Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




Puvirajah Anton


Differentiated instruction (DI) is defined as an approach that allows teachers to strategically and proactively plan and vary curriculum design and delivery to address students’ individual needs and to create meaningful student experiences. Since China’s New Curriculum Reform in 2001, DI has been extensively employed to motivate teachers to be curriculum developers and researcher practitioners. Teachers were encouraged to develop a diverse curriculum by connecting students’ and teachers’ life experiences and prior knowledge to the course content. Despite this popularity, the DI practice has been met with great difficulties and challenges in China, and few studies have identified instructional design strategies that are effective and transferable to classrooms. Hence, the purposes of this systematic review are to identify: 1) the difficulties and challenges in DI practices in China; and 2) effective DI instructional design strategies used in China’s K-12 classrooms. We used the Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome, and Study Design (PICOS) framework to develop our research question. Further, this research is guided through the PRISMA framework; and data analyses were guided through Tomlinson’s six key instructional principles of DI and the What Works Clearinghouse educational practice guide. There are three major findings: 1) the characteristics of China’s DI practice and related research designs and approaches in DI studies so that this review will provide future researchers with deep insight to conduct empirical research on DI; 2) the evidence levels of DI instructional design strategies and produced four strong evidence-level strategies, twenty-nine medium evidence-level strategies, and fourteen minimal evidence-level strategies so that this review will provide instructors and future researchers with recommendations and references to promote the effectiveness of DI practice; and 3) the challenges and difficulties in today’s DI practice so that this study will provide researchers and policymakers with a deep insight to offer solid support to build a DI-friendly community.

Keywords: differentiated instruction, instructional design, instructional design strategies, systematic review, K-12 education, China

Summary for Lay Audience

Differentiated Instruction (DI) is a responsive teaching approach in which teachers proactively make varied curriculum content, lesson activities, tasks, and tests according to students’ diverse needs. Teachers plan varied approaches to make each student learn as much as they can, as efficiently as possible. In order to find ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Chinese teachers in differentiating their instruction, our study extracted specific instructional design strategies and analyzed the evidence-level from existing studies about differentiated instruction in China, which provided great recommendations and guidance for teachers’ future DI practice.