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Teacher attitudes toward differentiated instruction in third grade language arts

Author: Vivian Marina McLean
The purpose of this study was to investigate teacher attitude toward differentiated instruction in third grade language arts in classrooms across a southern region of the United States. The researcher sought to answer four research questions "Does National Board Certification affect teacher attitude toward differentiated instruction," "Does teacher education affect teacher attitude towards differentiated instruction?," "Does teacher experience affect teacher attitude toward differentiated instruction?," and "Does professional development affect teacher attitude toward differentiated instruction?." The research findings supported the work of Tomlinson, McTighe, Webb, Wiggins, Vygotsky, and Gardner. Their literature served as a foundation in the identification of the variables for this study on attitudes toward differentiated instruction. Research findings suggested that neither teacher experience, National Board Certification, nor teacher education had a significant effect on teacher attitude toward differentiated instruction. However, there was a significant difference in teacher attitude toward differentiated instruction due to professional development. The findings of this study suggested that teachers receiving more professional development have a more positive attitude toward differentiated instruction.

TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT………………………………………………...……………………… ii ACKNOWLEDGMENTS………………………………………………………… iii LIST OF TABLES………………………………………………………………… vi CHAPTER I. PROBLEM…………………………………………………………. 1 Introduction Statement of the Problem Purpose of the Study Definition of Terms Delimitations Assumptions Justification Summary

II. REVIEW OF RLATED LITERATURE…………………………... 11 Introduction Theoretical Framework Differentiated Instruction Teacher Attitudes toward Differentiated Instruction Strategies for Differentiating Instruction Summary

III. METHODOLOGY………………………………………………… 55 Introduction Research Design Participants Instrumentation Procedures Data Analysis Summary

IV. ANALYSIS OF DATA………………………………………….. 60 Introduction Demographics Descriptive Statistics Criteria Analysis of Variance Based on National Board Certified Teacher Attitude


Analysis of Variance Based on Teacher Education Pearson Correlation Based on Professional Development and Teacher Attitude toward Differentiated Instruction Summary Conclusion

V. DISCUSSION……………………………………………………… 69 Summary of Findings Discussions Limitations Recommendations for Policy or Practice Recommendations for Future Research Conclusion

APPENDIXES…………………………………………………………………….. 84



LIST OF TABLES Table 1. Frequencies and Percentages of Demographic Variables……………………61 2. Descriptive Statistics of Survey Questions 1-14……………………………..63 3. Analysis of Variance of National Board Certification Affect on Differentiated Instruction…………………………………………………….65

4. Analysis of Variance of Teacher Education Affect Differentiated Instruction……………………………………………………………………66

5. Pearson Correlation on Professional Development and Teacher Attitude toward Differentiated Instruction…………………………………………...67



CHAPTER I PROBLEMS Introduction What if a shopping mall had the same set of clothing for every customer who came in the door? This scenario seems ludicrous and yet parallels what happens each day in many school classrooms. Often the teacher implements one lesson format to a class of mixed-ability students, expecting each student to benefit from that same instruction (Tomlinson, 2004). Currently, teachers face unprecedented pressure to ensure that every student demonstrates high academic achievement and growth. All across the nation, teachers are engaging students in learning to meet the expectations that all students will meet the standards of achievement under the No Child Left Behind Act (Guilfoyle, 2006). Though schools should be attempting to make possible the success of all students, many educational institutions fall short, especially for students whose abilities are above or below the average (Tomlinson, 2003). America’s elementary schools face so many different issues brought about by the increasing diversity of student population. School populations have become more culturally, ethnically, racially, and linguistically diverse during the past two decades. Consequently, this places increased pressure on teachers to raise learning standards while meeting the needs of all students in the classroom. Teachers are continually challenged to implement modifications to their lessons within the classroom to ensure that each individual student’s academic needs are met. With the introduction of No Child Left


