Diversity As A Rich But Challenging Issue Education Essay

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This chapter reviews the development of DT in Western countries since the 1990s. A discussion of the several issues related to differentiation is followed by an account of the importance of teacher engagement with the concept.

Diversity as a rich but challenging issue for education.

'Diversity is a gold mine' (Carolan & Guinn 2007, p.44)

Over the last few decades, there has been great awareness of how diverse classrooms are and that a 'one-size-fits-all' approach does not do justice to our diverse children. Respect for diversity calls for a pedagogy which addresses the spectrum of needs of all learners, including those who are vulnerable to marginalisation and exclusion. However, this has presented a constant challenge to practitioners. This review will trace the development of concepts of DT since the 1990s and then describe how educators have responded to it.

DT in Malta

DT is a very recent concept for Maltese education. It has developed as part of the movement towards inclusive education.

Inclusive education

Like many countries, Malta recognizes that inclusive education is a human rights issue and that it must offer a quality education to which all students are entitled to. This recognition developed over the past two decades. A ministerial consultation document entitled, 'Tomorrow Schools: Developing effective learning cultures' (Wain et al., 1995) recommended remedial action of the Maltese education system in order to provide a quality education for all children. These recommendations were further developed into a National Minimum Curriculum (NMC) (MOED, 1999) which was passed unanimously by Parliament, and which had inclusive education as its major theme. Its concern was that all students, including those with Individual Educational Needs (IEN), participate in mainstream education. At the heart of inclusive education lies respect for student diversity wherein no student is to be discriminated on any grounds. In fact one of the basic principles set out in the NMC was respect for diversity:

Students learn differently. Different students learn differently what is being taught. There are those who learn best through concrete experiences; others who learn best through abstract thinking and concepts. Some students prefer didactic methods; others enjoy learning on their own; still others prefer to work in groups. (MOED, 1999 p.31)

The NMC emphasized that inclusive education should be a whole society's commitment to respect diversity. Thus various NGOs and state agencies, such as the National Curriculum Council and the Eden Foundation, contributed towards changing society's point of view on inclusive education.

The implementation of the inclusive principles of the NMC was promoted by the

Focus Group for Inclusive Education which published a version of the Index for Inclusion (Booth & Ainscow, 2002; see Bartolo et al., 2002). Meanwhile action was taken also to support the mainstreaming of students with IEN. An Inclusive Education Policy regarding students with a disability" was published by the Ministry of Education (2000). Among other important things it described when a formal statementing process was necessary and when an Individualised Education Programme (IEP) was to be adopted. Learning support assistants were provided for students statemented as having IEN that were not met by a school's regular resources. Following the Spiteri et al report (2005) review on Special Education in Malta, there was the training of Inclusion Coordinators to further support the participation of all students in classroom learning. At the same time also, there appeared the first Maltese publication on "Differentiated Instruction in the Primary Classroom" (Calleja, 2005). It described how teachers can differentiate instruction by using the "Let Me Learn Process" (LML), a particular learning style inventory describing four major learning patterns.

Move towards comprehensive schooling

Another important aspect of education related to DT was the move towards comprehensive schools (Grima et al., 2009). The selective examination system and streaming in the final three years of Primary Education was abolished by 2011.

The recently increase in mixed ability classes has raised stronger calls for DT. Thus in the review of the NMC through a draft National Curriculum Framework (NCF) (MOEEF, 2011) there is an emphasis on constructivist, student centred learning though there has been a lot of criticism of the overall coherence of the document (MOEE, 2012)

Again, quality education for all stressed by the NCF (MEEF, 2011) and other documents point to the need of having teachers convinced of the educational, political, ethical reasons for mixed ability and differentiated learning.

International developments on teaching

The above developments in Malta have been linked sometimes weakly and sometimes strongly to international developments in DT. Differentiation became a priority in the UK with the publishing of the English National Curriculum (1990, as cited in Stradling & Saunders, 1993), in particular with the introduction of national assessment which demanded that schools start reviewing and adapting classroom practice in a way which meets all students' needs.

The resurgence of new teaching methods, DT, mixed ability groups and comprehensive education brought about debates in the educational area making them more popular. However, in a wider international context, there was no clear agreement about its meaning among teachers and it was often understood as addressing the needs of the less able pupils only (McGarvey 1997).

According to Stradling and Saunders (1993) teachers generally agreed that their students learnt in different ways and at different speeds. They also believed that there were marked variations in the level of attainment within any year group and even within any class and that students experienced different kinds of learning difficulties. However, they continue, it was not clear to teachers how they could respond to the diversity present in their classrooms. According to Stradling and Saunders (1993) any school which was reconsidering its policies and practices on how best to meet all its students' needs faced three key dilemmas which were:

Should students be taught by grouping them according to ability through tracking, setting or banding?

Should different curricula be taught to different students whether in groups or individually?

Or should the same curriculum be taught to all children by adapting teaching strategies and processes to address the different learning needs of each individual student?

