Differentiated Instruction as a Means to Inclusion (DIMI)

Project Number
OER 12/16 VS

Project Duration
December 2016 - December 2018


Differentiated instruction (DI) has gained international attention as an approach associated with responsive teaching and inclusive education (IE). It is also a widely recognized pedagogy for ensuring access to the general or mainstream education curriculum for all students including students with special needs. According to Tomlinson (2003) teachers differentiate when they reach out to an individual or small group to vary their teaching in order to create the best learning experience possible. Thus, DI involves responding effectively to the differences that exist among diverse learners in the classroom, which is currently the reality within mainstream schools in Singapore where students with special educational needs (SEN) are increasingly found. Despite the perceived importance of DI, research has indicated the absence or inconsistent use of this strategy due to a number of factors. Among these factors are the lack of content knowledge necessary to extend and differentiate the core curriculum content areas, the lack of time to adjust the curriculum to students’ needs, and even teachers’ difficulty to locate and use effectively the appropriate resources (Hertberg-Davis, 2009; Van Tassel-Baska, & Stambaugh, 2005). With regard to students with SEN many research studies in this area report lack of curriculum modifications in mainstream classrooms for these students (Buckley 2005; Strogilos & Stefanidis 2015; Strogilos, Tragoulia, & Kaila 2015), and consequently, according to Scruggs, Mastropieri and McDuffie’s (2007) literature review, the education of these students lacks appropriate teaching materials, differentiation in activities and opportunities for individualizing the curriculum. The identified difficulties that teachers report in their attempt to differentiate their instruction appear to affect how they think about and apply DI. However, very few studies have provided information about the types and the quality of modifications provided for students with SEN (Kurth & Keegan, 2014; Strogilos et al., 2015). In addition, McDonnell (2011) argues that research in this area is limited with inconsistent findings, and progress cannot be made due to the fact that the definitions of ‘accommodations’ and ‘modifications’ are somewhat muddled in the literature. Hence, there is currently limited research with regard to the types and quality of modifications that teachers use in general classrooms, as well as to the factors that promote or hinder the development of these modifications. Thus, the aim of this study is twofold. First, to explore how general education teachers, learning support teachers (LSTs), and allied educators [AEDs (Learning & Behavioural Support)] understand the term ‘differentiated instruction’ and the factors associated with its implementation, and, second, to describe and evaluate the type and the quality of modifications that teachers provide for all students including those with SEN. For the implementation of this baseline evaluative study, a two-phased mixed-methods research design will be used. Ten mainstream primary schools will be approached for data collection. At the first phase, we will collect data through semi-structured interviews with 10 teachers, 10 LSTs, 10 AEDs (LBS), and 30 hourly narrative observations in ten classrooms with children with SEN. At the second phase, we will collect approximately 100 lesson plans and 100 questionnaires related to these lesson plans. The study will contribute to the understanding and development of DI in Singaporean primary schools. The main findings will include participants’ understanding of DI and their evaluations of their practice (i.e., lesson plans), and researchers’ evaluations of lesson plans and classroom practice.

Funding Source

Related Projects