When students are consistently given more trivial kinds of tasks they can become intellectually lazy. Teachers then often make unduly low assessments of their students’ abilities. It is important to remember that we never know what students are really capable of. It is also true that working on demanding tasks may require some adjustment on the part of learners. Teachers may find it desirable to build slowly.
Tasks requiring perseverance allow learners time to make corrections in the light of what they have just discovered. Knowing how and when to re-design their strategy is a valuable lesson for future learning and career endeavours. Projects of longer duration also increase the challenges and the benefits of teamwork. A challenging project can bring out frustration in some team members but also provide an opportunity for others to provide encouragement in the face of difficulty.
A more prolonged investigation can unearth interesting lines of enquiry thereby enriching the perceived value of the work. It can also introduce the challenge of managing a large amount of information and honing it into a polished product.
Tasks of longer duration may best be tackled within a strategic framework. It may help students to discuss such a framework before they begin their investigating. For example:
- Brainstorm, to get a range of possibilities and group interests
- Define the key concepts and terms that require understanding
- Identify possible resources
- Define the output format of the project
- Discuss work assignments for group members
- Set a timeline
- Ongoing monitoring
Students who can clearly see the structure of a challenging project have a great advantage in all future learning.