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!
Ah yes, that fatal moment when you tell your students “turn to your partner and…”, and then the whole class blows up in your face. It may be a good time to catch up on student gossip (you can overhear A LOT during those turn and talks!), but ultimately it’s not getting done what you want it to. BUT, this is still a key priority for us this quarter. Ultimately, by the end of this quarter we really want to see what is articulated in Priority 2, and it will be impossible to get there without genuine collaboration in the classroom. Students are “On the hook” for their learning because they are hungry to discuss and engage with rigorous, compelling, and student-focused content. This is because Teachers are ensuring students continue to collaborate daily, while also providing the rigorous content for students to collaborate around.
Well, here are a few things for ya to get going in this direction. This blog post contains: 1. Reasons why you should keep working on collaborative learning. 2. Some guidelines and principles for collaborative learning. 3. A bucket-load of resources for collaborative learning. Got questions, concerns, or ideas to share related to this blogpost? Email Jacob or comment below! For more on all of this, check out the fantastic Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen… a lot of what is featured here was drawn from that book!
Why does Collaborative Learning matter in the Humanities?
- The Humanities are about dialog: all too often, our students assume that history happened in the past, that culture is static and easily stereotyped, or that art, music, and dance are only something that famous artists and performers can do. Having students collaborate while tackling our content models for them the way these subject-areas actually work in reality – they are spaces for debate, disagreement, and mutual learning.
- It will establish a more democratic classroom: it matters for Social Justice and Equity in our classrooms that we do not limit our students’ experiences to those controlled and dictated by a “classroom authority.” We need to be partners in learning.
- Your students’ thinking will improve: if students feel safe and part of a team, they will be more willing and able to take risks. Better relationships in the classroom allow for more authentic and higher-level rigor, as well as a physically and psychologically safe environment. Plus, students will be owning more of the thinking!
- Your students will be more confident: if students get a chance to practice with their partner first (and maybe even get your affirmation as you walk around the room), they’ll be more confident in participating.
- Over time, side-chatter will decrease: while it may take practice, students cannot see talking with one another as ONLY a disruptive act. Students need to see each other as partners in learning.
- Over time, it will make YOUR life easier: Lisa Ann DeGarcia wrote, in “How to Get Students Talking!” (2009) that “researchers have found that teaching is a ‘complex cognitive activity'” but that this becomes easier for experienced teachers because “they develop specific ‘routines’ for each of these activities, so more cognitive space can be freed up.” Collaborative learning is one of those key routines you can establish!
Classroom life should, to the greatest extent possible, prefigure the kind of democratic and just society we envision and thus contribute to building that society. Together students and teachers can create a “community of conscience.” – “Introduction: Building Classrooms for Equity and Social Justice”, Rethinking Our Classrooms, Vol. 1.
What are some guidelines and principals for collaborative learning?
- There are two parts to setting up strong collaborative learning.
- Students need to have clear structures and ways of engaging with each other and with the content.
- Students need to be engaging with strong, meaningful content (more on this in a post to follow).
- When working in small groups, everyone should…
- …have a clear responsibility (and not just time-keeping!).
- …have an opportunity (and accountability) to express their ideas.
- …know WHY working collaboratively matters for this particular piece of learning.
- When working in large or whole-group settings, everyone should…
- …be exposed to multiple perspectives from their peers.
- …have a concrete way of following along with the conversation and react to the speaker’s thinking.
- …be held accountable for expressing ideas about the discussion at the end.
Do you have any resources for us?
Of course I do! Check them out below:
- Collaborative Routines Galore! – An awesome list of routines and resources compiled by all your content specialists!
- Ashley Lamica’s Socratic Seminar Worksheet – A great resource for holding students accountable during whole-group discussions AND guide their analysis of the texts they are discussing.
- Collaborative Venn Diagrams – An easy-to-use Venn Diagram exercise in which students record their own thinking, their partner’s thinking, and their shared thinking on ANY topic!
