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The effects of differentiated instruction on academic achievement in a second-grade science classroom

Dissertation
Author: Ann M. Ferrier
Abstract:
Education in the United States is moving quickly toward holding school districts more accountable for the academic success of all students. The purpose of this quasi-experimental study was to determine if utilizing differentiated instructional strategies had an impact on student achievement. Differentiated instruction, based on the theory of constructivism, is a means of meeting the needs of all learners within a single classroom. Teachers must vary how and what they teach, as well as how they evaluate. Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) was used to determine the impact instruction using differentiated strategies had on the academic achievement of second-grade students in life science and in physical science. Students in the differentiated instructional classes were found to score significantly greater than their traditionally instructed peers. School districts across the United States can benefit from the findings of this study. Teachers at all levels should be trained in differentiated instruction to better serve their students. Differentiated instruction provides all children better opportunities to learn, resulting in more academically equipped and contributing members of society.

v TABLE OF CONTENTS LIST OF TABLES...........................................vii

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY.......................1 Introduction...............................................1 Problem Statement..........................................2 Nature of the Study........................................4 Purpose...................................................10 Theoretical Foundation....................................10 Definition of Terms.......................................18 Scope and Delimitations...................................22 Significance..............................................22 Overview of the Study.....................................22

CHAPTER 2: RELEVANT SCHOLARLY LITERATURE..................24 What Is Traditional Instruction?..........................24 What Is Differentiated Instruction?.......................26 Knowing the Child: Why Differentiate......................29 What to Differentiate.....................................35 Learning Environment.................................36 Content..............................................39 Process..............................................40 Product and Assessment...............................40 How to Differentiate......................................43 Activities...........................................44 Cooperative and Flexible Groups......................46 Learning Stations....................................49 Tiered Activities....................................50 Further Thoughts..........................................53

CHAPTER 3: METHODOLOGY....................................56 Introduction..............................................56 Research Design...........................................56 District.............................................56 School...............................................57 Teacher..............................................57 Students.............................................58 Permission...........................................58 Sample...............................................59 Variables............................................60 Control Group........................................61 Treatment Groups.....................................61 External Observer....................................62 Instrumentation...........................................63 Data Collection Instruments..........................63

vi Experimental Design..................................64 Data Collection Procedures...........................65 Validity.............................................67 Data Analysis.............................................71 Limitations...............................................77 CHAPTER 4: RESULTS........................................79 Introduction..............................................79 Sample....................................................79 Data Analyses.............................................80 Results of Analyses.......................................82 Research Question 1..................................82 Research Question 2..................................93 Conclusions..............................................104

CHAPTER 5: DISCUSSION....................................108 Introduction.............................................108 Summary of the Study.....................................110 Statistical Analyses.....................................112 Interpretation of Findings...............................113 Research Question 1.................................113 Research Question 2.................................114 Comparison of Teaching Approaches........................115 Implications for Social Change...........................118 Recommendations for Action...............................120 Recommendations for Further Study........................120 Concluding Remarks.......................................123

REFERENCES...............................................126 APPENDIX A: PERMISSION TO CONDUCT STUDY..................133 SUPERINTENDENT PERMISSION...........................134 PRINCIPAL PERMISSION................................135 APPENDIX B: INFORMED CONSENT.............................136 PARENT OR GUARDIAN CONSENT FORM.....................136 STUDENT ORAL AND WRITTEN ASSENT FORM................139 APPENDIX C: EXTERNAL OBSERVER CHECKLIST..................140 APPENDIX D: ASSESSMENTS..................................174 LIFE SCIENCE ASSESSMENT.............................174 PHYSICAL SCIENCE ASSESSMENT.........................178 APPENDIX E: INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES.....................183 APPENDIX F: DISTRICT SCIENCE OBJECTIVES..................186 APPENDIX G: CONTENT VALIDITY STATEMENT...................187

