Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Mitchell M. Olson


After many years of reform efforts, educators are still searching for ways to better serve the needs of struggling students. The purpose of this study was to develop a grounded theory (GT) that reflects teachers' perceptions of students' behavior, students' need for support, and students' skill deficiencies. Discovering the ways in which teachers address students' needs could sharpen teacher practices and promote support for struggling students. Guided by Weimer's research on learner-centered teaching, this GT study created a conceptual understanding of classroom experiences from teachers' perspective. Twenty teacher interviews began with the grand tour question, "Talk about teaching struggling students at your high school." A constant comparative analysis was employed to induce and develop the theory of guided differentiation. Three main categories or stages emerged from this GT study, with each stage representing a conceptual rendering of behaviors one can expect when working with struggling students in a similar setting: (1) appraising, which is a process of gathering and assessing student performance; (2) tool-boxing, in which teachers identify and apply strategies and interventions to enhance student learning; and (3) reappraising, where teachers assess the effectiveness of interventions applied in the second stage. This theory can be useful to educators considering how best to work with struggling students by revealing the patterns of behavior among teachers who serve struggling students. Extending guided differentiation through the method of grounded action may also serve to advance this research, as it could provide a useful theory for resolving teacher concerns when assessing student performance or skill deficiencies.