By Rob Finlay
Sometimes teachers and librarians feel they are alone in the challenge of teaching reading and creating readers. But schools are not alone: Pasifika students also learn to read in other contexts: at home, church and the neighbourhood.
The Ministry of Education urged teachers to be better informed of out-of-school literacy practices. Dr John G Dickie, School of Education Policy and Implementation, at Victoria took up the challenge. The result is his doctoral thesis, “An investigation of sites, uses and practices for literacy in the lives of Pasifika students”, 2008.
Cultural contexts for literacy are important. Dickie contrasts two disparate views of literacy, as social practice and as skills. This research focuses on literacy as social practice. We in education need to make effective links between school cultural contexts and other cultural contexts.
He explores four different settings- school, church, family and the neighbourhood- from the perspective of Year 7 and 8 Samoan students, supplied with cameras and journals, and interviewed along with adults. The strongest overlapping of values was between family and church where the use of Samoan language was valued. “The most common conflicts were those related to popular culture” where neighbourhood sites were at odds with the other three settings.
The insights into Samoan history and the experiences of Pasifika children in New Zealand are valuable. Until missionaries arrived Samoa was an oral society. Pastors’ schools and Sunday schools mixed the oral and written, with a strong focus on imitation, memorisation and performance- tauloto- in learning to read. These practices, as anyone who has attended a White Sunday (Lotu a Tamaiti) service will know, are retained in New Zealand. For teachers or librarians the main purpose of telling stories and reading aloud might be for pleasure or learning, but Pasifika may have different goals such as transmitting cultural values and faith, or developing oral language. An approach which respects Pasifika perspectives will be more effective in achieving the educational goals of the school.
Some implications of this research for school libraries are:
Bilingual education and texts bring together the experiences and values of home and school. Even if the school does not have bilingual classes, the library should have resources in Pacific languages. So hold on to those Tupu books and other resources in Pacific languages, display them face-out on shelves or in boxes labelled by language. Enlist the help of parents and older children to read them. Help make reading in Pacific languages acceptable for the children.
Use Home-School Partnerships to support literacy. Engaging families in reading over the summer holidays and joining programmes like Reading Together ™ are very useful activities which involve the library. Use the search term summer on this blog and Create Readers to read more about schools that encourage family summer reading contracts including one school that opens the school library in January.
Librarians significantly influence the literacy of Pasifika students: encourage Pasifika students to hang out in your school library, and make it a meeting place between parents and school. This allows students to engage in literacy and learning with your support. It enables you to share messages about reading. Recruit parents to read aloud in Pacific languages. Learn about the families’ perspectives and practices in reading and learning.
Help to develop a good relationship between students with the local public library, as a place where homework combines with after-school relaxation and socialisation.
School libraries which link with out-of school literacy experiences, provide resources for Pacific languages, and provide Pasifika cultural contexts are providing a great learning experience for their students.