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What is Tiered Instruction?

Tiered instruction is a means of teaching one concept and meeting the different learning needs in a group.

It can be an:

  • assignment
  • lesson
  • strategy

Tasks and/or resources vary according to:

  • learning profile
  • readiness
  • interest

Who is Tiered Instruction best for?

  • Lower leveled learners
  • On level learners
  • High leveled learners

Why Tiered Instruction?

For Best Practices tiered instruction is fundamental because:

  • each student is appropriately challenged.
  • as opposed to focusing on learning differences the focus is on the concept.
  • it maximizes learning.

What are the steps for tiered instruction?

There are 5 major organizational points to tiering instruction:

1.     Choose a concept that students should know or understand and whether to tier according to readiness, interest, or learning profile.

  1. Assess student's profile, readiness, and interest.
  2. Create an activity or project that is clearly focused on the concept.
  3. Adjust the activity to provide different levels of difficulty.
  4. Match students to appropriate tiered assignment.

Technology Link: In this unit there are numerous ways one could integrate technology. You could create a Canadian Hotlist on Filamentality for students to access. The project approach lends to publishing on the computer in many innovative ways. You may try creating a Hyperstudio project or publishing the projects on the web by making webpages using Netscape Composer or another web design software program.

Try Learning Contracts: This particular contract allows students to learn time management. Student will create a plan for the due date of each project and work within a final due date constraint.

Citizenship Projects Contract


Final Due Date: _____________________

Creative Project:    _______________________

Due Date: _________________________

Written Project:    _______________________

Due Date: _________________________

Presentation Project:  _________________________

Due Date: _________________________

Student Signature:     ____________________

Teacher Signature:  _____________________

 Try a Self Evaluation Sheet: By allowing students to assess their own progress and success, students have more ownership in their learning. Here is an example of one that you may use for any project.


Try a Rubric: Rubrics are a nice, quick way to evaluate student work, but another positive thing about rubrics is that you may create them along with the students.


Subject: Grade 9 Science

Key Concept: Data Collection and Inference

Tiered according to ability and interest

Background: After studying the organization of data and making inferences students are assigned a project where they must create their own study/experiment with a basis on data collection. Due to the high number of students high school teachers teach, there is less opportunity to truly understand their abilities, therefore tiers for this projects are made up according to successes.

  • Tier I - below average success or students lacking drive in the course.
  • Tier II - average success students.
  • Tier III - advanced learners.

Within each tier students make choices, based on interest, of which project they wish to do.

Projects: It is beneficial to have books containing experiments and studies on hand for the students to look at. students learn from examples!

Technology Link: Create a hotlist of sites to use for Science experiments on Filamentality

Tier I

Use a variety of pre-made experiments, where the students choose and organize the data collected. These students often procrastinate, use judgment rather than scientific inferences, and achieve low because of a lack of comfort in the subject or academic. When you take away the 'wonder' time you allow these students to move right into achievement.

Tier II

Students will attempt a suggested topic to work within. For example, suggest the group do a behavioral study. One student may study the effects on one's success with vocabulary when being rushed compared to the success of someone not being rushed. Student's will see how moods and frustrations play a part in success. Students in this tier are appropriately challenged because they are creating, but you have taken away the weeks of wonder by making a general suggestion for the group.

Tier III

Students will create their own study or experiment. Most of these students have mastered the experimental process and data collection. Therefore, the real learning and appropriate challenge is the process of planning their own experiment.

How to Assess before using Tiered Instruction 

The most important assessment that takes place when using Tiered Instruction is the assessment used to create the different levels, groups, Scaffold, or tiers. There are many different steps one may take to pre-assess. Naturally, the high achievers are easier to assess than those below average students. When questioning whether a student is at grade level or below grade level you can use many different strategies:

  • Check back to see if the learner formal testing done.
  • Have your Learning Assistance assess your student.
  • Rely on former achievements in class.

Note: Some students achieve high in formal testing, but are not performing to level in class. To help these students begin achieving success again, you may try a few different things:

  • Use student interest groups.
  • Allow student choice.

How to Assess after using the Tiered Instruction Technique

The assessment of individual projects, etc. varies with each. You may choose some of the following assessment strategies and more:

  • Rubrics, tests, checklists, contracts, self-evaluation, peer evaluation, or conferences.


BY:  John James



Fatima Shah's Learning Styles


Tiering-- Multiple Intelligences-- Learning Styles-- Homework Options

       Khalid, Ait- Kass

Background research on TIERING

I currently work in an American high school in Casablanca; our school vision is to be the best private American high school in Morocco, and in North Africa.

An answer to this question lies in differentiating instruction. My aim is to include all my students despite the differences in their social, cultural, background and their cognitive skills and intelligences. So,I have found that using tiered lessons is a viable method for differentiating instruction.

What is Differentiation?

