Papatoetoe High School (TLIF 2-045) - Enhancing literacy and numeracy skills: Year 10 Māori and Pasifika boys Publications
Project Reference: Papatoetoe High School (TLIF 2-045): At Papatoetoe High School, as in many schools throughout Aotearoa, the achievement of Māori and Pacific boys was a great concern, particularly in the areas of literacy and numeracy. Teachers knew they needed to shift their practice to improve outcomes for their students. But despite multiple initiatives, they had seen little improvement.
Author(s): (Inquiry Team) Russ Maged and Eleanor Griffiths
Date Published: February 2019
This project provided an opportunity for the school to try something different that was tailormade for their students and their context. Twelve year 10 boys, deemed unlikely to succeed in achieving NCEA Level 1 the following year, were selected as participants in a programme that would be co-taught by four teachers and supported by community mentors. The programme involved a profound change in the teaching-learning relationship to one in which the students worked with the teachers to co-construct rich opportunities for learning. By the end of the year, each of these students was well on track to achieving the literacy and numeracy credits required to achieve NCEA Level 1. The point of this was not to bring the pressures of external assessment down to the year 10 level but to set the boys up for future success. Not only did they gain much-needed literacy and numeracy skills, but they also grew in self-worth and in their understandings of what it takes to succeed in learning at school.
Boy 1: Are we part of this group because we’re dumb? (A number of boys nod in agreement.) Teacher: Why do you ask that question? Boy 2: Well, that is what everyone says about us? Teacher: Who is ‘everyone’? Boys: Teachers.
Group interaction at the start of the year
The thing I will be doing next year is studying more for NCEA level one. I have a lot of experience from the GAP group and have learnt a lot about how to organise my writing and that most questions need to be answered with full answers and showing your working. This will surely get me ready for NCEA level two and one. Next year I will give my knowledge and opinions to the next year’s year tens and give them some of my tips and skills.
Excerpt from a student reflection at the end of the year
The learning in this project was as profound for the teachers as for the students. It has resulted in the development of a model of teaching and learning that is dynamic, organic, and responsive to the needs of learners and their context.
The inquiry story
This story involved an extraordinary number of people as the project team reached out into the wider community for support and expertise. At its heart were 12 year 10 Māori and Pasifika boys, their parents and whānau, and a core team of four teachers. Together, they went on a year-long journey following a collaborative action research model in which data (and commitment) drove a series of iterations. There were three inter-linked phases to this two-year inquiry:
- Discovery and identification: pulling together the contextual evidence that would inform the content and form of the programme and the learning activities.
- Learning programme development: developing learning activities to enhance the literacy and numeracy outcomes of Māori and Pacific boys.
- Delivery and evaluation: delivering and evaluating the programme.
What was the focus?
The project team selected a group of target students who had all demonstrated considerable disengagement from learning at school. This disengagement was manifest in poor attendance, behaviour problems, such as distractibility and poor anger management, and poor achievement, including critically low e-asTTLE scores for literacy and numeracy.
The primary research question for this project was “In what ways should our teaching practice change in order to enhance the literacy and numeracy outcomes of Māori and Pasifika Year 10 boys?” A series of secondary questions about the impact of teacher actions on student engagement and achievement literacy and numeracy guided the inquiry at different stages. These included questions about: teaching practice, student learning preferences, teacher-student co-construction; involving senior students in supporting and advising the younger boys; engaging with parents to support their sons’ learning; collaborating with other teachers and outsiders for help and support; and the inclusion of culturally responsive learning strategies.
What did the teachers try?
Throughout the year, the students were withdrawn from their regular mainstream classes for learning sessions with the core group of three teachers and with others who were brought in to support the learning. The sessions took place both at school and off-site.
Based on the evidence collected during phases 1 and 2, the inquiry team decided to divide the delivery of the teaching and learning sessions into three stages, each with a specific focus:
1. Getting to know the learner, lifting motivation, addressing deficit thinking.
2. Literacy and numeracy strategies and NCEA Level 1 instructional words.
3. NCEA Level 1 achievement standard assessments.
As they moved through the stages, the teachers tried a wide range of new strategies, along with some purpose-built tools. The shifts in teaching practice are listed below, along with examples of some of these strategies and tools:
- Evidence-based, learner-centred, dynamic practice.
The team designed an executive skills questionnaire to understand students’ emotional intelligence, learning behaviours, and self-perception. Based on what they learned, the teachers developed activities designed to build self-esteem and resilience, such as a waka ama trip and a boxing fitness session.
The team developed a ‘What is your Why?’ activity (based on a popular Youtube clip) to understand students’ learning goals, preferences, concerns, and motivations. The teachers learned that the students wanted help with writing paragraphs and in being more focused and less distracted, that they took longer to understand instructions and didn’t like looking dumb in front of their peers, and that breaking down tasks into smaller parts and working one-on-one with the teacher was helpful.
Short questionnaires, observations, and informal conversations added to the teachers’ understandings about the learners’ literacy and numeracy needs and interests. For example, the observation that students lacked confidence in reading led to the design of learning activities in which they were supported to read aloud a literary text based on a local sporting hero.
Some of the evidence came from other parts of the school, for example, interviews with year 12 and 13 students about what they wish they had known in year 11 led to the development of tuakana-teina activities in which senior students shared their knowledge and expertise with the year 10 boys
The team realised that NCEA assessment should arise naturally out of the learning opportunity and their growing understanding of the boys’ learning preferences led to the provision of opportunities for the boys to share their learning through visual presentations.
