Generating positive outcomes by Year 5 to 8 priority learners in writing: An inquiry into effective teacher practice

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): 
Professor. Judy Parr and Dr Murray Gadd
Research team members: 
Lliam Carran, James Robertson
Research partners: 
Teacher-researchers from Balmoral School, Fergusson Intermediate, Marshall Laing School, Mt Cook School


Project description

This project will identify critical elements in optimising writing for upper primary priority learners. Teacher-researchers from partnership schools will inquire iteratively into the impact of their learning on practice and on student engagement, progress and achievement. Partners will collaborate to identify systematically precisely what is involved in positive changes.


There are 5 main research questions to be answered in this project:

  1. What are teacher-researchers’ current patterns of instruction in writing and associated teacher knowledge and beliefs?
  2. What are the major differences or gaps between teacher pedagogy uncovered in the project and effective writing pedagogy as presented in the existing literature?
  3. What particular changes are associated with stronger engagement by learners in writing and higher achievement levels for learners in writing, particularly by boys, Māori students, Pasifika students?
  4. What aspects of inquiry-based methodology appear to be critical in promoting changes to teacher pedagogy?
  5. How are findings in this project (about effective and inquiry-based pedagogy) best transferred from this set of teacher researchers to all teachers of Year 5 to 8 learners?

Why is this research important?

Writing is vital to success in education and the workforce, but students in New Zealand demonstrably underachieve. This research will identify powerful levers in raising achievement. It addresses two major gaps in the small writing instruction research base. One relates to the pedagogy of ‘typically performing’ teachers. Research largely describes exemplary practice but we clearly need evidence of current practice and of ‘how most teachers can best get there’. The other gap concerns priority learners in New Zealand writing classrooms. Little work on raising the achievement levels of priority learners has been contextualised within instructional writing. 

What we plan to do

Three phases are planned: a setting-up phase to develop and implement analysis tools designed to ascertain where both teachers and priority students are at and where they need to go. Then teachers and researchers collaboratively design specific learning interventions related to priority student needs. These are then implemented, analysed and redesigned as impact on learner outputs is evaluated. Decisions will be informed by observations and discussions of practice, interviews about practice, self-rating of practice and analysis of e-asTTle writing data to ascertain student progress. Student voice will also be gathered through interviews and attitudinal surveys. The second and third phases will be repeated with new students and, potentially, additional teachers in 2017, with an examining and disseminating phase planned for the end of 2017. The aim is to seek and share critical points of association between teacher proficiency, learner gains and shifts in learner perceptions and views of writing.


Contact details

Professor Judy Parr
Faculty of Education, University of Auckland
Private Bag 92601, Symonds Street 1150 (09) 3737999

Dr Murray Gadd (Honorary Research Fellow, University of Auckland) (027) 4866522