Stradling and Saunders (1993) identified five kinds of differentiation in the context of an entitlement curriculum every student is entitled to: two emphasized differentiation by task and outcome whereas the other three emphasized DT and learning processes. These kinds of differentiation were inter related and not mutually exclusive:

"Differentiation by task... the same content but in different levels;

Differentiation by outcome... the same general tasks... but... pupils to work at their own level;

Differentiation by learning activity... the same content and... tasks to the same level, but in different ways;

Differentiation through varying the pace or rate of learning... the same content to the same level;

Differentiation by dialogue, where teachers regularly discuss with individual pupils the work they are doing in order to interpret their understanding of it and to diagnose and review any emerging learning needs (not just difficulties) (Stradling and Saunders, 1993, p. 130)

McGarvey et al. (1997) studied how a group of primary schools in Northern Ireland differentiated curriculum. The findings of this study suggested that there was a need for a clearer definition of the concept of differentiation which was to be "grounded in realistic situations, rather than remaining a remote ideal to which teachers can only aspire" (p. 362).

More recent conceptualizations of DT

A clearer definition of DT developed over the past decade. Tomlinson (2005) defines differentiated instruction as "a philosophy of teaching purporting that students learn best when their teachers effectively address variance in students' readiness levels, interests, and learning profile preferences" (p.263). Teachers plan what the students need to learn, how they are going to learn and how they are going to demonstrate what they have learnt. Teachers use differentiated instruction with the aim of maximizing each student's growth (Tomlinson & Cunningham, 2003; Tomlinson, 2003; Tomlinson & Doubet, 2005; Tomlinson & Jarvis, 2006; Rock et al, 2008) and individual success by finding out what strengths the students have and using these strengths to assist them in their learning process. Another key important factor to DT is the use of assessment which gives information to the teacher on how to differentiate instruction (Tomlinson, & Cunningham, 2003; Tomlinson, 2008; Moon, 2005).

Thus differentiating instruction leads us to the adjustment of content, process, and product of teaching and learning (Tomlinson & Cunningham, 2003). However, there are still controversial debates around the notion of modifying the curriculum in order to differentiate instruction.

Curriculum differentiation

Wehrmann (2000) defines curriculum differentiation as giving students "different material to cover" according to their ability. Larsen (2004) adds the need for teachers to adapt the learners' appropriate pace which matches his/her ability and believes that this can best be done when children are grouped according to their ability in the topic to be covered. On the other hand Terwel (2005) describes this kind of curriculum differentiation as streaming, tracking or ability-grouping which he is strongly against.

It is clear that curriculum differentiation affects high and low achievers in different ways (Terwel, 2005). In a tracking system the low-achievers seem to lose more than the high achievers when compared to a common curriculum for all (Dar and Resh 1986, 1994, as cited in Terwel, 2005). On one hand the high achievers tend to have better results when curriculum is differentiated since teachers stimulate students to form their own questions and to reflect on different solutions. On the other hand a system of tracking is detrimental to low achievers since teachers tend to formulate question-and -answer activities, or exercises and drills. Moreover tracking can also be disadvantageous for the low ability child since it frequently provides an environment where there is less instructional time, a slower pace, a less stimulating class climate, and there tends to be more interruptions by the teacher and peers which results in off-task behaviour and consequently more time is spent on discipline and class management (Terwel 2005).

Some (Stradling & Saunders, 1993; Ansalone, 2010; Terwel, 2005) also argue that streaming, setting and banding do not do justice to the different and changing needs of individual pupils since there will always tend to be a group called lower attainers. The purpose of differentiation is to maximize the motivation, progress and achievement of each student. Offering an impoverished curriculum to low-socioeconomic status students in order to focus on basic skills is dangerous as it intensifies social divides (Muijs, et al., 2005). By assigning children to different tracks highlights processes of categorization and self-categorization which makes students live up to the expectations of others (Ansalone, 2010). Furthermore these processes bring about boundaries between categories of students, both socially and intellectually (Terwel, 2005) which can lead to a wider achievement gap between these categories of students (e.g. Goodlad, 1984; Hiebert, 1983; Oakes, 1985, all of which are cited in Poole, 2008). These boundaries are restricted and very often hard to cross (Borko & Eisenhart, 1989; Collins, 1986; Eder, 1986; Oakes, 1985; Peterson, 1989, all of which are cited in Poole, 2008).

I think that teachers need to be as patient as they can, and rely on every bit of ingenuity that they command, before they assign these kids to categories out of which, as they move from grade to grade, they sometimes never can escape. (Kozol, 2007, p. 13)

Yet, how should we address the needs of those children who have not yet mastered basic skills? Can we strike a balance between giving these children basic skills, without excluding them from their peers or tracking them in a low achieving group, and at the same time exposing them to an equally rich curriculum as their peers?

One solution could be flexible grouping which Tomlinson & Cunningham (2003) define as the "purposeful reordering of students into working groups to ensure that all students work with a wide variety of classmates and in a wide range of contexts during a relatively short span of classroom time." (p. 185).

Flexible groups are called flexible because the teacher groups and regroups students regularly depending on the instruction and task at hand (Tomlinson & Cunningham, 2003). They continue that there are times when learners are grouped homogenously according to their learning needs and readiness. Other times students are grouped in mixed ability groups whereby each student is given a different task which will contribute to the success of the group. Other times children are grouped according to their interests - sometimes they share the same interests whereas other times they do not.

