Thursday, 9 July 2020

The Importance of Making Connections through telling our own stories

Making connections with Pacific ideas in health education - an invitation to tell my own story.

Our TIC of Health, Whaea Kata told me about how she collaborated with Gloria, a year 13 student, class of 2019 and Jenny Robertson, a Health educator, to put together a relevant piece of work for the health curriculum that could be used in a high school classroom.  Gloria Tu’itupou was the top Health and P.E Scholarship student in N.Z last year and wrote a report called ‘Navigating vā in search of Connection:  The Kahoa (Lole)’.  The report has become part of new resource for the Health curriculum called “Making connections with Pacific ideas in health education”.  When Whaea described Gloria’s understanding of the vā and how she explored the use of the Kahoa as symbol of the connections between her two worlds, I was hooked.  I was amazed at the insights that I’d heard and felt proud, not because Gloria was a student of ours but because I could connect with what she was saying- I could see myself in her words.  

The story of my two worlds
My own battle to work in two worlds, the Samoan world and the Palagi/Kiwi world came to the front and centre of my mind when reading Gloria’s report.  I had limited understanding of the concept of the vā, which I thought meant that unspoken place in relation to how you act and feel in the Samoan world.  I didn’t really want to go there to be honest because of my I felt I wouldn’t do it justice but that’s okay, these are simply my musings.

“Vā is the space between, the betweeness, not empty space, not space that separates, but space that relates, that holds separate entities and things together in the Unity-that-is-All, the space that is context, giving meaning to things” (Wendt,pg 402, 1999). 

I hadn’t really tried to understand my existence in my two worlds much until now.   I’ve always thought you were either one or the other and trying to be in the middle was a really a confusing place.  I’ve come to realise that everyone’s story has a place in that ‘space’ and as an educator, I’ve got the chance to help my kids know who they are and how to navigate their ‘space’.  To do this, I needed to really understand and appreciate my own journey. 

Growing up, I didn’t have much to do with my ‘Samoan’ side (even though I am full Samoan).  My mum always used to say, the key to success is education and that success starts with speaking proper English.  At home, my parents spoke to us kids in Samoan but we were encouraged to reply and speak in English.  We attended a palagi Catholic church.  I watched many of my school friends grow up in the ‘autalavou’ (church youth group) and I yearned to be part of the White Sunday celebrations.  I felt like a bit of an outsider.  

During my school years, were only allowed to go to school and come straight home, no friends, no extra-curricular, just school and home.  It was my cousins that lived the ‘real’ Samoan life and I enjoyed the few times that we got together.  They could speak Samoan freely and I got good at nodding my head and saying ‘iiii’ (meaning ‘yes’, pronounced ‘eee’ - supposed to be ‘ioe’ but I didn’t know).  Watching them answer their parents commands in the Samoan language made me envious of them.  When we were alone,  I would purposefully try to sound smarter then them by telling them to say words like ‘discussion’ and ‘decision’ because I knew they would struggle and sound like ‘fobs’ (a term coined ‘fresh off the boat’ which meant P.I immigrants who came to N.Z unable to speak English).  We would laugh and it would make me feel better.

Someone said to me once ‘Dorothy, as a Pacific Islander, if you want to prove yourself in this world, you have to work twice as hard’.  This became my mantra.  In my early college years, I excelled at school and had mainly palagi friends.  I had to work extra hard in class and I remember coming 13th out of 120 students in the end of year maths test in year 9.  I thought I was really brainy.  This made me fit in with the palagi kids even more, except when they wanted to hang out after school.  I wasn’t allowed and I felt left out.  I didn’t really have any Samoan friends because I didn’t feel comfortable around them.  They acted different, they sounded different and they looked at me like I was different.  Looking back now, I could see that their Samoan way of life (fa’a Samoa) was what kept them together.

In years 9 and 10, I enjoyed writing poetry and stories, as a way to disguise my feelings.  Through poetry, I could control my world, and my language was my power.  My teachers were really caring and in year 10, we had a reliever for our English class who was really an Art teacher.  So all we did was draw what we wrote.  In our drawings, we could visually share our stories without judgement.  I can clearly recall looking around the classroom, at all the static images that we’d drawn and thought ‘wow, I can see how others feel, I can feel what others feel and that's okay’.  I remember seeing lots of bright colours and feeling free and connected to something for the first time.  I found my happy place.  I appreciated the chance that that teacher gave me to see my place in the world.  It had a profound affect on me. It was then in year 10, I decided I wanted to be an English teacher and to use my skills of knowing English pretty well (I thought), to be somebody and to help somebody. 

