Effective Pedagogy in Social Sciences: Tikanga ā Iwi: BES

Publication Details

This report is one of a series of best evidence synthesis iterations (BESs) commissioned by the Ministry of Education. The Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis Programme seeks to support collaborative knowledge building and use across policy, research, and practice in education.

Author(s): Graeme Aitken and Claire Sinnema, The University of Auckland

Date Published: November 2008

BES (Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis) Programme
This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box).  For links to related publications/ information that may be of interest please refer to the 'Where to Find Out More' inset box or visit the BES (Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis) Programme.



1.1 Social sciences and the Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis Programme

This work is part of the Ministry of Education's Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) Programme. This programme aims to systematically identify, evaluate, analyse, synthesise, and make accessible, relevant evidence that links teaching approaches to enhanced outcomes for diverse learners. In doing so, it seeks to answer the question 'What works for whom and in what circumstances?'

This best evidence synthesis is concerned with teaching and learning as it occurs in a range of settings: English- and Màori-medium; early childhood to senior secondary; and in the curriculum domains of Te Whàriki, social studies, tikanga à iwi, history, geography, economics, classical studies, and other social sciences. While it is firmly located in the New Zealand context, it draws also from international research into social sciences and social studies education. It seeks to answer two questions:

  1. What teaching approaches enhance outcomes for diverse learners in the social sciences curriculum domain?
  2. How and why does this happen?

By connecting teaching and learning via these questions, the synthesis aims to inform understanding of a pedagogy for social sciences teaching that draws on the concept of 'ako'.
Linda Tuhiwai Smith explains:

Our concept of those who teach and those who are taught, our word is exactly the same word, our word is ako. It means to learn and to teach (p. 179).

Likewise, Loughran describes the traditional European (Dutch, Belgian, German, and Scandinavian) concept of pedagogy as:

not merely the action of teaching … more so, it is about the relationship between teaching and learning and how together they lead to growth in knowledge and understanding through meaningful practice (p. 2).

The importance and relevance of research in the social sciences curriculum domain was emphasised by Stah in his presidential address to the 74th Annual Conference of the National Council for the Social Studies:

we must never accept that we have been highly effective or successful until after we have ample evidence that nearly every student has attained and maintained the abilities, perspectives, and orientations that we have targeted (p. 47).

This is especially important in social studies because:

lack of success in our classrooms means that children will leave school with less of the information, abilities, perspectives, and attitudes needed to function competently as citizens of this nation and members of a pluralistic global community (p. 48).

1.2 Social sciences in the different sectors

The teaching of social sciences in the early childhood, primary, and secondary sectors isinformed by a range of curricula.

Te Whàriki is the curriculum for early childhood education. Its parallel and complementary English and Màori texts provide a basis both for English-medium early childhood education and for kòhanga reo.

This curriculum encourages an integrative, holistic approach to learning and teaching, so the social sciences are not separately recognised. The intent of social sciences education is, however, strongly evident in the aspirations, principles / ngà kaupapa whakahaere, and strands. The curriculum aspires, for example, to ensure that children "grow up … secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society" (p. 9). Te Whàriki is based on such social sciences-relevant principles as whakamana (personal empowerment), whànau tangata (integration of family and community), and ngà hononga (learning through responsive and reciprocal relationships with people, places, and things). The strands also manifest strong social science connections in their emphasis on the importance of Mana Atùroa (active exploration of the environment) and Mana Whenua (affirming and extending links with the family and wider world).

The scope of social sciences learning in the primary and secondary sectors is set out in The New Zealand Curriculum. The learning area is structured around four conceptual strands:

  • Identity, culture, and organisation
  • Place and environment
  • Continuity and change
  • The economic world.

Achievement objectives are suggested for these strands and a social inquiry approach recommended.

The intention is that, based on the achievement objectives, students are engaged in a learning process that asks them to:

  • draw on and evaluate multiple sources of information;
  • consider multiple, competing values and perspectives;
  • develop deep understandings;
  • reflect on the learning and on the responses it requires of them.

