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Learning Beyond Instruction with the Australian English curriculum: meaningful learning for all.

How can we go beyond mere facts and skills and teach our students to understand and engage with English at a deeper, conceptual level?

How can we use the Australian Curriculum: English to design rich and meaningful learning opportunities?

Learning Beyond Instruction (LBI) is a process for learning design and teaching that aims for all learning to have enduring value beyond the point of instruction. We don't teach students to 'pass school', we teach so they can enjoy successful lives beyond school, therefore what is taught in a task, a lesson or a school year must have value into the future. Learning must also occur beyond mere instruction. Instruction may have students busily completing tasks, but it doesn't automatically follow that quality learning is occurring. 'Turn to page 37 and complete the spelling activities' is an instruction that may have students busily putting pen to paper, but what is being taught? Students are merely following the instruction and completing a task. Learning Beyond Instruction is about more than this.

So what is Learning Beyond Instruction (LBI) and what does it mean for our planning and assessment when we use the Australian Curriculum: English? LBI is a process based on seven key words.


Let's look at what each means when we use the Australian English Curriculum to design learning for our students.


We can't plan or teach if we aren't absolutely clear about what it is we are teaching. This step is about identifying a focus for teaching and identifying a suitable conceptual lens through which the focus will be taught.
Figure 1. Questions to guide planning and teaching

* What am I teaching?

* Considering the volume and scope of the curriculum, what
am I choosing to focus on now?

* What conceptual lens will be used to give depth to this

The Importance of the Conceptual Lens Factual knowledge and skills are important but not enough; we want students to think and think deeply. The conceptual lens gives our teaching and learning focus, depth and transfer (Erickson, 2007). We can use the lens to make meaningful connections between English strands, modes, concepts, knowledge and skills.
Figure 2. Example Focus for Year 4

This learning design focuses on investigating how images
and language are used to provide detail and enhance
meaning in texts. During this focus, different text types will
be examined and created to explore the use and purpose of
images and language features.

Conceptual lens: Meaning

With this lens, students will not simply learn about one text type, but will learn about different text types and the devices used to convey meaning in each. The focus here is not a single content description but will incorporate content from all three English strands. We don't choose a content description to teach and then 'tick it off'. We use the content flexibly to create meaningful connections and learning opportunities.


Before we plan and teach we must be clear about why we are teaching something and why it's important. This step of the LBI process asks us to be clear about our intent and purpose and to be clear about the learning intentions for students.
Figure 3. Questions to guide planning and teaching

* What is my intent?

* Why am I choosing this focus?

* What is my purpose?

* Why is this important?

* What are the learning intentions for my students?

* What is essential for them to know, understand and do?
Figure 4. Sample Intent for Year 4 using the above Focus

Purpose (Why teach this?): It is important for students to
understand how to gain and convey meaning through texts.
Understanding the devices used to enhance meaning is
important when creating texts and enables us to better
present information in detailed and engaging ways to have
our message understood by our audience.

Learning Intentions

Students will know:

* Examples of imaginative, informative and persuasive

* The purpose of different word classes and related groups
(i.e. nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives).

* The purpose of full stops, exclamation marks and
quotation marks.


Students will understand:

* Choice of words, punctuation and images can enrich a
text and enhance its meaning.

* How meaning is conveyed through a text is related to its
purpose and this meaning may be hidden or inferred.


Students will be able to:

* Explain how words and images have been used to convey
meaning in a range of texts.

* Create multimodal texts for a given purpose.

* Use a range of spelling strategies for unknown words.


We need to connect the learning to the learner. Our students need to see the relevance of what they are learning and understand its value. We also need to make curriculum connections by connecting:

--The English strands and sub-strands

--The communication modes (reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing)

--The general capabilities and cross-curriculum priorities

--Other curriculum areas that relate to the English focus being taught.
Figure 5. Questions to guide planning and teaching:

* How will the learning be connected to the learner?

* How will students' interests and background knowledge
be used to enhance learning?

* How will students be engaged in this learning?

* What connections can be made to prior learning or other
areas of the curriculum?

* What learning from other areas of the curriculum will
students need in order to be successful with this focus?

* How will the 3 strands of English be connected and

* What content across the 3 strands connects to my focus
and lens?

* How will the communication modes be connected to the
focus and lens?

* How will the general capabilities and cross-curriculum
priorities be connected to the focus?
Figure 6. Example Connections using the same Year 4 Focus

Personal Connections:

Texts of students' own choice and interest will be used and
examined and students will have the opportunity to create
texts of personal interest and for chosen audiences.

Curriculum Connections:

This focus will address content from all strands of the English

Meaningful connections can be made to the History
and Science curricula through related texts. The general
capabilities of literacy, critical and creative thinking, ICT
competence, intercultural understanding and personal and
social competence and all three cross-curriculum priorities
can also be purposefully connected and taught.

These connections go beyond simply integrating curriculum. This is about meaningful connections. We need to ask, 'What other learning will students need in order to be successful with this focus?' or 'Where can students use and transfer their learning from this focus, to other contexts?'


What we teach must have enduring value. What students learn must be used again, in different contexts and over time. Essential questions can be used to guide teaching and learning and to aid transfer. These questions are concept-based and intended to be thought provoking.
Figure 8. Questions to guide planning and teaching

* How will I ensure the learning has enduring value?

* How will the conceptual lens be used to give depth and
transference to the learning?

* What essential questions will be used to promote deeper

* How will the learning have value into the future?

* How will the learning be transferred? How will this
learning be used and applied again at a different time
and in different contexts?

We can use the conceptual lens to enable transfer to other curriculum areas.

For example:

If I'm teaching the purpose of texts, how can I transfer this to focus on the purpose of learning about operations or geometry in Maths? If I'm focusing on audience in English, this can be transferred to Maths or Science by focusing on how audience affects how data is presented.
Figure 9. Examples of Essential Questions for the same Year
4 Focus

Overarching Essential Question

What makes a story great?

Topical Essential Question

How can we find hidden meaning?

Provocative Essential Question

Can words or pictures have power?

These questions should be displayed and discussed regularly with students as they learn and inquire.


We need to be assessing knowledge and skills but equally important is assessing understanding. Authentic assessment tasks require students to apply what they have learned in school to a situation that mirrors the real world. In essence, it requires students to BE the end-result of their learning. We don't want students to merely 'do English', we want them to have the understanding, behaviours and dispositions to BE a writer, an orator, a critic and so on.
Figure 10. Questions to guide planning and teaching

* How will I monitor and assess students' learning over

* How will I ensure assessment is authentic?

* What evidence will show students' understanding and
level of understanding?

* How will I know the learning intentions have been

* What are my success criteria for the learning intentions?

* How will I differentiate the product of the assessment
to enable all students to demonstrate their knowledge,
understanding and skills?
Figure 11. Example assessment task for Year 4 Focus

We are creating a class magazine to appeal to an audience
of 8-10-year-olds.

The magazine will include:

--Featured articles of topical news

--Human interest stories

--Popular culture stories

--How to ...

-Photojournalism features

Create a text for one of the sections in the magazine. As a
journalist you will need to think about the words and images
you use to best present your information to the audience.

All magazines have editors. Each journalist will also
become a sub-editor and check the work of others to ensure
it is ready for publication. Sub-editors check for mistakes
but also analyse and examine work and make suggestions
for how it may be improved. Sub-editors will be considering
how words and/or images have been used to convey
meaning to the audience.


Assessment tasks should be differentiated to enable all students to show their learning and the quality of their learning. In the above assessment task, the product students produce may be written, photographed, produced with digital technologies, drawn and so on. How students demonstrate their learning through this task may be quite open, allowing for a range of responses based on how students can best show their learning. When we use words like 'create' instead of 'write' we immediately enable a range of responses, rather than limiting or disadvantaging students by requiring a single way of demonstrating learning.


We need to provide multiple opportunities for students to learn the intended knowledge, understanding and skills and these opportunities should relate to the learning intentions, achievement standard, content descriptions, general capabilities and cross-curriculum priorities. This is where we use the content flexibly to provide opportunities for students to achieve the learning intentions and work towards achieving the standard.
Figure 12. Questions to guide planning and teaching

Questions to guide planning and teaching:

* What opportunities will be provided to enable students to
achieve the learning intentions?

