Powerful Task Design: Rigorous and Engaging Tasks to Level Up Instruction


John Antonetti & Terri Stice

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    Praise for Powerful Task Design

    Antonetti and Stice turn the bubble-sheet culture on its head— offering readers a path for implementing rigorous and engaging tasks that promote meaning-making and sustained learning. Through Powerful Task Design, they provide a way of thinking about our main goal in the classroom—creating rigorous and engaging tasks that power up learning. I love this book! The cognitive demand, thinking strategies, and engaging qualities of this book WILL change the way I interact with my own learners . . . and my two small children.

    —John Almarode, Author

    Visible Learning for Science, Grades K–12 and From Snorkelers to Scuba Divers

    Waynesboro, VA

    An easy-to-follow tool for educators wishing to reflect on the rigor of their classroom tasks with excellent tips to take learning to the next level!

    —Clint Heitz, Instructional Coach
    Bettendorf Community School District, Bettendorf, IA

    It is painfully obvious that something needs to be done to do more than simply engage students; we need to cognitively engage them and this book gives you the tools with which to do just that. Everything is here for you to make those changes.

    —Melody (Dani) Aldrich, High School English Teacher
    Casa Grande Union High School, Casa Grande, AZ

    Finally! A resource that focuses first on the TASK (what it is we are asking of our students) and then the RESOURCES (what technology is at our disposal to accomplish the task?). For decades now, the process has been backwards and the focus has become bells-and-whistle technology that is mistaken for authentic engagement. This book will give tangible tools for the teacher toolbox while keeping the eye on the rigor prize for students.

    —Matthew Constant, Chief Academic Officer
    Owensboro Public Schools, Owensboro, KY

    With this collaboration, Antonetti’s expertise with designing engaging and rigorous student tasks is combined with Stice’s vast knowledge of effective technology use in the classroom. Both Antonetti and Stice have worked with our district’s teachers and administrators and have helped bring about increased teacher effectiveness. This book is the perfect next step resource for our district’s continuous-improvement journey as well as for any educator ready to effectively take their student-task-design practices to the next level and meaningfully engage today’s ‘techie” student.

    —Kelli Bush, Assistant Superintendent for Student Learning
    Elizabethtown Independent Schools, Elizabethtown, KY

    As educators, we are on a continuous journey to stretch and grow to our fullest potential and we all have a “ceiling” of effectiveness. The interactive approach of Powerful Task Design will serve as a valuable tool for educators as they stretch and grow toward a higher ceiling.

    —Kellianne Wilson, Secondary Instructional Supervisor
    Meade County Schools, KY

    Are you grappling with how to create an instructional task that both challenges and engages? Do you continue to struggle with issues related to effective integration of technology into lesson designs? Are you seeking to understand how rigor and engagement can move beyond overused and empty clichés? Explore these and other essential questions in this highly practical, well-researched book that offers practitioner-friendly tools brought to life by a treasure-trove of examples across the content areas of K–12 classrooms. Inviting reflection and personal response at strategic points, the authors skillfully integrate video and other technology with written text to create a book that exhibits the design principles they propose. Powerful Task Design is a must-read for individual educators and a practical guide for PLCs.

    —Jackie A. Walsh, Author and Consultant
    Montgomery, AL

    Powerful Task Design will help you rethink how to get the full value from the technology tools you have available in your classroom. I found Antonetti and Stice’s work to be both practical and transformative. Teachers will come back to this book time and time again as we are challenged to find ways to push thinking, rigor, and engagement to a higher level for our students.

    —Amy Berry, National Board Certified Teacher, Coordinator for Student Services
    Meade County Schools, KY

    Antonetti and Stice push educators to create well-designed tasks that fully engage students and create powerful results. We want the students to learn first and then utilize technology tools to make learning more meaningful. Combining Antonetti’s brilliant work with his engagement cube and Stice’s technology genius is just “mind-blowing.”

    —Allen Martin, Instructional Technology Resource Teacher
    Bowling Green Independent Schools, KY

    Antonetti and Stice once again provide outstanding leadership, research, and guidance through an ever-expanding and vital conversation on learning design. This book further shifts the conversation from technology to learning, from simply rehashing techno-centric approaches, to ready-to-implement rich learning experiences for students further empowered through digital tools and resources.

    In this book, you’ll discover creative solutions to interesting digital instructional design challenges from real classrooms and real students. These best-practice models will help any teacher, new or experienced, formulate a blueprint for digital learning experience design— with a tremendous emphasis on learning and cognitive engagement. I especially love the connections made in Chapter 5 with technology and questions. Through this book, Antonetti and Stice demonstrate that they are two highly connected teachers who “get it.”

    —Marty Park, Chief Digital Officer for the Office of Education Technology
    Kentucky Department of Education, Lexington, KY


    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    • Melody (Dani) Aldrich, High School English Teacher
    • Casa Grande Union High School
    • Casa Grande, AZ
    • Clint R. Heitz, Instructional Coach
    • Bettendorf High School
    • Bettendorf, IA
    • Michelle Liga, Technology Integration Specialist PreK–Eighth Grade
    • Kingwood Elementary
    • Kingwood, WV
    • Christine Ruder, Second-Grade Teacher
    • Truman Elementary School
    • Rolla, MO
    • Brian Taylor, Director of Science and Engineering Technology K–12
    • West Islip UFSD
    • West Islip, NY