Curriculum modification: Differentiated content

According to Tomlinson and Cunningham (2003) curriculum is modified according to the students' "readiness, interest and learning profile" (p.9).


Readiness is about giving the child difficult tasks which can be achieved through the help of a support system to stretch the abilities of the learner by helping him to bridge the gap between the known and the unknown. What is important is that each student will be given a task which is appealing and important like the work of the other classmates. No child should be given drill exercises which are extremely boring.


Even exemplary curriculum remains flat on the page if it's all the teacher has to offer. (Tomlinson & Germundson, 2007, p.27).

Teachers should tap into the children's passions, in their greatest area of comfort and confidence (Wehrmann, 2000; Tomlinson & Jarvis, 2006) to hook them. The best teachers are those who are capable of presenting a dreary curriculum in an interesting way, making it relevant by connecting it to their real life experiences (Tomlinson and Cunningham, 2003). Tomlinson (2010a) gives an example of a student who was tick about sketching frames of comics. She used this passion to teach the student the language arts. However, here it is worth saying that teachers should not just tap into their students' passions but also help them to develop other interests and passions (Tomlinson and Cunningham, 2003).

Learning profile

Learning profile is described by Tomlinson and Cunningam (2003) as the preferred learning mode that a student is born with which include learning styles. Expectations for task completion can be varied. They can work individually or in groups and choose how to demonstrate their learning (Wehrmann, 2000). For instance, Wehrmann continues by giving an example of a student who chose to create a Harry Potter board game to demonstrate the knowledge acquired after reading the books. However, here one might ask the question - But what if the student prefers to do the easy task?

Teachers discuss with students their choice of assignment especially if it is too easy or too difficult (Peterson & Hittie, 2003). Tomlinson and Cunningham (2003) suggest the idea of using learning contracts. They define learning contracts as a written "agreement between a student and a teacher regarding a task or project that a student will work on independently and with some freedom." (p. 187).

Learning styles and multiple intelligences

It is of utmost importance that teachers keep in mind that if teaching is tailored to the different styles of students there is the risk that they will not be exposed and trained to develop new and more effective learning styles (Muijs et al 2005). However, if teachers take this aspect into consideration, they can still tap into children's learning styles and intelligences in order to engage children and motivate them to think critically. Teachers can use children's strengths in one area to develop and/or strengthen another area (Peterson & Hittie, 2003). Teaching by tapping into children's passions and strengths does not mean that teachers ignore their needs to develop other learning styles and intelligences. It entails addressing students' needs by using their strengths and passions to engage them in learning and make them feel success (Tomlinson & Jarvis, 2006).

Differentiating learning process:

In contrast to a differentiated curriculum, Connell (1996, as cited in Muijs et al., 2005), found that students from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds seem to benefit from a more integrated curriculum across grades and subjects. An integrated curriculum focuses on the teaching of core subjects through particular art forms such as dancing, music and theatre. The same is found in Linthicum (2009) who writes about a dancing school who uses dancing as a medium "to sharpen minds" (p.54). She gives examples of how "students learn the alphabet by shaping letters with their bodies", "multiplication with tap" and the 12 hour clock by using their legs and arms (p.54). As one teacher says, "they are seeing it, hearing it, and feeling it." (p.54).

Teachers use a multisensory approach in order to cater for different students who learn in different ways by using different senses. So teachers give instruction verbally (for the auditory learners), use body language and hand prompts (for the visual learners), engage children in hands-on-activities (for the kinaesthetic learners) and provide the possibility for children to discuss in groups (for verbal learners) making it more possible to learners to connect their learning with real life experiences, thus making it more relevant. Great teaching is the "fine art of connecting content and kids", i.e. adapting the way we teach so that what we teach takes life into the students' mind and leaves a positive impact on their life (Tomlinson & Jarvis, 2006 p. 17; Tomlinson & Doubet, 2005).

Differentiating product: Assessment

Another important factor of DT is studying the students to see exactly what type of "nourishment they need to thrive." (Tomlinson & Jarvis, 2006, p.16). Teachers assess students in order to gather information so as to be able to effectively plan and implement differentiation. Pre assessment gives information to the teacher about what the children already know and their readiness in mastering new knowledge and skills (Tomlinson & Germundson, 2007). As a matter of fact the teacher will know what learning goals are to be achieved. Assessment gives a directional guide to the teacher in planning lessons and gives information about how to begin, how to shape instruction and where it will end to appropriately challenging outcomes (Moon, 2005).

She continues to explain that ongoing formative assessment during instruction gives the teacher insight about students' level of mastery, misconceptions and resulting needs. Assessing students during instruction is imperative since teachers can make the necessary adjustments in their instruction for every individual student to better understand and assimilate new knowledge.

Formative and summative assessment after instruction can be effective if there is clarity and focus on pre identified knowledge, understanding, and skills for which students are accountable (Moon, 2005). More than judging students, assessment should serve to guide students (Tomlinson, 2008). Thus it should focus on student accomplishment rather than student ranking. Its aim is to help the teacher to assess if the children have mastered the identified learning goals and objectives of the lesson. It can also help the teacher to reflect on the effectiveness of her instruction and change the instruction according to the needs of the children if the need arises (Tomlinson & Germundson, 2007). Assessment is a partnership between teacher and learners where both partners reflect on the teaching and learning process to increase the learners' awareness and provide insight to the teacher at every different stage and who can then tailor instruction to meet the students' needs (Tomlinson & Germundson, 2007).

