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Pasifika transitions and Supporting Bi/Multi lingual Students

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By Janet McQueen

In today’s update I am focusing on how students who speak a language other than English transition into primary school and on what more we can be doing as a school to help these students to become fully bi/multi lingual.


One of the findings from the literature review in, “An analysis of recent Pasifika education research literature to inform and improve outcomes for Pasifika learners”,  Author(s): Cherie Chu, Ali Glasgow, Fuapepe Rimoni, Mimi Hodis and Luanna H. Meyer, Victoria University of Wellington, published: July 2013, was the importance of positive transitions, particularly in the early primary years.

 Transitions: Transition support for bilingualism is related to both Pasifika language maintenance and positive transition experiences in the early primary years. Although the evidence for Pasifika is limited, smooth transitioning from early childhood settings to primary school has been related to factors such as systematic planning for transition, valuing of Pasifika languages and culture, and strong connection between educators and the home/community.”

How we welcome and transition students into our school is important and sends vital messages to students, parents and the community. What are we really saying about our beliefs and about them in the way that we behave often unwittingly?  I am interested in knowing, what has your school has found to be successful? What do you do that is unique to your school and your communities? What are you proud of?


1.       How does your school plan for successful the transition of Pasifika students from early childhood language nests to primary school? (And other cultures and language groups?)

2.       How do you show that you value Pasifika languages and culture? (And other languages and cultures?)

3.       What makes for strong partnerships between educators, homes and the community? What are the key messages you need to be stating?

4.       How are you supporting students’ use of their home language?

5.       Do you provide opportunities for first language use and growth at school?

If you are a school leader, is there more that your school should be doing to support bilingual students? Are their gaps or areas of weakness that you need to fill or strengthen?

Please feel free to add your thoughts and suggestions to this discussion.

Supporting Bi/Multi lingual Students

 Right at the end of last year John McCaffery shared some research findings from Hammer, Holt, Uchikoshi, Gillanders 2014.pdf Early Child Res Q. 2014 ; 29(4): 715–733, which are also related to the above discussions.The research shows that:

·         children will rapidly lose their family bilingualism over time unless family language/s literacy is also used extensively at home or in their ethnic community i.e. Church.

·         children’s attachment to their mothers and warm and affectionate relationships with their teachers were related to higher language abilitiesIn fact, children’s relationships with their teachers contributed to higher language abilities above and beyond parental attachment."

·         pressure will come on them rapidly after starting school not to speak family language/s any more from peers and from out of home sources.

·         speaking English to children at home has little effect  on student’s level of English now they  are in an all English environment in NZ . Whereas it does if they are back in their home country.

The number of students, who speak a language other than English as their first language, continues to grow.  How schools support these students is crucial to their education success. Research shows that students do better when they maintain a strong first language and feel that their culture and language is valued at school. Bi and multi lingual students are part of New Zealand’s future and increasingly their language skills will be vital in a multi global world. As a nation and as educators, we need to support first language maintenance and the learning of English as an additional language or risk seeing a decline in the percentage of students achieving in literacy whilst at school.

Much of the research supporting the development of bilingualism is fairly recent and I believe that for whatever reason, we as a nation have been a little slow to respond to the research and to the needs of our changing population. I don’t want to apportion blame, but rather to challenge school leaders to inquire into how your school can best support bilingual students?

·         What does the research say?

·         What should your school be doing?

·         Where are the gaps?

·         What professional development is required?

·         How can you be innovative in supporting bi/multi lingual students within your current budget constraints?

·         Is this an issue for your school that requires further response, or not?

·         What strategies work when a cohort has one predominantly native language? Do different strategies work when students have many different native languages?

·         When are dual language strategies most important and effective?

·         If you are an ESOL teacher, how can you start this discussion with your principal and colleagues?

New on ESOL Online

The new Getting Started section is now live on ESOL Online and has its own tab. This section is designed to assist teachers new to teaching ELLs including

  • teachers with responsibility for ELLs,
  • mainstream teachers with ELLs in their classes
  • senior management staff in schools that are new to teaching ELLs.

The Getting Started section includes information on

  • -Key documents
  • -Support for ELLs
  • -What to do when a new EL arrives
  • -Support programmes and funding
  • -Teaching materials
  • -Additional language learning
  • -Family engagement
  • -Professional development


TED talks on the Refugee situation

I discovered an interesting TED talk by Alexander Betts: Our refugee system is failing. Here's how we can fix it, filmed February 2016 which I encourage you to listen to if you are interested in finding better solutions to the current refugee situation.