Tuhia ki te Ao - Write to the natural world

Funding year: 
2 years
Auckland UniServices
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2016
Project end date: 
March 2018
Principal investigator(s): 
Sasha Matthewman
Research team members: 
Rawiri Hindle, Michelle Johansson, John Morgan, Molly Mullen and Georgina Stewart
Research partners: 
Newton Rewi, James Cook High School; Ros Britton, Hobsonville Point Secondary School



The project will explore how people communicate a relationship and kinship with the natural world within the secondary school context. Through the project we will gain understanding of how literacy shapes a sense of our place in the world - our environment, our culture and our identity.


We will build on Bill Green's influential model of 3D literacy (the three dimensions of operational literacy, cultural literacy and critical literacy) to include explicit attention to ecological sustainability. Green's model works within the theoretical framework of multiliteracies and is focussed on the transformational potential of literacy (Green and Beavis, 2012). We propose an ecological shift to investigate the operational, enviro-cultural and eco-critical dimensions of literacy within English, the Arts and Social Sciences. We aim to evaluate the potential of this ecological shift for developing teachers’ literacy pedagogy as part of culturally responsive practice. In turn, we seek to assess the extent to which this benefits students’ literacy achievement and informs their bicultural environmental identities. In practical, concrete terms we aim to:

  • provide a model for how to establish ecological sustainability as part of 21st century learning and future focus;
  • create and share tools and exemplars to show how ecological sustainability as 3D literacy (operational, enviro-cultural and eco-critical)  can be integrated and developed within learning areas;
  • present evidence-based recommendations for the effective inclusion of all learners in ecological sustainability learning and 3D literacy as part of culturally responsive pedagogy; and
  • write vivid narratives which illustrate possible ways in which ecological sustainability in learning areas can inform students’ environmental identities and benefit their 3D literacy achievement within the bicultural aspirations of the New Zealand Curriculum.


This research is important because it:

  • addresses pressing environmental concerns within the remit of secondary school education;
  • will develop a model of literacy which purposefully includes ecological as well as cultural perspectives;
  • works on the New Zealand curriculum principles, particularly the "future focus";
  • integrates bicultural knowledge of the environment as central to all students’ identities, linked to literacy achievement, as an important aspect of culturally responsive pedagogy;
  • develops ecological sustainability within learning areas as part of Education for Sustainability.


Working across two schools, researchers and six teacher researchers will develop ecological sustainability themes within lesson sequences in their learning areas. Together, we will analyse the 3D literacy achievements - operational, enviro-cultural and eco-critical - of one class of Year 9 students, each year, in each school (approximately 100 students). We will use narrative methodology to evaluate the design (phase 1) and redesign (phase 2) of teaching sequences in relation to the development of students' 3D literacy and environmental identities.

DATA: Data collected will include: teacher interviews, teacher focus groups, lesson observations, student portfolios and students' visual presentations with written and oral reflections.

ANALYSIS:  Data will be analysed using narrative, visual and multimodal methods as appropriate to produce narratives (teacher vignettes; learner profiles; narratives of lesson sequences) that will be engaging for teachers in relation to developing ecological sustainability as 3D literacy and within learning areas. Our second level of analysis will evaluate these research narratives in relation to literacy pedagogy, culturally responsive pedagogy and students' 3D literacy achievements. We will identify where teaching has informed students' environmental identities using an evaluative tool developed from the 3D literacy model.

Our Partners

This project involves two partner schools:

Hobsonville Point Secondary School opened in 2014. The school describes its approach to curriculum planning as "innovative", based on collaboration between teachers in learning areas to design theme-based units of work. The school will be decile 8-10 when it has a full intake. Ros Britton, will lead the teacher-researcher team at this school.

James Cook High School is a decile 1 school in Manurewa with a mainly Māori and Pasifika intake which approaches curriculum planning through learning areas. The school aims to provide an interesting, challenging programme in academic, sporting and cultural activities. Newton Rewi will lead the teacher-researcher team at this school.



Sasha Matthewman
University of Auckland
Private Bag 92601, Symonds Street
Auckland 1023
New Zealand
+64 (9) 623 8899 ext 46379


Recent Publications

Matthewman, S. et al (2017). Teaching literacy in a time of environmental crisis. Set: Research Information for Teachers. 3, 26-31.

Hindle, R. & Matthewman, S. (2017) Māori literacies: Ecological perspectives. Set: Research information for teachers. 3: 32-37

Mullen, M. & Johansson, M. (2017) More than words: Culturally and environmentally responsive literacies in The Arts. Set: Research information for teachers. 3: 38-44

Morgan, J. & Iki, M. (2017).  “I fear Kiribati will be gone forever”:  Exploring eco-literacy in one Social Sciences classroom. Set: Research information for teachers. 3: 45-50.

Matthewman, S. (2017). Locating eco-critical literacy in secondary English. Set: Research information for teachers. 3: 51-57.

Matthewman, S. (2017). From place to planet: The role of the language arts in reading environmental identities from the UK to New Zealand. In D. Stevens & K. Lockney (Eds.), Students, places and identities in English and the arts: Creative spaces in education (pp.1-13). New York, NY; London, United Kingdom: Routledge.