The biggest mistake of past centuries in teaching has been to treat all students as if they were variants of the same individual and thus to feel justified in teaching them all the same subjects the same way – Howard Gardner

Designing equitable learning experiences that acknowledge and value the contributions and outcomes of all students is a crucial component in the realisation of inclusive schooling.

Inclusive lesson design requires teachers to adopt and enact evidence-based pedagogical practices in order to ensure that all students are not only accessing and participating, but are engaged and learning.

Although the flowchart provided by ACARA (see here) is a credibly view of how curriculum adjustments can occur through the three-dimensional design of the Australian Curriculum, the reality is, the process into contextual implementation requires deeper consideration of the breadth of influences and variables that exist in the transformation from theory to practice.

Further guidance and professional knowledge on the intricate application to the human side of learning – that is, connecting with and knowing what to do for the individual students that sit behind the curriculum positioning, is an important component. This, in combination with an acute awareness of curriculum design and alignment in its entire construct, is the intimate detail that is missing from the advice.

It is this lack of precision and purposeful practicality that is generating a knowing/doing gap. Educators have indicated that for students with disability they inconsistently use the Australian Curriculum for planning and programming personalised learning, instead relying upon pre-existing state-based curriculum instruments and dated practices, which often result in separation and segregated responses.

When a systematic process to lesson design is applied, the full breadth of student diversity can be captured and supported within one core lesson that stems from the regular, age-equivalent learning area curriculum. Therefore, in order to embrace the inclusive intentions of the Australian Curriculum framework, further exploration of its application with increased detail and revision is explored below:

edited flow chart
Loren Swancutt 2018

High Impact Practices:

High Impact Practices are a level of pedagogy that encompass inclusive principles in combination with effective teaching strategies. Such practices underpin the inclusive lesson design process:

  • highly focused lessons with sharp objectives;
  • high demands for student involvement and engagement;
  • high levels of interaction and collaborative learning;
  • appropriate use of teacher questioning, modelling and explaining;
  • structured, worked examples with scaffolding;
  • guided and differentiated support and intervention;
  • developing student metacognition;
  • frequent exposure and practice;
  • and regular use of encouragement and authentic feedback.


Effective teacher collaboration is defined as engaging in regular routines where teachers communicate about classroom experiences in an effort to strengthen pedagogical expertise. It involves a community of individuals working together to achieve a common goal through the sharing of knowledge, practice, and problems.

Effective collaboration encourages ongoing data analysis and feedback among colleagues where a culture of professional dialogue, experimentation and critique becomes common place.

Collaborating with colleagues and multidisciplinary teams in relation to curriculum, pedagogy and assessment, leads to collective responsibility of student outcomes. The focus shifts from the limitations of individual capacity, instead utilising the collective base of expertise and capability of a school faculty as a whole. Opportunities to learn from colleagues arise as knowledge and expertise is shared and multiple solutions to problems are generated.

High Expectations:

High expectations as a principle acknowledges that effective learning occurs in environments in which all students are expected to achieve regardless of their background, circumstances or functional impacts.

It is about recognising and valuing the worth and contribution of every student, and presuming competence.

High expectations are informed by data and reflected in comprehensive and challenging learning experiences. They are achieved when there is collective responsibility for student outcomes, and when they manifest in the school culture, the curriculum demands and student outcomes.

Student Clarity:

For lessons to be responsive, it is important for teachers to know their students as learners. Knowing students is about more than acquiring superficial level facts and information. It is instead the gathering and analysis of data for the purpose of learning about what intrinsically motivates and engages a student, and what supports and strategies best serve them as individuals during the vulnerability of learning.

Seeking and obtaining student voice and clarity around what impacts they experience, allows for lessons to be designed in a manner which are both physiologically and psychologically safe for every learner. They ensure provision of differentiation through flexible curriculum delivery, individualised supports and innovative approaches to learning.

One way of capturing knowledge of students is through the use of One Page Profiles – more information can be found here.

Curriculum Clarity:

To achieve optimal learning outcomes, teachers need clarity of the curriculum intent for a unit of study – that is, a deep understanding of what to teach and why, how to effectively teach it, and what success looks like. This approach goes well beyond simply knowing what lessons will be taught across a day. It is instead a powerful process for determining a sharp and narrow focus, eliminating aspects of instruction that do not enhance learning, and having a clear line of sight between curriculum content, achievement standards and summative assessment requirements.

Along the way, teacher clarity reinforces the gradual release of responsibility from teaching to learning. It promotes the idea that teachers know what effect they have on student learning, and that learning is made visible through metacognitive processes and assessment literacy.

Curriculum clarity is derived via a three step process that is enacted prior to, and during the teaching and learning process:

1. Curriculum Alignment
2. Learning Intentions and Success Criteria
3. Learning Progressions

Curriculum Alignment

Curriculum alignment is the establishment of exactly what students need to know, do and think in order to successfully demonstrate competency against the learning area Achievement Standard of the Australian Curriculum.