Although social sciences learning is typically integrative in early childhood (through Te Whàriki) and in years 1–10 (as social studies), individual social science disciplines do sometimes find a place in junior secondary school (years 9 and 10). Some schools teach a version of 'junior' geography and history, while others teach 'economics' or 'business studies' as separate subjects, based either on the Economics Forms 3–7 Syllabus for Schools or on alternatives developed by the Commerce and Economics Teachers Association (CETA) or the Enterprise Trust.

The individual social sciences are, however, taught mainly in the senior secondary school years (years 11–13). Geography, history, and economics are all based on syllabuses written in the 1980s. These syllabuses have been updated only to the extent required by changes to senior secondary qualifications. The outcomes for the three subjects are most obviously expressed in the form of NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement) 'achievement standards'. These standards define three levels of achievement (achieved, merit, and excellence) for key outcomes for each of the three certificate levels (1, 2, and 3). The outcomes for classical studies are also expressed as achievement standards (NCEA levels 2 and 3), but outcomes for the remaining social sciences (psychology, sociology, and legal studies) receive their official expression only as pass-or-fail 'unit standards' on the same National Qualifications Framework (NQF). In spite of the achievement standard / unit standard dichotomy, schools are free to integrate standards from across the social sciences domain to create new subjects, such as 'New Zealand studies'.

1.3 Outcomes across the social sciences domain

The focus of this synthesis is student outcomes, and particularly, evidence about ways in which pedagogical practices can improve outcomes for diverse learners. An important first question is, therefore, 'What is the nature of intended learning in the social sciences?' Each of the curricula cited in the previous section outlines, with varying degrees of specificity, intended student outcomes. In order to synthesise evidence about 'what works' for students across Te Whàriki, tikanga à iwi, social studies, and the senior social sciences, a classification of outcomes was developed to capture the shared intentions of these documents. The classification was initially derived from an analysis of the content of the curriculum documents. It was then refined following discussion with teachers working in each of the sectors (early childhood, primary, and secondary). See appendix A for a discussion of the significance of the different kinds of outcomes.

Before describing the classification, it is important to acknowledge that the different sectors view the relationship between pedagogy and outcomes in different ways. The early childhood sector views the dispositions of the child as paramount in curriculum decision-making. Learning experiences are not set up with a predetermined outcome in sight; they are provided in response to children's dispositions and interests. Only after a child has completed a learning experience are outcomes mapped back to the experience. Although this approach also characterises the planning and teaching of some primary and secondary teachers, the strong outcomes focus of the national curriculum and senior school assessment typically leads to a reversal of the pedagogy–outcomes relationship. In other words, primary and secondary teachers tend to design a learning experience with a specific learning intention in mind (though that intention is often specific to the student). The pedagogical approach is selected, therefore, with the aim of achieving a particular outcome. In seeking to explain 'what works', this synthesis does not assume a particular direction in the pedagogy–outcomes relationship. Instead, it attempts to establish the nature, context, and strength of that relationship.

Establishing the outcomes

To ensure that the synthesis was firmly situated in the social sciences domain, the first step was to develop a classification of outcomes. The initial framework was arrived at as a result of a systematic analysis of the content of the relevant curriculum documents. This tentative classification was then evaluated against commonly used general classifications of learning outcomes, in particular, those developed by Gagne, Good and Brophy, and Gronlund and Linn.

These frameworks were used to provide assurance that important sets of outcomes were not overlooked. By integrating these classifications with the outcomes in the various curriculum documents, a framework of outcomes was derived, which was then refined in discussion with practitioners. The final framework, therefore, synthesises curriculum intention, the general literature on educational outcomes, and teacher experience. It sought to make sense of the diversity that exists within the various disciplines that collectively make up this complex domain as well as to respond to the diversity of learners. This was the framework that guided the search process and informed subsequent evaluation and analysis of the research literature. The content of each element of the outcomes set is outlined in the .< style="width: 100%; height: 24px;" class="data-table zebra-stripes triple-stripes headers-on-top" border="1" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0">

