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Snapshot 16: Pasifika poetry and English classics

In this snapshot, a teacher describes how she designed a year 13 course specifically for her class of Pasifika students and how, by making thematic connections across Pasifika poetry,Othello, and The Crucible, their understanding and appreciation of the literature of both cultures was enriched.


I wanted to put in place an English programme that would provide learning experiences relevant to my class of Pasifika students – experiences centred on Pasifika themes and Pasifika ways of being and knowing.

To go with the Pasifika texts, with their themes such as identity and belonging, I selected English texts (Othello and The Crucible) that had similar themes.

All teaching was designed around the learning needs of the students. There was a strong emphasis on learning verbally and visually, collaborative learning, and co-construction of content.

I wanted to build specifically on skills that are valued in Pasifika cultures, such as formal oratory. In this way, I was aiming to align my teaching with the principles for Māori achievement set out in Ka Hikitia, with its emphasis on Māori students achieving education success as Māori.

The students differed greatly in terms of their depth of cultural knowledge and knowledge of their Pasifika language. Some were functioning at a high level in the language and their own cultural communities; others had only limited knowledge of either. It was important that, in our English programmes, we valued the students’ cultures and gave them every opportunity to relate what they were learning to what they knew, and vice versa.

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We started the year with Pasifika poetry, by Konai Helu Thaman, Albert Wendt, Karlo Mila, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Mua Strickson-Pua, and DJ Kamali.

These poets set the tone for the year, introducing themes of identity and belonging, as well as representation, loss, justice, personal integrity, and binary opposed absolutes (such as black–white and love–hate).

These are universal ideas, but because they were considered in a Pasifika context, the students were able to relate them easily to their own experience. By encountering them first in a Pasifika context, the students were then well prepared to encounter them in less familiar or accessible contexts in the selected English texts.

Shakespeare’s Othello was the first non-Pasifika text studied. We introduced it via talanoa, which, according to Havea (2010) “refers to the content (story) and to the act of telling, unpacking and unravelling (telling) that content, and to the event of engaging, sharing and interrogating (conversation) the content that is being unpacked and unravelled.”

We followed this up with many other oral activities that allowed the students to explore these universal themes and work from their strengths to link their learning back to the discoveries they had made in the earlier Pasifika poetry unit.

What happened?

Student feedback was positive about the programme because they felt they were able to walk tall in both cultures (Pasifika and Pakeha). Their culture had been validated and the connections they had been able to make enriched their learning. They had demonstrated “a discriminating and insightful understanding of ideas within, across, and beyond texts” as is required at level 8 of the curriculum.

Last updated July 16, 2015