 The differentiation movement has recently taken center stage in order to meet the needs of all students in the classroom. The main reason why teachers use differentiation in the 21st century education is to help all students achieve maximum growth as learners .Instruction may be differentiated in content, Lab experiments, group projects, tests and quizzes. Teachers rely on the students’ readiness, interest, or learning style. Teachers should always be concerned on how to transfer information from the content to the student, and make sure to help students practice or make sense out of the content. Many teachers incorporate a differentiation strategy in lesson or unit, such as a test, project, or paper. We assess the student knowledge about the topic based on his/her prior knowledge and a student’s current skill and proficiency with the material presented in the lesson.

Essential elements for successful differentiation:

1. Specific classroom-management techniques that address the special needs of a differentiated classroom.

2.  Include differentiation strategy in your plan.

3.  Plan carefully the time, space and the formation of the students’ group.

4. Develop a set of rules to better manage the classroom while implementing differentiation strategy.

Organize flexible grouping arrangements such as pairs, triads, or quads, as well as whole-group and small-group instruction,and create opportunities to meet individual needs.

Information on Instructional strategies and tiered lessons available in these Web-sites.

A variety of instructional strategies, including compacting, learning contracts, cubing, and tiered lessons, can be used to differentiate instruction (for a discussion of these and other strategies, see Gregory & Chapman, 2002; Heacox, 2002; Smutney, Walker, & Meckstroth, 1997; Tomlinson, 1999; Winebrenner, 1992). It makes sense to alert the administration and your students’ parents that you will be trying some new strategies in the classroom in case there are questions.

The tenets of differentiated instruction support both the Equity Principle and the Teaching Principle of the Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics [NCTM], 2000). These principles direct us to select and adapt content and curricula to meet the interests, abilities, and learning styles of our students; recognize our students’ diversity; and encourage them to reach their full potential in mathematics.







What is a Tiered Lesson?

A tiered lesson is a differentiation strategy that addresses a particular standard, key concept, and generalization, but allows students to arrive at an understanding of these components based on their prior knowledge, life experiences, interests, readiness, or learning profiles.

A lesson tiered by readiness level implies that the teacher has a good understanding of the students’ ability levels with respect to the lesson and has designed the tiers to meet those needs.  Many examples of lessons tiered in readiness have three tiers: below grade level, at grade level, and above grade level. There is no rule that states there may only be three tiers, however. The number of tiers you use will depend on the range of ability levels in your own classroom since you are forming tiers based on your assessment of your students’ abilities to handle the material particular to this lesson.

This quote is about a Tiered lesson:

“No matter how you choose to differentiate the lesson—readiness, interest, or learning profile—the number of groups per tier will vary, as will the number of students per tier. You are not looking to form groups of equal size. When you form groups based on the readiness needs of individual students, Tier I may have two groups of three students, Tier II may have five groups of four students, and Tier III may have one group of two students. When the lesson is tiered by interest or learning profile, the same guidelines apply for forming groups: Different tiers may have varying numbers of students. Even when students are already homogeneously grouped in classes by ability, there is still variance in their ability levels that must be addressed. “

How I incorporate Tiering in my lesson:


I assess my students readiness level; and then I plan my lesson plan according to my students level. For example, I realized that many of my students lack the mathematical skills taught in algebra 1, which is very vital in solving some problems in physics and chemistry.So, I plan to take few minutes in the period and review the necessary math required to solve those particular problems.


DR Tomlinson Quotes: 

  • The teacher adjusts content, process, and product in response to student readiness, interests, and learning profile.
  • As an educator, I try to follow that model in order to be fair to all my students.





That students differ may be inconvenient, but it is inescapable. Adapting to that diversity is the inevitable price of productivity, high standards, and fairness to the students.
Sizer, T. (1984). Horace’s Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School (p. 194). Boston: Houghton-Mifflin




1 tier  Listen to the pronunciation of 1tier

Etymology:Middle French tire rank, from Old French — more at attire

Tier /n a row or level of a structure or of a structure, or an organization consisting of several rows or levels placed one above the order: the third tier of local government administration.


Tiered adj. arranged in tiers: tiered seating


Crowther, Jonathan. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current Enlish 5th ed. Oxford University Press 1995





Tiered lessons are a type of Differentiated Instruction. Differentiation is a method of designing a lesson at several levels so each student can work at a challenging level. 


Tiered instruction invites educators to rethink traditional educational practices based upon a prior time when students were more similar in background and readiness.

  • Tiered instruction blends assessment and instruction. Before initiating each segment of learning, the teacher completes a preassessment to determine what students know and then prescribes content materials and learning experiences that promote continued learning for each student. As teachers consider students' assessed readiness levels, it becomes obvious that everyone is not at the same place in their learning and that different tiered tasks are needed to optimize every student's classroom experience.
  • Tiered instruction aligns complexity to the readiness levels and learning needs of students. The teacher plans different kinds and degrees of instructional support and structure, depending upon each student's level. Tiered instruction allows all students to focus on essential concepts and skills yet still be challenged at the different levels on which they are individually capable of working.