Behind, the federal government holds each state accountable for the academic achievement of students (Cawelti, 2006). Because of No Child Left Behind, many states began developing their own set of standards to assist in increasing student performance and achievement. The fact that no two students learn in the same manner or at the same rate creates challenges for classroom teachers. Differentiated instruction (DI) is a teaching model that has been widely accepted in many school systems to address the instructional needs of diverse learners. Carol Ann Tomlinson, an expert of differentiated instruction, contends that instructional approaches should vary and be adapted in relation to individual and diverse students in the classroom (Benjamin, 2003). Current research suggests that students’ academic needs are more readily met in a classroom where teachers utilize the differentiated instruction approach (Tomlinson, 2004). Although research indicates that most teachers understand the importance of differentiated instruction, a majority of classroom teachers do not differentiate instruction for academic diversity (Daniels & Bizar, 2005). Furthermore, research shows that student academic needs are more readily met in classrooms where teachers are differentiating instruction. In the same vein, students’ aptitude for learning is directly related to their learning styles and individual differences. It has been demonstrated that when children of all ages are placed in responsive learning climates, in which they are valued and helped to succeed, their attitudes and academic achievement improves (Ryan & Cooper, 2007). Differentiated Instruction provides an avenue for individuals to learn in a variety of ways. It allows students to learn by using their dominant learning styles, multiple


intelligences, and emotional intelligence (Levine, 2003). Levine contends that offering a variety of opportunities and ways to learn is one way to increase student achievement. Erwin (2004) stated that allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in a variety of ways, teachers are creating conditions for high quality learning. Thus, making learning conducive and proving students opportunities to master criteria that is expected of them. Statement of the Problem There is an apparent problem that students are not meeting state mandated requirements set by No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. For decades, educators have recognized the multitude of differences in individual students within a given classroom, but often they have failed to integrate these differences into their teaching strategies. Therefore, in order to effectively meet the needs of all students in the classroom, teachers cannot teach to the middle of the class, or use only one teaching style. In attempt to solve this problem, teachers must differentiate their instruction in order to give each child an equal and appropriate education (Glasgow, McNary & Hicks, 2006). Differentiated instruction will help teachers meet the needs of special education students as well as gifted and talented students and all students in between. Research indicates that differentiating instruction is better for all students, but it does not disclose why teachers are not doing it more. Hence, flexible use of time can permit more individualized instruction (Tomlinson, 2004). Many school systems have invested much time and money into the implementation of differentiated instruction in the classrooms. However, it is not known to what degree teachers are implementing the use of differentiated instruction.


Furthermore, as the student population in American schools is becoming more diverse, educators are faced with a tremendous challenge of tailoring classroom instruction to meet the needs of all students. As a result of this increasing demographic diversity, it is imperative that teachers plan instruction that focuses on individual student’s academic needs. Educators must cater a plan for those individual needs so that students can experience academic achievement and success. In other words, students benefit from being provided different avenues to learning. If educators do not begin to differentiate instruction, standard-based assessments may not be met. Equally important, high-stakes testing requires teachers to bring all students to a common point of content proficiency, even as student populations continually become more academically diverse (Walpole & McKenna, 2007). Recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics reported that approximately 6.0 million students or 14% of all students received special education services in 2003-2004 (Villegas & Lucas, 2007). Research indicated that the number of English Language Learners increased from approximately two million students, or 4.6% of all students, in 1993-94 to four million students, or 8% of all students, in 2003-04. While there is an increase in diversity in the classroom, this presents daily challenges for the teacher to address the learning needs of the students (Villegas & Lucas, 2007). Therefore, the problem in education today is the lack of achievement, in which not enough students are showing improvement in academic achievement (Nunley, 2003). If the problem of failing to differentiate instruction is not addressed, students will not master criteria and curriculum goals in Language Arts in state-mandated achievement tests. Schools will not reach the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) criteria of No Child