How does DT affect teachers' work?

DT "is not a trendy quick fix, a new set of blackline masters, or a ready-to-go-kit" (Pettig 2000, p. 14). DT involves a lot of changes, not just in teaching practices but in the way teachers view their role in schools. DT requires that teachers hold certain values such as respect for diversity, a sense of justice from which a new teaching philosophy emerges - the issues of fairness and social justice. The former will be discussed in the following paragraphs whereas the latter will be discussed in the following section where I shall discuss commitment which is imperative for teachers to take up this pedagogy.


Providing equal opportunities does not mean providing children with identical opportunities. Reis et al. (1998) give the example of a girl who was in first grade but could read 5th grade level books. Providing identical opportunities meant holding the girl from further improving her reading skills and consequently her needs would be left unmet. Reaching all children requires that different opportunities are provided for students with different abilities. In this way equal opportunities are provided for all students to improve their already or partially mastered skills. Hence, differentiation promotes equity and excellence (Tomlinson, 2000a; see also Wain, et al., 1995).

In order to explain the meaning of fairness, Peterson and Hittie (2003) give the example of a boy in a wheelchair playing basketball. After hitting the ball at the batter's box he wheels as fast as he can and manages to arrive to the first base. However, the umpire shouts 'Out' and says that it wasn't fair because the child used the wheelchair. Using a wheelchair was unfair but it helped the boy to perform as equal as his friends. Thus, "Fairness is not about providing the same thing but about providing what each student needs" (Peterson & Hittie, 2003, p. 169).

In this way we are providing equal opportunities. Rather than expecting all the students to perform the same, teachers tailor teaching in a way which caters for all the students' needs in class.

Tomlinson (2003) gives a set of principles which promote equity and excellence in academically diverse students:

An enticing curriculum which stretches students' abilities,

Challenging and interesting tasks for each child.

A support system which helps each child achieve a level which he doubted to achieve.

Flexible grouping

Ongoing assessment

Grading students in a way which reflects their growth.

Some of these principles have already been discussed whereas others will be further discussed in the following paragraphs. However, all this can be realized in a particular type of environment.

The learning environment

The issue of the learning environment is a very important one. The learning environment should "nurture their [the children's] social, emotional, physical, ethical, civic, creative, and cognitive development" (ASCD, 2007, p. 10). The report continues to give an example of some students' thoughts as they walk to school on their first day of school. Their thoughts are not on the kind of learning that they are going to receive. Their thoughts are more focused on the type of friends and teachers they will have, if they will be loved or threatened or beaten; or if their learning environment is safe or dangerous. For example, Tomlinson (2010a) gives the example of an ex student of hers who fearfully whispered that he could not read when he met her for the first time in the hall. It is imperative that learning environments should be safe. In such an environment teachers value students' strengths and abilities and focus on them rather than their weaknesses and failings (Tomlinson & Cunningham, 2003; Tomlinson, 2003; Tomlinson & Doubet, 2005; Tomlinson & Jarvis, 2006; Rock et al, 2008. Thus teachers act as models and create a safe, democratic, diverse and inclusive environment in which "they meet their (the students') need for affirmation, contribution, purpose, power and challenge" (Tomlinson, 2002, p. 7).

In a differentiated class differences in ability, culture, language and interests are seen as assets rather than as obstacles. Coralan and Guinn (2007) give the example of a student named Jason who was diagnosed as having Aspergers syndrome. Although he liked to work individually and did not like to interact socially with his peers, his classmates often sought his help as he was regarded as an expert in exploring atypical topics. Here the teacher is no longer seen as the only person who can disseminate knowledge. On the contrary, the teacher created an environment in which Jason was seen as a person and not as a disability. In this way Jason felt physically, emotionally and intellectually safe and accepted by everybody (i.e. the feeling of affirmation). The teacher was also successful in making Jason feel a contributor in class - an important person who made a difference in class by helping his peers.

Challenging and interesting tasks for each child

Teaching is no longer directed to a one-size-fits all curriculum. Multilevel teaching is used by which every student is engaged and works at his/her own level. Challenging work is provided which compliments the ability of the students. Tapping into the constructivist approach, learning starts from what the children know moving on to what Vygotsky (1978), as cited in Peterson & Hittie (2003), calls the zone of proximal development. In other words, student learning is scaffolded or assisted by engaging children in challenging activities where they need assistance to be able to work at a higher level. Put simply, the teacher offers challenging work for every student taking him/her to a slightly uncomfortable zone, providing guidance and support in the process (Tomlinson, 2002). One teacher states that once she started to use DT she no longer saw the curriculum "as a list to be covered" and she no longer saw students as "duplicates of one another" (Tomlinson 2000b, p. 11).

Differentiated instruction is not based on lists of facts, computations, theorems, and proofs which are less than motivating for the children (Tomlinson, 2002). Neither is it based on exercise books where students have to work drill exercises or work problems. The fact that there are students who excel in these type of exercise drills and who diligently learn lists of facts does not necessarily mean that they are eager learners. Usually these kind of children work dutifully with the aim of getting stars or As (Tomlinson, 2002).

