Authentic Ways to Develop Performance-Based Activities

Students acquire knowledge, practice skills, and develop work habits

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Performance-based learning is when students participate in performing tasks or activities that are meaningful and engaging. The purpose of this kind of learning is to help students acquire and apply knowledge, practice skills, and develop independent and collaborative work habits. The culminating activity or product for performance-based learning is one that lets a student demonstrate evidence of understanding through a transfer of skills.

performance-based assessment is open-ended and without a single, correct answer, and it should demonstrate authentic learning, such as the creation of a newspaper or class debate. The benefit of performance-based assessments is that students who are more actively involved in the learning process absorb and understand the material at a much deeper level. Other characteristics of performance-based assessments are that they are complex and time-bound.

Also, there are learning standards in each discipline that set academic expectations and define what is proficient in meeting that standard. Performance-based activities can integrate two or more subjects and should also meet 21st Century expectations whenever possible:

There are also Information Literacy standards and Media Literacy standards that require performance-based learning.

Clear Expectations

Performance-based activities can be challenging for students to complete. They need to understand from the beginning exactly what is being asked of them and how they will be assessed.

Examples and models may help, but it is more important to provide detailed criteria that will be used to assess the performance-based assessment. All criteria should be addressed in a scoring rubric.

Observations are an important component and can be used to provide students with feedback to improve performance. Teachers and students can both use observations. There may be peer to peer student feedback. There could be a checklist or a tally to record student achievement.

The goal of performance-based learning should be to enhance what the students have learned, not just have them recall facts. The following six types of activities provide good starting points for assessments in performance-based learning. 

Presentations

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One easy way to have students complete a performance-based activity is to have them do a presentation or report of some kind. This activity could be done by students, which takes time, or in collaborative groups.

The basis for the presentation may be one of the following:

  • Providing information
  • Teaching a skill
  • Reporting progress
  • Persuading others

Students may choose to add in visual aids or a PowerPoint presentation or Google Slides to help illustrate elements in their speech. Presentations work well across the curriculum as long as there is a clear set of expectations for students to work with from the beginning.

Portfolios

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Student portfolios can include items that students have created and collected over a period. Art portfolios are for students who want to apply to art programs in college.

Another example is when students create a portfolio of their written work that shows how they have progressed from the beginning to the end of class. The writing in a portfolio can be from any discipline or a combination of disciplines.

Some teachers have students select those items they feel represents their best work to be included in a portfolio. The benefit of an activity like this is that it is something that grows over time and is therefore not just completed and forgotten. A portfolio can provide students with a lasting selection of artifacts that they can use later in their academic career. 

Reflections may be included in student portfolios in which students may make a note of their growth based on the materials in the portfolio.

Performances

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Dramatic performances are one kind of collaborative activities that can be used as a performance-based assessment. Students can create, perform, and/or provide a critical response. Examples include dance, recital, dramatic enactment. There may be prose or poetry interpretation.

This form of performance-based assessment can take time, so there must be a clear pacing guide.

Students must be provided time to address the demands of the activity; resources must be readily available and meet all safety standards. Students should have opportunities to draft stage work and practice. 

Developing the criteria and the rubric and sharing these with students before evaluating a dramatic performance is critical.

Projects

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Projects are commonly used by teachers as performance-based activities. They can include everything from research papers to artistic representations of information learned. Projects may require students to apply their knowledge and skills while completing the assigned task. They can be aligned with the higher levels of creativity, analysis, and synthesis.

Students might be asked to complete reports, diagrams, and maps. Teachers can also choose to have students work individually or in groups. 

Journals may be part of a performance-based assessment. Journals can be used to record student reflections. Teachers may require students to complete journal entries. Some teachers may use journals as a way to record participation.

Exhibits and Fairs

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Teachers can expand the idea of performance-based activities by creating exhibits or fairs for students to display their work. Examples include things like history fairs to art exhibitions. Students work on a product or item that will be exhibited publicly. 

Exhibitions show in-depth learning and may include feedback from viewers.

In some cases, students might be required to explain or defend their work to those attending the exhibition.

Some fairs like science fairs could include the possibility of prizes and awards. 

Debates

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A debate in the classroom is one form of performance-based learning that teaches students about varied viewpoints and opinions. Skills associated with debate include research, media and argument literacy, reading comprehension, evidence evaluation, public speaking, and civic skills. 

There are many different formats for debate. One is the fishbowl debate in which a handful of students form a half circle facing the other students and debate a topic. The rest of the classmates may pose questions to the panel.

Another form is a mock trial where teams representing the prosecution and defense take on the roles of attorneys and witnesses. A judge, or judging panel, oversees the courtroom presentation.

Middle school and high schools can use debates in the classroom, with increased levels of sophistication by grade level.