Examples Of Tiered Assignments For Gifted Students

Tiered Activities

For Your Information

When teachers tier content, all students complete the same activity (e.g., a worksheet, report), but the content varies in difficulty. When teachers tier process, the activities by which the students learn information vary in complexity.

One way to differentiate process for heterogeneous classrooms is to design tiered lessons. When teachers tier a lesson, they design instructional tasks that are challenging for students at different levels of readiness: low, middle, and high levels. Although the students should master the same content or core skills, the means by which they do so vary. The activities assigned to the low, middle, and high groups often differ in complexity, depth of information, or level of abstraction.

Before tiering a lesson on a particular skill or topic area, the teacher should preassess the students. She should then use that information to help assign students to each of the readiness levels and to begin designing the lesson.

Step 1:

Consider your students’ range of knowledge on the topic or about the skill, their prior knowledge, and their reading levels. Also keep in mind your students’ interests and learning profiles.

Step 2:

Create an activity that is challenging, engaging, and targets the topic or skill.

Some teachers prefer to begin with the middle group and then design activities for students who are struggling and those who are more advanced. Others prefer to design an activity that is challenging for the advanced learners and modify for the average and struggling learners to ensure that high standards are maintained for each group. The table below outlines features for a tiered lesson with three groups that target struggling, average, and advanced learners. 

  • Requires less difficult independent reading.
  • Has materials based on the average reading level of the participants, which is usually below grade level.
  • Has spare text and lots of graphic aids.
  • Has a low level of abstraction (i.e., is as concrete as possible).
  • Requires fewer steps to complete the assignment
  • Converges on “right answers” to solve problems.
  • Requires only knowledge and comprehension levels of thinking for independent work.
  • Includes supportive strategies, such as graphic organizers or teacher prompting to help students infer and draw conclusions. (i.e., use higher level thinking skills)
  • Includes independent reading materials from the textbook or other on-grade level sources.
  • Uses concrete concepts to help students transition to more abstract concepts.
  • Includes questions or problems that are a mix of open-ended and “right answers.”
  • Can have more steps.
  • Expects students to infer and draw conclusions with less teacher support. Teacher should count on being on hand if necessary to prompt students in this area.
  • Ensures that students can be successful with knowledge, comprehension, and application on their own, and that with help they can address some of the high levels of thinking
  • Includes reading materials from sources more complex than the textbook, if possible.
  • Requires more lengthy sources because students can read faster than lower or average students.
  • Focuses on abstract concepts as much as possible and uses open-ended questions exclusively.
  • Requires students to infer and evaluate.
  • Assumes students have knowledge, comprehension, and application abilities, and that they will be challenged only if you ask them to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate.

Adapted from Spencer Northey, S. (2005). Handbook on Differentiated Instruction for Middle and High Schools. Larchmont, NY: Eye On Education, p. 76 

Below is an example of a lesson that is tiered in process (according to readiness). Note how each group is working on different tasks even though all students are working on the same key concept.

Key Concept: Reading books with chapters to show how ideas are advanced. 
Lesson: Chapters 3 and 4 of the book Help, I’m a Prisoner in the Library (students have previously read chapters 1 and 2.)

This group will work on knowledge/ comprehension tasks for chapters 3 and 4.

  1. Where does Mary Rose find the phone?
  2. Which sister has the bigger imagination? How does she picture the librarian in her mind? Find the passage on p. 23 that describes her idea of the librarian and write down the descriptive words.
  3. What is a blizzard?

(Note: For illustrative purposes, only 3 of 10 questions have been listed.)

Now draw a picture of some part of chapters 3 and 4 that you think is the scariest.

This group will work at the analysis level to study the events in chapters 3 and 4.

  1. Make two lists, one with Mary Rose at the top and one with Jo-Beth at the top. Under each girl, list things about her that you find in these chapters.
  2. Now create a Venn diagram in which you draw two circles with a part of each circle joining the other circle. In the joined section, put words that show things that are the same for both girls. In the part of the circles that is not shared, put your words from each of your lists about the girls.
  3. Explain your circle diagram to the class.

Share with the class your descriptions in your Venn diagrams.

This group will work on synthesis/ evaluation tasks for chapters 3 and 4.