- World Language “Unknowns” – A few examples of what this could look like to pair students up in a World Language classroom, and have them interview each other to get the complete responses they need!
One of the more challenging and exciting tasks we have (newly!) taken on this year is to drive towards an expanded understanding of what student success will look like. In fact, this year our number one regional priority is:
Cultivating Academically-Accomplished, Culturally Competent, and Critically Conscious Student Leaders : “Mississippi students are mastering rigorous content, building critical consciousness and cultural competence and developing their leaderships skills in and out of their culturally responsive classrooms.”
(Side Note: For more on what these terms mean and their importance to students and ourselves as teachers, check out this CRT Conceptual Map)
In order to drive towards these outcomes, we have explored Culturally Responsive Teaching as a set of dispositions and actions that we as teachers can take to lead our students. CRT is an increasingly popular educational philosophy that challenges all of us to re-consider our own assumptions as we enter a culturally diverse classroom, and to adjust our approach to curriculum, pedagogy, and relationships accordingly.
But as the year goes on, you may be wondering… how the heck do I measure something like “Cultural Competence”? What does it look like when my students are developing “Critical Consciousness”?
Well, as it will always be with genuinely qualitative (but powerful) outcomes like these, it’s not always that easy to find ONE reliable measure. Fortunately, we have a couple of resources for you.
The CRT Field Document (Prototype!!!)
A large collaboration of TFA Mississippi staff who have been committed to learning about and researching CRT, have come together to modify a field doc that was being used in the Philadelphia region. It’s basically a rubric for looking at CRT classrooms, and, specifically, at student outcomes.
Check out the CRT Field Document, and start asking your Content Specialist and TLD Coach to observe your classroom through this lens!
(Note: This is VERY much in draft form still… Let us know what you think so we can make it stronger!)
Want to Get More Specific?
Again, this is still in draft form, but we found an awesome resource for you!
This Student Questions Grounded in CRT document allows you to interview your students, and find out where they are on a spectrum between a technical and humanitizing education.
The cool part about it? It creates direct connection between the questions being asked and the teacher disposition (or “competency”) linked to the student answer… Need to make a shift in student answers? Start working on that competency! Again, enlist your Content Specialist and TLD Coach to help you collect these responses, and reflect on them.
OK, BUT WHAT SHOULD THIS REALLY LOOK LIKE AT MY GRADE-LEVEL?
Check out the awesome Anti-Bias Frameworks that Teaching Tolerance have put together… This should give you a really good sense of what your goal should be for your students this year!
MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT CRT AND STUDENT OUTCOMES?
Feel free to reach out to me, your TLD Coach, or comment below!
Last week, I posted about Collecting, Sharing, and Analyzing Student Data. Part of the “sharing” portion of this is actually more complex (but SUUUPER effective) than you might think. So let’s dive in to Conferencing With Students!
First, raise your hand if any of the following is true for you or your students:
- I haven’t given grades yet on speaking and writing tasks, art projects, music or dance performances, DBQs, or anything where the grade might be subjective.
- It feels wrong to evaluate students on something creative or expressive.
- When I have given grades before, students have asked me “what did you give me a ‘C’ for?!?”
- Some of my students already have low confidence… I’m scared they will just buckle up if I give them a low grade!
- My students are okay with whatever grade they earn, as long as it’s a passing one.
- My students don’t use work time on projects and writing effectively. They just finish as quickly as possible, or dilly-dally.
- My students can say what their grade is, but aren’t clear on how they can improve it, or what their strengths and areas for growth are.
Well, if you are sitting at your computer foolishly raising your hand right now, I have a solution for ya: it’s called student conferences!
Student conferences will help you make progress towards our 2nd Quarter 2 Priority:
Students are invested in their Humanities-content goals because they see their success as critical to their future leadership, and are aware of their progress. This is because Teachers are invested in their end-of-year goals and what they represent for students, and thus measuring and sharing progress towards goals with students and stakeholders.