Table 1: Tikanga à iwi/social studies/social sciences outcomes
Cultural Identity:
Outcomes related to students' understanding and awareness of personal identity and layered/multiple identities.
Outcomes related to students' understanding of concepts or ideas central to the social sciences domain.
Outcomes related to students' use of methods (for example, the planning of inquiry) and techniques (for example, graphing, mapping, reading) central to the development of social science understandings and to their expression of those understandings (in, for example, writing, drawing, speaking).
Outcomes related to students' ability to participate, contribute, become involved, interact, and engage in dialogue. These outcomes included both inclusive personal behaviour (such as non-racist and non-sexist interactions with peers) and negative participation (such as the development of destructive or resistant responses).
Outcomes related to students' dispositions and emotional responses to learning, to their ability to explore and analyse their own and others' values, and to the development of a commitment to such values as social justice and equity.

Cultural Identity Outcomes related to students' understanding and awareness of personal identity and layered/multiple identities. Knowledge Outcomes related to students' understanding of concepts or ideas central to the social sciences domain. Skills Outcomes related to students' use of methods (for example, the planning of inquiry) and techniques (for example, graphing, mapping, reading) central to the development of social science understandings and to their expression of those understandings (in, for example, writing, drawing, speaking). Participatory Outcomes related to students' ability to participate, contribute, become involved, interact, and engage in dialogue. These outcomes included both inclusive personal behaviour (such as non-racist and non-sexist interactions with peers) and negative participation (such as the development of destructive or resistant responses). Affective Outcomes related to students' dispositions and emotional responses to learning, to their ability to explore and analyse their own and others' values, and to the development of a commitment to such values as social justice and equity.

Figure 1: Establishing the outcomes

Image of Figure 1: Establishing the outcomes.

Figure 1 illustrates the approach used to ground the research in the social sciences. It also illustrates the complexity of outcomes that characterise this curriculum domain and shows that the search for evidence went beyond conventional and easily measurable outcomes – such as test scores based on knowledge recall and discrete skills performance – into the more complex areas of conceptual understanding, cultural identity, and affective learning. As Bereiter has argued, "to draw politicians and business people away from their fixation on achievement test gains one must offer them the vision of a superior kind of outcome. The failure to do that is, Ibelieve, the most profound failure of educational thought in our epoch" (p. 490).

For the purposes of orientating the subsequent search for evidence, outcomes were represented in separate categories (Figure 1). It is not intended, however, that these categories should be understood as mutually exclusive: just as there is interaction between the outcomes within a category, there is significant interaction between the categories. For example, an understanding of cultural identity draws on many outcomes. For students to understand their own multiple cultural identities (gender, ethnic heritages, location, and so on), they need to understand: the concept of identity; the implications the concept has for their participation, behaviour, and sense of worth; and the affective influence that identity has on them. The studies that informed this synthesis typically reported on outcomes that related to several of the categories in the above framework.

1.4 Social studies pedagogy in New Zealand

Pedagogical approaches in the social sciences have been the subject of a number of national surveys in New Zealand.

While a survey of 853 teachers in 2002 found that social studies teachers were generally very satisfied with the curriculum the Education Review Office (ERO) expressed concern that:

students often experience 'hit and miss' social studies programmes that can result in shallow learning. It is rare for students to be engaged in a sequence of activities that have a purpose (p. 3).

In 2005, ERO carried out a follow-up survey of years 4 and 8 social studies teaching in 153 schools. Teaching was assessed against six criteria:

  • The content of the learning programmes reflects Social Studies in the New Zealand Curriculum.
  • Resources and technology are used effectively in the teaching of social studies in the classroom.
  • Teachers have the subject and pedagogical knowledge to provide effective social studies programmes.
  • Teachers have appropriate teaching strategies in place to assess and meet the needs of diverse groups of students.
  • Teachers effectively assess student achievement in social studies.
  • Teachers effectively motivate and engage students so they achieve highly in social studies.

On the basis of their observations, ERO concluded that:

21 percent of teachers … were effective in all six areas of quality of teaching. A further 63 percent of teachers were effective in some areas but less effective in other areas of quality teaching. Sixteen percent of the teachers reviewed were less effective in all aspects of the quality of teaching of social studies … In addition to this, assessment practices in social studies were poor, directly influencing how well teachers were able to meet the needs of all students and report student progress to parents (p. 1).

