Teacher Educators' Perceptions and Use of Differentiated Instruction Practices: An Exploratory Investigation

Nov. 01, 2012

Source: Action in Teacher Education, Vol. 34, No. 4, 2012, p. 309-327. 
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this study was to explore how teacher educators perceive and use differentiated instruction.

This study addressed three primary research questions:
(1) What are teacher educators' perceptions of the variance in, and importance of, candidates' readiness, interests, and learning profile characteristics?;
(2) To what degree do teacher educators utilize strategies that support differentiation?; and (3) Do teacher educators feel adequately prepared to respond to academic diversity among candidates?

The participants were 85 full-time, part-time, and adjunct teaching faculty in the College of Education at public university located in the middle-Atlantic region of the United States.

This study used an original questionnaire that was designed to reflect Tomlinson's (2005) model.
Tomlinson's model suggests that teachers' knowledge of students' readiness, interests, and learning profile characteristics should be used to appropriately differentiate content, process, product, and learning environment.


The findings reveal that some of the beliefs and practices reported by teacher educators are harmonious with Tomlinson's model.
Related to learner characteristics, teacher educators recognized the importance of readiness. They believe candidates vary with respect to readiness and reported using their understanding of that variance to shape instruction.
This finding suggests that teacher educators are modeling some beliefs and practices that will help prepare candidates for the inevitable range of readiness they will find among students in contemporary classrooms.

The results suggest teacher educators highly value and prioritize creating a positive learning environment.
To realize this goal, they reported using a variety of strategies, such as developing a sense of community in the classroom, making themselves available to candidates, and ensuring equitable participation.

Furthermore, teacher educators reported using a variety of strategies that support differentiation of content, process, and product.
For instance, they frequently present course content in a variety of ways, use candidates' feedback to help shape content and activities, use multiple forms of assessment, and use different grouping formats to promote understanding of content.

Although they found some congruence between teacher educators' beliefs and practices and Tomlinson's model, the results suggest that a comprehensive framework for differentiation is not being modeled for candidates.
With respect to candidates' characteristics, teacher educators placed the least value on learning profile.
Therefore, within teacher education courses, modeling should be used to develop candidates' understanding of, and appreciation for, learning profile characteristics and should facilitate their ability to effectively differentiate in response to learning profile variance.

In sum, teacher educators have at least two needs or obligations in regard to the academically diverse student populations that typify contemporary educational settings.
First, they need to teach in ways that provide access and support to teacher education for a diverse pool of candidates.
Second, they need to teach in ways that model robustly effective ways of teaching academically diverse students.

In either case, several key principles are called for that the current study suggests may be currently lacking in teacher education.
First, the classroom is a system with necessarily interdependent parts.
Second, to achieve expected benefits from an instructional approach, fidelity to that model or approach is necessary.
Third, learners must "own" complex ideas and skills to be able to transfer them.
All three of these principles seem less than certain based on the results from this study.


This exploratory study provided timely and valuable information about teacher educators' beliefs and practices related to differentiation.
First, it broadens the current literature on the examination of modeling in teacher education to introduce consideration of modeling that targets a comprehensive model of differentiation. Second, by describing teacher educators' perceptions and practices related to differentiation, several important areas for potential attention and development were highlighted and, hopefully, will serve as the impetus for professional dialogue and development.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2005). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Updated: Sep. 02, 2014