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Differentiated Instruction for the Teaching of STEM among the Mixed Ability Students

  • Mohd Hasrul Kamarulzaman
  • Mariann Edwina A/P Mariadass
  • Mohd Fadzil Kamarudin
  • 645-661
  • May 22, 2024
  • Educational Management

Differentiated Instruction for the Teaching of STEM among the Mixed Ability Students

1*Mohd Hasrul Kamarulzaman, 1Mariann Edwina A/P Mariadass, 2Mohd Fadzil Kamarudin

1PusatBahasa, University Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia, Kem Sungai Besi, 57000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

2Pusat GENIUS@Pintar Negara, University Kebangsaan Malaysia, 43600 UKM Bangi, Malaysia. 

*Corresponding Author


Received: 30 March 2024; Revised: 16 April 2024; Accepted: 17 April 2024; Published: 22 May 2024


The call for the implementation of differentiated instruction (DI) in teaching and learning has left teachers baffled. There is a crucial need to understand how to differentiate lessons for mixed ability students with diverse backgrounds. Thus, there is an urgent need to initiate this study, because, while the implementation of DI is pertinent, the teachers are facing difficulty and require immediate assistance in producing appropriate differentiated lessons for the students. The purpose of this study is to explore teachers’ cognition such as their knowledge and beliefs about differentiated instruction teaching approach. Specifically, it aimed  to explore teachers’ cognition of DI for the mixed ability students. A qualitative design was utilized in which interviews and document analysis were analyzed. The findings revealed that teachers’ cognition of DI practices that include their knowledge, belief and challenges. This study shall equip teachers with the knowledge of DI and of how the constructs of DI should be utilized to produce appropriate differentiated lessons, towards successful teaching and learning.

Keywords: Differentiated instruction, STEM, mixed ability


Differentiated Instruction (DI henceforth) has taken place in schools for more than 30 years. The practice of DI however is limited to the schools in several regions such as the U.S., the U.K., and few other European countries. Hence the existing literature revolves around these areas. Nonetheless, DI has reached the Asia continent including Malaysia. In 2013, Malaysia announced the education reform in its education blueprint, introducing DI.

In the 2013 Malaysia Education Blueprint, Abd. Ghafar (2013) states that “… the changes brought will necessitate the implementation of strategic support systems to engage students in the learning process as our schools will be able to provide quality teaching, guidance, and support for our students (pg. Foreword).” This conceptual education vision is in line with one of the education system’s aspirations – equity in education.

The blueprint indicates that the objective of the curriculum transformation is to prepare Malaysian students with the necessary knowledge and skills for the 21st century by ensuring that every student is afforded “opportunity to fulfill their potential”, through promoting “proficiency in at least… English language”, providing “special care” to “groups with needs”, and strengthening the pedagogy (Malaysia, 2013: 4-1). This conceptual education vision features, among others, the inclusion of gifted education (Malaysia, 2013: 4-15) and the implementation of differentiated instruction (Malaysia, 2013: 4-10).

Speaking of equity in education, diversity thus has become one of the main factors that determine academic excellence. Learning diversity is especially apparent across all classrooms, with students of various backgrounds, bringing into the classrooms mixed levels readiness and interests, hence mixed ability. Studies indicate that addressing individual learning needs can lead to higher rates of student engagement, growth and positive learning outcomes. So how do we address every individual learner needs, in a classroom of mixed ability students? DI is an approach to teaching that meets the growing diversity of individual learning needs by considering students’ readiness, interest, and learning styles. DI help teachers meet individual learning needs by allowing them to modify instruction as needed. However, despite the apparent benefits of DI, teachers are hesitant to abandon other teaching approaches that are a one-size-fits-all or whole-classroom type. Research has shown that beliefs about student learning influence teachers classroom practices. If teachers do not possess beliefs supporting differentiated classroom practices, then calls for additional implementation may go unheeded.

Student Achievement VS Student Performance

Any kind of change brought about or proposed for, is definitely for the betterment of a certain goal or objective. The educational reform brought about by the ministry is aimed specifically towards enhancing the students’ attainment in learning. For that matter, it would suffice to look at the students’ achievement and performance based on the data provided by the ministry. The National Grade Average, or Gred Purata Nasional, of students achievement can be referred to in order to determine the students’ achievement. The analysis of the data suggests that lower national grade averages correlate with higher levels of student achievement.

National Grade Average Trend 2016 – 2020

Figure 1 National Grade Average Trend 2016 – 2020

Figure 1 above shows students’ achievement in the national examination (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia) from the year 2016 to 2020. The chart reveals a steady slight increase of students’ achievement in SPM from 2016-2020. It shows that students’ achievement for the year 2020 (4.80) is better than 2019 (4.86) and the rest of the previous years (2018, 4.89; 2017, 4.90; 2016, 5.05). In general, this can be interpreted as that students’ achievement increases every year; and that this shows positive teaching and learning in schools were experienced throughout those years.

