impact of differentiation

EDMAS 6027 AT2 – Practitioner Inquiry Proposal
Kyla Thebes
Assessing the impact of differentiation through questioning
Relevance and Selection of the Topic
Effective differentiation is a concept that is often discussed amongst teachers and in
research. The purpose of this proposal is to outline the practitioner inquiry that I will
conduct while on placement, to collect and analyse evidence to improve student learning
and better my own professional practice. This proposal will include the motivations that
guided me to the selection of differentiation as my focus concept, a literature review,
ethical considerations, links to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers and
strategies that will be used to improve student learning throughout this inquiry. The
selection of this topic was informed by both my personal and professional motivations.
While on placement, I observed different mathematics teachers attempting to differentiate
within their classrooms. However, majority of this differentiation was just teaching to the
middle and differentiating in the questions and workload set for the students, with the
more capable students being set more work. While I was teaching, I tried forming smaller
groups within the class to allow students to work at their own pace and I differentiated the
work for each group. However, I found that this approach did not work very well due to
behaviour issues, particularly while I was trying to explicitly teach one group while the
others were completing work or learning collaboratively. This made me wonder, how can I
effectively differentiate in the mathematics classroom to ensure all of my students are
adequately challenged and are learning?
My professional motivations stemmed from often hearing teachers and the media discuss
the difficulties associated with differentiation and being able to effectively differentiate to
give all students the best chance to learn. I was also aware that differentiation is one of the
High Impact Teaching Strategies (HITS), making this an instructional practice that increases
student learning (DET, 2017). With this in mind, I was motivated to learn more about it and
inquire into my own practice around differentiation to better myself as a teacher and my
professional development. Through this practitioner inquiry, I hope to gain a better
understanding of how to effectively differentiate in the secondary mathematics classroom
by largely focusing on questioning as a tool for differentiation.

Literature Review
In the next section the literature that relates to differentiation in the classroom and
differentiated questioning will be examined. Tomlinson and Strickland (2005) define
differentiation to be a systematic approach to planning curriculum and teaching instruction
for diverse learners. This will be the definition used for this context.
Differentiation is important for student learning. Tomlinson (2000) argues that
differentiation is necessary if teachers want to maximise each of their students’ potential.
Other researchers agree that students are more successful in their learning when they are
taught in ways that are responsive to their readiness, interests and individual learning
profiles (Vygotsky, 1986; Csikszentmihalyi, 1997; Sternberg, Torff, & Grigorenko, 1998). A
study conducted by McAdamis (2001) found significant improvement in student test scores
following the implementation of differentiated instruction. Similarly, Curran, Maguire and
Alter (2015) suggest that differentiation allows students to greatly benefit from their
schooling and allows them to strive for appropriate successes for them, not completing
tasks that do not meet their learning needs. This supports the idea that differentiation is an
important aspect of teaching to give students the best chance to learn.
By implementing differentiation, there is an increased chance that students will be learning
in their zone of proximal development. It is important that students are learning in their
zone of proximal development as this extends them from their comfort zone where their
learning will not be most advantageous, and allows them to learn most effectively (Fletcher,
2018). Tomlinson (2001) agrees that learning is maximised when students are pushed
slightly beyond their comfort zone to enable them to bridge the gap between what they
know and what they do not yet know. Supporting this, Dai (2010) argues that when learning
experiences are not within a student’s zone of proximal development, the teacher needs to
effectively differentiate. Therefore, differentiation plays an important role in ensuring
students are learning in their zone of proximal development to ensure they have the best
chance of progressing forward in their learning.
The way that differentiation is implemented in the classroom has important ramifications
for its effectiveness. For differentiation to be effective for student learning, teachers need
to ensure that the learning environments are safe and challenging for all learners, variety is
included in teaching routines, clear learning goals are established, assessment is on-going
and the time, space, materials and strategies that they have available to them are utilised
to address the individual learning needs of their students (Tomlinson, 2005). Teachers who
effectively differentiate use a range of data sources to identify and constantly reassess what
their students know and what they will be ready to learn next (DET, 2019). However, there
is a gap in the research around what effective differentiation is (Hall, 2002). Nevertheless,
trialling new techniques and striving towards effectively implementing differentiation in
classrooms is beneficial for student learning.
Differentiating the questions posed to students in the classroom is one way to effectively
enable all students of varying abilities to learn. Ankrum, Genest and Belcastro (2014)
suggest verbal scaffolding to be an essential ingredient for effective differentiation to take
place in a lesson and can include prompting and questioning. It is important that teachers

