Date of Award

January 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Teaching & Learning

First Advisor

Dr. Shelby Barrentine


The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore what differentiated instruction looked like in three student teachers' classrooms. I sought to understand the challenges and successes these student teachers experienced with differentiation, the conditions they were able to control or not control, and how the relationship with the cooperating teacher impacted their capacities to practice differentiation as a method for responsive teaching. Methods included observation, interviews, and collecting student teaching artifacts. Data analyses were completed through Atlas ti, a computer program that supports qualitative research synthesis.

The theoretical framework underpinning this study was Tharp and Gallimore's neo-Vygotskian learning theory called the Process of Internalization. This theory supported describing how student teachers' experiences differed as they responded to learner variance. Four themes emerged from the analysis: Kaleidoscopic Viewpoints, Getting Focused: Taking Risks to Build Confidence, Collaborative Partnerships: Shifting Patterns, Changing Scenes, and Pathways to Responsive Teaching: A Developmental Process. They lead to two assertions.

The first assertion was, "Student teachers' capacity to respond to learner variance was most dependent on the collaborative partnerships between themselves and their cooperating teachers." Viewpoints of differentiated instruction by participants influenced how early they responded to learner variance, the risks they were willing to take, and the successes they experienced to help build confidence with differentiated instruction.

The second assertion was, "Student teachers' pathways to transform from dependent to independent teachers varied based on what they could control or not control while responding to learner variance with differentiation." Pathways to successful practice with differentiated instruction happened at different intervals for each student teacher based on collaborative relationships with the cooperating teacher.

Recommendations for teacher education include: 1) The development of teacher education programs that provide teachers with the pedagogy and skills to respond to the differences in learning needs, 2) Methods to effectively link standards with conceptual models of differentiated instruction as a method for responsive teaching, and 3) Extended field experiences where pre-service teachers are placed with expert teachers who are trained in differentiation, practice collaborative teaching, and provide classroom settings with intentional practicum experiences.