One of the foundational aspects of every Humanities class should be “Creative Communication”. This manisfests itself in a lot of different ways: students producing writing, speeches, performances, artworks, music, you-name-it in order to express themselves and their ideas creatively.
However, what we often think about less is how we structure the day-to-day discussion and collaboration so that our students LIVE that kind of creative communication… how will students talk to each other? how will students talk to me, their teachers? how will they “talk back” to the content and to the world on a daily basis? how do we develop the communicative skills in our students so that the outcomes we expect are achieved out of confidence, bravery, and teamwork?
Today’s blog post is directly aligned to our Priority 2 for our content:
STUDENTS ARE ”On the hook” for their learning because they believe that the Humanities matter for their education, are working towards meaningful EOY goals, and have the opportunity to do so in collaboration with their peers BECAUSE TEACHERS ARE Ensuring students are advocating for their content, are motivated by a meaningful EOY goal, and are being given ownership of their own learning by facilitating strong collaborative structures around rigorous content.
Ultimately, this is very much part of our contents – what are we asking our students to actually produce in our classrooms if not this – the actual human interaction? How are we setting students up to “talk back” to the world if not by giving them the structures to talk to each other and learn together?
Our data shows, in fact, that there is a direct correlation between students being more active participants in our classrooms and reaching higher levels of rigor. How can they every analyze if the teacher is always the driver of their learning?
Most importantly, I believe that without students talking to each other and debating the content they are learning, we set them up to believe that the content is static, and that knowledge comes from a teacher or a textbook. World Languages become another set of rules, Art becomes another set of procedures, History becomes another story written by white, privileged, old people. In order for our classrooms to be truly constructivist, students must be able to engage with in through collaborative learning. We need to remove ourselves as the sole source of power and knowledge in the classroom.
The challenging aspect of this, of course, is that this happens at the nexus of Culture and Rigor in our classrooms. I wrote about this previously in Supporting Student-Student Dialog and Questions and Tasks Worth Collaborating On. However, some fantastic new resources have been made available by Teaching Tolerance in the past couple weeks, so I wanted to share them!
Check them out below… Let me know if you have any success in using them!
Many of us in the Humanities, at this point, have either planned and executed a full project or performance task, or we are planning to do so as part of our end of year summative and celebration of progress with students. Projects and performance tasks are great ways to push students to apply the content-based understandings that they have learned this past year and apply them to real-world, unpredictable situations.
Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe from Understanding by Design (2005) define performance tasks as:
Complex challenges that mirror the issues and problems faced by adults. Ranging in length from short-term tasks to long-term, multi-staged projects, they yield one or more tangible products and performances. They (…) (1) Involve a real or simulated setting (…), (2) Typically require the student to address an identified audience (real or simulated), (3) Are based on a specific purpose that relates to the audience, (4) Allow students greater opportunity to personalize the task, (5) Are not secure: the task, evaluative criteria, and performance standards are known in advance and guide student work.
At a time when testing is overtaking our students’ skill-set as well as their understanding of what education is really about, performance tasks can be particularly powerful tools.
With conventional paper-and-pencil tests a common problem is “teaching toward the test” or worrying more about how students will score on a test than about how they actually learn (…) but the “paradox of performance assessment” (…) is that if the outcomes are worth spending time on, if the tasks really are demonstrations of understanding, and if the criteria are clearly explained, then that’s what we ought to be teaching to.
– McTighe in Cohen, Philip. “Designing Performance Assessment Tasks”, ASCD Education Update (1995)
Performance tasks and projects are thus in direct alignment to our number 1 priority for this quarter in the Humanities:
STUDENTS ARE engaged in the content because it is rigorous, compelling, aligned to a meaningful EOY assessment, and focused around essential questions that bring to light social justice issues. BECAUSE TEACHERS ARE planning units and lessons that have strong visions of mastery, are aligned to a meaningful EOY summative, and that are propelled by essential questions and meaningful texts.
In addition, they teach students the kind of Creative Communication that we want them to experience every day as they learn in rigorous but FUN environments in our Humanities classrooms.
Today’s blog post will share with you some of the principles of what makes a strong Performance Task and/or Project, share with you some examples, and then provide you with some resources for your own planning. It should be no secret that designing a strong Performance Task is genuinely challenging, but also that it is incredibly rewarding as it offers an awesome opportunity for students, and effective backwards planning for you as a teacher.
If, as a result of this blog post you want to collaborate with Jacob (and another teacher in your content?) to create a strong performance task, teach it, and gather student work and data from it, then let Jacob and your TLD Coach know and we can arrange for some potential Tailored PD Credit!
