A variety of factors influence school persistence and success.
Schools have little control over some of these factors, such as the socio-economic status (SES) of a student’s family, or a student’s ethnocultural origins as well as physical or psychological characteristics. However, it is possible to act on the factors commonly grouped under the category of academic engagement, and considered to be the principal predictor for dropping out of school: the quality of classroom participation, attraction to school, reading motivation and academic self-perception.
Aboriginal students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds particularly appreciate the relationship of trust with the teacher.
The findings of this study involving elementary school teachers working in disadvantaged and aboriginal areas and their students confirm the hypothesis that differentiated teaching practices meet a significant challenge that has always faced schools: to provide each student with the support needed to develop the appetite and desire to learn.
Our findings show that teachers who work in high-SES areas (disadvantage index between 1 and 4), low-SES areas (disadvantage index between 8 and 10) and aboriginal areas use differentiated teaching practices more often than those working in medium-SES areas (disadvantage index between 5 and 7). They invest more effort in understanding the learning needs of their students and identifying the challenges they face in the classroom and outside of school, in order to assign them meaningful and appropriate learning tasks. They also appear to form stronger emotional ties with their students.
For their part, aboriginal students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds particularly appreciate the relationship of trust with the teacher, which seems to compensate for difficult situations experienced outside of school. Differentiated practices, including accommodating individual interests, learning pace and learning preferences and providing a diversity of activities and individualized support, are among the factors that increase students’ academic motivation. Despite evidence for the benefits of differentiated instruction, its systematic use appears to depend on the teacher’s sense of self-efficacy. This finding points to the need for initiatives to support the adoption of differentiated practices by current and future teachers.
Mirela Moldoveanu, Université du Québec à Montréal
Deposit of the research report: August 2015