Increase Complexity and Rigor in Tiered AssignmentsBy Kimberly Nantz
In order to increase the complexity of assignments, shift your focus from facts and recall to application and generalization. Do less drill and practice and more higher-level thinking activities. "Students' thinking should be expanded into more complex, higher level mental operations and reasoning by using questions, problems, and conceptual issues" (Robinson, Shore & Enersen, 2007, p.106). As you tier assignments, make sure you are properly challenging the gifted learner and stretching their abilities. In a differentiated classroom, a teacher already uses varied levels of tasks to ensure students explore ideas and use skills at levels that build on what they already know in order to encourage growth. While students work at varied degrees of difficulty on their tasks, they all explore the same essential ideas and work at different levels of thought. Essentially, teachers are tiering assignments to meet the needs of ALL learners, not just the gifted learner (Professional Development).

What are tiered assignments?
According to Tomlinson (2005), tiered assignments are used by teachers within a heterogeneous classroom in order to meet the diverse needs of the students within the class. Teachers implement varied levels of activities to ensure that students explore ideas at a level that builds on their prior knowledge and prompts continued growth. Student groups use varied approaches to explore essential ideas. A benefit of tiered assignments is that they allow students to work on tasks that are neither too easy nor too difficult, and allow them to work in their specific learning style or preference. They are highly motivating because they allow students to be successful at their level of readiness. Tiered assignments are based on the common learning needs of students. In order to obtain continuous progress from students, they need to be challenged appropriately according to their ability to master intellectual, physical, emotional, and social tasks at progressively more difficult levels. Tiered assignments are a differentiation strategy where learning tasks and projects are developed based on assessed student need. Tiered assignments are intended to provide a better instructional match between students and their needs. Be sure that the assignments you design and assign are truly more advanced and not simply MORE work (Professional Development).

Rationale for using Tiered Assignments:
Students all come to us with different levels of knowledge and skill. They all learn at different speeds using different learning styles. So, it follows that we should offer learning activities that take those differences into account. This is especailly key for gifted learners.

Tiered Assignments:
  • Address a particular standard, key concept, and generalization, but allows several pathways for students to arrive at an understanding of these components, based on the students’ interests, readiness, or learning profiles.
  • Used when the teacher wants all students to focus on the same essential ideas and key skills.
  • Are fair in terms of work expectations and time needed for completion.
  • Require different work, not more or less work
  • Keep students equally active, interested, and engaged

Tiered Assignments Maximize the Likelihood That:
  • Each student comes away with key skills and understanding.
  • Each student is appropriately challenged.

What can you tier?
  • Activities
  • Lessons
  • Homework
  • Learning centers

Steps for Tiering
1. Identify the grade level and subject 2. Identify the standard being targeted 3. Identify key concepts and generalizations 4. Be sure students have the background necessary to be successful 5. Develop the assessment 6. Create one activity that is interesting, requires high-level thinking and is clearly focused on the key concept, skill or generalization. 7. Determine what you will tier (content, process, product) 8. Determine how you will group (readiness, interest, learning style) 9. Determine the number of tiers necessary (based on the students in your classroom)

Examples of Tiered Assignments can be found at the following websites:

Heacox, D. (2009). Making differentiation a habit: How to ensure success in academically diverse classrooms. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

Portland Public Schools, Department of Talented and Gifted. Retrieved October 6, 2010, from Portland Public Schools Web site:

Professional Development, Hendron Lone Oak Elementary School. (2008). Differentitated Instruction and Assessment.

Robinson, A., Shore, B.M., & Enersen, D.L. (2007). Best Practices in gifted education: An evidenced-based guide. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press Inc.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2005). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. (2nd Ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.