* How will these learning opportunities be organised and

* How will the teaching and learning opportunities be
inclusive and differentiated by content, process, product,
readiness, interest and learning profile?


When we differentiate the teaching and learning opportunities we may differentiate the content being taught or the process by which students learn the content based on their readiness, their interests and their preferred way of learning (Tomlinson, 2001).

We need to view the Australian Curriculum as a continuum and use the content flexibly while asking ourselves:

-What tasks will best suit the students and help them fully understand the concept or skill?

-How will different students make meaning from what I am teaching and what I want them to learn?

-Who can work with the year level content to understand the concepts?

-Where might I need to use content from other years to 'fill the gaps' or 'broaden students' thinking'?

Learning Beyond Instruction in a Nutshell When we use LBI to design teaching and learning from the Australian English Curriculum we need to:

1. Give the teaching and learning a relevant and meaningful FOCUS.

2. Be clear about the INTENT--why we are teaching this focus and what is essential for students to learn.

3. Make CONNECTIONS for the learner and across the curriculum.

4. Teach for TRANSFER. Give the learning value into the future.

5. ASSESS rigorously and authentically and act on that assessment to improve students' learning. DIFFERENTIATE assessments to enable all students to demonstrate their learning and the quality of their learning.

6. Provide engaging, meaningful and purposeful OPPORTUNITIES for learning.

7. Teach inclusively by DIFFERENTIATING in different ways and at different times.

If our students are to be 21st century learners and citizens, they must learn meaningfully and for the real world. We can instruct with text books or we can teach rich concepts and make meaningful and transferable connections so our students don't just learn for school, they learn for life. It's up to us. We make it happen ... or not. What will we choose to do?


Erickson, H.L. (2007). Concept Based Curriculum and Instruction for the Thinking Classroom. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

Tomlinson, C, (2001). How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed Ability Classrooms. Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD.

Heidi Bush is a Curriculum Project Officer and consultant and who has worked extensively with teachers to prepare for implementation of the Australian Curriculum, including working alongside teachers to develop and implement classroom programs for English and literacy. The process I Heidi has written about is being used in a number of schools. Heidi presented a workshop on this process at the ALEA conference in Melbourne 2011.
Figure 7. Connecting English strands and content that relate to the
Focus (a sample of related content descriptions)

Language                             Literature

Understand how texts are made        Create literary texts that explore
cohesive through the use of          students' own experiences and
linking devices including pronoun    imagining
reference and text connectives

Recognise how quotation marks are    Create literary texts by
used in texts to signal dialogue,    developing storylines, characters
titles and reported speech           and settings

Identify features of online texts    Discuss how authors and
that enhance readability including   illustrators make stories
text, navigation, links, graphics    exciting, moving and absorbing and
and layout                           hold readers' interest by using
                                     various techniques, for example
                                     character development and plot

Understand that the meaning of
sentences can be enriched through
the use of noun and verb groups
and prepositional phrases

Language                             Literacy

Understand how texts are made        Identify characteristic features
cohesive through the use of          used in imaginative, informative
linking devices including pronoun    and persuasive texts to meet the
reference and text connectives       purpose of the text

Recognise how quotation marks are    Use comprehension strategies to
used in texts to signal dialogue,    build literal and inferred meaning
titles and reported speech           to expand content knowledge,
                                     integrating and linking ideas and
                                     analysing and evaluating texts

Identify features of online texts    Plan, draft and publish
that enhance readability including   imaginative, informative and
text, navigation, links, graphics    persuasive texts containing key
and layout                           information and supporting details
                                     for a widening range of audiences,
                                     demonstrating increasing control
                                     over text structures and language

Understand that the meaning of       Use a range of software including
sentences can be enriched through    word processing programs to
the use of noun and verb groups      construct, edit and publish
and prepositional phrases            written text, and select, edit and
                                     place visual, print and audio
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Author:Bush, Heidi
Publication:Practically Primary
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jun 1, 2012
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