Browse all BES cases


A complete list of all 32 cases from across the best evidence synthesis publications.

The best evidence syntheses (BESs) bring together research evidence about ‘what works’ for diverse (all) learners in education. Recent BESs each include a number of cases that describe actual examples of professional practice and then analyse the findings. These cases support educators to grasp the big ideas behind effective practice at the same time as they provide vivid insight into their application.

Building as they do on the work of researchers, leaders, policy makers  and educators, that has been shown to make a difference, the cases are trustworthy resources for professional learning

Full list of cases and overview

 The cases are also organised into three groups –

  • professional learning
  • quality teaching (including a focus on fractions)
  • leadership.

Within these groups, the cases are colour coded to match the parent BES publication.

Click on the ‘read more’ link beside a title for more detail on the case.

The contexts of the cases will never exactly match your own; nevertheless, you will find that every case contains thought-provoking material that is of relevance to all educators' inquiry and knowledge-building.

Note that, for the purpose of this series, the cases have been re-titled to more accurately signal their potential usefulness.
  Link to the section about Quality Teaching cases.   Link to the section about Quality Teaching cases.   Link to the section on Professional Learning cases.   Link to the section on Leadership cases.

Professional learning cases

Case 1: Use student views as a catalyst for improvement

The writing achievement of New Zealand primary school students has been of concern for some years, lagging as it does behind reading achievement.

This case describes how a years 1–8 rural school began to address its concerns about writing achievement by asking its students three questions: "What are you learning?", "How will you know whether you have succeeded?", and "How does your teacher help?" It explains how the students' responses prompted the teachers to explore the impact of their teaching and enhance their practices and beliefs about writing in ways that led to improved student outcomes.

This case describes some of the highly effective professional learning processes that underpinned the high-impact Literacy Professional Development Project.

See also : Teacher and student use of learning goals

Download Case 1 as a PDF [290kb]

Case 2: Develop inclusive practice through a social studies programme

This New Zealand case provides a range of tools to help teachers develop inclusive practice in classroom teaching and foster inclusion in the peer culture across a school. It is informed by action research carried out by the teacher of a very diverse new entrants class but it has implications for teaching across the school. The teacher adopted a social constructivist approach that supported the development of an inclusive classroom community where student diversity was a valued resource for teaching and learning.

The case also explains the use of 'thinking books' to improve responsive teaching and learner self-management. Thinking books are a form of high-impact 'learning log' that can be effective for even 5-year-old students. This is a practical strategy for teachers seeking to support young learners to think about their learning.

See also : Learning logs/He kete wherawhera.

Download Case 2 as a PDF [316kb]

Case 3: Make sense of student literacy practices to improve teacher practices

This case provides a range of tools that can help schools interpret student achievement data, investigate competing theories to find the most plausible explanation for current achievement, and improve teacher practices through the collaborative use of action research, videotaped practice, and high-quality feedback. The tools include workshop content and protocols for professional learning communities.

The case explains how a cluster of seven New Zealand schools used an approach that involved professional learning communities to leverage off the work of teachers of years 1–3. Through joint problem solving, the schools significantly raised the reading achievement of the most at-risk students in years 4–8. The case highlights what the schools did to ensure that the new learning was embedded in school processes (for example, teacher induction and appraisal processes).

See also : Treat appraisal as a co-constructed inquiry into the teaching–learning relationship.

Download Case 3 as a PDF [302kb]

Case 4: Professional learning Use assessment-for-learning principles to improve student outcomes

Linking assessment-for-learning strategies to student goals can lead to improvements in students' academic achievement and self-regulatory practices.

This case demonstrates how teacher and student competency matrices can be used to create a vision for teaching and learning based on assessment-for-learning principles.

Used to analyse records of practice (such as video or audio) against a set of criteria, matrices can be a powerful tool for teachers, enabling them to gauge where they are at and where to go next. This case demonstrates how this can be done.

For a discussion of smart tools, see : Develop policy and curriculum documents that focus on student outcomes. See also : Teacher and student use of learning goals.

