Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Teachers' Misunderstandings that Affect the Learning of Their Pasifika Students

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posted on 2021-11-12, 11:32 authored by Spiller, Lorraine Teuila

Much current Pasifika research has a focus on looking at traditional Pasifika ways of learning to find an answer for low achievement among Pasifika students. Non-Pasifika research seems to see the solution as entailing teachers learning about their Pasifika students' lives. Yet neither of these approaches seems to make a difference for Pasifka student achievement. This study has shown that what does make a difference is the employment of good pedagogy by teachers who like and believe in their Pasifka students' abilities to succeed in the palagi education system. This study has also shown that what impedes progress for Pasifika students' achievement is the beliefs that teachers hold about "Pasifika ways of learning". For two days per week over a six week period a group of Year 9 Pasifika students were observed across a range of their classes in a medium sized, urban, low decile college which has a high proportion of Pasifika students. Observations and focus group interviews with Pasifika students and their teachers were conducted to explore the Pasifika student's engagement level and learning. A research methodology of mediated dialogue allowed the participants to be heard as authorities on their own experiences. The Pasifika students and their teachers were supported to hear the meanings each had given to the words and actions observed in the classroom. The Pasifika students were involved in the research as they co-constructed [with the researcher as scribe] the information they wanted their teacher to know. Teachers were able to respond to their Pasifika students' words and the Pasifika students were able to hear their teachers' responses. The findings were shaped as four vignettes and interpreted using the metaphor of an enzyme reaction. Each vignette described the type of learning and different engagement levels observed in a specific classroom. The vignettes included three classrooms where: students were not engaged at all with their learning because the relationship between the teacher and the students was poor; there was an appropriate relationship between the teacher and the students but the teachers' practice was poor; and the relationship between the students and the teacher was good but the teacher's expectations of the Pasifika students were low, and Pasifika learning was poor. In one vignette the relationship between the teacher and the students was one of trust and the teacher used teaching strategies that engaged and challenged the Pasifika students. In this classroom Pasifika learning was happening for a time. The study found that good Pasifika learning requires that the teacher must have all three of the following teaching strategies: allowing Pasifika students respect as a learner; being able to scaffold Pasifika learning at the right level and engaging their Pasifika students in active learning. The Pasifika student must have confidence and trust in their teacher to engage with the teacher in the active pursuit of learning. The classroom teacher must also have confidence in the Pasifika student's ability e.g., high expectations. If any of the parts described above are missing Pasifika learning is poor. The study demonstrates that the ways in which teachers fall into poor relationships and poor teaching practices can be related to their beliefs about Pasifika values and "Pasifika ways of learning".


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Education

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Te Kura Māori


Sanga, Kabini