Evaluation of Teacher Professional Development Languages (TPDL):

For teachers of languages in years 7-10 and the impact on language learning opportunities and outcomes for students

Publication Details

This study was carried out during 2008 and aims to inform the Ministry about the TPDL and the impact on language learning opportunities and outcomes for students.

Author(s): Sharon Harvey, Clare Conway, Heather Richards & Annelies Roskvist, AUT University

Date Published: December 2009

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Chapter 5: Impact of TPDL Years 7-10 

Impact on teachers' knowledge of the learning languages area of The New Zealand Curriculum (2007) and specific curriculum guidelines

If connections are made between the curriculum, and pupils' daily lives… pupils are more likely to see the relevance for them (Stoll et al., 2003).


For teachers of additional languages it is important that they understand the central place of communicative competence in the generic framework for teaching and learning languages in English medium schools (Ministry of Education, 2007c), as well as the other key factors that contribute to the framework. These are cultural knowledge (of native and diasporic TL communities and societies) and intercultural competence (the ability to communicate and socially engage effectively with people from languages and cultures different from one's own). Teachers also need to be able to interpret and work within the individual specific language guidelines.  This chapter analyses the impact of TPDL on teachers' knowledge of the Learning Languages area of the curriculum, their knowledge of the specific curriculum guidelines and their understanding of language communicative competence and cultural knowledge.

Teacher knowledge of the learning languages area

The New Zealand Curriculum (2007) (Ministry of Education, 2007a) was introduced to the TPDL participants early on day one of the EDPROFST360 course  and Thomson (2009) reports that at this stage there seemed to be a low level of  teacher experience with this document.  Three quarters of the primary teachers stated that 'they did not use it, had not seen it, or were confused by the curriculum and the Learning Languages Series' (Thomson, 2009, p. 16). The researchers investigated teacher knowledge of the Learning Languages (LL) area of The New Zealand Curriculum (2007) through surveying respondents' perceptions about their knowledge, and through further questions in interviews with case study teachers. In observations researchers also considered aspects of the framework that were being implemented. A comparison of survey one and survey three data shows a notable increase in teachers' perceptions of their understanding of LL (see Figure 15).

Figure 15: Teacher perceptions of extent of knowledge of Learning Languages area of curriculum

Image of Figure 15: Teacher perceptions of extent of knowledge of Learning Languages area of curriculum.

The first survey gathered data around the time participants started the EDPROFST360 course. The data (see Figure 15) showed that four of the 21 core respondents said they had 'no' or 'a little' understanding of the LL area of The New Zealand Curriculum (2007).  Twenty one indicated 'some' understanding or 'good' understanding.  In the case study interviews, when asked about how they thought the TPDL programme would impact on their classroom practice, one teacher specifically mentioned 'the curriculum'. Other teachers referred to the curriculum in different ways, for example, it will 'change the focus of pedagogy to a more student-centred approach' or it will provide 'better teaching strategies to make learning more meaningful'. One case study teacher commented that it was taking a while to understand all the new curriculum terminology. Between the first and third survey there was a definite shift in teachers' perceptions of their understanding of the LL area of The New Zealand Curriculum (2007).Data from survey three indicated just four people reported they had 'some understanding', 18 had a 'good understanding' and three teachers considered themselves 'expert'.  

When survey respondents were asked mid course about the effect of TPDL on their classroom practice, there was a mention about the curriculum.  Several respondents made comments about their developing knowledge of the new curriculum, for example, 'I can see that learning achievement is incorporated into the programme. The progression of learning is highlighted … that is, where to next?' Case study teachers also made a range of comments and a theme that emerged was the breadth of the new curriculum document.  Some case study teachers initially saw this as worrying because they did not know exactly what to teach.  However, others saw it positively as they felt that it gave them more scope in their classroom teaching.  Several teachers mentioned the links they were making between the old and new curriculum and their developing confidence. One teacher reported, 'I used to wonder what was going on with the curriculum.  Now I can talk the talk'. Another comment indicated the teacher was making links with TL learning beyond the scope of the TPDL programme, 'I've learned curriculum knowledge and made connections to Year 11'. At the end of the course, five case study teachers said they were working well with the LL area, while two teachers felt they needed more support as the curriculum was not sufficiently detailed. Chapters five and seven give examples of where teachers are implementing key aspects of the curriculum.

