Every Student

About the framework

NSW Department of Education and Training - Teaching and Learning Cycle

The Holroyd, Mary Brooksbank and Chalmers Road schools’ English Framework was developed by teachers from all three schools to assist in planning, programming, teaching, assessing and reporting Early Stage 1 English outcomes for students in special education settings with moderate to severe intellectual and multiple disabilities. This framework may be useful for any student working towards outcomes in the New South Wales English Syllabuses. The framework provides the scaffolding that students with special needs require to access and participate in the curriculum. It includes an English learning continuum, learning experiences, opportunities, strategies and assessment tools that can be used to support teachers to implement the process illustrated in the teaching and learning cycle. Further information on the Teaching and Learning Cycle can be found in the English K–6 Support Materials for Students with Special Education Needs 2011: Communication and on the NSW DEC Consistent Teacher Judgement website.


NSW Board of Studies. (2011), Teaching and learning cycle


Developmental Stages of Learning

The framework helps teachers identify the stage their students are operating at in English and provide opportunities to move students towards the next stage. The following developmental stages have been used: pre-intentional, intentional, concrete symbolic, abstract and verbal symbolic. They are defined as:


The student’s communication may have no known purpose or meaning, as it is a reflex action. The communication partner has to assign meaning to a non-verbal student’s behaviours and interpret the intention of the behaviour. Behaviours may be unconventional.



The student makes a definite attempt to communicate or interact although the intention may not be clear to the communication partner. Behaviours can be unconventional and may escalate if communication needs are not met.


Concrete Symbolic

The student uses the environment to add meaning to their communication. The intention to communicate is clear and the student engages with a communication partner on a one to one basis. Communication is within a context set in the ‘here and now’. The student uses real objects, object symbols, photos, pictures, signs or gestures, even some words and word combinations. The teacher usually directs the student’s interest at this level.


Abstract and Verbal Symbolic

The student successfully uses verbal and/or non-verbal communication systems to engage a communication partner. They may regularly use multi-modal systems of symbols, signing, gestures and/or vocalisations. Communication can be out of context: people and events may not be present at the time (abstract). The student uses more spontaneous, conventional methods to communicate.  The student usually initiates interest at this level.



The learning experiences and opportunities outlined in this document have been developed with Quality Teaching principles firmly embedded. Teachers need to set SMART goals for students so that progress can be tracked as students move from one stage to another, and for students who make gains within a particular stage. SMART goals need to be:


Specific – the goal clearly sets out what is expected.


Measurable and manageable – there is concrete criteria for measuring progress towards the achievement of the goal.


Achievable, appropriate and agreed – the goal is realistic and attainable.


Relevant, realistic and recorded – the goal is important for that student.


Time related – the goal could be achieved within a time frame.


The learning experiences and opportunities may assist teachers to move students through the developmental stages.  If a student currently operates at the intentional level, teaching should be targeted at the concrete symbolic level. Therefore, the first learning experiences and opportunities begin at the intentional level, as students currently working at a pre-intentional level should be working toward intentional content.


The English framework supports student learning and allows students to move into the curriculum. It caters for students K-12 through the inclusion of curriculum outcomes and content from the English K-10 (2012) and HSC Life Skills (2007) syllabuses. Some students with high support and complex needs may not progress from one stage to another. Maintaining their current developmental stage and providing learning opportunities to improve and reinforce their achievements are important teaching considerations. 


English Framework Strands

The English strands used in this framework are:



*Each of these strands link directly to outcomes from the English K-10 (2012) and HSC Life Skills (2007) that can be accessed through the NSW Board of Studies Website.