Sunday, January 30, 2011

Powerful idea: "Task predicts performance"

Sometimes, you hear a phrase three times in two weeks, and realize you'd better find out where it's coming from.  Can you when you first heard Steven Covey's "Seek first to understand" or Jim Collins' "Face the brutal facts"?  For me, "task predicts performance" is quickly becoming an educational equivalent.

The main point is that simple, low-level assignments won't equip students for complex, demanding, high-level work (on tests or later in life).  Blogging about that idea a few weeks ago, I wrote:
If you ask me to peel vegetables, that's only going to give me a small step toward becoming a competent cook. If you assign me to walk around the block daily, that will never get me into shape for a marathon. And if you give me worksheets and drills and lists of facts to remember, that isn't going to equip me to analyze demanding texts, build strong arguments from credible evidence, or tackle serious math and science challenges effectively.
I've seen the idea attributed to Richard Elmore, but in an interview from last year, Elmore clearly attributed the idea to others, saying:
The seminal piece is an article written in the 80s by Walter Doyle called ‘Academic Work’ in which he makes the proposition that task predicts performance. Since that time, Fred Newmann and his group have done empirical work on intellectually challenging tasks, and operations like the Chicago Consortium for School Research have actually done these analyses in real schools – and it turns out to be a pretty robust relationship.
What Elmore and his colleagues are doing is making the idea central to important research and engagement with practicing educators.

Finally, the idea that "task predicts performance" practically radiates out of the Gates Foundation strategies for supporting the Common Core Standards in literacy and mathematics.  In the math effort, the center is student engagement with tasks that demand active struggle to find the mathematical connections and apply mathematical practices.  In the literacy approach, the center is student tasks combining demanding reading with significant writing on important academic content.  In both approaches, the students themselves are called on to do the heavy lifting and develop the important intellectual muscles they'll need to meet the expectations of higher education, good jobs, and effective civic participation.

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