TPDL assessment results confirmed that teachers had gained new knowledge of the LL area of The New Zealand Curriculum (2007).  According to Milestone Report Nine, the TPDL teachers focus on the LL area of the curriculum through the EDPROFTST360 paper (Thomson, 2009).  Thomson (2009) also indicates that teachers' knowledge of the LL area was assessed through a comprehensive test of their understanding of The New Zealand Curriculum (2007) as well as their ability to align a unit from the Language Learning Series (LLS) to the Ellis principles. Teachers were provided with pre-test practice and given feedback and feed-forward on their results.  Milestone Report Nine reports that all participants passed the final curriculum test which was open-book and held in class (Thomson, 2009).  Milestone Report Nine also reports that by the end of the course teachers understood the difference between the curriculum document and the LLS (Thomson, 2009).

Teacher knowledge of specific language guidelines

As well as being asked about their knowledge of the LL area of The New Zealand Curriculum (2007), teachers were also asked through surveys and interviews about their knowledge of the curriculum guidelines in their specific language.  It is important to note that at the time the research was being conducted new guidelines were in a revision phase and had not been published. It was not clear when researchers surveyed and interviewed teachers whether they were discussing the old guidelines or the new ones which some may have seen. The likelihood, however, is that teachers were working with the unrevised guidelines.

The increase in teachers' perceptions of their knowledge of the specific language guidelines was similar to their increase in knowledge of the new curriculum (see Figure 16).  To begin with, five respondents indicated they had a 'good understanding', but by survey three 15 said they had 'good' and two said they had 'expert understanding'.

Figure 16: Extent of teacher knowledge of specific language guidelines

Image of Figure 16: Extent of teacher knowledge of specific language guidelines.

Some case study teachers throughout the course commented on the specific language guidelines. One teacher indicated that she was now aware that specific guidelines for her TL existed.  Two people commented on the links they were making between the TL guidelines and the LL area of the curriculum, and as one of them said, '…the new curriculum document is quite open, like an umbrella.  So now I use my TL guidelines to fill in the gaps'. The final interview question on what use teachers made of the specific TL guidelines drew a range of responses.  One teacher said they used them because they had many practical examples within a context. Another teacher said of the guidelines, 'they are easy to navigate, they are precise and I use them for assessments'. The answers from the five other case study teachers indicated the guidelines were useful but they did not give examples of how they used them.

Language and cultural knowledge

The Knowledge Awareness section of the LL area of the curriculum has Communicative Competence at its core and states 'In learning languages students learn to communicate in an additional language … and explore different world views in relation to their own' (Ministry of Education, 2007c).   Communicative Competence is supported by two components: Interacting Making Meaning and Knowledge Awareness. Knowledge Awareness comprises two further strands, Language Knowledge and Cultural Knowledge, both of which have equal weighting in the framework (Ministry of Education, 2007c).  In addition, the framework elaborates on how the language knowledge and cultural knowledge areas are structured (Ministry of Education, 2007c). Cultural Knowledge at levels one to four (the levels of students in Years 5- 10) involves students firstly recognising and then describing the organisation of the target culture.  It also involves students making links between the target culture and their own, and then comparing and contrasting cultural practices (Ministry of Education 2007c).

Crozet & Liddicoat, (1997) observe that culture needs to be explicitly taught in the language learning classroom.  Byram, Gribkova & Starkey suggest that cultural teaching should not just be 'the transmission of information about the foreign country' but rather it should be 'more concerned with the human relationships and identities of speakers in the target culture context' (2002, p. 10).  Students should be encouraged to make a comparative analysis with their own culture and to reflect on the differences in order to come to a deeper awareness of their own cultural boundaries, reactions and understandings (Byram et al., 2002; Crozet & Liddicoat, 1997).  Language teaching therefore needs to integrate an intercultural dimension so speakers are able to not only acquire a linguistic competence but also an intercultural competence enabling a shared understanding and an ability to interact with other intercultural speakers (Byram et al., 2002).

