Phases approach to conceptual programming

The sample teaching and learning resources guiding the implementation of the Stage 4 and 5 section of the English K-10 Syllabus (2022) are designed through the Phases approach.


The phases approach to conceptual programming was developed initially at the start of 2020 to support the organisation of teaching materials during the first 'Learning from Home' period.

The aim was to organise the teaching and learning progression for the typical Stage 6 module into clearly defined sections so that the English curriculum team could deliver teaching support materials in a way that aligned syllabus content to pedagogical strategies in an accessible way for teachers.

These sections were called 'Phases' and organised into 8 for Stage 6. Examples of the learning materials developed for Stage 6 utilising this approach are available on the Planning, programming and assessing English 11-12 section of the English curriculum web pages.

The term ‘phase’ helps to focus planning by identifying the specific purpose of each section within a teaching program. The phases are closely aligned to the English textual concept ‘learning processes’ of understanding, engaging personally, connecting, engaging critically, experimenting, and reflecting. As such, each phase focuses teacher and student attention onto the key learning disposition that frames each section of the program.

For Stage 6, this can be seen in the grouping of phases, their names and the English Textual Concept learning processes alignment (in brackets):

Note that the ‘phase statements’ for each of the Stage 6 Phases are available on....

Rationale for the Phases

The phases are best thought of as a planning, reflection and focusing tool. They assist planning as they break down the onerous task of sequencing learning across a program into manageable sections. They deepen reflection and focus on teaching practice by encouraging the faculty and teacher to consider the aims of each of those sections and ensure that strategies, texts and assessments are meeting those aims.

The approach is research-based and is designed to be adaptive. It aims to support the sequencing and progression of learning based on sound pedagogical principles. These are identified as: clear learning intentions, specific student activity process verbs linked to outcome content, and the organisation of interactions in the learning environment that extend from teacher-directed, through guided and collaborative to independent practice.

The matching of learning intentions and specific outcome content points with the most appropriate and effective strategies, is intended to foster the development of deep student conceptual engagement in Stage 6 modules, and deep learning through conceptual understanding in Stages 4 and 5.

Key features of the Phases approach

The Stage 6 Phases have been adapted for use within the Stage 4 and 5 space to support the implementation of the new English K-10 syllabus (2022). The English curriculum team has produced sample materials including teaching and learning programs, resource booklets, sample assessment notifications and tasks, and core text booklets to support faculties in preparing to teach the syllabus. All sample programs, available through the Planning, programming and assessing English 7-10 page, are structured into phases.

Each phase:

  • begins with an overview (or ‘phase statement’) that outlines the key teaching and learning focus of the phase
  • has a suggested duration
  • contains 2 to 4 ‘conceptual programming questions’ that guide the specific activities so that they maintain a focus on the conceptual understanding and deep learning that underpin the specific work of subject English called for in that section of the program
  • contains several teaching and learning sequences arranged as rows in the teaching and learning table
  • contains a series of learning intentions and success criteria aligned to: outcome content groups and content points; teaching and learning activities; evidence of learning suggestions
  • maintains a focus on conceptual understanding by linking content and activities back to the phase overview and conceptual guiding questions throughout.

The number of phases, their names and layout have been adjusted for the Stage 4 and 5 space.

Note that there are slight variations to the naming within individual programs to reflect the forms and conceptual focus.

Understanding and adapting the sample programs

The principles and design features that underpin this approach make adapting the sample programs possible for a range of educational contexts.
These include:

  • learning intentions that state where the teacher expects the students to get to by the end of the learning sequence (or as a result of the learning activities)
  • learning intentions that are stated in terms of general learning terms such as ‘understand…be able to…know…’
  • learning processes that guide the choice of teaching and learning activity; while teacher activity may be described, the focus is on the careful choice of student verbs such as ‘explore…discuss…analyse…compose…’ that link learning activities to learning intentions and the specific outcome content points (identified in the top tabs of the teaching and learning table)
  • learning processes within a sequence and across a phase which typically follow research-based principles such as the 5E model (engage-explore-explain-elaborate-evaluate) or Jones and Johnston’s (2010) sequence of establishing conceptual focus, developing the concept, solidifying the concept, developing procedures and skills, applying, and assessing formatively
  • teacher-student interactions across a phase and within a sequence which generally align with the gradual release of responsibility model: interest and background knowledge are activated, teacher directed learning is organised, then increasing student collaboration and guided learning leads to student-centred experimentation and independent and applied practice.

Supporting your programming work

The design features and underlying principles of the phases approach to conceptual programming are intended to support faculty-based professional learning, as well as processes of adapting the sample programs to local contextual needs. Teachers and faculty teams could engage with the materials in a range of ways including:

  • Explore one phase from a sample program then investigate an existing faculty unit of work. Look at the equivalent ‘section’ of the existing unit and examine how the phase statement and accompanying design features may support the refinement of the focus of the existing unit.
  • Examine the phase titles and conceptual guiding questions then explore how they may be adapted to suit the needs of an existing unit of work.
  • Explore the conceptual understanding that is the overall focus of the sample program. Investigate how this focus is supported, extended and deepened at each phase. Use this understanding to design a new program for the faculty or redesign an existing one.
  • Examine one existing faculty unit through the phases and split sections into phases. Create year or stage-based programming teams and support the collaborative refinement of a current program. It is important that all team members agree on the conceptual guiding questions, assessment plans and texts selected and that these plans align with scope and sequences. Teams or individuals can work on individual phases by dividing the learning into the required sequences. Individuals or teams can bring their work back to the faculty and engage in a critical friend feedback process.
  • Examine the flow of teaching and learning within one sequence in a sample program. Analyse the connections between activities and outcomes, and their connection to evidence of learning. Evaluate the effectiveness of the sequence then repeat the process for a sequence within a faculty created unit of work.

  • 'Lesson design just doesn’t phase me – programming for deep learning (Part 1)’
    Scan, 42(3), 30–38. (Article explaining the link between the Phases and conceptual programming. Part 2 in process).
  • Statewide staffroom professional learning meetings (staff only) – Week 5 term 2 recording: Conceptual programming in English – syllabus implementation in action.

Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) (2023) Universal design for learning, CAST, Inc. accessed 8 September 2023.

Jones, M. G. & Johnston, S. (2010). Using lesson design as a vehicle for faculty professional development. PRIMUS, 20(7), 575–590.

Lesley University. (n.d.). Empowering students: The 5E model explained.

NSW Department of Education & English Teachers Association NSW (2016) English textual concepts, accessed 8 September 2023.

NSW Department of Education (2020) Quality teaching classroom practice guide, QT Academy, 3rd edn.

Pearson PD and Gallagher M (1983) ‘The Instruction of Reading Comprehension’, Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8(3):317–344. doi:10.1016/0361-476X(83)90019-X. hdl:2142/17939.

State of New South Wales (Department of Education) (2023) Planning, programming and assessing English 7-10, accessed 8 September 2023

State of New South Wales (NSW Education Standards Authority) English K–10 Syllabus © NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales, 2022.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design (expanded), Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


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