The Graham Nuthall Classroom Research Trust

kete of knowledge maori © Restricted/University of Canterbury - UC 16-0296-32

“My vision is that we will be able to produce a deep understanding of how pupils experience classroom activities and how their minds are shaped by those experiences. This deep understanding will provide teachers with the basis on which they can plan effective learning activities that will match the needs and interests of their pupils. It will provide them with the understanding they need to monitor, on a moment-by-moment basis, what their pupils are learning or not learning, understanding or misunderstanding.”

Professor Emeritus Graham Nuthall

UC's role 

Twelve years after its launch, the Graham Nuthall Classroom Research Trust is passing on responsibility for continuing the work to achieve this vision. The Trust and the College of Education, Health and Human Development, University of Canterbury, have finalised an agreement for the College to take responsibility for the Graham Nuthall Annual Lecture using funds the Trust will provide through the UC Foundation.

Professor Emeritus Graham Nuthall 1935-2004

Graham Nuthall is credited with the longest series of studies of teaching and learning in the classroom that has ever been carried out and it has been recognised by the educational research community.

A pioneer in his field, his research focused on the intimate relationship among students and the teachers within the classroom, resulting in a deeper understanding of the significant and often very subtle classroom interactions which influence learning.

After completing his PhD at the University of Illinois he returned to UC and was made a professor at the age of 37. His work was published in many international journals including the Harvard Educational Review.

He won many awards including the New Zealand Science and Technology Medal from the Royal Society. In 2003 he was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to education.

Past Graham Nuthall annual lectures

The evolving passage of culturally responsive pedagogies: Restlessness, resoluteness, and reason

Presenter: Professor Angus Macfarlane, University of Canterbury


The transcendental pathway of cultural responsiveness in education emerges out of deliberations from early thinkers’ restlessness. These early thinkers pushed back on the cultural dominance of some and championed the assertion that education should be a liberating force, and empower the oppressed as central actors in their autonomy. Later, almost like a second wave, other scholars followed with a focus on culturally relevant and culturally responsive teaching, and more recently developed a vision for culturally sustaining pedagogy, an approach that takes into account the many ways learners’ identity and culture evolve. Around the same time as this second wave, Māori and bicultural educators in Aotearoa had forsaken restlessness for resoluteness. They sought to initiate both processes and outcomes in which researchers, service users, and educational practitioners collectively engage in a negotiated process of making culture count in early childhood centres, kura, and schools. This presentation will revisit the terrain marked out by these early and recent icons, but will not dwell there. The presentation will reposition the emphasis, like Graham Nuthall did, toward reason – that is, that teachers have to transform transfers of knowledge into a real act of knowing. To do this, teachers must reason that connecting to the culture of the learners, is paramount. The thrust of the presentation will turn to the culturally-grounded research which have contributed to the creation of compelling frameworks and models that offer teachers confidence and confidence in their everyday professional practice alongside Māori learners.

About Professor Macfarlane:

Angus Hikairo Macfarlane (Ngāti Whakāue) is a Professor of Māori Research at the University of Canterbury (UC) in Christchurch. He is also the Director of the UC Māori Research Laboratory (Te Rū Rangahau) and Co-Director of the UC Child Wellbeing Institute. His research focuses on exploring Indigenous and sociocultural imperatives that influence education and psychology, his most proximal disciplines. Avid about Indigenous advancement, he has pioneered several theoretical frameworks associated with culturally-responsive approaches for professionals working across the research communities. Professor Macfarlane’s prolific publication portfolio and exemplary teaching abilities have earned him national and international standing in his field of scholarship including the recent 2019 election to the prestigious Fellowship of the Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi.

Cultivating a Growth Mindset: How ‘talk’ grows intelligence.

Presenter: Professor Robyn M. Gillies, University of Queensland

Did you know “intelligence can grow”. We have traditionally thought of intelligence as a fixed body of knowledge but a number of research strands emanating from studies on Exploratory Talk (Mercer & Littleton, 2007), Accountable Talk (Resnick et al., 2010), and Philosophy for Children (Topping & Trickey, 2014) demonstrate that intelligence is more fluid than we thought – it is learnable.

Intelligence grows when students have opportunities to work in learning spaces where teachers actively teach students how to engage critically and constructively with others’ ideas, challenge perspectives, and discuss alternative propositions.

Robyn M. Gillies’s research focuses on the social and cognitive aspects of learning through social interaction. She has spent over twenty years researching how students can be encouraged to engage in class and learn. Her research spans both primary and secondary schools and has focused on inquiry learning in science and mathematics, teacher and peermediated learning, student-centred learning, including cooperative learning, and classroom discourses and processes related to learning outcomes. Her recommendations on how teachers can translate research into practice have been widely profiled in the international literature and on the website of the Smithsonian Science Education Center in Washington, DC.

