The relationship between the pedagogical use of differentiated instructional strategies and 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade language arts achievement
Today's classrooms are comprised of students who perform on a myriad of levels. As a result of both state and federal mandates, educators have been charged with the task of ensuring that all students master the required grade level benchmarks at the end of each school term. The challenge in carrying out that duty is finding strategic ways of reaching all students, regardless of their performance levels. The stricter state mandates have placed many classroom teachers in a compromising position that leaves them with no time to remediate students who may struggle with mastering a skill and minimal time to provide enrichment opportunities for those high-achieving students. The purpose of this study was to identify teachers who successfully differentiated instruction (D.I.) and those who were unsuccessful in differentiating instruction based on student achievement. The instructional strategies employed by teachers who differentiated instruction as well as those employed by teachers who do not differentiate instruction (no D.I.) were reported. The rationale for reporting the observed instructional strategies was to afford all students the opportunity to have their academic needs met in all classes. Additionally, this study examined whether or not differences existed between the observed and perceived behaviors of teachers regarding differentiated instruction. The goal of this study was to identify teaching strategies and practices that could be utilized to maximize the academic potential of all learners. This study addressed six research questions that were examined using a perception survey and a classroom observation checklist. The 37 participants were categorized into one of two categories (D.I. or no D.I.) based on spring 2011 student achievement data. The three teachers who were said to differentiate instruction made every attempt to meet the needs of the learners in their classrooms by asking questions that varied in the degree of difficulty, reviewing pre-requisite skills to ensure that learners had a firm grasp before addressing the skill of the day/week, addressing different learning styles, and providing students with materials on a variety of reading levels. The teachers who did not differentiate instruction delivered instruction in a manner that only afforded students who firmly understood previously taught skills to be successful with completing the assigned task. All students were told to complete the same assignment with no consideration being made for those who could not read on grade level. The researcher found it interesting that the perceived behaviors of the participants often differed from the actual practices employed within the classroom. Many of the teachers who did not differentiate perceived themselves as going to great lengths to meet the needs of all learners when they actually taught lessons at one level. In addition, many of their questions were directed to a few students in the classroom who appeared to quickly grasp the material. Many of the teachers who differentiated instruction did not perceive themselves as teachers who varied instructional strategies based on the needs of students. Despite the small number of teachers who qualified to be categorized as D.I. teachers, there were distinct differences with regard to the number of students they had scoring within the advanced and proficient categories in comparison with the students who were taught by teachers who did not differentiate.