Differentiated Instruction: Does it Really Have to be Different for Remedial Training in Dental Hygiene Education?

Concept Map for Differentiated Instruction (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000).

Concept Map for Differentiated Instruction (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000).

Great teachers routinely differentiate the content, process and product of their instruction based on student readiness, interests and learning preferences (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000). Consistent with a Constructivist approach, dental hygiene education requires students to continuously build their clinical skills on previously learned competencies. Therefore it is imperative that educators identify struggling students early in the program so that they can support them through remedial training to gain the necessary skills to successfully continue their progression through this type of competency-based education (Wood, Villalpando Mitchell, Holt & Branson, 2014).   Differentiating instruction is not only an essential task of any type of teaching, but is especially important when remedial training is indicated (Wood et al., 2014). Albers (2014) stated that when students are asked to make connections about course content material or topics with their existing knowledge they are better equipped to apply what they have learned to a greater context. Because so many skills in dental hygiene build upon previously learned information, if students do not grasp a concept early on they will likely fall behind. In a study by Wood et al. (2014) researchers found that often these students are not identified until they fail a competency exam or if and when the instructor observes their performance deficit. Unfortunately, even when a student has been recognized as having difficulty achieving a certain level of competency, these students when addressed by their instructors are often re-taught using the same teaching strategy as the first time the skill was introduced.

Differentiating instruction is important always, but especially when students present deficiencies. Dental hygiene instructors should strive to identify students that are struggling as early as possible. Once these students are identified scaffolding techniques may be applied to support student learning (Alber, 2014). When learners share their insight and experience related to concepts being taught they also provide the instructor with an informal pre-assessment, which may be used to guide their instruction (Tomlinson, 2001).   Dental hygiene educators responsible for remedial instruction should consider alternative strategies to guide student learning. Differentiating instruction could utilize peer tutoring, video, observation, and instructors acting as patients for these students (Wood et al., 2014). Other methods of differentiated instruction include learning contracts, tiered lessons, jigsaw activities, and varied questioning strategies (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000). Although the standard approaches to remedial training may be effective further research is needed to substantiate the familiar strategies consisting of one-on-one instruction with a dental hygiene instructor, Typodonts, and clinic time one-on-one with student and instructor (Wood et al., 2014). Nevertheless differentiated instruction is apparent for any struggling student.

If you are a dental hygiene educator, how do you differentiate instruction in remedial training situations? Have you utilized an “out-of-the-box” strategy that was effective?


Alber, R. (2014). Scaffolding strategies to use with your students [Web log]. Retrieved September 1, 2015 from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/scaffolding-lessons-six-strategies-rebecca-alber

Tomlinson, C. A., & Allan, S. D. (2000). Leadership for differentiating schools & classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-ability Classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wood, D. F., Villalpando Mitchell, T., Holt, L. A., & Branson, B. G. (2014). Factors associated with clinical skill remediation in dental hygiene education programs. Journal Of Dental Hygiene, 88(1), 13-19.


One thought on “Differentiated Instruction: Does it Really Have to be Different for Remedial Training in Dental Hygiene Education?

  1. Tania,
    You said it is important for educators to identify struggling learners. It has been my experience in higher education that all of the responsibility falls on the student to get help when they are struggling. I suppose there needs to be a balance of student and instructor responsibility for students’ success. You pointed out that reteaching often utilizes the same method and strategies. It can be very difficult for instructors to find alternative ways to relay information or have students acquire skills. In a class I took on teaching reading a professor asked us how we learned to read. I honestly could not answer. When you know how to do something it is not always easy to explain it in a way different than you learned, if you know how you learned it. I struggle with this at times with my own students.
    Given your dental hygiene experience and new teaching position do you feel you will have the opportunity to provide students with differentiated instruction in the clinic? After only a couple of weeks have you identified any needs for differentiated instruction?


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