Saturday, February 6, 2016

Expanding Learning with Task Cards

I've always been sort of ambivalent about task cards. While I like the idea of students getting up and walking around the room as they practice key concepts, I don't like the fact that task card tasks tend to nurture...a focus on "tasks". One of my key goals is to get readers and writers to think more deeply and linger over text. When students see a long list of blanks to fill in, their brains tend to switch to "get it done and over with" mode.

This week, I tried a set of science task cards to help students review forces and motion. But how could I get kids to think more deeply?

Day 1: Task Cards

Have kids complete task cards as usual, emphasizing quality of collaboration over quantity of answers completed. We even modeled and practiced collaborative conversations and how to check back through our resources.

Day 2: Expert Work

This is when the hard thinking begins! First, I sorted the task cards into sets of odds and evens. Then, I gave each pair of students a set of task cards. No need to put them in any sort of order--just make sure that one pair gets two even cards, the next pair gets two odds, and so forth.

Each pair of students then became an expert on their task cards. I projected the answer key to the whole set of task cards with these directions: "You and your partner are about to be the experts for your two cards! Check your answers with the answer key to make sure that you have the correct answer. Then, find evidence in your science folder that supports the answer. Be ready to explain the steps in getting the answer or to give other examples."

This process took about six minutes, and it sent students back to their folders to sort through their resources. (My tests are open-note, and I want to encourage students to use their resources, so I love to see them paging through their work!)

Then, the students with even task cards stayed at their seats to be the experts, while students with odd numbered task cards moved in pairs to check their answers with the experts. It was great to see how explanations developed--from across the room I could see students displaying pages of their notes, gesturing with their hands, and explaining calculations.

After the first session, students nominated expert explainers and we talked about what had led to their high-quality explanations. Then, students reversed roles and repeated the process.

Not every task card got checked or completed--but that's okay! Remember, quality trumps quantity each and every day. Our work as teachers is not to make sure that every line gets filled in.


While it added time to the whole process, the quality of discussion and engagement really showed the value of the expert time. Instead of the teacher grading seventy task card answer sheets, students got to be the experts and explain answers in real time.

What other tricks have you used to expand the thinking with task cards?

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