Enabling factors for explicit teaching

Central to the effective use of explicit teaching are the enabling factors.

Students learn best in safe and inclusive environments that consider the cultural, social, emotional, behavioural and physical aspects of learning. Teachers hold high expectations of learning for every student. They use their deep knowledge of curriculum and their understanding of how learning occurs to plan effective learning for all students (AITSL n.d).

Know students and how they learn

The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (Standard 1) requires all teachers to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of research into how students learn and the implications for teaching.

Research findings on cognitive load theory and how students learn inform schools’ teaching and learning decisions. Teachers use their knowledge of how learning happens to make decisions about teaching strategies. They also consider their students’ physical, social and intellectual development (AITSL n.d).

When learning is new or complex, teachers select explicit teaching strategies to ensure early success of all learners. They monitor the learning of all students, so they know where the students are now in their learning. Teachers move fluidly back and forth between modelling and guided and independent practice to best support student learning.

What it isn’t

  • Managing cognitive load doesn’t mean only teaching simple concepts or avoiding teaching complex concepts.
  • Explicit teaching doesn't mean following a script or a rigid path for instruction.

Know content and how to teach it

Subject matter expertise is crucial when planning and using explicit teaching strategies. Standard 2 of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers underscores the significance of deep content and pedagogical knowledge. Teachers select from a range of evidence-based strategies that best suit the content and their students.

A key principle of explicit teaching is understanding what knowledge students need in order to build understanding. Teachers use their subject matter knowledge to identify and elicit prior learning, so that students develop increasingly complex schemas (CESE 2017). They make important decisions about sequencing learning, when to revisit key concepts and when to move ahead.

What it isn’t

  • Being an expert in an area of knowledge without consideration for how that knowledge is connected, sequenced and developed for learners.
  • Moving through a sequence of learning without giving students ample time to consolidate new learning through practice (AERO 2023).

High expectations

Students who experience high expectations achieve greater academic success.

Expectations are high when teachers hold the expectation that all students can learn important knowledge and skills that are challenging for them (NSW Department of Education 2020).

All students in NSW public schools deserve their teacher’s high expectations for their learning.

A student’s performance and achievement can be linked to their teacher’s high expectations for their learning. When teachers hold the belief that their student will progress in their learning, they are more likely to provide appropriate challenge to stretch students. Having success in learning can improve a student’s motivation and behaviour in future learning. This supports the student’s growth to higher levels of understanding and achievement. These conclusions are drawn from studies like ‘Pygmalion in the classroom’, by Rosenthal and Jacobson as cited in CESE’s What works best 2020 update.

What it isn’t

It isn't about setting unrealistic or unattainable goals for students without support. Instead, it's about setting challenging goals with scaffolds and support.

Safe, inclusive learning environment

Students learn best in safe and inclusive environments. These environments support the cultural, social, emotional, behavioural and physical aspects of learning. Creating these environments is recognised as a core part of teacher professional practice in Standard 4 of the Australian Professional Standards for teachers (AITSL n.d).

By cultivating a school culture where diversity is celebrated and student voice is valued, leaders can establish the foundation for meaningful learning experiences to occur.

The Quality Teaching Model emphasises that students learn best in environments that support their culture and social aspects of learning. This aligns with the notion that safe and inclusive classrooms are essential for optimising student learning experiences (NSW Department of Education 2020). ‘Strong Strides Together’ outlines the importance of positive relationships, culturally responsive teaching and culturally safe environments for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students (CESE 2022).

When introducing new classroom routines and strategies, for example checking for understanding, teachers consider the social and emotional aspects of learning. New routines should be taught and rehearsed, with additional support provided as required in the form of constructive feedback (AERO 2023).

What it isn’t

  • It isn’t about creating a homogeneous environment, instead, it acknowledges and respects individual perspectives, backgrounds and experiences.
  • It isn't about avoiding ‘checking for understanding’. Rather, teachers consider how they can support students to adjust to new routines, and they create classroom environments where students feel safe to share questions and misunderstandings.

Further reading

AERO (Australian Education Research Organisation) (2023) Knowledge is central to learning, AERO, accessed 16 April 2024.

AERO (Australian Education Research Organisation) (2023) Teaching routines: Their role in classroom management, AERO, accessed 17 April 2024.

AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) (n.d) Teacher Standards, AITSL, accessed 16 April 2024.

CESE (Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation) (2017) Cognitive load theory: Research that teachers really need to understand, NSW Department of Education, accessed 16 April 2024.

CESE (Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation) (2012) Strong Strides Together: Meeting the Educational goals for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students (PDF 8.9 MB) , NSW Department of Education, accessed 18 April 2024.

NSW Department of Education (2020) Quality Teaching Model, NSW Department of Education, accessed 16 April 2024.


  • Teaching and learning


  • Explicit teaching

Business Unit:

  • Curriculum and Reform
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