The teachers surveyed typically taught 10–15 hours of social studies per term, often as part of 'topic time'. The fact that social studies teaching was integrated with other subjects tended to magnify the difficulty of aligning what was taught with curriculum objectives. Significantly for this BES, only 38% of teachers were identified as effective or highly effective for diverse learners – largely because so many failed to make use of assessment to adapt learning programmes to the needs of their students. ERO assessed teaching to be most effective in the areas of student engagement (71% effective or highly effective), resource use (70%), subject and pedagogical knowledge (64%), and design and implementation (61%). A follow-up investigation examined the practices of three schools with high-quality teaching programmes, with the aim of identifying characteristics that contributed to quality social studies. While the schools were quite different, their pedagogies had much in common. Each school:

  • had designed and implemented a school-wide social studies programme that was sequential and showed a coherent progression through the year levels;
  • provided interesting and varied programmes of learning, based on students' interests and abilities;
  • provided opportunities for students to study local and national contexts and themes;
  • arranged for social studies staff to meet on a regular basis to plan together and share ideas;
  • supported the social studies programme with teaching resources and by funding teacher release time;
  • used a wide variety of activities and resources in the programmes, with a focus on local resources and people from the community;
  • made use of a variety of ICT (information and communication technology) tools;
  • gave extra support to students with special learning needs and special abilities;
  • collected and analysed student achievement information in social studies at both class and school-wide levels;
  • encouraged students to review their own learning;
  • communicated high expectations for student achievement in social studies. (p. 15)

While these reports are indicative of the general state of pedagogy in social studies classrooms, they do not systematically address the evidence of what works – and why and how it works – to enhance outcomes for diverse learners. It is a systematic search for evidence of pedagogy–outcome links in the social sciences that is the focus of this synthesis.

1.5 Methodology

This BES iteration aims to identify and explain pedagogical approaches that enable diverse students to achieve the desired outcomes of Te Whàriki, tikanga à iwi, social studies, and senior school subjects including history, geography, economics, classical studies, psychology, sociology, and legal studies. The evidence it synthesises is drawn from and relevant to early childhood, kòhanga reo, kura kaupapa Màori, primary and secondary settings, and both English- and Màori-medium contexts.

Searching for evidence

Given that the objective of this synthesis was greater understanding of the relationship between pedagogy and outcomes, the search for evidence focused on the intersection of disciplines, outcomes, and pedagogy (represented in Figure 2 by the region labelled X).

Figure 2: Scope of the Social Sciences BES

Image of Figure 2: Scope of the Social Sciences BES.

Sources of evidence pertinent to region X were identified using an approach that combined knowledgeable and systematic search strategies with network or snowball sampling based on the results of these searches. The knowledgeable search drew on the researchers' own experience and the experience of their advisors to identify key researchers, fields (for example, questioning or cooperative learning), and journals relevant to the social sciences domain.

Learner diversity (for example, in terms of gender, ethnicity, and special needs) was a priority, and the search for evidence as inclusive as possible of students and learning contexts. While we wanted to avoid making unwarranted generalisations about the particular pedagogical treatment of different groups of students, we needed to ensure that subsequent analysis and synthesis would draw from an evidence base that considered the experiences of all learners.

The systematic search extended well beyond the limits of the researchers' own knowledge and experience through the use of keyword searches, journal alerts, and the issue-by-issue browsing of journals that we had established as relevant. Sources uncovered by these means were then further searched, and snowball sampling was used to follow up those sources that were relevant to the pedagogy–outcomes focus of this research.

Figure 3: Identification of sources of evidence for the Social Sciences BES

Image of Figure 3: Identification of sources of evidence for the Social Sciences BES.  

