The following is one of fifty engagement tasks in Aaron's newest book Worksheets Don't Work. Each image is hyperlinked to a Google Slide that can be copied and edited as needed. The last section has been added to modify this task for virtual learning. To have upcoming blog posts in this series sent directly to your inbox, add your email address here.
A do-it-yourself (DIY) assignment is based on Bloom’s revised taxonomy. Whereas the former has just a few options to choose from and asks students to complete one or two of them, the latter provides a plethora of options and gives students plenty of latitude in how to complete it. One can think of a tiered activity as the kid’s meal of scaffolding with Bloom’s and a DIY assignment as the adult combo meal with large fries and a large drink.
In a traditional DIY assignment, students are provided with a list of questions or tasks to choose from that align with the six stages of Bloom’s revised taxonomy. Each tier is worth an increasing value, ascending from remembering all the way to creating. For instance, remembering tasks or questions are worth one point, understanding items are worth two points, applying tasks or questions are worth three points, and so on. With a large set of choices, students then select items to complete that add up to a predetermined value, such as six points. Students can choose any combination of questions or tasks to meet the required number of points. To keep things clear, each item should be labeled with its point value.
Why It Works
Providing students with a variety of pathways to meet the activity requirements is highly motivating. It builds student competence because it contains different levels of scaffolding based on their needs. If students want to challenge themselves, they can. If they are feeling uncertain about their knowledge or skills, they have the ability to shift down into tasks that require a different type of thought process. Any way they choose to approach the DIY assignment, they have a variety of options to choose from.
It’s that inherent choice that also proves to be so engaging for students. When given the autonomy to direct their own learning, students will naturally be more motivated. Having a voice in how they show their mastery of the content is intellectually stimulating and shows respect for the diverse needs of learners. One or more of the choices might be more interesting to students regardless of their worth or value. Students can pick the items that most appeal to them and then build the rest of their DIY assignment around those.
Inherent to making this strategy work is the point-value system. Oftentimes, students can complete activities at the remembering stage of Bloom’s revised taxonomy a lot quicker than those at the creating stage. To equalize these tasks, they are given ascending values so that the lower-level tasks are worth less points than the higher-level ones. With a single point value to reach, such as seven points or ten points, students who choose to employ the lower-level tasks will have to complete a higher quantity of them to meet the requirements.
A DIY assignment can be highly engaging for students and provides multiple pathways for completion. To take advantage of this worksheet alternative, some planning is required. See the suggestions below for a place to start your preparations.
1. Consider the scope of the content to be used as the basis for the task. If it’s simply a daily assignment, there might not be enough to pull from to flesh out an entire DIY assignment. Additionally, the amount of time required to prepare the various questions or tasks might preclude this type of scaffolding from being used on a regular basis. Rather, DIY assignments work best at the end of larger units. This gives teachers ample time to create the various tasks or questions and provides a wide enough stretch of content to serve as its foundation.
2. Consider searching online for various resources related to Bloom’s revised taxonomy. Whether they be question stems, action verbs, or even sample items, designing tasks or questions according to Bloom’s has a rich history. Many web and print resources exist that can be used to start teachers off on the right foot when designing their activities.
3. Choose a target value for students to meet in order to get full credit for the assignment. The higher the target value, the greater the number of options students should have at each level. DIY assignments that want students to get to 15 points, for instance, will need many more choices at each stage than those that have a target value of only eight points.
4. The number of choices at each stage should have an inverse relationship to their value. In other words, tasks worth one point should be more numerous than tasks worth six points. Ideally, the number of choices would decrease at a consistent rate. For example, a DIY assignment with a target value of 10 points might have four choices each worth one or two points. There might be three choices each worth three or four points but only two choices for the five- and six-point values.
5. To stretch students, ensure that the target value is always worth more than the number of options at the lowest point value. For those choosing to load up on one-point tasks or questions, they should still be required to complete at least one, hopefully two, tasks that are worth two points. The tradeoff between number of tasks and thinking requirements for each task should be abundantly clear to both the teacher and the students.
The students in Mr. Sisko’s 2nd grade class were finishing up a two-day unit on verbs, including past, present, and future tenses and subject-verb agreement. To bring the lesson cycle to an end, he designed a DIY activity for his students to complete. He knew that some of his students were still struggling with this concept while others were already adept at using verbs, both orally and in writing. Since these concepts will be taught for several more years, he didn’t feel as if he needed to bring his students to mastery. Instead, he was simply exposing them and he wanted his culminating task to reflect that reality.
