Date of Conferral







Celeste Fenton


Differentiated instruction focuses on students’ readiness, interests, learning styles, and life circumstances, rather than a set curriculum. The perceptions faculty have about differentiated instruction can impact their willingness and ability to implement the practice in their classroom. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore, in a private school in a south-central U.S. state, middle school teachers’ perceptions of, expectations about, and experiences with differentiated instruction. The conceptual framework that guided the study was Tomlinson’ s instructional differentiation philosophy supported by empirical research on differentiated instruction as effective. Six middle school English, history, science, and math teachers completed a survey and were interviewed. Six themes were identified: (a) differentiation is needed in the classroom for all students; (b) attitudes change when differentiation is used; (c) there are limitations that make it difficult to differentiate; (d) differentiation demonstrates an understanding of skill; (e) the use of differentiation builds relationships amongst teachers and with their students; and (f) those that differentiate offer choices to their students. The six emergent themes revealed the challenges and pressures experienced by the teachers when differentiating instruction, such as time and expectations from parents and administration, and the value teachers had for the practice. Participants identified offering choices and having a variety of activities as best practices for differentiation. This study encourages social change by exhibiting how differentiated instruction affects educators’ ability to design lessons with all learners in mind, in an effort to help students transfer their knowledge outside of the schoolroom and into their communities and future jobs.