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by Harvey F. Silver, Joyce W. Jackson and Daniel R. Moirao
Table of Contents
This section serves as an introductory tutorial on the Task Rotation strategy. In this section, our goal is to help you think about your own learning-style preferences, reflect on your current approach to differentiating classroom assessments and activities, and learn how Task Rotation uses learning styles to help teachers develop a balanced assessment system.
We open this Strategic Teacher PLC Guide on Task Rotation with an experiment in the power of metaphorical thinking that comes in the form of a simile. First, think about yourself as a learner. What characteristics define your approach to learning? Now, for the simile: As a learner, which of the objects in Figure 1.1 are you most like? Which are you least like?
Use the space below to develop your simile. Then discuss your responses with your learning club.
As a learner, I am most like a __________________ because …
As a learner, I am least like a __________________ because …
So, what did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about your colleagues? Figure 1.2 shows what we have learned as a result of using this activity in hundreds of workshops with thousands of educators over the years.
Learners who choose the paper clip tend to think of themselves as organized and efficient learners. These learners love to build their own competence and take a practical approach to learning. Does this sound like you?
____ Yes ____ No
Learners who describe themselves as magnifying glasses tend to emphasize the logical, knowledge-seeking, and problem-solving aspects of learning. These learners love to ask questions and often take an intellectual or analytical approach to learning. Does this sound like you?
Learners who select the Slinky tend to focus on the playful and imaginative sides to learning. These learners love to explore ideas, ask "What if?", and take a creative approach to learning. Does this sound like you?
Learners who see themselves as teddy bears tend to view learning as a warm and nurturing process. These learners emphasize the human story and the personal and conversational elements of learning, and they look for ways to connect their learning to their experiences and values. Does this sound like you?
Now let's take this experiment one step further. Imagine that you have just signed up for a new course in college. On the first day of class, your professor informs you that 50 percent of your grade will be based on your choice of two of the following four tasks:
Which two tasks would you choose? Which one would you do your best to avoid? Do you see any connections between the symbol you chose to represent your approach to learning and the tasks that you would likely be drawn to or avoid? Take a few minutes to explore the potential connections between your chosen symbols and tasks with your learning club. Then answer the questions below.
How would working on the task that you're drawn to motivate you?
What might happen if every task the teacher assigned was just like the task you chose to avoid?
What effects might working in all four approaches have on your learning?
The activities you've just completed are a way to begin thinking about the concept of learning styles. Learning styles are derived from the work of renowned psychologist Carl Jung (1923). A core theme in Jung's work is that much apparently random variety in human behavior actually stems from the preferences that individuals develop for certain styles of thinking and learning. About 40 years after the release of Jung's Psychological Types, Isabel Briggs Myers and Katharine Cook Briggs (1962/1998) expanded on Jung's work to create a comprehensive model of human differences, culminating in the well-known Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Since then, successive generations of educational researchers—including Bernice McCarthy (1982), Carolyn Mamchur (1996), Edward Pajak (2003), Harvey Silver and Richard Strong (2004), Gayle Gregory (2005), Jane Kise (2007), and Diane Payne and Sondra VanSant (2009)—have explored the implications of these ideas and applied them specifically to education.
Our own model of learning styles synthesizes this research together with our 30 years of helping schools engage, motivate, and raise the achievement of all learners, and it identifies four main learning styles, outlined in Figure 1.3.
Source: Adapted from The Strategic Teacher: Selecting the Right Research-Based Strategy for Every Lesson (p. 7), by H. F. Silver, R. W. Strong, and M. J. Perini, 2007, Alexandria, VA: ASCD. © 2007 by Thoughtful Education Press. Used with permission.
Which symbol from our opening simile (paper clip, magnifying glass, Slinky, or teddy bear) do you think represents each style? Use the boxes at the center of Figure 1.3 to sketch each symbol in the style box that you believe the symbol best represents. Discuss your choices with your learning club.
