Classroom Task Management

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Task Management Resources

Developing outstanding learning task management in the classroom

Stephen says
I have been lucky enough to observe thousands of lessons delivered by many brilliant teachers. At times I have been mesmerised by the gripping input into the lesson, to the degree, that I have neglected my own observational role. However, no matter how good this stimulus has been or how much apparent learning has taken place, in most lessons there is some failure in the task management process for some if not all students. If you are a teacher reading this and thinking that this is complete nonsense and that I am being more than a bit harsh on my fellow practioners, then consider the following phrases uttered daily by adults in classrooms:
"I have just explained what you need to do?"
"Weren't you listening when I was telling everyone what to do?"
"OK, the next thing you need to do is..."
"No, I said do 'X' first."
"Stop everyone. Listen. You need to..."
In the article below I hope to explore the reasons for this and share strategies for improving task management.

The Prerequisites of Task Completion

Task Management Prerequisites

The diagram above shows how each student requires a number of dependent factors to be in place in order for them to complete a task. These are now explored more fully:

Understanding of what they need to do

Though this is quite an obvious statement and every teacher does their best to convey instructions there can be nevertheless a problem with understanding. For example, I have observed a class of 6 and 7 year olds totally fail to get on with starting a handwriting task after the teacher had expertly modelled what they needed to do, given clear verbal instructions and had even prepared every child's exercise book with a handwritten example at the start of each line required. I could not fault this excellent teacher but the next few minutes were spent going round helping unsure children to start. So what was going on. I believe that there were two important factors that conspired against the teacher for these few minutes.

Firstly, the teacher was not the full-time teacher for the class and so the children didn't apply the unconsciously learnt rule of 'if unsure, do what I normally do'. This underlines the importance of establishing 'daily habits and rituals' which children learn to follow without instructions. I personally remember always having to start my work by writing the title and date and underlining them in red. That was the expectation of every lesson involving writing. For the children in the handwriting lesson, not wanting to do anything wrong and unable to fall back on ritual they anxiously needed to seek reassurance of exactly what they must do.

Secondly, though the books had been prepared with examples they were located in the children's trays. The modelling by the teacher had taken place with the children sat on the carpet. Now they needed to go fetch their handwriting books from their trays and then go to their seats at the desks. They needed to open up their book and take a pencil from the box on the desk. The problem here is that what looks like a really simple instruction is actually a series of simple instructions, each of which, required remembering. This together with the incidental distractions that children get when they move around the classroom meant that most of the class had now forgotten what to do.

Outstanding practice:

Establish and reinforce common task behaviours so students know your general expectations. Having a poster of these can help embed them and support students who struggle with this.
Move students to where they will do the task before giving the task specific instructions.
Simplify and limit the number of instructions given at one time. Particularly at the start of a task give only the directions they need to begin.
Use instructions sheets or task boards to provide visual prompts of what is required.
Consider how you may need to differentiate task instructions - and not necessarily the task itself - to support the various needs of the class.


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