CURRICULUM VITAE.........................................188

vii LIST OF TABLES Table 1. Composition of Life Science Tests...............70 Table 2. Composition of Physical Science Tests...........70 Table 3. Homogeneity of Slopes for Life Science Group....83 Table 4. Adjusted Group Means in Life Science............84 Table 5. Analyses of Covariance for Life Science Group...85 Table 6. Pairwise Comparisons for Life Science Posttest..86 Table 7. Homogeneity of Slopes for Males in Life Science.........................................87

Table 8. Adjusted Means for Males in Life Science........87 Table 9. Analyses of Covariance for Males in Life Science.........................................88

Table 10. Pairwise Comparisons for Males in Life Science.........................................89

Table 11. Homogeneity of Slopes for Females in Life Science.........................................90

Table 12. Adjusted Means for Females in Life Science......91 Table 13. Analyses of Covariance for Females in Life Science.........................................91

Table 14. Pairwise Comparisons for Females in Life Science.........................................93

Table 15. Homogeneity of Slopes for Physical Science Group...........................................94

Table 16. Adjusted Group Means in Physical Science........95 Table 17. Analyses of Covariance for Physical Science Group...........................................95

Table 18. Pairwise Comparisons for Physical Science Posttest........................................95

viii

Table 19. Homogeneity of Slopes for Males in Physical Science.........................................98

Table 20. Adjusted Group Means for Males in Physical Science.........................................99

Table 21. Analysis of Covariance for Males in Physical Science.........................................99

Table 22. Pairwise Comparisons for Males in Physical Science........................................100

Table 23. Homogeneity of Slopes for Females in Physical Science........................................101

Table 24. Adjusted Group Means for Females in Physical Science........................................102

Table 25. Analyses of Covariance for Females in Physical Science........................................102

Table 26. Pairwise Comparisons for Females in Physical Science........................................103

CHAPTER 1:INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY Introduction In schools today, it is becoming increasingly important for children to demonstrate a deep understanding of science. No longer is the memorization of facts presented to them by a teacher sufficient. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act (2002) has made it imperative all children receive adequate and appropriate instruction to enable them to succeed in a standards-based curriculum. NCLB was described by Gallagher (2004) as being designed to ensure quality education for all students, particularly those at risk for academic problems or failure. An extensive testing program across major subject areas is mandated for K-12 students by 2007, and the results of these tests will be used to determine if students, teachers, and schools are operating to acceptable standards. (p. 121)

A move by many districts toward a standards-based curriculum, which guarantees all children will have access to the same high quality of learning, necessitates differentiating instruction. Hoover (2004) noted, Because all students must be included in state- mandated assessment, they must also be included in the implementation of the standards-based curriculum. As a result, curriculum differentiation or adaptation for students with learning and behavior problems must occur more frequently within the guidelines established by standards-based teaching. (p. 77)

2 To comply with NCLB, school districts must be able to demonstrate that all students continuously show improvements on standardized tests. Kapusnick (2001) stated, “Reforms in teaching have shifted the instructional paradigm from adult-dominated pedagogy to child-centered, constructivist theories and methodologies” (p. 159). Kapusnick also posited, “The most influential factors for student success are the importance teachers place on meeting individual needs and their attitudes toward changing traditional teaching practices” (p. 159). Differentiated instructional strategies allow teachers to better teach to the interests and abilities of more children than traditional methods allow. Lawrence-Brown (2004) found differentiated instruction ”is as important for students who find school easy as it is for those who find it difficult. All students benefit from the availability of a variety of methods and supports, and an appropriate balance of challenge and success” (p. 37). By differentiating instruction, the varied needs of more students are more likely to be met. Problem Statement A problem that exists in education today is that children arrive in class with a wide variety of skills and

