Teachers as Taskmasters

You might want to read Tom Woodward’s Bionic Teaching and Michelle Bourgeois’ Milibo’s Musings response before reading my thoughts on both of those. Part of the background conversation also happened at Tom’s Bloom’s and Technology Pyramid, Mike Fisher’s Digigogy blog, and Visual Bloom’s and Bloom’s rubrics as well.

Tom and Michelle have been thinking about a teaching/learning challenge for a while. Initially Tom’s idea was “Pimp My Lesson Plan” and it turned into a challenge based on the “Iron Chef.” Having gotten a comment on the challenge on Tom’s blog, Michelle responded and tweaked the challenge potential a bit. Here’s my two cents to add to their challenge.

We all know it’s not necessarily¬† JUST about the lesson plan, or the hook, or the activity, but about a combination of all of those things that will allow people to put good ideas out for others to use, and that will engage students in important work. When thinking about engaging students in activities that support “higher level thinking” I think about at least the following 3 facts:

  1. We can quantify rigor and relevance, but we experience issues when trying to quantify relationships. As we examine tasks and attempt to “judge” or “rate” them, we must keep in mind that relationships between student and teacher may make what might look like a less meaningful task important BECAUSE of the relationship.
  2. Being mindful of Phil Schlechty’s Working on The Work is crucial to the development of tasks that are likely to lead to student engagement.
  3. When an observer can see at least three of the 8 qualities of engaging work in a learning activity, then 80% of the time students self-report being engaged.

Thus, a learning activity not only has to be tied to good teaching, to the three R’s (rigor, relevance and relationships), and to worthwhile content, but also engage the students in quality ways.

Michelle described two scenarios where students were clearly engaged and the learning activities were built around the objectives for learning. Teachers were thoughtful about how to engage students so that interest was high, interactions between students were heightened and students received feedback throughout the activity. Teaching was centered around the task, which was clearly tied to the learning objectives. Teaching to the task is a GOOD thing!

Tying together the components of what John Antonetti calls “The Engagement Cube” is what I believe is critical to setting up learning opportunities that do what Tom and Michelle (and Mike Fisher and I and @beckyfisher73 and @mwacker and @barbaram and a bunch of other educators) are thinking about as we engage in these conversations around quality education.

The Engagement Cube

Like the title of this blog, I say teachers must be MASTERS of task-making. I do not mean in the traditional sense of the word, as in making sure the work gets done, but as in MASTERFULLY crafting tasks. These tasks should be ones that engage, teach, allow for diversity of thought, stimulate creative juices flowing, and evoke a proud sense of accomplishment. They may even take on a life of their own, resulting in students taking the task to places the teacher may never have envisioned. Through rich tasks that demand rigor in thought and performance, that elicit cooperation and teamwork, students may also discover a passion for the subject or the discipline as well.

I hope my thoughts add TO the conversation and don’t detract from what Tom and Michelle are trying to encourage. These two educators have challenged other teachers to craft great lessons and share them.¬† Let’s support that challenge and collaborate to create some incredible tasks!

8 thoughts on “Teachers as Taskmasters

  1. Thanks, Paula, for adding your thoughts. The Engagement Cube is a good way to show how effective strategies, Bloom’s Taxonomy and student engagement all interact to form activities where students are motivated to learn.

    Few teachers can argue with any of those criteria when creating learning activities. However, the question posed often becomes centered not around the “why” but the “how.” How do you create authentic activities that meet these goals?

    Often, teachers are taught the skill of lesson design, but not the art. By putting forth this challenge, I hope we can give models of effective lesson design from many master teachers, but most importantly, we can have those master teachers explain the “how” behind their magic.


  2. Are you going to play Paula? The more, the better. I’d like to see what you might come up with.

    The cube is interesting. I haven’t seen it before. 3 dimensions on an organizer like this is pretty interesting as well. I’m thinking about that.

    I’ve been struggling with the concept of how to get teachers thinking more clearly about what makes a lesson interesting for students. I’ll give the cube a shot.

  3. “These tasks should be ones that engage, teach, allow for diversity of thought, stimulate creative juices flowing, and evoke a proud sense of accomplishment. They may even take on a life of their own, resulting in students taking the task to places the teacher may never have envisioned.” After reading through all the links and digesting the information, this quote is what spoke to me. It really speaks to valuing the individual student and what we as teachers hope to provide for each student we teach. Watching kids take off with an idea and create something beyond the teacher’s original plan is what makes learning exciting for both entities. It places the teacher beside the student, both learning and growing together. What could be better? That “proud sense of accomplishment” then encompasses all.

  4. Hi Paula & Michelle,

    This is the first time I’ve seen the Engagement Cube. Michelle you make a really good point about teachers not always bridging lesson design models with activities. When I look at the Engagement Cube, among other innovative learning possibilities, I see that it justifies and legitimizes using the new technologies to engage students. One example could be having students work in groups to build an interactive wiki on any subject for others to visit/comment/build upon. Another example could be for students to create or add to a blog for a real-life audience – even if that audience is each other to start. How about students sharing photos or videos to learn about a topic? . . . .or creating a Voicethread and inviting classmates or a larger audience to add comments. I recently worked with two students who wanted to make a video explaining how important their little off-site high school is to the students by making a “If it wasn’t for this school” video to share at their grad and also with the school funding agency.
    I’d be interested in what others see and think about when they look at the engagement cube.

    Regards, Rhonda

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  7. We have gotten a new principal and she wants us to work on authentic engagement. Help! I don’t know where to start. How do I learn this? Are there workshops? Does everybody do something different? What about students who don’t know where to start and they are defeated before they start? Are there different levels for everyone? Do some students have lower achievement goals than others? Do we still have to grade A,B,C,D?

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