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Broadening the Bookends for Learning Through Kuanaʻike Mindsets

Updated: Feb 5

By Kumu Holly Lee

Kumu Holly engages haumāna in the Kuanaʻike Mindsets to inspire their own moʻolelo.


Teachers have an incredible amount of power. Power in the texts they select, power in the strategies they use, and power in what they communicate explicitly and implicitly about what they value. Paulo Freire stated, “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” I became a teacher to create spaces for haumāna where literacy and learning are not limiting but expansive.

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” - Paulo Freire

As a sixth grade English Language Arts teacher, I have noticed differences in standardized reading scores between female and male haumāna. Over the past seven years in this role, school data has shown more males struggle to meet target reading scores than females. Additionally, I observed fewer avid male readers in comparison to female readers, inferred by how frequently they read and check out books from our classroom library over the course of the year. However, moʻolelo is where the playing field for gender may equalize these discrepancies. In the past two years, I have focused on framing more of our literacy learning through moʻolelo and experimenting with inquiry approaches that move beyond what can be quantified by a standardized assessment. In doing this, I have seen engagement with reading void of gender saliency. At the same time, differences in standardized achievement continue to surface, which demands a better understanding of what literacy looks like for our haumāna outside of the classroom and in their everyday lives.


“Nānā ka maka; ho‘olohe ka pepeiao; pa‘a ka waha” (Pukui, 1983, v. 2268).

Currently, our school uses the NWEA MAP assessment to measure and communicate reading growth of our haumāna. Although this tool provides valuable information, we need a more comprehensive method to accurately tell our data story. For example, I employed a method to broaden the space between bookends for data before defining this project, by asking haumāna to take three to five pictures of their literacy lives at home. This process, known as a photostory, was created by Wang and Burris and is described as “A process by which people can identify, represent and enhance their community through a specific photographic technique” (Wang and Burris 1997, p. 369). Haumāna photographed any form of literacy (reading, writing, speaking, listening, and or viewing) that best represented their literacy lives at home. I wanted to have a baseline understanding of gender differences related to literacy research in this area. Data were first analyzed by bulleting out annotations for each photograph/caption. After these initial annotations were made, the entire set of photographs for each student (three to five photographs per student) was analyzed to create “set annotations” that best communicated patterns across the photos. Once annotations and set annotations were created for each haumāna, data were separated out by gender to identify any differences. 

Results showed that the literacy lives of males were more frequently presented as multi-modal, marked by responses that included reading, writing, and or speaking and listening. Whereas, the literacy lives of females were more frequently presented as orthographic, marked by photographs that included written or printed symbols. These findings confirmed the literature related to gender and literacy engagement. Additionally, when analyzing photos and captions for indicators of moʻolelo, nine photographs/captions contained elements of moʻolelo out of 170 total photographs/captions for males, and 11 photographs/captions out of 177 total photographs/captions for females. Moʻolelo was marked by the presence of native stories, characters, deities, mele, oli, or oral storytelling within photographs.

Moʻolelo are the Iwikuamoʻo of our Lāhui

Whether told orally, through reading, or writing, moʻolelo communicates what we value, believe, and practice, tightly connecting us to our place, space, and kuleana. We stand upright and know our intention for action by knowing our stories. In response to classroom interactions, MAP NWEA data, and photostory kilo, I wanted to deepen the relevancy of learning by exploring moʻolelo through Kuanaʻike Mindsets in addition to what already existed in my practice, which is looking at motifs (big topics across a narrative) and themes (what an author most likely believes to be true about a motif). 

In years past, I have always taught moʻolelo solely through the lens of Common Core State Standards (CCSS), with a focus on plot structure, motif, and theme. However, for my research, I asked haumāna to write their own moʻolelo using a personal narrative rooted in one or more of the Kuanaʻike Mindsets (hoʻoponopono a pono, hōʻike a ʻike, hoʻomana a mana, and hoʻoili a ili) that were introduced to Kumu participating in Alaukawai 14. I wanted to explore how these Mindsets might impact (gendered) learning, and what role they could play in the hoʻoili a ili of moʻolelo. 

This writing presents select findings from my research question: How can Kuanaʻike Mindsets inspire haumāna to write their own personal moʻolelo by deepening their learning experiences?

Background Research

I knew that using moʻolelo leveled the playing field of engagement for male and female haumāna in my classroom, but a scan of the literature reinforced my approach, by building empathy and increasing relevancy for all haumāna. According to Teachers and the Gender Gap in Reading Achievement, gender gaps in achievement can be addressed by creating a classroom where students are invited to interrogate ideas (Aucejo et al., 2020). In my current practice, there are opportunities to question ideas and explore perspectives, but much of this is done at the end of a unit vs. throughout. This made me wonder, how might inviting interrogation of ideas throughout a unit of study increase relevancy and learning through empathy for all haumāna?

Building Empathy

Our sixth grade pilot interdisciplinary team focused on the instructional strategy of developing empathy. I created a Padlet of articles for lāhui minded issues impacting Hawaiʻi. Learners selected articles of interest to read and were asked to create a Multi-Flow Thinking Map (Thinking Maps | a Common Visual Language, n.d.) to identify causes for each issue they read about and then ask themselves why they should care as a result. The next lesson used a Padlet of videos to engage multi-modal learning. Learners jotted down words and phrases that signaled key details about the topic of each video.

After, they inferred the speaker’s central idea based on their notes. Last, I used an interrogation instructional strategy and students responded to the following question: Do you agree or disagree with the central idea of this video? Now that they had developed personal connections and empathy for topics of interest, I wanted them to see how people take action when there are disruptions or issues in their own lives, which was the perfect spot for them to write their own personal moʻolelo and introduce the Kuanaʻike Mindsets.

