Research projects to improve outcomes for learners share $1.9 million in funding

The Teaching and Learning Research Initiative (TLRI) funds research projects that aim to improve outcomes for learners. All projects are partnerships between researchers and educators.

This year, the TLRI launched Whatua tū aka, a new pathway to encourage more kaupapa Māori educational research. Whatua tū aka, was developed in collaboration with a TLRI Māori advisory group. It seeks to improve equity for Māori learners by supporting kaupapa Māori educational research and building kaupapa Māori research capability. Sheridan McKinley, NZCER’s Kaiwhakahaere Māori has overseen the implementation of the new kaupapa Māori funding pathway.

In 2020 the TLRI fund prioritised the following areas:

  • Research on topics of strategic importance within the early years or compulsory school sectors.
  • Research that supports success for Māori learners across all education sectors.
  • Research that supports success for Pasifika learners across all education sectors.

This year’s funding of over $1.9 million has been allocated to eight projects.

  • Three are kaupapa Māori projects, and two are Pacific projects.
  • Two are in an early learning context, including kōhanga reo and a’oga amata; five are in kura or school contexts, and one project works across the early learning and school sectors.
  • Lead investigators come from five universities: University of Auckland, University of Waikato, Unitec, Auckland University of Technology (AUT), and Victoria University of Wellington.

NZCER would like to congratulate the successful recipients. The eight projects are briefly summarised below.

The TLRI has been operating since 2003, and this allocation means a total of 167 projects have been funded. Projects may run from 1 to 3 years.

The TLRI is funded by the New Zealand government and administered by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research | Rangahau Mātauranga o Aotearoa.

Contact: NZCER Communications Telephone: 04 384 7939 | Email:

Projects funded

Mātai mokopuna – he tirohanga wairua, hinengaro, tinana, whatumanawa

Investigator: Hoana McMillan

Partnership: University of Waikato; Te Kōhanga Reo ki Rotokawa.

Funding: $142,758 over 2 years

In 2017 Te Whāriki a te Kōhanga Reo was published in collaboration with Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust formalising assessment or ‘mātai mokopuna’ practices within kōhanga reo. Mātai mokopuna makes visible the mana of mokopuna in conjunction with the Māori dimensions of wairua (spirituality), tinana (physicality), hinengaro (cognition) and whatumanawa (emotion). The proposed research is a Participatory Action Research project underpinned by kaupapa Māori principles that will explore how whānau and kaiako give expression to the mana of mokopuna through these dimensions.

Kōtuia te mātauranga marautanga reo Māori (KŌTUIA)

Investigator: Katarina Edmonds

Partnership: Ko te Whare Wānanga o Waikato me te Whare Wānanga o Tamaki Makaurau; Ko ngā kura amorangi o te rangahau, ko Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Pukemiro ki Kaitaia, Te Wharekura o Te Rauaroha ki Waitoa, Waikato, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Ara Hou ki Kahungunu, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Kawakawa Mai Tawhiti ki Ngāti Porou me Te Kura Mana Māori o Whangaparaoa ki Te Whānau ā Apanui.

Funding: $449,955 over 3 years

Ko te kaupapa Kōtuia, he kaupapa rangahau toru tau, e titiro ana ki te matatautanga mātauranga reo Māori o ngā ākonga, ka kōtuia ana te reo o te ahurea ā-kāinga, ki te reo o ngā whakaakoranga ā-kura. Ka tirohia, pēhea ai te whakatinanatanga a ngā tamariki o ā mātou kura amorangi i te reo ā-ahurea ki te kura, ā, me te whakatinanatanga hoki a rātou i te reo o ngā whakaakoranga ā-kura ki te akomanga. He rangahau aromatawai reo, he rangahau tātari reo. Ka wānanga pakirehuatia ngā tauira kawenga reo o ētahi marautanga. Ko te tūmanako, ka kitea mehemea ka ikeike, ka matatau, ka māia ake te ākonga inā haeretahi te aro atu ki te reo ahurea ā-kāinga me te reo marautanga ā-kura. Otirā, e hiahia ana ki te mōhio ki te takanga (shift) me te kōtuitanga o te reo ahurea ā-kāinga me te reo ā-kura o te akomanga. Ko tētahi tūāhua auaha o te rangahau, ko te whai wāhi anō hoki o ngā tamariki tonu hei kairangahau hautu pakirehua reo.

A Māori Modern Learning Environment: Ko te Akā Pūkaea kia ita, ko te Akā Pūkaea kia eke!

Investigators: Jenny Lee-Morgan & Jen Martin

Partnership: Ngā Wai a Te Tūī, Māori and Indigenous Research Centre, Unitec; Paetu Ltd; Te Akā Pūkaea, Newton Central School.

