Culturally Responsive Differentiated Instruction: Narrowing Gaps Between Best Pedagogical Practices Benefiting All Learners

Jan. 20, 2009

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 111 Number 1, 2009, p. 214-247


Because of its special education association, differentiated instruction (DI) is a topic of concern for many educators working with culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) learners, whereby bilingual, multicultural, and culturally responsive teaching (CRT) is considered more appropriate for responding to cultural and linguistic diversity. Furthermore, although the literature base on DI recognizes cultural and linguistic diversity, it offers little in terms of ways to address these differences.

Purpose of Study

The study focuses in assisting the educational community to recognize pedagogical differences, while finding common ground, in identifying complementary teaching practices for all students, including culturally diverse students and English language learners (ELLs). CRT and DI provide frameworks with which to discuss a reconciliation of both theory-to-practice approaches with the hope that a common framework will better serve educators and preservice teachers working with diverse students in complex multidimensional classrooms.

This research took place at two CLD elementary schools serving ELLs in North San Diego County, California. Schools were chosen because both are reaching high levels of academic achievement and are closing achievement gaps, dispelling the myth that high levels of poverty and/or CLD student populations lead to lower student achievement.

Data Collection and Analysis
Over 5 years, observations, recorded conversations among teachers, administrators, students, and parents, and supporting documents collected from both schools were initially coded by researchers reading through responses and documents. Using a qualitative analysis procedure, codes were generated to identify data relevant to general features of DI and CRT. This was followed by more focused coding wherein previous codes were reviewed, erroneous information was eliminated, and smaller codes were then combined into larger ones. Finally, codes were organized into larger themes identified and grounded by DI and CRT literature.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The best teaching practices are those that consider all learners in a classroom setting and pay close attention to differences inherent to academic, cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic diversity. Through a closer examination of two different theoretical models that have rarely been linked or reconciled, educators may be able to determine what is appropriate for particular groups of students in particular classrooms in particular locales. In implementing school reform efforts to improve student achievement, reconciliation of best teaching practices and the creation of hybrid pedagogies are critical in addressing a future of an increasingly diverse country and global community.

Updated: Mar. 12, 2009