Targeted Learning Sessions to enhance the assessment performance of first-year Māori and Pasifika students S3
Section 3: Adapting TLS to Māori and Pacific Learners
Figure 9: Working with the Student Services Writing tutor
TLS can be embedded into any assessment programme. When these students are the minority (which is the case in most mainstream first-year courses), provision is made to create a culturally welcoming space within TLS and prepare these students to attend and feel confident within the throng of fellow class attendees. Where Māori and Pacific students are the majority, the TLS sessions are offered in the same way as for any first-year class but with a higher input from Māori and Pacific professional and academic staff where appropriate or available.
Many Māori and Pacific learners found it liberating to witness so many other students in their class asking the same questions they wanted answered and requesting the same level of academic assistance to get their assessment task under way or refined.
Māori and Pacific students in mainstream courses
The starting point is to consider the services that are already offered to support Māori and Pacific first-year learners at department, faculty and institutional level. It is then simply a matter of collaborating with these services and linking up with existing mentors or tutors to encourage the students to prepare for and participate in TLS. Initially this is time-consuming as you need to negotiate and then promote how this is to work in each course. Never underestimate the value of the careful promotion required to run each TLS successfully.
In courses where there is a dedicated Māori and Pacific tutorial offered within the mainstream tutorial mix the students already have a close relationship with their tutor and associated Tuākana mentor. This makes it relatively easy to link students into TLS support from this tutorial base and embed it within their assignment preparation.
Where the is no separate Māori and Pacific tutorial option a mechanism needs to be devised to contact and encourage these students in the class to attend. In our faculty the obvious mechanism is through the Tuākana network but course tutors or a Māori or Pacific learning support tutor can also provide this function. Māori mentors in particular often have a strong rapport with their students, which is always a successful element in encouraging unconfident learners to engage with a new learning scheme. All the Māori and Pacific students in the class are contacted by email and encouraged to link up with the mentor and fellow students at an arranged meeting time and attend the TLS as a group. Key Māori and Pacific academic support staff are scheduled at these times to ensure the larger group is able to be accommodated.
Figure 10: Linking the essay question to resources with the Pasifika Liaison Librarian
Once the use of the space for TLS was established and refined, it was relatively easy to add extra features to create a culturally welcoming environment for Māori and Pacific learners. A Māori and Pacific subject librarian was available at a library workstation, but in addition a separate space was created off the side of the main TLS area. This additional area grew almost organically as Tuākana mentors created their own space to gather their students. The students could sit informally on the floor with their mentor to settle in before being accompanied into the mainstream area to consult with the staff member best suited to address their questions. Sometimes these groups stayed on afterwards in the Māori and Pacific breakout area to share their insights from discussions with a subject librarian, a writing tutor or their course convenor (whom they would rarely approach in any other circumstance).
Figure 11: Tuākana Mentor welcoming a student to TLS before guiding her to the first workstation
Why use the library for Māori and Pacific TLS?
Why not relocate the TLS from the library to an area where Māori and Pacific students feel more comfortable and are used to hanging out together? Annual FYE questionnaires indicated that many Māori and Pacific first-year students were reluctant to enter or use the library space. Many expressed their nervousness about the library environment, which they found intimidating. It was a space where they felt they were not welcome because they perceived that it was ‘owned’ by other groups of students. Many indicated that they would never attend the library on their own and did not want to be seen asking for help as to how to use the facility. This feedback informed our decision to locate TLS in the library to help demystify the space and broker positive interaction with learning support staff for the less confident students. A bonus is that the library is a relatively neutral space, away from departments, teaching rooms, lecture theatres and the more formal sites of instruction. The free-flow TLS environment meant students did not feel trapped or conspicuous and could slip in and out of session as they pleased.
Successful elements for engaging Māori and Pacific students:
- Provide students in advance with statistical evidence linking improvement of assignment grades with attendance at TLS.
- Show TLS promotional video in class so students know exactly what to expect and how to use the service.
- Dedicate tutorial preparation time to plan how students can make the most out of attending TLS to improve their assignment grade.
- Use tutorial time to help students write a schedule for their assignment research and writing time which includes TLS.
