Using home languages as a resource to enhance statistical thinking in a multicultural classroom

Sashi Sharma: Principal Investigator, Division of Education, The University of Waikato.

Phil Doyle: Site Leader, De La Salle College Participating Teachers: De La Salle College

Project Dates: 1 March 2020 - 30 March 2023

Partnerships: Teaching & Learning Research Initiative (TLRI), and De La Salle College.

Partnerships: Funding agency and institutes/organisations involved in the project.

The TLRI supports partnerships between researchers and educators, by funding projects expected to improve outcomes for learners. This research project is a partnership between the University of Waikato and De La Salle College. The research project is funded by the New Zealand government and administered by the New Zealand Council for Educational.

Our study involves two cycles of the three design research phases: a preparation and design phase, a teaching phase, and a retrospective analysis phase. All participants are equal partners in the research process with no hierarchy existing between researcher and teachers  (and teachers are involved in the whole research process, posing questions, collecting data, drawing conclusions, writing reports, and disseminating findings. These conditions reflect the way this proposal has been developed and align with TLRI Principles.


Recognising and appreciating the diverse language and cultural backgrounds of learners can promote the development of positive identities and thus, can engage learners in their learning process. Research indicates that students who have a high level of proficiency in their first language and who develop a similar level of proficiency in the classroom language tend to outperform monolingual students in mathematics. In contrast, students who do not develop a sufficient level of proficiency in any language tend to under-perform in mathematics. Additionally, mathematics education research has identified that a student’s first language(s) can serve as a resource for thinking and communication as students simultaneously learn and develop proficiency in the language of instruction and learn mathematics (claim that a language-as-resource approach can increase the learning opportunities of all learners by focusing on both mathematics and language. Currently, the idea of cultural deficit is used to explain students’ underachievement, with some cultures being positioned as particularly mathematics deficient. In NZ, a remedy for underachievement in mathematics is to try to transition English Second Language speakers to learning completely in English. In this scenario, active use of other languages is seen as a hindrance rather than a help

This study adopts a language-as-resource approach, which is consistent with NZ understandings of culturally responsive pedagogy and the NZC principles of cultural diversity and inclusion. We will focus on translanguaging as a way of understanding language-as-resource.

What is the aims of the research?

Sashi is focusing specifically on the subject of statistical probability, and how students might use their ‘home language’ to understand learning material in this subject area.

Why is this research important?

Part of this project will involve working closely with teachers in understanding how translanguaging strategies can be used as a resource among multilingual students. From there, teachers will work on developing effective teaching tools, with the aim of improving learning outcomes for all learners.

Potential Research Impact?

The teaching strategies and cultural resources trialled in this study will help advance students’ understanding of statistical probability. We anticipate that the students’ ability to communicate and negotiate their thinking in group and whole-class settings using statistical language and home language will be enhanced, both verbally and in writing.

The teaching sequence and case developed within the study will provide empirically grounded examples that other teachers can adapt to their local circumstances. Findings on language-based strategies will have the potential to be used in other school subjects such as science and in other multicultural contexts.

Although NZ is multilingual, many classroom teachers are monolingual and/or do not have experience in or strategies for working with children whose home language is not English. Initial Teacher Education providers will be interested in this research. Understanding the challenges teachers face in the classroom when teaching statistics to learners with a range of language proficiencies will assist teacher education institutions to better equip teachers for a multicultural classroom.