“Alright students, take a look at the whiteboard if you will. You should see three sentences I’ve created for this activity. We’ve been working on verbs for the past few days and this will serve as kind of a test to see how much you know. It’s not a normal test, though. You’ll get to pick which activities best show how much you learned, so choose wisely.
“Your goal is to get to 10 points. Once you’ve done that, you can turn your test in. Next to each little activity is a number – that’s how much that activity is worth. You can see there are two different activities worth one point each. Since there are three different sentences on the board, you can complete each activity three different times, one with each sentence. Just looking at the activities worth one point each, there’s a total possibility of getting six points with just those two activities. That will get you over half way to the 10 points.
“Some of you, though, might want to try something worth more points. These activities will take you a little longer to complete but you’ll be rewarded by earning more points. One final thing to notice is the two activities worth the most points. The five-point activity only has one correct answer. Unlike the activities worth one, two, three, or four points, you won’t be able to do this with all three sentences, only one.
“The last activity, worth six points, doesn’t even use any of the sentences on the board. Instead, you have to write your own sentence with at least seven words that has correct subject-verb agreement. Since you’re making up your own sentence instead of using one from the board, you can also only do that activity once. And yes, I know what some of you are thinking. You can go over the 10 points if you want,” Mr. Sisko said as the students began to murmur. “If you want to knock this test out with only two activities, you only have to complete the five- and six-point activities or even a four-point activity and the six-point activity.”
Mr. Sisko couldn’t get out of the way soon enough. His students pulled out pieces of paper quickly and began to write their headings. There were a few students he called back to his small group table to help but, for the most part, his class was more than ready to dive into this mini-assessment.
One way to modify a DIY assignment for students has nothing to do with its design but instead focuses on how it’s scored. If students are tasked with meeting the target amount of 10 points, students can be given the option of earning extra credit up to a certain point. For example, students can submit activities worth up to 12 points for the task. The extra two points can be used to offset any errors in the original 10 points or give them an opportunity to earn up to 120% on the assignment.
For concepts that are new to students, or that do not need to be taught to mastery, the levels of the DIY assignment can be further modified. If students are simply being introduced to something that will be addressed later, the different tasks can simply reflect the lower stages of Bloom’s revised taxonomy (i.e., remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing). Students can choose from four levels instead of six and simply be given more choices per level to compensate. The target value, however, should remain similar to what would normally be asked of students. Simply because they are asked lower-level questions doesn’t mean they should be penalized with more work.
Once students have experienced many different forms of a DIY assignment, they can assist in the planning process. Understanding the design of the six levels of tasks, students can work in partners, using a verb list related to Bloom’s revised taxonomy, to create sample items for several levels. Their job would be to use either question stems or action verbs to match an upcoming unit or assignment. One of the many benefits of including them in this creative process is the level of investment they have in the completed assignment. Being able to provide input to the design of the overall activity will greatly increase engagement. Additionally, it will also stimulate their brains at the highest levels. Even if they are creating activities for lower stages of Bloom’s, such as remembering or understanding, the creation process itself is at the highest stage. The cherry on top to this variation is that it can potentially save the teacher quite a bit of preparation time!
If anything is going to detract teachers from using a DIY assignment, it is the preparation time needed to make it work. One way to get around a lengthy planning period would be to create a DIY task around a recurring component in the content. For example, students reading a fictional text will always have a setting to examine. Creating a set of six tasks, one for each stage of Bloom’s revised taxonomy, a standing DIY assignment about setting can be made once and used again and again. With each new book or short story that students read, they can apply the same series of tasks. Longer stories can have a larger target value, requiring more activities, and shorter stories can have a smaller target value.
Modifying This For Virtual Learning
One of the easiest adaptations of this task is to make the DIY assignment or choice board virtual for expanded descriptions. While restricted to paper and pencil, each task has a limited number of words to describe simply because of the size of the paper. You will naturally have to cut something out if you want everything to fit on one piece of paper. Instead of accepting these limitations, moving this to a Google Doc or Google Slide opens everything up.
Each task can be hyperlinked to another Doc or Slide that contains complete instructions, grading guidelines, and even examples. This last part will be especially important to help struggling learners. This type of wide-open assignment definitely raises the rigor but some students will have difficulty accessing everything without scaffolded support. You can link explanation videos and images of completed tasks to serve as exemplars to help guide students.