Tag Archives: Planning

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!

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Great Unit Plans

It’s the first blog post of 2015! Time for some pump-up jams (OH NO! HAHAHA!!!), and to really dig in to the content with our students (seriously though, good message to that song). Did you know that it’s common teacher knowledge that the 3rd Quarter is the time when students experience the most academic growth all year? #un-researchedtruths #timetodropsomeknowledge

So, for our inaugural blast this year, I thought I would simply share some AWESOME Unit Plans that I have seen come out of each content over the past couple of years. Ultimately, Unit Planning is directly aligned with Priority 1 for this Quarter:

  • 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.

Indeed, this MUST be Priority 1 for us this quarter, since at the moment this is where our students stand in terms of Engagement with Rigorous Content:

Table

We simply must ensure that our students start pushing towards higher levels of Analysis and Application, and the best way to do so is to plan for it. More on this in the post below!

Here is what this post contains:

1. Why Unit Plans Rock

2. What Makes a Great Unit Plan

3. Examples of Great Unit Plans

And here we go!

  1. Why Unit Plans Rock

  • For Students: 
    • Keeping them engaged: Unit Plans are great for students because they will ensure that students are engaged, and know what is expected of them for the next 2-6 weeks! How will we be assessed? What projects will we do? What big questions are we exploring? All these questions are answered the moment you step into the classroom with a great UP.
    • Meeting their needs: Unit Plans not only allow you to plan for remediation and differentiation, they also allow you to plan for more engaging projects that will meet different learning styles, AND it will allow you to adapt to your students’ interests, transforming your Unit About Hammurabi’s Code to one about what the basic rules of a society should or shouldn’t be!
    • Making it relevant: A Unit Plan also gives you the space to make connections between what you are learning, and what is happening in the world today. With the emphasis on theme and deeper understanding, you have more opportunity to add depth to learning, while still ensuring you get to all the content students need to know!
    • Researched Results: Studies show that backwards planning (which results in a Unit Plan), has direct achievement results for students. In particular, this is because they allow the time and planning of “assignments requiring more challenging intellectual work”… For more, here is a quote from Newmann, Bryk, & Nagaoka (2001):

Students who received assignments requiring more challenging intellectual work also achieved greater than average gains on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills in reading and mathematics, and demonstrated higher performance in reading, mathematics, and writing on the Illinois Goals Assessment Program. Contrary to some expectations, we found high-quality assignments in some very disadvantaged Chicago classrooms and [found] that all students in these classes benefited from exposure to such instruction. We
conclude, therefore, [that] assignments calling for more authentic intellectual work actually improve student scores on conventional tests (p.29).

  • For You: 
  • Unit plans help you make the tough decisions about what to teach, and when to teach it! Diversions will be less attractive when you have clear goals in mind. This not only avoids going off-topic, it also will help you in recognizing that students need one piece of understanding before another – rather than running into that problem when it’s too late!
  • Unit Plans keep you on-pace. With a full calendar and a clear objective, it’s easier to adjust and be flexible, ensuring that the most important aspects of your unit get across, and your outcomes are always met!
  • Unit Plans increase your cognitive capacity.  Studies show that teachers are less effective when they don’t plan ahead because they are focused on both planning AND execution. That’s no good! We want to make sure you have energy as well as time to relax. The initial effort of a UP means you have more cognitive space and time to step back moving forward!

Pretty cool, huh? I bet you are feeling just as bewildered as this guy about how awesome UPs are!

2. What Makes a Great Unit Plan

There are a lot of things that make a great Unit Plan, but here are a few that I always look for, just to give you some headlines…

  • Engaging Essential Questions. You’ve probably heard enough of this by now, but I will say it again: Essential Questions can be genuinely engaging for students if introduced correctly in the classroom. For a great Unit Plan to be implemented in the classroom, you’ll want a variety of overarching and topical questions. In other words, you want to be asking both:
    • Overarching: What rules need to be in place for large groups of people to live in a society together?
    • Topical: What kind of society did the laws outlined in Hammurabi’s code generate? What were their implications?

The former captivates and engages students, while the latter focuses them in on the topic for the day or week! The interplay between “big picture” and “pieces of the puzzle” is what makes instruction effective!

  • Alignment to National and State Standards. Again, I imagine there are no surprises here, but we should always make sure that our students are getting what they SHOULD be getting. The best and only way to do that is to research what students are learning across our nation, as well as what they are required to learn in our state.
  • A Variety of Assessments. I think we often misunderstand assessments (and I will be writing a blog about them shortly) as exclusively pen-and-ink multiple choice or written assignments. That’s simply not the case! Assessments are happening ALL THE TIME in class – they are verbal, visual, and active. Indeed, the best units PLAN for these different kinds of assessments, including things like performance assessments (a speech or debate, a presentation, or a performance that shows understanding of the content).
  • A Daily Breakdown. Ultimately, all the teacher-facing benefits of a Unit Plan are for naught if they don’t help you breakdown your calendar and know what you are teaching, when.

