Specifically, instruction should occur between thelower threshold of development and the upper threshold represented by the problemsthe child can complete with assistance (Vygotsky, 1934/1987). According toTomlinson and Allan (2000) and Tomlinson (2010), ZPD supports DI because ithighlights the importance of the role of the teacher pushing the child into theZPD, coaching for success so the learner can manage alone, and promotingindependent thinking. The teacher is responsible for each student’s ZPD(Tomlinson, 2006) by means of an instructional strategy called scaffolding inwhich the teacher develops tasks to build on prior knowledge. TheDifferentiated ClassroomTomlinson (2001, 2006) contended that a differentiatedclassroom is proactive and student centered. A DI classroom promoteschallenging activities, and struggling students normally get extra support tohelp them develop skills that enable them to do tasks independently.
Typically,differentiated classroom instruction addresses comprehension of conceptsinstead of the material covered. Different grouping styles are paramount, andformative assessments of student readiness and comprehension level are part ofthe curriculum. Teachers regard themselves as facilitators and students as explorers.Students set goals and assessments for themselves, based on their own level of development(Van Sciver, 2005).
The teacher plans positive hands-on instruction that enableslearners to become interested and engaged in the lesson. Children are thecenter of all decision making in the classroom. Tomlinson (2004a, 2009)observed that a differentiated classroom blends different types of groupinstruction and is organic. Sometimes it is more effective to have small group instruction,individual instruction, or whole-class instruction, depending on the task.
Forinstance, a lesson could begin as a whole-group lesson, break down into small groups,or individuals could work alone. In this way, classroom diversity is an assetas it allows for the contribution of multiple perspectives, multiple ideas, anddifferent ways to find solutions to problems. The key characteristics of DI identified byTomlinson (1995) include the following: “(a) plan with hands-on activities; (b)value learning; (c) built on evaluation; (d) use assorted methods to deliverthe lesson; and (e) vary instruction” (p. 5). The instructor’s duty in a DIclassroom is to offer rigorous instruction and challenging activities thatfocus on significant learning.
The teacher must know what is important in thesubject matter and be knowledgeable and creative when dealing with differencesin students. In addition, the teacher must adjust the presentation of thelesson to relate to the students’ readiness levels and interests. Rubricsdisplayed and group work are the focus of learning rather than the teacher’slectures. Formative assessments record the progress of the students along withthe goals and the assignments (Tomlinson, 2005).
Chang (1996) and Rocket al. (2008) identified several methods of DI: (a)handson activities, (b) cooperative group, and (c) technology. As Rock et al.
explained, the particular importance of integrating technology into learning”is a way to differentiate instruction for a child’s learning situations, andthe combination of technology makes it meaningful and creative for students inan active learning environment” (as cited in Chang, 1996, p. 39). Unlike thetraditional educational setting, in DI, the students and teacher are collaboratorsin the learning process. Some characteristics of DI are more student-focused thanothers. Learners decide how they want to learn. Students have the opportunityto select topics to study in depth and engage actively in their own learning.Students learn best when they make connections between the curriculum and theirinterests or life experiences (Landrum & McDuffie, 2010; Levine, 2003;McAdamis, 2001; Tomlinson,2004b). In differentiated classrooms, children areengaged in an environment in which they perform the same activities as childrenin a non- differentiated classroom.
However, in differentiated classrooms,students have options guided by their interests and readiness for a particulartask (Tobin & McInnes, 2007). Central to DI is the flexibility to draw ondifferent methods and techniques in order to acknowledge the needs ofindividual learners and different learning situations. There is no singlecorrect way to apply DI. Educational researchers generally concur that applyingmany methods for student engagement and success is the key to promoting studentachievement (Gregory & Hammerman, 2008). Research has revealed that teacherswho regularly use a range of teaching and organizational strategies throughout theclassroom are more likely to connect what needs to be learned with morestudents who need to learn the content (Tomlinson, 2006).
What is common tomost DI techniques, though, is the use of manipulative to offer childrenreal-life learning experiences. Meaningful activities foster true understandingwithout useless memorization of facts and names (Gregory & Hammerman,2008).Within science education, lessons are differentiatedto permit students to discover areas of interest, expand research skills, andobtain instruction on separate science and inquiry skills (Gregory &Hammerman, 2008). Science students, it is argued, should have multiple andvaried opportunities to collect, sort, categorize, observe, use science tools andinstruments, and take notes to perform a task (Dodge, 2009; Gregory &Hammerman,2008; Haurv, 2002). Hands-on activities help develop science processskills and promote achievement of learning, which involves applying the knowledgeto everyday situations.
A wide range of DI strategies is available for applicationin the science classroom. Many of these strategies are effective as teacherspractice DI. These strategies draw on the key findings of relevant empiricalresearch regarding their use.
