Pedagogy for modern learners

Much is now known about the conditions and strategies that maximise learning. Relevant information can be found, for example, in The New Zealand Curriculum and the OECD’s Innovative Learning Environments (ILE) project. While the language and presentation of these two documents are different, the ideas resonate strongly with each other, providing valuable insight into best practice. ERO’s own School Evaluation Indicators: Effective Practice for Improvement and Learner Success draws on expertise from a range of sources to promote the development of schools’ internal evaluation capacity, leading to improvement.

The role of leadership

While the single biggest in-school influence on student outcomes is high-quality, learner-focused teaching, the second biggest is the quality and capability of school leadership (Leithwood et al, 2008).

The School Leadership and Student Outcomes Best Evidence Synthesis (Robinson, Hōhepa, & Lloyd, 2009) stresses the importance of leaders building relational trust in their schools. Effective leaders also require the knowledge, skills and dispositions to ensure that school-wide decisions are based on sound research and evidence. Only then can they foster the levels of inquiry, risk taking, and collaborative effort that school improvement demands.

Effective leaders have a clear vision of the transformation they wish to bring about, identifying what the key skills and learnings are that will best equip their learners for their future. They are effective change managers, managing the significant change necessitated to transform pedagogy and maximise the benefits offered by modern learning environments and digital technology. Leaders have to take their school community with them, so they appreciate why change is happening and can support it, and make sure the change is sustained.

There are many resources and a wealth of research to assist leaders determine their change journey. An outline of the key elements to be taken into account follows.

Leadership that is focused on achievement and productively shared is crucial for sustaining school improvement. ERO’s School Leadership that Works resource and Improvement in Action Te Ahu Whakamua videos remind us of important ways in which leaders can improve teaching and learning in their schools.

The OECD ILE project has also developed resources to help school leaders and teachers see what effective schooling, teaching and learning looks like. Importantly, the project acknowledges the multifaceted nature of knowledge: ‘the quality of knowledge and understanding is of utmost importance rather than just how much knowledge is acquired’ (Dumont, Istance, & Benavides, 2012)

As well as eight basics of motivation, the project has identified seven principles of learning that focus on developing skilful learners with adaptive expertise.[6]

The seven principles are:

  1. Learners at the centre
  2. The social nature of learning
  3. Emotions are integral to learning
  4. Recognising individual differences
  5. Stretching all students
  6. Assessment for learning
  7. Building horizontal connections.

The ILE project acknowledges that there is nothing original in its ideas. Indeed our own New Zealand Curriculum predates its work by five years.

The ILE project asserts that the key to school effectiveness and improvement is to realise the seven principles as a whole rather than work on one or two at a time. How a school does this will depend on leadership capacity and capability and on its particular context. The Ministry of Education has developed a tool that schools can use to scan for evidence of the seven learning principles.

Developing student agency

The foremost of the ILE’s seven principles is ‘learners at the centre’:

The learning environment recognises the learners as its core participants, encourages their active engagement and develops in them an understanding of their own activity as learners.

For Green, Facer and Rudd (2005) this means that the education system

… should be reshaped around the needs of the learner rather than the learner merely conforming to the system.

Learners need to be encouraged to become actively involved in decisions about their education and there must be appropriate ways for them to do so.

There are significant benefits for students when they have a say in what they learn, how they learn, and what help they need. Hargreaves (2004) notes that where their voice is sought and heard students are more likely to have enhanced learning partnerships with teachers, be more motivated to learn, think more deeply, and understand and develop their skills as learners. In other words, they take more responsibility for themselves as learners.

Teachers who engage with their students in this way come to understand them better, gaining insight into their aspirations and the communities to which they belong. This makes it easier for them to meet their students’ needs and ensure that learning is both relevant and challenging. When students are engaged in their learning, teachers are able to make the fullest use of their professional skills as educators.

By sharing power and the responsibility for learning, teachers set their students on a path to fulfilling the vision we have for them, with the ability ‘to secure a sustainable social, cultural, economic and environmental future for our country’. (Ministry of Education, 2007).

