NewApproaches to Teaching ScienceVarious factors contribute to the problem ofunsatisfactory science scores in the United States, among which are failures toaddress different learning styles (or multiple intelligences), poor readingcomprehension skills, and emotional conditions (Sternberg, 2006). Problemsrelating to the educational system itself and the teaching methods employed areevident. The educational system in use during the early 1900’s served anindustrial population in America. The dominant teaching method includesstudents as passive recipients of information.
Such a method is unlikely toequip students to succeed in a knowledge- and skills-based economy (McCoy , 2007; Yatvin, 2004).Teachers need to empower students to workcollaboratively, to make their own decisions, to sort through information formeaning, and to apply complex concepts in daily life situations. In response,educators and policymakers are turning to new pedagogical strategies intendedto ensure mastery of learning for all students (Brann, Gray, Piety, Pacuilla, 2010; Guilfoyle, 2006) and to generate the types ofskills needed for life in the 21st century. The pedagogical changes are makinggradual improvements to the educational setting (Corley, 2005).
However, thereis no real consensus as to which educational approaches work best. Theoriesabout how learning occurs, and the most appropriate content and pedagogicalstrategies to maximize learning, were issues of debate in the educational arenafor years (Burton, 2000). Educators have re-examined pedagogical strategiesover time, while changing curricula and assessment techniques (Brooks, 2004),but developments have been gradual, and there has been no agreement amongeducators about how to create quality Grade K–12 education in a world dominatedby science and technology (Hersh, 2009; Trefil & O’Brien-Trefil, 2009).Withinthis context, schools and teachers all over the United States face the challenge of determining whichinstructional approaches to employ for the benefit of every learner in allareas of the curriculum. Teachers struggle to implement classroom practicesthat support their ideas on helpful teaching, while they try to equip students withthe knowledge necessary to pass state tests (Brighton, 2002). After trying DI practices,teachers abandoned the use of DI for test practices. Teachers are also facing unprecedentedchallenges of educating an increasingly diverse student population with wide-ranginglearning abilities and needs (Beecher & Sweeney, 2008; Johnson, 2006).Teaching practices are fundamental to improvingacademic performance in the United States; research proves there is a correlationbetween science achievement, teacher preparation, and instructional strategies(Wenglinsky & Silverstein, 2007).
Instructional materials, instructionalpractices, and the classroom environment must promote a learning sequence thatallows sufficient time for students to explore concepts in depth, to buildconceptual understanding, and to represent their understanding in various formats(Bybee & Van Scotter, 2007). Teaching methods that are proven effective arebest practices (K. M. Anderson, 2007; Daniels & Bizar, 2005). The use ofbest practices in teaching allows meaningful ways for students to explorecontent and excel in their learning and academic performance. For example, theprovision of positive feedback by teachers is a form of educational bestpractice that engages learners’ learning styles and helps guide the learningprocess (Daniels & Bizar, 2005).
Other examples of best practice in scienceeducation relate to methods of questioning students and responding to students’answers in the classroom. Adjusting questions is a technique used in educationsettings in elementary and secondary schools. The teacher introduces asituation that involves the agenda and learning objectives. These objectivesrequire the synthesis of ideas.
Findings by R. D. Anderson (2002) and Aikenhead(2006) indicated that questioning techniques increased student achievement morethan traditional instruction. Brooks (2004) and Colburn (2004) contended thatteachers should ask questions that encourage further investigation in order topromote learning. In traditional classrooms, teachers accept one-word answersand do not require elaboration or group feedback. Instead of asking students toname Newton’s laws of motion, teachers should aim to assess conceptualunderstanding by asking for examples and explanations of each law. Teachers canconvey that many acceptable answers are available for one question rather thanjust yes and no answers. For example, teachers can use commentsor questions such as “I did not think of it that way,” “How did you arrive atthat conclusion?” or “That is creative; can you explain further?” This type ofpositive feedback and exploration of students’ understanding creates anurturing and safe environment that assures the students that their ownindependent thinking is encouraged.
In addition, this type of feedback from theteacher removes the student’s fear of making mistakes (Brooks, 2004).In accordance with findings by B. Clark (2002) andKoch (2009), children acquire more expeditiously when learning activities relateto everyday experiences. The National Science Education Standards call for educationalpedagogy that promotes students to own their learning and to concentrate onmeaningful, real-life situations via student-centered and inquiry-basedexperiences (Johnson, 2006, p. 150).
Daniels and Bizar (2005) argued that by constructingtasks that provide opportunities for learners to choose and communicateindependently, students have an improved chance to achieve academically.Educators have begun to stress that education should allow children to learn byfollowing their interests (Yatvin, 2004). Moreover, an increasing amount of research indicatesthat the provision of a variety of opportunities and methods of learning is onebest practice approach to increasing student achievement (Tomlinson, 2003,2006).
In other countries, the approach to scienceeducation is different from that used in the United States. Roth et al. (2006)examined instructional procedures in Australia, the Czech Republic, Japan, theNetherlands, and the United States.