3 preferred learning styles, all of which need to be expanded with the help of a single classroom teacher. Singer and Donlan (1989) “estimated a reading ability span in a typical classroom of two-thirds the average chronological age of the students. In a traditional class of 15-year-olds a teacher should expect a 10-year range of reading levels” (as quoted in Lawrence-Brown, 2004, p. 36). In fairness to students, appropriate instructional practices must be employed by teachers to prepare students of all abilities for rigorous testing. Drapeau (2004) posited, One lesson rarely meets all the needs in the classroom. When a teacher tries to teach basic skills and content to the whole class at one time, chances are some students are not ready to hear it; some students are not interested in hearing it; some students will understand it; and some students already know it. (p. 9)

School districts across the country are encountering budget issues that are forcing them to make difficult choices related to the education of children with varied needs, abilities, and interests. Therefore, it is becoming even more imperative to differentiate instruction within the classroom. Teachers need to work differently to both challenge the gifted student and support and educate the struggling student. If these varied needs are not met, children may not be as successful as they otherwise could

4 be. According to Tomlinson and Allan (2000), “Without large numbers of classrooms where teachers are skilled in meeting varied learners where they are and moving them ahead briskly and with understanding, the number of frustrated and disenfranchised learners in our schools can only multiply” (p. 2). Frustrated and disenfranchised learners may not persevere, let alone thrive, in a classroom that is not meeting their needs. Hence, this study will contribute to the body of knowledge needed to address this problem by comparing the academic gains made by those receiving differentiated instructional strategies to the academic gains experienced by children receiving traditional instructional strategies in the subject area of science. Nature of the Study The goal of this study was to determine if the method of instruction has an impact on the academic gains a student makes in science and what those impacts are. Research question 1:

What impact does instruction using differentiated strategies have on the academic achievement of the following second-grade students in life science?

5 1. Students involved in a first-second grade loop with the same teacher and classmates. 2. Students in a homeroom setting with the researcher as the instructor. 3. Male students. 4. Female students. Null hypothesis: There are no significant differences among students in a first-second grade loop receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, students in a homeroom setting receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, and students receiving instruction utilizing traditional methods on life science while controlling for the pretest. Alternative hypothesis: There are significant differences among students in a first-second grade loop receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, students in a homeroom setting receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, and students receiving instruction utilizing traditional methods on life science while controlling for the pretest.

6 Null hypothesis: There are no significant differences among male students in a first-second grade loop receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, male students in a homeroom setting receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, and male students receiving instruction utilizing traditional methods on life science while controlling for the pretest. Alternative hypothesis: There are significant differences among male students in a first-second grade loop receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, male students in a homeroom setting receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, and male students receiving instruction utilizing traditional methods in life science while controlling for the pretest. Null hypothesis: There are no significant differences among female students in a first-second grade loop receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, female students in a homeroom setting receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, and female students receiving

7 instruction utilizing traditional methods in life science while controlling for the pretest. Alternative hypothesis: There are significant differences among female students in a first-second grade loop receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, female students in a homeroom setting receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, and female students receiving instruction utilizing traditional methods in life science while controlling for the pretest. Research question 2: What impact does instruction using differentiated strategies have on the academic achievement of the following second-grade students in physical science? 1. Students involved in a first-second grade loop with the same teacher and classmates. 2. Students in a nonhomeroom setting with the researcher as the instructor. 3. Male students 4. Female students Null hypothesis: There are no significant differences among students in a first-second grade loop receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional

8 strategies, students in a nonhomeroom setting receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, and students receiving instruction utilizing traditional methods in physical science while controlling for the pretest. Alternative hypothesis: There are significant differences among students in a first-second grade loop receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, students in a nonhomeroom setting instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, and students receiving instruction utilizing traditional methods in physical science while controlling for the pretest. Null hypothesis: There are no significant differences among male students in a first-second grade loop receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, male students in a nonhomeroom setting receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, and male students receiving instruction utilizing traditional methods in physical science while controlling for the pretest. Alternative hypothesis: There are significant differences among male students in a first-second grade

9 loop receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, male students in a nonhomeroom setting receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, and male students receiving instruction utilizing traditional methods in physical science while controlling for the pretest.receiving Null hypothesis: There are no significant differences among female students in a first-second grade loop receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, female students in a nonhomeroom setting receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, and female students receiving instruction utilizing traditional methods in physical science while controlling for the pretest. Alternative hypothesis: There are significant differences among female students in a first-second grade loop receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, female students in a nonhomeroom setting receiving instruction utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, and female students receiving instruction utilizing traditional methods in physical science while controlling for the pretest.

