The post shows an example of a research proposal with a focus on "Teachers’ Perspectives of Differentiation for Students with Giftedness and Learning Disabilities in a Mixed-abilities." A research proposal includes three chapters:

  • Introduction
  • Literature review, and
  • Methodology 


During the assessment of students either for giftedness or specific learning disabilities, the SGLD is often neglected (Beckmann & Minnaert, 2018). Different terms are used to refer to student learning disabilities with SGLD being a recent addition to the literature of education. The concept of SGLD is increasingly receiving attention due to increased awareness of high-potential students who are struggling with their academic tasks both in the classroom and at home.


As noted by Nicpon et al. (2013), the SGLD concept has already gained substantial familiarity hence leading to its significant expansion within and beyond education literature. One of the critical areas that have grabbed the attention of researchers is the development of interventions seeking to solve this problem (Lovett, 2013). According to Beckmann & Minnaert (2018), the SGLD can be considered as “twice-exceptional” or 2E because their academic, cognitive, and creative abilities that fall under the exceptional range, and at the same, they can be categorized as students with a critical learning deficit. 


Numerous scholars have called for a standard definition of giftedness. The need for a standard definition prompted Gagné (2011) to come up with a framework known as Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent (DMGT). According to Gagné’s (2011) model giftedness refers to the possession of natural abilities known as aptitudes as well as application of these abilities in one or more than one ability domain to an extent that will make an individual become among the 10% of his/her peers. Due to their role in the nomination process, teachers are critical actors in the development and facilitation of challenging tasks for the SGLD (Diezmann & Watters, 2000).


Similarly, Al Qarni, (2010), observes that teachers are strategic actors in designing and implementing interventions seeking to address challenges faced by SGLD in Saudi Arabia because these students are regularly taught in a classroom environment. However, studies show that, in most primary school classrooms, the needs of the SGLDs are often overlooked due to the lack of knowledge and failure to understand differentiated instructions. This problem is attributable to insufficient knowledge of giftedness and classroom knowledge dissemination skills which are necessary for meeting the learning needs of the SGLDs.


The definition of LD by researchers as a neurological disorder that leads to impaired ability of an individual’s brain to receive, process, store, and retrieve information as well as responds to stimuli is another widely accepted definition. Also, LD is used to refer to challenges militating against development of basic learning skills that are vital for individuals’ success in school, workplace, and life in general. However it is important to note that LD encompasses a wide range of disabilities which include; dysgraphia (inability to learn how to write), dyslexia (inability to develop reading skills), and dyscalculia (inability to develop skills for solving mathematical problems) .


This research was able to establish two important findings. First, the opinion of primary school teachers teaching in classrooms comprised of students with different abilities, these are classrooms comprised of gifted students and students with disabilities (SWD), and the collaboration amongst teachers. Second, primary school teachers’ knowledge of SGLDs and application of differential techniques during knowledge dissemination in attaining the learning objectives for both students; gifted students and the SWDs.


Research indicates that teachers are often constrained in accommodating students with exceptional academic abilities since they are always ahead of other students in class (Zamboo, 2009). To ensure that there is equal distribution of learning outcomes in classrooms comprised of students with mixed abilities, application of differentiation technique is paramount (Tomlinson & Imbeau, 2013). Nonetheless, developed differentiation interventions are tailored to address the needs of struggling or students at the lower level while neglecting the needs of the SGLDs who can be found on both extreme ends.


Wu (2017) argues that this problem might be due to lack of time or the necessary differentiation skills amongst primary school teachers handling mixed-abilities classrooms. Therefore, it is of great importance for teachers to be adequately trained on gifted education to ensure that differentiation of instructions during learning is effective in stimulating academic growth amongst students with higher academic abilities.


  • Background

This study will adopt an integrative approach by integrating Gardner and Vygotsky’s frameworks to ensure that strengths, as well as the needs of the SGLDs, are considered through instruction differentiation. Differentiation is the only effective way of guaranteeing equal distribution of learning outcomes in a classroom comprised of students with mixed abilities. This will ensure that gifted students and SWDs are equally challenged to enhance their academic growth as per their abilities.


