What happens when students are offered tiered choices of challenge within diverse classroom communities?

Meeting the varied learning needs of adolescents is a big challenge. This blog is dedicated to those of you searching for ways to better address the diversity among your students.

The 2007 EducationalLeadership article, “When Students Choose the Challenge,” generated a lot of questions about a tiered, Challenge by Choice approach to teaching mathematics. This site was created to offer additional information and support. Thanks for visiting. I hope your time proves worthwhile.


Tiered Instruction and Assessment:  Why differentiate for readiness by offering various degrees of challenge? What is tiered instruction and assessment? What is “challenge by choice?” How does a tiered system work? What results are possible?

Tiered Math Assessments: What do tiered math assessments look like?

Implementation Steps: How might one embark on this journey?

Grading and Reporting: How do you evaluate and report achievement when students have choices of challenge?

More Reading:  What are some readings that speak to the philosophy and practice of differentiating for diverse readiness levels?

Summer Learning: This coming summer, Education Across Frontiers will be hosting its Staff Development Center in beautiful Genoa, Italy. Differentiation in Math will be one course offering. More information can be found in this brochure.  Please join us!

41 responses

28 09 2007
joanna quach

i am a student that was taught by mr suarez when he was teaching in oakland (a couple of years ago, about 3). (glad to hear it was a good experience) he used the color system first in my class. so this is what i think about it.

the goal system lets students pick how far they’ll go. they may overachieve, or they may underestimate themselves, but either way, they can learn a bit more about themselves. it lets the student be the teacher, in a way, because the students get to pick what would be considered an A for them. they can work at their own level, but still learn what everyone else does. it’s a great system for a diverse class (mind-wise). The students won’t feel as though they are behind, because they picked their level. they can’t fail that class if they picked goals that are suitable for them and reach the goals.

25 03 2008
Kathie Marshall

Thanks for putting together this terrific resource on tiering. We have teachers who are interested but apprehensive, and there’s lots to digest here for informing our practice, including the sample tiered assessments. Yea!

6 04 2008
Bridget Stewart

I wish I had a tiered system when I was in school… I always did quite well in math until I got to Geometry. Had we had a tiered system back then, other than ending up actually walking away with a bit more knowledge, I think my confidence level in math would have stayed up.

24 10 2008
Kevin Harrison

I was in your class at St. Mary’s – a couple of years after starting teaching middle school math, I came across notes from your classes. I talked another teacher into trying the this method. We have only just started it, the first test is tomorrow. The class received the homework options with open arms. I was impressed by some of the students who tried the more challenging problems. The homework completion rate soared, so I hope this will be reflected in test scores. We’ll see tomorrow.

Thank you.

13 08 2011

Could you let us know how that test went? I’m really interested to know!

3 09 2011
David Suarez

Hi Martha,
Kevin participated as an interviewee about his experience with the CbC approach. His and other perspectives are included on the Perspectives page if you’re interested.

27 02 2011

Dear Mr Suarez,

I am a student in Education at the University of Hertfordshire and am
currently writing a paper on differentiation in primary education.

I am interested in obtaining a copy of the book:

Making The Difference: Differentiation in International Schools (2007)
William Powell and Ochan Kusuma-Powell

as i belive it would be helpful in my research.

Unfortunetly I cannot find the book in my Universities library and come up
blank on the internet. I would be very grateful if you could provide any
details that may be helpful.

Kindest regards,


27 02 2011
David Suarez

Try this, Peter.
Good luck with your research!

19 09 2011
Melodee (@Melodee681)

Hyped up after #DifferentiationEARCOS workshop weekend – watched David in action in Math class

31 10 2011
Gaye Lantz

Hi Dave:
Great meeting and talking with you in Kenya! Great website! I have a wonderful HS math teacher who wants to delve into differentiation. His name is Steve and he’ll be contacting you. Hope all is well with you and yours!

30 01 2012

This is a bad system. Top level students who choose to do the hardest problem on a test can only get an “A” if they answer everything perfectly. Even though a student can choose their level, they are still all graded on the same curve. A student can try the 4 pt problem (top level), make one small mistake, and get no credit. They will get the same grade as a student who didn’t even attempt the 4 pt problem. This system forces everyone to the middle.