However, a detailed screening into specific parts of the data reveals interesting findings i.e. with regards to students’ performance, especially in the STEM subjects. The data taken from the ministry, comprise of the SPM results from 2016 to 2020, reveals inconsistent performance scores of all subjects. With regards to STEM related subjects, there has been a decrease in the rate of failure percentage in subjects like Mathematics (23.4% – 17.4%) and Additional Mathematics (22.7% – 21%), and few Sciences related subjects, e.g. in Biology (from 1% – 0.9%) and Chemistry (from 3.8% – 2.4%); however, the improvement is considered low for a period range of 5 years. The same is the case for the rate of pass, good, and excellence percentage of these subjects which is relatively low.

Despite such minimal improvement in the students’ performance however, the rate of failure percentage were incremental as shown in other Sciences, Technology, and Engineering related subjects. For Engineering related subjects, there has been a steady increase in the rate of failure percentage, as seen on subjects like Pengajian Kejuruteraan Elektrik dan Elektronik, Pengajian Kejuruteraan Mekanikal. For Sciences and Technology related subjects, there has been a steady increase of the percentage rate of failures as seen on subjects like Science, Physics and Computer Science.

These data are relative to the pedagogical scenario for the past five years since the call for the implementation of DI. The statistics of students’ achievement and performance above can be aligned with the teachers’ current implementation of DI that is full of challenges and difficulties. Thus, there is a need to explore teachers’ cognition such as their knowledge and beliefs about implementing differentiated instruction teaching approach.


The State of the National STEM Education

Initially, the root of STEM education is the 1967 60:40 Science/Technical: Arts (60:40) Policy in education, which was first implemented in 1970. This policy is the national target to have a 60:40 (science to arts) ratio of students towards fulfilling the country’s human capital demands in the future. The most recent STEM related driver is established in the latest Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025. One of the educational strategy aligned in the Malaysia Education Blueprint is to improve STEM education. for this, relevant authorities and experts from MOE, MOSTI, and Ministry of Higher Education, federal agencies and private sectors were gathered to come up with a national education agenda called the National STEM Action Plan. In line with that, STEM Education Initiative was introduced. The aims are to prepare students with STEM related competencies and to ensure sufficient number of STEM graduates to supply the demand from the employment sector. The strategies to achieve this include a) raising students’ interest in STEM education, b) upskilling teachers’ competencies, and c) enhancing parents’ and students’ awareness towards STEM.

Throughout the decades, many studies had been conducted regarding the state of STEM education in Malaysia. The existing studies on STEM education in Malaysia deal with the perception of the people involved, directly or indirectly towards the integration of STEM, as well as the issues related to pedagogy, which highlight the pedagogical terms such as inquiry method, problem-based learning and project-based learning. Previous studies have highlighted these issues.

Much earlier, Osman and Mohd Saat (2014) mentioned that one of the issues in the implementation of STEM education in Malaysia is pedagogy. In line with this, Thomas and Waters (2015) conducted a review study on the state of STEM education in Australia, India and Malaysia. The scope of the review includes national priorities, educational philosophy, educational practices, and teacher beliefs and professional development. As for Malaysia, they revealed that the Malaysia school pedagogy is a dominance of whole class approach where students are provided with the same pre-designed activity (p. 48). In addition, the major issue with the Malaysian teachers’ pedagogy is that they are incompetent, lack of quality, and lack of interest, which negatively impact the overall implementation of STEM education. This is consistent with their finding pertaining the Malaysian teachers’ beliefs which is that they hold traditional beliefs. The Malaysian teachers were found to believe that constructivist pedagogy is difficult, and that they were not ready to adopt new teaching approach.

Continuously, more scholars postulate that, the main issue in STEM education is due to the low level of competency among the teachers (Margot & Kettler, 2019; Kurup et. al, 2019). A study by by El Nagdi et al. (2017) revealed that teachers were not effective as they faced difficulties with regards to content as well as pedagogical knowledge. In addition, while Montgomery & Fernández-Cárdenas (2018) indicated that most STEM teachers are having difficulty producing inter-disciplinary teaching content, more studies are needed in Malaysia as the Malaysian teachers have not indicated their pedagogical efficiency in implementing inquiry method or problem based teaching (Mahmud et. al, 2018; Siew et. al, 2015).

Recently, Chong (2019) stated that teachers resisted in using the inquiry method and require extensive training. This echoes a previous study by Li and Arshad (2015) who collaborated with 23 chemistry teachers from 13 different secondary schools to find out the status of inquiry teaching practices carried out by them in the schools. They found out the inquiry teaching practices need to be further improved. Thus, the current proposal believes that there is a need to introduce and utilize differentiated instruction to improve the pedagogical aspect in STEM education.

In conjunction with the present research proposal, it is justified to postulate that teachers play a crucial role in determining both the excellent implementation of STEM education as well as students’ achievement. This is strengthened by a study by Fitzgerald et. al (2017) that reported positive correlation between teacher’s quality and student achievement and that the effectiveness of STEM education implementation rest in the hands of the teachers.

On that note, the need to acknowledge the issues faced by teachers, especially pedagogical related, is crucial, in order to ensure positive implementation of STEM education; thus, a comprehensive and systematic framework is required to address this matter.

STEM-Related Frameworks

In relation to reviewing available frameworks in assisting the Malaysian teachers implementing STEM education, two relevant frameworks have been reviewed, in order to justify the need for developing a more pedagogical specific framework.

