Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Planning, Implementing, and Assessing an Authentic Performance Task in Middle Grades Classrooms

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Planning, Implementing, and Assessing an Authentic Performance Task in Middle Grades Classrooms

Article excerpt

Student engagement often suffers in the wake of teaching to high-stakes tests, but this article offers an alternative view of high-quality instruction, accountability, relevance, and results

As young adolescents, middle grades students experience a wide variety of changes related to their cognitive capabilities, social and emotional well-being, and use of self-regulation strategies (Wigfield 8c Eccles, 2002). Such changes help to explain research findings suggesting a decrease in students' academic performance, motivation, and self-concept and an increase in at-risk behavior during the middle grades (Anderman, Maehr, 8c Midgley, 1999). Fortunately, school-related tasks, such as authentic performance tasks, that encourage academic and social skill development and engagement may help to sustain and promote students' developmental advances and bridge developmental gaps that are typical of students during these years.

Authentic performance tasks challenge students to apply their knowledge and skills to realistic problems to create products or performances-consistent with AMLE's position that successful middle grades curriculum is "challenging, exploratory, integrative, and relevant" (National Middle School Association [now Association for Middle Level Education, AMLE], 2010). Typically in authentic performance tasks, students collaborate on each aspect of the project including problem development, management processes, and products, which promote reflection from multiple perspectives and leads to deeper levels of thinking and transfer (Nicaise, Gibney, 8c Crane, 2000). Although many middle grades educators recognize the benefits of using authentic performance tasks to support academic and social learning goals, how to design and implement authentic performance tasks is generally less understood. In this article, we discuss an authentic performance task used in several middle grades classrooms and offer general guidelines for middle school teachers to help them plan for, implement, and assess authentic performance tasks specifically designed to engage young adolescents and increase learning.

Benefits of using authentic performance tasks with middle grades students

Important changes during early adolescence result in a number of higher-order cognitive advances. Young adolescents are now capable of abstract thought, which enables them to reason logically through real and hypothetical complex, multifaceted problems. Such thinking requires the execution of advanced information-processing strategies (Keating, 2004) and reflection. Reflection requires students to examine their own and each other's thinking processes; it can lead to reorganization of knowledge and deeper levels of understanding (Keating, 2004).

Authentic performance tasks call for students to engage in complex, problem-solving processes with multiple peers over an extended period, and such tasks have the potential to support and foster adolescents' cognitive development, in addition to the obvious ways such collaboration works to enhance the natural social development of young adolescents. The complexity of authentic performance tasks reduces the likelihood that one group member will possess all the cognitive capabilities to complete the task independently (Cohen, 1994). Rather, group members learn that their success relies on all members assuming responsibility for sharing their knowledge and problem-solving processes (Cohen, 1991), thereby working to ease some of the isolation that too often characterizes the middle grades. Through debate and discussion, students have opportunities to recognize, clarify, and modify inconsistencies in their own and in each other's knowledge or to fill in gaps in understanding (Cobb, Yackel, 8c Wood, 1992; Webb, Nemer, 8c Ing, 2006). This can potentially result in students' gaining greater knowledge, understanding, and social stability. And as group members share knowledge (explicitly or implicitly) as they collaborate on authentic performance tasks, they create opportunities for advances in cognitive development. …

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