Faculty of Education
Differentiating Instruction in Heterogeneous Classrooms
Research by Colleen Willard-Holt
In a series of research projects, Willard-Holt has investigated ways to manage differentiation of instruction in heterogeneous classrooms (e.g., Willard-Holt, 1994; 2003). Although differentiation is widely touted as a set of instructional strategies that assist teachers in meeting individual needs (Tomlinson, 2001; 2006), it will not be successful if teachers are unable to deal with the management issues entailed. Willard-Holt set out some practical and useful techniques, such as curriculum compacting, multi-level learning stations, flexible grouping, tiered lessons, contracts and choices of products. Properly integrated, such strategies can enable a teacher to effectively handle multiple types of special needs in a classroom. Along with a former graduate student, she published a handbook of field-tested strategies for differentiating grade 7 and 8 science. This handbook (Miller & Willard-Holt, 2000) includes a model of an enriched teaching unit on invertebrates and an interdisciplinary unit on genetics. In addition to the teaching materials are comprehensive management and assessment techniques. Willard-Holt’s current project (in preparation) is a text on differentiated constructivist strategies. Working within public school classrooms to investigate the efficacy of each strategy, she elaborates on differentiating the dimensions of task, materials, questioning, process and product within lessons based on the constructivist philosophy—roughly equivalent to inquiry-based lessons. The outcome of this body of work is actualizing the concept of differentiated instruction by helping teachers to efficiently implement the strategies given diverse demands of classrooms. Ultimately the goal is to improve the ability of teachers to address the needs of all children within the context of today’s classrooms.