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Differentiated Instruction: Developing Tiered Assignments

Janelle Cox

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.

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  • 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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