In my last blog post, I shared a multiple world view of what Modern Learning Environments (MLE) and Modern Learning Practice (MLP) may look like through a Pasifika lens using a Samoan fale as an analogy. In this post, I would like to unpack it further by sharing my thoughts of The Foundation Phase. For background reading, here is the link to my last post: “A Modern Pedagogy + Modern Pasifika Learners = 21st Century Pasifika learners raising a village”.
The foundation phase:
The culture of a child cannot enter the classroom until it has first entered the consciousness of the teacher. Earlier researchers such as Podmore, Sauvao, and Mapas (2003), and also Ruta McKenzie and Helen Singleton (2009), found that students of Pasifika cultures, languages, and identities enter the school gates with these values, and, "key factors were the teachers knowing the children, knowing their culture and providing opportunities for the children’s Samoan language to be used at school" (Literature Review – Education Counts Publications).
The child’s lens quickly adapts to fit in with a different setting, such a classroom—a skill Pasifika children have assimilated naturally throughout their lives. Schools that have inclusive values such as respect, belonging, and service, to name a few, connect immediately with their Pasifika learners and communities, On the other hand, some Pasifika learners will disengage because their cultural values haven’t been recognised or respected appropriately by teachers. For example, pronouncing names incorrectly; understanding why they wait to be asked to share their thoughts; more willing to take risks in small groups rather than whole class discussions.
Alton-Lee (2003) stated “that effective teaching requires teachers to take responsibility for every student’s achievement, to value diversity, have high expectations, and build on students’ experiences. For Pasifika students this requires teachers to understand their day-to-day experiences, their cultural background and the dimensions that make this up including language and cultural values”. ( Education Counts: Quality teaching for diverse students in schooling).
While most schools acknowledge cultural responsiveness in their school charters and strategic plans, this doesn’t always translate well into practice. We need to be better at this. We need to take a closer look at how we are meeting our learners’ needs by developing further inquires into best cultural, inclusive practice. Here’s a few starters:
- What could we do better as a school or community to make our Pasifika students feel more valued in a safe environment?
- How can I use Pasifika students' past experiences, knowledge, and culture to enhance their achievement and learning?
One amazing resource by Michelle Johansson, University of Auckland, I use with teachers is, ‘The Level of Pasifika Capability’ (originally had no title, something I added). It challenges teachers to think about their practice in a cultural sense. Teachers are asked to post their answers to each level in regards to their current practice. By levels four and five, teachers struggle to share any real evidence of best practice because they don’t know what they don’t know. It read for some boring and typical answers you would expect from teachers. For example, one teacher wrote, cultural group for level four. To be fair ,this resource is like a deliberate act of reverse learning by tapping into teachers prior knowledge. It led to great in-depth discussions that allowed them to cast much deeper and wider into their inquiry of understanding Pasifika learners and Pasifika cultures, why we learn the way we learn, why we act the way we act. The more questions are asked, the more they genuinely start to look past the surface level and suddenly a light bulb moment.
One way of meeting levels four and five is using a thematic and cross-curricular approach that will enable Pasifika learners to engage more by drawing on their prior knowledge. A hard one to grapple for many teachers, but some embrace it by changing their lens to tailor make the curriculum and key competencies to meet the students' cultural values. Here’s a great example of Student advice for Teachers video to illustrate a collaborative effort between two teachers to meet their students needs using a thematic approach.
As a bicultural and multicultural nation, we have come a long way to being culturally responsive since the 1960s. However, we still have a long way to go to understand the concept of how culture must enter the consciousness of a teacher to really make a significant shift from accepting culture to being culturally responsive. It should start with the most influential key players in schools to model these changes. Ask the difficult questions such as:
- Are all Pasifika learners at your school achieving educational success while maintaining and enhancing their language, culture and identity as Pasifika?
- How do you know they’re achieving this?