Productive teaching is inclusive

Differentiating support for the range of learners

The goal

Successful learners, confident & creative individuals and active & informed citizens

Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, MCEETYA, 2008

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) paper, Student Diversity and the Australian Curriculum: Advice for principals, schools and teachers (2013), states the importance of:

  • a high quality curriculum for all Australian students, one that promotes excellence and equity in education.
  • all students are entitled to rigorous, relevant and engaging learning programs drawn from a challenging curriculum that addresses their individual learning needs. (p. 4)

See ACARA (2013) for:

  • ‘Flowchart—Using the Australian Curriculum to meet the learning needs of all students
  • general ideas regarding ‘curriculum’, ‘instructional’ and ‘environmental’ adjustments
  • specific advice regarding:
    —’students with disability’ (noting provision of curriculum ‘on the same basis’)
    —’gifted and talented’ students
    —’students for whom English is an additional language or dialect’.

Strategies for differentiating support in this resource draw on ACARA (2013) as well as research and best practice. These strategies respond to the ‘three key questions’ that underpin learningajency resources:

  1. What do my learners need to understand and be able to do?
  2. How will my learners demonstrate what they understand and can do?
  3. How will I support the range of learners in my class to complete the assessment tasks successfully?

Question 1

What do my learners need to understand and be able to do?

Differentiate curriculum at unit/activity level by:

  • making ‘curriculum adjustments‘ based on three dimensions of the Australian Curriculum:
    drawing on learning area content at different levels along the [Prep] to Year 10 sequence to adjust age-equivalent content [in line with sector requirements; with aspiration that learners are accessing own age-equivalent curriculum where possible, see Nayer, 2011]
    drawing from and emphasising specific aspects of one or more of the general capabilities to adjust the learning focus in a particular learning area (e.g. teaching targeted literacy …through a science lesson)
    drawing from and emphasising specific aspects of one or more of the cross-curriculum priorities to adjust the learning focus of a particular learning area (e.g. providing opportunities to examine historical perspectives from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander viewpoint (ACARA, 2013, p. 7).
  • using a conceptual and connected BIG question (+ sub-Qs) (Nayler, 2014) to drive the teaching/learning with the BIG Q—in its variations if needed—serving the class, individuals and/or groups.

Question 2

How will my learners demonstrate what they understand and can do?

Differentiate the product or assessment at unit/activity level by:

  • using assessment for learning (diagnostic), assessment as learning (formative) and assessment of learning (summative) to support ongoing learning.
  • varying/negotiating the assessment product in terms of:
    different text types/genres (when a particular genre is not required by all learners)
    —number of items/length of items
    —extent to which the assessment task is connected to real-world problems/contexts
    —the audience (e.g. people from industry, university, government and so on)
    topic where possible (within the required content)
    —different time frames for learners, where appropriate.
  • building learner assessment capacity through a range of collaborative groupings (e.g. mixed ability; all advanced learners but ensuring a range of groupings) by completing activities such as:
    —learners grading assessment samples against task-specific standards descriptors of the relevant valued features or criteria (see ‘students as assessors’)
    —check-in points to monitor learning and achievement.
  • providing feedback to individuals based on where they are and where they need to be in relation to what they need to know and be able to do. Vary the feedback in terms of what, when and how for the range of learners.

Question 3

How will I support the range of learners in my class to complete the assessment tasks successfully?

Differentiate the teaching/learning at unit/activity level through:

  1. Providing different levels of teacher direction: at the broad level, design structured teaching/learning utilising a range of approaches: direct, indirect, collaborative and experiential, adjusting the balance depending on the class, individuals and groups as well as according to the learning area/subject and topic. Use different strategies within these broad approaches for specific individuals and groups such as:
    —within direct teaching: ‘peel off strategy'; modelling/demonstrating for class, individuals and groups; explicit and systematic instruction; vary levels of prompting; student ‘think aloud’ or verbalisation
    within indirect teaching: reciprocal teaching; peer tutoring, independent projects; group projects.
  2. Varying resource materials: range of representations of teaching/learning materials on same concept or skill (e.g. multi-media, simplified texts, captioned video, illustrated texts).
  3. Grouping students for collaborative learning: using a range of approaches: heterogeneous or missed ability*, friendship, topic, skill-based, ability (use judiciously e.g. for advanced learners or intervention for students struggling with concepts or skills).
  4. Thinking skills taxonomies e.g. ‘three-storey intellect’ (Bellanca & Fogarty, 1991)—gathering, processing and applying; other resources that support critical and creative thinking e.g. Socratic questioning (Paul, 1995).
  5. Questioning skills frameworks e.g. 6Ws + 1 H; ‘strategic questioning’ (Peavey & Hutchinson, 1993).
  6. Environmental adjustments‘:
    —use of technology, and augmentative and alternative communication systems—providing peer assistance (for example, using buddy systems, peer-assisted learning and peer tutoring)
    —use of support personnel
    —changes to buildings and classrooms (ACARA, 2013, p. 9)

See also ‘instructional adjustments‘ from ACARA (2013).

Specific advice

For students with special needs

  • Reasonable adjustments might include:
    —reducing length of assessment task
    —providing extra time, rest breaks, split sessions
    —accepting computer generated products
    —having alternate formats for assessment tasks
    —consideration of setting – lighting, provision of distraction free area
    —use of adaptive/specialised equipment
    —simplifying the language of the directions, interpreter (sign language)
    —provide a writer/reader
    —provide Braille or large print, graphic presentations
    —use audio taped questions.

(Guidelines for students with disabilities, DET, 2009 p. 26)

For ‘advanced learners’ (‘gifted and talented students’)

The Maker (1982) model proposes modifications for advanced learners in relation to the content, processes [of learning] and the product.

In terms of modifying the content for advanced learners consider making it more: abstract (e.g. focus on abstract concepts, themes and theories); complex (e.g. expanding the number and difficulty of concepts); and varied (e.g. students working on different aspects of a broad theme and in their interest areas).

In terms of modifying the process for advanced learners consider providing them with:
—opportunities for more higher-order thinking
—open-ended questions
—more opportunities requiring student proof and articulation of reasoning
—collaborative work with like-ability peers.

In terms of modifying the product for advanced learners consider making opportunities for creating products that:
—address real-world problems
—are for real audiences
—evaluated by appropriate audiences, as well as themselves and peers.

For more details go to:

See: Nayler, J. (2011) Enacting the Australian Curriculum: Planning issues and strategies for P-10 multiple year level classrooms. QSA Issues paper.
Nayler, J. (2014) Enacting the Australian Curriculum: Making connections for quality learning. QSA Issues paper.

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