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Differentiation and the Australian National Curriculum Framework [Hook, Cook, Look]

Differentiation and the Australian National Curriculum Framework [Hook, Cook, Look]

January 24, 2022

A sea of new faces, expectations, and challenges - there is a lot up in the air we don’t know including a revised Australian Curriculum. 

January brings teachers and leaders opportunities. Opportunities to take a fresh look at programs and learning goals. Opportunities to make new connections. Opportunities to be deliberate about being inclusive and planning for differentiation in curriculum and assessment.

Let's think about the year ahead. HOOK, COOK & LOOK will help you in your planning:

1) Making Connections: HOOK 

  • Look from your classroom door – is your classroom inviting? Is it inclusive? Does it make links to student lives/interests/experiences? How do peripherals link to important big ideas of content and process? What resources might be needed to ensure access for all? Are resources freely available and easily accessible? Is there space for student work displays?
  • Make daily connections – greet every student at the door, positively reinforce good behaviours from the get-go; use routines that include responses from every student (eg. Think/Pair/Share/Square; electronic response tools; exit cards; morning meetings, target teaching to smaller groups; formative assessments, coaching questions, closing circles); eat lunch with students; join in games; give positive feedback; establish collaborative routines.
  • Consider both inside and outside environments as catalysts for learning.
  • Celebrate (and plan for) diversity – culture, interests, brains
  • Include students as co-collaborators in curriculum, in setting up classroom environments and their own learning (e.g. create a set of 3 – 5 classroom norms together; involve them in decisions about curriculum directions and areas of interest/focus; provide choices of topics and assessments and provide routines and opportunities for self and peer assessment).
  • Ensure assessments provide opportunities to show deeper understandings. McTighe argues that students earn understandings through the active manipulation of content via higher-order thinking skills (making meaning) that leads to a deeper understanding of big ideas and build the ability to apply or transfer learning to new situations both in and beyond school. (McTighe & Silver, 2020)

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.” (Haim Ginot)

2) Making Meaning: COOK 


The design of curriculum shapes pedagogy and pedagogy affects how our students experience school. (Hartl and Riley, 2021)

  • Key knowledge, understandings, and skills for each unit are identified. The revised Australian Curriculum Version 9.0 has a clear focus on understandings and connections within and between learning areas. Focus units on providing students with opportunities for meaning-making around big ideas and concepts. 
  • Student learning needs: provide differentiated opportunities for students to construct understandings by connecting to what they know and providing challenges and scaffolds as needed (think Vygotsky’s ZPD – zone of proximal development). (Vygotsky, 1978)
  • Clear and compelling learning goals are known by the teacher and the student. (Hattie, 2012; Wiliam, 2011)
  • Guaranteed, viable curriculum for your students in your classroom (Marzano, 2017). Include content that connects with a diverse world, students’ lived experiences, interests, and cultures.
  • Student voice and choice
  • Powerful executive functions (e.g. critical thinking, creative thinking, and communication skills) for long-term equity and success for all.
  • High expectations for all.


As experts in our student's learning needs, we provide differentiated opportunities for students to make meaning, construct understandings by connecting what they know and can do with the essentials they are trying to learn. (Tomlinson 2020)

  • Make sure your curriculum has mirrors, windows, and doors (Rudine Sims Bishop, 1990, Hartl and Riley 2021): 
    • Mirrors that affirm and celebrate their own identities (be deliberate about text choices; illustrative examples; choice, reflection).
    • Windows that help them learn about and understand others (explore new worlds, develop social-emotional traits, connect with others in other parts of the world –technologies create a myriad of opportunities for this).
    • Doorways that present them with opportunities to be agents of change (provide opportunities for students to be activists about local issues and problems; use authentic assessments; professional programs e.g. Sibelius, myob, Autocad, GIA, phone tools; or global projects e.g. citizen science, TakingITGlobal, maker4maker, iearn).

“Moment by moment throughout our lifetime, our brains hum with the work of making meaning: weaving together many thousands of threads of information into all manner of thoughts, feelings, memories, and ideas.” (Daniel Tamnet)

3) Making Sure: LOOK 

  • Tailor instruction to assessment-indicated student needs: Tomlinson (2020) calls on us to be ‘diagnosticians’ prescribing the best possible instruction based on students’ content knowledge and skills and on our emerging understanding of students’ progress in mastering key content and skills.
  • Align assessment to established learning goals: Instruction works best when its carefully aligned to learning goals and designed to address the needs indicated by both formal and informal assessments.
  • Know your impact: Use formative assessment, formal and informal to diagnose student progress (e.g. active questioning and observation; use electronic tools – Quizzlet Live, Quizzizz, Socrative, Kahoot, Flipgrid or a tool designed by students – Gimkit; interactive slides – Nearpod, Pear Deck; Parlay; edpuzzle; see Dotpoint 2 in Hook for more formative strategies). Dylan Wiliam (2011) reminds us that teaching is largely about “engineering effective learning environments” for the students. Effective learning environments encourage students’ engagement and allow teachers, learners, and their peers to ensure that learning is proceeding in the right direction. The only way we can do this is through assessment. 
  • Scaffold: (e.g. chunking new material to avoid cognitive overload, verbal and visual cues, models and worked examples, guided practice, breaking complex tasks into simple steps, retrieval practice, graphic organisers) 
  • Feedback: Wiliam argues that good feedback causes thinking. (e.g. rubrics, WAGOLLs -collections of work samples, online tools for quick check-ins e.g. zoom tools, Mentimeter, Slido, mini-whiteboards, exit tickets, reflection tools, pre-flight checklists, two stars and a wish, jigsaw, traffic lights, PMI)

Unpacking Formative Assessment

Figure 1: (Wiliam, Twitter, 2018)

  • Align Learning Goals, Assessment & Instruction: (e.g. Eduplanet21 is a useful platform that provides teachers with an efficient process and template for quality curriculum planning to ensure a coherent curriculum that is aligned to standards, focused on big ideas, and understandable from the perspective of the students. It links to Australian and State curriculum documents and has useful functions for collaboration, analysis, and differentiation)

Tip: Set goals for your own professional learning. e.g. it might be to try using one new tool deliberately each term. 


As you begin the new school year consider how you facilitate and support a guaranteed and viable curriculum for all. 

Eduplanet21 provides a platform and backward design process for high-quality curriculum planning and collaboration, easy links to the Australian Curriculum including updates, functions for analysis, and alignment. 

Curriculum work is supported with Professional Learning Institutes, including Understanding by Design with Jay McTighe, Differentiation in the Classroom with Carol Tomlinson, and Social Emotional Learning with Krista Leh. For a complete list of titles and authors, visit our PLUS Institutes page

About the Author

Janelle McGann is a Customer Success Manager with Eduplanet21. In addition, she is a consultant, lecturer, and training associate for McTighe (UbD), Tomlinson (Differentiation), and Hawker Brownlow Education in Australia.


Hartl, S. & Riley, C. High Quality Curriculum as a Transformation Tool for Equity in ASCD Express, March 25, 2021; Volume 16; Issue 14.

Hattie, J. (2011) Visible Learning for Teachers. UK: Taylor & Francis LTD.

Marzano, R. (2017) The New Art and Science of Teaching. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press

McTighe, J. & Silver, H. (2020) Teaching for Deeper Learning: Tools to Engage Students in Making Meaning. Alexandria, US: ASCD

Tomlinson, C. (2021), So Each May Soar: The Principles and Practices of Learner-Centred Classrooms. Alexandria, US: ASCD.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wiliam, D. (2017) Embedding Formative Assessment. Bloomington, US: Solution Tree Press.

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