Date of Conferral

2015

Degree

Ph.D.

School

Education

Advisor

Joeann Hinrichs

Abstract

Differentiated instruction is a pedagogical method used by classroom teachers to enhance student learning. Researchers have described how students benefit from differentiated lessons, but have not explored the relationship between teachers' perceptions of differentiation and student success. This gap is problematic because teachers' instruction directly affects student achievement. The purpose of this hermeneutic phenomenological study was to explore how elementary (K-5) teachers define, familiarize, use, and perceive differentiation. The conceptual framework was rooted from a synthesis of ideas found in current refereed literature, and the educational concepts and constructionist theories of Piaget and Vygotsky. Purposeful sampling identified 12 participants for individual or focus group interviews. Data were analyzed through an interpretative analysis of open, axial, and selective coding; interpretations were subject to member checking to bolster trustworthiness. The findings revealed that teacher participants understood the textbook definition of differentiated instruction and focused on student grouping to create differentiated classrooms. Despite that understanding of differentiation, participants perceived differentiation as time consuming and challenging due to a lack of materials and diverse populations. Implications for social change focus on mindset and instruction. Administrators and teachers may use these findings to broaden the definition of differentiation. Furthermore, teachers may use this study to gain insight of their personal perception of differentiation, identify materials, and commit to improved pedagogical practices that focus on its versatility in classrooms and improve student learning. Teachers may consider the participants' experiences and change their own existing classroom environments, thus improving student successes.