Each source was analysed systematically, using a series of filters. First, it was checked to determine whether it reported on outcomes that were relevant to the social sciences. Second, where information on outcomes was provided, the quality of the evidence was assessed, paying particular attention to the relationship established between outcome and pedagogy (region X in Figure 2). This relationship was then interrogated to determine as precisely as possible the nature of the connections between pedagogy and outcome. Details of the relationships were recorded in research item records, as EndNote™ entries, or in note summaries. To assist subsequent cross-referencing and synthesising, each study was classified according to subject, level, outcomes, setting, and learner characteristics. To ensure coherence with the Quality Teaching BES and identify gaps, an initial sample of studies was also classified against the 10 characteristics of quality teaching.

Analysing the evidence

The quality of evidence connecting the pedagogy and outcomes was variable, often limited by the generality with which the pedagogy was described (making it difficult to determine which element actually made the difference) or, in otherwise detailed descriptions of pedagogy, by a failure to identify its most influential aspects. Because the research aimed to explain – not just identify – these relationships, a classification system was devised to summarise the explanatory power of the different studies. To avoid narrow, linear conceptions of causality, the 'warrant' for the claims made by researchers was evaluated against this classification. The system did not, therefore, relate to the methodology of the research (for example, whether it was qualitative or quantitative, a case study or an experimental control study) but to whether the claims made by the researcher warranted tentative acceptance. Table 2 shows the classification system developed.

Table 2: Evaluating the quality of evidence
Description of Pedagogy Description of Outcome Causal Description
A Detailed, Particular
The full implementation details of specific strategy or strategies are described so that replication is possible.
A Detailed, Particular
The outcomes for particular students or sub-groups of students are described in detail.
A Strong
The evidence provided relates particular elements of the pedagogy to particular outcomes for students.
B Detailed
Strategies are described in sufficient detail to disclose their nature but with some of the specific implementation detail not included.
B Detailed
Details of the nature of the outcome/s are provided but are generalised for the whole group.
B Moderate
The evidence provided identifies generalised relationships between the pedagogy and outcomes.
C General
Broad strategy/ies or approach/es is/are stated.
C General
The nature of the outcome is stated but not elaborated.
C Weak
A relationship between pedagogy and outcomes is implied or logically derived or is briefly summarised but not interrogated.
D Not stated D Not stated D None

The pedagogy section of this classification sought to distinguish between studies that gave specific details about the strategies used in the intervention (A or B in column 1) and those that were more general (C). This distinction was important because, as Nuthall has explained, a general description of the pedagogy obscures particular cause. Only when it is clear what a pedagogy involves is it possible to understand the mechanisms by which particular outcomes eventuate. The outcome section of the table (column 2) was similarly important; not even a rich description of pedagogy can advance the understanding of cause unless the particular nature of the outcome and its impact on particular learners is clear. Once again, the more richly descriptive studies were classified as A or B and the more general ('the students enjoyed the activity') were classified as C. Studies that made no reference to pedagogy or outcomes (category D in columns 1 and 2) were put aside at this point. These studies were generally advocatory or polemic in nature, discussing particular approaches without specific reference to the learning that resulted for particular groups of students. That such studies were excluded from the synthesis is not a criticism of the studies themselves; it simply recognises that they
were written for other purposes.

The interactions between pedagogy and outcomes are central to this research and give rise to the third, most important column in the classification table: quality of causal description. Some studies (especially those in practitioner publications) are rich in their description of pedagogy (A for pedagogy) but rather weak in their description of outcomes (C for outcomes). These were typically classified as C in column 3 because interpretation of the nature of the relationship was largely left to the reader. Likewise, studies that described outcomes in very specific, often quantitative terms for particular students or sub-groups of students (A for outcomes) sometimes did so on the basis of very general descriptions of pedagogy ('a cooperative learning approach' [C for pedagogy]). These studies were also classified as C in column 3 because, given the limited description of the pedagogy, it was not possible to attribute cause with any degree of certainty.

There are 383 studies included in the synthesis. Table 3 shows the distribution of the 242 studies that offered either a causal explanation or information from which a causal explanation could be derived. The most common patterns found in this classification were AAA (55), CCC (38), AAB (30), ABB (27), and BBB (19).

