Differentiated Instruction: Teachers’ Perceived Challenges in Hong Kong Secondary Schools
1. Presented at 2016 AERA Annual Meeting, Washington DC, USA, April 10, 2016
Differentiated instruction has been widely promoted in
catering for learner diversity in different educational
settings. Recent Hong Kong curriculum reform has
highlighted differentiated instruction as an approach to
cater to learner diversity (CDC, 2009). This study explores
teachers' perceptions of differentiated instruction in two
Hong Kong secondary schools (Grades 7-12). The main
purpose of this investigation is to explore what obstacles
teachers encountered in implementing differentiated
instruction. Data were collected with the use of multi-
methods approach, utilizing a whole-school survey and
focus group interviews with teachers. Future curriculum
development and teacher development will be discussed,
as followed by research implications.
Differentiated instruction (DI)
• A term used to describe “the process of making
educational expectations match individual students’
different learning needs” (Matthews & Foster, 2009:
• A way of structuring learning and teaching with the key
elements of curriculum and assessment strategies that
can be differentiated by content, process, product and
learning environment (Chapman & King, 2005; Subban
& Round, 2015; Tomlinson, 1999)
• Individual students’ diverse needs are addressed
through multiple learning options that cater to their
different readiness levels, interests, and learning
profiles (Tomlinson, 2003)
• Help all students achieve maximum growth as learners
(Tomlinson, 1999; Tomlinson & Imbeau, 2013)
• Based on constructivist approach, which recognizes that
all learners have the right to be challenged at
moderately challenging level (Tomlinson, 2001;
Tomlinson et al., 2003)
• Teachers should have high, reasonable expectations on
student learning (Hanover Research, 2012)
Conditions for differentiated instruction
Key elements that hindered DI:
Lack of content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge and
Classroom management skills
Beliefs as required for supporting differentiated teaching
Lack of understanding on how to accommodate approaches
to learning for gifted learners
Ineffective use of resources
Lack of planning time
Lack of support or encouragement by the school leadership
• To explore what obstacles Hong Kong secondary
schools (Grades 7-12) teachers encountered in
implementing differentiated instruction.
1. What perceived challenges do Hong Kong teachers
face when doing differentiated instruction?
2. What are in-service Hong Kong teachers’ perceptions
of meanings, perceived readiness, and challenges of the
use of differentiated instruction?
• Multi-method approach
Survey (QUAN) + In-depth Focus group interview
• 2 subsidized Christian schools (S08, S15)
• Response rate
S08 : 62.5% (N=35)
S15 : 65% (N=39)
• Data analysis: Based on an extensive literature related
to obstacles towards differentiation implementation,
the written responses in questionnaire were categorized
This research was supported by the
Direct Grant for Research (2012-13) [Project Code:
4058008], The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Table 1. Demographic variables for respondents..
Table 2. Basic information about interviewees.
Findings & Discussion
Teachers’ perceived challenges towards
Great diversity between high and low ability students
• Biggest concern, with 17.14% (N=6) of S08 and 20.51% (N=8)
of S15 respectively.
• Teachers were also worried about examination due to diverse
academic abilities of students.
• S15 teachers were more anxious, with 15.38% (N=6)
Teachers perceived that
• Lower ability students would hold back those high ability
• Individual guidance or help would be regarded as unfairness.
• Teachers showed concerns that provision of individual guidance
may deteriorate inter-relationships among students.
• In the written comment data, a total of 11.43% (N=4) teachers
whilst 10.26% (N=4) realized time is one of the obstacles to
• Hard to prepare appropriate materials for students due to
shortage of time
• Limited lesson time would result in weaker understanding of
• Preparation time for learning materials was insufficient as a
result of heavy workload.
• DI increases their workload and shorten their lesson
• To cover the curriculum or to look after slower learners
• Teachers felt that they had to sacrifice those slow students.
• Teachers were uncertain about how to do differentiated
instruction due to lack of effective professional development.
• Teachers were doubted about how to evaluate the effectiveness
of the measures in handling learner diversity.
Sally Wai-Yan WAN Alice Hoi-Yan HUI Rita Hau-Kwan LAU Coby Ka-Yau WU Thomas Wing-Ki LEE Kelvin Shing-Pan CHONG
Lik-Chun Leo WONG Ylena Yan WONG Fergus Tsz-Hin CHEUNG David Chong-Kwai YEUNG Donix Kwan-Ho CHAN
Faculty of Education, The Chinese University of Hong Kong Corresponding email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Significance of the study
• Understanding teachers’ concerns is one
of the ways to bringing curriculum change
in a more effective way (Anderson, 1997;
Hall & Loucks, 1978; Hall & Hord, 1987)
• This study has examined teachers’
perceptions of obstacles towards the use
of differentiated instruction in the Hong
• School leadership and administration for
providing teachers with sufficient support,
and teacher professional development for
preparation of pedagogical knowledge and
skills in using differentiate instruction
should be taken into account