I recently had a meeting with a teacher who is teaching multiplication to her third grade students. She told me that she has 4 students who seem to be really struggling, 11 students who are cruising along fine, and 7 students who seem to need more of a challenge.
This situation isn't unique. We teachers often find ourselves wondering how to meet the extremely diverse learning needs of our students.
Tiering is a strategy that can be used to differentiate assignments. By adjusting the level of the task and by allowing students to choose their own entry level, we can help students be successful.
One of the best resources I've found on tiering is Challenge by Choice. This blog asks the question, "What happens when students are offered authentic assessment choices and given the responsibility for determining the appropriateness of their own learning targets?" It's a great question, and by exploring the information, lesson plans, and videos on the site, teachers may find that they want to see what happens when they try to answer it.
For me, the most important part of tiering is making sure that students at each level are engaged in meaningful tasks. If we have one group doing a problem-solving activity and have another group reciting facts with flashcards, we show little respect for our our students. A better solution would be to have all groups solve a problem. The problems, however, could be modified to meet the readiness levels of students.
On the Houghton Mifflin Math site, there is a great multiplication story problem. It's challenging, but I think with some tiering, it would be perfect for the third grade class I mentioned earlier.