10 Purpose The purpose of this quasi-experimental nonequivalent control-group study was to test the impact the teacher’s instructional approach, differentiated instruction, had on students’ academic achievement in science. The participants of the study were three groups of second-grade students, all instructed by the same teacher. The elementary school is located in a middle class neighborhood in the midwestern United States. This elementary school houses approximately 500 students in kindergarten through sixth grade. A variety of enrichment classes for students, including foreign language, physical education, art, music, and technology, are provided to all grades. The independent variables in this study were the instructional strategies utilized, gender, participation in a first-second grade loop, homeroom and nonhomeroom settings. The dependent variable was defined as students’ test score gains, adjusted to account for differences initially observed on the pretests on a life science unit and on a physical science unit. Theoretical Foundation According to the National Science Education Standards (1996), “Excellence in science education embodies the ideal that all students can achieve understanding of science if

11 they are given the opportunity” (p. 2). Children need access to this opportunity in science, regardless of who they are or how they learn. Best practices in science today dictate that children should experience science in order to gain a firm understanding of the world around them. Many of the best practices in science, including differentiated instructional strategies, have their roots in constructivist learning theory. Dewey (1938) described constructivism, without ever using that term, when he described progressive schools. These schools arose from the dissatisfaction with traditional schools. Dewey believed quality experiences should guide learning; he emphasized, ”Everything depends upon the quality of the experience which is had” (p. 27). Children need a strong base of quality experiences in order to generate new knowledge. Teachers need to help children to discover new information while simultaneously identifying any misinformation related to a particular topic. According to Dewey, the children will more readily learn new information when they are able to link the information to prior experiences. Noddings (1992) stated “John Dewey (1968) argued years ago that teachers had to start with the experience and interests of students and patiently forge connections between that

12 experience and whatever subject matter was prescribed” (p. 19). Lawrence-Brown (2004) suggested teachers “make specific connections with prior knowledge and experiences. This strategy helps students to create a space for new information/skills within their existing cognitive schema, an essential aspect of learning and retention” (p. 45). Connecting new information and experiences to prior knowledge as Dewey proposed is a basic tenet of constructivism. Vygotsky (1935) also stressed the importance of addressing the constructivist ideas underlying the learning process; he stated, “A well known and empirically established fact is that learning should be matched in some manner with the child’s developmental level” (as quoted in Vygotsky, Cole, John-Steiner, Scribner, & Souberman, 1978, p. 85). Vygotsky recognized the zone of proximal development (ZPD) as crucial to a child’s ability to gain new knowledge. Vygotsky described the ZPD as “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (as quoted in Vygotsky, et al., 1978, p. 86). Children of

13 the same grade or age may differ greatly in the developmental readiness to learn new information. Vygotsky believed it is crucial to determine a child’s prior knowledge in order to place the child in the ZPD. According to Vygotsky, placing a child outside the ZPD can lead to frustration and feelings of inadequacy. Drapeau (2004), in referencing Vygotsky’s ZPD, stated, “Pretesting in order to place students in the ZPD is critical to the students’ success” (p. 13). Children are able to construct knowledge when they are working in the zone that provides them just the right amount of challenge. In the classroom environment, teachers need to work to determine the ZPD of each child, then take the necessary steps to ensure every child is given the opportunity to work at the appropriate level. According to Bruner (1996), many children do not receive a form of instruction most beneficial to their needs. Bruner posited, Our Western pedagogical tradition hardly does justice to the importance of intersubjectivity in transmitting culture. Indeed, it often clings to a preference for a degree of explicitness that seems to ignore it. So teaching is fitted into a mold in which a single, presumably omniscient teacher explicitly tells or shows presumably unknowing learners something they presumably know nothing about. Even when we tamper with this

