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iCLT principle 5

iCLT acknowledges and responds appropriately to diverse learners and learning contexts

Example 1 | Example 2 | Example 3 | Example 4 | References

New Zealand’s population is a diverse mix of ethnicities.

Māori, Pacific, and Asian ethnic groups make up a growing proportion of the population, and within these groups there is diversity. New Zealand’s population projections indicate even greater diversity in the future.

In 2001, 15 percent of the New Zealand population identified as Māori – this is projected to increase to 17 percent in 2021. The Māori population will then number about 750,000.

Today’s Pasifika population is mostly New Zealand-born, predominantly young, and highly urbanised. It is also diverse, made up of many different ethnic groups. It is projected to increase from 7 to 9 percent.

The Asian share is projected to increase from 7 to 13 percent. The Asian population is projected to have the largest percentage growth, up about 120 percent to 600,000 in 2021.

In contrast, the European share of the New Zealand population is projected to decrease from 79 percent in 2001 to 69 percent in 2021. By 2021, the European population will be 1 percent greater than in 2001 at about 3.1 million.

Teachers create culturally responsive learning environments through designing opportunities for students to recognise, validate, link to, and use their own language(s) and culture(s) and prior experiences within the learning context as they acquire skills and knowledge in the language they are learning.

The examples that follow illustrate these concepts.

Example 1: Do others share her opinions?

Harriet, a year 11 learner of German, has spent a month living in Austria with a host family. She gives a speech to senior German classes on her return, in which she comments on living conditions in Austria.

Harriet offers her personal views. However, when she addresses them directly, she assumes that her audience shares her opinions, for example:

  • "Für euch und mich ist das merkwürdig … [That’s strange to you and me]; Könnt ihr euch das vorstellen?“ [Can you imagine that?]

As they listen to Harriet’s speech, her classmates will be responding in their own ways to what she is saying.

Although Harriet is assuming that they share her views, they will be making their own meanings from what Harriet says, and interpreting these according to their own individual understandings, knowledge, and prior experiences.


In the creation of her spoken text Harriet has shaped the content and context to fit her own individual needs and bring to the fore her own meanings. However, a speech is a communicative event. The audience makes its own meanings through their interaction with the ideas that Harriet presents, and how these are structured.

Treating the speech as a social encounter means taking steps to expose the meanings created in the minds of the audience. For example, the teacher can help make explicit to what extent the audience has allowed themselves to be associated with Harriet’s views.

Example 2: An individual perspective

Because she is writing about a personal experience, Larissa, a year 11 learner of French, uses the first person singular pronoun when she writes about a trip to France with her family, for example:

  • “Au mois de Mai je suis allée en France.” [In May I went to France.] “J’ai fait de la planche à voile.” [I went sail-boarding.]


How learners make meaning from and react to the linguistic and cultural ideas expressed in Larissa’s text is worth discussing.

Students from diverse backgrounds in New Zealand classrooms who engage with the text may interpret Larissa’s use of the singular first person pronoun in different ways when they make meaning from what she writes.

Some may even consider this use disrespectful. They might consider that Larissa should have used the first person plural pronoun “nous” to acknowledge the fact that she travelled with her family.

The teaching context can make students aware of cultural differences in discourse styles. The teacher can be a facilitator by helping students to interpret the linguistic forms presented in the text and embed them in the appropriate cultural context.

Example 3: What’s the use?

A parent writes a letter of concern to the teacher of gagana Sāmoa about the amount of time students are spending on preparations for the dance festival and the costs involved.

Among other things, the parent questions the usefulness of the event to student learning.

The teacher shares the letter with students.


Students studying the text will have their own ideas and opinions in relation to the concerns the parent expresses, and they will define their own understandings and position in relation to them.

For example, they will be reflecting on their own family’s expectations around their personal involvement in household chores when they read that this is one of the parent’s concerns. The teacher can help to make these silent responses available for group or class discussion.

As a follow-up task, students could investigate other formal written texts in gagana Sāmoa and discuss the language, style, and cultural features they contain.

They could apply this knowledge to developing individual responses or a collective response to the concerned parent in which they demonstrate "fa’aaloalo" (respect) and express their personal views about their preparation for and participation in cultural activities, the time and costs involved, and the benefits to student learning, justifying their ideas and opinions with evidence.

Students could then prepare a class discussion or formal debate in gagana Sāmoa in relation to the advantages and disadvantages of participating in a cultural event.

This discussion or debate could enable them to use combinations of visual and verbal forms of language when they argue for and justify possible courses of action.

The teacher mediates the struggle between the desire of students to appropriate the language for their own purposes to assert their individuality and develop a personal voice, and the responsibility the teacher has to socialise them into linguistically and socio-culturally appropriate behaviour when using gagana Sāmoa so that they show respect for those with whom they are communicating.

Example 4: Being culturally relevant

To help students practise German past tense forms, the teacher distributes slips of paper containing several questions in the past tense, relevant to students’ lives, for example:

  • “Als du enin Kind warst, hast du gern Gemüse gegessen?[When you were a child, did you like eating vegetables?]

The teacher’s goal is to engage students in natural communication, choosing settings known to mainstream students, yet provocative enough to generate surprise and desire to talk.

Students are to move around the class, ask each other the questions, and write down the yes/no answers.

The cultural context and setting, however, are not transparent to all the students, as the class is made up of learners from different backgrounds. The task requires students to engage in specific interaction types (conversational chit-chat or the use of straightforward questions requiring straightforward answers) that appear to conflict with the way some students have been socialised into behaving, especially with teachers and with other learners in classrooms.

Taking the next step

This experience points to the need to make the purposes of the task, and the rationale for the choice of interactional context, clear and explicit. It also points to reflection as an essential part of the process.

For example, by brainstorming and discussing with the students some of the things they did “when they were young”, and basing the list of past tense utterances on student input rather than on the teacher’s assumptions of students’ experiences, the teacher can promote cross-cultural interaction and open up new possibilities of understanding.

(This example is adapted from Kramsch, C. (1993). Context and Culture in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press. See pages 76–79.)

References for this section

Tātaiako identifies cultural competencies for teachers of Māori learners that work across all learning areas. This is essential reading for language teachers.

Ideas on teaching that are effective across learning areas for Pasifika students can contribute to a pedagogy that works for diverse learners in learning languages.

Since girls outnumber boys in learning languages classes, it may be useful to read about boys experiencing success.

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Last updated April 12, 2021