Currently, the Ministry of Education has developed the Malaysian Teachers Standard as a guide for teachers to prepare themselves for pedagogical and improvement purposes. This framework however is too broad and not specifically aimed for the purpose of STEM education. The other framework is called the framework of the Malaysian STEM Teacher’s Standard, developed by Nasri, Nasri & Abd Talib (2020). They stated that the framework is meant for the following objectives:

  1. To serve as reference and guidance for STEM teachers to continuously improve their professionalism
  2. To assist STEM teachers in self-evaluating their level of knowledge, understanding as well as teaching and learning skills and enabling them to function and act as effective STEM teachers
  3. To empower agency and teachers’ training institution to develop quality assurance policy for STEM teacher training curriculum, and
  4. To accelerate the efforts of the Ministry of Education Malaysia to drive excellence and quality of STEM education in Malaysia

The framework comprises three dimensions i.e. a) Knowledge and Understanding, b) Teaching and Learning Skills, and c) Practice of Teaching Professionalism Value. The data used for the development of this framework were resourced from six students and ten teachers only. It is clear to see, while the former framework is too general, the latter lacks in extensive methodological procedure. Hence, a study with larger scope of participants (i.e. teachers) would be more viable in developing a framework or guide that can be used nationally, by all of the teachers, and for the benefits of our diverse mixed ability students.

Therefore, in order to develop a comprehensive and systematic framework for mixed-ability students, the No Child Left Behind Act (2002) is referred to. The act embraces the notion that quality of primary and secondary school teachers, arts teachers, special education teachers and STEM teachers differs in terms of their essential characteristics and pedagogical needs. This rationalizes the need for teachers not only to acquire the required pedagogical skills but also to embrace the concept of learning diversity that entails diverse learning needs from the various students’ backgrounds. And as for this, differentiated instruction approach is embedded as one of the fundamental elements in the later-to-be-proposed framework.

The Current Practice of DI in Malaysia

In 2018, another nation wide call to extend the practice of DI on mixed-ability students had been made across all schools. The Ministry of Education announced a so-called student-oriented streaming system that emphasizes on streaming based on a student’s current academic level (Anon, 2018). Ramli and Yusoff (2020) state that differentiated instruction would be able to cater for the implementation of the mixed-ability classrooms in all secondary schools in Malaysia. The actual implementation will depend on teachers’ efficacy in differentiating their instruction. While the curriculum content is standard and the same for all students, however, it is up to the teacher to modify the delivery of the curriculum content and to design the process or activities for the content for their mixed ability students.

The implementation of DI in the Malaysian schools thus far, can be considered relatively new and its practice has not been emphasized, despite its promising outcomes as revealed by scholars (Sabb-Cordes, 2016; Maddox, 2015; Hung, 2015; Wan, 2015; Jin, 2015; Amadio, 2014; Robinson et al., 2014; Hogan, 2014; MacCallum, 2014; Abbati, 2012; Caldwell, 2012; Rodriguez, 2012).

The initial introduction of DI into the Malaysian education system however was incapable to equip teachers with appropriate knowledge and training about this teaching approach. The Malaysian school teachers are currently struggling in implementing DI while there is no specific policy or even a national standard guide that could be used as a reference that is developed based on the Malaysian learners’ context.

This points out to the fact that providing differentiated lessons is not as convenient as preparing a lesson as in the whole-classroom approach, or one-size-fits-all teaching. Most studies on DI equally revealed the challenges faced in its implementations that have subsequently resulted in its ineffective applications, as well as resistance to its applications in lessons (Siam & Al-Natour, 2016; Kiley 2011; Latz et al. 2009; Tomlinson 2008; Rock et al. 2008; Anderson 2007). In response to this issue, Tomlinson (2014) highlights that teachers’ limited knowledge of DI and all of its related processes are identified as the main cause for these issues.

Likewise, in the Malaysian context, challenges in employing DI effectively is also the main concern. As an example, in one school for the gifted students that emphasizes DI practice; there is uncertainty among the teachers on how to employ DI effectively in teaching the gifted students. It was revealed in a study that the teachers employed their own interpretations of how to teach the gifted students differently (Kamarulzaman, et al., 2015; Md Yunus et al., 2013). Additionally, the issue of DI practice at the school has become a concern when more than half of the students had below intermediate proficiency levels and they lacked in their communicative competence (Ainil et al. 2013).

In addition, the teachers’ teaching style is a major contributing factor in determining the effectiveness of DI to the students. Md Yunus et al., (2013) identified some inconsistencies in the teachers’ way of teaching with the subject matter, hence, urged teachers to develop specific instructional strategies that are appropriate for the students. This indicates the teachers’ challenge in designing lessons that correspond appropriately with the students’ learning preferences.

Since the first call in 2013, and again in 2018, the practice of DI among the teachers have not been assessed and more studies are required to review the implementation of DI in Malaysia. Nonetheless, few recent studies had been conducted, as shown in the table below.

Lavania and Mohamad Nor (2021) explored the factors that influence the implementation of DI among the secondary school teachers in the rural and urban schools in Johor Bahru. Teachers’ knowledge of DI and time are among the themes that emerged in the study. The findings highlighted that knowledge of DI and time were found as the problems faced by the teachers; as they lacked the knowledge of DI due to deficiencies or misunderstandings of DI while at the same time, teachers’ workload (i.e. number of courses taught, administrative tasks) led to insufficient time (i.e. preparation, teaching) in implementing DI.