Left Behind if individual student needs are not met (Guilfoyle, 2006.) So, this problem threatens schools’ accreditation standings. At the same time, ultimately affects government funding for schools. Sternberg and Gringorenko (2007) contend that many students have strengths that are unrecognized and neglected in traditional schooling. By becoming aware of those strengths and incorporating them into instruction, educators can boost student achievement. As a result, one suggestion for increasing student achievement is the implementation of differentiated learning. Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study was to investigate teacher attitudes toward differentiated instruction in third grade Language Arts classrooms across a state located in the southern region of the United States. The attitudes of teachers regarding the implementation of differentiated instruction in the classroom was examined. At any rate this can be a change process for teachers and students. On the contrary, people generally resist change even when they can see a need for it. The thought of change can make people feel uncomfortable and can create conflict and tension. According to Tomlinson & McTighne (2006), many teachers and administrators are skeptical of the need for change and leaders add to the skepticism by adding and abandoning new initiatives too rapidly. This study placed a platform on the rationale and research supporting the effect of differentiated instruction on teacher attitude. In classrooms where one lesson is designed for all learners, limits are placed on students’ achievement. In any case, students who are


advanced academically are left behind because they are under-challenged, and students who may be struggling are left frustrated and confused (Davis, 2004). According to Drapeau (2004), children need not only to survive but also to thrive. In a differentiated classroom, fear is removed and children are free to take risks in their learning. By developing lessons appropriate to students’ readiness levels, interest, and learning profiles, teachers will be able to draw upon prior knowledge and student experiences outside of the school environment which will empower students to ask questions and share their opinions because they already have prior knowledge or interest in the topic (Lewis, Perry, & Hurd, 2004). With modifications made to the lesson, students are challenged at appropriate levels to eliminate frustration and boredom. Maslow and Lowery (1998) emphasized that before higher levels of need are even perceived; lower level needs must be satisfied. Teachers do not usually have adequate opportunities to reflect on their work possibly because of the intensity of the job requirements as well as extra responsibilities as a teacher. This study will provide teachers the opportunity to reflect on their attitudes about differentiated instruction (DI) in attempt to raise awareness about meeting individual student needs. The research in this dissertation will be guided by the following research questions: 1. Does National Board Certification affect teacher attitude toward DI? 2. Does teacher education affect teacher attitude toward differentiated instruction? 3. Does teacher experience affect teacher attitude toward differentiated instruction?


4. Does professional development affect teacher attitude toward DI? Definition of Terms Academic achievement- all about what students can actually do after instruction by a teacher. Academic diversity- the spectrum of learners typically present in the general education classroom, including students with a range of learning problems and learners who are advanced (Tomlinson, 2003). Attitudes- predispositions that consistently affect actions. Brain-based learning- comprehensive approach to instruction based on how current research in neuroscience suggest our brain learns naturally. Differentiated instruction- variety of classroom practices that allow differences in students’ learning styles, interests, prior knowledge, socialization needs, and comfort zones (Tomlinson, 2005). Diverse- differences among groups of people and individuals based on ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status, gender, exceptionalities, language, religion, sexual orientation, and geographical area. Learning strategies- methods used by individuals in their interactions with learning tasks. Learning style- individual prefaces for where, when, or how a student obtains and process information (Heacox, 2002). Mixed-ability students- students have different strengths and weaknesses and develop at different rates. There are different ranges of learning styles and preferences (Tomlinson, 2001).


Multiple intelligence- linguistic (word smart), logical mathematical number reasoning, spatial (picture smart), bodily-kinesthetic (body), musical to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults (Gardner, 1993). Schema- when a new topic is introduced each student has a different schema or mental picture that is a result of prior knowledge and experiences (Chapman & King, 2003). Tiered- intellectually rigorous standards relevant and flexible to student readiness, needs, and learning level. Traditional classroom- what we are most familiar with and how most students learn in elementary and secondary school in an identifiable classroom space with instructor who delivers education to student. Zone of proximal development - the range of challenge in which a learner can progress because the task is neither too hard nor too easy (Vygotsky, 1978). Delimitations During the course of this study, several delimitations were made. The study was designed for third grade Language Arts teachers only. The study addressed teachers in the state of Mississippi only. In addition, the study focused on attitudes toward differentiated instruction. In choosing to investigate the attitudes of teachers, the study did not focus on all grade levels in Language Arts. Assumptions Several assumptions were presented in this study. The researcher assumed teachers have had professional development training. The researcher assumed