are able to formulate questions that are appropriate for the level of the different students
in their class and ask a variety of questions that address different cognitive levels and
knowledge areas (Tofade, Elsner & Haines, 2013). However, as verbal scaffolding is difficult
to characterise, it is not often a focus when discussing differentiated teaching (Ankrum et
al., 2014). Despite this, it is important that teachers incorporate a range of questioning
strategies for different purposes to appeal to a wide range of learners and plan questioning
to promote differentiation.
It is clear that differentiation is important for student learning and should be considered
when planning and delivering instruction. Effective differentiation involves collecting and
analysing a range of sources of data to improve practice and understanding students as
individuals to ensure they are appropriately challenged to learn in their zone of proximal
development. Questioning is an effective way to differentiate in the classroom to target
student learning. All of these findings will inform this practitioner inquiry, with a significant
focus on differentiation through questioning to improve student learning.
Methodological Considerations
For this inquiry, Timperley’s inquiry approach will be adopted. This is an evidence-informed
inquiry structure that involves identifying knowledge and skills students need, the
knowledge and skills of the teacher, deepening professional knowledge and skills, engaging
students in new learning experiences and assessing the impact on student learning
(Timperley, 2009). This approach has been followed in the selection of the topic by
identifying gaps in my own teaching ability in relation to differentiation based on personal
experiences, discovering more about this topic as a professional development tool, which
will be followed by trialling strategies for differentiated questioning and assessing this
outcome through data collection and analysis. For this practitioner inquiry, I intend to select
one class as a focus group, plan differentiated questions appropriate for a variety of
students, note observations in class and reflect after each lesson. These pieces of evidence
will form my qualitative data for analysis of the progression in planning and observations to
assess the impact on student learning.

Ethical Considerations
It is important that while conducting any practitioner inquiry, ethical considerations are
made to ensure the proposed inquiry is safe, causes no harm and works to benefit student
learning and professional development. Taking an ethical approach, like the one outlined
above, is important in all research including practitioner inquiries run by teachers. The
Victorian Teaching Profession Code of Ethics and Conduct signposts three key values that
accompany the Code of Ethics, these being integrity, respect and responsibility (VIT, 2016).
With this in mind, in the classroom I consider ethical behaviour to be behaviour that places
student safety and wellbeing at the highest importance, ensuring that all decisions and
actions are ethical, just and fair.
Three of the key factors that teachers need to consider in terms of ethics in their research
are minimising harm, informed consent and confidentiality (Rose, 2015). Minimising harm
relates to the idea that any proposed inquiry must have the intention of benefiting those
involved and considering any potential negative consequences associated with the research
(Rose, 2015). For my proposed inquiry, this means that I will not plan or conduct any action
in the classroom that I know will be less beneficial than others in terms of differentiated
questioning. I will also ensure that harm is minimised for all students by asking questions at
appropriate levels for each student and creating a safe learning environment. Also, this
proposed inquiry has the intention of benefiting student learning by allowing them to
respond to questions at appropriate levels for them, increasing their confidence, and is also
beneficial for my professional practice around differentiation.
Informed consent it an important aspect to consider when asking students to take part in
research for a practitioner inquiry. In schools, this is often determined by a school leader
(Rose, 2015). However, in my proposed inquiry, I will inform students that their responses
may be used to help me to develop as a teacher, especially if I decide to use any student
surveys or questionnaires throughout the inquiry, ensuring students are aware that their
participation will be used for my professional development.
Confidentiality is extremely important when conducting research and will be maintained
throughout my practitioner inquiry. To ensure this, the school will be deidentified by
removing its name, the location, the exact student numbers and student names will be
removed from any work samples, reflection notes, discussions about the inquiry and data
collected to ensure their privacy and confidentiality is protected.
Ethical considerations are important for me as a teacher, not just for this proposed inquiry.
The Code of Ethics and Conduct outline the way in which teachers should act in terms of
professional conduct, personal conduct, professional competence and in an ethical manner
(VIT, 2016). For this proposal and my own teaching in general, the key aspects of the Code
of Ethics for this purpose are acting in the best interest of learners, treating learners fairly
and impartially, providing quality teaching and behaving in ways that respect and advance
the profession (VIT, 2016). These are the key values that I will follow while conducting this
proposed inquiry.

