Differentiation and meeting student needs - film

Covered in this illustration of practice:

The High Potential and Gifted Education Policy describes a range of effective, evidence-based talent development strategies for high potential and gifted students (policy statement 1.4). Differentiation is just one of many evidence-based talent development strategies for these students.

Differentiation is most effective when used in combination with purposeful grouping, advanced learning pathways, explicit teaching, formative assessment, pre-testing and effective feedback.

This illustration of practice shines a light on why school leaders and teachers adjust programs and practices to enhance teaching and learning. Learn how to be meet the specific needs of high potential and gifted students. Gain an appreciation for the practice of school leaders and teachers who share their expertise in differentiation with their high potential and gifted students. Engage with students who share their experiences.

Differentiation and meeting student needs

Transcript of Differentiation video (8 minutes 31 seconds)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that this video may contain the images, voices and names of people who have passed away.

Differentiation High potential and gifted education


Narrator: Differentiation is one of many evidence-based strategies for high potential and gifted students and is most effective when used with purposeful grouping, advanced learning pathways, explicit teaching, and formative assessment and feedback. Differentiation recognises that individuals learn at different rates and in different ways. It refers to the deliberate adjustments applied to meet the specific learning needs of high potential and gifted students in the four domains of potential: intellectual, creative, social-emotional, and physical. Adjustments can be made to the content, what is being taught; the learning process, how the content is taught; the product, how the student demonstrates learning; or the learning environment, the physical and mental learning space created by the teacher.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that this video may contain the images, voices and names of people who have passed away.

Anhaar’s Story High potential and gifted education


Tracey Cunningham, Deputy Principal

Tracey: The key things that we learned, in our action research was around the importance of gifted students constantly operating on the edge of challenge. And that’s so that they are learning something and not repeating what they’ve already learned, what they’ve already mastered, but also to address issues of boredom and engagement. And they became really important drivers for curriculum and that opened up really important dialogue around what is differentiation and what does that need to look like for our students?

Nazli, former student

Nazli: If there's one message that I could give to teachers in NSW, it would be to remember that every student that you have is an individual and that there is no blanket syllabus that will be able to cater to everyone who's in your class. And I think it's very important to really get to know your students and see what they're interested in and try and feed that.

Bertha Coupe, Head Teacher

Bertha: So, in the TAS faculty, differentiation even across the school has become a really important focus. In order to differentiate, our first step was to focus on the first two standards of the teaching standards, which was obviously know your students and how they learned and know your content and how to teach it. In the classroom environment, we differentiate by having groupings individual so different types of learning styles and methods, modes of teaching strategies are also applied in terms.

Rebecca Ross, Head Teacher

Rebecca: There is a bit of a misconception that we have these little automaton children that come into our selective high schools but they're not, and they're still teenagers as well, and they have all of those issues that teenage children have. But on top of that, they have their, that high potential. They have that giftedness, they have that insatiable curiosity and that hunger for learning. And they will call you on it if the content isn't, you know, pitched appropriately for them, if it isn't challenging enough for them. You know, there will be a really noticeable kind of disgruntlement.

Susan Tickle, Principal

Susan: So, for the start of each unit of work what we do is we make sure we pre-test the students. That then allows us to put the students into fluid groupings for mathematics so that they're working at the level that they need to be. And then we have each of the teachers obviously focus on explicitly teaching all of the four groups within their classroom. We then finish each unit of work with the post-test and the focus on that is student growth and feedback.

Sarah Bryce, Teacher

Sarah: So, even within an OC classroom, there's obviously still a huge range of abilities. One of the things that we do with our students is a lot of pre-testing to find out where they are. So, for example, with mathematics our students come in and all sorts of different levels of content and skills, understandings. I pre-test them on all of the Year 5 content outcomes, and then I cluster group. Then depending on what skills, they still need to absorb or content they need to absorb.

