Saturday, 12 July 2014

CLESOL Presentation - Maori as Achievers

For those of you who are aware of the Tapu series blog posts I've done - you will know that I am quite seriously serious about Maori achievement. Like Hekia Parata said at the Maori Teachers' Conference - "Success Breeds Success" - and while I agree with the sentiment, there is a lot of data that is out in the public arena that proves to whanau, students and teachers that Maori and Pacific Island students don't do as well as non-Maori students.

I have talked at length about my issues with maths - and while I appreciate statistics and the reasons for using them in this way to collect data on our students to be aware of the huge gap - it in essence continues to remind our Maori and Pacific Island students that they are consistently playing a game of catch-up.

The use of data in this way - successfully creates a negative mindset in our students' minds and puts a mental wall in the students' psyche. It also creates a negative mindset for our teachers of our students as well - because our Maori and Pacific Island students are our priority learners. They should be - but not because they're falling behind the national standard. As a result - depending on the person and the amount of deficit theorising that goes on... the teacher chooses whether to believe in that student or not. And as teachers since we are driven by collecting data to inform our teaching - often it makes the point that yes, Maori and Pacific Island students do not do as well as non-Maori - and for me - that in itself is heartbreaking.

Of course all of this blog post is from my own personal opinion - and more importantly - from my experiences with my students. Because - that's the best data out there. Real data. Real success. Real learning and teaching.

And while we can use the data to inform our teaching - in reality - it doesn't do more than that. The building of relationships is so important that it often gets overlooked when put alongside something as statistically important as data - and it is these relationships that are created that are the drivers in making change and success happen.

The Point: Pride and Confidence

The point of this presentation at CLESOL was to talk about how I teach my bi-lingual students. For me - it comes down to creating confidence in our students first, so that they can feel comfortable for who they are, feel pride in who they are - which then leads to all other aspects of their cultural, academic, sporting and personal success.

I still don't have a good title. Perhaps the one above will work. 'Maori as achievers'.

I talked to one of my new mentors while at the Maori Teachers conference (#huarahi14) and asked her how to go about discussing this topic without causing offence or making others feel uncomfortable. She said that my passion would shine through and that as a result - I would say the right things so that it didn't become misconstrued and so that people would understand what I was getting at.

The biggest issue I've had with getting this presentation ready is that I was doing it via webcam and so as a result couldn't gauge my audience's reactions to what I was saying. As someone that has a very flexible teaching style - I tend to work off of my student's prior learning and go from there. With this conference presentation - it's a quick three minute snapshot of something I'm doing well.

What do I do well? 

Create relationships. Use relationships to help manage and improve student behaviours and success. Maintain relationships by keeping in touch with whanau and the students' community. Empathise with my students and am aware of the very diverse nature of differing perspectives and life experiences.

As a new teacher, I am increasingly aware of the diverse range of teachers out there - and the diverse range of students as well.

I feel as a new teacher that I have a lot to share -  but often worry that what I do have to share is not good enough - so tend to share more often on here and Twitter than at school - because I get scared that it might not be good 'enough'. A lot of this insecurity stems from the fact that while I grew up I didn't have a lot of support from my family as Maori - nor did I receive this support from my school (though this tends to have a bit to do with the hallway incident at High School and the being "too white" event and that I got shy of being Maori from then on and focussed on being French) - despite showing my pride as Maori through Kapa Haka, sports and educational success. 

One of my student teachers - who I have written about in the #WhoIamWhatIdo post - taught me to be proud of who I am despite the multiple others telling me that I wasn't good enough and the impact that this one teacher has had on me as an individual and as Maori has been huge. I use her advice with my students whenever I have need of it and it tends to go down well. Nga mihi nui ki a koe e hoa ma. 

I try as hard as I can to help my students feel proud of who they are despite whatever backgrounds they may have come from and whatever they are dealing with at that point in time. 

As a result of my own personal experiences, I want to have a truly positive impact on my students. 

My Personal Skills
I am a compassionate and considerate teacher and I care about what my students feel about themselves. It's increasingly important to me to make sure my students feel safe, secure, comfortable and listened to. I want them to feel that they can discuss anything and also give their opinions in a welcome space without fear of being intimidated or mocked by others.
I encourage them to succeed. I praise them on their effort, rather than their intelligence or ability in that subject. 

Fixed vs Growth Mindsets
This year I have used Carol Dweck's Fixed vs Growth Mindset theories to challenge my students’ mindsets to develop from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. This has seriously begun to make some progress in developing my students positive thinking about the skills that they have in other classes and why they do well in some classes rather than others - and more importantly - how to transfer that feeling of success from a subject that they do well in/enjoy to one that they may not necessarily do well in or may dislike. 

Importance of Pride in Success
We don’t often have the opportunity to be proud as Maori. Why? Historical background is full of examples - acts created by government in the past to force assimilation - for example the Native Schools Act (  ). Check this post out where I explain this idea in more depth.

