It was a privilege to have the opportunity to attend a conference that was held at the National University of Samoa early July this year. The focus of this conference was “Tracing footprints of tomorrow: past lessons, present stories and future lives.”
There were two presentations that challenged my own thinking:
- “From telling to critical thinking for Pasifika student success”
- “Multiple meanings of silence (le tautala) in a classroom”.
I guess I can relate to these papers from my experience as a student in the past who was struggling with finding my own feet in the New Zealand educational system, and working with Pasifika teachers in the Canterbury region.
From telling to critical thinking for Pasifika student success
‘’From telling to critical thinking for Pasifika student success’’ is a very common strategy that Samoan people use in family upbringing. I was brought up in this arena and strongly believe that it works in some contexts and it might not work in other situations. There is a proverb in Samoa: “E sui faiga ae le suia fa’avae”, which means, we can change the way we do things, but the principles remain the same.
From the teaching and learning perspective in relation to critical thinking, I strongly believe that each student is different and unique in his or her own style of learning. There will be some Pasifika students who are capable and confident in becoming critical thinkers. Others may need some initial guidance as a starting point to clarify any confusion in order to contribute to teaching and learning. We have our cultural beliefs and values that we bring with us, but these need to be unpacked and clarified in order to find other opportunities to work around them.
This paper contained similar information to the leadership professional development work that I did with one of the Pasifika supervisors in the Canterbury region about five years ago. In this case study she asked herself, “How can I empower my team to use critical thinking instead of using the telling approach?” It was hard for this supervisor to move away from the telling mode of giving instructions to the team. Her strong belief was her upbringing, and values of being a leader, or a matai, from a Samoan perspective. It was frustrating for her at times, and often the outcomes were negative. However, the effectiveness of modelling and developing a common theory of improvement—such as using strategies to unpack assumptions, practices and instructions—encourages reflective thinking, which leads to deeper understandings. And this changed her practice.
The strong message from this presentation was: how staff members encourage students to ask questions of themselves about what they read to promote self-regulation of their own learning. However, the presenters also argued that while Pasifika students have the understanding of the research question, the assignment question itself might be a barrier to the students. A great example of this was about connecting students with what they already know through preparing a sermon. In many ways this is similar to planning a research project.
How confident are you in using children’s cultural prior-learning in your teaching?
Do our questions consider sensitivity around cultural values and beliefs?
Multiple meanings of silence in the Samoan classroom and the implication for teachers
The second presentation that challenged and provoked my thinking was “Multiple meanings of silence in the Samoan classroom and the implication for teachers.” Cultural values and practices have a large influence on students’ learning and practicing to be silent (le tautala)—a sign of respect. Le tautala is a cultural practice for communication, and is part of our cultural identity. Silence is an active and living component of Pasifika culture.
Traditionally, children are to be seen but not heard. There are so many layers that underpin this cultural practice, not only teaching and learning in classrooms, but also in family environments, village, church and the wider community context. However, this cultural value can pose some challenges for teachers and students when they are involved in deep conversations during teaching and learning. Again, I can relate to this practice, as I have huge respect for the people who are in leadership roles, and I have respect for those people who have knowledge and skills to speak and share their wisdom. Also, it is about knowing when to speak and when not to speak. However, being exposed to and living in the New Zealand society is different. Everyone is entitled to speak and share their own opinions.
Some theoretical perspectives on silence say: “Silence is not passive.It is an active behaviour that conveys culturally appropriate, meaningful messages that cannot be expressed through verbal communication, or that are best expressed through silence. Such significance and values of silence are often reflected in cultural proverbs and sayings, such as the Finnish proverb ‘a loud noise shows an empty head’” (Sullinen- Kuparinen, 1986, cited in Sunkim, 2002, p. 135).
How can you respond to students who are le tautala, or silent, when discussions and learning conversations happen in school environments?
From a Samoan perspective, I believe that it is important to understand the bigger picture of what is involved, and why some Pasifika students remain silent in teaching and learning. The modes of empowerment, relationships, modelling and collaboration are essential components that enable them to share and contribute their stories in the learning contexts. On the other hand, teachers have the responsibility to listen and ensure that Pasifika students understand the purpose before they ask questions or contribute to the discussions.
“O le tele o sulu e maua ai figota”. Through collaboration the most difficult challenges can be overcome.
Thanks again to CORE-Education for a fabulous opportunity to take part and attend this conference in my homeland.