Background chatter

Matthew, student

Matthew: But I think teachers’ kind of have to know where everyone’s at because I know in science, I've found it a bit harder this time, because I'm moving a lot slower, because feel like I finished the work and then I sit there for a while and I'm not retaining it because I'm just answering questions. I'm like, OK, that's the answer. So, I feel like if teachers had more of an approach where it's like you know what students are doing and the works almost a little bit more personalised, I'd like to have that ability to just keep working, like if I'm on a roll on this and I’ve finished the worksheet and I'm like, I want to learn more.

Lilly, student

Lilly: I think that teachers can best challenge me through, not providing extra work, but providing different work. I feel like a lot of subjects’ teachers lean towards having set work for the entire class and then providing an extra question or having to write more on it and that sort of puts people off a lot because it's creating more for you to do and like, even if you feel like you want to extend yourself, you're not necessarily going to want to do twice as much work as the rest of your class. So, I think, for example, our English assessment this year, it was quite good how we had a question and then a challenge question. So, there were two separate questions that were related to the same topic, but you didn't have to do one or the other to complete…whichever one you chose, which allowed students who wanted to push themselves more to the harder question, or students who wanted to do the other question.

Luca, student

Luca: I would say a good teacher needs to be able to be able to cater for everyone in the classroom in some way. So, for example, for all of the people with high intellect but also the people who need a little bit more help, so, someone who can, and also, someone who can also think of creative, exciting and engaging tasks that the children…yes, we are learning, but we're also having lots of fun doing it.

[live video rock music]

Fiona Gudmunson, Head Teacher

Fiona: The Rions are one group or one band we have at Barrenjoey High School. It's been something that's underpinned their development as students throughout Years 7 to 12. Being given the opportunities by the Barrenjoey staff to perform at outside venues, to be able to perform at wider communities, and then to have their parents support to be able to nurture their talent in the outside world music industry world and start that journey is really exciting for them.

Tom, student

Tom: The school staff and mentors have been a really big help in our development as a band and with creativity. We had a teacher, a music teacher, John Stone, who was a very big influence for us and a big support. He brought us, you know into the industry, gave us gigs around locally, even took us on a band tour.

Fiona: Enjoy your students, get to know them. You know, get to know every single student, even the quiet ones in the corner, because quite often they're the ones who are just really wanting to show what they can do, as they all have their own abilities and skills that can be developed and nurtured in many different ways. And that's why we have differentiation in the classroom.


Tom: Cheers.

Narrator: Thank you for taking the time to learn more about how teachers and leaders have differentiated in the four domains of potential at their schools. How do you do visit your school? What ideas could you discuss?


Find the potential

Develop the talent

Make the difference

Copyright 2020 NSW Department of Education

We acknowledge NSW Primary Principals’ Association, NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, The NSW Teachers Federation, The NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, The Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations of NSW, The Isolated Children’s Parents Association, Gifted Learners with Disability Australia, Gifted Families Support Group, Academics and consultants from across NSW, Australia and internationally, Departmental staff, Principals, School leaders and teachers.

End of transcript

Questions for professional learning

For school leaders:

  • What would a whole school plan look like to implement pretesting in every classroom in order to find each student’s entry point into their learning? How could this data be monitored and tracked?
  • Identify one key action from the High Potential and Gifted Education Policy that you consider is the next step to promoting differentiation across your school. This could be identifying a domain that needs strengthening.
  • Compare the differentiation practices in your school with those practices demonstrated by schools in the film. How might you celebrate and enhance some of the practices across your school?

For teachers:

  • How well do you use differentiation with the following strategies across the four domains? What evidence do you have of impact? Provide three ways you can further improve your practices.
    • explicit teaching
    • formative assessment
    • pretesting
    • effective feedback
    • differentiated assessment
    • advanced learning pathways and mentoring
  • Grouping is an effective talent development strategy, providing the content, process, product and learning environment are adjusted for each group. Reframe your current practices to include purposeful grouping for high potential and gifted students.
  • During a stage or faculty meeting, discuss strategies that can help teachers manage a classroom and meet individual learning needs simultaneously.


  • Teaching and learning


  • Building capacity
  • Implement

Business Unit:

  • Educational Standards
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