Background Info

The project that I will be discussing at the CLESOL conference is created from my own personal experience and of course through the fabulous programme of Te Kotahitanga. The initiative focuses on building relationships as the key to success. It truly has been the key to my own success with my students. 

My bi-lingual students had just come back from an assembly where they were told that historically Maori achieve considerably less than non-Maori. This assessment data and the way we use data to try to encourage our students to work harder negatively affects our Maori students’ mindsets. It makes them feel that already they cannot achieve because there is data continuously facing them that proves it. They are given a huge responsibility to change this data and improve it - but they are sent away with knowledge but without advice on how to go about doing it.

I told my bi-lingual students that they were more than the data that they had been given. They had skills and abilities and aspects of their personalities that were way more important.

These two questions continue to guide my own teaching:
  1. How do we as Maori stop ourselves from achieving? 
  2. How do I as an individual achieve to the best of my ability?   
These two questions were instrumental in making sure my focus as a teacher was on enabling my students to feel confident and successful in everything that they do.

Student Voice data collection
My students knew why they didn't achieve well, and also what effects it had on them as individuals and as Maori. 
This student voice data - shows that my students knew why they didn’t achieve - the fact that they believed what others said about them and that they chose not to listen to teachers who they didn’t like.
My students said that "they don’t listen to teachers who they don't connect with" - which is true for a lot of students - I know that for a fact in my own schooling.
With this data having been collected - we discussed the alternatives to feeling like this - and understanding the need to be more aware of other peoples' perspectives and how as Maori we are an inclusive people and tend to give more of ourselves than there is to give. 
I am still hoping to catch up with that class in a couple more years - maybe even this year to see their development as students, as people, as young rangatahi and certainly as young rangatira. 

Project Impact
The project itself has had a huge impact on my students since then. I may not do this empowerment task with my students at the moment - but that initial empowerment task has helped me immensely in re-challenging my own thinking about seeing data as the be all. My students are learning that they can achieve as Maori, that they can achieve as individuals regardless of where they’re from or how they’ve been brought up and that they can succeed despite the data that they are consistently being told.

Without a strong relationship between teacher and student - it is difficult to get anywhere in the classroom. Data will continue to be data unless we make a point in attempting to help our students be all that they can be.

Generally I try to ignore the data as much as possible - because as a teacher and as a prior student I know that there is a certain amount of deficit theorising that goes on in schools. I refuse to deficit theorise towards any of my students - Maori or non-Maori. I do not want to make the mistake of even THINKING that because of XYZ... this student will not do as well as this student. Because data continues to be focussed on - it's hard to get away from using it to inform our teaching - so instead I use it to individualise my teaching and learning and try to make my students create their own goals - whether they be academic, social, sports related or even cultural. 

I want my students to feel that they can achieve - despite the data that they know also says that Maori achieve consistently lower than Maori. I want my students to feel that they have the confidence to ignore the data and focus on what they can do themselves individually - and also as Maori. 

I think it is important to acknowledge the projects that have informed my teaching practice and style - namely Te Kotahitanga -of which there wouldn't be my own personal project in the first place, Ka Hikitia and He Kakano. Our school is currently working with the Building on Success team to see how our Te Kotahitanga practices have continued to support our students. And I am still pretty stoked from my initial baseline for TK back when I was at my first school - and after my BOS observation - I just need to continue what I'm doing and remember to use visual learning intentions more often. For me it's more that I need to have a visual reminder - like a scaffold with my SOLO labels - which I use sometimes but not always... so that's something I want to work on because by having visual learning intentions our students can see what level they have been working at and for some - they will be working consistently at three or four levels depending on the different mahi we do in class. 

At present I am doing an inquiry on two students - one in Year 10 and another in Year 11. The boy in Year 10 - we shall call C and the boy in Year 11 we shall call B. 

Based on the Asttle data from the start of the year - when C and I sat down together to look at his reading age and also his areas of improvement needed - it is clear that he just does not read enough. Now I could deficit theorise and say this is because C lives out in the wops or that it's because he is into pig hunting or that his whanau may not put much stock on reading because of XYZ. This is not fair to him, his whanau and relating it to myself - to me and my whanau. I grew up in a small town, went pig hunting with my Grandad (and all other styles of hunting...), however from a very young age my Nan created a love for reading with me. This could be the same for C - I just haven't had that conversation yet.

C has decided that he wants to improve his reading level from 3-4 to 4-5. Now you may have been deficit theorising already just from that small amount of background already - and maybe thought that he would have been at 2-3 instead. He isn't a terrible reader. In fact he's pretty good. He wants to improve his vocabulary as well. But he hasn't caught my bug yet. He has trouble finding a book he actually enjoys - and it is this issue we are currently working on because I seriously believe in the power of a good book to transform a kids' life. I still have a term and a half to go with him - and there's still time to help him help himself.

