Differentiate teaching and learning

School executive and all classroom/subject teachers need to be made aware of issues impacting on refugee students' ability to engage with learning and to consider ways of differentiating assessment, programming and teaching for refugee students for a period of time. In some cases it may take considerable time for students to participate actively in learning – they may require a ‘settling in’ period.

All teachers of refugee students share responsibility in meeting their emotional, social and learning needs, and should consider the impact of English language proficiency on academic progress.

Students who can communicate well in informal situations but who have limited listening, speaking, reading or writing skills in academic English, can face difficulties participating in learning and assessment across the curriculum. Lack of previous education or disrupted schooling can mean that some refugee students operate at literacy and numeracy levels well below their peers. They may also have considerable gaps in their understanding of curriculum concepts, school routines and expectations.

Teachers will need to differentiate assessment tasks and activities within their teaching and learning programs to allow students to access and demonstrate understanding of stage appropriate outcomes despite differing levels of language and literacy.

See how teachers provide authentic learning contexts for refugee students and differentiate teaching and learning in the video Rich tasks.

Rich tasks


Laura Roby, ESL Teacher, Bossley Park High School

Jacquie Browne, ESL Teacher, Blacktown Girls High School

Karin Harrison, ESL Teacher, Blacktown Girls High School

Sue Mayhew, ESL Teacher, Marsden Road Public School

Sean Grady, Learning and Support Team Coordinator, Mt Druitt Public School

Barbara Colreavy, ESL Teacher, Mt Druitt Public School

Laura: Today we're going to continue on with our lesson from yesterday, can anyone refresh our memory, what we were looking at?

Student: Um, heroes.

Laura: Rich tasks are a great learning instrument for any child, but particularly for a refugee child.

Jacquie: Ok, ladies, in your interviews you told me that you love girl magazines.

I think a rich task is very very beneficial for refugee students because it's not really textbook based, it's not really worksheet based, it's actually, real life learning.

Laura: What would we define a villain to be?

Student: Well, villains are bad people.

Laura: There's always language being thrown around the classroom, so the exposure to different terminology and vocabulary, and just other people's points of view, it's just a wonderful experience.

So who is the person that we're studying in this unit?

Jacquie: Rich tasks tend to be collaborative.

Laura: Ned Kelly - is he a hero or a villain?

Jacquie: They usually involve experiential learning, they work towards an authentic end product.

Why did you choose that one?

Student: Um, cause Vanessa's in it, and Chris Brown and Rhianna.

Jacquie: Sometimes their problem based so they might include skills and content knowledge from different curriculum areas. They really are engaging, interesting, challenging, and real world, and that's what makes them rich.

Who would the audience be for these magazines?

Student: Girls?

Jacquie: Girls.

Karin: The girls are very interested because it's something that they see as coming from their own interests, and also having a very practical application.

(Uplifting music)

Sue: Marsden Road Public School celebrated 50 years last year of being in existence, so we thought as a rich task, we would produce a book of games that were played in Marsden Road, 50 years ago.

What was the game we were talking about, last lesson?

We taught these games to the students. We played games like hopscotch, and a game called fly, we played marbles. As we played the games there was lots of language happening, you could see how they enjoyed it.

All right, first of all, throw it into number 1.

As they acquired these skills, we took photos of them, and then they had to write up a little description of the game, and we actually produced a hardcover book.

Sean: The rich learning tasks incorporate so much, and it really engages the kids, the use of technology, the different focus you can have on different areas. The focus for our IEC for example was bushrangers. So Barbara came up with the idea of well let's make a movie about a bushranger called, I think it was Moonshine Joe.

(Guitar music)

Barbara: It gave them a real world and real life experience, but it developed the language, it developed their understanding of the context, it was fun, and it was appropriate at all different levels because there were children that had minimal English that were able to be a part of it.

(Guitar music)

Sean: It culminated in parents being invited up, the principal's invited to sit down and watch the premiere of the movie Moonshine Joe.

Student: Please Moonshine Joe you have to help me!

Barbara: So whatever goes with a movie premiere: popcorn, tickets, seating, they all had a role.

(Guitar music)

Laura: OK, we've done our research. We may need to do a little more, but this is the beginning. Soon we're going to go away and you're going to become the lawyers. And you're going to have to stand up, and prove Ned Kelly a hero, or a villain.

He was arrested so that makes him...guilty?

Student: he was arrested

Laura: 'A', double 'R', 'E', 'S', 'T'.

Narrator: Rich learning tasks can provide an authentic context for curriculum and language learning. However high levels of scaffolding are necessary to ensure success.

Jacquie: So, when I say to you what would the purpose of these magazines be? What does the word 'purpose' mean to you?

Students: Purpose...the reason?

Jacquie: Good. A rich task needs to be highly scaffolded to cater for the needs of students, building opportunities for success over time, and suddenly you've got kids doing things that you'd never thought they'd do.

Sue: Now, remember I was telling you about the games played in the playground 50 years ago?

Whole class: Hopscotch!

[End of transcript]


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