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Institute of Education

Difference and Differentiation in Primary School

A qualitative-reconstructive study

Duration: February 2013 to December 2015

'Dealing with heterogeneity' has increasingly become a leitmotif in teacher training. Pedagogical approaches, which suggest strategies for grouping students sensitively to heterogeneity and difference, assume that students’ learning requirements vary with regard to to diverse, individual and social factors. With regard to professionalization, it is supposed that teachers have to learn to diagnostically 'observe' their students by using a set of categorical markers of heterogeneity. Thus, teachers generate indications in order to anticipate future learning and performance processes and to implement differentiated/differentiating support measures accordingly.

So far, however, little is known about the set of social and pedagogical categories teachers use to 'make differences' between students while following ongoing procedures of grouping and tracking. In particular, this question is raised with regard to elementary instruction, since we assume that already available stable markers of performance cannot be used there yet.

Within a qualitative-reconstructive study, the following question is thus addressed: What categories and what orientations are guiding primary teachers while 'dealing' with a heterogeneous body of students?

The study focuses on the time at which teachers take over a class, whose pupils they do not yet know. This is especially relevant for first grade, but it is also the case at grade 4 or 5 when there is a class change. In total, six group discussions will be held at six different schools in Switzerland (across the cantons). The main teacher, the special needs teachers and possibly other teachers of the class are taking part in the discussions, which are scheduled for the first half of the school year 2013. The data was transcribed and evaluated by means of the documentary method. The results are not yet available.

Weiterführende Informationen


Prof. Dr. Marcus Emmerich
Dr. phil. Silke Werner