The Effects of Differentiated Instruction on the Interests of Talented Students in High School Science Classes
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In many mixed ability high school classrooms today, teachers are forced to teach to the middle. This method may leave slower students behind, and alternatively, slow down the smarter, more talented students. Differentiation is a form of instruction aimed at addressing an individual’s readiness level, interests, and abilities. According to pertinent literature, talented students require more abstract, complex, difficult and deep assignments (VanTassel-Baska, 2002; Berger, 1991) while students at all levels benefit from choices in their learning environment (Nunley, 2003; Tomlinson, 2001). Little empirical research has been done as to what it is about differentiation that actually interests a talented student. This research focused on the particular aspects of differentiated activities that had the most impact on student interest for gifted and talented high school students. Four main elements inherent in differentiated assignments were chosen (difficulty, depth, choice, and ownership), and students from three schools in The Netherlands were interviewed to determine to what degree each element affected their interest in the learning material. In addition the research was based on the three curricular levels of Jan van den Akker (1998), which include the curriculum as perceived by the material designer, the teacher and the student. It was found that the interest of students was highly dependent on what each activity afforded to them, yet all students had a desire for more complex and deeper problems, and all showed a strong interest to learn more about topic at hand. Within each sample, it was found that the data matched quite well on each level. The elements students found most influential with respect to interest were usually the same elements that teachers felt would affect interest, and were the elements most prevalent in the activity.