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Differentiated Instruction at the College Level

Page history last edited by Edith Serkownek 11 years, 5 months ago


K-12 teachers have been using differentiated instruction, a process of proactively modifying instruction based on students’ needs, for some time. As the video above suggests, differentiated instruction is the realization that all students are not alike and that differentiated instruction includes giving students of varying learning levels what they need to be successful. However, what impact does differentiated instruction in a college class have on students’ understanding and learning? The resources below, exploring various subjects and aspects of differentitated instruction, are meant to explore the importance of differentiated instruction at the college level. 




DifferentiationCentral.com has three videos on differentiated instruction at the college level found here


In the first video, “A rationale for differentiating at the college level,” Carol Tomlinson offers a rationale for differentiating instruction in today’s universities and colleges as well as ideas for implementing DI in your classes. In the second video, “The need to prepare education majors in our colleges to differentiate instruction,” Tomlinson highlights the changes needed in our university teacher education programs that will prepare tomorrow's teachers to meet the diverse needs of the students they will encounter. In the third video, “Thoughts on differentiating instruction at the college level,” Kristina Doubet shares her thoughts on the need to differentiate instruction for college students and an example of how education majors often differ in their readiness for designing learning goals.


TeacherTube.com has a video on differentiation at the college level found here


This video examines the various ways college professors differentiate in their classrooms.  




Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Fransisco, CA: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.


Barkley offers college teachers a model for engaging students and includes tips, strategies, and techniques to help teachers from a wide variety of disciplines and institutions motivate and connect with their students. 


Articles/Book Chapters:


Bernhardt, J. E. (2008). A differentiated approach to community college language instruction. Retrieved from http://www2.dickinson.edu/prorg/nectfl/reviewarticles/61-bernhardt.pdf


Bernhardt explained a differentiated approach to Russian language instruction at the community college-level. Bernhardt examined standards and their relationship to students’ learning goals. Finally, he suggested some classroom activities and argued for a differentiated approach to homework and assessment, with special emphasis on pre-program assessment.


Butler, M., & Van Lowe, K. (2010). Using Differentiated Instruction in Teacher Education. International Journal For Mathematics Teaching And Learning. Retrieved from http://www.cimt.plymouth.ac.uk/journal/butler.pdf


Butler and Van Lowe discuss using differentiated instruction in mathematics education for pre-service teachers, including background information and details on a differentiated unit on fractions and integers. In addition, a study was conducted on this lesson and results are included which suggest that students who received the differentiated lesson did better than those students who received a more typical lesson. Survey results, however, show that not all students were satisfied with the differentiating. 


Caverly, D. C. Nicholson, S. A., & Radcliffe, R. (2004). The effectiveness of strategic reading instruction for college developmental readers. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 35(1), 25-49. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database. 


Caverly, Nicholson and Radcliffe conducted two studies to examine the short- and long-term effects of teaching strategic reading to first-year college students in a stand-alone course. Significant pretest-posttest growth was found using cognitive, metacognitive, and affective measures, though no gain was found on a measure of self-efficacy. These developmental readers seemed to learn strategic reading skills that transferred to a future core curriculum course.


Chamberlin, M., & Powers, R. (2010). The promise of differentiated instruction for enhancing the mathematical understandings of college students. Mathematics and Its Applications, 29, 113-139. Retrieved from http://teamat.oxfordjournals.org/content/29/3/113.full.pdf+html.


Chamblerin and Powers examined the use of differentiated instruction in an undergraduate mathematics course for addressing such concerns and thereby improving students’ mathematical learning. They provided suggestions for incorporating differentiated instruction in undergraduate mathematics courses are provided along with plans for further research.


Ernst, H. R., & Ernst, T. L. (2005). The promise and pitfalls of differentiated instruction for undergraduate political science courses: Student and instructor impressions of an unconventional teaching strategy. Journal of Political Science Education, 1(1), 39-59.


Ernst and Ernst explored the potential for differentiated instruction within the undergraduate political science classroom by evaluating student and instructor responses to the unconventional teaching method. Both descriptive and analytical in nature, Ernst and Ernst illustrated the characteristics of a differentiated classroom and assessing the practical and ethical concerns associated with learning and teaching in a differentiated setting. Ernst and Ernst found that students generally responded favorably to the differentiated approach, reporting higher levels of intellectual growth, interest in the subject, and satisfaction with the course than students in the non-treatment group.


Livingston, D. (2006). Differentiated instruction and assessment in the college classroom. Retrieved from http://home.lagrange.edu/dlivingston/differentiated.htm


Livingston discussed differentiating assignments, assessments, and evaluations that give more opportunities for students to show their understandings of the concepts and content in an undergraduate course in education. According to Livingston, he primary goal for the course was to bring about an enduring understanding of what it means to teach as a constructivist.


Logan, B. (2011). Examining differentiated instruction: Teachers respond. Research in Higher Education Journal, 13. Retrieved from http://www.aabri.com/manuscripts/11888.pdf.


Logan provided an introduction to differentiated instruction and then provided a review of the literature that elaborated on the following areas: the major principles of differentiated instruction, the essentials necessary for differentiating, ways to implement, the clichés, barriers, and myths surrounding the practice, and the research studies and theories supporting differentiation. 


