Date of Award

Summer 8-2021

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




François G. Amar

Second Committee Member

Natasha Speer

Third Committee Member

Brian Frederick


Differentiation of instruction (DI) is a broad term used for a group of pedagogical tools that teachers use to individualize instruction for students of different abilities and needs. Differentiation of instruction is a practice that has been researched and characterized to have a variety of instructional benefits, some of which include increased student motivation and engagement (Tomlinson, 2001). This study sought to characterize the attitudes, beliefs, and practices of ten high school chemistry teachers in Maine regarding the differentiation of instruction. Through a phenomenological approach, interviews with these teachers were analyzed to understand how high school chemistry teachers define differentiated instruction, what their beliefs and attitudes about differentiation of instruction are, and how they practice differentiation of instruction techniques in the classroom. Additionally, the study probed how differentiation of instruction implementation is understood in school culture and policy as an explicit practice or an implicit understanding, in order to assess the school environment’s influence on their practice of differentiating instruction. The study investigated (via a retrospective analysis) the influence of professional development events geared towards differentiation of instruction during the pre-service and in-service periods on in-service teacher implementation of differentiated instruction techniques in the classroom. Furthermore, the teachers were queried about the communication between teachers of different disciplines about DI. Lastly, the teachers’ own experiences with differentiation of instruction as a student were addressed, as well as the change in what they believed about the implementation of differentiation of instruction techniques when the transition to remote instruction in March of 2020 occurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, through a pseudo-grounded theory approach, the connections between differentiation of instruction and student autonomy were investigated, as well as the connection to conceptual hierarchies, grouping and tracking of students, and differentiating mathematics topics in chemistry. Interview data from this study suggests that teachers do have a common definition of differentiation of instruction, and have common differentiation practices, but there is a general lack of professional development opportunities for teachers and a lack of support from the school administration, despite the implied expectation that teachers should be differentiating their instruction as a good pedagogical practice. As a result of the study, it is clear that high school chemistry teachers in Maine need effective professional development opportunities to increase their understanding of differentiation of instruction as well as specific training to be able to confidently differentiate the math-related topics in chemistry to be able to provide individualized instruction and support for students learning chemistry. Future work can include the development of professional development opportunities for high school chemistry teachers based on the recommendations given in this work.