The purpose of this literature review is to examine how differentiated instruction can impact student content knowledge in an urban science classroom. Themes to be discussed are urban students and science education, differentiated instruction in the regular education classroom, differentiated instructional strategies, and benefits of differentiated instruction.
Urban Students and Science Education
Urban students are typically in traditional classrooms where they underachieve in academics, demonstrate low proficiency in all subjects, and perform below average in reading and math (Olivares-Cuhat, 2011, p.1). “Some students underachieve because of instruction that is uninteresting and academically unchallenging which leads to student apathy and low performance” (Feldman, 1997, as cited by Arroyo & Rhoad, 1999, p. 4). If students are not held to high expectations and challenged, they will become bored and disengaged with the content. This is a significant problem in urban schools, and Olivares-Cuhat (2011) points out that urban students at high poverty schools perform lower than average on standardized tests compared to students in low poverty schools (p. 1.)
A major reason for this underachievement, indicated by McLaughlin (2014), is that teachers “employ a pedagogy of poverty that focuses on low-level didactic teaching strategies that detract from meaningful instruction and diminish the quality of students’ learning” (p. 919). If urban teachers do not believe that their students are capable of achieving, especially if students demonstrated low performance in the past, then students will continue to underachieve. This is especially concerning in content areas such as science, since science “greatly improves the...
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...tside of the classroom.
Differentiated instruction can have a significant impact on student learning since it is tailored to the needs and interests of each student. Typically, urban students have a wide range of needs and tend to underperform due to a lack of motivation resulting from low engagement with traditional classroom instructional styles. This demonstrates a need for a different approach to close achievement gaps, engage students in learning, and assist students in making real-world connections with content. Research has demonstrated the benefits of using differentiated instruction to improve student learning, however, it was extremely limited as to how DI specifically impacts urban students. This shows the unique need for this study in particular to see if DI will significantly affect the acquisition of content knowledge for urban students.
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