Looking back, I guess it was only in a classroom that I was allowed to find my space.  I can appreciate that those feelings of being lost in 'space', were building my resilience and I've come to navigate my space better.  Now that I’ve unpacked my journey, I feel ready to help my learners unpack their space or ‘va’.  The vā or space between my two worlds is where I now sit safely and comfortably.  There is a famous Samoan proverb that says ‘Teuteu le vā’ and translated it means 'nurture/take care of the vā'.  With this in my mind, I feel it is my purpose to help my learners to navigate and find themselves in their 'vā'.  

Allowing the conversations to start by being deeply connected

Gloria’s report put into words the struggle that many of our Pasifica kids go through all at this time. I felt a deep sense of gratitude and it's given me purpose to work through the recommendations she's suggested in her report (pg 22).  To ensure success, we need to adhere to the voices of students who share the same journey as Gloria.  We have to start somewhere and this 'space' in time, is the right time.  Our principal Soana proudly shared the Health resource with our staff last week via email.  One of our senior staff members Mele Suipi-Latu articulated a response which I want to share:

‘It's moments like this that deeply connect us all to a collective joy and pride 'i he'etau fanau tama' - 'he'etau' means our, 'fanau' means birth, 'tama' means a daughter or son. It means that we can all identify and equally share the joy of Gloria's success - our daughter - because part of her making or 'birth' was done here in the community and family of Tamaki College.  So although it was your deliberation, Whaea Kata, and your own daughter and commitment, Seini Tu'itupou', Gloria is a Tamaki College daughter and we are all proud!”.  

Thank you Whaea Kata, Seini and Gloria for allowing us to share in your moment and to begin to tell our stories.  Malo lava soifua.

Tu’itupou, G., O’Donnell, K., & Robertson J. (2020). Making connections with Pacific ideas in health education: A resource to support teaching and learning in The New Zealand Curriculum. New Zealand: NZHEA.

Wendt, Albert The Space Between [34] 1999 Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body. In Inside Out: Literature, Cultural Politics, and Identity in the New Pacific, edited by Vilsoni Hereniko and Rob Wilson, 399–412. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

9AK #7: Evidence gathering: Connecting with whanau during lockdown

Did connecting with whanau support student learning during the lockdown?  

The lockdown was a chance to connect with whanau on a another level.  Before the lockdown, students were sent to school for their learning and that was that.  During lockdown, students pretty much brought their homes, lives and families to ‘school’ with them when they were forced to shared their learning spaces with their teachers.  I was interested in how our students handled this and I found an article that talks about the vā, the relative space between people and their relationships.

“The vā that binds: a Pasifika education story during Covid-19” describes the vā as a sacred space that online learning interrupted.  Teachers were invited into the sacred spaces of our kids in their homes.  In that space, the divide grew wider or got closer, depending on whether the kids trusted you or not.  At the start of the lockdown, my seniors were all for it turning up to online classes religiously.  But nearer the end, they were rarely there.  There would be a few reasons for this.  Much of the school work they were doing was individualised research which required basic checking in and quick discussions and they were off.  Another reason for a lack of attendance was that many students either worked, babysat or were expected to contribute to the household chores and rarely had time to login(see a recent blog post).  

The juniors on the other hand were there everyday, ready to learn.   In the 9AK project based class, I had at least 75% attendance on average from my year 9's and it was really enjoyable connecting with them in this way.  Most of the time, they had their screens off and mute buttons on. 

I'd like to highlight one student who regularly invited me into his whanau ’space' whenever our classes were on.  Below are the interactions we had from the lockdown (I have changed the boys name to Adam).

Week 1:  Adam introduced his little brother to the class and was feeding him whilst taking part in the lesson. 

Week 2:  Adam’s mum joined the class kahoot with us and beat Adam in a couple of the questions.

Week 3:  Mum helped Adam brainstorm capabilities when he was stuck (see video 11 mins - 11.45 secs).

The week before we went into level 1, Adam’s mum had described to me online her worries about sending her son to school.  I reassured her that she didn't need to send him to school until she was ready and he wouldn't miss anything as we were still online as well as in the classroom.   She seemed happy with my response.

