Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Teachers' Selection of Texts for Pasifika Students in New Zealand Primary Schools

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Teachers' Selection of Texts for Pasifika Students in New Zealand Primary Schools

Article excerpt

Background to the study

The current study drew on the expertise of teachers to understand how texts are selected and used to support the literacy development of students from Pacific Nations communities (Pasifika). The need to optimise text selection and use for Pasifika students arises from the intersection of two contextual factors. The first is the need for equity. New Zealand's educational system is identified as high quality with low equity (OECD, 2010). Patterns of disparity for Pasifika students in the primary years are large, with national reports indicating effect size differences of d>1.1 in reading attainment between New Zealand European students and Pacific Nations ethnicities (Gilmore & Smith, 2010). These differences in outcome underscore the need to build New Zealand's instructional capacity for meeting the needs of Pasifika students.

The second, possibly related, factor is the relative autonomy of teachers. In the New Zealand context, teachers are free to select instructional materials and contexts to achieve outcomes identified in the New Zealand Curriculum (2007). In this sense, teachers have responsibility for shaping curriculum to be responsive to learners and communities. The way that teachers select and use texts for Pasifika students' literacy learning is the focus of this study.

Theoretical framework

Sociocultural theory draws attention to ways that institutions systematically structure the interactions among people and between people and artefacts (Minick, Stone & Forman, 1993). Valsiner's (1997) theory of 'bounded indeterminacy' emphasised that children's development is shaped through 'the organisation of person-environment relationships in everyday actions' (p. 169). According to this frame, the environment is structured through boundaries, set up by other people, which create 'zones' within which children develop. Valsiner identified three zones: the Zone of Free Movement (ZFM), the Zone of Promoted Action (ZPA) and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Through the interaction of the constraints set up by others (ZFM) and the actions that are promoted (ZPA), children can develop in ways that are within their ZPD. In this way, development can be characterised as channelled: allowing for free movement, but within constraints imposed by what is allowed and what is promoted (McNaughton, Phillips & McDonald, 2000). In school, texts can be considered part of the environment, purposefully deployed to allow and promote particular sorts of development, based on what teachers believe students can achieve and what is important to learn.

Thus, a complex series of choices and interactions influence development. Because the boundaries promote particular actions, it is necessary to consider too what lies outside those boundaries. If alternative pathways for development lie outside imposed boundaries there is the potential for risks in instruction (McNaughton, 2011). One element of risk arises from the notion that when teachers make decisions to teach in certain ways, this may preclude their acting in other ways, and thus incur opportunity costs, or 'trade-offs' (Palinscar & Duke, 2004). Teachers' selection and use of texts for Pasifika students is a relatively unexplored area, but, perhaps more importantly, there is no examination of the notion of instructional risks associated with these decisions.

Selected research on text selection and use

Previous studies suggest that, given freedom to choose, different teachers select texts depending on instructional purposes, their knowledge of available texts and on their beliefs about reading. Considerations focus on the interaction between text features and content (Friese, Alvermann, Parkes & Rezak, 2008). Teachers of beginning readers in the United States, for example, were found to use literature for comprehension purposes, and levelled texts for specific instructional aims (Mesmer, 2006). …

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