Ramli & Mohd. Yusoff (2020) investigated teachers’ self-efficacy and its influence towards their DI practice. The findings of this study revealed that the teachers had high level of self-efficacy towards implementing DI as well as having positive relationship with implementing DI. The study however was limited to gathering the data via a self-reported questionnaire survey, and classroom observation method was not conducted to observe to see the presence of DI in the teachers’ teaching. This suggests that while teachers may have high self-efficacy towards DI, the actual implementation of DI has yet to be determined.

In another study by Haiqal Ismail and Abdul Aziz (2019), it was found that the teachers are aware of the use of DI as a means to cater to diversity of mixed ability students in the classroom and the diverse academic ability among their students, yet some teachers do not find that DI will be able to fulfil the needs of their students. The teachers also revealed that implementing DI is challenging for them and it is time-consuming. Furthermore, while some teachers found that differentiated lesson was unmanageable, more than half of the participants agreed that they lack expertise in the DI approach.

On top of this, the global outbreak of Covid-19 has made it worse for the implementation of DI. Two recent studies were conducted during the pandemic exploring its implementation during the outbreak, or disaster era as they call it.

Again, similar findings were revealed from the studies conducted during the pandemic as shown in the table above. Chua, et. al. (2021) found that teachers lacked the knowledge of DI and it is time consuming. Idrus, Zainal Asri, and Baharom (2021) and Beck and Beasley (2020) revealed that prior to the pandemic, it was challenging for the teachers to implement DI and that it had not been practised when Covid-19 hit the world. The studies indicated that the need for resources and trainings are crucial for the teachers.

Eventhough it is believed that DI is capable to reach every individual learner’s needs, teachers’ pedagogical approach continues to show the ‘one-size-fits-all’ teaching practice in the classroom. Fundamentally, this is due to the interplay of the teachers’ knowledge, as well as beliefs, about DI and their perspectives towards the importance of diversity in teaching and learning. Thus, understanding teacher knowledge and beliefs about DI is crucial in determining its actual implementation.

Clearly, as indicated in the recent studies above, teachers are still struggling in implementing differentiated instruction, and that a guide for a convenient and successful implementation of DI has yet to be offered for the teachers. Having a standardized framework of differentiated instruction for the teaching and learning of mixed ability students would certainly lift up or at least minimize the teachers’ burden in planning and designing appropriate lessons for their students.

Differentiated Instruction and Teacher Cognition

With regards to exploring and investigating DI, researchers still have abundance to study about teachers and their cognition, which includes knowledge, beliefs, perceptions, etc. that influence their actual pedagogical practice in the classroom, and of which ultimately determine students’ learning outcomes (Fives & Buehl, 2015; Rubie-Davies, Flint, & McDonald, 2012).

Tomlinson (2014) noted that teachers were not sufficiently trained to differentiate instruction in their teaching. More recently, Farkas and Duffet (2010) found 81% of college of education professors acknowledged the difficulties of tailoring instruction to individual learners in their own classrooms. As a result, while some teacher education programs might include references to DI, Santangelo and Tomlinson (2012) found teacher trainees often do not transfer this DI knowledge into the actual classroom practices. It is a safe assumption to conclude that more researches can be conducted to model and emphasize differentiated instructional practices.

Likewise, experienced teachers seem as hesitant as teacher trainees to incorporate differentiated instruction. Rochkind et al. (2007) found 84% of teachers struggled to implement DI. This suggests current efforts to train teachers to differentiate are fraught with difficulty. Teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge seems to influence their ability to differentiate instruction. Hardre and Sullivan (2008) found the majority of teachers in 19 high schools lacked the strategies and knowledge to implement DI. Tomlinson (2014) admitted, “It can be difficult to implement and plan for effectively differentiated classrooms because we see few examples of good ones” (p. 5). In short, teachers hesitate to differentiate because they may not know how, and they may need a framework that is specific for their learners’ context.

Therefore, it is the aim of this study to develop a framework of DI that are specific for the teaching and learning of STEM among the mixed ability students, by exploring the teachers’ knowledge and beliefs about DI. This framework of DI can be used to assist the teachers in planning and designing differentiated lessons that are inclusive and optimal for all of the students with mixed abilities.


The purpose of this study is to explore teachers’ cognition such as their knowledge and beliefs about differentiated instruction teaching approach. Specifically, it aimed  to explore teachers’ cognition of DI in the teaching of STEM subjects among the mixed ability students.

In order to do so, this study involved teachers from the schools in five states in Malaysia in order to capture the current implementation of DI in the Malaysian secondary schools. A qualitative design utilising interview and document analyses was utilized to explore teachers’ cognition of DI approach. Based on the researchers’ conceptualized assumption that DI imposes a great deal of impact on both the teachers’ pedagogical practices and the student’s learning, data collection from these five states would contribute to various perspectives to the findings of this research.

In order to gather teachers’ cognition in implementing differentiated STEM lessons for the mixed ability students, this study explored teachers’ knowledge and beliefs about differentiated instruction, as well as teachers’ challenges and needs in implementing differentiated instruction. This was done through interviews with the teachers.

