Training manual for teachers working with Pacific students: Engaging Pacific learners
This resource aims to assist teachers working with Pacific students in tertiary settings by providing ways to enhance their ability to engage in class discussion and content.
Sandy Thompson, Fraser McDonald, Malia Talakai,
Venusi Taumoepeau and Aue Te Ava – Pacific Centre for Learning, Teaching and Research, and Community and Health Services at Unitec.
Chapter 2: Engaging Pacific learners
Chapter 3: Teaching plans
Chapter 4: References
Chapter 5: Extra resources
To read the full report, please download the complete document using the link above.
To view all the videos which accompany this report, click here.
Video 1: Chapter 1 (Culturally responsive pedagogy)
Video 2: Chapter 2 (Engagement leads to achievement)
Video 3: Chapter 2 (Create a supportive and safe environment)
Video 4: Chapter 2 (Acknowledge the context of Pacific learners)
Video 5: Chapter 2 (Use appropriate teaching methods)
Pacific students’ lack of engagement in classroom discussions and with the classroom curriculum has been identified as the result of many factors including the tertiary educational environment being a foreign place. Unfamiliar educational pedagogies and curriculum content often leave Pacific students feeling lost and alienated. Feelings of loss and alienation lead to missing classes, lack of engagement in class discussion and with class curriculum. The lack of attendance in class, the lack of engagement in class discussion and with the class curriculum results in poor achievement, low success and high drop out rates. It is therefore argued that appropriate teaching methodologies, and cultural contextualisation and customisation of teaching, will enhance Pacific learners’ engagement in the classroom discussion and with the class curriculum.
It was in the context of our work with Pacific students at Unitec Institute of Technology that we identified the need to employ appropriate teaching methodologies, and use cultural contextualisation and customisation of teaching to respond to Pacific learners. This initiated the work around embedding Pacific knowledge, values and practices in the Unitec curricula in an effort to enhance Pacific learners’ learning through engagement in class discussion and with class content. This included preparing student centred delivery which utilized specific teaching tools such as metaphors, stories as well as creating positive learning environments through identifying and supporting cultural nuances, contextualisation and customisation of teaching of teaching content.
This training manual is prepared by Unitec’s Pacific Centre for Teaching, Learning and Research and teaching staff from Unitec’s Department of Community and Health Services. It comprises a text based e-resource that is written to accompany video clips, pod-casts and photographs. The goals of this e-resource is to assist teachers that work with Pacific students in the tertiary environment by providing ways to enhance Pacific learners’ ability to engage in class discussion and with class content.
The Pacific Centre for Learning, Teaching and Research
The Centre’s vision is to “Embrace Pacific Cultures to enhance student experience through improvement of student engagement and achievement so that students become valued leaders and contributors to Pacific communities and New Zealand society”. The main function of the centre revolves firstly, around providing academic and pastoral support for Pacific students. Secondly, through the provision of advice and support for academic lecturers. Finally, through engagement and working closely with Pacific families and communities.
The Nakuita, which is Fijian for 'octopus', was developed by the Pacific Centre’s Director, Linda Aumua in 2008, to inform the work of the centre. The octopus has one central body which metaphorically refers to the centre and its tentacles as the Pacific support provided through the learning development lecturers infiltrating the departments and services.
The concept started out with the centre employing learning development lecturers. The learning development lecturers are nurtured at the centre before they are placed in the departments, usually in the staff member’s area of expertise. The idea is that the staff member will be able to provide content support and learning development support for Pacific students. The flexibility of the octopus framework enabled the centre to collaborate with departments to co-employ the learning development lecturers with the aim of the departments picking up full employment of the Pacific staff.
The success of the Nakuita has extended into the area of staff support. This include providing professional development workshops on understanding Pacific learners; engaging Pacific learners; providing input into curriculum development around embedding Pacific dimensions into the curricula and collaborating with staff on Pacific research. Through collaboration with the two lecturers in the Graduate Diploma in Not-For-Profit Management, Sandy Thompson and Fraser McDonald we are also able to produce this training resource. This collaboration started with the centre providing support for the Pacific students on their programme. This has extended to a co-employment of a Pacific staff member to provide focus support for students in this programme.
This manual is divided into five chapters.
- Chapter 1 is the introduction and includes a triangulation of a literature review on engagement of Pacific learners, students’ evaluation and tutors learning experiences.
