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

Funding year: 
4 years
University of Waikato
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2020
Project end date: 
April 2024
Principal investigator(s): 
Dr. Sashi Sharma
Research team members: 
Sashi Sharma, The University of Waikato and Phil Doyle, De La Salle College
Research partners: 
De La Salla College



Introduction/project description

The language of statistics can be challenging. All the more so in English medium classrooms for English second language learners who must simultaneously learn English and statistical English, and be able to negotiate between these two. This collaborative project will research the use of home languages as a resource for multilingual students in learning statistical probability over two cycles of design research in two multicultural Year-9 classes. A teaching sequence for probability thinking that incorporates culturally responsive resources will be developed and refined over the two cycles. Findings will illustrate the potential of translanguaging to support diverse learners of statistics.


It is well known that the language of mathematics/statistics, which is the focus of this study, poses particular challenges to English second language students. A language-as-resource approach can increase the learning opportunities of all learners by focusing on both mathematics and language. We will focus on translanguaging as a way of understanding language-as-resource. The study also aims to extend our understanding of the cultural challenges and productive possibilities students experience when learning about probability through specially designed teaching sequences that use meaningful contexts, culture and cultural diversity as a resource. 

The following research questions will guide the study:

  • How do multilingual Year 9 students negotiate communication in small-group and whole-class settings when working on probability tasks?
  • How might teachers draw on home languages, contexts and cultural experiences to enhance the probability understanding of multilingual students?

Why is this research important?

New Zealand classrooms are places where learners have different linguistic and cultural backgrounds, where they may speak one language at home and another at school, and where some or all of the students are learning the language of instruction as a second language. The teaching strategies and cultural resources developed in our study will help advance students’ ability to communicate and negotiate their thinking using statistical language and their home languages. Teachers will benefit from increased understanding of statistical content and culturally responsive pedagogy and gains in their ability to address students’ language challenges and opportunities.  

What we plan to do

Our study involves two cycles each of three design research phases as follows:

Cycle 1

Phase 1: Preparation and design for the teaching sequence

The team will discuss research on language-as-resource pedagogical strategies for use with multilingual students. Teachers will use their knowledge of students to identify probability contexts that might fit with their students’ cultural experiences to plan teaching activities.

Phase 2: Teaching

The teaching will take place as part of regular classes in two Year-9 statistics classes over up to four lessons and two weeks. Students in up to three student groups will take part in video-stimulated recall interviews at the end of the teaching sequence. Students will view and reflect on a video of some of their lesson activities and complete journal entries to reflect upon how/if the activities connect to their personal lives. Each teacher-researcher will take field notes of significant events and interactions, and of any changes in students’ use of statistical and home languages and other outcomes. 

Phase 3: Retrospective analysis

The team will conduct a retrospective analysis of the teaching to reflect on and refine the teaching sequence. Case studies of phase 2 will be developed to illustrate student use of first languages and English statistical language to interact and learn to use language to communicate statistically.

Cycle 2 (2021)

Phases 1–3 will be repeated in two different Year-9 classes in 2021 and the teaching sequence and teaching activities will be revised, and the case studies further developed.

Our partners

This research project is a partnership between Dr Sashi Sharma, the Division of Education, University of Waikato as lead researcher and Phil Doyle, Deputy Principal of De La Salle College who will provide onsite leadership and mentoring for the two teachers. He will act as a critical friend for Sashi to ensure the research is responsive to the school context. The teachers will co-plan and teach the project teaching sequences, participate in data collection and analysis and play a vital role in the dissemination of findings. 

Contact details

Name: Dr Sashi Sharma