Enhancing the intercultural capability of students of additional languages in New Zealand’s intermediate schools

Funding year: 
2 years
University of Auckland - Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2016
Project end date: 
March 2018
Principal investigator(s): 
Assoc. Professor. Martin East
Research team members: 
Dr. Constanza Tolosa (University of Auckland) and Jocelyn Howard (University of Canterbury)
Research partners: 
Dr. Adèle Scott (Te Kura) and Dr. Christine Biebricher (ILEP) Debbie Wylde, Takapuna Normal Intermediate School; Linton Rathgen, Auckland Normal Intermediate School; Britta Frogley, Berkley Normal Middle School; Mike Smith and Tamara Toaolamai, Kirkwood Intermediate School.



Intercultural capability is an important 21st century skill for young people. Programmes in languages additional to the language of instruction provide a key means to enhance this capability, and the new NZC learning area Learning Languages has created dedicated curriculum space for students in Years 7 to 10 to learn an additional language. Building on published documents and Ministry-funded initiatives designed to help schools with introducing languages programmes, this project investigates how five teachers in four intermediate schools are enacting curriculum expectations and enhancing learner outcomes with a particular focus on developing students’ intercultural capability. 


The partners will work together to: (1) investigate how languages are currently being taught in the partner schools; (2) identify foci for a range of ‘teaching as inquiry’ projects that will facilitate learners’ intercultural reflection; and (3) use the findings to illustrate effective practice. The goal is to publish a series of indepth ‘engaging examples of practice’. These will outline teachers’ journeys as researchers and the outcomes of their research- and theory-informed inquiries into their own practices alongside emerging principles of effective practice. These narratives of practice will act as a professional learning tool and resource to support other intermediate school teachers with developing their own languages programmes and enhancing the learning outcomes of their students, in particular in relation to intercultural capabilities.

Why is this research important?

Alton-Lee (2003) notes that quality teaching “respects and affirms cultural identity” (p. 32). Bolstad et al. (2012) argue that New Zealand’s “21st century citizens” need to be “educated for diversity” as “an essential aspect of 21st century citizenship” (p.25). They conclude, however, that up to now they have “not found research evidence about schools engaging with …education for diversity” (p. 29). The increasing diversity of backgrounds of learners and their families in New Zealand creates an imperative to utilise programmes in additional languages as vehicles to enhance students’ intercultural awareness and capacity to understand and relate effectively to diversity. Our research is needed to investigate how intermediate schools can begin the process of developing students’ intercultural capabilities through programmes aligned to Learning Languages.

What we plan to do


Data gathering will involve four distinct phases (two per year):

Year 1

  • Initial semi-structured interviews with teachers, observations of teaching, summative interviews and reflections on current teaching beliefs and practices.
  • Co-construction of a range of teaching-as-inquiry cycles with an intercultural focus (one per teacher), observations of and reflections on teaching and learning, summative interviews with teachers and students.

Year 2

  • Teachers will be invited to repeat the same inquiry with a different cohort of students or to develop a new inquiry.
  • Writing the narratives of teachers’ journeys, student outcomes, and emerging principles for practice.

We are using a qualitative interpretivist approach. Using a range of published language learning principles and the values and key competencies of the NZC as lenses, and with a particular focus on intercultural capability, data from interviews with teachers and students and observations of lessons will be scrutinised for emerging themes. These themes will inform the writing of the teachers’ accounts of their practices and the emerging principles for practice.


Contact details

Associate Professor Martin East
Faculty of Education
The University of Auckland
Private Bag 92061