An enticing curriculum which stretches students' abilities

DT is based on creativity, on making the content interesting (Tomlinson, 2002) and providing a quality education to all children. Carolan & Guinn (2007) give the following example of how a Maths lesson can be delivered in a way which stimulates children of different abilities to think in higher order skills to arrive to an answer. Children are presented with a real life situation, a problem, which they have to solve by discussing with their peers in groups. Children, then, justify their answer by explaining in words, draw diagrams, tap into concepts or do arithmetic calculations. A classroom debate ensues in which children have to convince the other groups why their answer is correct.

Lapp et al (2008) give an example of an interactive comprehension instruction where the teacher integrates two lessons at one go - a science and comprehension lesson. After every paragraph she pauses to ask children to predict what is going to happen. The teacher thinks aloud while she reads to model how children can construct new knowledge from their existing knowledge. Every now and then she asks children to work in pairs or in groups to discuss what is being read and connect it to their personal experiences and background knowledge. She shows children how to segment words, drawing children's attention to root words or affixes. Clarification can then be sought from context on further reading so as to empower them with the skills of trying to decipher meaning of unfamiliar words. This kind of teacher modelling is imperative in developing higher order skills in children. Tomlinson (2002 p.19) explains how a child compared her new history teacher with her previous teachers: "Other teachers told us what to think. This one is different because she showed us how to think and that we can think." (p. 9)

From the above examples it is clear that the teacher's role is no longer solely that of a lecturer but it involves different roles, such as a coach, demonstrator or a model of teaching and learning. Through this kind of teaching, teachers foster in students a positive attitude towards learning and towards themselves as learners (Tomlinson, 2005). Furthermore, in such an environment, teachers help students organize their knowledge and thinking so they can fare better in unfamiliar ground, a reason why children's scores on standard tests can improve.

Teachers who practice DT do not put children' s desks facing forward but they are divided into groups so that interaction between students can be facilitated. Students are not tracked or levelled into ability groups but they are divided into heterogeneous groups where individual needs can be addressed and met through individualized tasks (Tomlinson & Cunningham, 2003).

It is the best job in the world. Of course it frustrates me to no end…. I scream and rant and rave. I get exhausted. But what an incredible ride, to be able to hang out with the kids, to be able to watch the transformation. (Tomlinson & Doubet, 2005, p. 8)

The journey to DT is not a "simple, well-marked route" (Pettig, 2000, p. 18). Hence, in the next section I will be discussing the challenges that teachers face in adopting such a pedagogy.

What are the challenges that teachers face in implementing their vision?

Although a myriad of research shows that DT works, it is still not in wider practice (e.g. Latz et al. 2009). Lots of teachers hesitate to incorporate DT to their daily practices because they believe that it is time consuming, they lack professional development and administrative support (Hootstein, 1998, as cited in Carolan & Guinn, 2007).

Time is insufficient

One of the most common complaints of teachers is that they do not have enough time for the above mentioned activities since they think that standards-based teaching and DT go in two opposing directions (Tomlinson, 2000a). "Time is the teacher's enemy in the classroom" (Vaughn et al., 1998, p.70). "One metaphor might be that they (teachers) fear the thought of not finishing everything on their plate, rather than making sure that the food is sufficiently nourishing and pleasant" (Doubek & Cooper, 2007, p. 414)

Doubek & Cooper (2007) suggest that researchers need to examine the depth and complexity of current curricula and relate the process of "covering" it within the time students are given to process and retain information. However, Tomlinson (2000b) makes it very clear that if standards-based teaching practice does not conflict with best teaching practice, then differentiation follows naturally.

There is no contradiction between effective standards-based instruction and differentiation. Curriculum tells us what to teach: Differentiation tells us how. Thus, if we elect to teach a standards-based curriculum, differentiation simply suggests ways in which we can make that curriculum work best for varied learners. (Tomlinson, 2000b, p.8)

Brimijoin (2005) also insists that there are ways how to link differentiation and standards together in order to provide a quality education for all the children. Teachers need to be given skills on how to manage time effectively (Walker-Dalhouse et al. 2009) so that standards-based teaching and differentiation do not conflict with each other.

Lack of professional development training and administrative support

One barrier which seems to impede the wider practice of DT is that most educators are not trained to meet students' different needs (e.g. Holloway, 2000; Bartolo, 2008). Teachers lack the pedagogical skills and support needed to differentiate instruction (Brimijoin, 2005). Although teachers learn the main features of instructional practice during professional developments, very often they find it very difficult to maximize its effectiveness or provide the necessary differentiated instruction. Teachers do not have a clear vision of how differentiated classrooms operate (Tomlinson, 2005) and they find it difficult to understand how to do it since it is not a cookbook approach.

Still there are teachers who manage to change their strategies and adopt DT. What is required is the will to keep on going and the courage to find a solution to the challenges that seem to present themselves on the way as they change.

