In this discussion post, I would like to share my opinion about the importance and relevance of different research approaches and designs. There are two general approaches to data collection process – quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative research explores the issue in breadth while qualitative research seeks depth in personal perceptions and experiences. As for the question which approach serves the researcher best, I believe that both approaches are significant and the value of each is dependent on the research question and purpose. The choice is primarily defined by the interest that those who are affected take in it. Though, practitioners may take greater interest in exploring the depth of a particular case whereas administrators gain more benefit from numerical data in order to set forward recommendations.
As for the educational context in Kazakhstan, I think that the best way to appeal to the policy makers and administrators is to use solid numerical data in order to set positive changes in motion. People tend to believe numbers because, as many believe, they do not lie. However, as Mark Twain, a well-known American writer once wisely noted “Figures do not lie, but liars do figure”. There is no doubt that any form of research is embedded into highly ethical intentions and rigorous procedures to reveal the true state of things.
The choice of my research methodology has been defined by the research aim to explore teachers’ perceptions and experiences of differentiated instruction in a secondary school in Kazakhstan. In order to reveal teachers’ attitudes towards diversity of learning needs in their classrooms and the practices that they employ to meet those needs, the case study research design was selected. I will triangulate the research data by interviewing teachers, observing their lessons, and analyzing the subject documents. The triangulation approach will help me to understand the reasons of their professional choices and show how their understandings shape their teaching practices overall.
I believe that the selected research design will be beneficial for my school community as differentiated instruction has become one of the prioritized directions of teachers’ professional development at school. Teachers talk a lot about differentiated instruction and their practices are usually restricted by mere retrofitting practices. However, according to the vast body of knowledge and research, differentiated instruction is not about having a set of strategies up in one’s sleeve which come handy whenever an unexpected classroom situation occurs, but it is a teaching philosophy deeply grounded into personal and professional values.
In conclusion, I would like to say that the beauty of research lies in the truth that it seeks. It helps to formally articulate the truth so that things eventually change for good. Another fascination about research for me is that it allows to reconsider the mundane issues from quite different perspectives, thus gaining deeper understanding. As Albert Szent Gyorgyi, a Hungarian Nobel Prize winner once said “Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought”.
In this post I would like to share my experience of working on the literature review section. I believe that this process is fundamental to my research as it defines the directions in which I will explore teachers’ perceptions and experiences of differentiated instruction. So, I have been reading a lot on differentiated instruction since I decided to research this approach to teachers’ instructional practices. It has been a focus of attention of many scholars who investigate the problem of contemporary teaching practices to meet the needs of all individual learners. The readings that I have done so far prompted me to identify the following themes: theories and concepts around differentiated instruction, teachers’ understandings and experiences of differentiated instruction, and challenges in implementing differentiated instruction. I am still thinking if strategies that are generally expected to be employed in differentiated instruction should be included into the section about teachers’ practices or outlined as one more theme. Some sources research and discuss the strategies based on the theory of multiple intelligences and constructivist approach as an effective way to address the diversity of learning profiles, while some propose that differentiated instruction do not provide recipes to fit all. Some authors firmly believe and promote the idea that differentiated instruction is not entrenched in dogma. On the contrary, it is a thinking paradigm which endorses multiple contextual approaches to teaching. So, I continue reading in order to get more informed about the existing teaching practices and their methodological underpinnings.
As for challenges, I have not encountered any difficulties in finding relevant sources since there are many scholarly works and studies in my research area. What I found a bit challenging first is that differentiated instruction highly resonates with many other instructional approaches such as personalization, individualization, Universal Design for learning, backward design and adaptive teaching. And now I think that this is good for me because such similarities give me more opportunities to point out its conceptual differences.
To my mind, one of the most meaningful works that I draw upon in my thesis is written by McTighe and Brown (2005) under the title “Differentiated Instruction and Educational Standards: Is Détente Possible?” The article discusses the challenges faced by teachers in their daily practices under the pressure of rigorous curriculum and assessment standards. It also considers backward planning which is based on the constructivist approach of meaning making. This planning design sends lots of implications for differentiated teaching.
Concluding, I want to say that I still have questions and in order to answer them I keep reading and simultaneously I keep integrating the new ideas and findings into my paper. I would like to wish my peers the best of success in writng their papers and meeting the deadlines!
My thesis topic is “Teachers’ experiences and perceptions of differentiated instruction in a school for gifted students in Karaganda”. I have chosen the issue of differentiated instruction because it has direct relation to the principles of inclusive education as it is a value-grounded approach towards teaching which puts learner first. It is evident that differentiated instruction has become a “buzz word” lately in the vast body of literature alongside personalization and individualization of teaching due to the shift of teaching paradigms from teacher-centered to student-centered approach.
Another reason for the choice of the topic is that the school I am working at has set differentiated instruction as the priority for the teachers’ professional development. I believe, that differentiated instruction is more than a mere set of strategies and methods of how it is possible to tailor learning and lesson objectives to the needs and interests of each individual learner by differentiating content, process, and learning outcomes. This approach might be dangerous as teachers, due to the lack of conceptual understanding, might consider differentiated instruction to be about a mere design of multi-level tasks for stronger and weaker students. As I have already mentioned, it is far beyond that. It is a teaching philosophy which is embedded into understanding of the uniqueness of each individual learner and this awareness brings about the ability to see differences not as weaknesses, but strengths. These strengths, as I believe, might contribute to the enrichment of the classroom diversity, by demonstration and celebration differences as a part of individual identity. This will undoubtedly foster respect towards diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds as well as tolerance and empathy among students.
So, my research purpose is to identify and analyze how teachers understand the concept of differentiated instruction and apply it to engage students meaningfully in all classroom activities and ensure their academic achievement. In order to be able to analyze and reflect upon the findings of my research, it is necessary for me to establish a strong theoretical framework of the phenomenon, its diverse features and relations to the principles of inclusive education. The research findings will be beneficial for my own professional development as a practicing teacher and growth as a leader in inclusive education.