1. What Makes a Strong Performance Task?
One thing that needs to be clarified is that performance tasks and projects should not be considered just a whole bunch of fun work time. The best performance tasks ARE fun, and they are fun exactly because there are specific expectations and guidelines and timelines, but the way of reaching and meeting them is open to students’ own thinking, interpretation, and skill-sets.
Creating effective assessment tasks requires thinking through curriculum content to establish learning outcomes, then designing performance activities that will allow students to demonstrate their achievement of those outcomes, and specifying criteria by which they will be evaluated.
– Cohen, Philip. “Designing Performance Assessment Tasks”, ASCD Education Update (1995)
It’s also critical, as Cohen articulates above, that these performance tasks are in alignment with what needs to be learned in the content. Instead of thinking about “what is a good activity for students?”, performance tasks should be the product of thinking about “given what I want students to learn, what counts as evidence that they understood it?”
As such, the best performance tasks are made up of:
- Aligned to Content Learning
- Generated by Meaningful Context and Audience
- Encouraging of the Thinking Process
- Requiring Appropriate Product or Performance
- Sharing of Strong Criteria
In this next section, we’ll start to unpack what that actually can look like, and some resources to help you plan.
2. How Do You Plan a Performance Task?
Most of what I am about to share comes from “Designing Authentic and Engaging Performance Tasks” by Jay McTighe (2010). Please use that document directly to gain access to some of these amazing worksheets and brainstorming supports.
First of all, start out by checking out the Performance Task Blueprint that McTighe provides for our planning.
Take a look at the tables below (generated by McTighe himself) which contain examples of different kinds of Performance Tasks for the different facets of understanding AND for many of our Humanities contents!
Some awesome examples of Performance Tasks in World Languages from McTighe:
Tour Director – (World Languages) You serve on a Welcome Committee to provide tours for new students. Plan a trip to three places (e.g., school, town, mall) in the new student’s target language. Incorporate the following vocabulary: directions (left, right, near, far, next to, etc.), places (e.g., classrooms, cafeteria, gym, library, labs, churches, police and fire stations, schools, restaurants, stores) and transportation (e.g., bus, bike, stairs, escalators, taxi, train, car, elevators). Remember to include a variety of locations, directions, and forms of transportation on your “trips.” Keep sentences simple and narrate in the target language.
He then also provides a worksheet that you can use to help you plan out a thoughtful initial Performance Task prompt. What is key here is that Stage 1 (before you even start thinking about the activity) demands that you consider (1) what it is that you want students to understand and what questions you want them to consider before (2) figuring out what evidence you need from students to show that they have understood these questions.
Finally, in order to present this effectively and with meaningful context for students, McTighe has created an acronym for what makes a strong Performance Task Scenario.
- Product/Performance and Purpose
- Standards and Criteria for Success
With strong GRASPS, students have what they need to complete a Performance Task or Project.
Fortunately, many of the rubrics we provide can provide at least a foundation for your grading criteria, and you should share them in advance with your students!
3. What Do Some Completed Performance Tasks Look Like?
In addition, you can check out our collection of Performance Tasks in all Humanities Contents, as well as your own Resource Sharing Buckets (see below) for more!
As we dive into the final Quarter of the year, it’s important that we take stock of the huge progress we have made, but also how much further we need to take our students while we still have time with them. Every quarter, I resort to the following information to help me define our cohort and student trends:
- Classroom observations from me and your TLD Coach (aligned to Engagement with Rigorous Content and Culture of Achievement).
- Student achievement data that you share with us.
- Your responses on professional development exit forms.
- Your First Eight Weeks and Mid-Year Survey responses.
- Feedback from our Humanities Leaders.
- Feedback from you at our Humanities Leader Summit and through our Quarterly PD Survey.
- Anecdotal and qualitative data such as student work, responses in professional development experiences, and so on.
- Much more!
These data points provide a fairly holistic picture of where our cohort is in regards to our Vision for the Humanities in Mississippi, specifically in relation to our four outcomes of academic achievement, critical consciousness, cultural competency, and student leadership. So what does this data tell us?
(Note: I’ve taken some of the language about these metrics from Ethan’s great post to the Math cohort – which, in turn, he credited to me! Anyway, if you haven’t taken a look at the Culture of Achievement and Engagement with Rigorous Content frameworks in a while, definitely take a quick look right now – some of the titles like “engaged and on-task,” “apathetic or unruly,” “passive and confused” and so on can actually be misnomers if they are read without the context of how the framework describes these bands).