It involves a unit of study unpacking process that identifies the age-equivalent assessable Content Descriptors, their connection to the Achievement Standard, and their representation in the summative assessment item and marking guide.

It ensures that all assessment demands are highly responsive to the curriculum intent, and that instructional time is not congested with additional activities and tasks that sit outside.

During the alignment process, identification of the literacy and numeracy demands can also occur. This sharpened refinement further highlights the full extent of dictated (and often hidden) skills and competencies required for a student to successfully engage with and demonstrate learning. It is a vital addition when considering what access and instructional barriers may be present.

The result of the alignment process is a clear and holistic list of curriculum input and output expectations for the unit. At this point, both universal design and personalised adjustments to the age-appropriate curriculum can occur, increasing opportunities for success from the outset.

During the teaching and learning process, learning intentions, success criteria and learning progressions (explored further below) fall straight out of the curriculum alignment product.

A demonstration of the curriculum alignment process is provided below:

Following this, curriculum adjustments relating to alternate access points from the F-10 continuum and individual learning goals can be aligned. Further discussion about the purpose and place of such curriculum adjustments is provided here:

Aligning Alternate Points
Loren Swancutt 2018

Aligning Individual Learning Goals

Loren Swancutt 2018

Pedagogical Framework:

In order to effectively deliver the curriculum a strong pedagogical framework that supports evidence-based inclusive principles and high impact practices is recommended.

An example of such a pedagogical framework is Explicit Instruction – for more information regarding Explicit Instruction, refer to the text Explicit Instruction: Effective and Efficient Teaching (Anita Archer and Charles A Hughes 2010).

A summary of the strategies associated with Explicit Instruction can be accessed here – Explicit Instruction Summary

An example of an annotated Explicit Instruction lesson cycle developed and utilised by Loren Swancutt can be accessed here – Explicit Instruction Lesson Cycle

Another example of a supportive pedagogical framework is the Gradual Release Model. The Gradual Release Model centres on shifting the thinking and doing from the teacher to the student – moving from teacher knowledge and demonstration, to student understanding and doing. The model “emphasizes instruction that mentors students into becoming capable thinkers and learners when handling the tasks with which they have not yet developed expertise” (Buehl, 2005). The model focuses less time on lecturing and whole-class instruction, and more time on guided, collaborative and independent learning that is supported through the application of instructional scaffolding.

Utilising this form of instruction in combination with metacognitive strategies results in more authentic learning as it allows students to become active, reflective participants who are able to identify what is required to be successful and what that looks like in application. It supports learners to build their knowledge and skills from where they are to a level that is challenging, yet attainable.

An example of the gradual release model can be viewed below…

gradual release

For more information about the Gradual Release Model access the text Better Learning Through Structured Teaching: A Framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility 2nd Edition (Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey 2013).

Lesson Design:

Research indicates that instruction is the strongest predictor of student achievement. What teachers know, do and care about has powerful effects on student learning. Therefore, teachers need to have an acute awareness about what they are teaching, why they are teaching it, how they will teach it, what success looks like, and what to do next when they are planning instruction. This demands that teachers begin their planning with the end in mind – a concept explored previously in the Curriculum Alignment section of this page. As indicated, learning intentions, success criteria, and learning progressions are critically connected, and flow out of the sharp and narrow focus that is achieved in the product of curriculum alignment.

Learning Intentions and Success Criteria

Learning intentions are simply an explicit way of communicating what students are intended to learn. They perform three important functions – providing guidance to the teacher about what should be taught, providing a clear statement to students about what is intended to be gained, and forming a basis for assessing what students have learnt and therefore what the impact of the teaching has been. The success criteria communicate the level of performance that students are expected to meet within the broader learning intention.

Every lesson should have a clearly defined learning intention and success criteria that respond directly to what students need to know, do and think – representing their link to the standards-based Australian Curriculum, but in a manner which is chunked into achievable and progressive learning bites. These learning bites are then implemented as inclusive learning progressions, which can be modified to reflect variances in complexity for students accessing curriculum adjustments.

If learning intentions and success criteria are shared with students and used to drive self-reflection and feedback (and there is evidence that indicates purposefully doing so has positive impacts on learning progression and assessment performance), consideration of their accessibility must occur. The way in which they are communicated to students needs to be supportive to ensure that all students can engage with and comprehend the intent. This will require consideration of things like the complexity of the language used, the way in which they are formatted and represented, and whether or not multimodal supports have been utilised.

Learning Progressions

Learning progressions are the sequential building blocks of instruction, or scaffolds that teachers enact to direct student progression toward the learning intention. They are paired with formative assessment processes that serve as checkpoints to inform differentiation and systems of support. They provide opportunities to mobilise peer tutoring and cooperative learning, as well as building student-centred approaches.

Universal principles are utilised to provide multiple means of representation, action, expression, and engagement. Opportunities to include all students in age-equivalent learning is achieved by unlocking levels of access and instruction that progresses in complexity and demand. Adjustments to curriculum output are implemented to ensure equitable opportunity for students to demonstrate learning.