Opportunities provided by teachers for learners to develop Cultural Knowledge

With respect to the Language Knowledge strand in the Generic Framework (Ministry of Education, 2007c), there is some evidence that TPDL teachers were helping students develop their knowledge of the TL to meet communication achievement objectives (see chapter seven).  However, this is not so clear cut for the Cultural Knowledge strand.  The findings from surveys, interviews and observations indicated that teachers were developing students' cultural knowledge and intercultural skills in fairly limited ways.  In survey one, only one of the 33 respondents said she made a specific link between language and culture, mentioning that she hoped TPDL would provide a structure for exploring the language and culture.  In survey two and three, when asked about the TPDL programme impact on their classroom practice, no respondents mentioned knowledge of culture.  Thomson (2009) in Milestone Report Nine noted that some teachers who were new to learning the language were initially worried about the Cultural Knowledge strand of the curriculum. In the first interview, two case study teachers mentioned using DVDs and the internet to introduce cultural aspects into the lesson.  However, although these materials were observed being used, a more explicit connection could have been made to help students to recognise the organisation of the target culture and to make connections with their own culture(s). As Stoll et al. (2003) note, for students to see the relevance of language learning they need to make connections with their own lives.

After interview one, the researchers became aware of the lack of focus by teachers on developing students' cultural knowledge.  This was therefore explored in interviews two and three through questioning teachers about the main aims of the last lesson they had taught.  As can be seen in Table 9, the teachers' responses were predominantly related to language and communication.

Table 9: Main aims of last lesson taught
Teacher 1: Interview 2
Language/Communication Aims:
  • Students to take ownership of own learning.
  • Learn and practise new vocabulary.
  • Develop student confidence in communicating in TL.
Teacher 1: Interview 3
Language/Communication Aims:
  • Extended teaching practice.
  • Review of formulaic expressions.
  • Revision of parts of the body.
Teacher 2: Interview 2
Cultural Aims:
  • Cultural knowledge
  • deepen students' understanding of TL people & countries.
  • looking for similarities and differences in TL film.
Teacher 2: Interview 3
Language/Communication Aims:
  • Focus on form (perfect tense).
  • Teaching grammar more explicitly.
  • Group work to pair work to individual.
Teacher 3: Interview 2
Language/Communication Aims:
  • Revision.
  • Preparation for summative test.
  • Reading for comprehension.
  • pronunciation and listening.
Teacher 3: Interview 3
Language/Communication Aims:
  • Students to be introduced to new vocabulary by need (not list).
  • Students to have shared their words with group and done task in TL.
Cultural Aims:
  • Students to recognise difference between NZ and TL climate and seasons.
Teacher 4: Interview 2
Language/Communication Aims:
  • Practise formulaic phrases.
  • Revise colours.
  • Practise clothes vocab through listening and writing.
Teacher 4: Interview 3
Language/Communication Aims:
  • New formulaic language.
  • Revise greetings.
  • Grammar: word endings.
  • Vocabulary: names of countries; I am v. I'm from.
Cultural Aims:
  • Students to be aware of difference between nationality (I'm from NZ) and cultural identity (I'm Samoan).
Teacher 5: Interview 2
Language/Communication Aims:
  • Introduce new vocabulary.
  • Move kids along in relation to TL.
Teacher 5: Interview 3
Language/Communication Aims:
  • Learners to communicate in TL (food likes and dislikes).
Teacher 6: Interview 2
Language/Communication Aims:
  • Learn adjectival phrases.
  • Learn vocabulary for school subjects.
  • Asking and answering questions.
  • To help their oral production.
Teacher 6: Interview 3
Language/Communication Aims:
  • To introduce and get students to learn weather phrases.
Teacher 7: Interview 2
Cultural Aims:
  • Students to experience the cultural aspects of welcoming people and TL etiquette around food.
Teacher 7: Interview 3
Language/Communication Aims:
  • Vocabulary: animals, colours.
  • Grammar revision: I like.

Data from interview two revealed that while five teachers had language aims, only two teachers had explicit cultural aims for their last lesson.  It is interesting to note that teachers' aims at this stage of the course were either linguistic/communicative or cultural, that is language and culture were being taught discretely. Findings from interview three indicated that five teachers had linguistic/communicative aims only, while two teachers had both linguistic/communicative and cultural aims.  Over the 14 interviews there were only four mentions by teachers of having cultural aims in their lessons.

In the four instances where case study teachers had cultural aims, they were diverse.  One teacher wanted her high school students to watch a TL film and look for differences and similarities with students in New Zealand and the target culture.  Another teacher planned for her students to understand the special rules around mealtime and sharing food.  One teacher wanted her students to be able to recognise the difference between seasons in the TL country and NZ.  The fourth teacher introduced appropriate TL structures for students to talk about themselves so that they could become aware of the difference between nationality and cultural identity.  These four teachers showed a developing awareness of the importance of including cultural aims in their lessons.  However, there were still three case study teachers who, by the end of the course, had made no mention about having cultural aims in their lessons.  They may have had an intention to include aspects of culture, but this was not made explicit to the researchers in interview.