All styles are equally important, and all styles are used by each learner. However, people usually develop style preferences. Students whose style preferences are routinely ignored in the classroom are more likely to disengage from new learning. By failing to reach out to different learning styles, teachers increase the ranks of unmotivated, uncomfortable students in their classrooms. Conversely, students become more committed to learning when their styles are validated in the classroom. And as Robert Sternberg's (2006) research shows, asking students to process new content using a variety of thinking styles leads to significant increases in academic achievement.
In this Strategic Teacher PLC Guide, we'll be focusing our attention on the strategy known as Task Rotation. Task Rotation provides teachers with a classroom-friendly framework for differentiating learning and assessment. In using Task Rotation, teachers present students with four different styles of tasks or activities, as shown in Figure 1.4.
Mastery tasks ask students to remember and describe.
Interpersonal tasks ask students to explore feelings and relate personally.
Sample task: Select an irritating or dangerous animal from our unit. Develop a profile sheet that highlights at least eight important features of your animal.
Sample task: Write a letter explaining why you love your animal.
Understanding tasks ask students to reason and explain.
Self-Expressive tasks ask students to imagine and create.
Sample task: Why is your animal important? Develop a plan that will help others understand the role your animal plays in the world.
Sample task: Create a myth that describes how your animal developed an important trait or behavior.
Which task from the hypothetical college course on page 7 (timed test, thesis essay, creative project, or personal letter) do you think represents each style? Why?
Let's try a mini Task Rotation to help you process what you've learned so far and assess your current level of understanding. As you complete each task in Figure 1.5, try to pay attention to what your mind is doing. Which task did you like best? Which would you likely avoid? Discuss your responses with your learning club.
If you would like to assess and learn more about your own learning style and teaching style profiles, we recommend the Online Learning Style Inventory for Adults and the Online Teaching Style Inventory. Both can be accessed at www.ThoughtfulClassroom.com.
By designing and assigning tasks that represent the four learning styles, teachers can use Task Rotations to meet at least six crucial instructional goals:
Differentiate Teaching and Learning
If differentiation is to work—if it is to meet its goal of increasing each and every learner's opportunity to find relevance and achieve success in school—then it must be manageable for teachers. Task Rotation, based on a classroom-friendly model of four dominant learning styles, allows teachers to address students' cognitive diversity without becoming overwhelmed.
Deepen Memory and Comprehension
Task Rotation increases students' retention of and command over new content because it naturally promotes repetition (through multiple exposures); variation (by trying different activities and taking new angles); and depth of thinking (by elaborating and adding layers of understanding with each new activity). These three factors— repetition, variation, and depth of thinking—lend strength and durability to students' memories and help students derive more meaning from what they learn.
Increase Student Engagement
Classroom engagement has been defined as students' level of commitment to learning what you teach (Silver & Perini, 2010b), and research shows that when students make this commitment, achievement levels rise markedly (Marzano, 2007). With Task Rotation, students become more engaged in the learning process because Task Rotations balance work in their preferred styles with explorations of new and different approaches to learning.
Gather Meaningful Assessment Data
What kinds of tasks are particular students drawn to? Which tend to give them trouble? What styles of thinking need attention? Regular use of Task Rotation serves as a powerful assessment system, allowing you to design more engaging tasks, gather formative data about how well students are learning, and develop new insights into how their minds work.
Improve the Quality of Student Thinking
The mind is like a muscle: if you don't exercise the different parts regularly, then some of those parts will go flabby. Task Rotation serves as an aerobics session for the mind, encouraging students to practice and develop four distinct styles of thinking: remembering, reasoning, creating, and relating. It is precisely this power to improve thinking that led to Task Rotation's selection as a core strategy in Project Bright IDEA, a K–2 program funded by the U.S. Department of Education that has seen tremendous success in helping disadvantaged students enter gifted programs (Hargett & Gayle, 2008).
