—Mike Deineka Sr. (c.1996-2001)

This week’s work will focus on the designing of an ACT. An ACT is either an Activity, a Challenge or a Task.

I first discovered the usefulness of ACTs when I was teaching my own Gr. 5 class ( a very long time ago!). I always found that my class always seemed to be out of whack. Some students were not prepared to move on with the lessons because they lacked the background, skill, whatever to allow me to move on. While others had the necessary content/skills and were being punished because I was holding them back while I was reviewing material, presenting it again from a different point of view or reteaching or drilling material to catch up the slow pokes. So I decided to give the more capable students (and they were not always the brightest) an opportunity to move ahead while I spent time with the others. By putting them in groups and giving them an ACT to do they were kept busy learning while I spent that time with the rest of the class reviewing, drilling, teaching and presenting additional material that would bring them closer to those doing the ACTs. That way, when the groups doing the ACTs presented to the class, the rest of the students were ready to received the new material and learn most of it. This idea helped me to keep my students busy, learning and I was able to meet the individual needs of all (or most) of my students. A mandate that is still ours to this date, even with the new Ministry Guidelines.

Another very important issue that I discovered, again, a long time ago, was that I needed to INTEGRATE my curriculum if I was ever going to implement it completely as I was required to do (same as today). So, when ACTs were being presented by the groups to the class, I always made sure that other skills, knowledge, etc. from other subject areas were being used again. This time they were being used as a method of presentation…i.e. Art ideas were being used in their Bulletin Board displays, Drama was being used by the groups to share the information they had found, Puppet Plays, etc. Today, with the emphasis on Technology there are no limit to what students can use to share their ACTs with the rest of the class: PowerPoint presentations, animation, entire presentations with images, sound, movies, etc. can be designed and kept in a CD Rom and the rest of the class can access them in the Computer Lab of the school.

ACTs are meant to be done by a group of students (note a group/not individuals) working alone, with little or no guidance from the teacher. All the information that the student will need to demonstrate the Expectations are given to the group of students at the start of the ACT and then they are given a timeline and left to work on their own. At times, you may want to have Conferences with the group to assess progress, deal with problems, etc.

Obviously, ACTs are seldom done at the start of a Unit of Work. Certain background information, data, and above all skills will have to have been covered during the early period of a Unit in Content/Concept Lessons or in Skill Lessons directed and presented by the teacher (TC) which would contain Seatwork that would allow students to demonstrate that they have learned either the content or the skill taught by the teacher. (When a single student engages in doing something that is similar to an ACT it is called an Independent Study or Individual/Independent Research. Although both are similar in intent, an ACT is always done in small groups of 2,3,4 or even 5 students)

ACTs are always presented to the rest of the class, so that they can learn the expectations required by the Ministry. At the Presentation Stage, the group of students that have done the ACT become the teachers and in the same way as a teacher presents a lesson, so do these students present their work and ALWAYS follow it up with a piece of SEATWORK that they design for the class to do to ensure themselves that the class has understood and learned what they have presented. In other words, the ACT, when completed becomes a Lesson given to the students by the students, with the usual seatwork.

There are a couple of different situations when the ACT is not presented and here are those cases:

  1. When you have 4 different ACTs designed for one Unit and the entire class, working in groups, will do each ACT.

  2. When you use a method called JIG SAWING where individual students work in each of the 4 ACTs and then meet as a small group to teach the rest of the group what that individual learned at the ONE ACT that they worked on as a member of that ACT group.

Keep in mind that ACTs are very similar (and in the JK/SK program they are exactly the same thing ) to Activity Centres. You can easily design a large part of a Unit (say in Science) where you would set up a series of ACTs (centres) around the room and students will visit all or most of them as part of your presentation of the Unit. The key difference between an ACT and a Centre is that at a Centre, the students will work alone, but in an ACT the work is divided up so each member is responsible for part of the work and the issue of collaborativeness, teamwork and industry becomes very important in the success or failure of the work of the student.

Some people get confused and think that Lessons and ACTs are the same thing and they are not. This comes about because an ACT could be used as SEATWORK that may take about a week to do, but again it does not qualify because SEATWORK is done usually by individuals (and as a test to see if what you taught has been grasped by individuals) and ACTs are brand new Content/Skills that are being learned by a small group of students working without your input as much as possible.