The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers
The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers are a guide for professional learning and
practice which describe what teachers should be aiming to achieve at the four career stages,
these being graduate, proficient, highly accomplished and lead (aitsl, 2011). They were
formed to support the goals set out in the Melbourne Declaration which included promoting
equity and excellence in Australian schools and allowing young Australians to become
successful learners, confident, creative, active and informed citizens (Ministerial Council on
Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 2008). The purpose of the Standards is
to provide a public statement that outlines what teacher quality is, informing the
development of professional learning goals and providing a structure to guide teachers to
judge the success of their learning and assist in their self-reflection (aitsl, 2011).
While there are many links to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers for this
proposal, some of the specific and clear links to the standards that relate to this proposed
inquiry are to standard 1 – know the students and how they learn, 3 – plan for and
implement effective teaching and learning and 4 – create and maintain supportive and safe
learning environments. Below is an outline of the specific standards that directly link to the
proposed inquiry.
1.5 – Differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full
range of abilities
The focus of this inquiry is differentiating through questioning to improve student learning
and assess the effectiveness of this strategy. This Professional Standard has informed this
proposal substantially, as the basis of it is formed around differentiating to meet the needs
of students of varying abilities. This is an extremely important skill for teachers to develop to
ensure that all students are appropriately challenged so that they can progress forward in
their learning. Knowing the students and collecting information about the needs of each of
the students will inform this differentiation.
3.1 – Establish challenging learning goals
This standard relates to the aspect of this inquiry that sets students challenging goals to
work towards in each class, with a focus on questioning. By planning for and asking students
of varying abilities different questions that are appropriately challenging for them,
challenging goals for each student are set. This directly relates to the overarching concept in
this inquiry – differentiation. Evidence of this will be in the lesson plans, where the learning
goals will be outlined, as well as in personal reflections to assess student development
towards the learning goals.
3.3 – Use teaching strategies
The main teaching strategy that will be differentiated in this inquiry is questioning. This will
be done by planning a variety of questions to ask students of varying ability to promote
inclusion, learning and develop confidence. Questioning will also be used for a range of
purposes, including to raise prior knowledge, to extend student thinking and to
scaffold/guide students. Along with this, during this inquiry I will include a range of different
teaching strategies to promote student learning, including hands-on tasks, group work,

individual learning, incorporating ICT and so on. I will also trial differentiating within these
aspects and assess the effectiveness of this for student learning.
4.1 – Support student participation
By differentiating questions using techniques such as scaffolding, altering the level of
difficulty, changing that language used to ask the question and so on, an inclusive
environment is established that supports the inclusion and participation of all students. The
main source of evidence for meeting this standard will be through teacher observations and
altering practice accordingly to ensure all students feel supported and valued to participate.
Strategies to Evaluate Teaching and Improve Student Learning
Timperley (2009) outlines the importance of teachers changing their practice to benefit
students and constantly checking if these changes are having the desired impact. The
Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) have adapted Helen Timperley’s cycle of teaching
inquiry to develop a framework for what the inquiry approach entails (VIT, 2019). This
involves five key steps:
1. Establish content and the context for learning
2. Define the question for inquiry and undertake professional learning
3. Applying knowledge to your teaching practice through an action plan
4. Implementing the action plan
5. Evaluating the effectiveness of your practice, assessing and reflecting
In my proposed inquiry, I have established the context based on my subject area of
mathematics. I have defined my topic of inquiry based on my previous experiences on
placement and professional motivations to want to develop my skills around effective
differentiation. The professional learning stage was developed by conducting research into
differentiation and differentiation through questioning to inform the inquiry approach. The
action plan for this inquiry includes planning a range of questions to ask students to varying
ability and for different purposes. Evidence of this will be collected through lesson plans,
observations and personal reflections following each lesson. The action plan will be
implemented with one class on placement next year. The effectiveness of this practice for
student learning and my professional development will be evaluated by analysing the
evidence, looking for progression in depth of planning differentiated questions,
development in student learning and professional practice through observations and
personal reflections, assessing the impact of the proposed inquiry.
For my practitioner inquiry, I plan on using questioning as a tool of differentiation to
promote inclusion, appropriately challenge students, benefit student learning and assess my
own development and success in implementing this by collecting and analysing data. The
evidence collected throughout this experience will be mainly qualitative, including planning
questions for varying abilities and analysing the progression of this, observing students and
making notes to inform future lessons and personal reflections discussing the effectiveness
and success of the technique following each of the lessons.

However, I am aware that there are many other ways that practitioner inquiries can be
conducted, which collect and analyse different sources of evidence. It is important that
teachers are constantly assessing students and gaining student feedback to influence their
own practice and guide their own professional development to benefit student learning. I
am collecting evidence through progression in planning, observations and reflections. Other
effective ways that data can be collected and analysed in practitioner inquiries include
student and/or parent surveys, pre and post testing for quantitative data, conducting
interviews with students, reviewing school wide data (NAPLAN, attendance etc), collecting
student work samples to analyse and make deductions, involvement with PLC groups or
collaborating with colleagues to conduct a wider study across multiple classes with
comparable data to increase the reliability of the results and conclusions drawn.
Due to a bit of uncertainty around the specific class this inquiry will be conducted with,
alterations may be required. Although, this proposal has been outlined in a general way to
ensure it is adaptable to a range of circumstances and could be implemented in any
classroom of varying age groups, language backgrounds, ability or size. This practitioner
inquiry could be altered to have a focus on a different aspect of differentiation rather than
questioning. For example, the focus could be on grouping students by ability, analysing the
effectiveness of mixed ability groups for student learning, adjusting the work given to
students to have different focuses based on their ability and interests and so on. The key
thing to remember when conducting a practitioner inquiry is to ensure that all plans, actions
and classroom approaches are directed at improving student learning and are conducted in
an ethical way.

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