Now that we are pretty back to normal teaching and learning in the classroom, I feel that I have a better relationship with Adam compared to before the lockdown.  If he gets distracted during the lesson, I just call out his name and give him the 'look' and he apologies and refocusses.  I feel there is an unspoken respect and trust that has been formed as a result of connecting with his mum during lockdown.  

The fact that these small connections occurred closes the gaps with the vā.  My wonderings are that if we can shorten the va’, how do we continue the momentum?  I am excited to learn more about developing better connections with our whanau to support our student learning.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

9AK #6: Evidence gathering: Online group collaboration

While we were in lockdown, I wanted to see if groups could still collaborate online to complete tasks set for them.  I noticed that one particular group, Team 'I.S' crew, were finding it difficult to get all members of their group to contribute to group discussions.  I had observed this before lockdown in the classroom as well as at the start of our lockdown during our online hangouts.

On the 4th of May, I set the groups a group task and let the groups know that I would be recording them to make sure I can see how to help them better.  Here is a blogpost about the lesson.

For the Team 'I.S' crew, I paid particular attention to them because I could see that although they had 4 members of their team online, only 2 of them were regularly contributing.  
Here is the video and transcript.
When I reviewed the video, I noticed that at the start of the groups discussion, most members of the group were contributing.  But when one of the students felt like he wasn't being heard or that his point was being questioned, he seemed to distance himself then no longer contributed.  It was then left to two of the members to complete the tasks which they didn't get to do.  I joined the hangout at the end and I could see that they had struggled to complete the tasks set.  In fact, they were way behind the other groups.
After transcribing my feedback to the group, there were a number of things that I noticed that I'd said when one of the students had asked for my help:
I praised the group for doing what they could
I explained why I thought they were finding it difficult to complete
I relayed that I thought they're discussions were good even when I'd only heard a minute of their discussions.
I didn't actually listen to why they were having issues, I just tried to solve it.  

On reflection, I wondered about the way I responded to the group.  I was conscious of the time and having 5 groups all wanting my attention made it hard for me to listen to understand and I basically listened to respond.  I wonder if by having a number of key prompting questions, I could apply more of a deep dive into finding out what the real issue was.  I also hope to teach the students how to feel more confident in contributing to their group discussions. 

Saturday, 6 June 2020

TAI 2020 WFRC #6: How will I use the data?

By collating the PAT/Asttle and STAR data for students at the start of the year, I am able to identify where their learning needs with regards to reading and writing.  By adding to this ongoing formative and sumative video analysis of groups in actions as well as teacher observations, discussions and student voice surveys, I can create a holistic picture of how a student learns and where their strengths and weaknesses lie with regards to how they collaborate and how they talanoa.
What I have found interesting so far is that some of the less able students who scored quite low in their testing are finding confidence in speaking in front of the class.  I wonder if the collaborative nature of the class has allowed the learners to feel validated and safe enough to share.  I would like to understand more about how this has happened.  

I am hoping to compare students from this class to those in other year 9 classes who are at the same levels of data testing and compare two time points, the start and the end of year data.  Coupled with interviews for both groups, I am hoping that this will give me a chance to see whether explicit teaching of collaboration through Talanoa, will be one of the indicators to a shift in achievement.

Friday, 5 June 2020

Online teaching and learning #9: Google hangout whilst on sick leave

Today I was sick with the flu and I contacted my classes that I would be having our classes online (as in I was at home) and the classes would login to a hangout from my physical classroom EP6, with the support of their reliever.   

One of my classes, the year 10's were really good at showing me who was in the class and I noticed Tom, one of my hard case boys was really engaged.  I know he loves to wear his headphones and listen to music so it was good to see him so engaged.  Watching the video back, I could see that kids were comfortable to be taught and to learn online, regardless if I as the teacher, was in the classroom or at home.  I wonder if this would be the 'norm' in the future?  

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Online teaching and learning #8: Virtual Samoan Language Week

This week, we celebrated Samoan Language Week in a different way - online!  
We didn't want to miss the opportunity to share our culture with staff and students even in a lockdown.  The theme was: “Tapena sou ōso mo lau malaga - Prepare yourself a gift for your travels.  Below are some of the activities that we did.

