Zoie ParkFollow




School of Education


Doctor of Education (EdD)


Christy Hill


Differentiated Instruction, Individualized Instruction, Student Perceptions


Curriculum and Instruction | Education | Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research | Educational Methods | Elementary Education | Other Education


Lack of published research on student perception and understanding of differentiated learning hinders educators attempting to diversify learning for individual students. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to investigate the perception and understanding of differentiated instruction of middle school students in a charter middle school in central Florida, as a review of literature reveals limited research conducted from a student perspective. The study will broaden existing educational practices in relation to individualized student differentiated instruction and suggest a relationship between differentiated instruction and student understanding of educational material. The brain-based theories guiding this study are Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, Vygotsky’s theory of social constructivism, and Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, as each of them support the necessity for differentiated instruction within the classroom. The participants were selected from a public charter middle school in central Florida. The researcher used a sample size of 10 students to achieve saturation of themes for purposeful sampling to identify middle school students from classrooms where differentiated instruction practices are the documented norm. The researcher used intake surveys, face-to-face interviews, student engagement observations, and reflective notes to collect data and answer three research questions: RQ1. How does the participating middle school student describe his or her perception and understanding of differentiated instruction?; RQ2. Which, if any, specific differentiated practices do students think are best utilized by teachers to enhance individual perception of academic achievement?; RQ3. What changes do students perceive as necessary for successful individualized instruction? The data was organized, analyzed using a phenomenological reductive method, and amalgamated to extract, compare, explore, and reassemble significant segments and themes of collected data. According to the participant research, two themes, student mindset and presentation of the material, were at the forefront of the student discussion; there were two underlying sub-themes which included life connectedness, and small group, project-based work. The research showed that students are aware of their educational environment and crave an academic environment which allows them to connect with the material through interaction and manipulation. Recommendations for future research include: expanding the participant pool through the inclusion of high school age students; expanding the study to include both area public and private schools; varying the regional areas in which the study was conducted; using the same grade level but expanding to varying middle schools across the country; including teachers and administrators to gauge their understanding and perception of differentiated instruction; broadening the study through quantitative research; and exploring the varied instructional strategies within the classroom to determine effectiveness.