Teacher commitment

As Tomlinson rightly points out it is the will or commitment of the teacher which makes them change their practices and grow professionally. In fact this factor is given utmost importance in the 'blueprint' that Rock et al. (2008) designed in order to illustrate a set of quality indicators and steps which help teachers to build on and improve their differentiated instruction. Teachers will not change if they lack the will. Likewise, in a similar way, Ainscow (2007) speaks of student diversity:

We can make all of this (the issue of responding to student diversity) sound very complicated; we can make it sound as if it's an enormous challenge, too much, too big a burden. We can make it sound very technical - "Gosh there's so much jargon! So many new ideas!

But obviously it is not that complicated. In a room like this, we know enough to teach every one of our children effectively. We don't need new techniques, new skills, new technology… we know enough; knowledge is not a problem. The big challenge is our will. Have we got the will to make it happen? ( Ainscow, 2007, p. 21)

But if teachers lack the will, what can be done to instil commitment in teachers? In order to answer this question, I had to explore the following question.

In what ways do teachers become committed to this educational pedagogy?

Teacher commitment is imperative to the teaching profession and to the functioning of education systems and has been identified as one of the most critical factors in the success and future of education (Huberman 1993 and Nias 1981, as cited in Troman & Raggl, 2008). What teachers are committed to can make a difference (Firestone & Rosenblum 1988, as cited in Firestone & Pennell, 1993). Developing teacher commitments is imperative if newly developed images of good teaching are to be spread and implemented.

At the moment, a considerable amount of pressure has increased on teachers as they are expected to develop new strategies for DT. Cuban (1984) as cited in Firestone & Pennell (1993) who explains that when new strategies are proposed few are the teachers who try these out. Firestone and Pennell give two reasons for this failure. One is that these require in depth knowledge in content, pedagogy, classroom management, and most importantly pedagogical content knowledge.

The other reason why teachers fail to change their teaching strategies may be teacher commitments (Firestone & Pennell 1993). Troman and Raggl (2008) studied the complexities of teacher commitment and identity comparing them to Lortie (1975) to check if there is continuity and change. Lortie (1975, as cited in Troman and Raggl, 2008, p.90) identified five categories which attracts teachers to the profession which are:

"The interpersonal theme" - the love to work with children

"the service theme" - a strong sense of mission

"the continuation theme" - wanting to remain in the school

"the theme of compatibility" - the working schedule of teachers

"the material benefits theme" - money, prestige and employment security.

Many teachers are conservative (Lortie 1975, as cited in Firestone & Pennell, 1993) and are often committed to certain institutional forms and instructional practices such as teacher-directed instruction (Metz, 1990) as cited in Firestone & Pennell (1993). The fact that teachers teach as they were taught and thus are often exposed to conventional approaches to teaching does not help. Research on implementation of new strategies suggests that teachers need many months of extra work and discomfort in order to be able to convert to new approaches. Thus a strong commitment from the Head of school who is ready to support in all possible ways is imperative for teachers to be able to get through such a tough period.

The role of principals in developing teacher commitment

The role of leadership in the school is one of the most crucial factors in attempting systemic change (Doubek & Cooper, 2007). Offering support to teachers is imperative "since without ongoing support the innovation will never become systematic, and will, in time, wither on the vine" (Clark, 2005, p. 8). It is important that if the Head of school wants to bring about change in the school's teaching practices, he believes in diversity and is committed to equity (Guerra & Nelson, 2009).

Leaders must have a clear vision of what they want to achieve when introducing DT. They must have a clear raison d'être why to embark on such a change (Tomlinson, 2000a) and how this can help improve their school. Heads of school must also have a clear vision of a school which practices DT and be able to spread this vision and make teachers own it.

Principals play a key role in teachers' willingness and ability to integrate differentiation into their classrooms. Hertberg-Davis & Brighton (2006) found that teachers pick up cues from their principals to determine the amount of effort they would put into implementing differentiation. Where principals were in favour of differentiation and showed it verbally and through their actions by communicating passion and enthusiasm for DT, teachers likewise showed verbal buy-in and did their utmost to implement differentiation. Where principals talked strongly about the need to differentiate but they did little to promote differentiation in their schools (since they did not value differentiation and did not believe that DT can make a difference in children's lives), likewise teachers expressed strong beliefs in differentiation but made few attempts to implement it in their classroom. Where principals did not show any verbal or behavioural support of differentiation, teachers dismissed differentiation and refused to try it in their classrooms. This study supports Clark's (2005) beliefs that change must be led by "strong, enlightened, dedicated" leaders and it "will not occur if left solely to teacher initiative" (p. 5).

Tomlinson (2000a) insists that leaders must also be aware of what DT really entails, understand underlying principles for effective DT and be aware of what will be required of teachers in their shift towards such a pedagogy. If educators do not understand the philosophy underlying any methodology, then they cannot implement it successfully (Clark, 2005).

Looking at the underlying principles of DT, Rock et al (2008) believe that what grounds this pedagogy is a set of particular values which teachers hold. Teachers must be able to appreciate student diversity and they must have a positive attitude towards learners with different abilities and foster a positive and respectful atmosphere in class. Rock et al (2008) identify and value their strengths rather than let these be obscured by the students' failings and weaknesses. These teachers are committed to provide quality teaching to all students in their class and be dedicated to their professional growth and development.