A Call to Action

An interdisciplinary unit of study titled “Pitch Fest,” which focused on lāhui minded issues was used for this action research project. In this unit, haumāna were asked to select a topic of interest connected to a lāhui-minded issue, conduct research, and create a three to five minute pitch to convince others that the lāhui-minded issue they selected is the most pressing for action. For haumāna to select a topic of interest, they first needed to build background knowledge and empathy by reading informational text. In my past practice, haumāna formulated a central idea of an informational text supported by key details, designed specifically to meet CCSS. Haumāna weighed in on whether they agreed or disagreed with the author's central idea and explained their own position related to a topic. In doing this, learners’ experiences were valued as they interrogate text and construct a new understanding. Once haumāna explored a variety of issues, they were asked to select one issue for their Pitch Fest topic. 

Applying the Kuanaʻike Mindsets

To investigate the impact of using the Mindsets, each learner determined which Mindset(s) his or her topic of interest aligned and wrote a personal moʻolelo for that Mindset(s). I wanted learners to see the Kuanaʻike Mindsets in their own lives and how those Mindsets may further deepen their connection to the issue selected for Pitch Fest. Haumāna were then asked to research ʻōlelo noʻeau and select one to weave into the resolution of their writing or to create their own words of wisdom related to the Mindset(s) chosen. We did a gallery walk of the Kuanaʻike Mindsets that were posted in an area of the classroom along with pictures that showed different examples of the Mindset and questions to help haumāna brainstorm their own moments. Haumāna selected one that they most wanted to move forward with for Pitch Fest.

Topic selection showed differences from years past. For example, haumāna selected topics that were more personal, including but not limited to, moments of abuse, trauma, anxiety, and struggles with mental health issues. Some of these narratives required reaching out to our counselor or Behavioral Health Specialists. This is noteworthy because the writing was no longer an assignment, haumāna were using this learning experience as a way to ask for help, take action, and make sense of their world and experiences. After writing their personal moʻolelo, haumāna further researched the lahui-minded issue to present a pitch. Peers listened to pitches and could “fund” two pitches of their choice using Pitch Fest “currency.”


So I could understand how Kuanaʻike Mindsets contributed to their learning, I created a Google Form for students to fill out after they wrote their personal moʻolelo. A total of 113 haumāna responded to the survey. Results showed that 43% of haumāna wrote a personal moʻolelo about Hoʻomana a Mana, 31% wrote about Hoʻoponopono a Pono, 21% wrote about Hōʻike a ʻIke, and 7% wrote about Hoʻoili a Ili. When asked an open-ended question, How did the Kuanaʻike Mindsets contribute to your learning and creation of personal moʻolelo? Twenty-three percent of students responded that it helped them to see or communicate a deeper meaning of their story. For example, one student wrote, “It helped me think of new ideas and branch off from what I normally think. It opened up new possibilities for new moʻolelo. It also made me go back and think about what happened in that time period and reflect.” Additionally, 20% of responses indicated that it helped them to see a new perspective. Another student wrote, “It helped me see things through a mindset of some of my kupuna. These mindsets made me think in different ways and see things with a different eye. It helped me sort myself out. Writing about my narrative was hard. But these mindsets helped me organize my writing and myself. I think if we look at things with Kuanaʻike Mindsets more often, we will see the clearer picture.” 

To further investigate the impact of using the Mindsets during creation of personal moʻolelo, haumāna were also asked the following question: Has learning about Kuanaʻike Mindsets changed your perspective, your learning experience, or how you see things in any way? Open-ended responses were analyzed and grouped into categories based on the most salient patterns that emerged. Results showed that 98% of haumāna experienced a change in perspective or learning experience using the Kuanaʻike Mindsets. Last, when asked to rate the usefulness of the Kuanaʻike Mindsets in writing personal moʻolelo, 92% reported the Mindsets were “Helpful” or “Extremely Helpful,” while eight percent reported they were “Unhelpful” or “Extremely Unhelpful.” It was clear that haumāna could see the Mindsets in their own lives and viewed learning and writing through these perspectives as expansive rather than restrictive, but could the Mindsets also benefit their learning when it came to research and presentation of informational text in addition to narrative text? To find out, I administered a second Google Form after haumāna created their Pitch Fest presentations. 

Forty-two percent of haumāna self-reported that their Pitch Fest presentations connected to Hoʻoponopono a Pono, 29% reported a connection to Hoʻomana a Mana, 17% connected to Hōʻike a ʻIke, and 13% to Hoʻoili a Ili. With this, 100% of haumāna could articulate their interpretation of the specific Kuanaʻike Mindset connection. For example, one student wrote, “It connects to my pitch fest because mana talks about persevering and learning from your past mistakes. When you are dealing with mental health it is VERY important to persevere and not let those thoughts overwhelm you.” Another student wrote, “It connects to my topic because we need to speak up when we have a hard time or we are fighting battles in our heads.” 

So What? Why Should we Care?

These are two questions I love to ask haumāna when we engage in argumentative reading and writing because they are the same questions that I ask myself after each lesson and learning experience. This research was exciting because I learned more about my haumāna than I ever had in the past, regardless of gender. They selected topics and issues of importance to them and saw themselves as change-makers. Watching them work to become experts in their topics was momentous. They had choice, connection, and voice. This work is a reminder that it cannot be one assessment, one set of standards, or one strategy that we use. Those are the sides of a box. Instead, it must be a set of bookends that we continue to move and adjust as we explore, learn, and experiment with possibilities for making education meaningful. Using the Kuanaʻike Mindsets in our teaching and learning empowers haumāna by engaging Native Hawaiian worldviews front and center and thus make impossible to ignore. The future vitality of a thriving lāhui depends on kanaka ʻŌiwi knowing their place and using their unique perspective to take action when there are disruptions.


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