Develop Students' Habits of Mind
In their years of research into the defining characteristics of intelligent behavior and thought, Art Costa and Bena Kallick (2008, 2009) have identified 16 "habits of mind." By nourishing these habits in our students, we give them the tools they need to use their minds well, thus increasing their chance for future success. Using Task Rotation in the classroom will help students develop these habits of mind: thinking flexibly; thinking about thinking (metacognition); striving for accuracy; questioning and posing problems; creating, imagining, and innovating; and remaining open to continuous learning.
Answer the question below and then discuss your response with your learning club. Are there any goals that seem to be especially important to all the members of the learning club?
Which of the six goals of Task Rotation is most important to you, and why?
Task Rotation is a versatile strategy that enables teachers to accomplish a variety of classroom goals. But at its heart, it is a framework for differentiating assessment tasks and learning activities so that all students have the opportunity to work in their preferred styles and to develop their weaker ones. Think of Task Rotation as a way to bring balance to your assessment systems, since it ensures that the work you assign and the activities you design promote multiple forms of thinking—not just the one or two you tend to favor as a teacher.
Here, you'll look at your own ways of differentiating assessment along with a potpourri of Task Rotations to see how different teachers at different grade levels and in a wide variety of content areas use the strategy to create an ideal balance.
To guide you through this activity, you'll be using a special note-making strategy known as Window Notes (Silver, Strong, & Perini, 2007). Window Notes is derived from Task Rotation in that it applies the power and benefits of thinking in all four styles to the note-making process. That's why we call Window Notes a "note-making" rather than a "note-taking" strategy. Note taking implies a passive activity, something akin to copying. In contrast, note making signifies a creative act, an engagement of the mind as it performs the following functions:
Figure 1.6 shows two sets of notes created by two different students who were asked to make notes about the character Holden Caulfield while reading the first chapter of The Catcher in the Rye. Which student's notes show deeper comprehension and insight into Holden's character? Why do you think so?
Student 1: Traditional Notes
Brother is a writer. Holden manages the fencing team.
Holden is getting kicked out of school and is going to visit a teacher, Mr. Spencer. You can tell he's smart.
Student 2: Window Notes
Holden reminds me of my Uncle Phil. Uncle Phil sits around at holiday dinners and makes comments. Sometimes his comments are clever, but sometimes they hurt people, too.
Source: From The Strategic Teacher: Selecting the Right Research-Based Strategy for Every Lesson (p. 209), by H. F. Silver, R. W. Strong, and M. J. Perini, 2007, Alexandria, VA: ASCD. © 2007 Thoughtful Education Press. Reprinted with permission.
Now you try it. As you learn about Task Rotation over the next few pages (pp. 16–27), record facts, questions, feelings/reactions, and ideas in the appropriate section of the Window Notes Organizer below.
Let's start our journey through sample Task Rotations with you and your own classroom. How do you differentiate the tasks and activities that you ask your students to complete? Are there any kinds of tasks or activities that you use more than others? Are there any kinds of tasks or activities that you would like to use more often? Use the space below to reflect on these questions.
How do you differentiate tasks and activities?
Tasks and activities you use frequently include:
Task and activities you'd like to use more often include:
Now look at the sample Task Rotations on the next few pages (Figure 1.7).
Source: Adapted from The Strategic Teacher: Selecting the Right Research-Based Strategy for Every Lesson (p. 245), by H. F. Silver, R. W. Strong, and M. J. Perini, 2007, Alexandria, VA: ASCD. © 2007 by Thoughtful Education Press. Used with permission.
We've already begun to explore the question of how different tasks reflect different styles, but now we're going to use these classroom tasks to go further. Working with a partner, take a second look at the tasks in the potpourri in Figure 1.7, focusing on one style at a time. As you review each style of task, ask yourselves these questions:
You and your partner will use the organizer on the following page to collect your ideas. After you have completed the organizer, discuss your response with your learning club. What have you learned about how tasks get their style?
Kinds of Thinking:
Go back to your Window Notes Organizer on page 15. Use the four styles of notes to collect new information related to tasks and their styles.