  1. Tell the story from the point of view of the Mynah bird. Go back through chapters 3 and 4 and first list all the things the Mynah bird sees and says. Then write these chapters from its point of view.
  2. Or—Think about all the scary things that happen in chapters 3 and 4. List them in order from least scary to most scary telling why each item is scary.

Share your work with the class during sharing time.

Adapted from http://www.doe.in.gov/exceptional/gt/tiered_curriculum/languagearts/la4r.htm

Differentiated instruction has become an effective way for teachers to reach all learners. In fact, odds are that you are probably using various aspects of differentiated instruction in your classroom right now. Are you using cooperative learning groups to increase student participation or are you using choice boards or keeping track of each students’ unique learning styles? If so, then you are indeed using differentiated instruction.  

Effective differentiation doesn’t have to be complicated. While additional work is essential, it doesn’t have to complicate your life or make it more difficult for you to teach. Many educators who differentiate learning in their classrooms suggest that before you even begin to prepare your lesson, you must know exactly what you want your students to (K)now, (U)nderstand, and (D)o: This is called the KUD method. By following these elements, it will guide you and (your students) in the differentiated process.

Differentiated Instruction: Planning a Tiered Lesson

Follow these guidelines and tips when planning a tiered lesson or activity.

Step One: Know, Understand, and Do

Before beginning any lesson or unit activity you need to decide what you want your students to know, understand and do. Here is an example that will help guide you during this first step.

  • Know – facts, definitions, information, vocabulary.
  • Understand – ideas, truths, generalizations, principles.
  • Do – solve problems, plan skills, use verbs, basic skills.

Using this KUD chart will help you when planning out your tiered activities. Here is an example of how you can use the chart above to help you plan out an activity. This example will show you how to plan a lesson on nutrition.

  • Know – Students will know the five food groups that are the building blocks for a healthy diet.
  • Understand – Students will understand what foods belong in each food group and why they are an important part of a healthy diet.
  • Be able to Do – Students will create a food plate of their own representing a healthy meal using foods from each food group, then discuss why each food is important for a healthy diet.

When you tier an assignment, you are essentially just making an adjustment within the same lesson in order to meet the needs of all students. Assignments can be adjusted in many ways: By complexity, pace, number of steps to complete the task, time allotted, or even the level of independence that is required to complete the task. Remember, when teiring assignments, the students who need to accomplish a higher-level activity must be able to understand all of the lower-leveled activities as well.

Step Two: Write Your Differentiated Plans

Once you have completed your KUD goals, now it is time to write out your differentiated plans. Think about your most advanced student in class and design an activity (based upon your KUD goals) that will stretch their brains to the limit. Next, think about the students who are at grade level and design a task for them. Lastly, think about your students who may struggle. Refer to your KUD goals and create a task that they will be able to succeed on. Here is an example of a basic tiered activity. This task is assessing students’ knowledge on a character from a story.

Tier one: (low level)

  • How does the character look?
  • What does the character say?
  • What is the most important thing about the character?

Tier two: (middle level)

  • What does the character do in the story?
  • What are the character’s goals?
  • What changes did the character go through in the story?

Tier three: (high level)

  • What types of clues does the author give the reader about the main character?
  • Why does the author give the reader clues about the character?
  • What does the author want the reader to know about the main character in the story?

As you can see in the above example, each tier is addressing the needs of a variety of students’ learning styles and readiness. This is just one example of how you can tier an assignment, you will find more examples and ideas in the article “Differentiated Instruction Strategies: Tiered Assignments.

Step Three: Assess Your Plans

Once you have completed your plans, now it’s time to access them in order to make sure that you are meeting your goals. Ask yourself, “How will I give directions for each task?” “What will I do if students complete the assignment early?” Think about all possible outcomes and plan accordingly.

High-quality differentiation occurs when all students’ needs are being met. Many teachers tend to think that that differentiation is giving their higher-level students more work, and their lower level, struggling students less work. However, this is not the case. Effective, high-quality differentiation hinges upon focusing on what students need to know, understand, and do. Once you have figured that out, then students will be able to recall and retrieve the information they are given.

Do you tier assignments for differentiation in your classroom? If so, what strategies and techniques do you use? Please leave your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear what you have to say.

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