Differentiated learning: From policy to classroom

Year: 2012

Author: Mills, Martin, Renshaw, Peter, Keddie, Amanda, Monk, Sue, Gowlett, Christina

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


As part of the audit culture in Queensland, government schools in that State are required to participate in a 'teaching and learning' audit developed by ACER as part of the state's school improvement agenda. This audit ranks school performance on eight practices at one of the following levels: outstanding; high; medium; or low. Of the various ranked practices, it was 'differentiated learning' that was most regularly assessed as being least evident in a school. Differentiated learning in this audit referred to the ways in which teachers in their day-to-day teaching addressed the needs of all their individual students, monitored their progress, identified their specific learning needs and addressed these needs in their practice.

The paper explores the background to this audit and the justification for including differentiated learning in the audit framework. It then explores the effects of schools' attempts to meet the department's requirements in this area. The paper draws on data collected from two regional Queensland government high schools where differentiated learning received a rating of medium, the lowest ranking for each school. The project team has observed teacher practices and interviewed teachers about the ways in which they differentiate learning in their classrooms. These data indicate that the teachers in the schools have not been provided with a consistent message about what is meant by differentiation. Due to a lack of clarity about the meaning of the term and the audit expectations, teachers within these schools regularly associated differentiation with streaming and/or individualised learning programs. However, these interpretations were not universal. There were teachers in both schools who saw differentiation as an opportunity, drawing on the productive pedagogies framework, for introducing concerns with valuing and recognising difference. Since the teaching and learning audit results were made public, the case study schools have engaged with academic researchers to expand on the notion of differentiation, to consider issues of difference, and to implement reforms and strategies that take into account the needs of all students in the school. The paper thus explores some of the spaces for pursuing a social justice agenda in the school opened up, ironically, by the requirement to differentiate classroom learning.


(Chair: Sue Monk)