Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES)

Publication Details

This report is one of a series of best evidence syntheses commissioned by the Ministry of Education. It is part of a commitment to strengthen the evidence base that informs education policy and practice in New Zealand. It aims to contribute to an ongoing evidence-based discourse amongst policy makers, educators and researchers.

Author(s): Adrienne Alton-Lee

Date Published: June 2003

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.

Executive Summary

This best evidence synthesis Quality teaching for diverse students in schooling is intended to contribute to the development of our evidence-base for policy and practice in schooling. The purpose of the synthesis is to contribute to ongoing, evidence-based and evolving dialogue about pedagogy amongst policy makers, educators and researchers that can inform development and optimise outcomes for students in New Zealand schooling.

Quality teaching is identified as a key influence on high quality outcomes for diverse students. The evidence reveals that up to 59% of variance in student performance is attributable to differences between teachers and classes, while up to almost 21%, but generally less, is attributable to school level variables.

This best evidence synthesis has produced ten characteristics of quality teaching derived from a synthesis of research findings of evidence linked to student outcomes. The central professional challenge for teachers is to manage simultaneously the complexity of learning needs of diverse students.

The concept of 'diversity' is central to the synthesis. This frame rejects the notion of a 'normal' group and 'other' or minority groups of children and constitutes diversity and difference as central to the classroom endeavour and central to the focus of quality teaching in Aotearoa , New Zealand . It is fundamental to the approach taken to diversity in New Zealand education that it honours the Treaty of Waitangi.

Diversity encompasses many characteristics including ethnicity, socio-economic background, home language, gender, special needs, disability, and giftedness. Teaching needs to be responsive to diversity within ethnic groups, for example, diversity within Pakeha, Māori, Pasifika and Asian students. We also need to recognise the diversity within individual students influenced by intersections of gender, cultural heritage(s), socio-economic background, and talent. Evidence shows teaching that is responsive to student diversity can have very positive impacts on low and high achievers at the same time. The ten characteristics are interdependent and draw upon evidence-based approaches that assist teachers to meet this challenge.The ten research-based characteristics of quality teaching derived from the research are generic in that they reflect principles derived from research across the curriculum and for students across the range of schooling years in New Zealand (from age five to eighteen). How the principles apply in practice is, however, dependent on the curriculum area, and the experience, prior knowledge and needs of the learners in any particular context. The body of this synthesis provides examples from the research on learning and teaching to illustrate the principles for different curricular areas across schooling from junior primary to senior secondary classes.

The ten characteristics generated out of the synthesis are summarised below.

1. Quality teaching is focused on student achievement (including social outcomes) and facilitates high standards of student outcomes for heterogeneous groups of students.

Research-based characteristics
  • Quality teaching is focussed on raising student achievement (including social outcomes).
  • Quality teaching facilitates the learning of diverse students and raises achievement for all learners.
  • The teacher establishes and follows through on appropriate expectations for learning outcomes and the pace at which learning should proceed.
  • High expectations are necessary but not sufficient, and can be counterproductive, when not supported by quality teaching.

2. Pedgogical practices enable classes and other learning groupings to work as caring, inclusive, and cohesive learning communities.

The learning community concept has arisen out of the research literature and denotes both a central focus on learning and the interdependence of the social and the academic in optimising learning conditions.

Research-based characteristics
  • Pedagogical practices create an environment that works as a learning community.
  • Student motivation is optimised and students' aspirations are supported and extended.
  • Caring and support is generated through the practices and interactions of teacher(s) and students.
  • Pedagogical practices pro-actively value and address diversity.
  • Academic norms are strong and not subverted by social norms.
  • The language and practices of the classroom are inclusive of all students.
  • Teachers use class sessions to value diversity, and to build community and cohesion.
  • Teaching and tasks are structured to support, and students demonstrate, active learning orientations.
  • Teaching includes specific training in collaborative group work with individual accountability mechanisms, and students demonstrate effective co-operative and social skills that enable group processes to facilitate learning for all participants.
  • Students help each other with resource access and provide elaborated explanations.
  • Pedagogical practice is appropriately responsive to the interdependence of socio-cultural and cognitive dimensions.

3. Effective links are created between school and other cultural contexts in which students are socialised, to facilitate learning.

Research-based characteristics
  • Teachers ensure that student experiences of instruction have known relationships to other cultural contexts in which the students have been/are socialised.
  • Relevance is made transparent to students.
  • Cultural practices at school are made transparent and taught.
  • Ways of taking meaning from text, discourse, numbers or experience are made explicit.
  • Quality teaching recognises and builds on students' prior experiences and knowledge.
  • New information is linked to student experiences.
  • Student diversity is utilised effectively as a pedagogical resource.
  • Quality teaching respects and affirms cultural identity (including gender identity) and optimises educational opportunities.
  • Quality teaching effects are maximised when supported by effective school-home partnership practices focused on student learning. School-home partnerships that have shown the most positive impacts on student outcomes have student learning as their focus.
  • When educators enable quality alignments in practices between teachers and parent/caregivers to support learning and skill development then student achievement can be optimised.
  • Teachers can take agency in encouraging, scaffolding and enabling student-parent/caregiver dialogue around school learning.
  • Quality homework can have particularly positive impacts on student learning. The effectiveness of the homework is particularly dependent upon the teacher's ability to construct, resource, scaffold and provide feedback upon appropriate homework tasks that support in-class learning for diverse students and do not unnecessarily fatigue and frustrate students.