Daily activities website:
We created a daily events page on the Social Sciences website for students to do during the week.  Tutor teachers went through the activities during tutor time. 

Staff briefing:
At each staff briefing, one of our Samoan students would share their understanding of the theme.  Here is a link to their speeches.

Student morning tea:
Last year we served hot koko alaisa (cocoa rice) and panikeke's (small donuts) to our students outside the wharekai.  It was our way of sharing our love of food with our kids.

Staff challenge video:
Students always love seeing their teachers giving something a go so I coerced some staff to create a staff challenge video which was fun to make and was shown to classes by their tutor teachers.

Staff morning tea: 
In previous years we usually have a huge lunch catered by our Pasifika staff.  This year, we did it takeaway styles and each staff member was treated to some yummy sweet treats that was delivered to them.  
Yummy mud cake for staff
'Pass the Siva' video challenge:
Our team discussed an idea of putting together a 'pass the siva' challenge video where students would perform a short dance and pretend to pass a move to another student.  We also wanted to connect our ex-students with our current through the video as the theme lent itself nicely to it.  Our Samoan tutor Alby put the word out for students to send in and near the end of the language week, I made a short video bringing all the video's together.  Unfortunately we were unable to perform in the polyfest this year, so it was lovely to see our students performing for the video and we enjoyed providing a different way of sharing our love of our Samoan culture. 


Friday, 29 May 2020

TAI 2020 WFRC #5: Nature and Extent of the Student Challenge.

Share your findings about the nature and extent of the student challenge. Make sure it is clear what evidence from your inquiry supports each finding.
My inquiry is looking at whether project based collaborative ways of learning in a Talanoa environment will make the difference in the learning journey of my year 9 class.  I know I need to be more specific with regards to shifting achievement in literacy, so the challenge will be how to shift the capabilities and achievement of our lower achieving students above their entry level to high school.  This will be with regards to both reading and writing.

My initial focus was to develop a plan to observe and construct strategies to support students in teams during their groups collaboration process but because of the lockdown, part of my focus has changed to include how groups can do this in both the physical sense (in the classroom) and online.

I have taught level 2 and level 3 Social Studies for a number of years, and when it comes to students presenting their learning to their class (or even verbalising their learning to me their teacher) students find this really difficult.  Students refuse or why they know they have to present, they provide an ill-prepared speech or spending the time reading a powerpoint from the board.  This led me in 2018, to inquire into why my seniors struggled and to what extent was this lack of speaking to their learning, an impact on their achievement.  

A big part of my inquiry focussed on the ‘Talanoa’ and how I thought, that this strategy of having students speak their learning could encourage students inevitably lead my kids to write better.
I found that the actions around the Talanoa did support those students who were already confident speakers and those who weren’t, were able to slowly come out of their shells, with support from scaffolding templates and encouragement from  their fellow classmates.  Students’ were able to articulate their learning better than before, although I found there was still a disconnect from students who could speak their learning to having to write it.

One of my goals with my inquiry this year, is not to wait until year 12 and year 13 to find out that students could not talk their learning, but to create a culture of ‘Talanoa’ through the collaborative efforts in my year 9 classes project based learning, so that it would be the norm for them.

From my observations of my year 9’s at the start of the year, I could see that there had been some success with regards to students who were less confident before becoming more confident through a lesson we had on conversation skills (blogpost here).  However there were many students, particularly those of lower ability struggling with collaboration and speaking their learning.  During the lockdown, it was a challenge to run a physical collaboration and so my attention turned to whether students were able to collaborate in a google hangout (blogpost here).  What I noticed was that regardless of the platform (physically in class vs. google hangout), students still needed a lot of prompting and scaffolding to support their ‘Talanoa’.  Some students needed less whilst others would needed more.

The challenge for my learners this year is understand that the ‘Talanoa’ can work to support their literacy journey towards achievement and success.  I want my learners to engage in learning conversations that can be presented in a public forum and understand that the Talanoa is another way to show progress and learning. I want them to support each other in their groups and to use their strengths to build on their participation in the group.  This would mean that I need to make sure that I provide enough opportunities to engage in the Talanoa with well-developed resources and strategies that will cater to the varied learning needs of my class.

The Importance of Making Connections through telling our own stories

Making connections with Pacific ideas in health education - an invitation to tell my own story. Our TIC of Health, Whaea Kata told me ...