Janks (2002, p.2) states that: “Literacy education which values difference as diversity recognises the importance of using students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds as a productive resource."
  • Students bring their own cultural capital to class from what they know and have experienced and this is what makes it so important to make links with the student's lives, experiences and prior knowledge.
  • Their prior experience is also the pool of knowledge and understanding that they will be drawing on to understand new ideas whether it will be in their first or second language.

  • Research into effective pedagogy has highlighted the importance of accessing student's prior knowledge to help them make links to new knowledge (Alton- Lee, 2003 )
  • New Zealand Schools, such as Mount Roskill Grammar School, recognise the need to establish what students already know and build on that knowledge in order to deliver the curriculum effectively.
  • The students themselves will value their own prior experience if they see the educators value and affirm the importance of accessing prior knowledge
  • The new knowledge is far more likely to be retained and understood if it can be linked to something that already exists in the student's schema by front loading. (McCaffery & Tuafuti, 2000; Nation, 2001).

  • Using more skilled and less skilled pairs is a way of creating an opportunity for Bilinguals to activate their schema in their heritage language as a means of making the links in the second language as can be seen by the example of Stephen and Alan learning about cause and effect in Fig.1 (Nation, 2001; Cummins, 1986).
Fig.1. Co-constructed learning (Tang, 2001)

Example: (Tang, 2001)

Stephen and Alan, two Chinese boys, aged 16 were working on the same computer. They were looking at a computer graphic of an eye in which the pupil expanded or dilated in response to the amount of brightness. Alan had noted down what was on the computer by constructing two sentences: (1) If the pupil smaller, then you increase the brightness. (2) Pupil bigger, then decrease the brightness. Steven noticed an error and offered this unsolicited advice to Alan.
Stephen continued his explanation in Cantonese aided by constructing a ‘cause and effect’ graphic discussed under Principle 4: Scaffolding.
Here we see students working in both their heritage and second language and the expert student using their shared heritage language to successfully explain the concept of cause and effect.

  • Need to draw on the cultural capital by front loading (McCaffery & Tuafuti, 2002) in terms of acknowledging, valuing (Vygotsky, 1962,Tuafuti & McCaffery2002) and incorporating it.
  • Some of the teaching resources need to be relevant to the student's experience.
  • The teacher also needs to be aware of concepts that are not relevant to their experience and that might need contextualising for the students to understand. An example to illustrate this would be the idea of 'hell'. For a non judeo-christian student this might be a relatively unknown concept and it would be easy for them to think the teacher is talking about 'help' as happened in my classroom. The student made the closest approximation of the sound of the word to their own schema and came up with 'help' and then did their best to fit the concept of help with what was being said about 'hell'.
  • There is a need to recognise the rich resources the students themselves bring to the classroom from their own experiences and how these equip students to be 'experts' on some topics as will be discussed under the principle of scaffolding.
  • New knowledge needs to add to knowledge that is already there rather than replace it.
  • A climate of safety is needed for students to feel comfortable with sharing their experiences and culture (EDPROFST 226, McCaffery, August, 2011).


Alton-Lee, A. (2003). Quality teaching for diverse students in schooling: Best evidence synthesis. Report for the NZ MoE June 2003. Retrieved
10:09:11 from http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/publications/series/2515/5959

Cummins, J. (1986). Empowering minority students: A framework for intervention. Harvard Educational Review 56 (1), 18-36.

McCaffery, J. & Tuafuti, P. (2000). The case for first language literacy for Pacific Island children in Aotearoa /NZ. A paper presented at a research
seminar at the Auckland College of Education. New Zealand 7th November 2002.

McCaffery, J. (2002). What research has to say about transitional early exit bilingual education: A review. A pre-conference paper prepared for the
Ulimasao First National Pasifika Bilingual Education Conference, Auckland, New Zealand October 2002.
Nation, P. (2001). Learning and teaching in another language. Oxford: UK. Oxford University Press.

Janks, H. (2002). Critical literacy: beyond reason. Australian Educational Researcher, 29 (1)7-27.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press