A total of 50 teachers participated in this study. The teacher participants are the school teachers chosen through purposive sampling from 5 states across Malaysia. A semi-structured interview was employed on 50 teachers in order to obtain in-depth information related to their actual knowledge and beliefs about differentiated instruction, as well as the challenges and needs in implementing DI. On top of that, document analysis (the teachers’ lesson plans) was utilized to seek evidence of their knowledge of DI in their teaching as translated into their lesson plans. In order to achieve this, Tomlinson’s constructs of differentiated instruction (content, process, product, readiness, interest) and Borg’s theory of teacher cognition (teacher knowledge, teacher beliefs) framed the study’s thematic qualitative data analysis.


Borg (2006) presents extensive work (pp. 36–39 and 47–49) showcasing the diverse range of terms employed to depict various aspects of a teacher’s thoughts, knowledge, and beliefs, highlighting the complexity of the subject matter. Borg’s work demonstrates the complexity and diversity of terminology used to describe different aspects of a teacher’s thoughts, knowledge, and beliefs that represent the wide array of terms employed in discussing these aspects, indicating the nuanced and multifaceted nature of teachers’ cognitive processes and perspectives.

For instance, when considering the aspect of thoughts, a teacher may engage in a range of contemplations related to instructional strategies, student engagement, and academic goals, reflecting a dynamic interplay of ideas and considerations. In terms of knowledge, a teacher’s expertise in a specific subject area or pedagogical approach manifests through a deep understanding of content, curriculum standards, and effective teaching practices. Furthermore, beliefs held by a teacher, such as the conviction that all students are capable of success and deserve equitable opportunities for learning, profoundly influence instructional decisions, classroom interactions, and overall pedagogical approach. These examples underscore the nuanced and multifaceted nature of a teacher’s cognitive landscape, wherein thoughts, knowledge, and beliefs intersect to shape instructional practices and student outcomes.

Based on such theoretical framework, the findings of the study reveals that the effectiveness of DI lies not only in delivering content but also in tailoring instruction to meet the diverse needs of students. This necessitates an understanding that students come from various backgrounds, possess unique learning styles, and exhibit differing levels of abilities and interests. This study delves into Teachers’ Knowledge, Beliefs, and Challenges in planning and designing differentiated lessons and thus sheds light on the multifaceted nature of DI in the classrooms.

Effective planning and designing of differentiated lessons, as evidenced by the findings of the study, demand a comprehensive array of knowledge and skills from educators. The key components of knowledge identified in the study include knowledge of students, content and curriculum, learning styles, assessment, and instructional strategies. Additionally, it delves into the beliefs that underpin the practice of planning and designing differentiated lessons, as well as the challenges that educators encounter in implementing this pedagogical approach.

The study emphasizes that successful differentiation requires teachers to possess a deep understanding of their students, encompassing their learning needs, strengths, interests, and preferences. Moreover, it underscores the importance of content and curriculum knowledge, recognizing that educators must have a thorough grasp of what they teach to effectively differentiate instruction. Understanding diverse learning styles, proficiency in assessment strategies, and familiarity with a range of instructional methods are also highlighted as essential components of teachers’ knowledge repertoire.

Furthermore, the study underscores the significance of teachers’ beliefs in driving the practice of planning and designing differentiated lessons. Educators who espouse a commitment to meeting the diverse needs of their students prioritize flexibility and responsiveness in their instructional approach. They believe in tailoring instruction to individual student needs, utilizing various activities, resources, and assessments to

scaffold learning effectively.

However, while the benefits of differentiated instruction are evident, educators face numerous challenges in its implementation. From accommodating a heterogeneous student population to navigating constraints such as limited resources and time, educators encounter obstacles that can hinder the seamless integration of differentiation into their teaching practices. Resistance to change, assessment complexities, and classroom management issues further compound the challenges faced by educators striving to implement differentiated instruction effectively.

In brief, the study illuminates the intricate interplay between teachers’ knowledge, beliefs, and challenges in planning and designing differentiated lessons. By exploring these facets, teachers gain insight into the complexities of differentiation and the multifaceted nature of effective teaching in diverse classrooms.

Teachers’ Knowledge

Guided by Borg’s notion of teacher cognition (teacher knowledge, teacher beliefs), this study found that effective planning and designing of differentiated lessons require teachers to possess a diverse range of knowledge and skills. Here are some of the key areas of knowledge that teachers need to have.

Knowledge of their students

Teachers need to have a good understanding of their students’ learning needs, strengths, interests, and preferences. This knowledge will enable them to design lessons that are relevant and engaging for all students.

Knowledge of content and curriculum

Teachers need to have a thorough understanding of the content and curriculum they are teaching to design effective differentiated lessons. According to Sousa and Tomlinson (2011), teachers should have a deep understanding of the content and standards they are teaching, as well as the prerequisites and learning progressions that are necessary to help students achieve mastery.

Knowledge of learning styles

Teachers need to be aware of different learning styles and preferences to design differentiated lessons that meet the diverse learning needs of their students. According to Dunn and Dunn (1992), students have different learning styles that impact how they learn best, and teachers should use a variety of instructional strategies that cater to different learning styles to promote student engagement and learning.

