What are High-Level Tasks?

Preservice elementary teachers, both when they are seniors and interns, have opportunities to read about, discuss, and create high-level tasks. Even though we have several readings, and discuss ways to create high-level tasks or to adapt curriculum in high-level tasks, our preservice teachers are not always able to answer the question “What is a high-level task?”

This Fall, my co-instructor and I decided to have our interns come up with a list of what they see as the most important features of high-level tasks. I think it went well! What are other features that should be included? (acknowledging, of course, that it isn’t only the task itself that makes the activity high-level but also the discussion after and the teacher interaction with students as they explore)

When you create high-level tasks, consider whether they have the following features:

  • Leads to a deeper mathematical understanding
  • Authentic – should connect to students’ real-world (which may be very different than your real world
  • Open-ended
  • Collaborative
    • Open to / requires multiple smartnesses (so that students are all valuable members of the team)
  • Multiple entry points
  • Multiple strategies and valid solutions
    • Not just knowing strategies, but applying strategies as needed
    • Allows for students to see why some strategies don’t work (sometimes or all the time), others work but might be easier / faster / make more sense
  • Multiple possible representations (manipulatives, diagrams, numbers, words, pictures, etc.)
  • Integrates multiple topics, strategies, and mathematical understandings
    • Connecting to grade-level standards that are above your own grade level
    • Ties to future knowledge and tasks
    • Builds on the knowledge students bring from outside school
  • Avenue for productive struggle
    • Knowing your students, helping your students know themselves, and giving them number choices can help you and them choose just the right amount of struggle – so they aren’t bored becaues it isn’t challenging enough but not frustrated because it’s too challenging
    • Task can be easily modified (by you or students) to be more or less challenging
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