As noted by Tomlinson (2001), effective learning only takes place when students are given challenging academic tasks as opposed to relearning of things that they have already mastered. Multiple Intelligences (MI) theory by Gardner (1983), holds that individuals have different strengths and talents which enables them to acquire knowledge differently. Gardner (1983) further argues that individuals’ MI can be strengthened to promote their knowledge acquisition and with failure to strengthen MI resulting in an individual’s underdevelopment. Therefore, it is evident that teachers need to identify students whose MI needs to be strengthened and the effective methods of facilitating MI strengthening to ensure that student’s academic potential is fully optimized.


However, in mixed-abilities classrooms, teachers may find it difficult to ensure equal distribution of learning outcomes hence rendering these classrooms ineffective in knowledge dissemination. Tomlinson & Imbeau, (2010) argue that an effective classroom in knowledge dissemination, is whereby teachers are able to modify and differentiate the content and learning processes to cater for the needs of all students. 

The sociocultural theory by Vygotsky (1978) has also been indispensable in enhancing the wellbeing of the SGLDs in mixed-abilities primary school classrooms. The sociocultural theory holds that an individual’s knowledge acquisition is influenced by social and cultural aspects that have accompanied the evolution of man. One of the critical ideas in sociocultural theory is the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). According to Vygotsky (1978), ZPD refers to two types of environments where learning can take place amongst children. The environment where a child can learn alone, and learning in an environment comprised of a partner, peers, or tutors. The ZPD ensures that SGLD is predisposed to a challenging environment that enhances their academic growth. 


The unchallenging curriculum has been found to be accompanied by a lack of interest and of motivation in school due to boredom among students. According to Vygotsky (1978) failure to reach students in their ZPD is likely to lead to their loss of interest in learning hence leading to unequal distribution of learning outcomes, particularly in mixed-abilities classrooms. Thus, this failure is a clear impediment to the main goal of education which is to ensure that the potential of each child is harnessed in a manner that enhances their progress as well as ensuring that students are not compelled to blindly follow a boring curriculum without being challenged adequately. Therefore, the differentiation technique is a potent strategy in promoting inclusivity in classrooms and equal distribution of learning outcomes by meeting the needs of SGLDs. 

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Literature Review

The Extensive writing on SGLD available has been based on very little empirical evidence and the definition of this population has not been agreed upon. Similarly, as observed by Newman and Sternberg, (2004), lack of a clear-cut in the definition and identification of SGLD has contributed to the scarcity of empirical research on SGLD. Lovett and Sparks (2011) suggest that there is a need for assessing how the learning needs of the SGLD are being met in the education system. 


Due to the substantial negligence of the twice-exceptional students and the efforts towards attenuation of this problem, researchers have attempted to establish some of the characteristics that describe these students. Researchers further hold that, for the correct identification of these students, there must be clarity on the characteristics to focus on, and how the identified characteristics are interacting from both exceptionalities. This is because there is a risk of overlooking one exceptionality while assessing SGLDs either for their giftedness or their LDs as the observation of one exceptionality tends to mask the other during the assessment.


For instance, upon assessment, it can be concluded that these students are either “too good” or “not good enough” for enrollment to a particular program (Silverman, 2013, p. 14). Such conclusions influence the accessibility of SGLDs to educational and career opportunities (Ruban and Reis, 2005). Therefore, identification SGLDs characteristics are of great essence in the development of interventions seeking to address their learning needs.


SGLD characteristics should be based on strengths and weaknesses which also reflects areas of giftedness and disability (Webster, 2015). Some of the characteristics that are based on the strengths of SGLDs include; problem-solving, imaginative and strong visual skills, and high mathematical reasoning with abstract reasoning being the most prominent characteristic (Song & Porath, 2011).


Characteristics that reflect weaknesses of the SGLDs include; short term memory, easy to frustrate, poor computation skills, and overly emotional. Also, studies have shown that, on the basis of their weakness, SGLDs are characterized by pitiable communication skills such as spelling, poor listening skills, and difficulties in decoding, as well as poor handwriting. 