participants defined differentiated instruction in the same manner as the researcher. In addition, it was assumed the participants reported their actual attitudes and practices. Justification This study is important because today’s classrooms have become academically diverse in most regions of the United States. Teachers need to help all of their students reach their full potential. Many, if not most, classrooms contain students representing both genders and multiple cultures. Hence, including students who do not speak English as a first language, and generally contain students with a range of exceptionalities and marked different experiential backgrounds (Johnsen, 2003). Of course, paying attention to individual student learning styles, creativity, interests, and readiness would help meet state mandates and increase student achievement. Johnsen (2003) argues that teachers have a responsibility to make school a place where every student can benefit. Specifically, differentiated instruction is one approach that can help teachers meet the needs of individual students. Incorporating differentiated instruction into educational practices is a worthy goal for several reasons. First, differentiation is compatible with the American ideals of equity and excellence (Tomlinson, 2001). Differentiated instruction is equitable by maintaining a core of what students should learn. At the same time, it also encourages excellence by varying how students come to make sense of this core understanding. Differentiated instruction essentially seeks to balance the various needs of students with the requirements of curriculum (Tomlinson & Jarvis, 2006). Second, differentiation is compatible with standardized testing. Teachers who are serious about preparing their students for state tests realize that they need to provide their students with excellent instruction.


Some teachers hesitate to undertake differentiated instruction in their classrooms because they believe they are too busy preparing students for state tests. According to Berry, Johnson, and Montgomery (2005), teachers who feel this way imagine a false dichotomy between a need to reach diverse learners and a need to do well on state report cards. Hence, teachers who truly understand the disciplines they teach can do both. Third, differentiation is worthwhile due to the fact that it is compatible with what brain research tells us about how students learn best (Tomlinson & Jarvis, 2006). Summary With the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, America’s educators have searched for solutions to repair the decline in academic achievement in our schools. While it is obvious that individual student needs should be met in our school systems, many educators are not implementing differentiated instruction in their classrooms on a regular basis. Surprisingly, it could be that teachers are neither confident nor sure of how to effectively implement differentiated instruction. In short, teachers must prepare students for the future by utilizing effective instructional alternatives for teaching an academically diverse population. In addition, schools are called upon to meet the federal mandates of the NCLB Act of 2001. This act requires that all students in grades three through eight be assessed and show progress in reading and math. As a result of the federal and state mandates, schools are required to pursue a new avenue in educating its diverse population (Howard, 2007).


CHAPTER II REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE Introduction Literature and research are reviewed and synthesized to establish the conceptual framework for this study. The literature on differentiated instruction is presented in a manner that supports teacher attitude toward differentiated instruction in Language Arts. The researcher presents the definition of differentiated instruction, highlights teacher attitudes towards differentiated instruction, identifies key instructional strategies, and provides the theoretical foundation for differentiated instruction. The literature regarding learning styles, multiple intelligences, brain-based learning, and constructivism is also presented. Theoretical Framework The theoretical basis for this study is grounded in Vygotsky’s Learning Theory of Cognitive Development. It has implications for teaching and learning in contemporary times (Bogdan & Biklen, 2003). Differentiated instruction reflects Vyotsky’s socio- cultural theory, the main tenet of which lies in social, interact ional relationship between teacher and student (Vygotsky, 1986). The relationship between student and teacher is clearly reciprocal, the responsibility for development becoming a shared endeavor (Tomlinson, 2004). In addition, the difficulty of skills taught should be slightly in advance of the child’s current level of mastery, linking with Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. Differentiated instruction is deeply rooted in the work of Lev Vygotsky. His work has major cultural emphasis and, as a result, is influential today.


Vygotsky noted that instruction is only effective when it promotes further cognitive development. Constructivist Theory The Constructivist Theory (Vygotsky, 1978) is a teaching method in which students are encouraged to use prior knowledge and experience and apply them to newly presented information. Differentiated instruction may be able to take its impetus from the social constructivist learning theory engendered by Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934). This theory is viewed by several educationalists, researchers and school administrators as central to instructional enhancement, classroom change and redevelopment. This theory is based on the premise that the individual learner must be studied within a particular social and cultural context (Bogdan & Biklen, 2003). The teacher selects materials that are appropriate for a variety of students and their abilities. Formerly, the teacher presents these materials to the students and helps guide the learning through well-organized lessons (O’Shea, 2005). In doing so, the students are able to internalize and master the skills presented. The constructivist approach focuses on the student as the learning center, while traditional education has focused on instruction content rather than the student (Gagne, 2004). Gagne (2004) asserted that knowledge, proceeding from the knowledge from teachers or from instructional content to the passive learner, is instructional. John Dewey (1938) emphasized that students put more effort into material they are studying if an interest exists. At the heart of the constructivist approach, the learner formulates and constructs the knowledge through scaffolding and accommodation (Gagne, 2004). In