17 02 2012
Gary Johnston

Dear David,

Gary Johnston here. I’m a teacher at Saigon South International School in HCMC, Vietnam. You came and did a workshop earlier in our school year and I want to say that your work has been an inspiration to me. Too rarely do I say that to others these days.

I’ve noticed a big increase in my student’s “student skills”. They’re making good choices, identifying areas for remediation and becoming responsible learners. I often post hum-drummings about my class on my class blog at:
I have a few articles with your name tagged. I hoped I did it justice.

Gary Johnston
Saigon South International School

18 02 2012
David Suarez

Thanks for chiming in, Gary. I’ve often wondered if anything came from our time together. I checked out your blog and am thrilled to hear you contemplating some of the issues we discussed during our marathon sessions. I really appreciate the way you’re sharing the development of your perspectives over time. Clearly we all have different perspectives, and I’m happy to know you’re letting yours evolve and checking them as they do. I hope the rest of your team is well. Please send everyone my best. Sincerely, David

20 03 2012
Nashh Helwaa

THANK you….cukup membantu artikel inii

20 03 2012
David Suarez

Sama Sama 🙂

18 09 2012

Hi Dave So delighted you are still at the helm.

16 10 2012

Hi David, Blog anda keren :D.. Saya sudah membaca beberapa tulisn anda di blog. Saya rasa saya bertemu dengan seorang guru yang hebat.. Semoga sukses selalu

10 11 2012

Hi David,
I’m a middle school math teacher at an international school in Italy and I TOTALLY agree with offering students choices in mathematics problem solving as often as possible!, in fact I am doing a conference presentation on the theme and would love to have some conversations about it (if you’re willing and have the time). Is it possible and what’s the best way to do so?

11 11 2012
David Suarez

I’d love to chat, Michelle. Shoot me an email me at dsuarezteacher@gmail.com.

6 12 2012
P. Shah

Hi! I attended the AISA conference in Kenya a couple of years ago and was interested in your workshop on tiered instruction – thanks!

I was wondering if you had considered approaching Bambi Betts of TTC (www.theptc.org) – Teacher Training Center – about creating an institute on tiered instruction to run over the summer in London and Miami? I think a lot of interest is there already. The Powells are part of it as well. I just saw the brochure of Across Frontiers this summer you are presenting differentiation in math in Genoa. Let me know if you ever do present an institute with TTC in London as I am usually there in the summers.

7 12 2012
David Suarez

Thanks for writing! I’ve taken the PTC course sequence and have given some thought to the TTC. I’ve only briefly discussed the possibility with Bambi and we agree that there seems to be a widespread interest and need. It really helps to hear from teachers like yourself who make me feel excited to continue developing and sharing this work.

15 05 2013
Anna Marshall

Dear Mr. Suarez,

Our Stanford website, Teaching Commons, has a post that refers to your site on tiered instruction and assessment, and we are linking to your site. We hope you are pleased and that it will increase traffic to your site as well. Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

Best wishes,
A. Marshall

16 05 2013

Thanks for letting me know, Anna. If it provides value to visitors, then I’m grateful.

21 08 2013

Hello Mr. Suarez,

We like your video on Explaining Tier Learning and are very interested in using this video for a professional development piece that we are creating. We would like to embed this video in our Prezi rather than link to it. Can we get your permission to use this video in our Prezi? We will attach a link to your blog and certainly give you credit for this work.


22 08 2013

No problem, Melissa. Thank you for asking. I hope it meets your needs.

13 10 2013
Rhiannon Adams

Hello, Mr. Suarez.

I am a 7th grade teacher in North Carolina. I have created some tiered assignments in the past, but would love to find ones ready to use! Is there a way to have the resources for the 7th grade math tiered assignments and withoug student solutions? Some of them are blank, but others have examples of student solutions.

Thanks! :o)

14 10 2013

Sure, I can help, Rhiannon. I’ll shoot you an email, and we can go from there.