In school, SGLDs are confronted by a plethora of challenges perpetuated by their seemingly paradoxical needs. On one hand, they need to be assisted and encouraged to make optimal use of their talents while on the other hand, they need to be supported to overcome their learning difficulties hence creating a conflict when deciding the kind of support that should take precedence. This conflict often creates confusion amongst teachers thus leading to the failure of teachers to enable SGLDs to form a stable and realistic self-concept.


Failure to form a stable self leads to poor academic performance, low self-esteem and confidence level, as well as increased frustration with academic tasks . Yssel et al. (2010) further argue that these students are likely to feel that they have been secluded from their peers as they do not fit in the category of either gifted or SWD peers. According to Dole (2000), due to their overall characteristics, the SGLDs need to be identified and accorded the support they require for equal distribution of learning outcomes. Collectively, there is a need for a deliberate and systematic deepening of our understanding of the SGLDs.  


One way of meeting the needs of SGLDs is through the dual differentiation approach (Crepeau-Hobson & Bianco, 2011; Wormald et al., 2015). This approach ensures a programming intervention is tailored in a way that it can address the strengths and weaknesses of all students in a simultaneous manner. A classic example of this approach is the Project High Hopes which was able to successfully address the needs of students with different abilities through a dually differentiated curriculum (Crepeau-Hobson & Bianco, 2011; Wormald et al., 2015). This program was able to discourage students from remediating their learning disabilities by focusing on how to effectively utilize their unique talents.


To achieve this, students were engaged in authentic problem-solving skills in real-world scenarios, which is where gifted students excel most. Students with differing abilities were exposed to different topics and mentors. The findings indicated that, with increased independence, students were able to effectively apply their problem-solving skills to come up with alternative solutions. Project High Hopes focused on the utilization of strengths rather than weaknesses hence creating an environment of high expectations and success which was critical in reducing emotional and social challenges faced by the SGLDs. 


According to Baum et al. (2001), focusing on success is of great essence in increasing student’s motivation. Approaches adopted by interventions such as Project High Hopes enables the SGLDs to overcome their learning disabilities. However, this kind of intervention should be accompanied by alternate methods of assessment. For example, instead of focusing on test scores that are unable to measure SGLDs’ strengths, Project High Hopes focused on student projects hence yielding desirable results. 


Ability to differentiate giftedness is of great importance as it enhances the provision of the required support and access to relevant programs. For instance, greater benefits will be realized when teachers ensure that students who are gifted in the intellectual domain and possesses excellent verbal skills and creativity are grouped with students with similar characteristics rather than grouping them with students with different characteristics. This will promote their academic growth. For example, students with giftedness who are keen on history may nominate a topic of their interest to research on for their school project.


However, for such a program to flourish, the curriculum should be giftedness and talent-based (OECD, 2006). Consequently, it is important to ensure that gifted students from lower socio-economic students are given special consideration as their learning environments at home are not conducive for the advancement of their academic progress (OECD, 2006). Hannah & Shore, (2008) further holds that an enrichment program that focuses on the SGLDs will enhance these student’s academic performance by improving their attitudes towards learning processes and self-capacity. 


According to Wormald (2009), teachers should be trained on how to handle gifted and LD students as part of their undergraduate education. Similarly, handling gifted and LD students, particularly identification and instructional strategies, should be part of the curriculum for teachers at the postgraduate level. 


Teachers can be able to effectively apply differentiation methods in the classroom by following Tomlinson’s framework of differentiation whereby instructions are based on content being delivered, delivery process, and the product being aimed at (Tomlinson, 2001). For instance, in the application of Tomlinson’s model, a teacher-initiated differentiation intervention showed that the method allowed students to study the same material according to the level of their ability and interest which lead to the equal distribution of learning outcomes (Van Hover, et al. 2011).


