Understanding: Reduced Number of Tasks

A number of students require a reduced number of tasks.  This is something that a number of education workers have difficulty with, because it’s hard to know what can be reduced, and where that can happen.  Before we apply this directly to culminating tasks, we will examine what it looks like in a classroom.

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

Why Reduce the Number of Tasks?

Students can become overwhelmed with work. In Math class this can mean doing questions 2. a, b, e, and f as well as 3. m, r, and s. Both question 2 and 3 demonstrate the same skills, so students can still demonstrate their learning if they only complete 2. a, and 3. m.

In English, teachers who ask their students two write a five paragraph response will be able to evaluate reading and writing skills based on a three paragraph response.

Teachers who assign daily creations might consider requesting weekly creations from some – or all – students, in order to still have a strong demonstration of learning, while reducing the task number for students.

But why should teachers do this? One of the reasons is that students given three tasks can find themselves overwhelmed, choosing to complete none, while if presented with one task, they would have engaged. In other cases there is an inequitable time requirement for some students to complete the same number of tasks as others.

Reduced Number of Tasks in a Class

In your class you may have students write monthly, weekly, or daily journal entries.  This leads to dozens of evaluations.  While students benefit from the descriptive feedback on each of these demonstrations of learning, there is no need to count them all towards the students final grade.

Grade Book Recording

A good rule of thumb is that each strand in your curriculum should have four to six demonstrations of learning connected to the overall expectations.  Most courses have 4 to 6 strands, meaning that a final grade book should reflect 14 – 36 entries.  

That does not mean you need 14 – 36 individual assignments.  Just as your culminating tasks reflect all stands, so too can other assignments reflect multiple strands. It’s likely that one journal entry can demonstrate at least two strands from your curriculum.

A grade book that has over 40 marked assignments is as exhausting for the student that feels overencumbered as it is for the teacher who has to mark hundreds of assignments.

Using Those “Extra” Journals

While you might collect 5 to 50 journals, only two or three of them need to be recorded in your grade book.  This allows students to self-select when they can reduce their own tasks, knowing that while they are presented opportunities for learning through the descriptive feedback that the journaling provides them, they are not overwhelmed by the amount of tasks.

So what do we do with the ten journals, if only three are reflected in the grade book?  

Remember, a student’s final mark should demonstrate where they are, not where they have been.  As such, each new journal – if it reflects a consistent demonstration of their most recent developed skills – should replace older ones.

An entry in your grade book doesn’t reflect a specific place in time, but rather it is a metaphor for overall expectations that students need to demonstrate (but more on that in a future article).

How a student performs at the beginning of the year should not impact how they are graded at the end of the year.  The whole point of a class is the continuum of learning that enhances their skills taking them from where they are at the beginning to where they are at the end.

They Don’t Have to Perfectly Align

As mentioned, grade book entries are metaphors for overall expectations.  While this will be more full developed in the future, for right now, I just want to point out that a journal entry does not have to only replace a journal entry in your grade book.  So long as the journal entry demonstrates the same overall expectations as another grade book entry, the demonstration of skills are interchangeable.  This will lead to increasing student achievement, while not reducing the amount of evaluated expectations.

Reduced Number of Tasks in a Culminating

Reducing the number of tasks in an assignment, especially a culminating assignment, is something that is best done on an individualized basis, tailored to the specific needs of each student.  By focusing on Katherine Pearce’s geography culminating I will seek to indicate what tasks can be reduced without sacrificing the overall requirements of the piece.

Where to Start

At the beginning is often the first place to start.  As we’ve already seen, the planning pages offer students structure and support.  But, some students may find that overwhelming.  Simply eliminating the planning pages – or more correctly, limiting the amount of planning pages that need to be completed – can help.

On page 16, the student may be asked to demonstrate one improvement, rather than 3.  This allows for some evidence of learning, while creating a manageable throughline for the student.

Looking at the Rubric

Each strand has been broken down into specific sections.  Within those sections, are specific look fors.  If we focus on Knowledge-History we might allow students not to demonstrate the date the city was founded, and we might suggest that so long as they are using other visuals throughout their piece, the visuals of the historical development are not required.

On Application-Personal Opinion Paragraphs the student may be able to fully demonstrate their learning simply by expressing what they learned about the city, through the use of embedded quotations, removing the need for them to express their general impressions of the city.

Tailored to Your Needs, and Your Student’s Needs

Each reduction of tasks will be unique.  But, the question you must ask yourself is what specific expectations are still being demonstrated even if this piece is removed.  If that expectation is still there, then you can remove or reduce the task without compromising your overall piece.

Manageable for Them, Manageable for You

If your gradebook has 100 different entries it will be as difficult for you to stay on top of your workload, as it will be for them to stay on top of their demonstrations of learning.  

It will also create a situation where you will likely have problems explaining why each of those tasks are required to evaluate the overall expectations that they are connected to.  

Parents and students are becoming far more aware of assessment and evaluation, with a number of teachers explicitly teaching growing success in their classroom so they have a strong understanding of where grades come from.

Because of this, we have students who are willing to self-advocate and ensure that fair assessment and evaluation practices are used.  By reducing the number of tasks, while still maintaining the number of learning opportunities, you will be creating a space that best encourages student participation, classroom growth, and success.

Looking at Other Accommodations



Written by…

Michael Barltrop has been teaching since 2006, integrating comics, video games, and TTRPGs into his classroom. He has been the head of English, Literacy, and Universal Design. Feel free to reach out through Twitter @MrBarltrop!

Feel free to support the website hosting by buying him a coffee or sharing this post on facebook, twitter, or whatever social media is trending these days.

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