Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Steven Wells


Differentiated instruction (DI) is an effective approach to maximize students' academic success in diverse elementary classrooms. But a current concern in educational research is an insufficient understanding of how novice elementary teachers perceive and apply DI to support student success, especially as student diversity continues to increase, creating challenges to meeting students' needs. Novice teachers are expected to positively influence student learning through their teaching methods at the same level as experienced teachers. Yet, it is unclear how they use DI to do so. The purpose of this study was to provide a deep understanding of how novice teachers perceive and apply DI in kindergarten through fifth-grade heterogeneous classrooms. The study's approach is framed by Vygotsky's zone of proximal development and Tomlinson's model of DI, both of which hold that teaching must focus on individual student needs. Research questions explored novice teachers' perceptions about DI and how they report using DI in the classroom. Data for this general qualitative study were gathered through semistructured interviews with 12 novice elementary teachers. Data analysis was conducted using a priori, open, and axial codes. Findings revealed that although novice teachers are committed to meeting student needs, they define DI narrowly and apply it in ways that do not reflect DI's complex pedagogy. The results of the study contribute to positive social change through a nuanced understanding of the instructional practices of novice teachers, which provides valuable insight for those who support novice teachers in their professional growth. Improving the complex instructional practice of DI in novice teachers may maximize learning outcomes for all students, particularly those with diverse cognitive, linguistic, cultural, and socioeconomic characteristics.

Included in

Education Commons