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Providing authentic learning contexts for Pasifika students

Imeleta Faumuina, HoD English Tangaroa College, discusses the importance of providing authentic learning contexts to support meaningful student engagement.



My name is Imeleta Faumuina and I am head of English at Tangaroa College, which is in South Auckland. My role as head of English, it’s my responsibility to make sure that you know we impact the curriculum, for, not just for the students but for my teachers as well. I have about eight to nine teachers in my department and we have some teachers that are very experienced, and we also have new teachers. So my job is to make sure that I now you know what the ministry expects and also what the curriculum expects of our department and in terms of our Pasifika students, the majority of our students are Pasifika. I’d say probably about 80% or even higher would be Pasifika and for our students we try our best to cater for their needs. And for a lot of us I am very thankful that we have a lot of teachers in our department that are from Otara. Myself I was born in Samoa but we came here when I was two, and we shifted to Otara in 1974. So I’m from, that’s my community, I know how the needs our students have and what our parents expect so we do work with a lot of agencies and with a lot of English curriculum specialists to try to make sure we provide a curriculum that’s interesting and engaging for our students and at the same time try to expose them to you know, traditional literature. So we don’t try to shy away from like Shakespeare, and challenging texts that people might think that our students can’t cope with, but our Pasifika students can. We have got examples of students who have arrived at our school with a 2p writing for Astle, and vocabulary of 2000 and less. And fortunately these students have got supportive parents and they follow what we tell them, you know like “Read, read every night for twenty minutes, do your homework, come to school every day.” Those are the key ingredients of these students who came with a 2p and they get to year 13 and they get excellence for Level 3 external for English. Which, I’ve seen where there are some students they might be very capable, but they go to a higher decile school but they are put down into like a lower level or band, stream, and they’re not given the chance to sit externals, whereas our students if they were at those schools they wouldn’t be given that opportunity so we try and expose them to the richness of the English language and the literature and just because they are Pasifika doesn’t mean they can’t engage with those tests, because you know the themes, the themes are universal, so we’ve had a lot of success with those because of that.

Ah yea, I usually don’t go into Pasifika text, but what I do spend time on is giving them a bit of the history of the English language, making them not afraid, like telling them that Shakespearean English is not old English it’s modern English and they are really surprised by that and YouTube is really is a great resource, because I am able to show them examples of old English and middle English and they’re like fascinated, and they think like wow, if it’s modern English you know why should I be afraid. If Shakespeare is speaking the language that I speak, it’s just some words have become obsolete. So it’s like dispelling those fears makes a huge difference. So last year it was the first time I did a Polynesian, a Samoan writer’s novel instead of a Shakespeare text, and I was really surprised, a lot of my students they didn’t like it. They said, we don’t ever want to study this text anymore. They found that the main character was not Polynesian, they felt that he was not thinking and relating to others in the way that they would. So they did not do that great with this text, when I compare it to the results I got off my Shakespeare with Othello, huge difference! So I’m going to put that away and I’m going to go back to what I love. But I enjoyed teaching that text and I loved talking about you know, where we came from, the struggles we’ve had with colonialism, how we’ve changed as a people. Because there’s a lot of people who are teachers who don’t really know about Pasifika kids, they have these misconceptions about Pasifika people, and it really hurts me. I’ve cried my eyes out when I talk to people who say we shouldn’t teach literature to these kids, we should just teach them grammar, how to write a sentence. And it just breaks my heart because it’s telling me that we’re not capable, but we’re very capable. And when people say to me, oh your language it’s not complex, and oh, and Polynesian people are not used to education, because we haven’t had it in our history, and I say to them, no you’re wrong, you know, we our language is quite complicated. When my dad speaks in his matai language, I can’t quite understand it. Even with my, you know, I have a degree in English but I cannot understand what my dad speaks, because there is a whole lot of history behind a lot of the proverbs that they use in their matai language, and it’s actually a very rich culture, a very rich language. Even though it’s not written down, you know the fact that it’s stored in our brains, clearly shows that we have the cognitive capacity to absorb anything, if we have the confidence. And if you don’t give the kids the confidence, to attack any kind of literature you give them and you don’t give them the tools cause you don’t prepare, you think oh I’m wasting my time, they know it. They respond and they won’t come to the party.

For me the Plan it’s all about getting success. That Pasifika children will experience the same successes as Asian and Pakeha students. So you know, I’ve read the Plan and we’ve had some workshops at school. So people are very aware, and I think teaching at Tangaroa college, we’ve always been aware of the strategies that work. And I think one of the key things is making those connections with the parents and we’re thinking a lot more about how we can get the parents involved. So last year we had, well not just parents but also people in the community, we have a rich resource, and last year we had what we call a Pasifika Profile Day and we had about eight guest speakers that came in and spoke to our year 10 students. They talked about their life experiences, what helped them to be successful.  So people like Sandra Kailahi, one of our ex-students is a doing quite well on television at the moment, Beulah Koale and we’ve also got a student who’s about to graduate from university, from law school. And a student who’s also with the Warriors, as well as the curator for our little art gallery in Otara. So they went around and spoke to the students, the year 10’s and the purpose of it was for the students to be able to record what they listened to, ask questions, and then they write a profile piece, based on what they heard. They chose a personality, and they wrote an article style piece, so we try to make it authentic. And instead of saying I’ll research it, they do get a chances to research, but you know, they’ve got real life people there, like a journalist, recording down information and turning it into an article, which then in year 12, they actually have to write  profile on a person of their choice. So this will transfer to like English level to which is like one of our hardest areas, like one of our bugbears getting our kids to reading and writing level two credits. So the Pasifika education plan, so we’re very aware of it, you know, I think the last time I think they had the launch the plan, I think 2008, we didn’t even know about it. So this time around there’s a lot more awareness and a lot more talking with people and also the online community that’s been set up has been really useful.