Performance Task Patterns

Taylor Bell
Taylor Bell
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In the first stage of curriculum planning we determine the desired outcomes, big ideas, essential questions, knowledge, and skills that we want our learners to take away from a course.

Once we have completed this plan, we then move to Stage 2 and begin work to determine how to assess the learner's ability to transfer what they've learned to a new situation.

McTighe & Wiggins repeat the Stage 2 mantra:

Think like an assessor, not an activity designer.

One of the most important parts of Stage 2 is the creation of performance tasks.

Introducing Performance Tasks

A performance task asks the learner to produce a demonstration, construct a response, or create some other product.

A task should be realistic, and call for the learner to apply what they've learned.

After completing the task, the learner should be able to explain their thought process and show their work.

Essential Questions of Task Design

The essential questions McTighe & Wiggins suggest should be kept in mind as we design performance tasks:

What applications would enable us to infer student understanding of what they've learned?

What kinds of performance and products, if done well, would provide valid ways of distinguishing between understanding and mere recall?

What must students be able to explain, justify, support, or answer about their work for us to infer genuine understanding?

How can we test their ideas and applications to find out if they really understand what they have said and done?

A General Process for Designing Tasks

McTighe & Wiggins outline a generalized process for designing performance tasks:

  • Identify the learning goals you want to target.
  • Consider the knowledge and skills associated with the goals.
  • Choose one of the Performance Task Frameworks
  • Brainstorm task ideas
  • Check that the ideas match up with the targeted goals

Performance Task Design Frameworks

Before choosing a framework, identify the learning goal(s) from Stage 1 that you want to target.

Consider the knowledge and skills associated with that goal.

Countless potential tasks that can be generated from these frameworks. It's entirely possible that multiple performance tasks target the same desired outcomes from Stage 1!

Here are two frameworks that McTighe & Wiggins present that can be applied to:

  • Six Facets of Understanding

Six Facets of Understanding

Different facets of understanding may be more applicable to your desired outcomes than others. They are not a hierarchy, and you don't have to use them all!

The Six Facets are:

  • Interpretation– Making connections & meaning from text or experience.
  • Application– Using learning in a new situation
  • Explanation– Represent in a different form, Explain in your own words, and justify an answer.
  • Perspective– Seeing the big picture and recognizing other points of view
  • Self-Knowledge– Reflect, recognize, and self-assess one's own strengths & weaknesses
  • Empathy– Get "inside" another person's feelings & experiences

McTighe & Wiggins have provided several performance verbs for each of the Six Facets to help spark performance task & assessment ideas.


GRASPS is an acronym with prompts for developing authentic performance tasks:

G - A real-world goal for the learner

R - The role the student assumes

A - The target audience

S - A contextual situation

P - The product or performance

S - A criteria for success

Prompts are provided to help develop a performance task with GRASPS:

Goal: "Your task/goal is to..." or "The problem/challenge is..."

Role: "You are/Your job is..." or "You have been asked to..."

Audience: "The target audience is..." or "Your client is..."

Situation: "The context/situation is..."

Product/Performance and Purpose: "You will create ... in order to ..." or "You need to develop ... so that ..."

Success Criteria: "Your work will be judged by ..." or "Your product/performance will meet these standards..."

Evaluating the Performance

While McTighe & Wiggins provide tools for evaluating the learner's product of the performance task, many of them are meant more for situations where someone will be grading the work.

However, they provide many prompts for learners to engage in self-assessment:

  • What was most/least effective in...?
  • What are you most proud of? Disappointed in?
  • What do you feel you are strongest in? What are you deficiencies?
  • What would you do different next time?
  • How could you improve?
  • What do you really understand about...?
  • What questions or uncertainties do you still have?
  • How does this connect to other learnings?
  • How has what you've learned change your thinking?
  • How will what you've learned impact your future work?

Next Steps

With an idea of the what and why of performance tasks, a good next step is to look further into the Six Facets of Understanding and the GRASPS frameworks for more in-depth examples.