In chapters one and six of her book – The Differentiated ClassroomDr. Tomlinson offers her views on the hallmarks of differentiated classrooms.  She recognizes the following key principles of Differentiated Classrooms:

  • The teacher is clear about what matters in subject matter.
  • The teacher understands, appreciates, and builds upon student differences.
  • The teacher adjusts content, process, and product in response to student readiness, interests, and learning profile.
  • Assessment and instruction are inseparable.
  • All students participate in respectful work.
  • Students and teachers are collaborators in learning.
  • Goals of a differentiated classroom are maximum growth and individual success.
  • Flexibility is the hallmark of a differentiated classroom.


A very nice Microsoft Powerpoint slideshow detailing different aspects of Tiered Instruction can be found at www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/curriculum/enriched/giftedprograms/docs/  is also given here.  TieredInstr.ppt


What might be differentiated in a lesson would be one or more of the following, its

  1. content - which is what you want each student to learn by the end of the lesson
  2. process - which is the way students make sense out of the content of the lesson  
  3. product - which is normally a project or some final outcome produced in the lesson


How a lesson might be differentiated depends on the traits of the different students. They will normally be modified to respond to a student’s readiness, interest, or learning profile. 

Why a lesson might be differentiated could be for several reasons. This could be, to enhance access to learning or motivation to learn and help efficiency of learning. Any or all of these three reasons for differentiating instruction can be tied to student readiness, interest, and learning profile.


To analyze a student's interests / predispositions one could reffer to Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, for student's learning profiles the Learning Styles wiki could be of help.


The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), an organization that works to expand learning opportunities, especially those with disabilities, models differentiated instruction like this:


Tiered learning is one kind of differentiated learning.  The CONTENT is the part which is changed in these lesson.  That is the level of complexity is different depending on the ability of the child.  The PROCESS - the way students make sense of the lesson is the same for each child. 



Differentiated Instruction Is:
Differentiated Instruction is Not:
  • Having a vision of success for our students
  • Individualization. Having a different lesson everyday for each student.
  • Realizing that students do not all learn in the same way.
  • Always giving all the students the same tasks.
  • Recognizing the variety of learning styles
  • Assuming that all students learn by listening.
  • Guiding students through their chosen. path of learning
  • Just providing work stations in the classroom
  • Allowing students to excel in a certain content area.
  • Assigning more work students who have already excelled in a certain content area.
  • Offering tiered lessons by ability, interest, and readiness.
  • Only for students who show a need to accelerate.
  • Qualitative
  • Quantitative






The concept of tiering or tiered instruction is a means of teaching one concept and at the same time meets the different learning needs of a group.  Tiering seems to be initially derived from reserach on differentiation by Carol Ann Tomlinson, Ed.D., Ed.D. of the University of Virginia who first published on the subject in an article entitled, "Deciding to Differentiate Instruction in the Middle School: One School's Journey" in the journal Gifted Children Quarterly in 1995. The research that followed this initial publication developed the idea of tiering, or tiered lessons based on the ideas of differentiation.


Essentially, tiering is a differentiated instruction that enables teachers to better meet the various needs of the students in the classroom. A tiered lesson allows several pathways for students to arrive at an understanding of concepts: students can be grouped by readiness level, learning profile, or by interest. A tiered lesson is described by Tomlinson (1999) as “the meat and potatoes of differentiated instruction."


Ideally, tiered learning tasks engage students slightly beyond what they find easy or comfortable in order to provide genuine challenge and to promote their continued learning (Sylwester, 2003; Vygotsky, 1986). Optimally, a tiered task is neither too simple so that it leads to boredom nor too difficult so that it results in frustration. As Tomlinson cautions, "Only when students work at appropriate challenge levels do they develop the essential habits of persistence, curiosity, and willingness to take intellectual risks" (2001, 5).


Tiering can by done by complexity of the activity allowing more time for some students to be spent on content. Tiering can also be done by resources, outcome and by product. So, tiered lessons are used to differentiate instruction due to the move toward inclusion which allows meeting different kinds of academic needs for ESL students, or students with special needs. Instruction can be differentiated in either content/input, process/ sense-making or in product/ output. In tiering lessons, different numbers of groups can be asked to work on activities in a given tiered level, later the groups need to be varied and not have the same students always work in the same group. "Therefore, students may be in one tier for one lesson but may be regrouped when a different tiering strategy is used." (Adams & Pierce, 2003) 


Having spent some time on what tiering 'is', let's now consider what tiered instruction is not.  Tiering is not the same as adapting programs so that each student has an individual program.  It is not an opportunity to give more work to those that have mastered one area.  Neither is it only for students that need an accelerated learning program. 


According to Cheryll M. Adams, "A tiered lesson is a differentiation strategy that addresses 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".


From the book, Differentiating Instruction. A practical Guide to Tiered Lessons in Elementary Grades, I have attached two illustrations that differentiate between different types of tiering.



Readers’ Workshop: Tiered Reading Instruction


A review of Nancie Atwell's book, The Reading Zone (2007), with links to helpful resources for implementing readers' workshop in Middle School.




Tiering in the Sciences


Below is a useful website for differentiated instruction in the Sciences.




Differentiation in English


Below is a useful source that talks about differentiation in English






Developing a Tiered Activity

From Tomlinson: The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners,

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1999, pg. 85



































































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