Literature review on the experiences of Pasifika learners in the classroom

Publication Details

There are new challenges for education systems in knowledge societies. All learners need to be well served by their education to develop the requisite capabilities and sense of belonging and wellbeing to succeed and contribute to wider communities. This requires a responsive, future-focused education system, based on high expectations for successful outcomes amongst diverse learner groups.

Author(s): Dr P. Bruce Ferguson, Dr. R. Gorinski, T. Wendt Samu & Dr D. Mara

Date Published: June 2008

Research Design

Research review plays an important role in the dissemination of knowledge and in shaping further research and practice. Therefore the methodology of research synthesis is fundamentally important (Dunkin, 1996; Glass, McGraw, & Smith, 1981). Traditional narrative reviews (Johnson, 1986), meta-analyses (Glass, 1976; Hunter, Schmidt, & Jackson, 1982) and best evidence syntheses (Slavin, 1986), are three frequently used methods of synthesising primary research in key education journals.

Methodology

This review draws on the strengths of narrative review and a qualitative interpretive research approach, rather than the aggregative methods typical of a meta-analytic methodology. In a meta-analysis, findings from different studies are expressed in terms of a common metric called the effect size. In general, the effect size is the difference between the means of the experimental and control conditions divided by the standard deviation (Glass, 1976; Wolf, 1986). Following a closer examination of the literature, this methodological approach was deemed inappropriate, given the dearth of Pasifika-focused research-based studies in the area of analysis available to date.

Qualitative interpretive approach

The purpose of an interpretive synthesis of qualitative research is not to generate predictive theories, but to facilitate a fuller understanding of the phenomenon, context, or culture being explored (Cooper, 1989; Dunkin, 1996). With this in mind, conceptual as well as methodological studies relevant to the topic under consideration were included in the synthesis. Given the focus of this literature review, the combination of a traditional narrative review and an interpretive synthesis provided the most useful methodological mechanisms. Further, this approach to synthesising the literature has facilitated an inductive and interpretive approach, rather than a rigid set of procedures and techniques which are characteristic of more quantitative methodologies.

Because of the paucity of literature specific to Pasifika learner experiences in the classroom, this review also draws on a small sample of the more recent generic relevant international literature that explored pedagogy for diverse learners. This literature provided an overview of the underpinning conceptual and research-based understandings around the classroom experiences of diverse learners. This was supplemented with research studies that specifically explored the schooling experiences of Pasifika learners.

Selection of thematic categories

As noted previously, the framework used to organise the literature review was adapted and contextualised for this two-pronged investigation of Pasifika learners' experiences within New Zealand classrooms, from Sheets' (2005) Diversity Pedagogy framework. A number of reasons account for the research team's selection of Sheets' work as opposed to others (both national and international).

A number of theorists and educational researchers have identified and developed what they consider to be the key features/characteristics, or principles, of pedagogical practices that are responsive to diverse learners. Seminal examples from the United States include Banks (1995) five Dimensions of Multicultural Education; Gay (2000) Characteristics of Culturally Responsive Teaching; and the Centre for Research on Education Diversity and Excellence (CREDE) (2004) and the University of California-Berkeley's Five Standards of Effective Pedagogy. Education in New Zealand is profoundly influenced by the outputs of the Ministry of Education's Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) programme, particularly Alton-Lee's (2003) synthesis in which she has identified the Ten Characteristics of Quality Teaching of Diverse Learners.

Table 1 Characteristics of theoretical frameworks
1. The Dimensions of Multicultural Education (Banks, 1994)
  • Content integration
  • The knowledge construction process
  • Prejudice reduction
  • Equity pedagogy
  • Empowering school culture and social structure
2. Descriptive Characteristics of Culturally Responsive Teaching

Making classroom instruction more consistent with the cultural orientations of ethnically diverse students. Culturally responsive teaching is…

  • validating (using the knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, performance styles of diverse students)
  • comprehensive (develops intellectual, social, emotional, political learning by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes)
  • multidimensional (encompasses curriculum content, learning context, classroom climate, student-teacher relationship, teaching strategies, and assessments)
  • empowering (academic competence, personal confidence, courage, the will to act)
  • transformative (defines, changes "normal" practices that have negatively affected marginalised students. Contra-deficit theorising, etc.)
  • emancipatory (liberates the intellect of minority/marginalised students from constraints of "mainstream" knowledge or "the norm" perspective)
3. Five Standards for Effective PedagogyCentre for Research on Education Diversity and Excellence (CREDE, 2004)

