Module 4.1 Play- based and inquiry learning is differentiated and inclusive

Getting started in this module 

We would like to start this module by Acknowledging Country.

We acknowledge all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first sovereign people of this land.

As a community of educators, we recognise with deep respect their continuing connections to lands, waters, knowledges and cultures. In doing so we pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging. 

Objectives of the module 

This module will engage teachers in the inherently individualised and strength-based qualities of play-based and inquiry learning as a basis for differentiated teaching and learning. 


Welcome to Module 4 of the Differentiated/Play-based and Inquiry Learning for Foundation Teachers Professional Learning Program.

The module has been designed to encourage participant interaction and involvement. In working through the module, you will be asked to respond to a question or add a comment on the Padlet. These comments and responses will be used to inform the program evaluation provided to the Department of Education and Training (DET) and also research relating to professional learning and practice change. All comments downloaded from the Module are non-identifiable. This means that any material you generate during your interaction with the module is anonymous and cannot be traced back to you or your place of work. If you have any questions or comments about how this data is being used, please contact the lead researcher: Professor Andrea Nolan.

Watch the video below where Dr. Kim Davies will introduce herself and Associate Professor Liz Rouse as facilitators for this module. 


The Victorian Context 

Victoria is an increasingly diverse community and students arrive at school from a variety of backgrounds, with a range of abilities. Inclusion recognises, respects and celebrates this diversity of students, their families and communities through the provision of differentiated educational experiences for all learners, regardless of their circumstances, experiences and abilities. You can explore tools and information designed for educators to support students with diverse learning and support needs at this link

Responding inclusively

Catering for diversity within the classroom is not a one-size-fits all approach to teaching and learning. It is a way of practicing, that responds inclusively, positively and respectfully to each learner, facilitating engagement and access to learning opportunities and enhanced learning outcomes through differentiation.  We encourage you to extend your understanding in this area by reading the DET Student Engagement Policy. The purpose of this policy is to assist schools to create effective local student engagement policies which provide the basis on which schools develop and maintain safe, supportive and inclusive school environments.  

Funds of Knowledge and the Virtual school bag 

Students can be viewed as coming to school wearing 'virtual schoolbags', (Thomson, 2020) filled with rich 'funds of knowledge' (Amanti, Moll & Gonzalez, 2005) of what they already know and can do. A virtual schoolbag refers to the knowledge, experiences, skills and interests that a student brings with them to school. Part of the content in a child's metaphorical virtual school bag are the funds of knowledge. Funds of knowledge are collections of understandings and skills that are based in cultural and historical practices of families and communities.  

Student's active participation and engagement at school, sense of learner efficacy and self-confidence are enhanced when teachers hold high expectations of them. Teachers believing that all their students are talented and capable of success.  

The Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF) Practice Principle High Expectations for Every Child embraces teacher encouragement and high expectations with the development of student's agency, resilience and identities as capable and successful learners. High expectations are strong motivators and students can be supported to experience success, when their play-based and inquiry learning experiences build upon their existing funds of knowledge and extend their talents and interests. It is important for teachers to value student's strengths and differences and to communicate high expectations to them, respecting their unique abilities. 

Exploring the virtual schoolbag

In the interactive poster below, we expand on funds of knowledge and the ways in which they support students, click on the + hotspots to find out more.


Downloadable version of Examining the Virtual Schoolbag poster

Differentiated teaching and the environment

Environments that support students interests and strengths are more likely to help students feel a sense of belonging and of being valued. These environments can also support students to develop a sense of agency, as students recognise their capabilities as learners. Play-based and inquiry learning approaches support teachers to differentiate learning and teaching. Learning environments that harness play-based and inquiry learning, support all students to demonstrate their individual abilities and strengths, supporting them to become self-motivated and intrinsically engaged in their learning. 

Practising differentiated teaching 

In Module 1.2 you were introduced to the concept of differentiated teaching and learning, which is also the tenth of the High impact teaching strategies (HITS). Play-based and inquiry learning caters for all students and their differing abilities as it is open ended. This enables students to engage in ways that are meaningful and comfortable for them.

Through play, students can call on their existing skills, understandings and capabilities which pinpoint what they know now, and what they are continuing to learn. This creates an opportunity for students to work at their level of proficiency and feel successful. Differentiation recognises and supports students to interpret and approach learning in diverse ways. In addition to this, play-based and inquiry learning allows for learning goals to be relevant to varying activities, resources, and preferences.      

In play-based and inquiry learning, teachers use student's existing strengths, capabilities and understandings as the starting point for extending their learning. Students are supported to persevere, problem solve, challenge themselves, take risks, collaborate and support each other's learning. Further differentiation can occur during play when teachers intentionally interact with students to make adjustments to their learning process. In addition to HITS 10 - Differentiated Teaching, there are other HITS strategies that support catering for all students as individual learners. For example:

Further information on

  • HITS 3 – Explicit Teaching
  • HITS 4 – Worked Examples
  • HITS 5 – Collaborative Learning, and
  • HITS 7 – Questioning. 
  • can be found on High Impact Teaching Strategies.