sum, the theory of constructivism is a foundational building block for understanding differentiated instruction. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development Vygotsky’s notion of the Zone of Proximal Development, a central proposition of this theory, refers to a level of development attained when learners engage in social behavior. Vygotsky (1978) defines the Zone of Proximal Development as the distance between the actual development level and the level of potential development. Hence, the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) links that which is known to that which is unknown. In order to develop the ZPD, learners must actively interact socially with a knowledgeable adult or capable peers (Vygotsky, 1986). The teacher’s role becomes one of purposeful instruction, a mediator of activities and substantial experiences allowing the learner to attain his or her Zone of Proximal Development. Vygotsky’s theory defines the Zone of Proximal Development as the difference between what students can do independently and what they can do with adult assistance. He argued that the ZPD is where real learning takes place. He believes that pre-testing is critical in order to place students in their ZPD range. Furthermore, Vygotsky perceived language and speech as tools, used by humans to mediate their social environments. Sternberg’s Theory of Human Cognition According to the research of Robert Sternberg (1997), our public education system is, to a large degree, a closed system. Students are tested and classified based on only two kinds of abilities: ability to memorize, and ability to analyze. As a result, we label students who excel in these patterns of ability as smart or able. We label those who do not excel as less intelligent or learning disabled (Sternberg & Grigorenko, 2007).


Sternberg’s theory of human cognition is triarchic. It is composed of three skill areas: analytical (linear thinkers with school smarts), creative (innovative who think outside the box), and practical (street smart who put things in context). He argues that people who are successful develop a full range of intellectual skills, rather than just relying on smarts that schools so value. Sternberg (1997) argues that to be successful, it is essential that students are taught in their primary area of strengths while learning skills in their weaker areas as well. Carol Ann Tomlinson (2004) is an expert and pioneer of differentiated instruction. Therefore, it is evident that Carol Ann Tomlinson’s research on Differentiated instruction would be a foundation layer for this study. Tomlinson contends that teachers should differentiate content, process, and product in the classroom learning environment. It is Tomlinson’s belief that differentiated instruction tailors instruction to meet individual needs. As a pioneer of research toward differentiated instruction, Tomlinson suggests that it is the efforts of teachers to respond to variance among learners in the classroom that yields the most effective implementation of differentiated instruction. Johnsen (2003) conducted a study using undergraduate teachers differentiating instruction to suit different ability levels. Johnsen’s findings indicated that the use of differentiated techniques proved to be engaging, stimulated student interest and provided a gratifying experience for the undergraduate teachers. A case study of one middle school’s experience with differentiated instruction by Tomlinson (2005) revealed initial teacher opposition toward modifying instruction to suit learner variance. However, the teacher’s attitude towards change proved a more decisive factor, with teachers who embraced change showing a greater inclination to adopt differentiation (Tomlinson, 2005). In


addition, a study investigating the use of differentiated instruction on student scores on standardized tests, teachers’ perceptions of their ability to meet the needs of diverse students and parents’ expectation of student performance, Hodge (1997) found that students who were prepared for tests using differentiated techniques showed a gain in their mathematics scores, but there were no comparable gains in reading scores. Furthermore, the teachers’ perceptions of being able to meet the needs of diverse learners in their classrooms do not appear to be influenced by the use of traditional or differentiated instructional techniques (Hodge, 1997). Differentiated instruction provides opportunities for students to learn by engaging them in activities designed to enhance their strengths, learning needs, and preferences through a multitude of instructional formats, and allowing the students to demonstrate their understanding of concepts through a variety of means. Sternberg & Grigorenko (2007) encourages teachers to provide diverse activities, which enhance students’ own dominant intelligence. Moreover, this will increase the chance of retaining the information to be able to apply it later in other areas of learning. Providing students activities that are more diverse also helps students build upon their own dominant intelligences, while at the same time, it strengthens their less dominant intelligences (Armstrong, 2009). Contrary to Armstrong, Sternberg and Gringorenko (2007) believe students who are taught analytically, creatively, and practically improve academically regardless of the kind of activities and assessments they receive. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need Theory Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need Theory has five important components: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization (Campbell,


