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What type of tasks should we ask students to do?

November 16, 2011
By Julie Graber , Times-Republican

For many students, the connection between work done in the classroom and "real life" can be difficult to see. In traditional classrooms, tasks that students complete can rely too much on the memorization and retrieval of information and/or applying knowledge to a familiar or routine task. Too few tasks ask students to think at a higher level or have in-depth understanding in a particular discipline. The challenge for some students then becomes "playing the game of school" by figuring out how to comply with requirements rather than using their minds to solve important, meaningful problems or answering challenging questions.

So what do meaningful, worthwhile tasks look like? Kindergarten students might be asked to demonstrate their understanding of how plants and animals interact with each other and their environment through answering the question, "What would happen if we didn't have any trees?" rather than drawing a tree and labeling its parts. High school students may be asked to demonstrate their understanding of physics through collecting and analyzing data about traffic patterns for a specific intersection and then creating a presentation for the city council to consider in making the intersection safer. These types of tasks mirror the level of thinking done in a real-world setting and offer meaning and connection for students.

So how are area educators learning to create more meaningful and authentic tasks? Since 2007, Area Education Agency 267 (AEA 267), in partnership with the Iowa Department of Education, as well as the developers of a program called "Authentic Intellectual Work" or AIW (Fred Newmann, Bruce King, and Dana Carmichael) has provided training for elementary, middle, and high schools teachers to improve their tasks and instruction making them more intellectually demanding and authentic for students and ultimately increasing student learning.

What's been the reaction from students who have teachers involved in the program? One student said, "Teachers are making us try to figure out things on our own before they teach it to us. They aren't just simply telling us the information, we have to figure it out first." Another student said, "It's more of a thinking process. It isn't a routine of the same thing everyday in class with simple answers and no thinking. It is more of a challenge and I like it!"

Approximately 55 school districts are involved in AIW throughout the state. School districts served by AEA 267 participating in AIW are Alden, Cedar Falls, Clear Lake, Don Bosco, Grinnell, Grundy-Center, Iowa Falls, North Tama, South Hardin, and Union.

For more information visit the Iowa Department of Education website at educateiowa.gov/.

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Julie Graber is a Technology and Learning Consultant with AEA 267 and can be reached at 641-753-3564. Area Education Agency 267 serves over 60,000 students. In addition, over 5,000 educators rely on AEA 267 for services in special education, school technology, media and instructional/curriculum support. The agency's service area reaches 18 counties and nearly 9,000 square miles.

 
 

 

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