15 01 2014
David Heslop

Mr Suarez, the workshop you are conducting in Genoa in June this year – Maths Differentiation – is it aimed mostly at Middle School maths teachers? many thanks. David Heslop

15 01 2014

Hi David, My aim is for the course to be valuable for teachers across divisions. I believe and hope that it will be. I’d be happy to email you more information if you’d like to know more about the course content. David

21 04 2014
Gilberto B. Lopez

We are currently using the book:Integrating Differentiated Instruction & Understanding by Design by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe
One of our classmates posted the following question: Chapter 7 discusses three general instructional approaches designed to develop and deepen students’ understanding: Using essential questions in teaching, Using the six facets as instructional tools, and Using the WHERETO framework. However, Tomlinson and McTighe warn not to use the “Climbing the ladder” model of learning specifically saying “Using Bloom’s taxonomy as a framework for differentiation is indefensible.” (p. 120) How do you feel about their reasoning? Why?

This is the response I had in mind to post, but I do not feel it is totally correct. Please check it out:Teachers have been trying to use of Bloom’s in the classrooms for many years, but it can lead to much frustration for too many of the students. Tomlinson & McTighe’s caution us not to use Bloom’s because it alienate struggling students. All students have the capacity to learn beyond the rote facts and drill-type activities. We just have to set up opportunities and offer differentiation instruction to students who need it. Once you provide it then they will be able to showcase their abilities.

22 04 2014

it’s difficult to comment since i don’t have the reading. from my perspective, i’d be wary of using bloom’s taxonomy as a framework for differentiation because i’d be afraid some students would end up doing higher order thinking and others wouldn’t. that would be indefensible.

24 08 2014

Hi, I am developing a model based on Agile to grow student empowerment and collaboration. Your model is very interesting and seems a good fit. Would love to talk to you about possibility of including it. Look forward to it and wonderful work!

John Miller

24 08 2014

Hi John – I’m not familiar with Agile. I’d be happy to learn more if you’d like to shoot me an email: dsuarezteacher@gmail.com

12 06 2015

I have created some very good assignments in the past, but would love to find ones ready to use! Is there a way to have the resources for the 12th grade math assignments and without student solutions? Some of them are blank, but others have examples of student solutions.
IB World Academy

12 06 2015

I’m sorry. I don’t have any 12th grade assignments to share.

4 05 2016
Dr Phyllis Fredericksen

Mary Ellen Smith and I had coffee with Jason Purnell yesterday and he told us about you. Mary Ellen then forwarded your article in Ed Leadership to me. Although Math is not my field, I found your article to be very interesting. I currently am retired and work with student teachers and pre student teachers at Fontbonne University in St Louis. I am going to pass along this information and website to them. Differentiated Instruction is so important and we talk about it, but I think actually seeing that it works will inspire my students. So good to hear about your success! Please tell your mom and sisters hello from me. Take care.
Phyllis Fredericksen

4 05 2016

Hi Mrs. Fredericksen,
I’ve passed your greeting to my mom and sisters. To hear that my name came up in a conversation between you, Jason, and Mary Ellen Smith is just wild. Thanks for reaching out. The journey to become a differentiating math teacher is one that’s been challenging, engaging, and without end. The longer I teach, the more questions I have about whole endeavor. It’s great fun!

4 05 2016
Dr Phyllis Fredericksen

I think questioning and being a life long learner are key for any field, but especially for education. Best wishes as you continue your work.

20 01 2017

Greetings of peace sir.
I am currently enrolled sir for my thesis writing entitled “Effect of Differentiated Instruction on the Academic Performance of Grade 8 Students in Mathematics – Patterns and Algebra”.
I have read sir your journal, When Students Choose the Challenge and I find it helpful to my thesis. I hope sir I can ask a copy of your tiered activities and assignments for my thesis.
Thank you and sir and God bless.

20 01 2017

By the way sir, I am studying in Leyte Normal University, Tacloban City, Leyte, Philippines. If you allowed, I will be conducting my thesis comes this first semester of the SY 2017-2018 at Abuyog NHS, Abuyog, Leyte, Philippines.

20 01 2017

sounds like a wonderful topic. i’ll send you an email.

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