Tag Archives: End of Year

Performance Tasks and Projects in the Humanities

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?

This cute critter demonstrates what a performance task is NOT: it’s not something that measures just ONE of our students’ skills in a “either you can or you can’t dynamic” (like the ones we often encounter on multiple-choice tests).

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.

  • Goal
  • Role
  • Audience
  • Situation
  • 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?

Click on the image above to check out how one teacher sets up and executes a Performance Task in his Wolrd History classroom.

Click on the image above to check out how one teacher sets up and executes a Performance Task in his World History classroom.

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!

Summatives in the Humanities


Click on the image above to hear Claire Wandro’s students talk about why the Regents Summative Assessment mattered to them!

Check out the quick video above of some of Claire Wandro’s students reflecting on why the Regents final assessment matters to them.

As the frost starts to harden over our Mississippi fields, and plans start to emerge for the winter break, it’s yet again time to start thinking WAY ahead so that it doesn’t rush up on us: it’s time to start thinking about Summatives in the Humanities!

All DRAFTS of Humanities Summatives (unless they are directly the SATP2 or the Regents) need to be submitted to Jacob and your TLD Coach by January 2nd!

To help you with this, this blog post contains:

  1. Why summatives? Why now?
  2. Requirements for your Summatives (with links and resources!)
  3. Links to Teacher-Made Summatives
  4. FAQ and Other Guidelines
  5. Need Additional Support?

Why Summatives? Why Now?

  • Students deserve to reliably know where they stand at the end of the year: After a year of work and growth in your classroom, students deserve to know where they stand compared to their peers across the nation. Summatives are the most reliable way of comparing how our students are doing in relation to other students within TFA, or against a national bar for rigor. Communicating this progress to our students helps them celebrate, reflect on their work this year, and grow as life-long learners.
  • Summatives help YOU plan: Having a summative at this point in the year helps you get concrete on what your students still need to learn, believe, and be able to do between now and the day you administer it. You shouldn’t be teaching to the test: instead, you should be teaching beyond it. A summative will help you clarify the basics of what your students need, and help you develop plans to teach beyond those basics.
  • Summatives are different from normal tests and quizzes: Unlike tests and quizzes, summatives often contain information that students may not have seen before (think about how the AP or the ACT or the SAT work… they test you on a national bar for how you use skills and solve problems rather than for what you already know). This is a chance for students to show their resilience and confidence in potentially unknown territory. And that’s EXCITING, not defeating.
  • Summatives help us advocate for the Humanities: Once we have the data and we can compare it to national standards, often we can apply for grants, advocate for more funding and attention in our schools, etc. Being able to have reliable proof of our students’ progress is the best way to do this.
  • Sometimes we need to give summatives early: due to testing, test-prep, etc. we often don’t have the opportunity to prepare our students for summatives and administer them part-way through the second semester. Having them handy gives us the chance to be flexible with this schedule, and still guarantee our students the right to know where they stand.
  • Summatives take time, feedback, and sharing: Besides all of the above, your summatives need to be vetted by me and your TLD Coach before they are valid, and the whole process is more enjoyable if we have an environment of sharing and collaboration! If we get that going, it will just be simpler in future years when people can pull summatives straight from a resource bank!

Requirements for your Summatives.

  • What should a summative look like?
    • For the most part, a summative assessment should look like a “traditional” assessment, plus any performance tasks or additional projects that would better help you measure your students’ progress towards your holistic vision.
    • It should be a final assessment, so it should be cumulative and cover the information, skills, and progress towards vision you should have mastered this year.
    • It should usually be given in the final weeks of school. However, you should check with your administrator, since often this is not the best time for Humanities classes that become test-prep part way through the second semester.
    • It should be subdivided by standard and/or skill, should be easily trackable by those skills, and should have rubrics or student responses for any open-response questions.
  • What is my summative assessment?
    • This differs a little, depending on your specific content. Any additional performance tasks are welcome, but optional. In the table below, you will see the basic requirements.
    • PLEASE NOTE: None of what is contained in the grid below is optional! In order to have valid measurements of how your students progressed (and to be in good standing with TFA), you MUST execute these full criteria.
    • Click on the links in this table to get access to the rubrics and assessments you need!
Content Level Assessment Type Additional Academic Prompt
Art Lower Elementary A Regents-aligned  assessment pre-approved by Jacob and your MTLD Artwork assessed according to the ECE Rubric
Upper Elementary A Regents-aligned  assessment pre-approved by Jacob and your MTLD Artwork assessed according to the Mississippi Art Creation Rubric
Secondary A Regents-aligned  assessment (or the Regents itself!) pre-approved by Jacob and your MTLD Artwork assessed according to the Mississippi Art Creation Rubric
Music & Dance Elementary A Regents-aligned assessment (Dance, Music) pre-approved by Jacob and your MTLD Performance assessed according to the Dance or Music Performance Rubrics
Secondary A Regents-aligned assessment (Dance, Music) (or the Regents itself!) pre-approved by Jacob and your MTLD Performance assessed according to the Dance or Music Performance Rubrics
World Languages Elementary A Regents-aligned  (Spanish, French) assessment that covers:

–          Reading

–          Writing

–          Speaking

–          Listening

–          Culture

This should be age-appropriate and pre-approved by Jacob and your MTLD.

Level 1 The Regents Second Language Proficiency Exam (Spanish, French) N/A
Level 2 EITHER:

–          The Regents 1.5 that we designed for you (Spanish, French)


–          A blind assessment on the Regents Second Language Proficiency (PLEASE EMAIL JACOB IMMEDIATELY IF THIS IS YOUR PREFERENCE!!!)

Social Studies 5th Grade Social Studies EITHER:

–          A self-created Regents-aligned assessment pre-approved by Jacob and your MTLD/



–          The 5th Grade Regents assessment

A DBQ pre-approved by Jacob and your MTLD (preferably directly from the aligned Regents exam)
8th Grade Social Studies EITHER:

–          A self-created Regents-aligned assessment pre-approved by Jacob and your MTLD.



–          The 8th Grade Regents assessment

A DBQ pre-approved by Jacob and your MTLD (preferably directly from the aligned Regents exam)
US History The MS State Assessment


(OPTIONAL ADDITION: The Regents US History assessment)

A DBQ pre-approved by Jacob and your MTLD (preferably directly from the aligned Regents exam)
All other Social Studies A self-created Regents-aligned assessment pre-approved by Jacob and your MTLD. A DBQ pre-approved by Jacob and your MTLD (aligned to the Regents assessment that closest fits your grade-level)


Links to Teacher Made Summatives

Check out some of the summatives that teachers have administered in the past!

Featured at the above link are:

  • MUSIC: Alice Hasen’s General Music Summative and Project
  • DANCE: Kasey Wooten’s Dance Summative and Project
  • SOCIAL STUDIES: Patrick Newton’s Summatives, as well as many others!

FAQ and Other Guidelines

Check out this Humanities Summative FAQs for further guidelines, answers, and resources!

Need Additional Support?

  1. Sign up for “Knowing Where You Are Going: Summatives in the Humanities” now!
    1. Wednesday, December 3rd in Greenwood (RSVP here)
    2. Tuesday, December 9th on WebEx (RSVP here)
    3. Wednesday, December 10th in Jackson (RSVP here)
  2. Talk to Jacob, your TLD Coach, and/or your Humanities Content Leaders!
  3. Reach out to your peers!