14 model, as with “question periods” and the like, we still remain loyal to unspoken precepts. I believe that one of the most important gifts that a cultural psychology can give to education is a reformulation of this impoverished conception. For only a very small part of educating takes place on such a one-way street - and it is probably one of the least successful parts. (pp. 20-21)

Bruner believed learners and their needs must be considered individually before being addressed in a manner most suitable for optimum learning to take place. Instructional techniques should vary based on the needs of those who will be exposed to the instruction. Bruner stated, Real schooling, of course, is never confined to one model of the learner or one model of teaching. Most day-to-day education in schools is designed to cultivate skills and abilities, to impart a knowledge of facts and theories, and to cultivate understanding of the beliefs and intentions of those nearby and far away. Any choice of pedagogical practice implies a conception of the learner and may, in time, be adopted by him or her as the appropriate way of thinking about the learning process. For a choice of pedagogy inevitably communicates a conception of the learning process and the learner. Pedagogy is never innocent. It is a medium that carries its own message. (p. 63) Instruction must be adjusted according to the specific knowledge individual children need to obtain, as well as when and how they need to receive the material in order to maximize learning for everyone.

15 A classroom environment built upon the theory of constructivism puts children at the heart of instructional decisions. Sewell (2002) emphasized, Constructivist Learning Theory maintains that learning is not the result of teaching; rather it is the result of what students do with the new information they are presented with. In other words, students are active learners who construct their own knowledge. (p. 24)

In the constructivism-based classroom, children are expected to play an active role in their learning. Rather than sitting passively in the classroom and attempting to absorb information, children should have a role in determining what they will learn and how they will learn it. It is the combination of ownership of the curriculum and the ability to construct their own knowledge that enables children to become more invested in their own learning. According to Shapiro (1994), We must understand learning not only as a cognitive experience but also as an emotional, personal, social, and cultural one. To construct new ides means to take action based on beliefs about what one is doing when one is learning science. (p. xiv)

If children do not have a role in formulating their own knowledge, they are not as likely to understand or to retain the content of the lessons.

16 One of the basic tenets of constructivism places the prior knowledge children bring with them to the classroom as a springboard for learning. All further learning depends upon what the children already know, however accurate the information may or may not be, when they enter the classroom. Children arrive at school with varying degrees of knowledge based upon the life experiences they have had. Experiences such as attending preschool and the quality of interactions with caregivers can greatly affect the knowledge base of children. According to Sewell (2002), by the time children begin school, they have formed many ideas based on various factors that come into play in their lives. Many of these ideas are in conflict with what is considered in the science world to be true today. Sewell reiterated, “These are misconceptions or wrong beliefs, and it is these beliefs, more than any other factor, which determine whether students will learn the new information that we present to them” (p. 24). If students have accurate preexisting knowledge, new learning can simply build upon that knowledge. If the knowledge is inaccurate, however, steps need to be taken to repair the foundation. Rather than a teacher simply telling a child the existing knowledge is inaccurate, the child should discover the

17 inaccuracies and want to correct them. Misconceptions need to be identified in order for effective lessons to be formulated. Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde (1998) cited reports drafted by both scientists and science educators that “call for making science learning experiential instead of lecture-oriented, cognitive and constructivist rather than focused only on facts and formulas, social and collaborative rather than isolating students from one another” (pp. 109-110). Although lecture and textbooks are important components of science education, they should be used to supplement learning, not relied upon as the lone or most important method of instruction. Hart (1983) pointed out a downfall of relying too much upon the use of lecture: “A key point to note is that the lecturer controls only what is uttered, and has no control whatever as to how the input is processed or utilized in the individual brains of the audience” (p. 153). Children will best internalize science knowledge through a combination of experiences. According to Goodnough (2001), If students are offered variety and choice in the way they learn, are afforded opportunities to work cooperatively with other students, and have opportunities to receive and give feedback about how and what they are learning, science is more likely to