Although there were no stated cultural aims for many of the observed lessons, aspects of cultural teaching were however, recorded by researchers.   For example, one teacher was observed linking TL fairy stories and English fairy stories before students read the story in the TL and then acted the parts, having noticed the different sounds animals make in different cultures.  In addition, there was visual support with a map of the TL country to locate where the story took place.  In another observed lesson, a different case study teacher made incidental references about the target culture so that her students made links with their own culture.  For example, the teacher drew the students' attention to the use of the same concept ('cauliflower ears') in both languages to describe large ears.  The teacher then contextualised this vocabulary through reference to the All Blacks and the current rugby relationships between the two countries.

In some classes opportunities for full exploitation of the 'teaching moment' in terms of cultural and particularly intercultural knowledge were lost.   For example, in one class, students learned vocabulary for a wide range of school subjects studied in the TL culture but the teacher did not take this further by asking students to compare and contrast the subjects studied in the two different countries.  In another observed class, the teacher provided a task for students to learn clothes vocabulary. Students had to draw a washing line of clothes and name the items of the clothing in the TL.  However, there was no mention of the practice of drying clothes (strung up between apartment blocks) in the TL country and possible reasons for these differences.  Visual illustrations of clothes drying in the TL country could have helped learners to recognise the links and differences between cultures through understanding more about accommodation and lifestyles in urban areas.

There was only one instance of a teacher providing opportunities for students to develop intercultural competence.  This teacher introduced aspects of teenage life in two cultures (TL and New Zealand) through a discussion comparing teenager curfews and parental rules when socialising. Thus there was a greater critical focus on human relationships and identities of speakers.  Milestone Report Nine notes two examples where TPDL participants explored the link between cultural and communicative aspects of teaching in their action research projects.  One teacher organised language learning through cultural themes and the other developed an intercultural unit for her TL class Thomson (2009).

Factors influencing teacher provision of opportunities for learners to develop cultural knowledge

Several factors may influence teacher provision of opportunities to develop students' Cultural Knowledge: the qualities and skills teachers bring to the course, the presentation of Cultural Knowledge in the Generic Framework (Ministry of Education, 2007c) and the TPDL course content.  The qualities and skills that teachers brought to the TPDL course contributed to their ability to focus on culture in their lessons. In observed case studies where lessons involved culture and language, researchers found one or more of the following factors: high teacher proficiency in the TL, previous teacher experience in the target culture or strong teacher appreciation of the target culture. Harnessing and developing teachers' language background and experience and attitudes to the target culture will help to foster their ability to develop their learners' cultural understanding and intercultural competence.  Personal experience and an enthusiasm and deep appreciation of the target culture were factors that enabled some teachers to understand and incorporate the cultural knowledge strand into their teaching.  As noted by the researchers and Thomson (2009), teachers who had visited or lived in the target culture or had had some motivational catalyst were able to considerably enrich lessons for students.  They provided opportunities for them to make links with their own lives, and in one notable case (Thomson, 2009), raise students' awareness of their own culture and surroundings.  Another key to improving the development of teachers' cultural knowledge lies in the way culture is presented in the Generic Framework (Ministry of Education, 2007c). As mentioned above, the document includes both Language and Cultural Knowledge.  The elaboration of Cultural Knowledge however is not supported with principles in the same way as the Language Knowledge strand is. The lack of a clear supporting framework may make it difficult for teachers and teacher educators to interpret the cultural knowledge intent. Milestone Report Nine revealed the TPDL directors had an awareness of the need for a greater intercultural dimension to language teaching (Thomson, 2009). A focus in the framework (which we understand is presently being developed) could facilitate educators firmly embedding cultural knowledge, including intercultural competence, into the TPDL course content. Teachers then could be expected to engage with a set of intercultural competency principles in the same way that they embraced those presented by Ellis (2005b).

