NESA - Differentiated   programming

Students are individuals who learn at different rates and in different ways. These individual differences may influence how students respond to instruction and how they demonstrate what they know, understand and can do. 

Individual differences may include cognitive abilities, including students’ current level of understanding and ability in relation to a particular topic or skill, prior learning experiences, learning preferences, motivation and engagement with learning, interests and talents.

Through differentiated planning and programming, teachers can consider students’ varying needs, interests, abilities, and prior learning.

What is differentiation?

Differentiation is a targeted process that involves forward planning, programming and instruction. It involves the use of teaching, learning and assessment strategies that are fair and flexible, provide an appropriate level of challenge, and engage students in learning in meaningful ways. Differentiated programming recognises an interrelationship between teaching, learning and assessment that informs future teaching and learning.

Differentiated programming:

  • provides teaching, learning and assessment for learning experiences that cater for the diversity of learners so that all students can learn effectively
  • provides alternative methods and choices for students to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and skills
  • considers what resources and stimulus materials will assist students
  • includes a range of activities and resources appropriate for students with different learning needs and levels of achievement
  • promotes flexible learning experiences and encourages students to work at their own pace to develop their knowledge, understanding and skills
  • monitors student learning over time using evidence of student achievement to guide future teaching and learning opportunities
  • considers how individualised feedback to students can help identify student strengths and areas for improvement.

Differentiated programming provides students with opportunities to: 

  • demonstrate, in different ways, what they know, understand and can do at different points of the learning cycle
  • discuss with their teachers how they learn best
  • explore, experiment and engage with the concepts and principles underpinning what they learn
  • develop higher-order thinking and creative and critical thinking skills.

The diversity of learners

The K–10 Curriculum Framework reinforces that teachers, schools and school authorities will decide how to maximise student learning. This principle assumes that:

  • school communities and teachers require flexibility to develop programs, structures and pedagogical practices that meet the educational needs of their students and that challenge and extend students
  • the assessment of student achievement will guide decisions on how learning can be improved for each student.

The K–10 syllabuses are inclusive of the learning needs of all students. Particular advice about supporting students with disability, gifted and talented students, and students learning English as an additional language or dialect is included in the syllabus elements of each syllabus.

Schools will make decisions about meeting the needs of the diversity of learners with reference to documents and advice available from NESA and education sectors.

How can teachers differentiate?

Most students will participate fully in learning experiences based on the regular syllabus outcomes and content. Some students may require additional support or adjustment to teaching, learning and assessment for learning activities.

Teachers may differentiate the delivery of content where appropriate, and include a range of resources to support student learning.

Differentiation strategies may include:

- curriculum compacting

- providing key vocabulary

- developing individual learning goals

- including learning centres to facilitate guided or independent learning

- providing a variety of stimulus materials in a range of mediums.

Teachers may differentiate the learning activties by making modifications to instruction and student groupings.

Differentiation strategies may include providing opportunities for:

- tiered and levelled activities

- interest centres

- learning contracts

- problem-solving and challenge-based learning opportunities

- open-ended questioning

- group and independent study.

Teachers may differentiate the ways students demonstrate their learning based on their learning needs, interests, abilities and prior learning.

Differentiation strategies may include providing opportunities for:

- collaborative and individual learning

- project-based work

- student choice

- teacher/student dialogue around learning activities.

Teachers may differentiate the learning environment by considering the physical, virtual and social context where learning takes place.

Differentiation strategies may include consideration of the:

- structure and organisation of the classroom, including class routines

- ways students interact with and work with others by providing opportunities for individual, collaborative and whole class group work.

Teachers can differentiate assessment experiences by considering different types of assessment strategies and ways students can demonstrate their understanding to cater for different learning needs, interests and abilities.  

This resource has been provided by NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) who work with the NSW community to drive improvements in student achievement. You can find further information, news and updates on the NESA website.

© 2021 NSW Education Standards Authority for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales.

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