What can a student conference accomplish?
Student conferences are awesome for resolving all of these challenges. Here is why:
- Conferences build student investment in rigor and purpose. It’s a chance for you to personally motivate and ground
your students in why this content matters to them as individuals.
- Conferences help students understand where they stand. They make grades feel important, something worth reflecting on, rather than something evaluative (gets rid of: “I’m a B- in this class”, low confidence)
- Conferences help build relationships. They celebrate and challenge students individually, genuinely, and academically.
- Conferences establish teacher-student collaboration and mutual learning. It’s a chance to find out how your student thinks, get some feedback, and ask them how YOU can become a better teacher.
Okay, fine. What do I need to make sure I get done in a student conference?
- Build deeper, stronger relationships between student & teacher.
- Make sure your student has 1-2 strategies to solve their own problems.
- Make sure student has clearer vision of path to achieve goals.
What does a student conference look like?
Here is an example (check out the conference that starts at 4:30)… There is a little too much teacher-talk in this one, but it hits most of the objectives outline above!
Do you have any resources to help me structure and plan one?
- Suggested questions for different kinds of conferences (are you confirming a theory about the student? doing a 1-on-1 mini-lesson?)
- Teacher Conference Log (for keeping track of each student and what you learn from your conferences)
- Student Conference Log (so the student can keep track of the goals they are setting, and the steps you chose together)
- Student Assessment Reflections (so the student can come to the conference with some reflections already in mind!)
But Jacob, what about management? How can I possibly do this one-on-one?!?
Fear not! I worked with some teachers last year to come up with some potential solutions and ideas for you.
- Host conferences outside of class-time with students who are already invested in it and would be willing to come in to do better.
- Host conferences outside of class-time with students who struggle/act out in a more public setting. As you do this more and you build stronger relationships and increase investment, you’ll have to do this less!
- Host conferences during independent reading time (or an equivalent)
- Host conferences during writing.creation/practice time
- Host conferences during small groupwork time.
Got more questions about conferencing, or some ideas and resources you want to share? Email me or comment below!
Welcome to the first of many (hopefully weekly!) blog posts on the Humanities website! My hope is that these will be a venue for us to share some initial resources and ideas, and get a conversation going around some of the key topics with which we are concerned as a Humanities Team. Feel free to comment below, and add to the discussion!
Today, I wanted to bring to light some resources on a recurring concern that will be addressed, in part, during our “Analyzing Artifacts, Texts, and Images” session, but which you may miss if you aren’t signed up for it yet.
This post contains:
- Staying Committed to Students Who Struggle
- Guidelines to Supporting Reading
- Resources and Strategies for Supporting Reading
So, to the point – the first of our three priorities this quarter is:
Students are engaged in the content because it is rigorous, compelling, 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, and that are propelled by essential questions and meaningful texts.
As we have been engaging in PD thus far, however, a recurring question has come up: “even if I DO get those planning pieces in place, and start to bring EQs and meaningful texts into the classroom, what do I do to support my students who just can’t read at that level?”
Since this question is CRITICAL to all our classrooms – which Humanities classroom is NOT concerned with literacy? – and also to the transition to Common Core, I thought it would make for a significant first post.
First of all, I want to commend you for thinking of those students. In moments like these, I am reminded of one of my favorite studies by Jeff Duncan-Andrade (check it out here), in which he finds the following:
The first question I usually ask teachers that I am working with is: ‘Why do you teach?’ Most teachers respond in one of two ways: (1) I teach because I love kids, or (2) I teach because I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. In separate interviews, these four teachers all responded to this question differently than most teachers, yet their answers were remarkably similar to each other. They said that they teach because they believe their students, specifically low-income children of color, are the group most likely to change the world. They explained this belief by saying that the children most disenfranchised from society are the ones with the least to lose, and thus are the most likely to be willing to take the risks necessary to change a society. This belief that they are teaching young people destined to change the world is vital to the level of seriousness with which they approach their jobs.