These standards are ideals for best practice:

  • teachers and students producing together
  • developing language and literacy across the curriculum
  • making lessons meaningful
  • teaching complex thinking
  • teaching through conversation
4. Characteristics of Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: BES (Alton-Lee, 2003)

Evidence-based research…

  • Quality teaching is focused on student achievement (including social outcomes) and facilitates high standards of student outcomes for heterogeneous groups of students
  • Pedagogical practices enable classes and other learning groupings to work as caring, inclusive and cohesive learning communities
  • Effective links are created between school and other cultural contexts in which students are socialised to facilitate learning
  • Quality teaching is responsive to student learning processes
  • Opportunity to learn is effective and sufficient
  • Multiple task contexts support learning cycles
  • Curriculum goals, resources including ICT usage, task design, teaching and school practices are effectively aligned
  • Pedagogy scaffolds and provides appropriate feedback on students' task engagement
  • Pedagogy promotes learning orientations, student self-regulation metacognitive strategies and thoughtful student discourse
  • Teacher and students engage constructively in goal-orientated assessment
5. Diversity Pedagogical Dimensions (Sheets, 2005)

Sheets conceptualises two paired, tightly interconnected dimensional elements in eight dimensions guiding teacher (left) and student behaviours (right)

  • Diversity (teacher) - consciousness of difference (student) identity-ethnic identity development
  • social interaction - interpersonal relationships
  • culturally safe classroom context - self-regulated learning
  • language - language learning
  • culturally inclusive content - knowledge acquisition
  • instruction - reasoning skills
  • assessment - self-evaluation


Source:  'Diversity-concepts to enable success for the range of learners in New Zealand centre and schools', section for Key Concepts for Integration of Teacher Education Courses, Faculty of Education, University of Auckland, written by Samu, 2005.


Each of the frameworks identified and briefly described above can be drawn on as a conceptual framework for educators to critically reflect and explore research for strategies that are responsive to learner diversities. It is anticipated that these will facilitate the success of a range of learners within centres and schools in New Zealand. Each conceptual framework defines diversity, and makes explicit what "responsiveness to diversity" entails in relation to pedagogical practice. In other words, what is made explicit is what the teacher needs to do. What is implicit is the response of the learner, to practice that is responsive to diversity. This is what makes the Sheets framework (2005) of particular interest and relevance to this research project.

This project sought the voices of Pasifika learners-their perspective of their experiences in New Zealand classrooms. It included the voices of teachers, parents, and principals. The project sought the understanding of these adults, in terms of how Pasifika learners experience New Zealand classrooms. The Sheets typology provides a framework that is explicit about both the "teacher" and the "learner", as interacting entities. In exploring and analysing both the literature and the research data, an adapted, contextualised form of Sheets' framework was developed to provide a specific theoretical lens through which to make sense of the research, and inform, stimulate, and focus our attention, and thinking.

Diversity Pedagogy Theory

Diversity Pedagogy Theory (DPT) "links culture, cognition and schooling in a single unit" (Sheets, 2005, p. 1). An underlying premise is that classroom practice must be informed by "deep understandings" of the role of culture in not only the social development of children, but also their cognitive development. An appreciation and in-depth knowledge of this relationship is "key to incorporating multiple factors of diversity in the teaching-learning process" (Sheets, 2005, p. 1). This theory recognises the important role of teachers-but also makes explicit the equally important relational role of students or learners.

DPT has a distinctive structure that captures this interdependent relationship between the two "players" involved. In Sheets' (2005) typology, there are eight dimensional elements, each of which has two parts-teacher pedagogical behaviours (TPB) and Student Cultural Displays (SCD). TPB are about "how teachers think and act" and SCD are about "the ways children show who they are and what they know". Examples or expressions of TPB (Sheets, 2005, p. 2) include being able to observe:

  • how teachers choose to interact with students (this includes the quality of their interpersonal relationships with specific children);
  • how the classroom is arranged physically and the emotional tone of the classroom; and
  • the academic and social expectations that teachers have of learners. 

Examples of SCD (Sheets, 2005, p.2) include:

  • children bringing their culturally mediated, historically developing cultural knowledge, practices, values and skills to school: and
  • cultural displays emerging during social interactions, daily rituals and learning situations.

