Friday, July 17, 2020

How PELP Changed My Practice

What Is Language?

Language is the words or symbols we use to communicate meaning, it is arbitrary, and it can convey information about things that are not present in the current place or time. (Northbrook, 2020)

However, it is far more than a tool to communicate meaning and ideas. It is deeper than that. It is fundamental to what it means to be human. Not only does language learning shape meaning and capability, but it is an integral part of culture and identity. Language and culture are intertwined. With the loss of language, we see the loss of culture and cultural identity. (MOE, 2016)

How taking part in PELP has changed my understanding of literacy acquisition.

PELP has made me aware that building on a child's heritage language or languages helps strengthen the acquisition of English as a second language and I have seen first hand the power of drawing on a child's cultural capital to support literacy learning.

I have known that learning is about making connections, connecting new knowledge and skills to our prior experiences and beliefs, however until recently I hadn't thought about the part language plays in this...if language shapes meaning and capability, then surely making space in the classroom for children to use their heritage language to make connections and build understandings makes sense.  

For me, PELP helped me understand the 'why', it showed me the 'how', it supported me in changing my practice to be a better teacher and it opened up possibilities. It quite frankly has totally changed a part of how I teach and my pedagogical beliefs. 

I came to Tamaki Primary from a high decile, predominately Pakeha school. Myself having grown up in England for half my life and then teaching in a school that was reflective of my own culture I knew very little of the Pasifika cultures represented within my new school. Although I jumped at the chance to take part in PELP I was completely outside of my comfort zone attending the first workshop. Fear of what you don't know is always scary, which is crazy as we all know that that is usually an indicator opportunity for learning. I can remember clear as day the thought "How can I teach using dual language books when I don't know the language myself?" 

From what I know now - I don't need to, I have a have half a class of Tongan speakers who are more than willing to be the experts... I just need to value their language and culture and create space to explore literacy in their language and allow them the opportunities to make connections between Tongan and English. 

So what has PELP taught me?

  • Opening up opportunities for the students to be the experts, to bring all their knowledge, their culture and language to the table and to be able to connect this to their new learnings.
  • Value bilingual and multilingualism and foster it within our classroom. Know that it is easier to acquire a second language when one is strong in their first language.
  • Value the cultural capital that students bring to school. Use this to help build literacy acquisition.
  • Try speaking in Pasifika languages. Students love it when you attempt to speak their language. This in itself is valuing their identity.
  • To use the dual language books as you would any other reader, and utilize the audios online. Think of follow up activities that may help students connect their culture and language with English.
  • Create opportunities to use Pasifika languages and cultures across the curriculum e.g. Count in Samoan, use the Cook Island Maori colours in art.
  • The importance of listening to families and understanding the students within their family and home context. 

What am seeing as a result of my change of practice?

  • The students going from not associating the languages they speak at home with the school context and not speaking them within the classroom, to students now using their heritage language across the curriculum.
  • Students competing to use their language when we are doing counting or playing games e.g. let's count in Tongan! Samoan!,
  • Students giving the meaning of Samoan words or telling me what an English word or phrase means in Tongan. They are verbally translating constantly.
  • They naturally speak to each other in their own languages in the social context of the classroom.
  • They are fiercely proud of their culture. 
  • Massive confidence and overall happiness of students and a sense of belonging.
  • They use the illustrations in the books to discuss the story and make connections to their own experiences. 
  • Families are realising the importance of building using heratage language and that it can help their children to acquire English as a second language. 
  • A spark of interest in students that don't speak in their heritage language at home. They have also become aware that they do not know their heritage language from seeing their peers speaking in their language at school.

What are my next steps?

  • Increase my knowledge of Pasifika cultures, as this has highlighted how little I know.
  • Increase opportunities for families to come in to share their culture with the class. 
  • Create more ways to be culturally responsive in my teaching practice.

PELP is such an effective programme. I encourage all teachers to run with this opportunity. I have been amazed how easy it actually is to make these changes to your practice and even more amazed at the incredible effects it has on the students. 

Push past the fear of not being an expert and make those first few steps... and just see what happens!

Here is a link to my first few reading lessons using the dual language books 


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  2. Kia ora Jo, so great to read what you learnt from your PELP journey. Thanks so much for sharing this, and for being willing for us to share your reflective comments with others. Ngā mihi, Rae

    1. Thank you Rae for your inspiration and knowledge. PELP really has made an impact on me and my practice.


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