The 1999 TIMSS assessment results showedthat four countries outperformed the United States in science. It wasdetermined that although many of the instructional strategies were similar inall five countries, there were two main distinctions between the United Statesand the other countries: The advanced countries had their own definite plan forteaching science, while the United States used a variety of different approaches.Second, each of the more advanced countries used an approach that included methodsfor engaging learners with only science concepts. In the United States, contentwas found to play a diminished role or no role at all (Roth et al., 2006; Roth& Garnier, 2007), with lessons instead centered on engaging students in avariety of activities (Roth , 2007, p. 16).
To date, there islittle evidence that the approaches to science education are having a positive impacton academic performance in the United States. In other words, these approaches donot represent best practice (Johnson, 2006). DifferentiatedInstructionOverviewand HistoryThe justification for a different educationalparadigm in the United States relates to numerous factors, including a growingdiversity within the student population and research about multipleintelligences and psychology.
The approach that has emerged with the mostpotential for improving academic performance levels is DI (Yatvin, 2004). Manyleading education researchers have expressed the expectation that DI couldenable teachers to improve student academic performance in all content areas(Darling-Hammond & Brandsford, 2006; Gredler, 2005). DI is regarded as ateaching method with the possibility of meeting NCLB expectations (Tomlinson,2008) by enticing learners with many learning modules on different levels (Rocket al., 2008; Tomlinson, 2008).In previous years, there have been concertedattempts in the United States to provide instruction that was modified to the learningneeds of different groups of students (Yatvin, 2004).
True DI, however,originated in the 1960s on a small scale, with practices such as shorterspelling lists, homework projects with extra credit, projects with varying difficultylevels, and fun activities, including puzzles “for students with differentlevels of academic ability” (Yatvin, 2004, p. 7). With the modification of curriculum, legislations suchas the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004), and the addition of inclusionarypractices, educators began to adapt and adopt instructional methods to aid withteaching diverse learners.
Educators, teachers, and parents began to understandthat children’s abilities and interests develop at different times and indifferent directions. By the 1980s, new educational theories, such as socialand cognitive learning theories and MI theories, were influencing policies ofcurriculum and instruction and contributing to the increased adoption of DI(Bredo, 2000; Cosentino, 2012; Hall, 2002). ResearchSupporting Differentiated InstructionIn DI, teachers observe the needs of individualstudents and recognize that effective learning begins at the student’s academicstage of ability and provides challenges for learning to develop (Tomlinson,2006).
Differentiation occurs when teachers acknowledge that in order foreffective learning to transpire, a strategy that enhances the potential of allstudents at their place of academic learning and promote academic growth mustbe employed (Fahey, 2000; McTighe & Brown, 2005). DI is not individualizedinstruction; rather, it emphasizes learning from the student’s viewpoint (Rocket al., 2008). DI is a strategy that many teachers already execute to ensurethat all learners are successful academically.Teachers who utilize differentiation thus realizethat learners differ in important ways and that they need teaching methods thatare on the readiness or interest level of the students to help them becomeengaged in effective learning. To differentiate instruction is to recognize andaccommodate learners on their own academic levels (Hall, 2002). When using DI,teachers vary instruction and let students select their learning style while completingtasks. The method involves modifying the pace, kinds of instruction, and tasks,meeting each student’s academic needs by using methods like cooperativelearning, flexible groups, and giving tiered activities (Erwin, 2004; Tomlinson,2006, 2009).
Differentiation provides all students with the chance to performand to develop their own strengths (George, 2005; Tomlinson, 2001; Walpole& McKenna, 2007). When using DI, teachers improve learning by balancinginstruction with students’ characteristics to create assessments that arechallenging and appropriate for the students. The advantage of the DI method isthat it gives every student access to similar lessons by tailoring delivery to thestudents’ needs (Hall et al., 2003; Lawrence-Brown, 2004). Whole-group andsmall group lessons are used when appropriate, while accommodations to thelesson are made by providing for different learning styles (Ghazi, Shahzada,Gilani, Shabbir, & Rashid, 2011; Lawrence-Brown, 2004).
TheoreticalBasis for Differentiated InstructionThe theoretical basis for DI lies mainly in both Gardner’s(2006) MI theory and Vygotsky’s (1978) ZPD theory. When teachers apply thesetheories in combination to develop instructional methodologies, the result islikely to be DI. The ensuing topics delve deeply into the theories that guidedthis study. MultipleIntelligences TheoryThe MI theory, introduced by Gardner in 1983,supports the use of DI as a way of drawing on students’ strengths. Althoughoriginally created to improve understanding of brain-damaged students, teacherswho use MI are able to determine the mental, physical, and social strengths ofall students (Gardner, 1993, 2006). The theory subsequently developed theprinciples, format, and constituent elements of DI (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000).
MI theory argues that it is important to portray a person’s talent in terms of individualcognitive capacities (Moran, Kornhaber, & Gardner, 2006). The MI theory hasa foundation for students to learn content and demonstrate how they learned thematerial (Armstrong, 2001, 2009; Gardner, 2006). Using MI theory, teachers cangive assignments that allow the students to draw heavily on the form ofintelligence that causes learning to be most meaningful for them and easilyunderstood.