Few tasks better.

This post is about how I think it’s best to have just a few different tasks in your lessons, and for students to do them repeatedly.

The following are, I feel, not particularly good for students’ learning; I also think they would be considered ‘engaging’: a Facebook profile page for Othello; if this is the answer, what is the question?; make as many links as you can between this lesson and an apple; summarise this chapter of Jekyll and Hyde in emojis; write the diary entry of a fidget spinner; if Kanye West had taught this lesson, how would it have been different?*

Here are some tasks that I would describe as more useful for learning: writing essays; answering questions; reading things; discussing things; co-writing a piece of work on the board; annotating an essay with good and bad points.

It’s noticeable the second list is shorter than the first.  I think there are a vast array of ‘engaging’ tasks.  You could teach Othello through Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram; through football, art or geography; or using Pokemon Go, fidget spinners or bottle-flipping.  The list of tasks I consider good and useful is rather shorter.  And if you do quite a lot of a relatively small number of tasks, students will get pretty good at them, because of all the practice.  This is an advantage.  If after two weeks, my students have written three essays on Romeo and Juliet, and in the classroom next door, they’ve done a storyboard of Romeo and Juliet, a text conversation between Romeo and Juliet, and freeze-frames of their first meeting, my lot are going to be better at essays.  The other lot might have developed other skills, but mine will bet better at essays.

A second advantage of paring down your arsenal of lesson activities is it’s more time efficient.  People have been talking a bit on Twitter recently about starting every lesson with a quiz; I think this is good, because students just come in and do it.  If, on the other hand, you vary your starters, you have to really focus on making them super clear and super easy, or your lesson will start with lots of confused students, not lots of silent focussed work.  This applies for all tasks in the lesson, not just the starter: fewer tasks = students get quicker and more confident at said tasks = less time spent on explaining how to do tasks and more time spent explaining actual subject content.

*I have done all these tasks, or variations on them, in my lessons in the past.

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