Knowledge of assessment

Teachers need to have a good understanding of different assessment strategies to design differentiated lessons that cater to the individual learning needs of their students. According to Popham (2011), assessment is an essential component of differentiation, and teachers should use a variety of assessments, such as pre-assessments, formative assessments, and summative assessments, to measure student learning and adjust instruction accordingly.

Knowledge of instructional strategies

Teachers need to be familiar with a range of instructional strategies that are effective in differentiating instruction. According to Tomlinson (2014), teachers should use a variety of instructional strategies, such as flexible grouping, tiered assignments, and choice boards, to provide multiple entry points to the content and allow for varied levels of challenge and support.

According to Tomlinson and Allan (2000), teachers need to have a deep understanding of their students’ learning needs, interests, preferences, and strengths to design differentiated lessons that meet their diverse learning needs. They suggest using a variety of student data sources, such as student surveys, observations, and assessments, to gather information about student learning needs.

Teachers who believe in planning and designing differentiated lessons recognize the importance of catering to the diverse learning needs of their students. They understand that students come from different backgrounds, have unique learning styles, and vary in their abilities and interests. As such, they strive to create a learning environment that meets the individual needs of each student.

To achieve this, these teachers spend time planning and designing differentiated lessons that include a range of activities and resources that appeal to different learning styles. They may also use assessments to gather information about their students’ strengths and weaknesses and use this information to tailor their lessons accordingly.

One of the key benefits of planning and designing differentiated lessons is that it can help to engage all students in the learning process. By offering a variety of activities and resources, students who may have previously been disengaged can find something that appeals to them and feel more invested in their learning.

Furthermore, differentiated lessons can also help to support the academic growth of students who are struggling by offering additional support and scaffolding. This can help to prevent these students from falling behind and ensure that they are making progress along with their peers.

In short, teachers who have the knowledge of planning and designing differentiated lessons understand the importance of catering to the diverse needs of their students. They spend time creating lessons that offer a variety of activities and resources that appeal to different learning styles, and use assessments to inform their planning. This approach can help to engage all students in the learning process and support the academic growth of those who may be struggling.

Teachers’ Beliefs

Understanding teachers’ beliefs towards differentiated instruction is crucial for fostering its effective implementation in classrooms. This thematic study delves into the beliefs held by educators regarding the principles and practices of differentiated instruction. The findings of this study reveal a spectrum of beliefs among educators regarding differentiated instruction. While some teachers embrace its principles wholeheartedly, others may exhibit skepticism or reservations.

Embracing Diversity

One prevalent belief among teachers is the recognition of student diversity. Educators who strongly endorse differentiated instruction often emphasize the uniqueness of each learner. They perceive diversity not merely as a challenge but as an opportunity to tailor instruction to individual needs, abilities, and interests.

Student-Centered Pedagogy

Teachers who endorse differentiated instruction typically hold student-centered pedagogical beliefs. They prioritize student agency, autonomy, and active engagement in the learning process. For these educators, the traditional one-size-fits-all approach is deemed inadequate in meeting the diverse learning needs of students.

Commitment to Equity and Inclusion

Belief in the principles of equity and inclusion is another hallmark of educators supportive of differentiated instruction. They advocate for educational practices that promote equal opportunities for all students, irrespective of their backgrounds, learning styles, or abilities. Differentiated instruction is seen as a means to address disparities and foster a more inclusive learning environment.

Challenges and Skepticism

Despite the benefits espoused by proponents of differentiated instruction, some teachers harbor reservations or skepticism. Common concerns revolve around issues of feasibility, workload, and classroom management. Implementing differentiated instruction effectively requires substantial planning, resources, and ongoing assessment, which may pose challenges within the constraints of a typical classroom setting.

Professional Development Needs

The study also highlights the importance of professional development in shaping teachers’ beliefs towards differentiated instruction. Educators who have undergone training or professional learning experiences focused on differentiation are more likely to embrace its principles and practices. Conversely, those lacking adequate support or training may exhibit apprehension or reluctance.

Teachers who believe in planning and designing differentiated lessons are committed to meeting the diverse needs of their students. They understand that students come from different backgrounds, have unique learning styles, and vary in their abilities and interests. To address these differences, they strive to create a learning environment that is flexible and responsive to the needs of each individual student.

According to Tomlinson (2014), differentiated instruction involves “tailoring instruction to meet individual needs” (p. 4). Teachers who believe in differentiated instruction spend time planning and designing lessons that include a range of activities and resources that appeal to different learning styles. They may also use assessments to gather information about their students’ strengths and weaknesses and use this information to tailor their lessons accordingly.

Research has shown that differentiated instruction can have a positive impact on student learning outcomes. A study by Jang, Reeve, and Deci (2010) found that when teachers provided autonomy-supportive instruction, which included differentiated activities, students showed greater engagement in the learning process and higher levels of academic achievement.

Furthermore, differentiated instruction can help to support the academic growth of students who are struggling. In a study by McKenna, Labbo, Reinking, and Kieffer (2006), researchers found that differentiated instruction, which included scaffolding and support for struggling readers, led to significant gains in reading achievement.

