Joining the pieces of the tivaevae to enact strength-based mathematics learning for Pāsifika students in Aotearoa New Zealand (post 1 of 4)

Professor Roberta Hunter, Dr Jodie Hunter, and Professor Glenda Anthony, Massey University


This is post 1 in a four-part series based on a symposium presented by the authors at the American Educational Research Association’s 2018 conference in New York. This symposium was supported by NZARE.

The other posts in this series are:

  • Post 2 – Teachers and teacher educators working together in professional learning
  • Post 3 – Challenging teacher perceptions of student capabilities
  • Post 4 – Student voice: Being Pāsifika in New Zealand mathematics classrooms

For too long, the cultures of Pāsifika students have been perceived as deficits within the New Zealand schooling system, rather than as strengths which support, nurture, and empower these students as learners. The UN has recently criticised the ways that Māori and Pāsifika students are disadvantaged within New Zealand’s education system. However, in many cases, ideologies of colour-blindness and whiteness keep these issues ‘under the radar’.

Internationally, there have been calls for the de-silencing of race (see also here and here) and the disruption of deficit perspectives in the field of mathematics education. Our work through the Developing Mathematics Inquiry Communities (DMIC) project seeks to help de-silence race and disrupt deficit perspectives in the context of New Zealand schools. Embedded within culturally responsive teaching and learning of mathematics, DMIC supports all participants to reconceptualise persistent and long-held notions about who can successfully participate in and learn mathematics.

In this series of blog posts based on our recent NZARE-supported symposium at the American Educational Research Association’s 2018 conference, we examine how the work of DMIC has impacted on:

  • teacher professional development;
  • teaching practice; and
  • students’ experiences of mathematics learning.

Across the series we highlight how participants’ perspectives and experiences have changed, and we also show how Pāsifika values have underpinned these changes. First, however, we introduce a model we have found helpful for understanding culturally responsive and culturally sustaining pedagogy for Pāsifika learners.

The tivaevae model

In Cook Islands culture, a tivaevae is a large handmade bedspread. It begins from one large piece of material and is then decorated with other pieces of material of different designs and patterns. The aim is to make a picture or tell a story, most often recording a family history or reproducing a traditional or family-held pattern. The crafting of the tivaevae is a communal activity involving a large group of people. The stitching is part of the tivaevae and sits on top of the fabric pieces where each stitch can be seen, providing a visible reminder of the many women’s hands crafting the tivaevae.

Maua-Hodges (2000) has developed a theoretical model of the Cook Islands values represented in the process of constructing a tivaevae. The five values in the tivaevae model are taokotai (collaboration), tu akangateitei (respect), uriuri kite (reciprocity), tu inangaro (relationships), and akairi kite (shared vision). These values are drawn from one Pāsifika nation, the Cook Islands, but symbolise the values of the wider group of Pāsifika peoples. Within the Pāsifika community, these values signify the elements valued by a collective (rather than individualistic) society for creating and sustaining community.

Tivaevae model.jpg
The five Cook Islands values in Maua-Hodges’ tivaevae model

In our work, we have used the tivaevae model to help us understand culturally responsive pedagogy and the transformations that have occurred for different groups of participants within the DMIC project. For example, in our work:

  • Taokotai (collaboration) reflects the value of striving to gain shared goals, patience while practising, and the need to negotiate time and space as teachers continue their learning journey over time.
  • Tu akangateitei (respect) relates to the importance of experience and mutual respect, with teachers, teacher educators, school leaders and students all respecting the knowledge of others.
  • Uriuri kite (reciprocity) reminds us that the contributions of teachers and learners (or teacher-learners and teacher educators) are reciprocal and intertwined.
  • Tu inangaro (relationships) reflects a sense of family which grows to community in a relational journey that occurs over time.
  • Akairi kite (shared vision) involves constructing knowledge bit by bit, complementing teachers’ individual personal growth. This final value also incorporates the values of tu akangateitei (respect), tu akakoromaki (patience), and tu kauraro (humility).

In the remaining three blog posts in this series, we draw on multiple sets of data (teacher interviews and written reflections, teacher educator interviews and written notes, and video recorded classroom mentoring episodes) collected over three years to share instances where the five tivaevae values above were enacted for teachers, teacher educators, and students. We hope these examples will be helpful and informative for others seeking to transform racial disparities and deficit perspectives in our schools.


Other posts in this 4-part series:

  • Post 2 – Teacher educators and teachers working together in professional learning
  • Post 3 – Challenging teacher perceptions of student capabilities
  • Post 4 – Student voice: Being Pāsifika in New Zealand mathematics classrooms

BobbieRoberta (Bobbie) Hunter is a Professor in the Institute of Education at Massey University. She developed her love of maths through watching her Cook Islands mother measuring and making geometric patterns for intricate tivaevae (fabric art) patterns. Bobbie originally developed the pedagogical approaches used in the Developing Mathematics Inquiry Communities (DMIC) project for her PhD and since then has overseen implementation of DMIC in low-decile schools across NZ. 

JodieJodie Hunter is a senior lecturer in the Institute of Education at Massey University and teaches in the areas of mathematics education and Pāsifika education. She has previously worked in mathematics education at Plymouth University, UK, and visited the USA as a Fulbright New Zealand Scholar. Jodie’s current research interests include effective mathematics teaching and culturally responsive teaching for Pasifika learners, including within the DMIC project.

Glenda picture 2Glenda Anthony is the co-director of the Massey University Centre for Research in Mathematics Education (CeRME). Her research interests include effective mathematics teaching and professional learning. Glenda’s current focus on equity of access and participation for students involves research in the Developing Mathematics Inquiry Communities project led by Roberta and Jodie Hunter.

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