Investigación y Desarrollo • Volumen 11 • 2016 • Diciembre • Nº 1 • ISSN: 1390-5546 / e-ISSN: 2361-2557 67
Differentiated instruction: productive skills development with high school and university students
Nelly Patricia Galora Moya / Universidad Técnica de Ambato /;
Miryan Consuelo Salazar Tobar / Universidad Técnica de Ambato /
he Differentiated Instruction (DI) approach addresses individual learner`s needs in a mixed ability class by focusing instruction on student
learning profiles. The purpose of this study was to describe the effects of the implementation of four DI strategies suggested by Herrera (2011)
in order to analyze their impact on students’ productive skills within two different educational settings: the high school and university. A total of
105 students and two English teachers participated in this study. An online survey assessed learners’ perceptions of the DI strategies. The results
confirmed that the 4 DI strategies implemented in both settings had a positive effect on the development of students’ writing and speaking
skills. This study concluded that there is not a universal, one-size-fits-all strategy for teaching that includes all students. In-depth knowledge of
students’ needs, and interests is a starting point for addressing instruction in a more effective way. Finally, the DI approach is starting to emerge
in Ecuadorian EFL classrooms, and teachers are showing interest in applying the corresponding strategies as an aid to student learning.
content, differentiated instruction, learning strategies, process, student-
centered teaching.
l enfoque de instrucción diferenciada (ID) aborda las necesidades individuales de los alumnos en una clase de habilidades mixtas enfocando
la instrucción en los perfiles de aprendizaje de los estudiantes. El propósito de este estudio fue de describir el efecto de la implementación de
las cuatro estrategias ID sugeridas por Herrera (2011) para analizar su impacto en las habilidades productivas de los estudiantes en dos entornos
educativos diferentes: el colegio y la universidad. Un total de 105 estudiantes y dos profesores de inglés participaron en este estudio. Una encuesta
en línea evaluó las percepciones de los alumnos sobre las estrategias. Los resultados confirmaron que las 4 estrategias implementadas en los
dos contextos tuvieron un efecto positivo en el desarrollo de las habilidades de escritura y expresión oral de los estudiantes. El estudio concluyó
que no existe una sola estrategia universal para la enseñanza que incluya a todos los estudiantes. El conocimiento profundo de las necesidades
e intereses de los estudiantes es un punto de partida para abordar la instrucción de una manera más efectiva. Finalmente, el enfoque de ID está
comenzando a surgir en las aulas de Enseñanza de Inglés como Lengua Extranjera (EFL) y los maestros están mostrando interés en aplicar las
estrategias correspondientes, con el fin de apoyar el aprendizaje de los estudiantes.
Palabras clave:
contenido, estrategias de aprendizaje, instrucción diferenciada, proceso,
enseñanza centrada en el estudiante.
Investigación y Desarrollo • Revista de Divulgación Científica y Cultural • Volumen 11
Diciembre 2016 • PP 67 - 73 • Dirección de Investigación y Desarrollo • U.T.A. • Ambato - Ecuador
ISSN: 1390 - 5546 / e-ISSN: 2361-2557
Nelly Patricia Galora-Moya; Miryan Consuelo Salazar-Tobar
Investigación y Desarrollo • Volumen 11 • 2016 • Diciembre • Nº 1 • ISSN: 1390-5546 / e-ISSN: 2361-2557
nglish has been taught in Ecuador as a foreign language (EFL)
in all educational levels for almost three decades, such as
pre-school, primary, secondary and higher education. However,
effective learning has been impeded by traditional language
teaching methodologies, inappropriate language assessment
and low level of command of the language on the part of the
teachers. A study, carried out in Loja (Ecuador) by León (2013),
based on classroom observations, concluded that most English
classes used the grammar translation method with virtually no
class participation because teachers were largely unfamiliar with
different teaching methods and terminology: an issue situation
that has characterized EFL classrooms in Ecuador for many
Since 1992, efforts have been made to reform the English
Curriculum with varying degrees of success. These have
included a developmental reform on language skills teaching.
In 2012, a new National English Curriculum was based on a
more communicative-functional language approach, aligned to
the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
(CEFR). In addition, there was a focus on teacher development,
part of which involved initiating The Go Teacher Scholarship
Program. In this program, Ecuadorian teachers were sent to
American universities, where they were first exposed to the
Differentiated Instruction (DI) through Tomlinson´s work. During
the program, teachers were challenged to reflect on the one-
size-fits-all teaching approach that had characterized EFL
in Ecuador, and to move towards more meaningfully tailored-
learning activities suggested by Herrera (2011) and applied at
Kansas State University.
Differentiated Instruction
n the late 1990s, Tomlinson, (1999) defined DI as a process of
tailoring instruction to meet individual needs by using ongoing
assessment and flexible grouping where students support each
other and share responsibility. Additionally, Tomlinson stated that
DI is not a matter of creating more individualized lessons, but
rather of paying attention to students’ learning styles, needs and
learning preferences (Tomlinson, 2000).
Heacox (2002) defined DI as the instruction which meets
students’ level, needs, learning styles and interests, while
Willis (2000) argued it is a pedagogy in which teachers adapt
instruction to students’ differences. Furthermore, Dixon (2014)
stated the importance of teacher training on DI strategies in
order to implement educators effectively and to address their
students’ needs and support their learning difficulties. Once they
know how to meet their learners’ needs through the use of DI,
teachers are better prepared to manage mixed ability classes
(Weiner, 2003). Similarly, Gieh-hwa (2014) contended that
having teaching experience with DI strategies engages learners
and encourages language development. Meanwhile, one caveat
raised by Hogan (2014) was that implementing DI in the class
may be challenging because it involves radical changes to
teachers’ teaching routines and methodology.
