Presented by: Peichang HE; Jessica TO; Alice TSANG; Angel LIN*; Yuen Yi LO / The University of Hong Kong and Simon Fraser University*
Catering for learner diversity is a key issue in the world education. Differentiated instruction (DI) has been reported to be effective for catering for learner diversity (Wan, 2017). While DI has been implemented in the US and other countries for decades, its application in the Asian context remains under-researched.
In Hong Kong, for example, Tomlinson’s (2001) DI approach has been recommended in the curriculum guide (Education Bureau, 2014); however, teachers are often unprepared and lack the strategies to apply DI in their classrooms which have learners of diverse needs (Wan, 2017). This echoes previous research findings that teachers’ understanding of the DI strategies and their application in the classroom is crucial for DI teacher education (Dack, 2019; Ruys, Defruyt, Rots & Aelterman, 2013; Wan, 2017).
DI refers to a philosophical approach to teaching and learning that values individual students and caters for the diverse needs of students (Tomlinson, 2001). According to Tomlinson and Moon (2013), teachers can differentiate their instruction through four core aspects: content, process, product and affect/environment. Content is what a student needs to learn; process refers to how the student “makes sense of” the content; product is how the student shows what he/she has learned; and affect/environment refers to the climate and physical arrangements encompassing teaching and learning in the classroom.
Fig.1 Framework of key elements of effective DI (Tomlinson & Moon, 2013, p.2)
Research on DI teacher education has emphasized the integration of theory and practice and the coherence between coursework and field practices. Grounded in Tomlinson’s DI approach and previous research findings, this paper aims to elaborate Tomlinson’s DI framework with classroom observation data and to discuss the extent of the application of DI strategies in Chinese classrooms. It addresses two research questions:
1. What DI strategies are adopted in classrooms of diverse learners in a Hong Kong secondary school?
2. To what extent can the inventory of DI strategies developed based on the Hong Kong context validate the strategies in Tomlinson’s DI model?
The data reported in this paper came from the first stage of a longitudinal project in a Hong Kong secondary school with huge learner diversity. The school encouraged the teachers to implement DI to cater for the varied needs of students.
Fig.2 Procedure of data collection and analysis
Based on Tomlinson’s framework, a classroom observation scheme (COS) was devised. The scheme consisted of four major aspects of DI (environment, content, process, and product), the instructional strategies under each aspect and the elaboration of each strategy.
Table 1. Classroom Observation Scheme (COS)
A total of 19 forty-minute lessons were observed and videotaped. These lessons covered different grade levels and content subjects.
Table 2. Information about lesson observations
Upon the observation of the first three classes and the trial of the observation scheme, the three team members discussed whether the strategies should be modified or similar strategies should be merged. The videotaped lessons then provided the research team with the input to conduct iterative coding of the strategies. The three team members discussed the lesson coding and refined the coding framework frequently to ensure interrater reliability. Such analytical process not only revealed how teachers employed DI in classrooms, but also generated an inventory of DI strategies.
A DI Strategy Inventory
The inventory of DI strategies consists of four key components: (i) the four core aspects of Tomlinson’s DI framework listed as four main themes for classification of DI strategies; (ii) 26 DI strategies categorized under each aspect (e.g., A1, B1, C1 and D1); (iii) the elaboration of each strategy; and (iv) lesson video clips illustrating each strategy. Among the four core aspects, content and process occupied relatively larger proportions, consisting of 9 and 10 strategies respectively.
Fig.3 The inventory of DI strategies
Fig.4 An example of the first strategy of the first DI aspect
Occurrence of DI strategies
A total of 296 instances of DI strategies were documented in the observed lessons. They could be categorized into 25 out of the 26 strategies in the inventory.
Table 3. Occurrence of DI strategies in the observed lessons
Among the four aspects, over half of the strategies belonged to process, and over a quarter (28%) were related to content. Several strategies were commonly employed by teachers of different subjects. For example, the strategies of contingent scaffolding (C6) and provision of teacher feedback (C9) were frequently observed, In contrast, some strategies such as “B3 Adjustable learning pace” (N=0) and “B4 Adjustable teaching content” (N=1), and those related to environment and assessment (e.g., “D4 Use of appropriate assessment methods”) were less frequently observed in the case school. Such results may partly be due to the fact that all the lessons were observed from one secondary school. However, they may also be associated with the nature of Asian classrooms, which tend to be more examination-oriented, and hence assessment practices may be more difficult to differentiate.
- This study extends the application of Tomlinson’s (2001) DI framework to the Asian context.
- A majority of the DI strategies in Tomlinson’s framework were applicable in Hong Kong classrooms, but some strategies were less frequently used.
- The inventory of DI strategies contributes to DI teacher education (Dack, 2019; Wan, 2017) by providing DI examples from authentic classroom practices and explicit elaboration of the DI strategies by university researchers, which helps to bridge the DI theories and practice.
Limitations and suggestions
- This paper reports only the preliminary findings of the first stage of a longitudinal research, which are mainly based on lesson observation.
- A longitudinal design with other data collection methods will allow the researchers to collect more data to corroborate the current inventory of DI strategies.
The paper is based on the data from the first stage research findings of the “Diversity at Schools” Project funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust. We are grateful to the participating teachers and students for their support.
Peichang HE The University of Hong Kong email@example.com
Jessica TO The University of Hong Kong firstname.lastname@example.org
Alice TSANG The University of Hong Kong email@example.com
Angel LIN Simon Fraser University firstname.lastname@example.org
Yuen Yi LO The University of Hong Kong email@example.com
Catering for learner diversity is one key agenda in educational reform around the world, with Differentiation Instruction (DI) being widely cited as an effective pedagogical approach. In the Asian context, teachers’ understanding and practices of DI remain under-researched. This paper reports the first stage findings of a large-scale collaborative project among university researchers, teacher educators and schools. The research aims to validate and elaborate Tomlinson’s DI model (2001) by examining the DI practices in Hong Kong classrooms. An inventory of DI strategies was built and teachers’ DI practices were analyzed to reveal interesting patterns of different types of DI strategies. These findings shed lights on the need for culturally responsive DI practices and yield significant implications for teacher education.
Dack, H. (2019). The role of teacher preparation program coherence in supporting candidate appropriation of the pedagogical tools of differentiated instruction. Teaching and Teacher Education, 78(1), 125–140.
Education Bureau (2014). Basic Education Curriculum Guide (Primary 1-6). Retrieved from https://cd.edb.gov.hk/becg/english/index-2.html
Ruys, I., Defruyt, S., Rots, I., & Aelterman, A. (2013). Differentiated instruction in teacher education: A case study of congruent teaching. Teachers and Teaching, 19(1), 93–107.
Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). Differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Tomlinson, C. A. (2017). How to differentiate instruction in academically diverse classrooms (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Tomlinson, C. A. & Moon, T. (2013). Assessment and student success in a differentiated classroom. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Wan, S. W. Y. (2017) Differentiated instruction: are Hong Kong in-service teachers ready? Teachers and Teaching, 23(3), 284– 311.