    About the Authors

    John Antonetti is a learner. He has had the great fortune to visit classrooms throughout North America in an effort to answer the question, “What truly engages learners?” From thousands of students in prekindergarten through graduate school, John has learned the three facets of powerful learning tasks—intellectual, academic, and emotional engagement. John Antonetti is a teacher. He has taught AP chemistry and kindergarten and most grades in between in his home state of Arkansas. Once described by Larry Lezotte as a “teacher’s teacher,” Mr. Antonetti works with schools across the country and Canada on student engagement, writing, rigor and relevance, and high-yield best practices. As the former director of curriculum in the Sheridan School District in Arkansas, he took what he learned in his home district and developed strategies and protocols that work across all school types. He has partnered with five school districts that were awarded the nationally recognized Broad Prize for Urban Education. While hands-on work in schools is his passion, Antonetti is also a highly sought keynote speaker. His humor and parables are recognized by teachers, administrators, and parents as relevant examples of the power of teachers. Antonetti is the author of the book Writing as a Measure and Model of Thinking, which describes the engagement cube and practical tools to increase student thinking in all subject areas. With his late business partner and friend, Jim Garver, John coauthored the ASCD best-seller 17,000 Classroom Visits Can’t Be Wrong: Strategies That Engage Students, Promote Active Learning, and Boost Achievement. Whether he’s on the carpet with kindergarteners or in front of 4,000 teachers at an international conference, Antonetti continues to learn.

    Terri Stice is in her 18th year as the Director of Instructional Technology for the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative, a service agency providing professional learning opportunities for teachers and administrators at the prekindergarten through graduate-school level. Terri custom-designs and facilitates workshops and provides consulting and coaching services in the areas of technology integration, student engagement, literacy/thinking skills, and school culture. Her favorite part of her job is coaching teachers one-on-one in their classrooms. She has been involved with technology to support teaching and learning since the early 1990s, has 15 years of experience as a teacher, and has been a technology coordinator at both the district and school levels. Ms. Stice holds a master of science degree in instructional media design from Wilkes University in Pennsylvania. She is an Apple Distinguished Educator, an Apple Teacher, an Apple Field Trainer, a Google Certified Teacher, and a Discovery Education Star Educator. She is a recipient of the KYSTE/ISTE Making IT Happen award as well as the 2017 Stilwell Award. Currently, Terri is also an adjunct professor of educational technology courses at Western Kentucky University. Terri is committed to lifelong learning and continual growth. Her passion is working with teachers who have the drive and determination to be the best they can be for the learners in their lives.

  • Final Thoughts

    The journey of our work together has never been about technology first, but only about how technology might improve a well-designed lesson. Our Alaskan teacher contributor, Rylee Ownbey (who authored the literature circle lesson in Chapter 8) said it best in one of her blog posts, “I plan my lessons with standards and students’ needs first, and then ask myself: Can I make this lesson better with ed tech?” Sometimes the best use of technology might be something as subtle as the use of a backchannel tool to make the students’ thinking visible to all learners, which in return powers up the classroom discussion.

    Other times, with a single click, the unfathomable happens and connects your work to other like-minded individuals around the globe. It is through powerful task design our students will thrive in a connected learning environment.

    In her book Never Underestimate Your Teachers, Robyn Jackson writes, “All teaching is a combination of skill and will” (2013, p. 12). She goes on to define skill as the science of teaching, stating that “it involves a teacher’s pedagogical and content knowledge” (p. 12). Teachers must have both content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge, meaning they must know their content, and they must know the best strategies to help the students learn the content. As important as having the skill is having the will. For it is within the will that the passion for the work of teachers lies, and as a result, they will do whatever it takes to make students successful. We believe if teachers who read Powerful Task Design have the will, their skills will improve by making just one change to power up the tasks they design for the learners in their classroom.

    When we put devices in the hands of our students, we must do so embracing a hands- and minds-on approach. Technology in the hands of students without a clear purpose is a distraction for all stakeholders in the school community.

    It is imperative we approach devices in the hands of students with the mindset that when students’ hands and eyes are physically engaged, their minds will be working overtime wondering, questioning, and discovering patterns that lead to predictions and more! As powerful task designers, we can design for these moments, and when the tasks are executed, the minds-on piece will feel like a natural reaction for the learner. We have personally experienced this phenomenon while collaboratively planning tasks for use in workshops and trainings. On multiple occasions, Terri has suggested “John, let’s use the See-Think-Wonder routine at the start of the day to get our audience cognitively engaged.” We’d find a topic, begin searching, and before we knew it, 45 minutes had passed. In each case, we learned far more than we thought we wanted or needed to know. A few of the questions we asked with see-think-wonder are listed below (just in case you also want to get lost in some fast research):

    • Why are axolotls the perfect pet for neuroscientists?
    • What fairy tale is most frequently found in cultures and countries around the world?
    • Why is the common basilisk lizard know as the Jesus Christ Lizard?
    • How do the demographics in our home state compare to past, present, or future trends across the United States?

    Because we enjoy getting lost in our curiosity and making meaning, these are the same kind of moments we want to create for our students, tasks that make them want to take control of their own learning, dig deeper, and let their interests power their learning.

    A number of years ago, Mr. Lewis Carter, superintendent of Monroe County Schools (Kentucky), invited Terri to speak to the administrators in his school district. Near the end of the meeting, one of the elementary school principals, Mr. Tommy Gearlds, asked her one of the most profound questions she had heard in her 24 years in K–12 education. He first explained, “Terri, I have purchased interactive boards, clicker systems, document cameras, and every other tool I think might help my teachers deliver instruction in the most productive way. Now, here comes the question I need an answer to: “What is it I am supposed to see when I walk into teachers’ classrooms that would confirm the money we have spent is worth the investment?” Our pursuit to answer Mr. Gerald’s question is what brings us to our current work as described in this book. It is not the physical or social interactions with the technology that we should look for during classroom observations—these are simply classroom behaviors. Rather, we should look for (and celebrate) the cognitively engaging learning experiences of making meaning that students will be excited to tell us about as a result of #PowerfulTaskDesign.


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