Task Cards – a friend to students and teachers

What are Task Cards?

Physically, Task Cards are:

  • like index cards or larger
  • often laminated so re-usable
  • sets of tasks for students to complete.

In practice, they are basically like targeted, reusable worksheets, but with some advantages.

Here’s a sample of a set I’ve made for close reading and enjoyment of Robert Frost’s poetry.  This is one of 72 cards in a set exploring three poems (24 cards / poem).

You can see what the main parts of the card are (click the image to see a larger version):The Parts of a Task Card

Why are the a Friend to Students?

The main advantage of task cards is they act as one-on-one coaching to students. Instead of sitting passively in group discussions, students have a targeted task that supports the learning goal. The fact that cards come in a set makes them even more useful to students – they can choose the task and pace that best matches their current interests and abilities.

Why are the a Friend to Teachers?

First, every teacher (human!) likes to be effective. Knowing that students are getting one-on-one tasks increases your effectiveness. Doesn’t that down time – when some students have completed a task and sit idly waiting for the next – tug at your heart?  Quality Task Cards target a continuum of content, skills or understandings so when one task is completed, there’s the next, ready for learning!

Second, having just mentioned “content, skills or understandings” and “quality,” the best cards go beyond pointing students to retrieve or demonstrate declarative knowledge. Sure this is part of learning, but it’s the foundation, not the pinnacle.  So notice the “Task 1” and the numbers in the lower right corner (1-4).  These illustrate that Task Cards easily support a range of cognitive and even affective learning.  See how the four cards below progress in level of challenge and openness?

Task Cards support levels of learning

Card 1 simply asks students to read the poem. Card 2 prompts an engagement with the content. Card 3 asks students to draw inferences / make an interpretation. Finally, Card 4 moves beyond the surface of the poem into reflection and connection to students’ body of expertise.

Third, the savvy teacher can use such cards in many ways. Here are a few examples:

  • Differentiation: Some students use only cards 1-2 to focus on developing a solid foundation before advancing to cards 3-4. Extension activities in Cards 3-4 can be the main activity for more advanced students.
  • Jigsaw Groups – have students work in groups of 4 (or 8 if they need the additional support of a partner). Students in the group are then responsible for each task before sharing their learning to the group
  • Teachable Moments – If students become stuck on any one card, that’s great formative feedback and tells you that you have an opportunity to do some targeted teaching. You can have students offer their answers to inspire a class discussion or socratic session.  Notice that because the cards are not seeking “right answers,” getting students to share their ideas to the whole class multiplies insights and learning.
  • Sponge, Lesson or Unit – Because the cards come in sets, teachers can choose whether to use a card as a sponge or bell-ringer activity to engage students in learning rather than lose precious time. A whole level or set could serve as a lesson. Or, when the sets target broader and deeper content, use them as a core part of a unit.  For example the set I’ve made on Robert Frost promotes a close reading and analysis of three of his most important poems. That’s a main part of a poetry unit ready and waiting.
  • Personalized Learning – each student can move through a set of cards are her or his pace. This is especially true when Answer Cards are provided as in the Frost set. Click the image below to see a larger version.

Answer Cards

Fourth, did you notice that all this learning required NO ADDITIONAL preparation or grading! What better friend for teachers to have than ready-made and effective learning activities?! Remember that you can then re-use them whenever you like and in any of the above and other ways. The friendship keeps on growing!

Please let me know what you think and suggest other poets for whom you’d like to see such Task Cards made. You can use the comments, email or contact form.

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