Hopefully, you are still with me, and realizing – HEY! UPs are actually pretty decent!

3. Examples of Great Unit Plans

Simply put, the following are some GREAT Unit Plans I have happened upon or helped create in these past couple years. Check them out! Use them, modify them, or make them your inspiration!

If you have a great UP you want to share, please email it to Jacob or upload it to the Document Bucket for your content!

Writing in Social Studies

EdWeek Student Writing Exemplars – Check out these exemplars of students writing towards the Common Core!

Writing Across the Curriculum – A variety of strategies for getting students to write, compiled by Michigan State!

Writing Across the Discipline – A compendium of strategies for planning, grading, and setting standards for student writing in Social Studies (specifically 8th grade)

200 Prompts for Argumentative Writing – A collection of great prompts that can get your kids thinking and making opinions!

Document Based Questions (DBQ) Resources

Social Studies Links

Perspectives for a Diverse America – Teaching Tolerance has created this incredible website where you get to choose your Essential Questions, the Culturally Responsive Teaching outcomes you want for your students, and a topic. Then, it helps you find resources, lesson plans, and primary sources that are aligned to it!

Zinn Education Project – This is an incredible website full of resources and ideas for teaching socially just, primary-source focused lesson plans around the history of the United States, from the people’s point of view. Share a different perspective with your students!

Flocabulary – A website with videos that have raps about all different kinds of topics, accompanied by worksheets, quizzes, and more! (username: setrimm@aol.com // pw: candy8)

Facing History and Ourselves – For a FREE login, you can get awesome Unit Plans and lesson plans based on Primary Sources!

Civil Rights Teaching – An awesome website with tons of lesson plans, resources, and unit plans based on primary sources and best teaching practices.

MDAH – Mississippi Department of Archives and history has TONS of digital primary sources, unit plans, lesson plans, and more!

The British Museum Teacher Resources: Free resources (all based on Primary and Secondary Sources!) from the British Museum.

Cartoon Movement is an awesome database of political cartoons for you and your students to analyze!

Stratalogica: Check out our Stratalogica account (valid for one year only!), where you can access and download maps with different topographical and political information! Just log in using the info below, and then click on “Atlases”… Explore the rest on your own!

Teaching With Documents (National Archives) Lesson Plans – incredible set of resources with primary documents pre-selected for your learning activities. (US History focus)

The New York Times’ collection of Black History Month Teaching Resources is a valuable collection of ideas, documents, and lesson plans year round!

Annenberg Classroom List of Civics Websites for Teachers

The Stanford History Education Group

Google Historical Voyages and Events

EconEdLink – A website full of Economics and Personal Finance related resources!

iCivics – Interactive games, videos, and lesson plans!

Historical Thinking Matters – Excellent resource for text-based Inquiry lesson planning!

Foreign Language Online Resources

Awesome TPRS Blogs:

Martina Bex’s “The Comprehensible Classroom”

The TPRS Teacher – Amazing blog with so many resources, ideas, and videos!

Bryce Hedstrom’s Blog – The amount of useful materials on here is amazing!

Susan Gross’ Website – A PLETHORA of incredible resources!

Other Websites:

Duolingo is a fun website with which to learn a second (or third, or fourth!) language, and a great way to reward students on a Friday!

Getting things for your classroom:

– Amazon Wish List – (http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/ref=sv_wl_0)

– Class Wish (http://classwish.org)

– Reddit Gifts for Teachers (http://redditgifts.com/exchanges/reddit-gifts-teachers/)

– Donors Choose (http://www.donorschoose.org)

Music Online Resources

Planning

Videos of Classrooms

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8513639954007693449, Josh Czupryk teaching his kiddos

Getting things for your classroom:

Art Online Resources

Featured Resource:

Common Core and the Arts – Wondering how Common Core is going to affect your instruction, and how you can start supporting your students in the transition NOW? Look here!

All Grades

Elementary/Middle

Deep Space Sparkle http://www.deepspacesparkle.com/

Teach Kids Art http://www.teachkidsart.net/

Thomas Elementary Art http://thomaselementaryart.blogspot.com/

High School

Art History

Local Art

Art Elements and Principals

Teaching For Artistic Behavior

And of course, if you don’t use http://pinterest.com/ it is a great way to keep and organize ideas.  Here are a few people I suggest to follow for art related stuff:

Getting things for your classroom:

Foreign Language Planning Resources

From TFA’s Own

Examples of Unit Plans, Assessments, and Long-Term Plans – get some ideas here!

Unit Assessment Reflection Template – Help your students reflect on their work!

From Others

Looking to string in culture throughout a unit? Wondering what a thematic unit could look like? Here are some standard based units that target various grade levels (and most can be adapted for other grades!):

Many more can be found here (both in French and Spanish!).

Music Articles, Books, Videos, and more!

Articles:

Rocking it Out: Exploring Music Teaching Methods – Check out this fun and engaging activity on the NYTimes blog (and many more)!