Differentiated instruction

Differentiated instruction is a process in which teachers make use of various strategies to respond to students’ needs and assist in the learning process (Deunk, Doolaard, Smale-Jacobse, & Bosker, 2015; Hall, Vue, Strangman, & Meijer, 2014: Tomlinson, 2014). The concept was shaped over time by educational theory and practice (Hall, 2002; Tomlinson et al., 2003). At first, differentiated instruction was applied in inclusive settings and in educational settings for gifted students. Through studies of inclusive education and mixed-abilities classrooms, the concept of differentiated instruction has been transferred to regular education (Srnit & Humpert, 2012). With differentiated instruction, the teacher intends to maximise a student’s opportunity for academic growth and individual success in meeting their educational needs. This process is applicable in teaching practices in which learning is student-focussed (Smit & Humpert, 2012) and learning is made visible (Hattie, 2009).

Differentiated instruction requires a student-centred philosophy: the understanding that ‘every student is both unique and of prime importance as a learner and as a human being’ (Tomlinson, 2014, p. 37). This includes recognising that students vary in their learning pathways and teachers should accommodate their instruction accordingly (Tomlinson, 2014; Tomlinson et al., 2003). Further, teachers should assume competence and

The classic Lesson Study cycle combined (infused) with the concept of case- students (Cheng & Lo, 2013

Figure 2.1 The classic Lesson Study cycle combined (infused) with the concept of case- students (Cheng & Lo, 2013: Dudley 2013 Dudley, 2012; Lewis et al., 2006).

growth, take responsibility for guiding student learning and ensure equity of access to excellent learning opportunities. Effective differentiated instruction therefore requires an accurate view of the student’s understanding of the task, acquired through an evaluative and assessment-focussed mindset. Teachers should take their classroom practice to be a continuous process of trial, assessment, reflection, and adjustment. The use of these formative assessments enables teachers to formulate students’ instructional needs and determine activities tailored to their needs, matched to the learning goals (Deunk et al., 2015; Tomlinson, 2014).

According to Tomlinson (2014), the choice of a strategy or approach should be guided by three factors. First, student readiness is important. Student readiness, in Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, is the current proximity to knowledge and skills that can be reached through support by a tutor. Second, the choices should be guided by the student’s interest. Activities should engage students, drawing their attention and curiosity. Third, activities should be suited to the student’s learning profile, learning style, ability, culture, and gender. It is important that teachers and students collaborate in the learning process—for example, by involving students in the choice of activities, the determination of the need for extra instruction, and the evaluation of the student’s learning progress (Hattie, 2009; Tomlinson, 2014). Finally, fourth, for effective differentiation, teaching practice should include proactive planning, various grouping strategies, modification of instructional approaches, scaffolding, and use of engaging tasks.

A recent meta-analysis by Deunk et al. (2015) showed that studies evaluating the effects of differentiation had insignificant effects. Teachers use convergent and divergent differentiation, and often a mix of both, depending on their goals. In convergent differentiation, teachers focus on a minimal performance for all students. On the other hand, the aim of teachers in divergent differentiation is to reach the highest potential for all students. Grouping students, either homogeneously or heterogeneously, appears effective, though the effects vary between low-, middle-, and high-achieving students. Smit and Humpert (2012) studied teachers’ opinions and practices regarding differentiated instruction. Teachers in their study reported using one or two differentiated instruction strategies for about a third of their lessons. Further, collaboration and team culture appeared to have a positive influence on professional development and on student achievement. Differentiated instruction requires (formative) assessment of the student’s learning and instructional needs, modification of the desired content, variation in instruction and activities, and reflection on the effects of the practice (Hall et al., 2014; Tomlinson, 2014). Many teachers experienced difficulties with bringing differentiated instruction into their practice (Smit & Humpert, 2012).

Differentiated instruction is not often used in secondary education; however, the shift towards inclusive education and including students with educational support needs in the classrooms has indicated and increased the need for professional development related to differentiated instruction (Inspectorate of Education, 2013). Again, for effective differentiation, teaching practice should include proactive planning, various grouping strategies, modification of instructional approaches, scaffolding, and use of engaging tasks. We think that the cyclical process of Lesson Study is an excellent collaborative vehicle to serve as leverage to continually compel teachers to explicitly state, evaluate, and revise their expectations about students.

 
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