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IV. Task Orientation

Task orientation is an important aspect of Effective Teaching because it relates to how much time the teacher actually spends on a designated instructional task. A task is a lesson that involves goals and activities that are designed to enhance student comprehension of identified concepts, skills or values. As a rule, the more uninterrupted minutes spent concentrating on a learning task, the higher possibility of learning success. In other words, students are most likely to learn (improve their comprehension) through their focus on the task. Staying on task requires that the teacher plan for an uninterrupted period of time in which the focus on instruction becomes intensive.

Task orientation is not a simple matter and it relies on many factors. Task orientation must appeal to the students. The first step in task orientation is to capture the attention of students. The second step in task orientation is to keep students’ attention and to heighten their interest in the task. Once this is accomplished, natural inclinations of human behavior will drive the lesson to a successful conclusion. While there are many ways to gain student attention, one of the oldest and most effective methods is to open the lesson with a question. For example we could beginning our social studies lessons with a typical rhetorical approaches designed to start argumentation.

What does it mean when we say citizens have the right to the pursuit of happiness?

Does equal rights mean an equal distribution of wealth?

Many years ago, while visiting an open-space classroom located in an elementary school in Boulder, Colorado, I encountered this important example of task orientation. This space contained several classrooms, a virtual school without walls. Within this space there was a great deal of busy activity. While visiting this lively space I came upon a third grade student who was working on a jigsaw puzzle, and as I watched her, I noted how intensively she was working despite the confusion and the noise that surrounded her. She could not be distracted and she was totally concentrating on the task of completing the puzzle. The rest of the students seemed restless and very active in some form of classroom work, but no one else was demonstrating this level of concentration. There was much visiting, and movement back and forth, and it was obvious that not much learning was taking place.

A few years earlier, while teaching in Southview Junior High School in Edina, Minnesota, I taught a course in eighth grade geography. Eighth grade is a most interesting year to teach, as these students are in the midst of many mental and physical changes. I found them interesting and delightful because of their enthusiasm. I was teaching a course in World Geography and decided to assign students the task of developing a set of maps as a course project. For each region of the world I prepared and handed out an outline map upon which they were to locate cities, natural resources, rivers, mountain ranges, and so forth. One student raised his hand and asked if they also could color the maps: I answered in the affirmative! Each student was to compete their assigned maps and then to place them in a portfolio that I also had provided. These portfolios were to be turned in near the end of the course. I kept the portfolios in the classroom in a cabinet so they would not be lost and were available for class time use.

To my amazement, students began appearing at my door after school. Just a few at first, and then their numbers increased. Soon half the class was present. They went to the cabinet, retrieved their folders and sat at their assigned seats and worked in almost total silence. They did not want to be disturbed by anyone. I stayed in the room and corrected papers, and soon other teachers began to appear at my door wanting to know what was going on. This went on for weeks without any instruction from me. Near the end of the course when I took up the portfolios for grading, I found that they were so excellent that I did not know how to grade them. Most of them were very colorful and contained icons in various locations and colorful map keys. They were like works of art, that students waited in high anticipation to learn the results of their efforts. All I had done was to happen upon a learning task that was ideally suited for them, and once it clicked, they could not be driven away.

Every learning task somehow must cause students to surrender their undivided attention; it must be something that appeals to their nature, whether it is intellectual or artistic. Challenge your students and they will respond. To succeed, teachers also must remove distractions from the instructional setting. A distraction is something that draws student attention away from the lesson. In addition, the teacher can provide tasks that command student interest, tasks that are interesting enough to arouse student curiosity – a puzzle, an artistic expression, an intellectual challenge.


1. The greater the amount of time that is spent on task, the greater the possibility of effective learning.
2. Some tasks are more important than others, and this importance is established when the teacher designates the amount of instructional time that will be allowed in the fulfillment of the task.
3. Important social studies tasks should be given the greatest amount of instructional time and less important tasks should be given to the least amount of instructional time.
4. Effective teaching demands that instructional time not be wasted, time wasted during class time can never again can be recovered.
5. Students’ tasks must be meaningful to them.
6. The means used to open a lesson will often depend on the degree of task orientation.
7. Open your lesson with a challenge, an interesting and provocative question.
8. If students display disinterest, try to another approach, another question, or another challenge. Do not give up!

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