When students are done working on the quiz, or after a given amount of time, we will go over the problems as a group. After going over the problems as a class, students give themselves a score for the test by totaling up the points from each problem that they correctly answered. The point totals correspond to three groups of problems that students work on in the classroom. Students who get none of the problems right would assign themselves to Group A; a student who got all the problems right would assign herself to Group C. Students are encouraged to evaluate their own level of understanding (ahem, metacognition). If a student if confident about his or her understanding of the material, the student is encouraged to ignore the numerical score on the diagnostic quiz and join the group that he or she thinks is most appropriate.
Here is one example selection of homework:Group A: Page 353-354 #16-17, 22-28, 29, 30-31Group B: Page 353-354 #22-27, 29, 31-35Group C: Page 353-354 #22-25, 29-31, 38-42, 51
While at first, it looks like a random sequence of numbers, there is a pattern. Students in Group A focus their attention on definitions and basic calculations.
Take a look at problems 16 and 17:
There are still some problems that all students are expected to complete. Problem #29 requires students to evaluate two examples of student work. All students are expected to work on this problem; it shows up in each problem set.
Problem 51, on the other hand, only shows up in Group C’s problem set. It's a bit challenging.
How does tiering work in practice?
Creating the differentiated problem sets is relatively easy. There is a host of available resources that help select problems. The district has a unit planning guide which lays out the standards to be covered from each section of the textbook. The textbook maker provides sample problem sets depending on the desired difficulty. Designing the problem set is just a matter of aggregating information from three or four different resources. It takes time to look over the problems, but it’s doable. A satisfactory solution exists.
The problem is getting students into the right group. Creating differentiated tasks is comparatively simple. While all students pick up the diagnostic quiz when they walk into the room, the actual engagement in the task varies from hour-to-hour and day-to-day. On some days, I would say only half the students attempt the problems before we start going over with as a class. After the quiz, I am not entirely sure that all students engage in a metacognitive conversation and evaluate their knowledge. I think that some of them just work with their group of friends (SHOCKING). Also, I know of at least one student who just counts up the number of problems, ignoring the potential differences in difficulty, and does the problem set with the fewer number of problems.
Another challenge to tiering is that tiering is not a word, at least according to the MS Word dictionary.