- Building student agency.
The teachers wanted the students to take responsibility for their behaviour and learning. They soon realised that these young people daily faced some significant social, emotional, personal and financial barriers that needed to be confronted and addressed. A series of self-reflective activities helped surface these issues and grow both students and teachers as active inquirers into their learning. The students enjoyed these opportunities and the opportunities to both co-construct and evaluate the learning experiences that flowed from them. For example, the waka ama activity provided a chance for both teachers and students to share their changing feelings as they engaged in an activity that was new and challenging for them. The fitness and boxing session helped them build confidence and think about their decision-making processes. A visit to the local university suggested the possibility that they could be first in the family to go to university. The session with Marcus Akuhata-Brown explored the benefits for wellbeing of connecting to places of cultural relevance, the value of culturally relevant knowledge and practices such as tikanga and whakapapa, and the importance of not internalising deficit, stereotypical thinking that disempowers and debilitates.
- Building strong, positive relationships. The project prioritised the development of caring, compassionate relationships between teachers and students. This required teachers to let down their guard and to reveal something of themselves as people and as learners. This did not mean sharing personal details but did mean honestly and openly sharing their perspectives, preferences, and feelings. The waka ama and ‘What is my Why?” activities were important in this. So, too, were the ‘circle talks’ that became a regular forum for teachers and students to reflect together at the start and end of an activity.
- Broad collaboration. Extensive collaboration with parents, whānau, students, teachers, community mentors, and external experts, vastly extended the opportunities for learning for everybody involved with the project.
What happened as a result of this innovation?
As the introductory quote indicates, the boys in the project knew why they were there and entered with some apprehension or cynicism. Supported by their teachers and their parents, whānau and community, they made significant shifts in both their engagement with learning and their achievement.
The most obvious shifts were: staying focussed and engaged for longer, adopting a positive attitude towards learning, a greater awareness of their own learning needs and contributing actively and positively to the lesson or activity. Quantitative shifts were evident in the boys’ willing attendance in the sessions, but it was also evident in the positive relationships that developed between the boys, both within the sessions and around the school. As other teachers became aware of the programme, many commented that students were becoming increasingly interested in their learning, asking questions, seating themselves in the front of the class, and requesting extra tutorial lessons. Some teachers were less appreciative of the fact that the students also became increasingly articulate about the teaching practices that did or did not work for them. By the end of the school year, all 12 boys had gained four NCEA Level 1 literacy and numeracy credits. Six had gained nine credits, and some were on track to gain twelve.
Both the boys and their parents and extended families were proud of the boys’ success, expressing this in an emotional information and acknowledgement session at the end of the year. An unexpected outcome is that they asked for it to be continued. The project team, backed by the school, responded with iterative plans for offering ongoing support.
What did they learn?
At the start, we referred to the inquiry project as the TLIF programme. At one of the early sessions, the boys came up with the phrase ‘GAP Boys’. The parents and the teachers could immediately see the significance of the term ‘gap’. To the boys, it was about them ‘gapping it’ from class. This meant avoiding class. The term referred to their running speed, which helped them to successfully get away and miss the class (gapping = running away at speed). With most of the boys being involved in sport, they saw this interpretation not only as funny, but also as positive acknowledgement of their athletic capabilities. The boys later used the term with reference to the programme, which they came to view as positively addressing a gap in their learning. From a teaching perspective, the term can refer to the work that the teacher does in the teaching and learning process, that is, bridging the gap between what is known and what needs to be learned.
The inquiry team was often asked what they had learned that made ‘the difference’ for the Māori and Pacific boys they taught. What they found was that it was not one element but multiple elements, working together and often simultaneously. Each element involved the teacher adopting a different role, in response to the teaching and learning context and the needs of the students. The team called their teaching philosophy the ‘GAP Model of Teaching and Learning’. It has five elements, which the team describes as follows:
- Evidence-based practice: Teaching practice that is based on the contextual evidence of the school, learners, and community. Evidence informs practice on an ongoing basis, making practice dynamic and organic. The teacher assumes the role of researcher.
- Relationships and connection: The learners and teachers develop a positive relationship in which they support each other and go on the learning journey together. The teacher assumes the role of participant.
- Broad collaboration: The teacher co-constructs and collaborates with teachers from different learning areas (and other schools), with their learners, with community mentors, and with parents. The teacher assumes the role of collaborator.
- Classroom interaction: Learning is constantly guided by the needs of the learner. It typically occurs in small groups, the student voice dominates, and the process is learner-centric. The teacher assumes the role of facilitator.
- Teacher instruction: The teacher uses his or her expert subject knowledge to help the learner understand a new concept and learn new content or skills. The teacher assumes the role of instructor.
The project lead role was shared by Russ Maged and Eleanor Griffiths. Teachers Jonathan Mariner and Timo Morisa joined them in the core team. Janet Crickett and Catherine Kaumoana, and Delaney Watene-Taie formed an extended team, and staff, students and parents from across the school community supported at different times.
External support came from many sources, including neighbouring schools (especially Kia Aroha College), local tertiary education providers, and community organisations. Critical support came from:
- Dr Shireen Maged (Te Wānanga o Aotearoa)
- Marcus Akuhata-Brown (Tukaha Global Consultancy)
- Mark Anthony Howe (Papatoetoe Adolescent Christian Trust)
For further information
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