As noted by Wu (2013), during an interview, Tomlinson argued that teachers needed to create a small space or world in their classrooms whereby every student will be considered by ensuring that each student has space and a voice. These sentiment resonates with Vygotsky's (1978) idea of ZPD. However, teachers often fail to create such “worlds” in their classroom, and failure to reach students in their ZPD leads to the negligence of gifted students. 


Roe (2010) also argues that the differentiation approach can be tailored and implemented in a manner that suits community-based schools as well. Research further indicates that differentiation is not always drive by the available data, other aspects such as classroom environment, availability of resources, personnel, language, culture, student personal challenges, and mandatory testing also influences the application of the differentiation approach (Roe, 2010; Samardzija & Peterson, 2015). Therefore, all these aspects should be considered while developing differentiation interventions to enhance its applicability in other levels such as household or community levels.


Also, it is important to note that differentiation should be accompanied by other tools such as challenging tasks and support tailored to achieve the specific needs of all students with differing abilities (Kaplan, 2016). Roe (2010) further holds that differentiation should be redefined to encompass the significance of opportunities that can be obtained at school in fusion with the community and home opportunities to cater to the needs of SGLDs in all environments. Lastly, differentiation can also include an understanding of the student learning preferences and learning styles which will be useful in informing curriculum development, as well as planning and directing its implementation to meet the needs of all students (Morgan, 2014; Samardzija & Peterson, 2015). 



This study employed a qualitative research design to investigate the above research question. Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted to collect data. This is because in-depth interviews are efficient in capturing multidimensional aspects during qualitative research (Creswell, 2015). The respondents included seven primary school teachers in Medina. Open-ended interview questions based on teachers’ perspectives of differentiation for students with giftedness and learning disabilities in a mixed-abilities classroom. 


Ethical issues were considered as well. First, the study sought approval of the Ethics Committee of the Ministry of Education. Secondly, the study recruited two research assistants, a male, and female. Research assistants sought the permission of the respondents as well as planning for interview schedules whereby male research assistants handled male respondents while female research assistants handled female respondents. In Saud Arabia, schools are not gendered mixed and due to cultural constraints it was important to have male researchers sourced data from male respondents in boy schools while the female research assistant sourced data from female respondents in girl-schools. 


  • Data Collection and Analysis

The interviews were conducted at school when the schools were in session. With the respondent’s permission, all interviews were recorded using an MP3 recorder. On average, each interview schedule took 21 minutes. The recorded interviews were transcribed in Arabic and analyzed using inductive content analysis following (Alamri, 2014) guidelines whereby the coding unit is used to abstract key information during data cleaning. To ensure reliability, the author of the study and an experienced co-coder coded two interview transcripts and compared the results. Subsequent open coding of the other interview transcripts followed as per the initial codes. 

After open coding, the list of codes was grouped through data categorization as urged by (Chao, 2016; Elo & Kyngäs, 2008) for effective data management. Data categorization is of great essence as it assists in the description of the phenomenon which enhances understanding of the generated knowledge (Polit & Beck, 2012). The inductive content analysis during data categorization through interpretation allows the process to be informed by the researcher’s discretion but on the basis of the phenomenon under investigation (Elo & Kyngäs, 2008). Qualitative data should be thematically analyzed (Strnadová, Cumming, & Danker, 2016; Strnadová, O’Neill, & Cumming, 2017) therefore, the first author clustered the emerging codes and categories for effective analysis. 


Lastly, a debriefing was conducted. The purpose of the debriefing exercise by peers is to ensure that the researcher’s bias is minimized (Guba & Lincoln, 1985). An external peer reviewer and the supervisors of the researcher provided assurance of the quality of the research. The peer reviewer and co-coder is a Ph.D. holder from UNSW’s school of education and has extensive training and experience in qualitative data analysis. The reviewer also assisted in evaluating the process of data collection and analysis as well as the verification of the transcripts to ensure that they matched the interview audio. The regular meeting between the researcher and the reviewer to discuss how to develop the coding framework that incorporated all the required themes was useful. The entire process provided invaluable experience in data analysis. 

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