I hope that this thinking sticks with you as you act with resourcefulness and tireless energy to catch your students up to the reading and critical thinking levels at which they should be!
Some Guidelines To Keep In Mind
- Support in any way you can: what we care more about are that students become INVESTED in reading, and that they can do the critical THINKING that comes with it, rather than insisting that they read it ALL and they do it TODAY. If we can get students confident and hooked on reading, the rest of the skills will come. The critical piece is motivation.
- Pair low reading level students up with a confident reader, and have them be in charge of collecting evidence from the text.
- Always provide guiding questions to focus student reading on the aspect(s) of the text that matters most.
- “Chunk” the text (see more below)
- Provide a glossary of terms attached to the text so that definitions can be found on-hand.
- Create reading routines in which students learn to “code” the text in different ways – questions they have, unknown words, etc.
- Remember, support and help practice! This won’t happen overnight!
- Allow students to “read” different media: in the same spirit as the point above, allow your students to become invested in the kind of critical thinking that reading requires, and show them that they CAN do that, even if reading is a struggle. Images are awesome for this, but graphs, music, and more are great ways to help students observe, analyze, and draw conclusions.
- Pair partners up and ask them to “read” to different texts, an image and a reading, both accompanied by the same guiding questions.
- Provide supporting structures for analysis (see some of the resources below)
- Build confidence with your questioning: make sure your questions aren’t just comprehension questions, but opinion questions too! Again, this will show students that this is not about right or wrong, but rather about the excitement of building opinions that can be supported from the text. Praise all your students for their awesome ideas, and get them invested in the THINKING they get to do in your classroom.
- Model analyzing a text with the whole classroom, and make sure to ask targeted questions to individual students, but also to ask the whole class “What else?” so it’s clear there are multiple possible answers.
- Make sure you are helping students see the purpose of reading by explaining how the text will relate to the unit’s essential questions, and finding some answers to them.
Some resources that can help:
Strategies for helping with reading
- Chunking Texts (and this handy video example!)
- Identifying Perspectives Worksheet – A fun way to get students collecting information about texts with a variety of different perspectives.
- Written Document Analysis Worksheet – With many more provided by the National Archives here!
- APPARTS Worksheet – A great routine to help students break down their reading
- Reading Comprehension Questions – An Example of Readings accompanied by Glossaries and Focus Questions
BONUS: Great Places to find Meaningful Texts:
- Mississippi Department of Archives and History
- Database of Art by Theme/Element of Art
- Google Art Project
- The Getty
- British Museum
- Cartoon Movement
What solutions, guidelines, and routines have YOU found to be effective in your classroom when it comes to supporting students in reading texts? Please share below!
If you have found this page, it means you are a part of TFA Mississippi’s Humanities Community!
As we continue to collectively contribute to this website, you will find all the information and resources you need – from articles to inform your vision to sample lesson plans – to ensure that you and your fellow Humanities teachers are dropping some knowledge in the classroom.
You can start by diving into your content pages listed in the menus above! Our main features right now will help you prepare and plan your First 9 Weeks back in the classroom.
Here is a quote that should stick with us all as we consider the importance of what we do as Humanities teachers:
Children … come into the world … mindless. I know that must sound a bit strange to you. They do not come in without brains. Brains are biological; minds are cultural. Minds are a form of cultural achievement. And the kinds of minds children come to own is in the large measure influenced by the kinds of opportunities they have in their lives. And the kind of opportunities … is largely influenced by the kinds of programs and options that are made available to them in the course of their childhood.
– Elliot Eisner, Professor of Art and Education at Stanford University
Also, since many of us communicate in different ways, here is where you can find updates on and reach out to our Humanities Community:
Our Facebook Group
And, as always, feel free to reach out to your Director of Humanities, Jacob Carroll, by email or phone!