Download Case 4 as a PDF [293kb]

Case 5: Use mathematical tools to explore students' thinking about mathematics

This case explains how the effective use of three Numeracy Project tools (the number framework, diagnostic interview, and teaching model) enables teachers to design rich mathematical tasks for diverse (all) students. The tools support teachers to explore students' thinking about mathematics, their own expectations of students, and their beliefs about teaching mathematics.

Recent international studies show that in-school variation in mathematical achievement is greater than the variation between schools. This case describes some of the processes schools can use to build teachers' mathematical knowledge and pedagogical practices so that they can employ the tools effectively to improve mathematical outcomes for all students.

See also : Developing communities of mathematical inquiry and : Strengthen teacher pedagogical knowledge.

Download Case 5 as a PDF [368kb]

Case 6: Improve student attendance and engagement by improving the social and emotional environment: restorative justice

This case describes a framework for implementing a whole-school focus on improving the social and emotional environment of the classroom and school. Using this framework, a large multicultural high school was able to significantly raise attendance, engagement, and NCEA achievement.

In the case, a school guidance leader identified what support the school needed to improve school culture. As a result of internal research, externally provided professional learning, and a new restorative justice philosophy, much stronger connections were forged between classrooms, school leadership, and community. Supported by an effective system, constructive new practices were developed.

Download Case 6 as a PDF [286kb]

Case 7: Establish culturally responsive relationships with students to reduce educational disparities and raise achievement

This case presents the Te Kotahitanga professional development model (GEPRISP) and Effective Teaching Profile that many New Zealand secondary schools have used to improve outcomes for Māori students. These tools support teacher professional learning, particularly in terms of developing agentic thinking, caring relationships, and effective pedagogy.

The proportion of Māori and Pasifika students gaining NCEA level 1 in schools that used the tools described in this case was far greater than the national cohort.

See also the Te Kotahitanga website.

Download Case 7 as a PDF [357kb]

Case 8: Develop a safe environment for students to learn safe sex education

Because learning is shaped by social, emotional, and cultural processes, an emotionally and physically safe environment is key to its success. Recent international studies have shown that many New Zealand students do not feel safe at school.

The teachers in this case engaged in professional learning where they explored their own ideas, beliefs, and practices about discrimination and stereotyping while developing a trust relationship with each other and the facilitator. They then established similar trust environments in their classrooms. As a consequence, their year 12 students became more aware of sexual issues and more likely to discuss a range of safe sex topics with their partner before sex.

Download Case 8 as a PDF [287kb]

Quality teaching cases

Case 9: Use everyday rhymes and waiata to develop spatial skills and awareness

Children's informal mathematical knowledge originates with their everyday activities.

This short case illustrates how a young child uses the various spatial words in a waiata to direct her actions with a poi.

See also : Use fun games to build mathematical knowledge and confidence in young learners.

Download Case 9 as a PDF [893kb]

Case 10: Facilitate effective inclusion of learners with special needs

This case contrasts effective and ineffective approaches to the inclusion of learners with special needs. Effective approaches to inclusion accelerate the learning and improve the well-being of learners with special needs, while also benefitting other learners and teachers. The contexts were an early childhood and a junior school setting. The case highlights contrasting views about disability that have implications for learners, educators, families, and wider communities.

See also : Develop inclusive practice through a social studies programme.

Download Case 10 as a PDF [257kb]

Case 11: Create educationally powerful connections with learners' cultures

This case illustrates how teachers can use practical strategies to encourage their students to draw on family and community knowledge and, in this way, accelerate their achievement.

The case explains how an intervention doubled the achievement levels of senior secondary Pasifika learners from low socio-economic status families. Before the intervention, the focus students had a history of limited achievement. By the end of the year, they were gaining senior secondary qualifications.

While the context is year 12, the case has relevance for any teacher or school looking to create educationally powerful connections with learners' cultures, families, and communities.

Download Case 11 as a PDF [251kb]

Case 12: Use effective strategies to include quiet learners

This case demonstrates how quiet learners can be supported to actively participate in classroom discussion.

While the context is years 11 and 13 geography, the strategies for inclusion described in this case have much broader relevance because verbal skills, listening skills, and constructive participation are important in all classrooms, workplaces, and wider communities.

The case also highlights the importance of inclusive curriculum materials and resources.

Download Case 12 as a PDF [253kb]

Case 13: Use effective teaching to counter the effects of reading difficulties as a barrier to curriculum learning

In all schools, teachers are faced with the challenge of how best to support students with limited reading skills to access the curriculum. This case shows how a range of interactive teaching strategies accelerated the achievement of students with low levels of literacy. While the focus group is students aged 13 to 14 studying history, the case has relevance for all learning contexts. 

See also : Use a participation framework to support students to discuss their problem-solving strategies.

Download Case 13 as a PDF [282kb]

Case 14: Facilitate the inclusion and achievement of new learners of English

English language learners (ELLs) can find themselves excluded from curriculum learning and classroom interaction unless teachers use effective strategies to include them. This case highlights the strategies a teacher uses to support a 5-year-old new-immigrant Sāmoan as a member of the class, an English language learner, and a social studies learner. Through these strategies, the child gains access to both the language and the content of the curriculum.

This junior school case has wide relevance for the teaching of ELLs across the curriculum.

Download Case 14 as a PDF [220kb]

Case 15: Develop learning communities to accelerate academic and social outcomes

Different approaches can influence student participation and relationships in positive or negative ways. This case explains how a teacher and his students created a highly productive classroom learning community. The students learned and used social skills that supported their academic learning, their metacognitive skills, and their respect and care for each other. The case explores the impact on particular Māori, Pasifika, Iraqi, and Pākehā students.

Classes that become effective learning communities can accelerate achievement because they intensify learning opportunities and supports for every student.

See also : Developing communities of mathematical inquiry and : Expect students to be accountable for thinking through the mathematics involved in a problem.

Download Case 15 as a PDF [258kb]

Case 16: Strengthen teaching about the Treaty of Waitangi

The New Zealand Curriculum identifies the Treaty of Waitangi principle as one of the "foundations of curriculum decision making". But research, national monitoring, and a recent Education Review Office Report show teaching about the Treaty to be a nation-wide weakness in English-medium schools. This case, situated in an intermediate school, describes the use of drama to strengthen teaching and learning about the Treaty.

The source BES also highlights the Ngā Tauaromahi Marautanga o Aotearoa tikanga ā iwi exemplar, He Hui Raupatu, which describes how the members of a class attended a Treaty of Waitangi claim hearing so that their learning would be informed by direct experience and a structured inquiry process.

Download Case 16 as a PDF [269kb]

Case 17: Improve outcomes by actively engaging learners

This case vividly illustrates the difference between an effective teaching approach, which actively engages learners (for example, through the use of simulation), and a less effective teaching approach that relies substantially on teacher talk, textbooks, and students copying notes. While the case has relevance for teaching across the curriculum, the specific context is a history unit on civil rights and racism. As such, the case also has important implications for culturally responsive teaching.

Download Case 17 as a PDF [237kb]

Case 18: Integrate indigenous knowledge into the curriculum

The pass rate for Aboriginal secondary school students in a culturally responsive social studies class was twice that of comparable students in a "traditional" class.

This case, situated in Canada, explains how important a culturally responsive teaching approach was to the success of indigenous learners from low socio-economic status communities. The case contrasts cultural discontinuity in teaching and learning with teaching that creates educationally powerful connections with indigenous learners' cultural identities. 

See also : Establish culturally responsive relationships with students to reduce disparities and raise achievement.

Download Case 18 as a PDF [238kb]

Case 19: Use fun games to build mathematical knowledge and confidence in young learners

Playing fun mathematical games is one of the most powerful and positive ways in which families can support mathematical learning.

This case demonstrates how adults can support children to develop deeper understanding of fractions by playing informal language games. In this case, the game was played for a few minutes several times a week. The difficulty of the tasks and problem-solving approaches varied, but all were based around the familiar context of sharing cookies amongst a number of children. This case will be useful for parents, caregivers, and educators in early childhood centres and schools.

Download Case 19 as a PDF [530kb]

Case 20: Use a participation framework to support students to discuss their problem-solving strategies

This case illustrates the importance of positioning students so that they are able to contribute to mathematical discussions – as problem-solvers, solution-reporters, and claim-defenders. Above all, it highlights the importance of ensuring that students who find fractions difficult are treated as competent, with legitimate contributions to make. The teacher in this case carefully supported her students by making use of their prior knowledge and providing them with multiple opportunities to learn.

See also Developing communities of mathematical inquiry and : Use pedagogical leadership to enable more equitable and effective teaching for all learners.

Download Case 20 as a PDF [1.1mb]

Case 21: Develop tasks that provide high-level challenge and high-level involvement

The teacher in this case selects mathematically rich learning activities that are responsive to students' knowledge and interests, invite exploration and discussion, and develop understanding of fractions.

The case describes how a "pizza fractions" kit provided the impetus for a "fraction flags" activity when the teacher saw a student making a "flag" using pieces from the pizza fractions kit and then exploring fraction-related questions using this different representation.

Download Case 21 as a PDF [1.5mb]

Case 22: Support students to make their own choice of tools and representations when solving problems

This case illustrates how cognitive conflict can be a resource for learning. When an apparent contradiction surfaced during problem solving, instead of circumventing discussion by providing an explanation, the teacher in the case ensured that all students were challenged to explore their own thinking, and encouraged to use a range of tools to solve the problem. In this way, the teacher allowed the students to focus on justifying their methods, based on the logic of mathematics.

Download Case 22 as a PDF [709kb]

Case 23: Scaffold learning through the careful selection of tasks and problems

Teachers need to be careful that their contribution to mathematical conversations does not take from their students valuable opportunities to do some thinking.

This case describes how a secondary school teacher maintained high levels of involvement after noticing that the students were all using variations of the same incorrect strategy to tackle a particular task. The teacher introduced a different but parallel task to demonstrate the shortcomings of the strategy. Once the students saw the issue, the teacher supported them to think about another strategy.

Download Case 23 as a PDF [636kb]

Case 24: Expect students to be accountable for thinking through the mathematics involved in a problem

The mathematics BES emphasises the importance of basing pedagogical practices on socio-mathematical norms that collectively establish expectations about what mathematical thinking is and is not.

Through the use of contrasting examples from four different teachers, this case illustrates important differences between effective and less effective teaching. Above all, effective teaching emphasises conceptual thinking, not superficial sharing of ideas and strategies, and mathematical argumentation, not procedural description/summary.

While this case is located in grades 4–5, it is relevant to all teachers of mathematics, including secondary school teachers.

See also : Developing communities of mathematical inquiry

Download Case 24 as a PDF [1.4mb]

Case 25: Develop a mathematical community of practice

In a mathematical community of practice, students learn to articulate their thinking and engage in exchange of ideas in an environment that is both challenging and safe. The safety is particularly important because, to develop mathematical understanding, students need to be able to get things "wrong" and learn from their "mistakes" without being embarrassed or defensive.

This case provides a window into the relationship between a teacher and two students as the teacher challenges one of the students to clarify his explanations.

See also : Developing communities of mathematical inquiry

Download Case 25 as a PDF [722kb]

Case 26: Strengthen teacher pedagogical knowledge

Using fractions as a context, these two cases highlight the importance of teachers being able to create conceptually correct representations of mathematical ideas. Without the knowledge to do this, attempts to connect mathematics with students' lives are always going to fall short.

The examples in these cases provide a springboard for teachers to discuss their own mathematical understandings with colleagues or in a professional learning community. This process could highlight areas that need addressing.

See also : Use mathematical tools to explore students' thinking about mathematics.

Download Case 26 as a PDF [1mb]

Leadership cases

Case 27: Treat appraisal as a co-constructed inquiry into the teaching–learning relationship

This case demonstrates how school leaders can support the improvement of teaching and learning by ensuring that appraisal focuses on the teaching–learning relationship.

The research in this case involved year 1–8 students in 28 schools. The researcher found that, during appraisal, teachers want to talk about the impact of their teaching on learning. Leaders can support teachers to do this by: ensuring that appraisal goals are linked to student learning and achievement (not just teaching); reinforcing the link between teaching and learning in all appraisal-related documents (such as policies, performance indicators, and templates); and leading evidence-based conversations with teachers.

Download Case 27 as a PDF [268kb]

Case 28: To improve learning, engage with teachers' beliefs about students and learning

It is through their leading of teacher professional learning and development that school leaders have their greatest impact on student outcomes. Most of this impact stems from the establishment of effective professional learning communities.

This case demonstrates* the importance of leaders engaging with teacher beliefs about students and teachers exploring the teaching–learning relationship in a professional learning community. These findings are applicable to any school improvement initiative.

The case focuses on teacher beliefs about reading in years 1–3 and using achievement data to inform teaching. It highlights the "wedge graph", a smart tool that can support teaching improvement.

See also : Develop smart policy and curriculum documents to support educational improvement.

Download Case 28 as a PDF [425kb]

Case 29: Use pedagogical leadership to enable more equitable and effective teaching for all learners

Teaching approaches influence student identity and social outcomes as well as academic outcomes. Research shows fixed-ability grouping or streaming can have negative outcomes on all three types of outcome, especially for underachievers.

In this case, a primary principal encourages his teachers to review their beliefs about mixed-ability grouping by giving them the experience of working on a mathematical problem with a heterogeneous group of colleagues. Although the context for the case is primary mathematics, it has relevance across all levels and areas of the curriculum.

The case highlights the importance of leaders' knowledge of teaching and learning and provides a number of useful thinking tools and processes.

See also : Developing communities of mathematical inquiry

Download Case 29 as a PDF [328kb]

Case 30: Use a common educational purpose to engage school and family/whānau/hapū

This case describes how the tumuaki of a kura developed goals that were linked to philosophical and moral purposes valued by the community, and then strategically resourced the pursuit of those goals. 

The tumuaki drew effectively on whanaungatanga and connections with community, hapū, and iwi to locate resources that would support an initiative designed to develop biliteracy in the students. The resources came in the form of a researcher and members of the kura whānau itself.

See also : Ripene Āwhina ki te Pānui Pukapuka (RĀPP)/Audio-assisted reading to support students' literacy in te reo Māori.

Download Case 30 as a PDF [303kb]

Case 31: Develop educationally powerful connections based on relational trust

This case illustrates how a principal built trust in her senior management team and with the school's parent community during the successful implementation of a high-impact literacy intervention.

This intervention could not have succeeded without a sense of shared responsibility built on a foundation of relational trust. Relational trust is based on four qualities: personal integrity that sees values reflected in actions; respect for the time and expertise of staff and parents; demonstrable competence in the leadership role; and a sense of personal regard for parents, teachers, and students.

See also the background study, Reading Together at St Joseph's School, Otahuhu.

Download Case 31 as a PDF [348kb]

Case 32: Develop smart policy and curriculum documents to support educational improvement

This case provides educational leaders and policy makers with six criteria for the development of policy and curriculum documents. The criteria are elaborated and supported with examples. If documents incorporate a sound, evidence-based theory about how to achieve their intent, make connections with readers' prior understandings, include misconception alerts, and are cognisant of memory capacity, then they are more likely to have a positive impact on student outcomes.

This case promotes the use of "smarter" tools to support educational improvement.

The wedge graph described in : To improve learning, engage with teachers' beliefs about students and learning is an example of a smart tool, a feature of effective practice in all BES exemplars.

Download Case 32 as a PDF [518kb]

Where to find out more

Contact BES

If you have any questions about BES, please contact us at:

Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis Programme
Ministry of Education
PO Box 1666
Thorndon, Wellington 6140
New Zealand

Phone: +64 4 463-1542


All teachers and people involved in education in New Zealand can order copies of the four most recent BESs directly from: or visit Down the Back of the Chair