How to Differentiate Instruction?
oberts (2012) suggested three simple ways to differentiate
instruction in the classroom: differentiation by outcome,
by teaching method and by task. Bearing in mind these three
aspects in everyday planning, teachers would be considering
students’ needs. Tomlinson (2013) and Weselby (2014), on the
other hand, recommend four ways to differentiate instruction:
based on content, process, product, and affect/environment.
A further consideration is that of implementing DI with flexible
grouping. Here, teachers organize the class in groups, in which
learners interact in pairs, in small groups or work as a whole
class. Long & Porter (1985) stated that working in groups is an
effective interaction pattern, students learn and support each
other and a positive work environment for teachers is created,
where students pay full attention during the learning process
(Gieh-hwa, 2014) and Oxford (1997) argued that working
in groups promotes cooperation rather than competition.
Additionally, teachers may encourage peer feedback on errors
made by group members. While by working in pairs or small
groups student frustration at not being able to act or participate
spontaneously may be mitigated. These views were supported by
Tomlinson (2003) and Crandall & Arnold (1999) who stated that
by having flexible grouping in the EFL classroom, teachers meet
their students’ different learning styles, different personalities,
while allowing high achievers to consolidate their knowledge by
helping low achievers to succeed in learning.
Another way to differentiate instruction is by using Blooms’
Taxonomy model. Blaz (2013) contended that this allows the
teacher to examine and differentiate the level of challenge in
learning tasks. When teachers assign tasks, it is required to
employ several strategies to support differentiated teaching and
learning. These tools contribute to effective differentiation in
distinct ways. For example, Armstrom (2016) and Skehan (1998)
categorize tasks in the classroom as open-ended, structured or
teacher fronted, and delivered as small groups or pair-work. At
all times, tasks are designed according to students’ proficiency
Investigación y Desarrollo • Volumen 11 • 2016 • Diciembre • Nº 1 • ISSN: 1390-5546 / e-ISSN: 2361-2557 69
Differentiated instruction: productive skills development with high school and university students
levels and learning styles.
A third way to differentiate classes is by process. In this regard,
Borja, Soto & Sanchez (2015), stated that choosing materials
which meet students’ readiness level and interests guarantee
that learners perform speaking and writing tasks. For instance,
during the speaking task, the researchers provided visuals
such as pictures, posters and videos to evaluate students’
oral performance with a checklist. Furthermore, they gathered
student profiles to learn about students’ interests, learning styles
and language skills. Students performed role-plays, debates,
discussions and interviews based on different topics they felt
interested in.
his study aimed to determine the effects of the implementation
of DI strategies on students’ speaking and writing skills within
two different educational settings: high school and university.
Specifically, it sought to address the following research question.
¿To what extend do the four DI strategies impact students’ writing
and speaking skills?
Two public institutions were used for the study. From the
Technical University of Ambato (UTA), 105 students were chosen
as participants: 64.76% were male and 35.24% were female
and all were between 15-23 years old. Their level of English
language proficiency ranged from beginner A1 (69%) to upper
intermediate B2 (29%) and advanced C1 (2%). The students
who attend English courses in this Center are from both private
and public high schools. It is important to mention that all English
courses are aligned to the Common European Framework
of Reference for Languages. According to these standards,
students must acquire a C1+ level to be awarded a certificate of
proficiency or expertise in English.
The second setting was Neptalí Sancho high school, from
which 90 students were chosen as participants: 75.5% were
male and 25.5% were female, with a large number of students
coming from indigenous ethnic groups. The age range varied
between 12 -18 years, all of beginner level A1 English language
proficiency. The majority came from poor families and they had
few opportunities to interact in English language. In fact, 85% of
the students assessed were not motivated to learn English.
In order to provide accurate differentiation, information on
student´s needs, cognitive abilities, socioeconomic background
and learning styles was of vital importance. Roberts (2012)
contended that this is a crucial step if the teacher is to know the
students’ learning profiles and therefore to be able to meet their
needs and foster their learning. To this end a survey was carried
out to gather significant information on all of these areas that
would support the implementation of DI strategies.
The instructors’ sample included 2 English teachers who work
at Language Center. Both teachers taught A1 English level
(beginner) at the UTA, while one of the teachers worked at the
high school as well. Both were assessed as highly experienced
(more than 15 years of teaching), and highly qualified (trained to
master’s degree level).
In order to determine the effectiveness of the implementation
of DI strategies in improving students’ speaking and writing
skills within the two different educational settings, all students
completed an end-course questionnaire to assess their
perceptions of the implementation of DI strategies in productive-
skills development.
The questionnaire was delivered in Spanish to ensure full
comprehension of all the items. Question 1 was related to the
students’ acceptance level and preference about DI strategies
for developing their writing skills. Question 2 ranked on a Likert
scale the effectiveness of the foldables technique to develop
speaking skills. Question 3 ranked the effectiveness of the magic
book strategy for improving the quality of writing skills. Question
4 rated student acceptance of the U-C-ME strategy for improving
writing skills. Question 5 evaluated the effectiveness of the
pictures and words strategy for fostering student interaction in
pairs or in groups. Finally, Question 6 rated student acceptance
level and preferences on DI strategies for develop speaking skills.