Dan Meyer’s Makeover Mondays: Modifying tasks

As I mentioned in a previous post, not all tasks are created equal.    Different tasks provide different opportunities for students to learn.

Deciding what task to use in a lesson or how to modify an existing task is a decision we make every day as teachers.

Dan Meyer recently highlighted how we can begin to think about modifying tasks with his Makeover Mondays.  Every Thursday this summer, he will post a task on twitter.  The following Monday, he will post his suggested modifications as well as the changes others have suggested.

What I love about this is that we know from the research that teachers are constantly changing tasks.  Tasks are not always implemented exactly as they appear in textbooks.    Sometimes the task doesn’t fit the needs of our students or it doesn’t build on their prior knowledge or sometimes it is just boring.

However, we also know that sometimes when teachers change the task, it can lower the cognitive demand of it.   Researchers have found that when high cognitive demand tasks are implemented in classrooms, the demands were often lowered because of things like time constraints or management issues in the class.    A mathematically complex task became easier as the teacher gave hints or leading questions to help the students proceed.

But what is obvious from the makeovers Dan posted is that the changes that teachers make are far more complicated than simply lowering or increasing the demands of the tasks.

The made-over task Dan posted this week was more cognitively challenging than the original task, but also built on students’ intuition.  The language was simplified but the mathematics was increased so that students who completed the task easily were challenged.

I’d also like to point out another thing I noticed about modifying tasks–the goal matters.  If the goal is application of a concept, the task needs to be modified differently than if the goal is to introduce students to a concept.  If the goal is to have students model different strategies, the task needs to be modified so that it lends itself to multiple ways to be solved.  If the goal is to work on problem solving and not computation, perhaps a calculator needs to be provided.

Tasks can be modified to serve different purposes.  But it’s important to be clear on what your goal for your students is before you think about changing it.

So this summer, take a look at the tasks.  Share a makeover.  I know I’m looking forward to trying my hand at it.