- Chapter 2 draws on the experiences of the above Unitec staff and looks at meaningful ways to engage Pacific learners in classroom discussions and class content.
- Chapter 3 provides some example of teaching plans
- Chapter 4 consist of a list of references used in this work.
- Chapter 5 is a resource/information section that will provide additional information and resources to support the work of teachers.
In order to fully understand the concepts and approaches used in this Manual, it is important to recognise and understand the theoretical basis for the work. There are three basic theoretical approaches which underlie the concepts and approaches shared in this Manual. First, for Pacific learners to engage, a safe and supportive environment must be created to allow for this to happen. In this regard, several factors play equally important roles in the provision of a safe and supportive environment. Factors include building trusting relationships with learners, believing and feeling passionate about learners, showing learners you care so that they feel comfortable to communicate and join the discussion, talking with them and not at them, providing food and space. Secondly, it is about acknowledging the context of Pacific learners. This can include things such as identity, values, spirituality, family, friends and the community they belong to. The third factor involves the use of appropriate teaching methods.
Student engagement is widely perceived as an important part of learning and achievement and research shows that engagement declines sharply when students advance through to tertiary studies (Conner, 2006). If this is what the research tells us about the level of student engagement, it is fair, based on what we know from retention and achievement levels of Pacific students, to say that the level of engagement for Pacific learners is less than mainstream students. Engagement in relation to Pacific learners includes students’ willingness to participate in routine school activities such as attending class, submitting required work and following teacher’s directions in class (Gorinski & Fraser, 2006; Harkness, Parkin & Dalgety, 2005). Pacific educators further argue that appropriate teaching methodologies, cultural contextualisation and customisation of teaching also needs to be considered as they play an integral role in enhancing Pacific learners’ engagement in the classroom discussion and with the class content (Manu`atu, 2000; Meyers, 2000).
Engagement of Pacific students in education has been identified as an issue that also links to student under achievement. Under achievement of Pacific learners in the tertiary sector is attributed to several factors which include academia being a foreign environment, with its language, tools and skills being foreign to Pacific students; the culture of the Pacific learner as being too demanding; Pacific learners tending to lack family support. Pacific families may not understand what is required to succeed in academic studies and the financial and social background of the student’s further disadvantage them from succeeding.
While the focus here are the learners’ weaknesses (cultural, social, and economic), the role of the teacher, the teacher’s philosophies and pedagogies in engaging Pacific learners have been left un-questioned until very recently (Helu-Thaman, 2003). Ross (2008) supports this by arguing that the teacher’s pedagogical practices may not be culturally responsive to the student’s learning and achievements. Culturally responsive teaching has been shown to include validating student knowledge and prior experiences, using cultural references to impart knowledge and having innovative teaching and assessment strategies (Sheet, 2005). A culturally responsive pedagogy for Pacific learners is therefore built around core Pacific values such as spirituality, respect, metaphors, stories, humility, humour, affection and relationships.
Culturally responsive pedagogy
A culturally responsive pedagogy has been cited as important and provides teaching and learning methods that help students engage in their learning (Meyers, 2003). In a culturally responsive pedagogy, students come together to share their knowledge with each other and at the same time help other students learn (Samu, Mara & Siteine, 2008). Teachers and learners coming together should be built around mutual respect, relationship and rapport. Relationship building is the first step to enhancing engagement between teacher and student as this will lead to building Pacific learners’ confidence to engage in class discussions.
As the Pacific population in New Zealand is growing and increasingly becoming younger, so will the demand for teachers to engage with Pacific learners. Whitinui (2007) in his work on engaging Maori learners suggests that an effective way to engage Maori students in their learning is for the teacher to understand their needs and cultural background. The same is true for Pacific learners. However, for Pacific learners to engage with the class content Pacific knowledge, values and practices need to be incorporated into the curriculum. Hawk, Cowley, Hill & Sutherland (2001), support this by arguing that engagement is not only about social involvement. It is also about achievement. Engagement enhances achievement. Jennings and Angelo (2006) have identified ways to engage Pacific learners in classroom learning. It includes consultation around appropriate practices, identifying culturally inclusive pedagogies that will inform and improve students’ learning in the classroom as well as strategies for adapting and embedding concepts, models and practical elements of engagement into teaching and learning (View Video Clip 1).