Challenges to Implementing Differentiated Instruction in Middle School Classrooms with Mixed Skill Levels
Implementing differentiated instruction in classrooms with students who have mixed skill levels often results in teachers facing many challenges. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore social studies teachers' perceptions of the challenges they faced when implementing differentiated instruction in classrooms with mixed skill levels and what teachers perceived they needed to help overcome these challenges. This project study was guided by the conceptual frameworks of constructivism from Piaget and Bruner along with the theoretical framework of Vygotsky's zone of proximal development. The research questions focused on the viewpoints of teachers on implementing differentiated instruction in their classrooms, what challenges they faced when implementing differentiated instruction in a social studies classroom with mixed skill levels, and what support teachers need to overcome these challenges. Data were gathered using structured interviews of the 10 individual teachers chosen through purposeful sampling from a school in metro-Atlanta, Georgia. Data were transcribed and analyzed using coding by highlighting common words to identify themes to answer the research questions. Data analyses revealed that teachers needed professional development that defined what differentiated instruction is, how to implement it, and how to get to know their students better, as well as time to observe other teachers implementing differentiated instruction. A professional development plan was developed to help meet these needs for teachers. Implications for social change include an improved understanding of differentiated instruction and how to support teachers to overcome the challenges of implementing differentiated instruction. This may lead to better instruction and more academic success for all students which may lead to better assessment scores.