The cultural myths and realities of teaching and learning

by Graham Nuthall


Graham Nuthall was Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. Before he died, after a short illness, in July 2004, he gave permission for this address, the Jean Herbison Lecture 2001, to be included on the Ministry of Education's leadership website. The lecture describes his personal journey as a classroom researcher and the ground-breaking research he conducted with Dr Adrienne Alton-Lee. This research challenged the assumption (held by many educators) that teaching necessarily equals learning. The address also provides a background to the way research evolves and how great research depends on asking great questions.

With its focus on classroom learning and interactions this is a piece that school leaders may find interesting and relevant.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this address:

  • What are students actually learning in your school? How do you know?
  • What do you think helps students to learn, and to retain their learning?
  • How could you test some of the ideas raised in this address, in your school?

Further reading

Nuthall, G. (2000). How children remember what they learn in school. Wellington: NZCER.

Smyth, J. (2001). Critical reflection: The antidote of being done to!. (Chapter 14, pp.183-196). In Critical politics of teachers’ work: An Australian perspective. New York: Peter Laing.


Nuthall, G. (2001, December). The cultural myths and the realities of teaching and learning. Unpublished Jean Herbison Lecture, 2001.

Tell a colleague | Back to top