"Moving beyond 'covering' the curriculum: Using sTc to engage all learners in science/STEM education":

Professor Alberto Rodriguez is the Mary Endres Chair in Elementary Education and Professor of Cross-Cultural Science Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Purdue University. His research focuses on how teachers can make their pedagogy and curriculum more culturally and socially relevant to all students, as well as how teachers can better integrate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) across the curriculum.

"The dance of agency: student engagement in assessment for learning":

Bronwen Cowie is the director of the Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research, University of Waikato. She has just completed the Curriculum Exploratory Studies projects which were joint WMIER/NZCER projects. She is a co-director of the Science Learning Hub, which is a MSI initiative to make New Zealand science accessible to New Zealand teachers via a multimedia web-based resource. Bronwen’s research interests are in assessment for learning, classroom interaction, student voice, the role of ICTs in teachers’ professional lives, and curriculum development and implementation.

"Literacy, place and pedagogies of possibility: Teach young people in a changing world":

Barbara Comber is a research professor in the Faculty of Education at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. She has undertaken a number of research projects concerned with literacy development, educational policy, teachers' work, socioeconomic disadvantage and culturally diverse communities. She has co-edited eight books and published numerous articles and chapters for teachers and teacher educators in critical literacy, place-based pedagogies, teacher research and social justice.

"Sharpening the Focus":

Professor Carr is an advisor on education to many governments and her work has been translated into Danish, Italian and Japanese. Most importantly, her research, done in collaboration with teachers, aims the lens on children's learning. She says "in this lecture I plan to weave together cross-country running, pottery and stories as I talk about sharpening our educational focus to include learners' perspectives - as Graham Nuthall has always invited us to do".

"Can schools prepare you for anything?":

Professor Claxton is Co-Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning, and Professor of the Learning Sciences, at the University of Winchester. He is best known for his Learning Power work, a programme that helps young people become better real-life learners. Professor Claxton has published extensively, he regularly presents internationally and has advised the Ministry of Education here in New Zealand.

  • 2010 - Professor Judith Green
    Professor Green is Professor of Education and Director of the Center of Literacy & Inquiry in Networking Communities, at the University of California in Santa Barbara. She proposed a language for, and an approach to, exploring learning in the context of teaching endorsing Rorty’s claim that you cannot say the new in the language of the old.
  • 2009 - Mary Chamberlain
    As Group Manager, Curriculum Teaching and Learning-Design, for the Ministry of Education, Chamberlain has been involved in the development of new national curricula and related assessment policies at both primary and secondary levels. Chamberlain’s lecture focused on the current challenge for teachers to design learning experiences that not only engage but empower learners. Energized by the ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum, Chamberlain acknowledges its potential to free teachers and allow them to create meaningful learning experiences that are contextual and relevant to the learner.
  • 2008 - John Hattie
    "Visible Teaching - Visible Learning: The Ingredients of Successful Learning in our Classrooms"
    John Hattie is Professor of Education & Director of the Visible Learning Laboratory, University of Auckland. This session used the results of 800+ meta-analyses and then build arguments as to the central role of making learning visible to the teacher and the student. It related to Graham Nuthall's research about the power of the peers in the classroom and helping teachers understand the world of learning through the child's eyes.
    View a copy of John Hattie Presentation
  • 2006 - Dr Jean McPhail
    “Shadow and Substance: What can we see in the classroom as classroom researchers?”
    View a copy of Dr Jean McPhail Presentation
  • 2004 - Emeritus Professor Graham Nuthall
    "Discovering the hidden realities of teaching and learning in the classroom "
    "I would like to give a brief overview of the some of the things I have discovered about teaching and learning over nearly 45 years of research, carried out, on and off, as other duties permitted. One of the most important things about school classrooms is that they are both very familiar and at the same time very mysterious. There seems to be nothing mysterious about teaching. We can all do it, maybe not well, but we know what to do."
    View a copy of Emeritus Professor Graham Nuthall Presentation

Award recipients

Cathy Solomon intends to expand on her research into beliefs about maths by analysing how children position themselves or are positioned by others as being good at or not good at maths, and what effect this may have on their engagement with the subject. This will be done by exploring video data collected in two Year 5/6 maths classrooms. Cathy hopes this analysis will add to the conversation about improving all children’s access to and success with, or at least, greater enjoyment of maths.

The world of school mathematics is a strange and contradictory place. A conflict exists between believing that all children have the right to learn maths and believing that only certain sorts of people are capable of learning maths. In many New Zealand classrooms, children are measured and sorted into maths groups or classes that offer them unequal maths experiences. It is not only teachers and education systems that position certain children as more capable of engaging in the world of maths than others, but the children themselves and the broader community through prevailing assessment discourses relating to ethnicity and gender.

Fiona (Fi) McAlevey is exploring young children's perspectives of work, using an ethnographic approach in an early childhood setting. She is undertaking this research as part of an EdD through the University of Otago, while teaching at the Open Polytechnic.

"In early childhood education 'work' is often seen as something different from 'play'. I look forward to sharing ideas and knowledge about how children see work, and hope this can contribute something practical to us as teachers. I also welcome this as a wonderful opportunity to promote some inter-institutional collaboration."

