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!
- Art Resource Bucket
- Music/Dance Resource Bucket
- Social Studies Resource Bucket
- World Languages Resource Bucket