learning and assessmen||
|4. General teaching and learning practices||
|5. Curriculum-related and language-related practices||
|6. Content of language learning||
|(Adapted from Franken and McComish, 2005, Figure 2.)|
Teachers have a wide range of responsibilities, which range from finding out whether a student is integrating their reading strategies appropriately to deciding what to do for a student who may not have had enough to eat. Connecting with students so that they can learn well involves that whole spectrum. Some things are quick and easy, and others require a lot of planning and organisation.
Research from many countries and groups of students has come up with similar findings about what students need of their teachers. They like their teachers to connect with them as friendly and supportive people who care about them and respect them as individuals.They want teachers to collaborate with them on setting goals and working out how to achieve them. Students also want their teachers to be well prepared, to persist with teaching them step by step until they learn, and not to give up on expecting them to learn. They like to have variety in their learning activities to keep up their interest in learning and to suit the demands of various types of content.
The LEAP writers asked 168 teachers of Pasifika students to describe the characteristics of their high-achieving Pasifika students. The teachers considered family background to be of primary importance. In order of frequency, they mentioned the following top four characteristics:
Throughout the world, most parents have high aspirations and want their children to succeed in education. Pasifika parents want this, too, and for some of them an important aspect is that the children can be useful to their community as a result.
It also seems that Pasifika families may support their children’s education in a range of ways that are not always obvious to teachers. In one study, some Tongan parents said they felt that they contributed in a very significant way to their children’s education, but they gave their support in a general way to "education", rather than to the school in particular. For example, the mothers believed that their role was to give their children a grounding in religion and values, and to emotionally orientate their families. Their involvement with the details of their children’s schooling was less direct and intimate.
The Complexity of Community and Family Influences on Children’s Achievement in New Zealand is a synthesis of the best evidence about family and community influences on students' achievement (Ministry of Education, 2003). It shows that although various community and family factors are associated with low achievement for whole groups of children, this is not inevitable. Some children do achieve in spite of unfavourable conditions, and teachers and schools are able to improve outcomes for groups of children by developing effective partnerships with their families and communities. The extracts below relate to these points.
"A significant proportion of New Zealand children live in homes that have scarce economic resources, or worse, and about a fifth are living in families in poverty. The incidence of poverty is more than two and a half times greater among Māori, and more than three and a half times greater among Pasifika families than it is among Pākehā families. As a group, the achievement of these low SES children is significantly below that of children from middle and higher SES homes in all curriculum areas." (Page 80)
"The association between low achievement and low SES (when children are considered as a group) is highly complex. It is not inevitable that living in a low SES family means low achievement for a child; the association does not hold for some individual low SES children who are high achievers." (Page 81)
"The research evidence suggests that effective centre/school–home partnerships can enhance children's learning in both home and centre/school settings. The positive impacts of such partnerships … on children’s achievement can be substantial, compared to institutionally based educational interventions alone. The benefits for children and young people can include better health and well-being, greater educational achievement, and increased economic well-being." (Page 172)
"There are various forms of partnership, but not all are effective. Those which are poorly designed, based on deficit views, and not responsive to the needs of families can be ineffective, and even counter-productive. Programmes which are effective respect parents and children, are socially responsible, and are responsive to families and the social conditions that shape their lives. Constructive partnerships empower those involved by (a) fostering autonomy and self-reliance within families, schools and communities, (b) building on the strong aspirations and motivation that most parents have for their children's development, and (c) adding to (rather than undermining) the values, experiences and competencies of parents and children. The evidence is that teachers can do much to initiate such constructive partnerships." (Page 172)
Schooling is easier for students when their families support their education in all the direct ways that teachers generally hope for. If this doesn’t happen, then the students depend even more on their teacher and school to ensure they get an effective education.
What can teachers of Pasifika students do to make sure these students succeed at school?
With two colleagues, follow these steps to role-play a meeting with a Pasifika parent who you don’t communicate with easily.