Funding: $299,896 over 2 years

This kaupapa Māori project investigates the ways that two Māori-medium pathways (bilingual and immersion) work together in a newly built Flexible Learning Space to progress Te Reo Māori and the aspirations of whānau. This study explores the notion of the Māori Modern Learning Environment,and explores how this ‘space’ is understood and utilised by Māori teachers, students and whānau of the two Māori-medium pathways, and within the wider English-medium primary school context. This pūrākau (case-study style project) takes a strengths-based approach, and is based on the experiences, pedagogies and the potential of Te Akā Pūkaea, Newton Central School.

Understand me: Crafting selves and worlds in collective storied conversations with tamariki/children, whānau/families, and kaiako/teachers

Investigators: Janet Gaffney & Meg Jacobs

Partnership: University of Auckland; Auckland University of Technology; Papatoetoe North School; Owairaka District School; Kamo Primary.

Funding: $252,541 over 2 years

We will establish how sharing lived-experience stories between children, whānau, and teachers creates openings for understanding that transform the relational praxis of learning and teaching. We will co-design with teachers in three schools (Year 1) and three affiliated kindergartens (Year 2) ways to engage in everyday being-listening-telling of storied conversations. Storied conversations between triads of child, parent/whānau, and teacher will be ignited through sharing of artefacts, blogs, and multimodal story sharing at an event. We will examine how storied conversations can carve pathways of understanding that shape relationships, “school” knowledges, and the members of the school/centre community.

Pepe meamea in the spirit of the collective: Embedding Samoan indigenous philosophy in ECE for Samoan children under two

Investigator: Jacoba Matapo

Partnership: University of Auckland; SAASIA Sosaiete Aoga Amata Samoa | Aotearoa; Auckland University of Technology (AUT); Massey University; Seugagogo A’oga Amata; Fotumalama A’oga Amata; Fetu Taiala A’oga Amata; Tumanu Ae Le Tu Logologo A’oga Amata; Taulapapa Leata Su'a A’oga Amata; Taeaofou Bilingual A’oga Amata; Happy Feet Childcare; Toddlers Turf Manukau; Immanuel Preschool; Inspire Early Learning; Mangere East Best Start; Active Explorers.

Funding: $239,582 over 2 years

This two-year project focuses on reconceptualising and transforming the pedagogy of ECE teachers of Samoan infants and toddlers to improve sustainable holistic outcomes for Samoan infants and toddlers. Innovative technologies will be utilised to support Samoan cultural mentoring partnerships between infant and toddler teachers from A’oga Amata (Samoan full-immersion ECE) and English medium ECE centres in Auckland, along with their research partners. Samoan methodologies underpin a Critical Participatory Action Research approach to reground and affirm Samoan indigenous knowledge by engaging the research community in culturally sustaining pedagogies through dialogue and reflexivity.

Nurturing secondary students' hope and agency: Educating to live in a climate-impacted world

Investigator: Sally Birdsall

Partnership: University of Auckland; University of Waikato; Western Springs College/ Ngā Puna O Waiōrea; Cambridge High School.

Funding: $111,677 over 1 year

Today’s youth will be severely impacted by climate change and many are feeling anxious, hopeless and helpless. More than knowledge is needed to develop citizens who can take informed actions to mitigate its effects. Hope and agency have been identified as significant constructs that can overcome pessimism and helplessness, motivating youth to take action. Using a critical realist lens and taking a design-based implementation research process approach, participants will co-design a climate change education programme to nurture students’ hope and agency, creating opportunities for them to take action individually and collectively. Effective pedagogies for future programmes will be identified.

Critical moments from the education journeys of students arriving in Alternative Education settings: Teacher inquiries for transformation

Investigator: Adrian Schoone

Partnership: Auckland University of Technology; University of Canterbury; Mt Albert Grammar School; Green Bay High School.

Funding: $239,000 over 3 years

This research explores how teachers can inquire into the education journeys of students arriving in Alternative Education (AE) settings. Annually, 3500 secondary students are referred to AE due to suspensions, exclusions and truancy. Arguably, this cohort is one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most challenging to engage. Most often, students enter AE with a “blank slate”; teachers receive inadequate information on students’ schooling histories or achievements. Using action research, teachers in AE will explore critical moments from their students’ education journeys and consider how this knowledge can inform planning and pedagogy; and provide insights for the wider education sector.

Learning from each other: Enhancing Pacific education through people, concept and culture-focused inquiry

Investigators: Cherie Chu-Fuluifaga & Martyn Reynolds

Partnership: Victoria University of Wellington; Naenae Kāhui Ako; Dunedin Catholic Schools Kāhui Ako.

Funding: $186,682 over 2 years

At the core of this project are how Pacific people understand Pacific education. The research investigates the value of alignment between community, parent and student voice, Pacific concepts, and teacher learning. It hypothesises that Pacific strengths-based, relational, dialogic and celebratory teacher learning can enhance Pacific students’ educational experiences. As the professional development of participating teachers unfolds, data will be collected that addresses teacher learning and teacher action as they relate to student enhancement through education and their progress. Progress is understood holistically to include, but not be limited to, achievement.