4. Quality teaching is responsive to student learning processes.

Research-based characteristics are specific to curriculum context and the prior knowledge and experiences of the learners.

  • Teachers have knowledge of the nature of student learning processes in the curriculum area, can interpret student behaviour in the light of this knowledge and are responsive, creative and effective in facilitating learning processes.
  • Examples of teaching approaches that are intended to exemplify this characteristic are the dynamic or flexible literacy models, the numeracy strategy focus and the Interactive Teaching Approach in science education.
  • Classroom management enables the teacher to be responsive to diverse learners.
  • Responsive teaching is important for all learners and particularly critical for students with special needs.

5. Opportunity to learn is effective and sufficient.

Research-based characteristics
  • Quality teaching provides sufficient and effective opportunity to learn.
  • Management practices facilitate learning (rather than emphasising compliant behaviour or control).
  • Curriculum enactment has coherence, interconnectedness and links are made to real life relevance.
  • Curriculum content addresses diversity appropriately and effectively.
  • Quality teaching includes and optimises the effective use of non-linguistic representations by teacher and students. (This assumes the concurrent and rich use of oral language and text as central to literacy across the curriculum.)
  • Students have opportunities to resolve cognitive conflict.
  • Students have sufficient and appropriate opportunities for practice and application.

6. Multiple task contexts support learning cycles.

Research-based characteristics
  • Task cycles match developmental learning cycles of students.
  • Task cycles enable students to engage in and complete learning processes so that what is learned is remembered.
  • Optimal use is made of complementary combinations of teacher-directed groupings, co-operative groups, structured peer interaction and individual work (including homework) to facilitate learning cycles.

7. Curriculum goals, resources including ICT usage, task design, teaching and school practices are effectively aligned.

Research-based characteristics
  • Curricular alignment: The use of resources, teaching materials and ICT is aligned with curriculum goals to optimise student motivation and accomplish instructional purposes and goals.
  • Curricular alignment optimises rather than inhibits critical thinking.
  • Pedagogical strategies are evaluated in relation to curricular goals.
  • ICT usage is integrated into pedagogical practice across the curriculum.
  • Quality teaching is optimised when there is whole school alignment around evidence-based practices.
  • The school maintains an 'unrelenting focus on student achievement and learning'.
  • There is whole school alignment and coherence across policies and practices that focus on, resource and support quality teaching for diverse students.
  • Pro-active alignment across the school supports effective inclusion of diverse students within the school community.
  • Whole school alignment optimises opportunity to learn, particularly in language immersion, literacy, ICT, social studies and health.
  • Whole school alignment enables a common language, teacher collaboration and reflection and other synergies around improving teaching.
  • Whole school alignment minimises disruptions to quality teaching and sustains continuous improvement.
  • School policies and practices initiate, and support teachers in maintaining, school-home partnerships focused on learning.

8. Pedagogy scaffolds and provides appropriate feedback on students' task engagement.

Research-based characteristics
  • Tasks and classroom interactions provide scaffolds to facilitate student learning (the teacher provides whatever assistance diverse students need to enable them to engage in learning activities productively, for example, teacher use of prompts, questions, and appropriate resources including social resources).
  • Teaching develops all students' information skills and ensures students' ready access to resources when needed to assist the learning process.
  • Students receive effective, specific, appropriately frequent, positive and responsive feedback. Feedback must be neither too infrequent so that a student does not receive appropriate feedback nor too frequent so that the learning process is subverted.

9. Pedagogy promotes learning orientations, student self-regulation, metacognitive strategies and thoughtful student discourse.

Research-based characteristics
  • Quality teaching promotes learning orientations and student self-regulation.
  • Teaching promotes metacognitive strategy use (e.g. mental strategies in numeracy) by all students.
  • Teaching scaffolds reciprocal or alternating tuakana teina roles in student group, or interactive work.
  • Teaching promotes sustained thoughtfulness (e.g. through questioning approaches, wait-time, and the provision of opportunities for application and invention).
  • Teaching promotes critical thinking.
  • Teaching makes transparent to students the links between strategic effort and accomplishment.

10. Teachers and students engage constructively in goal-oriented assessment.

Research-based characteristics
  • Assessment practices improve learning.
  • Teachers and students have clear information about learning outcomes.
  • Students have a strong sense of involvement in the process of setting specific learning goals.
  • Pedagogy scaffolds and provides appropriate feedback on students' task engagement.
  • Teachers ensure that their assessment practices impact positively on students' motivation.
  • Teachers manage the evaluative climate, particularly in context of public discussion, so that student covert or overt participation is supported, scaffolded and challenged without students being humiliated.
  • Teachers manage the evaluative climate so that academic norms are not undermined but supported by social norms.
  • Teachers adjust their teaching to take account of the results of assessment.


  1. Hopkins, D. (2001). School improvement for real. London: Routledge. (p. 185) .
  2. See Royal Tangaere, A. (1997). Māori human development learning theory. In P. Te Whaiti , M. McCarthy & A. Durie (Eds.). Mai I Rangitaatea Māori well-being and development. Auckland: Auckland University Press with Bridget Williams Books. Derived from older sibling (tuakana) and younger sibling (teina). A practice where 'the learner …shifts roles and become(s) the teacher, and for the teacher to become the learner…The concept of tuakana/teina also operates through the dual nature of ako. The word ako means to learn as well as to teach.' (p. 50).

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