Differentiating Science Instruction: Success Stories of High Sschool Science Teachers

Maeng, Jennifer Lynn Cunningham, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Bell, Randy
Tomlinson, Carol, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Mintz, Susan, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Burnett, Robert, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

This study investigated the characteristics and practices of high school science teachers who differentiate instruction. Specifically teachers' beliefs about science teaching and student learning and how they planned for and implemented differentiated instruction in their classrooms were explored. Understanding how high school science teachers differentiate instruction fills a gap in the literature. Participants included 7 high school science teachers purposefully selected from 4 different schools located in three school districts in a mid - Atlantic state. Data was collected during the spring of 2010 and fall of 2011 and occurred in two phases. For all 7 participants, data included one one - hour semi - structured interview and field notes from a minimum of four 90-minute classroom observations. Each classroom observation was scored using the validated Differentiated Instruction Implementation Matrix - Modified (DIIM - M), which evaluated participants' proficiency in differentiating instruction. The DIIM - M was analyzed using descriptive statistics and triangulated with field notes. This analysis led to the identification of a single teacher, Diane, for in - depth case study. Case study data included approximately two hours of semi - structured interview responses, 37.5 hours of classroom observations of Diane's Ecology and Biology classes, relevant instructional materials, and other artifacts. This variety of data allowed for triangulation of the evidence. Data were analyzed using a constant comparative approach (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Results indicated that Diane consistently integrated complex learning profile differentiation strategies; however, she differentiated less frequently for readiness and interest. Technology - enhanced formative assessment played an integral role in planning and implementing lessons differentiated for readiness. Diane's content knowledge, selfefficacy, administrative support, and alignment between beliefs and the philosophy of differentiated instruction promoted differentiation practices. Lack of planning time and professional development and a high - stakes testing culture were barriers to full enactment of differentiation. These findings suggest that differentiated instruction is feasible in high school science classes with professional development and encouragement from administrators. Most significantly, this study provides practical strategies for in - service science teachers beginning to differentiate instruction and recommendations for professional development and preservice science teacher education. Future research should explore student outcomes and ways to support effective formative assessment and readiness differentiation among high school science teachers.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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