Academic journal article Babel

'We Can All Count to 10 but We Do It in Different Ways': Learner Diversity in the Language Classroom

Academic journal article Babel

'We Can All Count to 10 but We Do It in Different Ways': Learner Diversity in the Language Classroom

Article excerpt


In increasingly diverse classrooms, teachers are required to acknowledge the diversity of their learners. This article focuses on the extent to which 12 teachers of additional languages (Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Samoan and Spanish) in New Zealand schools reported implementing a culturally responsive pedagogy to meet the needs of their diverse learners. We present a framework for a culturally responsive pedagogy, informed by the literature. Teacher interview data were analysed for themes in the framework. While some teachers' self-reports indicated they may be limited in their cultural responsiveness, we show how one teacher began to deal effectively with learner diversity. The language learning classroom can provide a catalyst for learners to gain insights into the diversity of both speakers of the target language as well as the peers in their own classroom. Our framework and findings may assist language teachers to develop culturally responsive pedagogies.


diversity, culturally responsive pedagogy, additional languages, framework


In the settler societies of New Zealand, Australia and Canada, there is an expectation that diverse populations will be recognised and accommodated through policy (Spoonley, 2015, p. 659). Graduate teachers entering the profession in Australia and New Zealand are required to meet standards that include promoting learning for diverse learners (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, 2012; Education Council, 2015). In New Zealand, one of the government's education objectives is to 'increase New Zealanders' skills and knowledge to operate effectively across cultures' (Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 4). There is a call for educational institutions to 'facilitate the achievement of an increasingly diverse range of learners' and to support the diverse range of languages spoken by students, especially the official languages of Te Reo Maori and New Zealand Sign Language (Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 8).

As a result of New Zealand's founding document, the 1840 Tiriti o Waitangi [Treaty of Waitangi], biculturalism is privileged and there are thus two national curricula: one for Kura Kaupapa Maori (Maori-medium schools) and the other for English-medium schools. Of the total school population, the majority attend English-medium schools, with just 2% enrolled in Maori-medium schools (Education Counts, 2015a). The focus in this paper is on teaching in English-medium schools.

We consider how teachers of additional languages (additional to English and Maori) in New Zealand schools acknowledge and respond to learner diversity in the language classroom. While language learning is not mandatory, schools are expected to offer at least one additional language to learners aged from 11 to 17 years (Education Review Office, 2009, p. 3). The six most frequently taught additional languages are Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Samoan and Spanish (Education Counts 2015b; 2015c). The Learning Languages Area of The New Zealand Curriculum 2007 (Ministry of Education, 2007) places equal focus on cultural knowledge and linguistic knowledge in the development of learners' intercultural competence, which is broadly described as 'the ability to meet and engage successfully with people of another social group' (Byram, 2015, p. 38). The aim for teachers is to develop learners who can confidently navigate intercultural interactions and relationships, and the focus is on the student's lived experience, which relates to people not only from target language cultures but also to diverse cultures present in the classroom or the immediate community (Newton, Yates, Shearn, & Nowitzky, 2010, p. 60).

While in Australia the move towards an intercultural orientation in language teaching began two decades ago (Skene, 2014), the move in New Zealand was more recent. The rebalanced curriculum was new to many teachers, with significant implications for the inclusion of cultural knowledge in language teaching pedagogy (Harvey, Conway, Richards, & Roskvist, 2010). …

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