Should we be differentiating literacy instruction?

Should we be differentiating literacy instruction?

By Amanda Neitzel, Johns Hopkins University

A recent meta-analysis explored the impact of differentiated instruction in elementary literacy.  Differentiated instruction is when teachers “modify content, process, and/or products in response to individual student differences in readiness, learning profiles, and interests.”  These modifications may be designed before the instruction takes place, or happen organically as teachers react to students’ learning.  Instruction may also be differentiated by adjusting the content (what students learn), the process (how students learn), and the product (how student demonstrate learning).  This meta-analysis attempted to systematically examine whether differentiation in the general (Tier 1) classroom by a general education teacher is effective, and whether there are any factors that explain differences in that effectiveness. 

A total of 18 studies were included in the review.  Across all studies, outcomes were significantly positive for comprehension (ES = +0.09) and letter-word reading (ES = +0.20), but did not reach significance for fluency or vocabulary, possibly due to the limited number of studies measuring these outcomes.  In addition, the authors demonstrated a large impact on writing outcomes, but given the small number of studies and the reliance on researcher-developed measures rather than standardized measures, this should be interpreted with caution.

It is also important to note that only three approaches, ISI/A2i, SEM-R, and ICM/WMLA, had more than one study of their effectiveness, while guided reading, a widely used approach, did not have a single study that met inclusion criteria.  Overall this study highlights the promise of teachers differentiating their instruction when supported by evidence-based approaches.

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