- Arrange a meeting time and place so students can go in buddy groups to TLS.
- Māori or Pacific Tuākana mentor should accompany students to TLS or become part of the student mentor welcome team.
- Tutor available to help navigate students through the workstations and share in discussion.
- Ensure that Māori or Pacific librarian is available when the groups of Māori and Pacific students are expected.
Figure 12: Working with the Student Services writing tutor
Later refinement of TLS which encouraged higher Māori and Pacific attendance:
- Increase the images of Māori and Pacific students in the TLS promotional video.
- Place the video on the course webpage.
- Inclusion of Māori and Pacific Learning Services Advisor to help with essay drafts and writing introductions and conclusions.
- Development of additional space, adjacent to main TLS area where students could sit informally on the floor with their Tuākana mentor, subject tutor and Learning Support tutor.
- Students who come early in a three-hour session encouraged to use a library workstation to refine their draft/introduction/thesis statement and come back again for further consultation. This was a very popular suggestion and enabled students to commence their writing confident that they had understood the question and had written a competent introductory paragraph.
Where Māori or Pacific students are the majority
In these courses no major changes are required to the way in which the librarians, writing support tutors etc. set up or deliver a TLS. The library space is still set up in the same way. Many of the students will have attended a TLS in another first-year course so they will be familiar with the layout and protocol. The only difference was the increased presence of Māori and Pacific library and teaching and writing support staff and academic tutors.
The greatest effort needs to be in working alongside the course convenor and the tutorial team to integrate the TLS into the tutorial structure and the academic support offered in that discipline area. If a specialist Māori and/or Pacific subject librarian is available, they become an important member of the academic planning team to scaffold resources around the assessment task. This planning should be done as early as possible, and certainly within the first weeks of the semester at the latest, to ensure that the sessions are included in all the course information material and assignment sheets.
Figure 13: Discussing how to unpack an assignment question with the course tutor
The inclusion of a low-value trigger assignment to structure an assessment pathway into the major piece of work is a useful way of encouraging students to start preparation early for their assignment. This should be for credit (5-10%) and can be marked online (e.g. Turnitin Grade Mark) to ensure fast turnaround and timed approximated seven days before the TLS. A trigger assignment can be an essay plan and proposed bibliography; essay plan and sample introductory paragraph; thesis statement and essay plan or a sample paragraph. This provides the students with rapid, early feedback that can guide them into their next phase of research, drafting and writing. They can take their trigger assignment and feedback with them to the TLS to be used as a focus for their questions. The other benefit is that this low assessment weighted task can initiate early warning strategies should students fail to submit or present inadequate content. The late submission of the trigger assignment and support in TLS can often get a student back on the assessment ladder without serious mark penalties.
Summary of successful elements:
- Short trigger assignment seven days before TLS
- early academic intervention initiated by trigger assignment if appropriate
- TLS offered seven days before assessment deadline
- TLS offered directly after course lecture where possible
- students prepped in tutorials to attend TLS in tutorials two weeks in advance
- course convenor introduces FYE/Tuākana mentors in lecture room and all teaching staff and mentors walk with the students over to the library space, chatting about the TLS on the way
- Māori and/or Pacific librarians rostered into sessions.
‘If you build it they will come’
The central premise in the 1989 film ‘Field of Dreams’ has become a popular cultural metaphor for the attainment of hitherto unfulfilled ambitions. The first Targeted Learning Session although built on sound teaching and learning pedagogy, was offered with no idea if it would appeal to more than a handful of students. It proved to be a service that appealed to the majority of students and was located in a space where they felt comfortable to learn and be seen to ask for academic assistance. We built it and they came!
Of equal importance was who came to these sessions. With a few adaptations Māori and Pasifika students increasingly became regular and committed attendees. As we refined the sessions and tailored them more to this group of learners we achieved better results. The collaborative approach became the catalyst for a more effective delivery of teaching and learning expertise. The pragmatic clincher is that the scheme does not rely on additional funding or appointing new staff roles – it is simply a redeployment of existing staff and services shaped by good teaching practice that appeals to the needs of contemporary learners.
Build it and they will come!