The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Task Analysis

Task analysis is an important process to do as a teacher, but it can be incredibly time-consuming. The concept behind task analysis is to have students go through a very specific process and watch what they are doing in order to better identify strengths and weaknesses. I use task analyses quite often, but I don’t write about them very much. In fact, I think I’ve only blogged about task analysis once before, and that was in 2012, toward the end of my first year teaching at Wiley.

We are swiftly approaching the end of the second quarter and the start of our two-week winter break. We are also swiftly approaching the end of our math unit on multiplication, specifically the multiplication of a multi-digit whole number by a single-digit whole number and multiplying two two-digit whole numbers. The students have been learning a variety of strategies, such as open arrays and partial quotients, and we have been connecting these strategies to the standard vertical algorithm (SVA) that has been used and taught for generations. For parents who have been asking, here is a quick video showing how to solve the same problem using the SVA, an open array, and partial products:


Today I decided to use a task analysis to see how well my students understand the SVA. I gave them a two-digit by two-digit multiplication problem and then watched as they solved it one by one. I was specifically looking to see if they knew the basic multiplication facts, the process of multiplying by a number in the ones’ place, carrying, multiplying by a number in the tens’ place, and adding the partial products together.

What I found was very telling. Some of my students have mastered the SVA. Some understand how to use it when multiplying by a single digit but they aren’t sure how to integrate the tens. Some students use alternate strategies that work for them, which I think is fantastic! And some students know the algorithm but they don’t quite have all of the multiplication facts committed to memory, leading to computational errors.

Having conducted the task analysis, the next step is to use the information to guide instruction for the next couple of days. I will be working with small groups to provide specific support as we wrap up this unit and prepare for the break. And yes, we will continue to work on multiplication throughout the year. This unit is just one period of intense focus on this important math skill.


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