Understanding teachers’ beliefs towards differentiated instruction has significant implications for practice. School leaders and policymakers must recognize the diverse perspectives held by educators and provide targeted support to address their professional development needs. This may involve offering ongoing training, collaborative planning opportunities, and access to instructional resources tailored to the principles of differentiation.

Teachers’ beliefs towards differentiated instruction play a pivotal role in shaping its implementation and effectiveness in classrooms. While some educators enthusiastically embrace its principles, others may harbor reservations or skepticism. Addressing these beliefs requires a multifaceted approach, including targeted professional development, supportive school leadership, and a commitment to equity and inclusion. By fostering a shared understanding and commitment to differentiated instruction, educators can create learning environments that meet the diverse needs of all students.

In conclusion, teachers who believe in planning and designing differentiated lessons understand the importance of catering to the diverse needs of their students. They use a variety of strategies, including assessments and flexible instruction, to meet the individual needs of each student. By doing so, they create a learning environment that supports student engagement, academic growth, and success.

Teachers’ Challenges

Planning and designing differentiated lessons can present several challenges for educators. One of the primary challenges is the need to accommodate the diverse needs and learning styles of a heterogeneous student population (Tomlinson, 2014). Additionally, educators may struggle with identifying appropriate instructional strategies and resources that effectively address the varied needs of their students (Tomlinson & Strickland, 2005).

Another challenge in designing differentiated lessons is the need to balance the time and resources required to plan and implement differentiated instruction with other instructional demands (Polloway, Patton, & Serna, 2003). This can be particularly challenging for educators who work in under-resourced schools or who have large class sizes.

Furthermore, the lack of training and support in differentiated instruction can also present a challenge for educators (Tomlinson, 2014). Many educators have not received formal training in differentiated instruction, and may not have access to resources or professional development opportunities that can support them in planning and implementing differentiated lessons. Some other additional challenges that teachers may face when planning and designing differentiated lessons include the followings.

Limited access to technology and other instructional resources

Designing differentiated lessons often requires access to a variety of instructional materials and resources. However, educators in under-resourced schools may not have access to the technology, manipulatives, or other resources that they need to effectively differentiate instruction.

Lack of time

Planning and implementing differentiated lessons can be time-consuming, and educators may struggle to find the time they need to effectively differentiate instruction. This can be particularly challenging for educators who are also responsible for other duties such as grading, lesson planning, and professional development.

Resistance to change

Some educators may be resistant to changing their instructional practices and may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of designing differentiated lessons. Additionally, school and district policies may not support differentiated instruction, which can make it difficult for educators to implement these practices.

Assessment challenges

Differentiated instruction requires ongoing assessment and monitoring of student progress, which can be challenging for educators. They may struggle with identifying appropriate assessments, analyzing data, and

using the data to inform their instruction.

Classroom management

Differentiated instruction often involves small group instruction, independent work, and other activities that can be challenging to manage in a classroom setting. Educators must have effective classroom management skills to ensure that all students are engaged and learning during differentiated instruction.


The findings of the study shed light on the essential components of differentiated instruction (DI) for mixed-ability students among the teachers. The research aimed to explore how teachers’ knowledge, beliefs, and the challenges they face impact their implementation of differentiated STEM lessons. This discussion will delve into these findings, their implications, and provide a brief conclusion.

The study emphasizes that effective planning and designing of differentiated lessons require teachers to possess a diverse range of knowledge. This knowledge is essential for catering to the diverse needs of mixed-ability students. It includes knowledge of students, content, learning styles, assessment, and instructional strategies. The importance of understanding students’ individual needs, interests, and preferences cannot be overstated. Without this knowledge, it’s challenging to create lessons that engage all students.

Teachers must also have a deep understanding of the content and curriculum they are teaching. This knowledge ensures that the differentiated lessons align with the learning goals and objectives of the curriculum. Furthermore, being aware of different learning styles and preferences allows teachers to tailor their lessons effectively, promoting student engagement and learning.

Another important aspect is assessment as it is a critical component of differentiation. Teachers need to use various assessments, including pre-assessments, formative assessments, and summative assessments, to measure student learning. This data informs instruction and ensures that lessons cater to individual learning needs.

Furthermore, knowledge of instructional strategies is equally crucial. Teachers should be familiar with a range of effective strategies for differentiating instruction. These strategies, such as flexible grouping and choice boards, provide multiple entry points to the content, accommodating various levels of challenge and support.

The knowledge of teachers has significant implications for the practice of differentiated instruction. When teachers possess these vital areas of knowledge, they can design lessons that are not only engaging but also effective in promoting student learning. Firstly, understanding students’ individual needs, strengths, and preferences enables teachers to create a learning environment that caters to each student’s uniqueness. This personalization can significantly enhance student engagement and motivation. Secondly, deep knowledge of the content and curriculum ensures that differentiated lessons are aligned with educational standards, promoting consistency in the learning experience. Also, knowledge of learning styles and preferences allows teachers to tailor their instruction, making learning more accessible and engaging for diverse students. Of course, affective assessment strategies help in gauging student progress and adapting instruction accordingly. This ensures that no student is left behind. And finally, familiarity with various instructional strategies provides teachers with a toolkit to adapt to different learning needs, ultimately resulting in more inclusive classrooms.


