Filters and Strategies for Improvement
Construction of Knowledge 1. Does the task require students to organize, synthesize, interpret, explain, or evaluate complex information in addressing a concept, problem or issue? Example: Immigration has occurred throughout American History. Identify the major groups of people entering this country and indicate when most of them came. What events or conditions motivated them to migrate to this country? How has immigration been regulated and controlled? How has this regulation changed over time? Why is immigration a major issue in our nation today? In what ways are issues today related to immigration the same or different that those in the past? Strategies for Improvement: Boost the complexity of the task. Require the student not only to answer, but to explain their reasoning. Try combining two or three simple questions into a more complex scenario. Try placing the skill in a more authentic context with all of the muddiness that this involves. 2. Does the task require students to consider alternative solutions, strategies, perspectives or points of view in addressing a concept, problem or issue? Example: You are an advisor to President Obama on international affairs. He has asked you to provide a summary paper of your best thinking on whether or not we should make a preemptive strike on Iran in retaliation for their continued development of nuclear weapons. Write a response that includes your thinking on the following points: a. An introduction that summarizes the situation and lets the President know that you are deeply familiar with the situation b. A summary of the possible courses of action that are available with the pros and cons of each. c. Your recommendation and an expanded version of the pros related to that course. d. The arguments that will be offered by others against your course and why you disagree with them. e. A conclusion that will sell the President on your advice. Strategies for Improvement: Again, choose a more complex task; one that has multiple possible paths, even if all but one are wrong. Explicitly require students to include analysis of
alternative solutions as part of the assignment. Even with a relatively simple math word problem, you can ask student to think of three ways to solve it and then demonstrate which is, as mathematicians would call it, the most elegant. Disciplined Inquiry 3. Does the task ask students to show understanding of and/or use the ideas, theories or perspectives considered central to an academic or professional discipline? Example: Delta Airlines is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Despite the negative impact of the impending bankruptcy, many analysts are saying that this event may actually be good for the airline industry. Give your opinion on this claim and, in doing so, include the following: a. An overview of the Delta situation that demonstrates your understanding of the issues involved. b. Your analysis of the impact of the bankruptcy on shareholders, employees, creditors, travelers and other airlines. c. Your summary of the net impact of the event – positive or negative- on the industry. d. Your prediction for the airline sector in the next decade. Where possible, draw historical parallels to similar situations in other business sectors. Strategies for Improvement When possible, require students to reference sources the way a professional would. Ensure that problems that you are giving students are rich enough that they would interest a professional in the field. This is not as hard as it sounds. “Why is a robin’s egg blue?” is a simple question that a second grader might ask. It is also a question that ornithologists and animal behaviorists are exploring today. Even a second grader could explore some of the possibilities, the categories of ideas that scientists would consider: attraction, protective coloration, etc. 4. Does the task require students to use methods of inquiry, research or communication characteristic of an academic or professional discipline? Example: In a geometry classroom, students participate in a capstone activity where collaborative teams participate in a design competition for a new school building. Buildings must be designed, scale models constructed, budgets formulated and a presentation must be made to a committee of educators and architects. Strategies for Improvement In order to encourage students to use the methods of inquiry of a professional, the
problem must be of the sort that a professional would undertake, and students must be familiar with “stories” that describe how a professional would go about the process of inquiry. Whether this is the scientific method or the use of surveys and questionnaires in social science, students must be exposed not only to the content of their studies, but to the processes that experts used in defining that content. 5. Does the task require students to elaborate on their understanding, explanation and conclusions through extended written and/or visual communications? Example: Choose an aspect of American society, family or culture that was impacted by the Great Depression. Using materials from the American Memory Collection, build a “Ken Burns” style video with your own written narration that tells the story of the impact of the Depression on your chosen aspect. Your project must be written, storyboarded, drafted and edited with each of the production stages carefully documented. Strategies for Improvement Give fewer assignments; but richer ones. Create assignments that have multiple components, but that contribute to a whole. Writer’s Workshop is a great example of a strategy that encourages students to self-assess and build skilld of elaborated communication much as a professional might.
Value Beyond School
6. Does the task require students to address a problem, concept or issue that is similar to one that they have encountered or are likely to encounter in life beyond the classroom? Example: As part of a lesson on slope equations in a high school algebra class, students participate in a simulation based on an actual naval training exercise that requires them to identify an attacking ship by calculating the trajectories of its missiles. Strategies for Improvement Use the strategy that we used for building authentic tasks. Start by asking yourself “Who cares?” and thinking about the kinds of things that professionals actually do with the content you teach. Sometimes a professional is a social scientist, other times it is a home handyman. Explore multiple possibilities. 7. Does the task ask students to communicate their knowledge, present a product or performance, or take some action for an audience beyond the teacher, classroom and school building? Example:
In a multidisciplinary class combining students from graphic arts, business and computer science, three student teams design Web pages for small businesses in the community. The process involves doing a competitive scan, preparing design concepts, presenting designs, and building the actual sites. Strategies for Improvement Make contacts with local organizations: city museums, local nature preserves, businesses. Look through sites like GLEF.org that highlight the kinds of projects kids do. Make contact with “sister” classrooms. Sometimes kids from other schools can be each other’s audiences. Create your own medium for dissemination. Start an online newsletter or poetry site. Use iEarn or Web 66 to find participants. Look at some of the materials in gifted education, where “Type 3 activities” and the Triad Enrichment Model have been having kids do projects with audiences outside of the classroom for decades. Have your students teach or provide materials for others to learn. Younger students make a great audience.