Friday, March 22, 2013

Authentic Performance Tasks

Years and years ago, we learned about creating authentic performance tasks for our students. As we learned more about them, we were like, Wow! These are fun to create and came to find out, our students LOVED completing them. Creating authentic performance tasks allow teachers to be creative and students a chance to stretch their little brains. You may be thinking, Oh, I know what a performance task is....well, an authentic performance task is a little different. Many people think a performance task is when a student makes something, say, you ask a student to create a graph based on a survey. Well, yes, that is a performance task. But it is missing important components of an authentic performance task....well, what is that you ask?


GRASPS what? GRASPS is the model that we like to use to create our authentic performance tasks or assessments. GRASPS is an acronym that helps us make sure we have included all the components. You can Google GRASPS performance task and find many links. Where did it come from? Well, we love some Wiggins and McTighe. Here is a link that you can check out briefly.
Goal- This is what you want your students to be able to accomplish. 
Role- What real world role will your students have? This is where we love to get creative...will they be a zoo keeper? An artist? A fashion designer? A journalist? Choose a role that will make sense to the task.
Audience- Who will students be addressing or presenting their project to? A city planning committee? The mayor? First grade students? Again, have fun and make sure it makes sense to the task and role the students will take on.
Scenario/situation- What is the context in which the task will take place? Here's the kicker, must be REAL WORLD connected. That's right, you need to give your kids a real world situation or scenario. 
Product/project- What is it that students are creating? Be specific.
Scoring rubric- How will you assess student work? Here we create a standards specific rubric describing exactly what students need to include in their project so they know exactly what we expect of them.

Example Please!

Here is an example in our Teachers Pay Teachers store that you can download for free. Students are a paleontologist and they are using rounding skills and addition/subtraction concepts. This is just one example of the endless possibilities that can be created. 

These tasks are a great way to ensure engagement of your students and not just compliance. We have yet to have a student not want to complete a performance task...are they easy for students? Well, we think they are challenging as the ones we design are usually cross-curricular, so students have to draw on knowledge from a variety of sources. 

Need an engaging idea for comparing and ordering decimals?  Have your boys design the dream baseball roster. Give them a printout of some of the best pro baseball players and have them select the players they want on their dream team. Include all positions and stats and your boys can go through batting average, slugging average, ERA, saves, and so on and so forth. They can then write and explain their choices. Of course they will have to include knowledge of decimals. Or you could have a baseball draft instead! How much fun would that be?

Or maybe you want to assess your students on their knowledge of lines of latitude and longitude...instead of giving them a worksheet that has them write a the name of a city at a given set of coordinates, why not give them coordinates of past hurricanes so they can be meteorologists tracking a hurricane's path? We did this with our 3rd graders, and they really had a blast! We gave them a world map that had the lines of latitude and longitude, let them choose which hurricane to track, and let them have at it. Yep, it took some work on our part, but it was well worth it, and now we can just tweak it for next year.

One thing we have come to learn, though, is that to create an engaging, authentic performance task takes leg work. Sometimes you have to have things made for students (like in the baseball example will need to have some stats ready). But the upside is that if they are standards-based, you can refine them for the following year. We definitely either keep a few exemplars or take pictures so our students the following year can see real examples. 

Here is an example from our Measuring Length Circus Animal Cage performance task. Students researched an animal and then created a traveling cage using measurements that would result in a roomy, comfy cage. Students then gave actual measurements of different features of their cage. 

Different Outcomes

At first we tried to control how the performance tasks would turn out....HUGE mistake! Now we sit back and watch. We have seen some of the most impressive projects as a result. With an authentic performance task, there is more than one way to complete a project, and no two projects will be alike. Sometimes we give our students a choice of roles they can take on. Here are some examples of when some students chose to be a landscape, fashion designer, or architect designing a monument. They were to measure lengths and compare measurements (2nd Grade CCSS Math MD.2 and MD.4) focusing on Washington, D.C. 

This student chose to be a landscaper and added a new outdoor space. She added a garden, fruit orchard, a Snack Shack for hungry guests, a pond, and other items.

This student chose to be an architect and designed a new monument for Teddy Roosevelt. He felt like Teddy had great accomplishments with securing national parks for nature conservation.

This student chose to be a fashion designer. She not only included articles of clothing but also accessories. 

This student chose to be a fashion designer and created outfits for the First Family and included their pet dog. She measured pieces of the outfits in inches and centimeters.

We hope that you will give authentic performance tasks a try. The hardest part is getting started, but now we find ourselves driving home thinking of the new task for our students....and we know they love them, too, because anytime we tell them they have a new task, they try to guess what they will do next! Please feel free to contact us at if you need a little help getting started!


  1. I love this post! When students have a choice and have fun, learning is inevitable! Thanks so much for sharing. :)

  2. Thanks so much for sharing! Our parish just started asking us to try to do performance task. I love doing them! Now thanks to you I can make sure to use GRASP.

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