Table 3: Classification of studies according to quality of evidence
Description of Pedagogy Description of Outcome Causal Explanation
A 125 A 100 A 59
B 43 B 75 B 104
C 61 C 52 C 67
D 13 D 15 D 12

A further 92 studies were included because they shed light on particular contextual features (provided background on curriculum, outcomes, or methodology, or evidence by way of comment or argument), and another 62 because they provided evidence on student learning trajectories in the social sciences (see appendix C).

Synthesising the evidence

Given the scope of this search, a narrative report of strategies that 'worked' would have overwhelmed the reader. Worse, such an approach would have underestimated the role of context in the pedagogy–outcomes relationship; it would, therefore, have oversimplified the findings. For this reason, the synthesis follows two related approaches: identification of mechanisms, and cases.

The development of mechanisms

Given that the focus of this work is on explanation, the research sought to identify the underlying causal mechanisms,, that suggest the processes by which learning is occurring. This focus on mechanisms acknowledges the context-dependent nature of pedagogy–outcomes links and avoids the suggestion that the findings are prescriptive and certain. Understanding of causal mechanisms has the added benefit of transferability to other contexts: its focus is on how the learning occurs rather than on particular techniques or strategies that may or may not be effective elsewhere. Figure 4, for example, shows how three studies – on the surface, quite different in content and context – share a common underlying explanation for the learning. In each case, the learning can be explained by recurrent and aligned access to the content of new learning (Mechanism 2).

Figure 4: Identifying common themes and mechanisms in studies from different contexts

Image of Figure 4: Identifying common themes and mechanisms in studies from different contexts.

The mechanisms were established progressively as common themes were identified (in the above example, 'provide opportunities to revisit concepts and learning processes') across studies and then as common explanatory connections were made between themes (see Figure 5 for a schema of this process). The process was inductive and iterative: as new evidence was found, new themes and mechanisms emerged, and themes and previously established mechanisms were collapsed or divided. Summaries of studies were held in EndNote™, and searches across these assisted with the initial stages of the synthesis.

Figure 5: Synthesising the evidence

Image of Figure 5: Synthesising the evidence.

The analysis revealed four main mechanisms that explain what works for diverse learners in the social sciences. The mechanisms, with the appropriate teacher actions, are:

  1. Connection: Make connections to students' lives
  2. Alignment: Align experiences to important outcomes
  3. Community: Build and sustain a learning community
  4. Interest: Design experiences that interest students.

Each of the mechanisms is paired with a teacher action, beginning with a verb. The first, for example, begins with 'make', underscoring the teacher's responsibility for activating the ('connecting to students' lives') mechanism. In this way, we link the often-separated activities of teaching and learning and reference the Màori concept ako.

The use and development of cases

It is fundamental to the BES programme that its findings should be accessible to multiple audiences. These include policy makers, researchers, teacher educators, and – most importantly – teachers. Making the findings of a complex synthesis accessible to such diverse audiences poses significant challenges. Foremost among these is how to represent complex research findings in ways that are accessible to busy teachers while keeping faith with the researchers whose work is being summarised and reported. Desforge argues that research best meets teachers' needs when it is "coherent, organised, [based on] well-established findings … [and provides] vibrant working examples of success" (pp. 3–4). Cases provide one means of achieving this because they bring to life the stories of real teachers and learners. Feedback sought during the development of this BES made it clear that practitioners from all sectors wanted cases included.

Cases present evidence in a way that reveals the complexity and integrated functioning of the mechanisms, which almost always work in combination with each other. For example, 'making connections to students' lives' provides a basis for 'designing experiences that interest learners'.

The development of the cases was also crucial methodologically. Evidence was not always presented in ways that made the connection between pedagogy and outcomes immediately apparent (such evidence fell into categories B or C in the classification in Table 2). The development of the cases helped tease out and uncover the ways in which particular pedagogical approaches were working, for whom, and in what circumstances. As such, the cases became a key tool for synthesising a diverse range of evidence.

The power of cases to communicate research to teachers carries with it a risk. This risk is that a case may portray a piece of research in a way that is not faithful to the researcher's work. To reduce the risk of this error, an intensive, iterative case development process was established that, where possible, directly involved the researchers whose work forms the basis of the cases.

