Dual language books light up little learners’ eyes

Issue: Volume 97, Number 17

Posted: 19 September 2018
Reference #: 1H9kwz

A series of bilingual reading books for new entrants aims to help raise English language literacy amongst Pacific students by celebrating their first languages in the classroom – and making schools more culturally responsive.

During Tongan Language Week recently, Year 2 Tongan students at Onepoto School in Auckland were immersed in the books as they were being read out by their teacher, Julie Newth. One third of the school’s students are Tongan, and improving literacy is a priority because English is a second language for most of the children. The books are printed in both English and five other Pacific languages.

Gathered around Julie, the children’s eyes lit up as they saw and could name everyday sights and touchstones of the Pacific Islands in both languages. She flipped back and forth between the pages from the English to the Tongan words, making connections between the illustrations, introducing new vocabulary and promoting inquiry about content such as “What is the Tongan word for turtle? What is the English word for this? What are the turtles doing? They are hatching”.

The books have captivating stories and sparkling pictures of sea creatures, beaches, food and other Pacific themes familiar to the children, and the books come with audio to help guide non-native speaking teachers with correct pronunciation of words.

Parents share teaching role

Venture Tangitau reads a bilingual book to her daughter Melelupe, who attends Onepoto School.

Julie says, “The students are a lot more involved than they were with the previous books in Pacific languages, which were in one language only, so we teachers had to guess what the words meant. Now we know what every word means, so it is a learning experience for us too.

“In class, I first read the books out in Tongan, then in English, and the students and I are constantly mixing both English and Tongan words as we go through the story.”

The schools using the dual language resources are part of the Pasifika Early Years Literacy Project (PELP). The books are designed to be used by both parents and teachers, with parents introducing them as shared reading resources at home first, and teachers following on using the English vocabulary in the books.

It’s the first time that bilingual picture books have been available as a resource to support English language and literacy learning of new entrant and early years students from Pacific families in English-medium classrooms. There are 27 titles in the series, ranging from Mangenta to Orange Level (1 to 16) on the Colour Wheel.

Stronger engagement

The books, aimed at Years 1 and 2 children, are available in Tongan, Samoan, Cook Island Māori, Tokelauan and Niuean languages, all with English text. They promote knowledge of the students’ own culture, using their first language, so that schools can be culturally responsive while strengthening students’ English language and literacy.

Onepoto School Principal Colin Dale says even though it has been just four months since the books arrived, great progress has been made and there is stronger engagement in reading. “It shows the children their language and culture is valued.”

Another school in central Auckland with mostly Pacific students, Te Papapa Primary in Onehunga, is also enthusiastic about the books. One third of the roll at the school is Tongan, and many students have Tongan as their first language.

Literacy Leader Jan Scoulding uses each book in the series for up to two weeks, starting with words and then moving quickly on to phrases and sentences, using story sequencing, bilingual picture/word matching and other writing-focused activities. Often, parents sit in the class to assist, and she says that is forging stronger ties between the school and its community.

Children feel empowered

Jason Vaka of Te Papapa School, Auckland, performing on stage during Tongan Language Week celebrations.

As she is not fluent in the Tongan language, Jan begins by listening to the audio at home to become familiar with the Tongan language books.

“In class, if I’m using the Tongan book, I read as best I can in Tongan and encourage a culture of Ako so that the students feel confident to correct me and help me improve my pronunciation. This shows them it’s OK to make mistakes in learning. The books are also a wonderful tool for bringing their culture into a learning context.”

Principal Robyn Curry believes there will be shifts in reading levels. “The books are part of a strength-based approach, using what the children already know to support their learning, and to help retain their first language. You can see it in their faces – they enjoy the process of correcting and giving feedback to Jan and it’s very empowering for them.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 3:00 am, 19 September 2018

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