Is differentiation effective? A systematic literature review.

Year: 2019

Author: Lassig, Carly, Graham, Linda

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

With the increasing diversity in our classrooms, schools are seeking pedagogical possibilities for enhancing access, engagement and equity for all learners. Within Australia, the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability (NCCD) has outlined a process for determining the levels of adjustments students with disability require to access education on the same basis as other students. The first level of adjustment, Quality Differentiated Teaching Practice (QDTP), refers to adjustments provided through the usual processes of quality teaching, learning, and resourcing. QDTP is designed to meet the diverse needs of all learners and is informed in large part by the philosophy and practices of differentiation. However, critics of differentiation question its efficacy. We conducted an analysis of a small subset of studies that investigated the effectiveness of differentiation identified through a scoping review of differentiation literature published between 1999 and 2019. The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines were followed to rigorously screen literature from seven research databases. In this presentation, we examine the effects of differentiation on students’ reading, mathematics, science, attitudes, engagement, and overall achievement. Both qualitative and quantitative research was identified; the majority of studies used quantitative experimental designs. Studies with pre- and post-test assessments revealed positive effects on student test scores, many with significant effects. Schoolwide Enrichment Model interventions comprised the largest group of studies, and demonstrated significant positive effects on reading fluency, comprehension, and/or attitudes. Across the body of reviewed literature, the differentiation approaches varied; however, all studies included elements of tiering and differentiated supports or scaffolding. Other common differentiation elements were: use of student choice, flexible grouping, pre-assessment and/or ongoing assessment, differentiated assessment, curriculum compacting, and a differentiated learning climate. Implications for further research outlined in this presentation will include recommendations for the types of differentiation research and interventions that would enable quality research on effectiveness of this approach in catering for diverse learners.