Tiered instruction is a method by which the teacher can ensure that students with different learning needs work with the same essential ideas and learn the same key concepts and skills.
For example, a student who struggles with reading or has a difficult time with abstract thinking still needs to make sense of the pivotal concepts and principles in a given chapter or story. Simultaneously, a student who is advance well beyond grade expectations in that same subject needs to find genuine challenge in working with the same concepts and principles. A "one-size-fits-all" activity is unlikely to help a struggling or grade-level learner come to own important ideas. Neither will it extend the understanding of a student with great knowledge and skill in that same area.
By using an essential question as the basis for lesson planning, the teacher can eliminate the "learning ceiling" that often exists in standard curricula while establishing a purpose for learning and a climate of inquiry that will benefit students of all interests, learning styles, and achievement levels.
The content and the instructional strategies that result from addressing the essential questions are the vehicles by which the teacher meets the needs of all students. The teacher weaves the goals into the classroom content and instructional strategies as appropriate for individuals in the class.
Teachers use tiered activities so all students focus on essential understandings and skills, but at different levels of abstractness, complexity, and open-endedness. By keeping the focus of the activity the same, but providing different routes of access at varying degrees of difficulty, the teacher maximizes the likelihood that (1) each student comes away with pivotal skills and understandings and (2) each student is appropriately challenged.
There is no recipe for developing a tiered activity, but the following guidelines, used in conjunction with a unit template, a lesson template, or any other organizational device, are useful for planning: