Tiered Assignments


Sarah Farmer, Tamara Rice, and Anita Thorpe


Tiering assignments is a strategy in which “a teacher uses varied levels of activities to ensure that students explore ideas at a level that builds prior knowledge and prompts continued growth,” (Tomlinson, 2005). Tiered assignments could also be thought of as “teacher-prescribed learning activities that are specifically designed to respond to differences in readiness, interests, or learning preferences,” (Heacox, 2009).

Dr. Heacox suggests a three step process for tiering assignments. She says that you should diagnose, design, and prescribe.

Diagnose – This step involves pre-assessment and formative assessment to figure out student needs. (Laura has posted a lot of examples or ideas about assessment that are available on the previous page of our wiki.)

Design – After discovering student needs, an educator must find or design assignments that reach these needs. It is important to note that when tiering assignments, the learning goal should be the same, and it should be a “significant” learning goal. As Heacox says, “you don’t tier ‘fluff’.” Also, she encourages teachers to use available resources instead of re-inventing the wheel when it comes to developing assignments, because all assignments should be relatively equal in the amount of effort, activity, and time. If you consult the Heacox text, there is a planning sheet that gives a three-tier approach to this strategy (pg. 96) and a checklist of criteria for “well-designed tiered assignments” (pg. 87).

Prescribe – Tiering assignments is different than other differentiated strategies because it isn’t about student-choice. Teachers must assign students to the task that meets their specific needs.


Dr. Heacox also identifies six different ways to design tasks:
  1. Tiering by Readine
  2. Tiering by Level of Challenge and Complexity
  3. Tiering by Degree of Structure
  4. Tiering by Degree of Abstraction
  5. Tiering by Level of Support
  6. Tiering by Learning Preference

In the following pages, our group will talk about some of the main ways to tier tasks, but if you are in search of more ideas, each of the six ways above was paired with an example of a tiered activity in the text (pg. 88-94).

I (Sarah) know that many of us were having a hard time visualizing how this strategy could be implemented effectively, but luckily during a professional development meeting last week, I happened to watch a video that demonstrates tiering by readiness. The video is actually about the idea of learning targets, but as you watch what is happening in class, you will see the tiers set up and you will see student-teacher interaction in this setting. The class a math class in Todd County, and for those of you wondering about the implications of the Senate Bill 1 and the new common core standards, this is one of the facilitators of the math meetings.

Learning Targets Video



Heacox, D. (2009). Making Differentiation a Habit. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing Inc.
Tomlinson, C. A. (2005). How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed Ability Classrooms. Upper Saddle River : Pearson Education Inc.
http://www.education.ky.gov/KDE/