Universal Principles

Universal principles provide a proactive approach to lesson design that focuses on eliminating unnecessary barriers from the beginning. Flexible pedagogical design principles that impact learning goals, methods, materials, and modes of assessment are applied in anticipation of student diversity form the outset.

Universal principles combines a teacher’s clarity around students and curriculum, and supports the generation of accessible, efficient and effective learning experiences that are enacted throughout the components of the chosen pedagogical framework.

More information on the use of universal principles can be found here – Universal Design for Learning Guidelines. Further information can be obtained from the CAST website.

Monitoring and Feedback:

Research indicates that the use of formative assessment contributes significantly to improving student achievement. It is a process of gathering evidence from a variety of sources and approaches, then interpreting that evidence in order to enable teachers to determine where students are in the learning journey, where they need to go and how best to get there – linking very closely with the concept of learning progressions.

From a teaching perspective, assessment for learning is about a continuous cycle of inquiry for improvement, utilising quantitative and qualitative data to evaluate and verify the impact of teaching on student learning.

Monitoring student progress through formative assessment provides opportunity for focused feedback. It allow errors to become more obvious, and to be celebrated as opportunities to support deeper learning.

Feedback is designed to close the gap between current levels of understanding and performance and the expected level, linking it directly with the identified success criteria in lesson design. It opens up opportunity for teachers to determine the actions they can take to close the gap, and to enact those actions through responsive differentiation.


Differentiation is based on a philosophy of teaching that promotes actively planning for student diversity. It acknowledges the importance of what the learner brings, in combination with what the learner needs, and the impact that the teaching is having.

The process of differentiation is an approach that ‘involves a hefty dose of common sense, as well as sturdy support in the theory and research of education’ (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000) in order to provide timely, effective and equitable access to the curriculum.

In differentiating instruction, teachers create instructional processes that acknowledge evidence-informed decisions about where students are in their learning, and what supports and strategies will be beneficial in progressing that learning.

The analysis of formative data provides opportunity to drive responsive adaptations to pedagogies, and to provide further support and intervention through adaptations to content, the teaching process, the product or output mode, and the environmental conditions.

Differentiation at this level aims to rectify the limitations in pedagogical design, and therefore respond to the associated complications with the acquisition of knowledge, understanding and skills that are affecting successful student performance.


Teachers administer quality summative assessment in order to gather evidence, report to parents and/or carers, and support continuous improvement in student learning and achievement. Fore fronting assessment in curriculum design ensures alignment of the extent of curriculum demands, and is integral for systematic curriculum delivery and authentic judgements about student performance to occur.

The Australian Curriculum achievement standards for each learning area provide the pre-defined, fixed reference point for describing expectations about the quality of student work at the satisfactory standard. Therefore, teacher clarity around the curriculum intent and awareness of how it is represented in assessment items is crucial. This in combination with a deep understanding of the definitions of curriculum terms and cognitive verbs, as referenced in the glossary of the Australian Curriculum, is vital in ensuring that student assessment occurs within the intended parameters of the standards-based expectations of the curriculum.

Furthermore, teacher clarity of the curriculum intent allows for adjustments to assessment instruments to occur. Adaptations to any input and output modes that are not directly dictated by the Achievement Standards can be enacted to ensure equitable access and demonstration of learning by all students. When implemented with clarity, such adaptations do not impact on how a student’s performance is judged against the marking guide.

Marking guides that accompany assessment items should acknowledge the satisfactory expectations of the achievement standard, and provide the breadth of performance that stems from this by documenting the range between above and below satisfactory on a five-point scale. Teachers utilise this scale to make judgements about student performance, and to record this judgement at the point of reporting.

Students who access curriculum from an alternate point on the F-10 sequence are assessed and marked (in an age-appropriate manner) against the Achievement Standard from which they are accessing. Evidence of learning for students who are accessing individual learning goals from the extended general capabilities is collated and reviewed from across all learning areas to determine whether the students is demonstrating competency.

Examples of Practice:

The following vignettes provide a demonstration of the curriculum alignment processes, and the resulting development of the product in the form of the Unit Analysis Table (Know/Do/Think/Universal) that is then used to drive inclusive lesson design.

Curriculum Alignment: Age-equivalent Learning Area Content



Curriculum Alignment: Alternate Access Point on the F-10 Sequence



Lesson Design

Lesson design for inclusive classrooms does not need to be a lengthy and time-consuming process. Utilising a template that is concise, that prompts the use of high impact and inclusive strategies, and that is multi-functional in its application is key to minimising workload whilst still resulting in a well-structured, effective lesson.

An example of a Lesson Design Tool that Loren Swancutt has developed and utilises in her own classroom practice can be found here – Lesson Planning Tool

An explanation of the tool is provided in the vignette below:

Examples of inclusive lesson designs are explored in the vignettes provided below:

  • Year 4 English with Supplementary Adjustments (Utilising the General Capabilities)
  • Year 7 Math with Substantial Adjustments (Alternate Point on the F-10 Sequence)
  • Year 10 Science with Extensive Adjustments (Individual Learning Goals)

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