Differentiate instruction based on students' academic readiness

TIERED ASSIGNMENTS: When groups of students are at different places in their learning, you can customize assignments based on their readiness for moving ahead. These are often called tiered assignments. They are not a form a tracking, because students move in and out of the "tier" as their learning progresses, or when they move to a new topic where they have a different background. Or they choose their own level of challenge, as in the second example below. To create tiered assignments: (1) identify the learning target for the assignment; (2) write a typical “grade level” task that is interesting, challenging and requires students to use the learning target; (3) study the pre-assessment data to identify the needs of struggling and advanced learners; (4) adjust at least one aspect of the assignment as needed – this can be the process, the content, the resources or the products.
(This chart is from a presentation given at Clinton County RESA on February 17, 2010 by Steve Kahl.)
The chart above is the teachers' planning tool. When you're ready to give the assignments to students,
put the tasks on cards and assign them individually based on student needs. A card might read (for the "identify" level) “Write a multi-paragraph essay OR a detailed comparison chart that identifies uses of three types of irony (dramatic, verbal, situational) using your lecture notes.”Examples of a tiered assignment for Algebra I, created by Lansing middle school teachers: Cell phone problem 3 levels.doc
A powerpoint that describes tiered assignments is available here: Tiered Instruction.ppt It was download from the Montgomery County Public Schools (MD) website: http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/curriculum.aspx.

Let students choose: Another option is to put the tasks on a sheet like the one below and let students choose their own level of complexity. The author of the article that contains this example says that when he consistently provides choices like these to his students, most students choose the blue or black level tasks. They rise to the challenge, and don't try to take the "easy way out."green,_blue,_black_tasks_chart.jpg(This chart is from When Students Choose the Challenge, by David Suarez, in Educational Leadership, Nov. 2007)
You can download a blank chart to use to write your own tiered assignments here: tiered assignments blank charts.doc

Assignment: Using the discussion tab for this page, tell us about tiered assignments you've created and used, and how well they work. If you want to share the assignment, send it to Theron Blakeslee at Ingham ISD to be posted on this wiki. We can link to it from your comments on the discussion page.

You can use tiered assignments once or twice a week to help students who need extra time or extra support. This is Ben Johnson's basic approach - see "One Teacher's Journey..."

After a brief assessment of learning up to that point, you can assign tiered assignments that provide additional review and new ways of thinking about the subject, to those who need extra time or support. You can also provide extension assignments to students who have master the content and can deepen and extend their understanding and proficiency in that topic.

  1. Conduct a brief formative assessment at some critical point in the unit.
  2. For those students who haven’t gotten the concepts or how to apply them yet, create supplemental tasks that focus their attention on difficult aspects of the topic.
  3. For those students who have gotten the concepts, create supplemental tasks that challenge them to apply the concepts in new ways or make connections to other topics.
  4. Allow students to choose whether they want extra help or want to do extensions. Remind them that they need to complete their chosen tasks successfully. Focus your attention on helping students who need it the most.

Remember, these are flexible groups based on whether students understand the current topic. They are not permanent tracks.

A typical week in a high school physics class might look like this, with the differentiated instruction occurring on Thursday: