Opening Up Summative Tasks

I finally have something to add to this blog… I hope it is worth it.

I am probably the most guilty of creating outlandish summative tasks that hook students in, take days (even weeks!) to finish and look like inquiry at its best. My thoughts have changed a lot over the past couple of years. An Understanding By Design workshop a few years back asked us, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”. Is it really worth setting up these amazing activities, when you could get the same outcome in 10-20 minutes.

Another thought from that course was whether rubrics have a role in summative assessment tasks. For me, rubrics are essential for providing instant feedback and scaffolding for a learner – much needed for formative assessment tasks. They are great for developing skills and knowledge. However, I think that they have no place in a summative task. For a task to be truly summative, teachers need to remove the scaffolding and see what students can do unaided. Rubrics provide too many hints in “getting it right.”

A recent workshop with Kath Murdoch nurtured this thought further….. why not have students select their own way of showing their understandings. So last week, I developed this (please note, it is a draft!):


Based on the work of Wiggins and McTighe’s Six Facets of Understanding and that spark from Kath Murdoch, I am starting to wonder if this model can help students select their own summative task.

My proposed structure is having students firstly complete the following sentence starter:

I can _____________ (insert one of the verbs in the middle circle) my understanding of the Central Idea by _____________ing (insert one of the verbs in the outer circle)…. and that is as far as I can get. Obviously the student completes their planned task, but something is missing from the complete equation. Maybe this is where you can come in!

I believe that this model helps open it up to a range of possibilities, allows for great transfer of understandings and encourages creativity.

Feedback more than welcome! I need to get over the final hurdle.


15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. McGuigan
    Mar 11, 2013 @ 15:37:19

    Further thinking: the core stays the same but outer circle develops over the year and gets passed on to next year group. A document from Kindy to Year 6.


  2. kathmurdoch
    Mar 11, 2013 @ 23:06:05

    Hi Adam. Thanks for sharing the work you have done here. I am so glad to hear that the workshop has sparked some further thinking for you. I think the ‘wheel’ you have created would be a very useful tool for students as they go about designing ways to demonstrate their learning. I am wondering whether the scaffold you provide could be more straightforward if it was “I can demonstrate my learning by…. (showing perspective/explaining…). I plan to… (create/argue/reflect….) They may then go on to outline their proposed task in a little more detail. I wondered also about the possibility of a third layer to the circle that might suggest possible ‘products’/texts that would best suit these facets but they may make it unnecessarily detailed. I think some kind of success criteria is important – even for a summative task. This can be co constructed with students. In the workshop, I suggested that the facets of learning can be used to support student self assessment of understanding in a formative as well as summative way. They could use your wheel to go back over some of the work they have done throughout an inquiry and select evidence for a portfolio. Obviously, none of this works particularly well without some exploration with students of the nature of understanding itself and the meaning of the facets. That’s the fun part! Would love to hear how you go with this – keep blogging and keep in touch!


    • McGuigan
      Mar 12, 2013 @ 01:05:27

      Thanks for the feedback. I originally had a third wheel of products and tools but thought this may overload the page. Plus I think that a third wheel would need to be sensitive to culture: classroom, school and beyond. I wouldn’t want to set up a wish list or set kids up for failure.

      I will tinker with the guiding statement for students. As for the success criteria, it boils down to communication skills and that needs to be developed by individual classrooms for it to be truly authentic.

      Thanks again! Will let things ferment a bit more and maybe even see if this gains traction from others. I do believe there is something here.


  3. markshillitoe
    Mar 11, 2013 @ 23:17:31

    Reblogged this on Learning Freewheel and commented:
    Meaningful assessment for learning, how can I show my understanding?


  4. nawal
    Mar 11, 2013 @ 23:54:18

    I had your idea, but I was in a dout , as for my students ability. So I have got courage to do it now. thank u.


  5. Afshan Bandeali
    Mar 12, 2013 @ 00:25:25

    A useful tool for students to take ownership of own learning.


  6. Marina Gijzen
    Mar 13, 2013 @ 01:46:47

    I love this remark: “Is it really worth setting up these amazing activities, when you could get the same outcome in 10-20 minutes.”
    After observing other teachers and then ‘observing’ myself teach, I realized that we repeat ourselves unnecessarily so much! As a listener, I understand why students turn off, they feel like “you’ve told me already now let me go and to do!” I have been making a big effort to be very prepared for my lessons (if I’m going to talk, it should be well planned and important), using visuals and having the instructions written up ahead of time for reference. The lesson is quick, interesting and the kids are off doing their own learning without me droning on killing the enthusiasm. So far, it has been effective. Let’s get the learning back in the students’ hands!


  7. Brady Cline
    Mar 14, 2013 @ 05:00:21

    I was sitting in the same UbD workshop, and I too have been haunted by the “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” comment. The PYP Exhibition is a perfect case-study. Is there amazing learning going on? Sure, but if we are completely honest, there’s a good chance that at least half of the students spend at least half of the six weeks wandering around. In the end, most of them pull through and demonstrate some really great understanding, but not necessarily six-weeks worth. The same thing happens with many activities we design.

    I think this has a lot to do with how the units are often designed around lengthy projects. I believe a series of short (hours not days), related projects with quick deadlines and quick feedback would provide more opportunity for students to demonstrate deepening understandings and minimize wasted time/effort. Among other things, this requires us to get over ourselves a bit and give up our most grandiose ideas that we know everyone else will admire.


    • McGuigan
      Mar 14, 2013 @ 05:20:23

      I agree with the PYP Exhibition comment which, again, I’m very guilty of. What I find is that it ends up being an endless research project, with little to show at the end apart from some interesting facts. It is good for skill development, but why cram them into a six week session?

      Trying a new approach this year of a couple weeks of research only, and more time given to applying that new knowledge into some form of action. This is where that template (or something better) would come into play.


  8. Brady Cline
    Mar 14, 2013 @ 05:13:39

    UbD postulates that a transfer task is required to demonstrate true understanding. This is what makes having an explicit rubric available for students so tricky. They need to understand what the expectations are, but we don’t want to scaffold the assessment with a list of clues on what to do.

    I don’t think this is that hard of a problem to overcome. Use a general rubric repeatedly throughout the year – something like the MYP rubric that students see over and over again throughout the year. With each formative assessment, model and collaborate with students to create a criteria chart that links specific objectives to the general rubric. Do this often. When it comes to the final transfer task, students should be required to make their own criteria chart. If they’ve done it often, it should be a simple task for them and they could use something very much like Adam’s wheel as a template.


    • McGuigan
      Mar 14, 2013 @ 05:26:04

      I have developed a new reporting system for my school which is being used now. It is a general rubric developed around the essential elements of the PYP and is the same rubric for each student, each grade/year level and each unit. With your comments in mind, this probably needs to be explicitly displayed and discussed in each class during each unit so students have clear expectations for the unit. Or… I have something else that could work. New post to come.


  9. kviloria
    Mar 16, 2013 @ 19:04:53

    Hi! Thanks for sharing this. I really like your idea/draft and it gave me an idea on how to assess my students’ understanding of the central idea. It’s a great way to provide prompts to students- what understanding means, what they can do, and the evidence of their learning. I agree with Kath Murdoch- it will be interesting to have prompts for products. You idea reminded me of the bloom’s wheel (


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  12. Melina McNeil
    Mar 11, 2020 @ 19:46:42

    Hi, I really like your circular image of the 6 facets of understanding. I see how the students would be able to make their statement using the main 6 terms with the outside verbs. Would I be able to use this image?
    Thanks in advance!


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