Students at risk of academic failure: Could differentiated instruction be a catalyst for school reform?

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The British University in Dubai (BUiD)
One of the main motivations and intent for undertaking this line of research is due to the sustained concern around the continuously increasing rates of attrition among students in the Caribbean. A 2020 Joint Select Committee on Human Rights, Equality and Diversity aimed to investigate the impact of current curriculum delivery and other contributing factors on the increased dropout rates in males in Trinidad and Tobago. Upon examination of this report it became increasingly apparent the need to explore the linkages and relationships between students at risk of academic failure (not only males) and the understanding and implementation of instructional differentiation in the teacher population and the corollary this knowledge has to inform bottom up policy reform. The literature first centres on the definition of students at risk of academic failure from various perspectives and then narrows in on the Caribbean context. Tomlinson’s Model of Differentiation was a key theoretical framework on which the study was built as it was a critical connector between the adaptation of classroom practices to students with specific needs (such as students at risk of academic failure). The review then went on to find the possible linkages existing in current literature between classroom practice and how it can inform bottom up policy creation for the purposes of reform. Using a convergent parallel mixed methods approach the researcher was able to delve into teachers’ perspectives around the identification of students at risk of academic failure, their level of awareness and approaches to instructional differentiation, as well as, their beliefs on its ability to inform policy. This was done through a survey and qualitative interviews. The initial analysis of data within the pilot study indicates teachers hold critical insights to facilitate the reduction of student attrition specifically students at risk of academic failure. There is also evidence which suggests that through the implementation of instructional differentiation for students at risk of academic failure critical insight into general methodologies of retention are revealed and this in itself provides key information needed to inform policy and encourage reform from the bottom up.
academic failure, school reform, curriculum delivery, Trinidad, Tobago, teacher population, classroom practices, instructional differentiation, education for social transformation, pedagogies, inequality in education, policy reform, transformative education