Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Differentiated Instruction: Using a Case Study

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Differentiated Instruction: Using a Case Study

Article excerpt

Classrooms have become increasingly diverse. Nevertheless, we have the same goal for all our students: we want them to achieve high standards by providing them with equal and varied opportunities to reach their potential (Lawrence-Brown, 2004).

Research suggests that differentiated instruction is an approach that can benefit students with a wide range of ability levels (Clark, 1997; Neber, Finsterwald, & Urban, 2001; Tomlinson, 1999), as well as learning styles, and cultural and linguistic backgrounds (Convery & Coyle, 1993). It is grounded in cognitive psychology and supported by research on student achievement. The four guiding principles of differentiated instruction are: a focus on essential ideas and skills in content areas, responsiveness to individual student differences, the integration of assessment and instruction, and an ongoing adjustment of content, process and products to meet individual needs (Tieso, 2003; Tomlinson, 1999). Teachers who differentiate instruction believe that all children are unique and have differing learning styles and preferences for learning and self-expression. They also believe that the curriculum is a driving force in what students learn; therefore, in order to address students who have learning problems, teachers must be able to modify, expand, and/or enrich the curriculum with appropriate learning experiences that acknowledge students' strengths, rather than their deficits in learning (Noble, 2004), and provide students with choice to develop products, and work with processes that will expand their learning. The teachers must be able to adjust the curriculum to maximize learning for all (Anderson, 2007).

A critical part of differentiated instruction is assessment. Assessment is an ongoing process aimed at understanding and improving student learning (Angelo, 1995). Walker (2004) argues that assessment should be viewed as an interactive process and should consider the reader, the text, the reading and writing tasks involved, and the context in which tasks are performed. Similarly, educators acknowledge that assessment must be balanced and thorough and that no one indicator should be used as the sole indicator of achievement (Collins Block, 2003; Butler & McMunn, 2006). Barr, Blachowicz, Bates, Katz, and Kaufman (2007) recommend the use of curriculum-based assessment to guide planning for instruction. This is further reinforced by the IRA/NCTE Joint Task Force on Assessment (2004), which supports the notion that the primary purpose of assessment is to inform planning for teaching and learning. Teachers who differentiate instruction are cognizant of the relationship between assessment and instruction and believe that, when used in concert, learning can occur. In this age of standards, using assessment data to differentiate instruction is essential (Brimijoin, Marquissee & Tomlinson, 2003). A continuous, thorough and balanced assessment of students' strengths and weaknesses will allow teachers to plan purposeful and meaningful differentiated instruction for all students, particularly those with special needs.

In working with students with special needs we found using a case study to be very informative and effective in identifying students' areas of strengths and needs in order to assist teachers in planning appropriate instructional procedures to alleviate in some demonstrable degree the reading difficulties individual students may be experiencing. A case study uses multiple sources of data and information to answer the questions: Who is the learner? What are his/her areas of strengths and needs? What would be the appropriate differentiated learning opportunities to help him/ her succeed? These sources may include demographic information, reasons for referral for testing, student interview data, parent interview data, school history, testing results, and interviewer's/tester's insights.

Case study: Gayle

Gayle is a 10-year-old third grade boy who attends his neighborhood public elementary school. …

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