Fun Stuff

Performance Tasks: Cornerstones of Curricula

Day 1

Welcome and Introductions

What do you hope to achieve these two days?

Introducing Performance-Based Tasks

Third-Grade Example: Where Should Animals Live?
Fifth-Grade Example: Once, Twice, Thrice Upon a Time: The Persistent Popularity of Fairy Tales
Eighth-Grade Example: The Cell Phone Challenge

Questions for reflection:

  • What is being assessed?
  • What evidence is being collected?
  • How is or isn’t this authentic?

Additional Examples to Review at your Leisure

  • How do the examples represent problems?
  • How do the examples require students to “do” the content?
  • What could you learn by having your students complete the examples?
  • What would you need to do to prepare your students to complete the examples?

NAEP 2009 Interactive Science Tasks

Performance Tasks Developed with Teachers

Performance Task Examples from Clear Creek ISD, TX


Participants will:

  • Reflect on how standards drive instruction
  • Analyze standards for skills and knowledge
  • Craft truly essential questions
  • Consider what makes instruction authentic for students and to the real world
  • Understand what performance-based tasks are and are not
  • Use a multistep process to develop performance-based tasks
  • Situate a performance-based task within the larger curriculum
  • Craft a sample performance-based task and related instructional activities

What are Performance Tasks?

In a small group, review at least one of the Performance Tasks Developed with Teachers and compare it with one presented previously.

  • How are they similar?
  • How do the examples represent problems drawn from the “real world”?
  • How do the examples require students to “do” the content?
  • What would you need to do to prepare your students to complete the examples?

Reviewing characteristics of performance tasks

  • Authentic task or context
  • Problems vs. Exercises
  • The Document Library
  • Support for Differentiation: UDL Guidelines from National Center on Universal Design for Learning
  • Scoring guidelines based on standards or learning outcomes

Placing Performance Tasks within the Curriculum: A Five-Step Process

five-step process

  1. List and analyze standards/learning outcomes
  2. Unpack standards and determine cognitive load
  3. Develop (multiple) essential questions
  4. Design the performance task
  5. Determine prerequisites and sequence learning progression

Demonstrating (four of) the Five Steps: Two More Examples

Build a Better Sandwich
(Fifth-Grade Performance Task)

Should my school regulate my lunch?
(Eighth-Grade Performance Task)

The Importance of Curriculum Design: Working Backwards



3 Real-World Examples

  • List three specific cases of how your content–or knowlege and skills from your content–is used by people in the real world.
  • What are indicators of professionalism in your content area?
  • What do they “do” that demonstrates high levels of understanding

Teaching for Understanding: How do you know when you truly understand something?

When you understand and can transfer your learning, you…

  1. Can explain: make connections, draw inferences, state in your own words, teach others
  2. Can interpret: make sense; make it personal through images, anecdotes, analogies, and stories; turn data into information
  3. Can apply and adjust: use what you’ve learned in unique situations, go beyond the given context
  4. Have perspective: see the big picture, acknowledge and consider various points of view, recognize and avoide bias
  5. Show empathy: find potential value in what others think, feel, or find “odd, alien, or implausible.”
  6. Have self-knowledge: think and act metacognitively, monitor and reflect on one’s own learning, are aware of what they do not understand in this context

Adapted from: The Understanding by Design Guide to Creating High-Quality Units by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, p. 93.

Bloom’s Verbs (But verbs are only part of the picture. What is the context?)

Where to Start? Determining Priority Standards

Analyzing Standards (Bloom’s or DOK) (also available as a Google Doc for Bloom’s or DOK)

Essential Questions

With essential questions, the pursuit of the question is the result, not the answer. If there’s a right or wrong answer, it’s probably not an essential question but skill or knowledge. If you can address it with a multiple-choice (or true-false, matching, fill-in-the-blank) question, it’s still probably a skill or knowledge.

Essential questions rely on more than format. Intent is also important.

Guidelines for Designing Essential Questions

The Purpose of Assessment: Collecting Valid Evidence of Learning

What constitutes evidence?

  • It’s not just whether student responses are correct or not, but their level of understanding.
  • Don’t confuse interesting and engaging learning activities with appropriate evidence from performance. The goal is NOT engagement, but valid evidence.

Now, let’s do one together!

Your Assignment

Identify a unit for which to design a performance-based task

  1. UNIT, not lesson plan.
  2. Use an existing unit, don’t create a new one

List and analyze (unpack) standards.

  1. Include all relevant standards. Multiple standards, not just one.
  2. This may already be done for you, but it’s often good to double check.

Think about why this is essential for your students to understand.

  • What big idea(s) does the unit address?
  • What essential questions would interest students to want to complete this unit?

Consider what evidence you’ll want to collect.


Write a headline on Padlet that summarizes what you understand about a key aspect of curriculum design, unpacking standards, essential questions, or assessment. Headlines:

  • Strive to be memorable
  • Address key ideas or issues
  • Synthesize information

Day Two
(Skip to Day One Agenda)

Review of Day One

Check in on your Padlet Headlines:


  • Strive to be memorable
  • Address key ideas or issues
  • Synthesize information

Connect – Extend – Challenge

  • How are the ideas and information presented yesterday connected to what you already knew?
  • What new ideas did you get that extended or broadened your thinking in new directions?
  • What challenges or puzzles have come up in your mind from the ideas and information present

More information available from Project Zero at Visible Thinking


Using Tasks to Vertically Align Curriculum: A sample of spiraling ELA tasks (opinion writing) from K-5 with associated rubrics from my friends in Dubuque, IA

Design Your Task

Use this updated, comprehensive, all-in-one form

five-step process


Your Turn: Steps 1 and 2: Analyze Standards

Step 3: Develop (multiple) essential questions

Team Sharing

If ready, each team shares their progress on their Essential Questions (perhaps Essential Skills and Knowledge) and provides “warm and cool feedback.”

More information on warm and cool feedback

Tuning Protocol Overview (PDF) from the National School Reform Faculty

Step 4: Design the performance task (comprehensive form)

Scoring Guidelines: Assessing Content Mastery

Use a scoring guide to evaluate student performance of STANDARDS (not effort, appearance, creativity, etc.).

When done well, your scoring guidelines should make the learning progression of your standards explicit.

Team Work Time

Using feedback from your colleagues, complete (or get as far as you can on) your performance task. Try to include as much of the following, as possible, or guidance for how this will be collected or developed over time:

  • Information that will be shared with students and teachers (using any format you prefer: document, presentation, video, Blendspace, other…)
  • Document library (at least a description of what kinds of documents you need to find or create)
  • Scoring guidelines

Step 5: Determine Prerequisites and Sequence Learning Progression

All About Accountability / The Lowdown on Learning Progressions by James Popham for ASCD

Gallery Walk

Present your completed performance task to the group. If ready, share ideas about the instruction that leads up to the task, how it provides all necessary knowledge and skills (including process and technology skills), and promotes a learning environment suggested by the TIMatrix.


  • I used to think…, Now I think…