High-ability students in your classroom

​Once students are identified as ‘high-ability’ then the appropriate differentiation supports can be implemented.

Teachers talk about high-ability students - video


School leaders and teachers from primary and secondary schools talk about the rewards and challenges of working with high-ability students.

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Differentiating for high-ability students

There are a range of frameworks that can be adjusted to suit the needs of your high-ability students. Differentiating for high-ability students may require different approaches to the rest of your class.

Consider the following when differentiating for high-ability students:

  • use advanced, in-depth and complex content and processes
  • building intellectual rigour
  • provide complex thinking using the Victorian Curriculum - Learning areas and Capabilities)
  • give students opportunities to pursue interests outside of the curriculum
  • individualise learning plans and experiences based on interests, need, and readiness
  • use technology to extend content, product, or process differentiation
  • increase skills for independent learning

For further information regarding differentiation visit High impact teaching strategies in action: Differentiated teaching.

Common models for differentiation include:

The Maker Model

The model differentiates learning into four key areas of content, process, product and environment.

Content: what students are expected to learn


Content should be modified in terms of its level of:

  • Abstraction
  • Complexity
  • Variety
  • Organisation as involving:
    • the study of people
    • the study of methods of inquiry

Differentiating the content/resource:

  • Use of different materials and text types
  • Depth and level of complexity of materials
  • Perspective of texts (context)
  • Incorporation of the Capabilities and the Cross-Curriculum Priorities

Modifying the content:


Process: how students learn the content


Process should be modified in terms of the:

  • Higher order thinking skills - analysis, synthesis and evaluation
  • Open-ended thinking - paradox, analogy, intuitive expression, tolerance for ambiguity
  • As involving discovery proof and reasoning freedom of choice group interactions.

Modifying the process:


Product: what students produce to show their learning


Products should be modified to include:

  • Real world problems
  • Real world audiences
  • Evaluation
  • Transformations

Consider utilising a range formative and summative assessments:

  • Problem based learning
  • Collaborative rubrics
  • Ongoing assessments / checkpoints vary in complexity, duration, group composition, skills required
  • Students can specialise in a facet of a project or unit
  • Wicked problems
  • Application of design thinking
  • Student choice boards

Modifying the product:


Environment: the physical setting in which they learn.

The learning environment should be modified to include opportunities for:

  • Student-centred learning
  • Independence
  • Openness
  • Acceptance
  • Complexity in setting
  • Varied groupings

Consider stimulating learning environments:

  • Individual vs. group work
  • Presenting to different audiences
  • Learning in non-traditional settings:
    • Fieldwork
    • Simulations
    • Service Learning
    • Literature Circles

Modifying the environment:


Tomlinson’s Model

Differentiate according content, process and products that connects to your student's:

  • readiness: a student’s current level of knowledge, which affects their ability to complete a specific task at a given time
  • interests: a student’s passions or affinities
  • learning profile: a student’s preferred approach to learning

For more information on Tomlinson’s model read ‘How to differentiate instruction in academically diverse classrooms’ (Tomlinson, 2017). Differentiation: An Overview (ascd.org)


The REACH Model

The following non-linear steps apply to the REACH framework when differentiating for your students:

  • Reflect on will and skill
  • Evaluate the curriculum
  • Analyse the learners
  • Craft research-based lessons
  • Hone in on the data

Additional professional learning

Understanding high-ability students from the inside out - video

Karen Green has spent the past 19 years facilitating professional development for teachers in both primary and secondary schools in the areas of high-ability education, curriculum design and differentiation. Karen explores how to identify high-ability students and ways to support them within your classrooms.

Download video transcript


Further information about differentiation frameworks can be found at High impact teaching strategies in action: Differentiated teaching.

Visit our Student Excellence Program for more information about the initiatives that support government primary and secondary schools.