The leader in the school has also a very important role in changing the mistaken underlying beliefs that teachers may hold. Most schools try to improve by focusing and putting their efforts on changing the behaviour of educators without working on changing the flawed beliefs that teachers may hold (Guerra & Nelson, 2009). They continue to imply that the leader must have a strong conviction, enough courage to face resistance, have a repertoire of facilitation skills and must be prepared to challenge the deficit beliefs that will surely arise during the change process.

A very important factor which must not be dismissed by leaders is that change is a process which takes time. Schools should go about change by taking "baby steps" (Wehrmann, 2000) and by providing professional help along the journey to differentiation (Fahey, 2000). Some teachers may need time to digest all this since they are not aware of system inequities. It is important that the Head of school be able to assess the readiness of teachers for more extensive learning. If the process of change is carried out poorly, it can backfire since it can alienate teachers and they will resist change (Guerra & Nelson, 2009).

Instilling commitment in teachers

What Head of schools can do is to help the non volunteers to realize the need for change by engaging the teachers who are ready for change in adopting DT (Guerra & Nelson, 2009). Helping this group of committed teachers to collaborate and providing them with the necessary support and resources will foster classroom "laboratories" which will serve as models for other teachers (Tomlinson, 2000a, p.27).

Once teachers see the effectiveness of DT taking place in these classroom "laboratories", the teachers who are not ready will be affected by the enthusiasm and joy of practicing teachers as they start to successfully implement it and might instil in them the need for change (Guerra & Nelson 2009).

Having ongoing discussions on DT with teachers will help them to share their success stories and to offer problem solving strategies when they fail (Tomlinson, 2000a). In this way leaders will indirectly send the message that this is not a passing fad but a lasting commitment which will ensure high quality education to every student (Guerra & Nelson, 2009). Ford (2008, p. 282) gives the example of Johnsview Village Public School where a team was created to 'spread the pedagogic gospel that all students can achieve high standards' at the right time and if given the right support.

Initially attempting differentiation is overwhelming for teachers since they believe that it takes a great deal of time to plan and implement and since it requires new and complex classroom management skills (Brighton et al., 2005, as cited in Hertberg-Davis & Brighton, 2006). Thus teachers need professional development and administrator support which consists of providing the resources required and the provision of emotional support (Hertberg-Davis & Brighton, 2006), and effective mentoring (Holloway, 2000) which has to be non evaluative (Latz et al., 2009)

What is sure is that every professional development designed to bring about change should give teachers a voice so as to cater for the different needs of teachers, thus be differentiated (Stover, Kissel, Haag & Shoniker, 2011) and provide different ways of helping the teachers master the skills. Even leaders should set the example by recognizing and be sensitive to teacher differences and particular needs and provide the support they need (Tomlinson, 2000a). How can leaders of schools or professional development expect teachers to differentiate instruction when they do not reflect the same kind of pedagogy when providing support? Moreover, differentiated professional developments will give teachers the opportunity to see for themselves how differentiation works (Brimijion, 2005).

Does professional development and teacher education have an effect on teacher commitment to DT?

Many schools provide professional development opportunities with the intention of helping teachers address all children's needs, independent of their ability or background. Even though many schools have started initiatives, the gap between theory and practice with regards to teaching methodologies is still large (Doubek & Cooper, 2007).

Research shows that interrupted and short-term professional development programs rarely bring about ongoing school improvement or effective teacher development (Fullan, 2001; Grossamn, Wineburg, & Woolworth, 2001; Lieberman & Wood, 2001; Little, 2001; Little & McLaughlin, 1993; Thompson, 2004, all cited in Thibodeau, 2008; Joyce & Showers as cited in Stover, Kissel, Haag, & Shoniker, 2011). Clark (2005) compares a two-day pre-service workshop with expecting "a teenager to drive NASCAR model in city traffic with only two days of driver training" (p.2). Furthermore traditional professional development programs have trained teachers to 'follow a scripted curriculum to the letter' without providing any differentiated instruction to meet teachers' needs (O'Donnell-Allen, 2004) and thus leaving them with little ownership (Stover, Kissel, Haag & Shoniker, 2011).

Staff development that stops with "telling" teachers what to do will fall drastically short of effective transfer. (Tomlinson, 2000a, p. 28)

Making teachers aware of social justice issues

Further to changing teachers' beliefs, professional development should entail commitment which engages "teachers' hearts and minds" with both content and literacy instruction by shifting their thinking beyond their content area in a way which makes them consider literacy of their students as an issue of social justice: sensitizing student teachers to what life is like for illiterate individuals and the cost of society of an illiterate citizenry (Alger 2007, p. 620). Sensitizing teachers to these issues of social justice will help them to instil commitment to address all children's needs (Alger, 2007) and to bridge the gap between theory and practice by adjusting their pedagogy of teaching to connect with students' cultures (Doubek & Cooper, 2007).

In order to change the student teachers' mental models with regard to literacy in content area classrooms, a literature circle format was used in Alger's study (2007) to put student teachers in the shoes of illiterate individuals. Alger (2007) believed that in sensitizing student teachers to issues of social justice would instil in them commitment and will make them more susceptible to include literacy for all of their students in content area classes. Teachers are interested in the welfare of their students. However, since most aspiring teachers come from the middle class, it is impossible for them to feel the shame and powerlessness that an illiterate person feels.