Now that we've done some thinking about how tasks get their styles, let's look at style-based tasks through another lens: formative and summative assessment. Let's begin by clarifying the difference between the two types of assessment.
A summative assessment comes near the end of a learning sequence or unit. Summative assessments ask students to create significant products that synthesize and show the full scope of the learning they've gained over the course of the learning sequence. Formative assessments, on the other hand, are ongoing and typically less involved than summative tasks. Teachers and students use formative assessments to evaluate student learning and progress throughout the learning experience or unit and to make adjustments when the assessments reveal a lack of comprehension.
Task Rotations can be used to differentiate and bring balance to both your formative and your summative assessment tasks.
To see how, let's look at how three teachers use Task Rotation. In this activity, you'll be looking at three different Task Rotations:
Here are the three Task Rotations.
Give five examples of animal adaptations.
Think about your daily routine. What are two human adaptations you rely on every day?
How would you explain adaptation so that a kindergartner could understand it?
What if living things could not adapt to their environment? What might the consequences be?
Is this Task Rotation (check one)
____ A menu of summative tasks?
____ A formative comprehension check?
____ A series of formative assessments distributed over the course of a learning sequence?
Nouns are words that name people, places, things, or ideas. Underline the nouns in the sentences below. Then write each noun in the correct column of this chart:
Ask your mother or father to help you make a list of the first words you spoke when you were an infant. Look over your list. What do you notice about the first words?
Before you can use better nouns, you must be able to find the nouns. Be a detective by finding the nouns hidden in these three sentences. Explain how you discovered them.
Write sentences that are full of nonsense words, like "My beautiful snagrid won the porfgret." Write your own sentence so that a friend can easily spot the nouns no matter how many nonsense words are in the sentence.
Select an irritating, powerful, or dangerous animal from our unit.
Use your computer to construct a profile sheet that includes at least 10 features of your animal.
Write a friendly letter explaining why you love your animal.
Develop a plan that will help preserve your animal and help others understand the role your animal plays in our world.
Create a myth to explain an important trait or behavior of your animal.
Source: Adapted from So Each May Learn: Integrating Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences (p. 35), by H. F. Silver, R. W. Strong, and M. J. Perini, 2000, Alexandria, VA: ASCD. © 2000 Silver Strong & Associates.
Were you able to determine which was which?
The Task Rotation in Figure 1.8 (adaptation) was a formative comprehension check during a unit on adaptation. The teacher gave students 10 minutes to complete the Task Rotation. Handing in their Task Rotations by the end of the period was students' "ticket out the door." The teacher reviewed the responses after class and then with students the following day to identify gaps in student understanding.
The Task Rotation in Figure 1.9 (nouns) was a series of formative tasks distributed over the course of an instructional sequence. The teacher identified four benchmarks, or learning targets, for her mini-unit on nouns and designed one formative task for each target. Here are her four learning targets:
Can you tell which task in Figure 9.1 corresponds to which learning target?
The final Task Rotation in Figure 1.10 (lions and tigers and bears and mosquitoes) was a summative assessment. Based on the level of knowledge they require, these tasks could only be completed at or near the end of a learning sequence. What's more, they ask students to create significant products. The teacher who designed this Task Rotation had all students complete the Mastery task. Students were then free to choose one other task from the Task Rotation to further demonstrate what they had learned about their chosen animal.
In using Task Rotation to design differentiated summative assessments like the one in Figure 1.10, you may ask your students to
Go back to your Window Notes Organizer on page 15. Use the four styles of notes to collect new information related to summative and formative assessments.
Together, formative and summative assessments constitute a kind of ladder that helps both teachers and students keep a close eye on how well student learning is advancing up each "rung" of the ladder (see Figure 1.11).
But when we use Task Rotation to incorporate style into our formative and summative assessment designs, a new dynamic emerges. Assessment becomes more than just a ladder; it also serves as a window. Take a minute to think about this. How is style-based assessment like a window? Record your ideas in the space below. When you're done, discuss your ideas with your learning club.
