Teachers' perceptions and practices of differentiated instruction at an innovative middle school for gifted and talented students
Crowder, Isabelle Gettys
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The Michelangelo Academy (MA), a public middle school program of choice located in Jinx County, Georgia, has been described as “a timely response to rising interest in alternative educational models and a need to be more economically efficient” (Hall County Public Schools, n.d.-a). MA was designed for students with a passion for technology, science and/or the arts, and emphasizes creative productivity and challenging academic standards. It represents one school district’s creative effort to provide cost-effective, high-end learning opportunities for bright, motivated students. As these programs evolve, there is a need for research to support their effectiveness. School districts must design and implement procedures to evaluate these innovative new programs to determine the extent to which such programs meet stated goals. The purpose of this study was to examine a cornerstone of the MA program—the quality of instructional delivery. To do so teachers’ perceptions and practices of differentiated instruction (DI) were examined. A mixed methods research design was used. Data were collected from teacher observations and interviews, and a student survey that was developed and validated for the purposes of this study. The results of this study indicate that MA teachers are generally effective at differentiating instruction for students. Teachers’ perceptions of DI are consistent with the descriptions of DI found in the research literature. MA teachers further reported a high level of satisfaction with their jobs and perceived positive student response to the program. Teachers’ perceptions and practices of DI converged in a number of notable ways. This study adds to the existing body of research on DI, and suggests that effective differentiation can contribute to gifted students’ responsiveness to curriculum and instruction. This research also suggests that there may be a link between teachers’ ability to fully differentiate instruction and their job satisfaction. Lastly, this study indicates that school districts, administrators, and other education leaders could possibly encourage increased differentiation by adopting some of the characteristics of a program like MA. These include a de-emphasis on explicit standards-based instruction, a smaller faculty and student body, and grouping of bright, motivated students.