Campbell, & Dickinson, 2004). Physiological needs, including sleep and hunger, are dominant and serve as the basis of motivation. Safety represents the need for security, stability, and protection from fear. Love and belonging refer to the need for family and friends. Esteem needs encourage the reaction of others to all individuals and self opinions. Self-actualization refers to the restless tendency to achieve in spite of the satisfaction of the lower needs. The concept of self-actualization is the most important need that is unique to the classroom. Students are encouraged to discover, recognize, and utilize their potential by facilitators who guide them with engaging activities that promote and enhance competency and fulfillment (Cianciolo & Sternberg, 2004). Teachers have been differentiating instruction for as long as teaching has been a profession (Stronge, 2002). It has to do with being sensitive to the needs of your students and finding ways to help students make the necessary connections for learning to occur in the best possible way. In this day and age, there is research available for teachers to assist in creating instructional environments that will maximize the learning opportunities and will help students in developing the knowledge and skills necessary for achieving positive learning outcomes (Barton, 2006). In addition, addressing student differences and interest appears to enhance their motivation to learn while encouraging them to remain committed and stay positive (Tomlinson, 2004). Ignoring these fundamental differences may result in some students falling behind, losing motivation and failing to succeed. Students who may be advanced and motivated may become lost as the teacher strives to finish as much of the curriculum as possible. It would further appear that students learn effectively when tasks are moderately challenging, neither too simple nor too complex.


Brain-Based Learning Research on the brain has been used to inform educational practices for many years and is becoming more and more popular. Brain-based research helps us to know the many influences that can affect learning (Jensen, 2000). Interestingly, the more we understand how students learn best given the variable affecting learning, the better equipped we are to provide instruction that will maximize learning outcomes. Jensen argues that the brain is ready for problem solving at age one or two and is fully developed by the age of eleven to thirteen. He argues that brain growth occurs as a result of the engagement in problem solving and is not dependent on arriving at an answer. Recent research into the working of the human brain has significant implications for educators (Nunley, 2003). A brain compatible environment ensures that learning takes place. A differentiated classroom is organized in a manner to alleviate student stress and increase student interests in their learning by developing lessons according to the needs of the students. According to Jensen (2000), brain research shows that learning is developmental, that each brain is uniquely organized, and that children experience window of opportunity for learning at different ages. Brain-based instruction is cognizant of the brain’s natural learning system (Greenleaf, 2003). Good instruction within the classroom seeks to utilize the brain adeptly, to process, store and retrieve information (Greenleaf, 2003). Brain-research suggests three broad, related concepts that necessitate a differentiated approach (Tomlinson & Edison, 2003). Tomlinson & Edison contend that the learning environment should be safe and non-threatening to encourage learning. Children who

Full document contains 108 pages
Abstract: The purpose of this study was to investigate teacher attitude toward differentiated instruction in third grade language arts in classrooms across a southern region of the United States. The researcher sought to answer four research questions "Does National Board Certification affect teacher attitude toward differentiated instruction," "Does teacher education affect teacher attitude towards differentiated instruction?," "Does teacher experience affect teacher attitude toward differentiated instruction?," and "Does professional development affect teacher attitude toward differentiated instruction?." The research findings supported the work of Tomlinson, McTighe, Webb, Wiggins, Vygotsky, and Gardner. Their literature served as a foundation in the identification of the variables for this study on attitudes toward differentiated instruction. Research findings suggested that neither teacher experience, National Board Certification, nor teacher education had a significant effect on teacher attitude toward differentiated instruction. However, there was a significant difference in teacher attitude toward differentiated instruction due to professional development. The findings of this study suggested that teachers receiving more professional development have a more positive attitude toward differentiated instruction.