To us, style-based assessment is like a window because it allows us to see into students' minds. By using style to differentiate assessment tasks, you can do more than monitor students' progress; both you and the students themselves can get a strong reading on how their minds work. For example, which styles of tasks motivate them? Which styles of tasks give them difficulty? What patterns of strength and weakness do you see? What strengths and weaknesses do they notice about themselves? With Task Rotations, assessment tasks become the foundation for deep and meaningful conversation about learning—and about how to become better and more powerful thinkers.
Take a look at the poster that's included with this PLC Guide, reproduced below.
Use this simple framework to help you identify the styles of the questions and activities you encounter and develop quality responses to all styles of questions.
focus on remembering key content and skills.
help you make personal connections to the content.
Mastery activities might ask you to
When working on a Mastery activity, ask yourself
Interpersonal activities might ask you to
When working on an Interpersonal activity, ask yourself
focus on concepts, big ideas, and generalizations.
stimulate the imagination.
Understanding activities might ask you to
When working on an Understanding activity, ask yourself
Self-Expressive activities might ask you to
When working on a Self-Expressive activity, ask yourself
Source: Adapted from Questioning Styles and Strategies: How to Use Questions to Engage and Motivate Different Styles of Learners, by Thoughtful Education Press, 2007, Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ: Author. © 2007 by Thoughtful Education Press. Used with permission.
How might you use this poster to help students learn how to construct quality responses to all styles of tasks and activities? How might you use it to ground a discussion about building critical habits of mind like thinking flexibly and paying attention to one's own thinking (metacognitive reflection)?
Go back to your Window Notes Organizer on page 15. Use the four styles of notes to record new information about "assessment as a ladder" and "assessment as a window."
Believe it or not, you've just completed another Task Rotation. In learning about the strategy and its value as an assessment framework, you …
_____ 1. Reflected on your own experiences as a teacher ("Thinking About Your Classroom," p. 16).
_____ 2. Identified key words, phrases, and thinking verbs representative of each style of task ("So, How Did These Tasks Get Their Styles?", pp. 17–20).
_____ 3. Used comparative analysis to help you discriminate between formative and summative assessment ("Formative and Summative Task Rotations," pp. 20–24).
_____ 4. Developed a creative comparison (simile) relating assessment in style to a window ("The Ladder and the Window," p. 25).
Which task was representative of which style? Write the style of each task on the line to the left of each task description above.
We've been using Task Rotation throughout this section to help you experience how the strategy works as you learn about it. Why stop now? Figure 1.12 contains one more Task Rotation to help you summarize and reflect on what you've learned. Take a few minutes to complete the Task Rotation. When you're done, discuss your responses with your learning club. As you discuss each task, think about these questions:
(Note that asking students questions like these whenever you use the Task Rotation strategy is a great way to increase their capacity for metacognitive reflection and to help them build the self-knowledge they need to grow as thinkers and learners.)
Mastery: A Learning List
Interpersonal: Before and After
List five things you've learned in this section.
Before this section, I thought …
Now I think …
Understanding: Comparative Analysis
Self-Expressive: What If?
Explain in your own words the significant difference between formative and summative assessment. What do both have in common?
What if more teachers used Task Rotation to differentiate activities and tasks? What might the effects on student learning be?
Figure 1.13. provides a summary of the different kinds of thinking associated with each style, along with sample questions and activities. Review the figure carefully. Then use the boxes in the center to approximate the style distribution of the tasks and activities you use in your classroom. Roughly what percentage of your tasks and activities would be considered Mastery? What percentages of tasks relate to the other styles?
Source: Adapted from Questioning Styles and Strategies: How to Use Questions to Engage and Motivate Different Styles of Learners (p. 10), by Thoughtful Education Press, 2007, Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ: Author. © 2007 by Thoughtful Education Press. Used with permission.
In the next section, you will be designing your own Task Rotation. To prepare, you should do the following things before you move on:
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