DifferentiatedInstructional StrategiesA number of researchers have investigated teachers’actual use of various DI strategies and techniques. For example, in a 1-yearstudy in a California school district, the classroom inclusion practices offive teachers from two middle schools were examined (Carolan & Guinn,2007). The teachers were observed and interviewed about their beliefs androutines. In this example of DI, the factors found to be common to differentiatedclassrooms were that the teachers (a) offered personalized scaffolding, (b)usedflexible groups, (c) designed classrooms in which differences existed, and (d)had relevant expertise. TieredActivitiesTeachers acknowledge the academic potential oflearners by applying tieredactivities. Tiered activities can work with anyconcept teachers teach or reinforce. The benefit of this method is that thewhole class masters the same topic, but individuals choose activities on theirlevel with the teacher’s assistance (Brimijoin, 2005; Garnett, 2010; Willard-Holt,2003).
Tiering starts with a heterogeneous, whole-group lesson. Smaller groupsare formed based on interest. The unit is tiered through assignments, materials,or assessments that reflect the student’s ability level (Levy, 2008). Teacherstier assignments by making small adjustments to teaching content within thesame lesson in order to challenge students appropriately, according to theirlevel of ability. Forsten, Grant, and Hollas (2002) and Rock et al. (2008)recommended that before starting to tier activities at the conclusion of thelesson, the key ideas and skills all learners should understand must beidentified.
Then teachers should choose reading materials matched to thelearners’ reading levels on the same topic.Tiered activities focus on preparing students fordifferent levels of difficulty of a task within the same lesson topic(King-Shaver, 2008; Kobelin, 2009; Tomlinson, 2001). This form of DI mainlyassigns tasks at the learner’s level and acknowledges student interest(Tomlinson, 1999, 2009). These tasks comprise investigations that are suitable forlearners and take into account their prior knowledge (Tomlinson, 2001, 2008).
The modification of activities in this way aids in understanding of the concepttaught while ensuring that every student is challenged (King-Shaver, 2008;Tomlinson, 1999; Tomlinson & Edison, 2003). Writing in content areas is beneficialand can take the form of tiered assignments. For instance, in an earth science class,learners operating below grade level may write about places using the latitudelines as references, while students on grade level might write about placeswithout using latitude lines (Tomlinson &Edison, 2003).A number of researchers have investigated the use oftiered activities in the classroom. Tobin and McInnes (2008), for example,investigated the DI strategies of two teachers in one school district. Bothteachers were experienced, imaginative teachers who went beyond the call ofduty for their students and were accommodating, especially to special needsstudents. After reading a book, “Margot’s” students were offered choices abouthow they would respond to text. Margot used tiered activities and createdmethods to restrict below-grade-level readers to making responses, whichrelated closely to the text.
Students completed individualized questions toguide them in completing the assignments with the appropriate complexity level.Margot provided clear scaffolding directions and monitored the students’understanding of the products. Moreover, she facilitated their answers to manychoices, taking account of their appropriate levels (Tobin & McInnes,2007). Studies havecontributed to an increased understanding of how tiered activities can applymost effectively in the classroom, but have also revealed outstanding gaps inunderstanding. For example, Brimijoin (2005) conducted a case study of a fifth gradeclassroom in which the teacher developed assignments at various tiers tochallenge all students as well as a task for all students based on key learninggoals that met the range of learning needs for the entire class. Brimijoinconcluded that in using tiered assignments, varying journal prompts for eachtier helped to solicit student responses if the questions were adjusted tostudents’ ability levels. Stager (2007) observed the productiveness of DI ontiered activities in improving student learning using fractions. Students inhomogeneous groups received instruction, then completed activities on theirlevel in the groups.
Every student made important gains, according to the testresults, but not all students mastered the concept. Stager concluded that morestudy is necessary to understand how DI can assist mastery learning by allstudents. FlexibleGroupsIn DI classrooms, learners need practice in engagingmutually to learn in group situations.
Flexible groups apply when assessmentsidentify a group of learners having comparable needs, interests, or preferences(Heacox, 2003; van Garderen & Whittaker, 2006). This DI method grantsteachers the opportunity to match children by their readiness level (Tomlinson,2004a, 2004b, 2010). In addition, it allows learners to interact with differentpeers in different groups. In flexible grouping, the composition of groupsvaries depending on the specific learning objective and activity. Teachersassign students to groups based on certain characteristics to complete a lab ortasks in which learners must collaborate to finish an assignment. Groups mightbe organized, for example, by task, motivational level, interest, learning style,ability level, or randomly (Gregory & Hammerman, 2008; Tomlinson, 2004a,2004b, 2006). Typically, each member of a group has a role.
For example, astudent who writes well might become the recorder, while a good speaker maypresent the group results to the class (K. M. Anderson, 2007; Willard-Holt,2003). Teachers who utilize flexible grouping use different organizationalmethods for instruction. For example, a middle school physical science classmight illustrate and describe the movement of particles in solids, liquids, andgases.
In group work, the students may write a story depicting the movement of particlesin one of the states of matter. Castle, Deniz, Baker, and Tortora (2005) examinedthe impact of flexible grouping on student learning over a 5-year period. Theirresults demonstrated that the percentage of students maintaining masteryincreased from 10% to 57%. The teachers in the study credited the use offlexible grouping on learning to (a) focused lessons related to learning needs,(b) the ability to keep the students attentive, and (c) improved student confidence.The conclusions supported the application of flexible grouping to increase studentlearning without the harmful effects of ability grouping (Castle et al., 2005).