A Revolutionary Interactive Lesson

In our last blog on performance tasks, we revealed our instructional design approach to creating a social studies performance task, The Boston Massacre.

In this blog, we’ll explain why we expanded the performance task to become an interactive lesson, with embedded performance tasks. So, this is really an evolution, not a revolution.

Here is a sneak preview of the lesson:

What Was Missing in the Original Task?

Our original Boston Massacre performance task was unique in several regards:

  • It developed critical thinking through the analysis and comparison of key characters.
  • Students evaluated multiple causes and effects to rank the importance of earlier events that led up to the key event.
  • Students needed to do a close reading to find evidence to support their arguments.
But, a performance task is rarely used in isolation. It is either part of a summative assessment or used formatively in a lesson. For a lesson, providing a stand-alone performance task requires the teacher to do a lot of work before it can be effective. The teacher has to decide:
  • whether it supports the lesson objectives,
  • when to use it in a lesson,
  • how to provide support if students struggle, and
  • how to use the scores.

Even the world’s best performance task won’t help students if teachers won’t use it!

Collaborating on a Solution

Our Digital Solutions and Editorial teams worked together to define the lesson parameters. We knew students build confidence with small successes, so we constructed the lesson from a series of mini performance tasks that lead to a culminating task. The mini tasks allow teachers to assess students’ critical thinking throughout the lesson. Once the students start thinking, they don’t stop!

We designed the performance tasks to give students opportunities to visually, graphically, and dynamically analyze text, make inferences based on evidence, and then synthesize their understanding. Our goal was to use cutting-edge technology to enhance and improve critical thinking skills. A key piece was crafting support activities so students were less likely to struggle.

Behind the Scenes: Standards-Based Instructional Design

There are hundreds of lessons that have already been written for the Boston Massacre. Why develop a new lesson?

For one thing, new technology enables engaging new types of interactions that were not possible just a few years ago. Yet, we don’t want to develop a lesson just for the sake of new technology.

That’s where the standards come in. They give purpose and direction to all the cool things we can do, to make sure they are the things we want to do, things we really need to do.

The table below gives examples of how our instructional design decisions were developed for specific standards in the middle-grades C3 Framework for Social Studies and the Grade 7 Common Core ELA standards for Reading Informational Text and Writing.

Instructional Design Decisions Standards
Assuming the role of reporter, students will define the who, whatwhere, when, and why of the Boston Massacre. In the culminating activity, students will use text evidence, data, content knowledge, primary sources, and persuasive language to write a news report on the Boston Massacre. C3 Framework D2.His.16.6-8. Organize applicable evidence into a coherent argument about the past.
Common Core CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.7.1.B
Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using accurate, credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.
Common Core CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.3
Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).
Students will take a constructionist approach to examine an historical event. Students then analyze data to deconstruct and reconstruct the event to show evidence of learning. Common Core CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.1
Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Students will investigate, identify, and evaluate the multiple causes and effects that lead up to the Boston Massacre. C3 Framework D2.His.15.6-8. Evaluate the relative influence of various causes of events and developments in the past.
Assess content knowledge and patterns of thinking through quick quizzes, “free-thinks,” and a variety of digital activities. Common Core CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.3
Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).

Rethinking the Purpose of Assessment

Why did we include traditional assessments in the lesson? One key reason is to build student confidence. A student working in isolation needs reassurance: Am I on track? The instant feedback of a traditional assessment can provide some of the support the student needs to remain engaged. Real-time assessment is critical for a student’s continual growth.

What is the purpose of more complex performance tasks? In addition to providing meaningful authenticity and developing critical thinking, these tasks should also build confidence. Students practice using their skills and see their progress directly in the tangible products and performances they produce. You know this has happened when an engaged student can reflect and say, “Look—I made this!”

In our next blog in this series, we’ll explore how a teacher can use the embedded assessment results to effectively guide many students, each of whom brings a different set of skills to the lesson.

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