Factors that hinder or foster teachers' knowledge of the learning languages area of the curriculum and specific language guidelines

Several factors emerged that foster or hinder teachers' knowledge of the curriculum and their understanding of the language-specific guidelines. The focus and time spent on the curriculum in the TPDL programme on the EDPROFST360 was seen as useful for all but one of the case study teachers. One teacher mentioned that the clear explanations and tutor expectations helped her understanding.  So also did the curriculum discussions on the course and the links made with what teachers were doing in their classrooms. One case study teacher said that 'pulling apart' the new curriculum document to understand it more fully was very helpful, while several teachers found the comparison of the old curriculum with the new valuable as well.  A comment from a survey two respondent summed up many teachers' learning, '…though I still have some queries about the new curriculum … and the future NCEA External Assessments, I am now clear about how the new is different from the old'.

Another factor that helped foster understanding of the curriculum was the test within the EDPROFST360 paper.  This test focused on teachers demonstrating knowledge of how to practically align teaching materials with the LL area of The New Zealand Curriculum (2007).  The test did not assess the cultural knowledge strand, but as noted in Milestone Report Nine, the intention is to do so in 2009 (Thomson, 2009). Initially, engaging with the curriculum was challenging for some case study teachers. One teacher commented early on that it was taking her a while to understand all the new terminology.  Another teacher said the new curriculum was difficult to interpret and she was unsure about what she had to teach. Two teachers commented on the pressure they felt with the forthcoming curriculum test. However, once they had sat and passed the test and seen the practical application, its value was confirmed, and teachers had very positive comments, 'I've got my head around the new curriculum … it was a good test to see if we could apply it.'  This deep processing required for teachers to be able to apply the curriculum principles, along with the pre-test practice and the final test requirements helped the teachers to gain a strong understanding of the curriculum document. 

Survey respondents also mentioned they gained further understanding of the curriculum through professional development set up within their own schools and personal reading they did around the topic.  One case study teacher found the curriculum easy to work with from the beginning and was able to integrate TL guidelines into the key concepts of The New Zealand Curriculum (2007) document before she attended the TPDL course. She therefore felt that a lot of the TPDL time spent on the curriculum was 'a waste of time' and that teachers should already be familiar with the framework. However, overall the case study teachers felt positive about their developing knowledge of the curriculum as a result of the TPDL course.


Indications are that the teachers perceived they made considerable gains in their knowledge of the LL area of The New Zealand Curriculum (2007) and in their understanding of the language-specific guidelines.  Analysis and discussion, readings, the curriculum test, and prior cultural experience, were all factors that fostered new and improved understandings of the curriculum.  With reference to introducing aspects of culture into their classes, there was a range of findings.  Some of the case study teachers were observed introducing aspects of culture, while others missed opportunities to make the target culture relevant to learners' lives. Teachers were able to apply aspects of language knowledge from the curriculum, but were less successful in applying aspects of the cultural knowledge strand. Respondents did not indicate any significant factors hindering their learning of the curriculum.  However the researchers note the lack in teacher development of the learners' cultural knowledge as outlined in the Cultural Knowledge strand of the curriculum. As Byram et al. comment, 'Being exposed to the target culture is an absolute must for any learner/teacher' (2002, p. 10). There needs to be a greater focus in the TPDL programme on Cultural Knowledge and a clearer exploration of culture and intercultural competence for TPDL participants, both theoretical and applied.  Milestone Report Nine notes the intention for TPDL directors to include questions on cultural knowledge in the EDPROFST360 curriculum test, suggesting there may be a much greater focus on this area in future TPDL courses (Thomson, 2009). Assessing participants' ability to incorporate an intercultural dimension into their teaching will help to ensure that teachers have integrated linguistic, communicative and cultural aims in their lessons.

Recommendations and implications for the TPDL programme
  • The following components of the EDPROFST360 paper were useful in developing teachers' knowledge of the curriculum and should continue to be a key part of the TPDL programme:
    • Close analysis of the new curriculum, and comparison with the old curriculum.
    • The practical application of the curriculum to classroom learning.
    • The formative and summative test aligning the curriculum with classroom learning.
    • Multiple opportunities over time to study the curriculum.
  • The TPDL programme would benefit from the following:
    • Including a component which enables participants to reflectively and critically engage with their own cultural identity and to plan how they might teach intercultural competence in their language classes.
    • The inclusion of a set of principles within the Generic Framework to help teachers interpret and apply the Cultural Knowledge strand of the curriculum, for example through incorporating intercultural aims into lesson planning.

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