Once student teachers are aware and are made to feel the struggles and injustices that illiteracy brings about, the strategies and solutions they learn during the course are more valuable (Alger, 2007).

Critiquing the approach

Once teachers are sensitized, once they embrace differentiation as an ethical concern that education should be equal for all children, once they are captured by the idea of teaching from a constructivist and development perspective, then Rovegno (1993) suggests that critiquing this approach helps participants to develop pride in the new approach. Encouraging discussions of the difference between traditional lesson planning and designing a new approach helps teachers to make connections between concepts (Weiss & Pasley 2007).

Follow up support

Another alternative to classroom "laboratories" is a combination of intensive professional development and follow-up support (which consists of study groups, classroom demonstrations, and coaching) once teachers take their new knowledge and skills back to the classroom (Weiss & Pasley, 2007). The same kind of support was also given to teachers in Johnsview Village Public School (Ford 2008) where a team was created. This team learned new strategies of teaching that could be implemented in the classrooms. Then the team introduced these strategies to teachers and role modelled instruction through demonstration lessons. After observing, teachers would try the demonstrated approach while coached by a member of the team.

Stover, Kissel, Haag & Shoniker (2011) mention the importance of reflection that occurs when the coach and teacher discuss "the learning outcomes of the students" (p.498). They continue that this helps teachers:

To see the benefits of what they learn in their daily practice as they improve their instruction, and

To become engaged in continuous professional development and reflection.

Ongoing professional development

It is also important to make teachers aware of the fact that professional growth is an ongoing process which does not stop once they graduate as teachers. Tomlinson (2010b) gives the example of a teacher attending one of her workshops. He was close to his retirement but still he was interested to learn. Tomlinson asked him why he attended to the workshop when he would be retiring soon. His answer was that he had promised himself to learn something new every single day of his profession because he believed that in this way he could be the teacher his students needed.

Stimulating teacher growth through reading circles

Related to the above there is a need for teachers to keep abreast with research so that they will be able to recognize any misconceptions they have about DT (Rock et al, 2008). Schools can set up successful reading circles for teachers like Alger (2007) did and which are also suggested in Doubek & Cooper (2007) and Guerra & Nelson (2009).

Certain children have an innate desire to learn while others need to be motivated (Tomlinson, 2003c). Likewise there are teachers who are born with the desire to learn more about their profession whereas others need to be challenged or stimulated. "Teachers at every stage need to be cultivated" (Tomlinson, 2010b, p. 24).

An environment which stimulates teacher learning and growth

The learning environment is not imperative only for students but it is also essential for teacher development. Tomlinson (2010b) explains that certain environment can be 'toxic', 'neutral', or the 'right setting' for different teachers (p. 24). Each of these settings help teachers learn but the 'right setting' is that kind of environment which is like "an incubator for creative teaching" (p.24) which stretches and nurtures teachers' professional growth.

The places we teach shape who and what we become. If they don't feed us as human beings and as teachers, we atrophy. (Tomlinson, 2010b, p.24).

Tomlinson (2010b) compares teachers committed to teaching their students with two nurses - one who does her job because she feels fully alive when she is at work whereas the other loves her job because she has the ability to give people hope and because she can offer them companionship. These two nurses do not talk about the medicine they use to heal people but they talk about their skills. Similarly committed teachers are those who:

Feel a certain calling "to connect content and kids",

See it as a mission and feel that they can make a difference in the lives of the children they teach.

Love the challenge and the creativity of providing quality education to a wide range of children with different abilities and needs.

Feel that they are nourishing their personal growth in doing their work. (Tomlinson 2010b, p. 24)

These kind of teachers, Tomlinson continues, look for the best opportunities which nurture their professional development. Thus teacher commitment can be instilled by schools who offer teachers opportunities to learn meaningfully by giving support and effective professional developments.

Encouraging collaboration between teachers

Tomlinson (2010b) also states that teachers can reach their excellence by collaborating with other teachers who set high expectations for themselves and in their work. When teachers work collaboratively, breaking through traditional cultural barriers of 'privacy, isolation, and autonomy', they build a relationship of mutual trust and respect (Thibodeau, 2008, p. 56). This makes them more willing to lean on each other for moral support in times of frustration or when their attempts to make pedagogical changes is not successful (Thibodeau, 2008).

One way which might help school leaders to develop commitment in teachers is by internal redeployment. In this way they can match teachers who lack ambition and commitment to work with teachers who work hard to achieve a high level of excellence in their classroom.


This study has clarified the concept of DT and its importance and potential for quality education for all. However, although studies show that differentiated instruction has a positive impact on the achievement of different learners (eg. Baumgartner et al. 2003, as cited in Rock et al. 2008) there is the need that more teachers reflect upon the way they apply "differentiated thinking" into their instructional planning and delivery of lessons (Anderson, 2007, p.52).

One issue that most researchers agree about, however, is that, DT requires first of all that the teacher is open to student diversity and tries to reach out to all students. This study is therefore an understanding of how teachers "will themselves to grow" (Tomlinson, 2005, p. 269) as they engage with the concept of DT.