Observing such behaviours in learners provides "valuable insights to who they are, [and] how they act" in addition to "what they know" (Sheets, 2005, p. 2).

With DPT, Sheets (2005) argues that:

if teachers do what is listed on the left hand side [that is, TPB]…this teacher behaviour encourages students to develop and express what is on the right hand side. They [TPB, SCD] go hand in hand (p. 3).

Table 2 Alignment of Alton-Lee's Ten Characteristics of Quality Teaching and Sheets' Typology
Characteristics of Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: BES Alton-Lee (2003) Diversity Pedagogical Dimensions
Sheets (2005)

Evidence-based research…

  • Quality teaching is focused on student achievement (includes social outcomes) and facilitates high standards of student outcomes for heterogeneous groups of students
  • Pedagogical practices enable classes and other learning groupings to work as caring, inclusive, and cohesive learning communities
  • Effective links are created between school and other cultural contexts in which students are socialised to facilitate learning
  • Quality teaching is responsive to student learning processes
  • Opportunity to learn is effective and sufficient
  • Multiple task contexts support learning cycles
  • Curriculum goals, resources including ICT usage, task design, teaching, and school practices are effectively aligned
  • Pedagogy scaffolds and provides appropriate feedback on students' task engagement
  • Pedagogy promotes learning orientations, student self-regulation, metacognitive strategies, and thoughtful student discourse
  • Teacher and students engage constructively in goal-orientated assessment

Sheets conceptualises two paired, tightly interconnected dimensional elements in eight dimensions guiding teacher (left) and student behaviours (right):

  • diversity (teacher)- consciousness of difference (student)
  • identity-ethnic identity development
  • social interaction-interpersonal relationships
  • culturally safe classroom context-self-regulated learning
  • language-language learning
  • culturally inclusive content-knowledge acquisition
  • instruction-reasoning skills
  • assessment- self evaluation


It is possible to directly locate six of Sheets' dimensions within Alton-Lee's comprehensive description of the characteristics of quality teaching for diverse learners. For example, Sheets' dimensions three and four (social interaction-interpersonal relationships; culturally safe classroom context-self-regulated learning) align with the second characteristic of teaching, related to groups that work as caring, inclusive, and cohesive learning communities. Dimensions one and six (diversity-consciousness of difference; culturally inclusive content-knowledge acquisition) align with the third characteristic of quality teaching.

However, there are two dimensions that do not so readily align-dimensions two and five: ethnic identity development and language. These are not made explicit in Alton-Lee's framework. In terms of Pasifika as a multi-ethnic grouping in New Zealand society, and given the substantial and well-articulated research and debate around language policy and academic achievement for minority learners (such as Pasifika), this is a strength of the Sheets' framework for utilisation in this project.

There are a number of characteristics of quality teaching (Alton-Lee, 2003) that do not directly align with Sheets' typology, for example: "opportunity to learn is effective and sufficient" and "multiple task contexts support learning cycles". It can be argued that these are not necessarily absent from Sheets' typology. Rather, they can be seen (or perhaps assumed) to be fundamental practices that would be included in Sheets' typology.

The seven interacting dimensions of this project's adaptation of Sheets' typology are briefly described in the following table. What must be borne in mind is that within each dimension there are "the actions and attitudes related to the act of teaching" on the one hand, and "the observable student socio-cultural capital" on the other (Sheets, 2005, p. 15).

Table 3 relates Sheets' (2005) DPT with a summary of the 'Diversity Pedagogy' typology and the Pasifika Adaptation (2007) made for purposes of this literature review. A more detailed summary of Sheets' typology is located in the Appendix of this literature review. Although there are several areas where the discourses converge, the table is intended to highlight the modifications made to Sheets' original typology, for use in the context of this Pasifika work. To some extent it is reductionistic, but the intention is to capture the main elements of the two frameworks.