18 be personalized for them. If students become engaged in the learning of science and develop positive attitudes toward science, there is a greater probability that they will develop higher levels of scientific literacy. (p. 188)

Since students learn in a variety of ways, teachers need to address the learning styles of the individuals within the classroom, regardless of the preferred instructional modalities of the teacher. Instruction in the constructivist science classroom is driven by what individual children need to be successful. The teacher meets the children at individual levels, not at the level of the textbook that has been assigned to that grade or even solely at the level of the majority of the children. Definition of Terms This study relies upon the following definitions of terms: Constructivist learning: Lambert et al., referring to the works of many theorists, including but not limited to Dewey, Bruner, Piaget, Vygotsky, and H. Gardner, stated that constructivist learning takes place when Students construct meaning from personal values, beliefs, and experiences. The development of personal schema and the ability to reflect upon one’s experiences are key theoretical principles. Unlike traditional thought, it is believed that knowledge exists within the learner. The social nature of learning is

19 emphasized: shared inquiry is a central activity. Multiple outcomes are expected and encouraged, with assessment being integral to the process. (p. 14)

Children develop at different rates and are expected to play an active role in the learning process in the constructivist-based classroom. Content: The content of instruction is what children are expected to master in the classroom. “Content is what a student should come to know (facts), understand (concepts and principles), and be able to do (skills) as a result of a given segment of study (a lesson, a learning experience, a unit)” (Tomlinson, 1999, p. 43). Differentiated instruction: Drapeau (2004) described differentiation as providing “a structure of fluid and flexible tiers to challenge students at the appropriate level of instruction” (p.11). Gregory (2003) described differentiation as “A philosophy that enables teachers to plan strategically in order to reach the needs of the diverse learners in classrooms today” (p. 27). For the purposes of this study, the aspects of differentiated instruction that will be focused on will be tiered activities, learning center activities, and multiple- intelligence based activities.

20 Learning profile: Tomlinson and Allan (2000) describe the learning profile of a child as “including learning style, intelligence preference, and influence of gender and culture” (p. 20). The learning profile consists of all the traits of the child that contribute to the manner in which the child gains knowledge. Looping: Tomlinson and Allan (2000) stated, “Looping is the practice of teachers working with the same students for more than one year. Teachers ‘loop’ or ‘move up’ with students when they progress to the next grade” (p. 75). The students and teacher referred to in this study are in the second year of the loop. Process: According to Tomlinson (1999), “Process is the opportunity for students to make sense of the content . ...In the classroom, process typically takes place in the form of activities” (p.43). Product: “A product is a vehicle through which a student shows (and extends) what he or she has come to understand and can do as a result of a considerable segment of learning” (Tomlinson, 1999, p. 43). The product is the students’ demonstration of the learning that has taken place.

Full document contains 195 pages
Abstract: Education in the United States is moving quickly toward holding school districts more accountable for the academic success of all students. The purpose of this quasi-experimental study was to determine if utilizing differentiated instructional strategies had an impact on student achievement. Differentiated instruction, based on the theory of constructivism, is a means of meeting the needs of all learners within a single classroom. Teachers must vary how and what they teach, as well as how they evaluate. Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) was used to determine the impact instruction using differentiated strategies had on the academic achievement of second-grade students in life science and in physical science. Students in the differentiated instructional classes were found to score significantly greater than their traditionally instructed peers. School districts across the United States can benefit from the findings of this study. Teachers at all levels should be trained in differentiated instruction to better serve their students. Differentiated instruction provides all children better opportunities to learn, resulting in more academically equipped and contributing members of society.