Differentiation in teaching mathematics : An observational study of eight primary school teachers in Sweden

University essay from Karlstads universitet/Avdelningen för matematik


According to the Swedish curriculum for the primary school, the teachers have to meet the different conditions and demands of all the pupils. A way of meeting the different conditions and demands of all the pupils is differentiation. The aim of this study was to contribute to the discussion about differentiation in the classroom on the subject of mathematics in Swedish primary school.

Differentiation means that the teacher adapts his teaching to the different learning styles, interests and levels of the pupils. The main question of this exam paper is: How do teachers in Swedish primary school differentiate during their mathematics lessons? In order to get an answer to this question eight teachers were observed during their mathematics lessons. An observation instrument, newly developed by the University of Utrecht, was used for this.

The main parts of the observed lessons were whole class instruction and working independently, alone or in groups. The teachers’ instructions varied from concrete acts, the use of pictures and schedules to formal tasks. The teachers used the different principles of how a child is learning mathematics in their instructions as well. For example: understanding the concept and development of strategies. Another way of differentiation is to give the pupils freedom to choose their own working style while working individually. This kind of differentiation was not observed often during the eight lessons.

This study shows that teachers in Swedish primary school are differentiating. However the differentiation can be improved and implemented more often. Furthermore it is unclear if the teachers differentiate consciously, which would mean that their level of consciousness could probably be increased.

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