Data Point #1: Sharing Data – Progress Known, %Benchmark Achieved, and Students
- What is Progress Known (PK)?
PK is basically a “Yes” or “No” answer to the question: “do we have reliable and complete data on where students stand in this classroom?” Since %BA (see below) cannot be calculated if we do not have this data, PK is incredibly important as a foundational piece of information.
- What is %Benchmark Achieved (%BA)?
%BA is the percent of progress that students have made in relation to their quantitative goals for this time of year. This is calculated based on the data that you submit, and the strength of student performance that it represents. Basically, we would like students to be at 75% BA at this point in the year, since we are 3/4 of the way through the year.
- How do you collect reliable and complete data?
The reliable and complete data comes from you teachers sharing it with your TLD Coach and/or Content Specialist. As long as you have data for student progress on ALL your Metrics , and you have shared a reliable assessment with us, then your students are PK!
- What does this data tell us?
For the first time all year, during Quarter 3, we started to have a valid quantity of data to analyze! Now that over 80% of our classrooms are assessing students holistically and sharing that data, we can now start to really look at the progress our students are making. I thank ALL of you for prioritizing this in the past quarter, and ensuring that we have valid data to look at together and make decisions from. I believe a huge part of us seeing this result is that we are all committed to the value of our vision for the Humanities. That said, I also know that we also struggle with some of the rubric-rated data that we collect (DBQs, projects, performances, etc) both because it sometimes feels tough to assess, but also because it can seem subjective. I want to encourage us all to work together more to collaboratively norm on these and brainstorm the best ways to share that progress with our students. Sharing rubric data actually means that we are bringing subtlety and complexity to what it means to be a successful artist, musician, language speaker, etc. so this can be a key lever in us gathering our students’ investment in our contents. Ultimately, I think this is where we are struggling (and which is visible in our low %BA): getting students feeling urgent about the content! A big part of that will be in sharing our data with them more effectively.
Data Point #2: Culture of Achievement
- What is Culture of Achievement (CoA)?
CoA is the quality of the classroom culture that your students enjoy as they are learning. Some people think immediately about “management” but CoA goes well beyond that: it’s the way in which your students actively maintain and foster a positive environment because of the way they care about their learning.
- How do you collect data around CoA?
CoA is determined by the TLD Coach in collaboration with your thinking after an observation, using the Culture of Achievement Pathways rubric to inform our terminology. This then gets collected in our Program Tracker so we can analyze the data at different levels.
- What does the CoA data tell us?
As you can see in the above, our students are definitely experiencing more positive classroom environments (including some Joyful and Urgent ones!), but by and large this is a priority in which our classrooms are stagnating. Like at the beginning of the quarter, we are still seeing well over half of our students in classroom environments that are in the lower end of the spectrum, and thus less conducive to learning. This is consistent with the year-long trend we have seen of few collaborative structures taking place in the daily lesson. Key to changing this will be our collaboration and sharing of best practices, as well as an increased sense of urgency and joy for our content as we head into the final 8 weeks of the school year.
Data Point #3: Engagement with Rigorous Content (ERC)
- What is Engagement with Rigorous Content (ERC)?
ERC is the level of rigor at which students are engaging with the content. Some people think immediately about “difficulty” of the questions being asked by the teacher, but this goes well beyond that: it’s the depth and sophistication with which students are thinking about and working within the content, as well as the purpose with which they do so.
- How do you collect data around ERC?
ERC is determined by the TLD Coach in collaboration with your thinking after an observation, using the Engagement with Rigorous Content rubric to inform our terminology. This then gets collected in our Program Tracker so we can analyze the data at different levels.
- What does the ERC data tell us?
Like with CoA, we are seeing some small and exciting gains in ERC, but also some discouraging signs of stagnation. In addition, it will be unsurprising to find out that the same classrooms that are on the bottom half of the spectrum in CoA are also often on the bottom half of the spectrum in ERC. At the end of the day, I believe that this is because we need to emphasize more student-centered learning, while also focusing on the purpose that our rigorous summatives can give us at this time in the year.
How will we be supported based on these findings?
I have crafted three priorities for Quarter 4 based on these findings. The priorities (grouped by student and teacher outcome) are as follows:
Head over to the PD Page of our Professional Development website to see what sessions will be driving towards these priorities, and sign up for them!
For more detail on all of this, as well as a some crucial context, check out Q4 Humanities Priorities document.
So what are your thoughts? What resonates with you about this data, these priorities, and these upcoming experiences? What else do you see in the data and in your own classroom? Fire off below!