Advice from Mike Muir on Engaging Tasks–Part 3

In his third post in a series on engaged learning, Mike talks about the importance of revision as one crafts a learning task.  Mike’s blog, Multiple Pathways, offers his readers insights into learning,  21st century style. He has generously allowed MAMLE to repost this series. Here is the final installment–enjoy.  By the way, have you visited the Maine Center for Meaningful Engaged Learning yet?

Mike Muir

Getting Better at Engaging Tasks Through Revision.

A great way to get better at Engaging Tasks is to use the criteria for great Engaging Tasks to critique and revise other Tasks. (I’m not sure that I would say that all Tasks are Engaging Tasks! – or, at least, they don’t all start out that way.)

For example, look at this Task:

Imagine that you are living during the Great Depression and that your classmates have decided to put together a time capsule for students of the future to use to learn and understand what life was like during the Great Depression.

Lets start by looking at this critically with an eye to the criteria for Engaging Tasks.

  • Standards-based: Yes.
  • All 3 pieces – Scenario, Role, & Task: Task, yes: put together a time capsule. Role: sort of: you are someone living during the Great Depression. Compelling scenario, not really: the Task doesn’t really provide much more of a context for doing this than you and your classmates have decided to do it…
  • In the form of a “story”- no “teacher talk”: Not written like a little story. Reads like a teacher’s assignment. “Imagine that you are…” “your classmates” are teacher talk, and clues that the Task needs to be revised.
  • HOTS – Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, Create: Could be, depending on how it is framed.
  • Students: authentic or believable: Yes, people do leave time capsules for others to open in the future.
  • Students: interesting or of significance: Mostly: some would clearly enjoy working on this, but there are others who would not. This could be because the Task doesn’t have all three pieces. Often the compelling scenario helps with this.

So if we were to revise this task, we would likely work on the following:

  • Make sure the Task has a compelling scenario and a stronger role
  • Rewrite it as a story, and remove the teacher talk
  • Make sure the Higher Order Thinking focus is more clearly articulated in the activity the students need to complete
  • Double check that the new version would seem significant and interesting to students (or at least more so than the current version)

A new version of the Task might look like this:

It is 1936 and as part of the New Deal, your town is building a new Town Hall. The mayor has issued a challenge to all the school children to help create a time capsule that will be put in the corner stone of the Town Hall then opened far in the future. Your teacher has broken your class into teams of 4 and 5 students and each team needs to help identify the best items to include in the time capsule. The best ideas will be included in the actual time capsule.

How does this version of the Task fare against the criteria? I’ll let you decide, but here are a couple of my thoughts. I’m hesitant to write tasks where the student is a student (I tend to find more engaging the ones where students can imagine themselves in a different role), but this Task already had them as students; whereas I didn’t mind revising this Task, I didn’t want to totally rewrite it. There is now a compelling scenario (new Town Hall and the Mayor’s challenge). The whole thing is written as a story (ok, there is a little teacher talk here, but not the author telling the reader, rather the teacher is a character in this story – see my comments above about students in the role of students…). And “Which is best?” is a short-cut question for getting to higher order thinking (analysis and evaluation).

How might you now get practice getting better with Engaging Tasks through revision?

Maybe you and a group of colleagues are working to write your own Engaging Tasks. You could swap drafts and critique each other’s, offering suggestions for revisions.

This Engaging Tasks feedback form might be helpful.

Or you could look for WebQuests with Tasks in need of critiquing and revising, and practice your skills on them.

Or you could use these sample elementary Engaging Tasks or these sample high school and middle school Engaging Tasks to practice critique and revision.

 

Resources:

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About Jill Spencer

I taught middle school for many years, and now I consult with schools across the country and internationally in the areas of curriculum and instruction, including technology integration. Please also check out my blog about middle school teaming at http://teamingrocks.wordpress.com/. Other publications include: Teaming Rocks! Collaborate in Powerful Ways to Ensure Student Success Everyone’s Invited! Interactive Strategies That Engage Young Adolescents 10 Differentiation Strategies for Building Prior Knowledge
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