For me - the bug has always been the curiosity of finding something out - the passion to learn is something that is inherently embedded in me - and so it frustrates me when my students don't seem to care because if I had had a teacher as amazing as me (humble I know!) I would be sitting front and centre, elbows bent on the table, fists clenched and relaxed under my chin and big dopey and sparkley eyes looking up at my teacher to learn the next thing.

I do have students like this - but unfortunately I'm still working on making C and a few others like this. And like Joe Bennett said in his Keynote at the English conference the other day - I may not be the teacher that these particular students do this with - for some kids it could be a teacher that isn't like me at all that sparks them to learn and gets that inner fire started to drive their passion further. And that's fabulous. We all have our strengths.

C has made some success - but I'm waiting for the bug to hit. He was AMAZING when it came to teaching the class about SOLO and him and K were absolutely ecstatic and buzzing that they knew the stuff and could be the tuakana for once in class. I now continue to bank on that positivity for those boys because they need to feel that they too can achieve. In fact, I made these two boys a cake to share with the class so that they could further be proud of their achievements.

B on the other hand - has struggled with the analysis side of English in Year 11. He can verbalise his thoughts with me and if he wasn't so shy (even though at times he's hilariously cocky) he would rock the speech assessment. He might not get Excellence because he, like C needs to read to develop his vocabulary, but he would definitely make us believe in what he's saying - and for me - that's commanding attention - or at the very least being convincing.

Quite recently we have been doing our static images. He has blossomed. Completely. For a boy that has a similar background to C, he has found a tiny bit of success and he has been enjoying the fact that he knows how to create an image that is truly effective. He finished well before others - and it should easily gain a Merit - if not more. Unfortunately - it is the written aspect where he will be knocked down because he doesn't have that confidence to portray his feelings and ideas without worrying that they're wrong.

I really wish I had had him last year - although his friend A who I had in my Y10 class last year was a tutu bum and barely did any work and so if A and B were both in the same class it may have been chaotic haha - although highly entertaining and enjoyable I'm sure - this year however A has completely astounded me - and broken every single thought I ever had of him being a tutu bum. Why? Because over the summer holidays he matured, he now shows focus and a willingness to learn. He tells B off a lot and tells B to listen to me and that "Nah G, she's all good." Particularly the day when I explained to B that his vocab is true to him - and that when I go home I speak like that too. It's hard to break from tradition and what comes naturally sometimes.

In essence, I'm proud of both of these boys.

For this reason - I tend not to give assessment data early in my classes - mainly because it breeds negativity and it makes my students instantly place themselves on a NAME scale and forces those who happen to get an N or for some an A to feel like they're never going to get any better.

What I'm getting at overall though is that not every student has mind-blowing data-altering success. And they shouldn't have to. Some students go far and beyond their initial data proving abilities... and yet the majority of my students tend to do well - because every student has their own success - no matter how 'big' or 'small' it may be. It's still successful. It still makes them feel that little bit taller, and it helps them realise that they can achieve, that they can obtain success.

Breaking: I need to make a better reading log up....

Reflective questions:
  1. How do we see ourselves with our Maori students?
  2. How do we enable our students to feel proud of themselves as who they are - regardless of the data that they are told?
  3. What would our Maori students say about our cultural responsiveness in class?
  4. What would our Maori students say about the way in which we use data in our classes?
  5. What would our Maori students say in regards to how we make them feel proud of their successes, rather than focussing on their failures?

 Important Thoughts and Suggestions for further reflection:
  • We need to assist our students in enabling them to feel more confident in who they are as individuals and as Maori students.
  • We keep telling them that they need to achieve better because of the data - but how can they if we don’t show them how?
  • We need to enable our students to feel proud of themselves by being proud of our students ourselves.
  • We need to be the leaders. We need to make them feel that they can do this. Consistently encourage them. By not allowing their fixed mindsets to stop them from achieving to the best of their abilities. 
  • We need to make them feel proud of who they are - but not to the detriment to them holistically. We shouldn’t merely encourage them for one set of skills - for example sporting abilities to be all that they are.
  • Believe in Maori achievement in life, not just in school.
  • Help them feel proud - Culturally, holistically, spiritually, mentally, physically - every which way so that they believe that they can achieve.
  • We need to consistently challenge our own mindsets and make sure we are not deficit theorising towards any of our students.

Strategies to Implement and Improve Maori achievement:
Building on Success (BOS) Programme

The Data

To Sum Up

We are in 2014 and STILL fighting the equality battle. It's time we looked at how we are using this data and how it impacts on our students, our teachers, our schools and our communities - because if we consistently force-feed data then we will get used to seeing data as more important than actual real student achievement - whatever that achievement may be for a particular student.


The Presentation

Excuse the 52 "Ummmm...."'s 

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