Based on recent findings related to teachers’ knowledge, beliefs, and challenges in implementing differentiated instruction, there are several areas that future studies should explore to further enhance our understanding and support the effective implementation of this teaching approach while several recommendations can be proposed to enhance the implementation of differentiated instruction (DI) in teaching STEM subjects among mixed-ability students.

First of all, considering the multifaceted nature of teachers’ cognition explored in the study, it is essential to provide professional development opportunities tailored to enhancing teachers’ knowledge and beliefs about differentiated instruction. This can be achieved through workshops, seminars, and ongoing training sessions that focus on deepening educators’ understanding of DI principles, effective instructional strategies, and assessment techniques aligned with student diversity. Additionally, incorporating reflective practices within professional development frameworks can help educators internalize and apply DI principles effectively in their instructional practices.

Secondly, acknowledging the challenges highlighted in the study, such as limited access to resources and time constraints, it is imperative to provide adequate support and resources to educators to facilitate the implementation of DI. This may involve allocating funding for instructional materials, technology, and manipulatives essential for designing differentiated lessons. Moreover, schools and educational institutions can consider restructuring teachers’ schedules to allow for dedicated planning time and collaboration opportunities to develop and implement differentiated instructional plans effectively.

Furthermore, addressing educators’ resistance to change and skepticism towards DI requires a comprehensive approach that emphasizes the benefits and evidence-based practices of differentiation. School leaders and administrators play a crucial role in fostering a culture of innovation and continuous improvement by promoting open dialogue, providing mentorship opportunities, and recognizing and celebrating successful implementations of DI in classrooms. Additionally, aligning district policies and mandates with the principles of differentiation can provide educators with the necessary institutional support and autonomy to innovate in their teaching practices.

Moreover, to address assessment challenges associated with DI, educators need access to training and resources that enable them to develop and implement formative assessment practices effectively. This involves providing educators with guidance on designing pre-assessments, formative assessments, and performance tasks that capture students’ diverse learning needs and inform instructional decision-making. Additionally, leveraging technology-enabled assessment tools and platforms can streamline the assessment process and provide educators with real-time data to monitor student progress and adjust instruction accordingly.

Last bu not least, enhancing educators’ classroom management skills is essential for creating inclusive and supportive learning environments conducive to differentiated instruction. Schools can provide professional development opportunities focused on effective classroom management strategies tailored to the dynamics of differentiated classrooms. This may include strategies for flexible grouping, establishing routines and expectations, fostering student autonomy, and managing transitions effectively. Moreover, mentorship programs and peer collaboration can offer valuable insights and support for educators navigating the complexities of differentiated instruction in diverse classroom settings.

Finally, to promote effective implementation of differentiated instruction in teaching STEM subjects among mixed-ability students, it is crucial to invest in professional development, provide adequate resources and support, address resistance to change, improve assessment practices, and enhance classroom management skills. By aligning these recommendations with the findings and discussions of the research, educators and educational stakeholders can work collaboratively to create inclusive and engaging learning environments that meet the diverse needs of all students.

Future studies should delve deeper into teachers’ understanding of differentiated instruction, including their knowledge of its principles, strategies, and underlying pedagogical theories. Researchers can investigate how teachers acquire and develop this knowledge, as well as identify any gaps or misconceptions that may exist. By gaining insights into teachers’ knowledge base, future studies can inform targeted professional development initiatives aimed at enhancing their competency in implementing differentiated instruction.

Understanding teachers’ beliefs and attitudes towards differentiated instruction is crucial for identifying potential barriers to its implementation and fostering a supportive classroom culture. Thus, future studies can examine the factors that shape teachers’ beliefs about differentiation, including their prior experiences, educational background, and perceptions of student diversity. Researchers can also investigate strategies for promoting positive attitudes and buy-in among teachers, such as peer collaboration, modeling by instructional leaders, and reflective practice.

Next, building on this study, future studies should continue to explore the challenges that teachers face when implementing differentiated instruction in their classrooms. This may include issues related to time constraints, curriculum constraints, resource limitations, and perceived effectiveness of differentiation strategies. By identifying common challenges and barriers, researchers can develop targeted interventions and support mechanisms to address these issues and enhance teachers’ ability to effectively implement differentiated instruction.

Moreover, contextual factors within schools and districts can significantly impact the implementation of differentiated instruction. Future studies should examine how factors such as school leadership, organizational culture, instructional support systems, and external policies influence teachers’ ability and willingness to differentiate instruction. By taking into account the broader context in which differentiation occurs, researchers can provide recommendations for creating supportive environments that facilitate successful implementation of this teaching approach.

Finally, effective professional development is essential for equipping teachers with the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to implement differentiated instruction effectively. Therefore, future studies should investigate teachers’ professional development needs related to differentiation, including their preferences for delivery formats, content focus, and ongoing support mechanisms. Researchers can also explore the impact of various professional development models on teachers’ ability to translate their learning into practice and overcome implementation challenges.

In conclusion, future studies on differentiated instruction should continue to explore teachers’ knowledge, beliefs, and challenges, while also considering the contextual factors that influence its implementation. By addressing these areas of inquiry, researchers can contribute to the development of evidence-based strategies and supports to enhance teachers’ capacity to implement differentiated instruction and ultimately improve student learning outcomes.


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