It is clear that there is no one-size-fits-all practice that can be considered current best practice in teaching and learning. Rather, schools need to adapt multiple practices to fit their unique context, utilise teacher capabilities, and – above all – respond to the needs, abilities and interests of each of their students. It is because The New Zealand Curriculum gives schools the flexibility to do this that it is the envy of educators in other countries

The role of teachers

With quality of teaching the single most important school variable influencing student achievement (OECD, 2005), teachers are central to all school improvement efforts. ERO (2016) identifies ‘Responsive curriculum, effective teaching and opportunity to learn’ as one of the two domains that have ‘the most significant influence on outcomes for students’. Given the shifts in curriculum and pedagogy required to meet the needs of the modern learner, the teacher’s role has never been more important.

Good teachers have always listened as well as lectured, but now this skill is more vital than ever. While traditional education systems fostered the obedience demanded of the manufacturing workforce, the Education 3.0 system must nurture creative and collaborative skills. Knowledge is available at the click of a mouse, but learning to apply it requires a teacher who can instruct, facilitate, guide, and support as needed (CISCO, 2008).

The New Zealand Curriculum describes teaching actions that have been shown to consistently have a positive effect on student learning. Students develop adaptive expertise and learn best when their teachers:

  • create a supportive environment

This includes building strong home–school partnerships so that parents and whānau are actively involved in their children’s learning.

  • encourage reflective thought and action

Inquiry-based approaches help students to be creative, engage in research, think critically about material they use, collaborate and reflect on outcomes.

  • enhance the relevance of new learning

Authentic contexts for learning are especially powerful if they are locally based.

  • facilitate shared learning

Students have opportunities to work with and support each other, and, as they do so, learn to work collaboratively and co-operatively.

  • make connections to prior learning and experience

Knowledge and skills can be scaffolded.

  • provide sufficient opportunities to learn

It is important to include learning with technology because, when used properly, it can empower students and enrich and extend their learning.

  • inquire into the teaching–learning relationship

Formative assessment provides evidence for the learner and teacher about progress and about areas that need to be addressed, and suggests how the curriculum itself might be refined.

These seven teacher actions share common ground with the approaches identified by the ILE project.

Hattie (2015a) ranked 195 influences on outcomes for students according to their effect size. The top ten, ranked in order of influence, are listed in the following table. Of these ten, eight are directly related to teacher actions.

Influence Explanation
(Most are adapted from Glossary of Hattie's influences on student achievement
Teacher estimates of achievement Students are more likely to achieve well when teachers hold high expectations for their achievement.
Collective teacher efficacy Teachers work together to learn from each other and increase collective expertise and capability.
Student self-reported grades Students predict their own performance and gain confidence in their ability to learn when, extended by the teacher, they exceed their expectations.
Piagetian programmes  Programmes of learning are tailored to match Piaget’s developmental stages as children develop the capacity to think abstractly and reason deductively.
Conceptual change programmes  Teachers plan programmes that take students from surface learning to deeper conceptual understanding.
Response to intervention Teachers act to prevent academic failure through early intervention and regular monitoring of progress.
Teacher credibility Students know which teachers help them learn; if a teacher does not have credibility they disengage from learning.
Micro-teaching Teachers’ lessons are videoed; a subsequent debriefing focuses on improving the teaching and learning experience.
Cognitive task analysis Teachers analyse the tasks they give to students and identify the specific thinking skills students will need when performing them.
Classroom discussion Teachers involve the whole class in discussion to improve students’ communication skills and give them opportunities to learn from each other. Classroom discussion also allows the teacher to hear whether key concepts have been grasped.

These and the other positive influences on Hattie’s list highlight how important it is for teachers to continuously work at improving their practice, deliberately scaffolding students’ thinking skills, building powerful learning relationships, and empowering students to understand and manage their own learning.

However, Hattie (2015b) also identified within-school variability in teacher effectiveness as the single greatest barrier to student learning: some students experience effective teaching and thrive while peers in other classrooms experience ineffective teaching and languish.

