By Kelsey Bednar
It’s that time of year again! Teachers and students are back to school with a renewed excitement about the prospects of an exciting, productive year ahead. Before the new learning can begin, time must be taken to establish expectations, evaluate prior knowledge, and review content and concepts. Each of these activities serves an important purpose, but they are often conducted separately and without connection to one another. Performance tasks are a great solution for integrating these important start of the year activities into a cohesive, engaging experience for students.
Here are 3 reasons why performance tasks are great “Back to School” activities:
- Establishing Classroom Norms
Developing and communicating classroom norms, expectations and culture are critical in the first few weeks of school. This factor is a critical determinant of a successful school year. In the classroom, we know that this time is our opportunity to establish the positive ways in which we want our students to communicate, collaborate, think, and interact throughout the rest of the school year.
Performance tasks are an opportunity for teachers to accomplish this goal. As students are asked to work in groups to solve a real-world problem or challenge, their teacher will be able to set guidelines and explicitly model the expectations for different facets of group work. This may include: how students speak to one another, how they listen to one another, how to handle conflict or disputes among group members, and how to ensure that each group member is accountable and responsible for the project outcome.
In a similar vein, as students conduct research to help them design solutions to their real-world challenge, teachers will be able to set norms for appropriate use of technology and other classroom materials.
- Evaluating Students
In order to meet the needs of every student, teachers must first know these needs. The beginning of the year assessments provides key insights into the prior knowledge and skills that students have when they embark on a new school year. Typically, this is done through testing of discrete skills and academic content. However, sometimes these initial evaluations may not provide us with a complete spectrum of information.
Performance tasks are a “must have” for your start of the year evaluation toolkit. Since performance tasks require application of content and skills in context, teachers can gain valuable information not only about what students know but how well they are able to use what they know in unfamiliar settings. Additionally, performance tasks can help evaluate “soft skills.” Observing how students approach and work through a performance task can tell the teacher about students’ adaptability, social skills, growth mindset, and ability to persevere through challenges.
- Reviewing Key Academic Concepts and Skills
It’s no secret that most students are a little “rusty” in the first few weeks back in school. Perhaps those math facts are not as sharp as they were last May. Maybe their grammar could use a review after a summer of texting with their friends. No matter the situation, chances are teachers will need to spend a little time reviewing before everyone is ready to dive into new content.
Performance Tasks are an excellent way to review and reinforce key concepts from the previous year. And the value of using a performance task versus more traditional review methods is that it does not feel like a review. Asking students to develop products and performances to solve authentic challenges (even those connected to last year’s grade level standards) is engaging, rigorous and relevant.
You could be pleasantly surprised to find that your students are more apt to calculate volume and surface area when they get to redesign a box of their favorite brand of cereal as opposed to doing 20 geometry problems on a worksheet.
As you plan for purposeful experiences that will help you accomplish all three of these important back to school goals, consider incorporating performance tasks. No time to develop your own? Online resources like Defined STEM provide many of the essential elements you need to implement effective performance tasks.