Keeler, C. M., & Anson, R. (1995).  An assessment of cooperative learning used for basic computer skills instruction in the college classroom. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 12(4), 379-393. 


Keeler and Anson reported research on cooperative learning strategies used in a college computer skills lab course and compared learning performance and retention of students taught via cooperative teams or traditional individual learning. They showed that both performance and retention were significantly improved with the use of cooperative learning.


Sands, D. I., & Barker, H. B. (2004). Organized chaos: Modeling differentiated instruction for preservice teachers. Teaching & Learning, 19(1), 26-49. Retrieved from http://www.und.nodak.edu/dept/ehd/journal/Fall%202004/sands.pdf.


Sands and Barker described an activity that they developed meant to introduce the construct of differentiated instruction to pre-service teacher candidates. They included a differentiated instruction lesson plan that varied significantly from the approaches typically seen on university campuses. They provided contextual information about their teacher education program, the values that serve to guide the program, the course in which this activity took place, and a full description of how they differentiated instruction in order to address the concept of “differentiation” with teacher candidates. Finally, they concluded with implications for future practice.


Santamaria, L. J. (2009). Culturally responsive differentiated instruction: Narrowing gaps between best pedagogical practices benefiting all learners. Teachers College Record, 111(1), 214-247.


Santamaria sought to focus on the contribution of the educational community in recognizing pedagogical differences, while finding common ground, in identifying complementary teaching practices for all students, including culturally diverse students and English language learners (ELLs). Santamaria provide frameworks with which to discuss a reconciliation of both theory-to-practice approaches with the hope that a common framework will better serve educators and preservice teachers working with diverse students in complex multidimensional classrooms.


Santangelo, T., & Tomlinson, C. A. (2009). The application of Differentiated Instruction in postsecondary environments: Benefits, challenges, and future directions. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 20.(3), 307-323.


Santangelo and Tomlinson examined the nature and impact of using differentiated instruction in an introductory-level graduate course comprised of students who varied significantly in terms of their levels of readiness, their interests, and their learning profiles. They suggested that differentiation had a positive and meaningful impact on student learning. Students’ class performance and their reflections on the experience indicated that students were appropriately challenged and were able to find meaning and relevance in the course content and activities. 


Sikka, A., Beebe, R. S., & Bedard, C.W. (2011). Effectiveness of a professional development approach to integrate Differentiated Instruction in higher education. Retrieved from http://www.uhd.edu/academic/colleges/publicservice/urbaned/seeque/documents/dissemination_FacultyDevelopmentPresented_ATE_2011.pdf.


Sikka, Beebe, and Bedard conducted a workshop at a minority-serving, urban university focused on incorporating Differentiated Instruction (DI) into content-area and pedagogy courses. Their article reports on the evaluation of the workshop and included numerical ratings, comments, and a summary of strategies that emerged from small group discussions. Strategies for future workshops are also suggested.


Williams-Black, T. H., Bailey, J., & Lawson, P. D. (2010). Differentiated instruction: Are university reading professors implementing it? The Reading Matrix, 10(1), 45-54. Retrieved from http://www.readingmatrix.com/articles/april_2010/williams_black.pdf.


In their qualitative study, Williams-Black, Bailey and Lawson surveyed university professors of literacy education to explore “how” and “if” they modeled differentiated instruction in their own college classrooms. They identified various methods of how the professors differentiated the content, the  process,  the  product and  the  environment within their graduate and undergraduate courses.


Wooldridge, B. (1995). Increasing the effectiveness of university/college instruction: Integrating the results of learning style research into course design and delivery. In R. Sims, & J. Serbrenia (Eds.) The importance of learning styles: Understanding the implications for learning, course design and education (pp. 49-65). Westport: Greenwood. 


Woolbridge examined a variety of learning styles as having specific relevance to the improvement of the learning process. In this study, Woolbridge was concerned with educational issues such as appropriate teaching strategies, important characteristics of student, and effective pedagogical strategies. 




Ayaad, A. (2004). How exemplary professors differentiate instruction in higher education. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). The University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 


Ayaad's qualitative study sought to describe the practical dimensions of differentiated instruction in teacher education, through what he termed "exemplary professors." 


Chen, Y. H. (2007). Exploring the assessment aspect of differentiated instruction: College EFL learners’ perspectives on tiered performance tasks. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA. 


To explore the applicability of differentiated instruction in an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) environment, Chen explored Taiwanese college students’ perspectives on tiered performance tasks and educational implications of the perspectives with regard to EFL learning and teaching at the tertiary level.




Educational Testing Service. (2007). Online writing evaluation service for differentiated instruction in the college classroom: A guide for faculty and administrators. Retrieved from http://www.ets.org/Media/Resources_For/Higher_Education/pdf/Criterion_Teacher_Guide_web_6487.pdf.


Educational Testing Service (ETS) has created a practical guide for helping faculty integrate the Criterion service into their programs and use this tool’s powerful features to their best advantage. This guide also supports administrators in engaging faculty and training them to use the Criterion service comfortably and effectively.










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