Dr Wayne Duncan is being given the opportunity to extend his research in the social nature of learning and teaching within classroom environments, specifically the role of empathy. He will work with academic staff from Canterbury University to explore empathy within senior NCEA classes. He plans to use a similar research methodology to that he used within his own thesis where he used a combination of one on one and focus group interviews to explore student and teacher experiences and understandings of empathy within their classes.

The research will cover all of 2013 with repeated interviews allowing research participants to develop their understandings over time. "I am excited to be able to work with staff from Canterbury University over distance as I value the collaborative nature of research projects."

Graeme W. Ferguson is examining the influence of peer cultures on the learning dispositions of a group of primary school boys. He is doing this PhD project while teaching part time at University of Canterbury. Graeme's twenty years' experience as a primary school teacher and sixteen years in teacher education have informed several publications including "You'll be a boy if you play rugby: Sport and the construction of Gender" (Dunmore 2004).

"I hope my work will contribute useful knowledge to the New Zealand debates about the achievement of boys in schools, raise teachers' awareness of gender issues in education and, in particular, challenge us to reflect on the dominant ideas about masculinity which may not be particularly helpful in enabling boys and young men to adapt to the changing social and economic circumstances of a globalised 21st century New Zealand."

  • 2009 - Joanne Aitken, Assistant Principal at Northcote Primary School, was granted the 2009 Graham Nuthall Research Award for examining the impact of learning stories on their students, their motivation and their learning. “During the three years I have been at this school, I have introduced learning stories to the school as a major method of assessment throughout the school. They have been used as a tool with which to motivate our learners and create closer community links." Having received ethical clearance and tested her methods, by mid 2010 Joanne Aitken was well into the phase of data collection. She believes the results of her research will have an impact on a number of levels, at the study school, at a general primary school level and lastly it will inform the wider school community.
  • 2008 - Lois Christmas asked the question, 'What is the Experience of the Learner in a Year 3 and 4 Classroom in Numeracy?' Her project was a case study of a student in a Year 3 and 4 numeracy class. A selection of her learning experiences are used to highlight the challenges she faces in making sense of classroom activities and constructing her mathematical understandings. A puppet is used to encourage the student to explain her thinking about aspects of her learning. The study aims to promote critical debate among teachers about what we think effective teaching of numeracy should look like. She found that "by observing, being available to, and interacting spontaneously with students it is possible to gain a rich overview of students' mathematical constructs, conversations and challenges. Being more in touch with the semi-private world of students can give teachers insights into what might be going on in the private worlds of individual students, the world where mathematical identity is developed."
  • 2006 - Fleur Harris’s project is an exploration into how Maori children respond to literacy based language assessments for narratives and phonological awareness, in ways that consider their lived experiences and cultural practices; how their responses reflect the current understanding and construction of the Maori child’s identity as a learner in the classroom and their learning needs; and the possibilities for alternative discourses about how Maori children can be constructed as learners in their educational contexts.
  • 2006 - Jae Major’s project investigates the processes by which the identities of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) children in the primary mainstream classroom are constructed. This includes the ways in which these children position themselves and how they are positioned by other children and the teacher. The study uses Bourdieu’s notions of habitus, capital and field as a framework to explore the role of language, interaction and power relations in the process of identity construction.
  • 2004/5 - Dr Christine Rietveld’s research begins from the premise that experiencing inclusion as a valued participant is essential for optimal social and academic learning. The research using case study methodology aims to investigate how 3-year old children with and without Down Syndrome experience inclusion as they start preschool and several months after their entry. The study focuses not only on the children's experiences, but also on the immediate and distal contexts impacting on those experiences. It will therefore involve interviews with teachers, parents, the child's classmates and other relevant others.
  • 2004/5 - Michelle Clarke is looking at children’s understandings of what reading ‘is’: exploring how this develops during the first year at school. She writes: "This study has developed through the weaving together of two of my passions – reading and children’s learning. Children’s understanding of what reading ‘is’ (the processes involved, who reads, why people read, how you learn to read, whether reading is the same across contexts and activities etc) is influenced by a number of factors. This study provides the opportunity to explore some of those factors present in the classroom that may not be evident to adults, including teachers, and may not be typically articulated by children. It challenges us to take a child’s perspective – through recordings of the classroom experiences of two children and what they have shared during interviews. The data gathered raises a number of questions about adult interpretations, and expectations, of children’s experiences during literacy related activities. For while reading activities are ‘visible’, how children negotiate their way through classroom life is often less so, yet this underpins what is learned
  • 2003 - Anna Johnstone used the award to look at the informal and formal feedback, interactions and conversations within the classroom between the teacher and students regarding writing. At the presentation of the Award Professor Nuthall said  “I am delighted that the award has been established to research the realities of education rather than the theory. I have been committed in my own work to furthering classroom-based research and the purpose of the fund deals directly with students and their learning experiences.”