Capturing the complexity of differentiated instruction

Marieke van Geel*, Trynke Keuning, Jimmy Frerejean, Diana Dolmans, Jeroen van Merrienboer, Adrie J. Visscher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Providing differentiated instruction (DI) is considered an important but complex teaching skill which many teachers have not mastered and feel unprepared for. In order to design professional development activities, a thorough description of DI is required. The international literature on assessing teachers' differentiation qualities describes the use of various instruments, ranging from self-reports to observation schemes and from perceived-difficulty instruments to student questionnaires. We question whether these instruments truly capture the complexity of differentiation. In order to depict this complexity, a cognitive task analysis (CTA) of the differentiation skill was performed. The resulting differentiation skill hierarchy is presented here, together with the knowledge required for differentiation, and the factors influencing its complexity. Based on the insights of this CTA, professional development trajectories can be designed and a comprehensive assessment instrument can be developed, enabling researchers and practitioners to train, assess, and monitor teaching quality with respect to providing differentiated instruction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-67
Number of pages17
JournalSchool Effectiveness and School Improvement
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2019


  • Differentiated instruction
  • cognitive task analysis
  • primary education
  • mathematics
  • assessment

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