By way of example, the first step in developing the case 'Facilitative inclusion for Ian and his peers' was to contact the source author, Dr Christine Rietveld, and explain the intention to include a case based on her research. She was willing to be involved and to provide relevant additional references. The writers then developed the first draft of the case, sent it to the source author for feedback, and substantially revised it as a result of her comments. Feedback and suggestions were also sought from other advisors familiar with the source author's work. This iterative process involved numerous cycles of feedback and revision, resulting in a significantly strengthened case.

Figure 6: The iterative case development process

Image of Figure 6: The iterative case development process.

This iterative process allowed for interpretations of the original research to be checked and for the research to be integrated with the mechanisms. Importantly, it also gave opportunity for shifts in the source authors' thinking to be acknowledged. It was possible, for example, to include Rietveld's recent findings concerning the interplay between biological and contextual factors that facilitate the inclusion of learners with impairments.

The iterative process was also important in the case 'Making links between cultures: ancient Roman and contemporary Sàmoan', which was drawn from Christine McNeight's action research. In this instance, the source author was able to elaborate the pedagogy, providing the detail needed for a better understanding of the teaching–learning connection and allowing stronger causal claims.

1.6 Gaps in pedagogy–outcomes research evidence

While there is a considerable research literature (both theoretical and practitioner) in the social sciences, not all of it is concerned with the pedagogy–outcomes relationship. A large practitioner literature describes approaches to teaching, often in sufficient detail to make replication possible. But frequently less clear are the outcomes for students: positive outcomes may be implied rather than stated, and where stated, there may be little in the way of supporting evidence. Such literature is understandable, given that the sharing of ideas is a rich and valued tradition in teaching, but what is really needed is action-research studies that examine the impact of teaching on students.

Another gap relates more to the research literature than the practitioner literature. Studies often describe interventions that comprise multiple strategies but do not distinguish between those strategies that are more influential and those that are less influential in helping students achieve the reported outcomes. The issue is not a lack of attention to the impact on students but a lack of specificity about what made the difference. Also, the literature has paid more attention to pedagogy–outcomes connections in social studies and history than in geography and economics, or in early childhood education (where most outcomes are skills-based or participatory rather than conceptual).

A third gap in the literature relates to the experiences of particular groups of students. While there exist major national reports on the achievement of Màori and Pasifika students, they contain few details that relate to Màori and Pasifika achievement in social sciences contexts. Much further research is needed into the social sciences learning experience of diverse students. US research into the experience of minority groups could offer guidance in this area.

New Zealand also has a relatively limited research literature profiling student conceptual development in the social sciences. Appendix C shows that there is considerable international research in this area that could be replicated in New Zealand and the findings used to inform teaching programmes and curriculum development.

There are areas where the general evidence for pedagogy–outcomes links is strong but where there appear to be few social sciences examples. This is particularly true of studies investigating the effects of promoting metacognition. A small number of studies do specifically target metacognition, and others use what were interpreted as metacognitive strategies, but the evidence particular to social sciences is not as strong as for other domains.

Other areas where the social sciences research evidence is relatively thin include:

  • Special needs. While there are studies relating to some physical disabilities, autism, and Down syndrome, there is little evidence relating to other disabilities.
  • Teacher content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge. A number of studies relate to teacher content knowledge and how it is reflected in or responsible for particular teacher actions; an even larger number describe and compare teacher pedagogies. What is lacking are studies that examine the relationship between content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge and learning outcomes for students.
  • Online distance learning. There is much more research into the impact of online learning on student achievement at tertiary level than at school level.
  • Addressing stereotypes. While there is considerable evidence on approaches to reducing prejudice and stereotyping, much of it relates to non-school contexts or is found in whole school studies. Few studies specifically concern social sciences; when the issue is student learning about diverse groups, the evidence is contradictory.
  • Commonly used generic strategies. Many studies describe the effects of strategies such as concept maps, multimedia resources, and simulation games. While it seems likely that findings from these studies would be transferable to the social sciences, little has been done to test this hypothesis. Likewise, the extensive, growing work on cognitive load in science and mathematics is likely to have parallels in the social sciences, but with the exception of a few studies in geography, such parallels have not yet been researched.