Table 3 Sheets' (2005, p. 15) Diversity Pedagogy typology and the Pasifika adaptation (2007)
Sheets' Typology
Pasifika Adaptation (2007)
Teacher Pedagogical Behaviours
Student Cultural Display
"Actions and attitudes related to the act of teaching"

"Observable student socio-cultural capital"
Diversity Consciousness of Difference Dimension 1: Cultural distinctiveness
This refers to the inclusion of specific Pasifika learners' ideas, objects, beliefs, values, attitudes, qualities and characteristics, within a personalised learning context.
Consciousness of Cultural Difference
Awareness and thoughtful exploration of Pasifika (traditional, contemporary) cultural diversity (people, ideas, objects, values and attitudes)
Identity Ethnic Identity Development Dimension 2: Identities
Identity refers to the knowledge of who a person is, as opposed to what groups they belong to. It is based upon biological, cultural, ethnic, social, psychological and political factors (Sheets, 2005). Teachers will give attention to the multiple nations and identities subsumed within the notion of "Pasifika" peoples-and reflect on these in relation to their own personal and professional identities.
Identity Development
Identity forms, develops, and emerges from membership in particular groups. Pasifika students have distinctive socialisation processes which are influenced by the degree of personal significance individuals may attach to membership of various groups-including family, culture, religion, sport, peer groups at school, and within the school-based learning context.
Social Interaction Interpersonal Relationships Dimension 3: Communication and social interaction
Communication involves both personal and public social interaction. Such interactions are based on the notion of caring.1 The development of an authentic form of caring gives emphasis to reciprocal2 relationships between adults and the young people they serve. Communication is essential for the development of such reciprocal relationships-these will involve mainstream (i.e. English) as well as verbal, non-verbal language, and symbolic representations.
Interpersonal relationships
Familiar social associations among two or more individuals involving reciprocity3 and variable degrees of trust, support, companionship, duration and intimacy.
Language Language
Learning
Dimension 4: Indigenous and heritage languages
In this adaptation of Sheets' typology, the diversity of indigenous and heritage languages is prioritised because of their importance to cultural maintenance of Pasifika communities. For some Pasifika groups, New Zealand is a critical site for language survival (e.g. Niue, Tokelau4).
This encapsulates bilingual education, bi-literacy, and immersion approaches
.
Language learning, language pride
 Indigenous/heritage language acquired in informal home and community settings and/or in the formal language experiences and social interactions in school.Indigenous/heritage language is a source of interest and pride and is used and expressed freely. Range of competency levels possible.
Culturally Safe Classroom Context Self-regulated Learning Dimension 5: Co-constructed classroom contexts
These are premised upon triadic relationships amongst teachers, learners and families, working together to create optimum learning and teaching contexts. Teacher proactively facilitating the contribution of Pasifika parents, the school and the learners to the cultural, linguistic, cognitive, social, and physical dimensions of the classroom context.
The inquiring confident engaged learner
Self-initiated, managed, directed disposition that is required to meet personal and group goals, to adapt to established classroom standards to affirm and support the triadic relationship developed via schooling.
Culturally Inclusive Content Knowledge Acquisition Dimension 6: Culturally responsive pedagogical practice and content
This involves identifying specific Pasifika students' knowledge, in order to establish strong connections with school knowledge. Decisions about content and approaches to teaching take into account the broader social, political, and economic conditions as well as diverse cultural practices and language that influence students' lives in and out of school.
Knowledge acquisition
The process of connecting prior cultural knowledge to new information in ways that promote new understandings and advance the development of knowledge and skills needed to reason, solve problems, and construct new insights.
Instruction Reasoning Skills

In our adaptation of Sheets' typology, instruction is subsumed into the "Culturally Responsive Pedagogical Practices" category.

Assessment Self-evaluation Dimension 7: Assessment and evaluation
In this context, assessment and evaluation involves organised, structured, continuous, documented, and varied methods to observe, evaluate, and appraise the level and quality of individual and group learner work. It also encapsulates the knowledge gained in a given activity of subject, as well as wider hegemonic effects of educational evaluation.
Reflective and self-evaluating
Self-appraisal through reflection, review of thoughts, and analysis of personal and group behaviour to (a) monitor academic and social goals, assess progress, and identify competencies and weaknesses; (b) plan, assume ownership, and take responsibility for one's learning; and (c) evaluate the strategies used to maximise the acquisition, retention, and performance of new understandings.

Footnotes

  1. There is an interesting literature base that examines the notion of caring in teacher and students interactions. See, for example, Noddings, (2005). 
  2. Reciprocal from a Pasifika perspective, as a Pasifika value. 
  3. Reciprocity from a Pasifika perspective, and as a Pasifika value. 
  4. Since the majority of Niueans and Tokelauans now live in New Zealand, what happens in New Zealand will determine whether past languages actually survive.

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