The evidence from many decades of research on what really enhances student learning reflects this and points to solutions such as improving teacher and school leader expertise, ensuring that teachers and leaders work together on common understandings about progress and high expectations for the impact of their teaching, school leaders who focus on developing collective expertise among their teachers, systems that have robust discussions to decide the purpose and desired outcomes of their schools and students who want to learn the skills they need to become their own teachers.

Effective leadership combined with school-wide effective teaching means all students have equitable access to quality learning opportunities, which leads to improved outcomes that are sustainable over time.

Support for school innovation and improvement

Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako

Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako (CoLs)[7] can play an important role in enabling education providers to collaborate to improve learner outcomes and create coherent learning pathways: from early childhood through the school years and onto further study, training or employment – pathways that help learners to realise their potential. The government has supported CoLs through several initiatives, including:

Ministry initiatives designed to support modern learning

The Ministry of Education supports the development of modern teaching practices by providing infrastructure, both physical and digital.

Network for Learning (N4L) is a crown-owned company that operates a managed network for schools: every school can access government‑funded fast broadband with uncapped data. N4L also offers a range of other services that are designed to support the use of digital technologies in the classroom.

Enabling e-Learning is a Ministry website for schools wanting to grow their e‑capability. Links include rich examples of how schools are using digital technologies to future-focus, extend and enhance learning.

To ensure that students learn about and become creators of digital technologies, the Ministry is adding a Digital Technologies / Hangarau Matihiko (DT/HM) curriculum to The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa[8], to be implemented with all Year 1–10 students from 2020. The Ministry will provide resources and professional learning and development (PLD) to support teachers as they integrate DT/HM into their local curriculum. While not compulsory in the senior school, the DT/HM curriculum extends to Year 13. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) is developing achievement standards for those who wish to gain formal qualifications.

School building projects, both renovations and new builds, have seen the introduction of flexible learning spaces (FLSs) into some schools. When planning new projects the Ministry works with the school concerned to arrive at a design that will support their vision for teaching and learning, though any design must be sufficiently flexible to allow for repurposing in the future if required. FLSs facilitate, indeed necessitate, changes in the curriculum and pedagogy. In an FLS, teachers are better able to share responsibility for learners and collaboratively identify and respond to the needs of individual learners. Learners in an FLS are often able to make choices about where they work, with whom, and what furniture and resources they will use.

Many schools have used Ministry programmes such as PB4L Restorative Practice, PB4L School-Wide, Te Kotahitanga with its the Effective Teacher Profile material, and He Kākano to develop school cultures that are conducive to learning (see Appendix 5). A positive school culture is closely linked to two ILE principles: the social nature of learning and emotions are integral to learning. These programmes are most effective when integrated into the school’s existing systems; to have a lasting impact any programme must be adapted to suit the context (Chapman, 2014).

The above Ministry initiatives all support changes in teaching that will enrich and extend learning.[9]

Fullan (2011 states that the right drivers are those that result in sustainable system changes and improved outcomes for students. To increase teacher effectiveness, Fullan advocates capacity building rather than accountability measures, group solutions rather than individual solutions, and a focus on instruction instead of relying on ‘the wonders of the digital world’ to bring about the desired change. Fullan warns against using fragmented rather than integrated or systemic strategies as drivers for improvement. The challenge for school leaders is to implement systemic change for improvement in ways that suit their unique context.


[6]       Adaptive expertise goes beyond mastery or routine expertise. It is the ability to apply meaningfully‑learned knowledge and skills flexibly and creatively in different situations. It is central to lifelong learning.

[7]       For more information see Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako: Working towards collaborative practice (ERO, 2017).

[8]       At time of publication there was no link to digital technologies in Te Marautanga o Aotearoa. Digital technologies will be recognised as a whenu (strand) within the Hangarau Wāhanga Ako.

[9]       The Ministry has other resources which also support teachers and schools in curriculum planning and management strategies. These include the Universal Design for Learning framework and the Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour (RTLB) service.