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The Role of Assessment in Creating Tiered Assignments

The Role of Assessment in Creating Tiered Assignments

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson, you will learn about the role of assessment in creating tiered assignments, one way of differentiating instruction for your students.

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In this tutorial, we'll explore how assessment can help us as we create tiered assignments for our students. We'll begin with just an overview of tiered assignments, and then we'll look more closely at how assessment comes into play in this process. Finally, I'll share some tips with you for implementing pre-assessments. Let's get started.

First, what are tiered assignments? Tiered assignments are differentiated learning tasks that take student's individual learning levels and needs into account. So these are prescriptive learning activities that we designed to address student differences in learning profiles or needs, in interests, and in readiness. These tiered assignments allow students to work at their own individual skill levels, as they're making progress towards demonstrating mastery of competencies.

Tiered assignments then can help to provide options for students who are at differing academic levels in your overall class, or in a larger group. So a tiered assignment can be a great way to implement some differentiation strategies, even if you're not yet ready to move your entire class to an overall CBE structure.

Carol Ann Tomlinson, who is one of the developers and main proponents of differentiated instruction, describes tearing assignments in this way. "A teacher uses varied levels of activities to ensure that students explore ideas at a level that builds on their prior knowledge and prompts continued growth. "

Here's an example from my classroom. In one of the very first lessons of the year in geometry class, we learn how to name basic geometric figures using proper geometric notation. And so I offer students assignments at three different levels of difficulty.

Level A just asks students to match figures to possible names that are provided in an answer bank. The answers in the answer bank are all written using proper geometric notation, and so students just need to look at the various cues in those answers, in order to match them to the proper figures. This is a great choice then for students who are still feeling a little shaky in their understanding of the rules for writing the names of figures in proper geometric notation.

The level B assignment provides students with diagrams of geometric figures, and students are required to write the names of those figures, again using proper geometric notation. I find that often the middle level assignment is the one that most students will choose. As it is usually most closely aligned with sort of where we ended the lesson, and the skill level that I expect most students to be at the end of my instruction.

And then the level C assignment would be the choice of students who really feel that they are very strong already in the skills that I presented during the lesson and want to expand their knowledge a little more. So in the level C assignment, students are given names of figures and they need to then sketch those figures based on the name. So they need to apply their new skills from the lesson in a new way that I maybe haven't demonstrated for them yet. So this requires them to stretch their knowledge just a little further and apply it in a new setting.

So let's think about the role that assessment can play as we are considering implementing tiered assignments in our classrooms. The whole goal of assessment is to provide us with just a wide variety of information about our students learning. The information that we get from this process helps us to make good decisions about our instruction, based on students' learning styles and on their needs and on their individual abilities.

Assessment is a diagnostic tool. It shows us exactly where our students are, in terms of the mastery of the competencies that are in their learning goals. And this can tell us all sorts of things, which levels of tiered assignments should we be developing? If we have observed which levels of these tiered assignment students are choosing, we can make some determinations about whether students are working at a level that is appropriate to them.

Also assessment can help us to identify any gaps in student learning. It's especially important that we identify these gaps before we administer any summative assessment. So formative assessment plays a really important role here. And again with all of these various purposes of implementing various types of assessment in our instruction, remember we want to use all of this information to design these tiered assessments and to make other decisions about differentiating our instruction based on the results of pre-assessments. So that we provide the best possible learning environment and instructional opportunities for our students.

So if you are thinking about administering pre-assessments, here are some tips. Pre-assessments can take any number of forms. And the point always is to measure students' prior knowledge. So if you think about it, if you do want to implement tiered assignments, you really should be administering some sort of a pre-assessment that tells you where your students are at, so you know which levels of assignments to develop.

And a pre-assessment does not necessarily have to take the form of the traditional paper and pencil pretest that you might be picturing in your head. It certainly could take that form with just a traditional set of questions or problems that students work through. But it also could include things like journal entries, or KWL charts, or open ended questions that you want students to answer, or an incomplete graphic organizer to fill in, which is one of my favorite types of pre-assessments to use. Because it helps me to see how students are organizing the information in their heads already. Ideally pre-assessments should be administered separately in every subject area. Because students can be bringing different types of background knowledge and different levels of knowledge to different content areas, based on their prior experiences.

So here are some recommended features of pre-assessments. They should be written in order to provide documentation of student understanding. And they should be individual, that is we don't want students to be collaborating with others on these pre-assessments, because we want to see their own individual levels of knowledge coming into the unit. We want these pre-assessments to be aligned with the competencies and standards that students are working towards. So these assessments need to feature the key knowledge and skills that are directly related to the upcoming unit of instruction.

We want the pre-assessments to be relatively short. They should only include exactly what you need students to demonstrate to you, in order to determine the levels of prior knowledge that they are bringing with them. Pre-assessments should not be graded. They should just be used for planning your instruction and possibly for grouping students together based on their levels of prior knowledge.

And you should consider returning the pre-assessments to the students at the end of the unit of instruction, so that they can compare their knowledge levels at the end of the unit, with how they came into the unit. This can help them to do some self reflection and just get some really positive feedback on how much they learned over the course of the unit.

In this tutorial we looked at an overview of tiered assignments, and then discuss the role of assessment in creating these assignments. Finally I shared some tips if you are thinking about implementing some pre-assessments, that will help you to make informed decisions about your instruction, and to design these tiered assignments for your students.

So here's a chance for you to stop and reflect. Some curricular programs actually provide tiered assignments as part of the teacher resource materials. Consider looking through your resources to see whether some tiered assignments are already available to you. If not, think about an upcoming lesson for which you could design some tiered assignments based on pre-assessment data.

To dive a little deeper and learn how to apply this information, be sure to check out the additional resources section associated with this video. This is where you'll find links targeted toward helping you discover more ways to apply this course material. Thanks for watching. Have a great day.

Notes on "The Role of Assessment in Creating Tiered Assignments"

(00:00 - 00:20) Introduction

(00:21 - 03:09) Overview of Tiered Assignments

(03:10 - 04:39) The Role of Assessment

(04:40 - 07:06) Tips for Implementing Pre-Assessments

(07:07 - 07:26) Review

(07:27 - 08:05) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

Classroom Strategies and Tools for Differentiating Instruction in the ESL Classroom

This article is a comprehensive look at differentiating instruction in the classroom.

Planning a Tiered Activity

This is a helpful organizer with detailed instruction from ASCD on creating a tiered lesson. It is simple to use when developing lesson plans.