Finally, there are strategies popular in the social sciences for which there is limited or contradictory evidence concerning efficacy. These include project work, processes such as values exploration and social decision-making, and service learning (learning in which students participate in the community for an authentic purpose).


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    • McGee, C., Hill, M., Cowie, B., Miller, T., Lee, P., Milne, L., et al. (2004). Curriculum Stocktake: National school sampling study.
      Case studies: Implementation of national curriculum. Wellington: Ministry of Education.
    • McGee, C., Jones, A., Bishop, R., Cowie, B., Hill, M., & Miller, T. (2003). Teachers' experiences in curriculum implementation: English, languages, science and social studies. National school sampling study report No. 2. Hamilton: University of Waikato.
    • Education Review Office (2001). The New Zealand Curriculum: An ERO perspective (Part 4: Technology and social studies). Wellington: Education Review Office.
    • Education Review Office (2006). The quality of teaching in years 4 and 8: Social studies. Wellington: Education Review Office.
    • Education Review Office (2007). The teaching of social studies: Good practice. Wellington: Education Review Office.
  17. McGee et al. (2003), op. cit.
  18. Education Review Office (2001), op. cit.
  19. Education Review Office (2006), op. cit.
  20. Education Review Office (2007), op. cit.
  21. Alton-Lee, A. (2003). Quality teaching for diverse students in schooling: Best evidence synthesis. Wellington: Ministry of Education.
  22. Dewey, J. (1938/1966). Logic: The theory of inquiry. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
    Phillips, D. C. (2006). A guide for the perplexed: Scientific educational research, methodolatry, and the gold versus platinum standards. Educational Research Review, 1(1), pp. 15–26.
    Phillips, D. C. & Burbules, N. C. (2000). Postpositivism and educational research. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  23. Phillips (2006), op. cit.
  24. Nuthall, G. (2004). Relating classroom teaching to student learning: A critical analysis of why research has failed to bridge the theory–practice gap. Harvard Educational Review, 74(3), pp. 273–306.
  25. The three totals of 242, 92, and 62 do not add to 383 because a small number of studies were included in more than one category.
  26. Maxwell, J. A. (2004). Causal explanation, qualitative research, and scientific inquiry in education. Educational Researcher, 33(2), pp. 3–11.
  27. Pawson, R. (2002). Evidence-based policy: The promise of 'Realist Synthesis'. Evaluation, 8(3), pp. 340–358.
  28. Gersten, R., Baker, S., Smith-Johnson, J., Dimino, J., & Peterson, A. (2006). Eyes on the prize: Teaching complex historical content to middle school students with learning disabilities. Exceptional Children, 72(3), pp. 264–280.
    Duke, N. K. & Kays, J. (1998). "Can I say 'once upon a time'?": Kindergarten children developing knowledge of information book language. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 13(2), pp. 295–318.
    Kohlmeier, J. (2006). "Couldn't she just leave?": The relationship between consistently using class discussions and the development of historical empathy in a 9th grade world history course". Theory and Research in Social Education, 34(1), pp. 34–57.
  29. Desforges, C. (2000). Familiar challenges and new approaches: Necessary advances in theory and methods in research on teaching and learning. Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association, Cardiff.
  30. Rietveld, C. (2002). The transition from preschool to school for children with Down syndrome: A challenge to regular education? Unpublished doctoral thesis University of Canterbury.
    Rietveld, C. (2003). Parents, preschools/schools and professionals: Impact of relationships on children's inclusion. Paper presented at the Child and Family Policy Conference, Dunedin, Otago.
    Rietveld, C. (2004). Contextual factors affecting inclusion during children's transitions from preschool to school. Paper presented at the CHILDforum 8th annual New Zealand Early Childhood Research Symposium, Wellington.
  31. Rietveld, C. (Personal communication, 12 October, 2005).
  32. McNeight, C. (1998). "Wow! These sorts of things are similar to our culture!": Becoming culturally inclusive within the senior secondary school curriculum. Unpublished graduate research report, Department of Teacher Education, Victoria University of Wellington.


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