Raising the Bar: Using performance tasks in math


Using the guidelines below, choose an appropriate task, and administer it to your class (if you feel more comfortable and have a way of doing so, you may also execute this to a representative subset of your class; this subset, however, should span the range of performance levels you see in your whole class).

How you administer it can vary depending on what you’re comfortable: you may have students working independently or in small groups; you may choose to not give any guidance at all, or you may be floating around the room giving students feedback; you may have them work for a full class period, or only for ten or fifteen minutes. The idea is to do some diagnosis—of your own ability to facilitate these kinds of tasks, and of how comfortable your students feel with this kind of process.

In the session, you will be working with a small group to analyze how it went and set personal next steps. Given this, you will want to collect detailed evidence about how this goes. This might include:

  • Video of students working in a group, or explaining their finished product.
  • Hard copies of final student work (or photographs of student work, if you are attending the virtual session).
  • Notes you take about how students are engaging. How many students are on task? What kinds of reactions and behaviors are you seeing? Be clear, concrete, and objective, rather than just saying, “It went well,” or “It was really tough.”

If you are attending the webinar, we highly recommend that you upload any photographs or video so that you can share them with a partner. A good source for sharing both video and photographs is ThreeRing.com.

Please note that this group problem solving will be a core aspect of this session, and without completing this pre-work you will be unable to receive credit for this session.

Guidelines for picking a task

An ideal task has:

  1. Openness: There is not a single correct answer, but rather multiple valid interpretations or responses.
  2. Multiple entry points: There are multiple valid first steps for students to try.
  3. Multiple paths / strategies: Students could choose to work through the problem in multiple effective ways. For example, they might make a table, draw pictures, or create an equation.
  4. Clear opportunities for feedback: The task will make clear the extent to which your students understand a concept, and allow you to provide them with feedback on their understanding.

We recommend two sources for tasks: Illustrative Tasks has tasks for all grade levels, from kindergarten to high school. The Mathematics Assessment Project has tasks for middle school and high school. For the purposes of this session, please choose from an “Expert” or “Apprentice” level task.


One thought on “Raising the Bar: Using performance tasks in math

  1. My plan for the pre-work for Wednesday’s session is to use coins and have students in small groups to come up with different equations and inequalities using the coins. for example, students could count the total coins they have in their pile and then determine what their amount would be if they added 3 quarters to the total by writing “$1.37 + 3q = ” and then going on to calculate the answer. An inequality with the above total could be written as a comparison between adding 3 quarters and adding 3 dimes: ” $1.37 to 3q . $1.37 + 3d ” if comparing totals when adding quarters versus dimes.

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