An enquiry into the relationship between Differentiated Instruction and learner levels of engagement at university level

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Individual learner differences are expected but are often only acknowledged by levels of ability, reflected in ability groupings. Teaching French to adults at a British University brings with it the need to acknowledge that individual learner differences far exceed levels of ability. Each learner brings with them different intrinsic and extrinsic motivations; different first and second languages; different language learning experiences; different interests and knowledge as well as aptitude for language learning to name but a few. These individual learner differences can affect learner engagement and if not considered responsively, could have negative effects on in-class engagement and course completion. Differentiated Instruction (DI), which first appeared in research in 1889, has since developed into a principle-based approach to teaching and learning that recommends teaching to each learner's level, needs, interests and learning preferences rather than a prescribed syllabus that disregards learners’ differences. This research enquiry has explored the application of DI in a University language course setting and investigated its effect on learners’ levels of engagement. Carried out using a small-scale action research (AR) study, it is rooted in my own teaching context, with me as teacher as researcher. Combining a cycle of action and reflection, the instruments for data collection have included participant pre-assessment questionnaire, class observations, teacher observer and participant interviews and questionnaires. The findings suggest that in acknowledging and responding to individual learner differences, especially interests, levels of learner engagement are positively affected. Although readiness and learning profile are more difficult to accurately determine, attempting to respond to them provides learners with greater choice of how they learn, how they demonstrate learning and to what level of challenge. Findings further suggest the pivotal role of the teacher to invest time and effort in not only understanding each learner but in developing one’s own teaching practice so that what we teach and how we teach truly makes a difference to learner engagement and language learning. It has been acknowledged that the small-scale nature of the study may have positively affected learner engagement and that further investigation with a typical class size needs to be carried out.
Date of Award7 Dec 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorPaul Slater (Supervisor)


  • Differentiated Instruction
  • individual learner differences
  • engagement
  • University Language Teaching

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