This study investigated the relationship between student literacy diversity, instructional differentiation and academic engagement in four Australian primary school classes. The study aimed to investigate: i) relationships between teacher perceptions and contexts in which instruction is differentiated for literacy learning for students with low-, average- and high reading ability in Kindergarten to Year 6 (K – 6) classes; ii) relationships between instructional ecology, teachers’ instruction and student academic engagement in Stage 2 classes; iii) differences between observed practices and teacher perceived practices; iv) teacher perceptions of in-service needs, support needs and problems associated with instructional differentiation. The research methodology included a pilot study, modification of an observation instrument to assess Stage 2 classroom literacy practices, the development of a questionnaire to assess K – 6 teacher perceived instructional practices and a case study of Stage 2 literacy practices. The major findings of the present study indicated that: • little differentiation for student literacy diversity was evident in a sample of K – 6 classes; • little differentiation for student literacy diversity was evident in the Stage 2 classes observed; • teachers perceived more differentiated practice for student literacy diversity than was observed; • some relationships and differences were identified between Stage 2 ecology, teacher instruction, student variables and academic engagement; • K – 6 teachers perceived several problems with differentiation, identified several support needs and required further training on differentiation strategies. One of the most noteworthy features of the study was that Stage 2 teachers believed they used more differentiated practices than were observed. The results suggested that teachers used more traditional teaching and learning methods and similar strategies were reported to be used to motivate academic engagement. However, students with low-reading ability were less engaged than their higher ability peers in all contexts observed. Moreover, traditional, teacherdirected literacy teaching and learning contexts seemed to result in higher academic engagement for students with average-reading ability and high-reading ability. While there seemed to be a balanced approach to literacy instruction, there was also a larger emphasis on whole language instruction rather than skills-based instruction. The literature suggests that all students should receive instruction that is flexibly and dynamically matched to their individual needs and this can be achieved in a classroom where diversity is valued and differentiation is organised and implemented. A secondary outcome of this thesis was the development of a schema that served to illustrate the possibility of dynamic differentiation according to the literature. The present study reinforced that there are many challenges to overcome before teachers in inclusive classroom ecologies can become dynamically responsive to academically diverse learners. In the current study teachers identified some difficulties that may be inhibiting differentiated practice and aspects that might promote differentiation in primary classes. Considering the interrelated nature of classroom instruction and student outcomes, teacher perceptions and the need for training might be barriers to differentiated practices. Overcoming such difficulties using teacher recommendations might contribute to further differentiation in inclusive classes. Teachers recommended in-servicing and sharing best practice. The literature suggested the need to combine teacher reflection and on-going professional development on differentiated literacy practices within research projects, with additional resources and support. Future research and practice might result in more dynamically differentiated instruction for individual student literacy needs in inclusive educational ecologies.
University of Newcastle Research Higher Degree Thesis