Tie Ring Assignments In The Classroom

According to Carol Ann Tomlinson (2001), when kids are engaged at appropriate levels of challenge, the habits of persistence and curiosity are developed. Kids are then willing to take intellectual risks. Continuously working with kids at their level of readiness is a general education strategy that can help prevent the need for additional interventions.

Tiered assignments are developed using varied levels of complexity of the task, depth, and abstractness for students who are ready for an additional “push,” and various degrees of scaffolding or direction for students needing additional support.

A Note about Tiering Text and the Common Core
In the past, many teachers tiered lessons by varying the difficulty of the text students were reading. It is important in order to maintain the rigor of the Common Core Standards that this strategy be used less often. All students must have access to grade-level text when the primary focus of the lesson at hand is to meet the Common Core Standards. So instead of tiering texts, we recommend tiering tasks.

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

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