Some Expectations, that you have already identified could be both TC and SC. These are the Expectations where long lasting (several days, periods, etc) SEATWORK will give you the chance to TEACH something and then allow the students to learn something on their own. BUT, these are NOT ACTs.

Here is a comparison between Lessons and ACTs that may help you to sort these out:

I hope that the above helps you to sort out the differences. If you have any questions about this, please post them on the Questions/Problems/Issue Folder and I will deal with them as soon as I read it.

ASSIGNMENT: Your assignment is to design your own ACT. Using either the Sample Unit we are using or your own Unit that you are working on. This will be the hardest assignment you will have to do in this Tutorial and it will take you a bit of time, so the deadline will be in two weeks (Sunday, April 1st). Once you have learned to do this, the rest of the Scaffolding will not be as difficult, because you are familiar with all the other required components of a Unit (lessons, etc.). So, be brave and take this as a learning opportunity and try to design one and post it for all to read. If you do post an ACT, I will post it in the ACT Conference that I have and when I do, I will put your name in it and you will be able to access all other ACTs that have been designed by former students of mine as well as all the ACTs that will be designed by students at York this year. The total expected by the end of the year is over 100 ACTs in Science and Social Studies (JK-Gr.8).

WARNING: I will be using as a sample ACT one of the ACTs that one of my former students designed a couple of years ago. I do have permission to use it but I want you to be aware that the student was a First Year student and it was done as part of a class assignment and did not have to be as complex or explicit as I am now asking your ACT to be. It does contain all the components required, but it does not have the INTEGRATION or USE OF TECHNOLOGY that I am asking you folks to build into your ACT. Still, it is an excellent example and I am sure you will agree that for a first year student, it shows a lot of depth of understanding of curriculum and methodology. The assignment got an A.


You are to choose ONE Content/Concept Expectation that is Student Controlled and read it carefully. While you are reading this Expectation, you should be asking yourself the following questions:

  1. If a small group of students were to learn this on their own, without my assistance, what would they need to be able to do, read, find, write, record, etc? (make a list to help you remember)

  2. Which group of students could do this? (if you had your own class)

Now look at the list of SKILL EXPECTATIONS from that unit. Which ones that are listed there would be useful for the students to use to learn the Content Expectation? (look at your list and see if there is a match…if not….choose at least one Skill Expectation to be used).

Lastly, look at the APPLICATIONAL EXPECTATIONS and find ONE expectation that fits with the Content and Skill and that could be used by the group of students learning that Content as a way of applying what they learned.

What you are actually doing is BUILDING OR SCAFFOLDING an ACT.

As you go from Content expectation to Skill to Application an ACT is being formed in your head. An ACT is emerging that a group of students, working alone, can do.

As this image emerges, another set of things are emerging in your head…..things that the students will need if they were to do it by themselves…you are probably saying to yourself…if I gave them some books, or found them some Internet sites, or films to look at or people to interview, they could do this…. You may also be saying to yourself……if I gave them some way of keeping track of their information so that there was order to it…..RECORDING DEVICES….they would be able to gather all the data they needed and they could sort it, or classify it…or compare/contrast it…etc. Another issue that may be coming to your mind as you SCAFFOLD the ACT is what they will do with it (this probably will enter your mind when you choose the Applicational Specific Expectation… may be thinking….they could design an interactive Bulletin Board that would engage the rest of the class and at the same time give the information they have learned….or they would do a Puppet Play that depicts Early Civilization characters meeting and talking about their own civilizations and how they are different, same, etc…..So ….as you read and re-read and ponder how to make it all three components gel together…you are actually designing the ACT. NOW WRITE IT DOWN. Keep in mind that this first draft is your own words and that you will have to edit and revise it so that a group of students can read it and understand it.

As you Scaffold this ACT….keep in mind this image…it may help you. It certainly helps me to do it. I always picture the ACT in a BOX. Everything they need is in it…STUDENT RESOURCES: books, lists of Internet sites, recording devices, pens, pencils, materials they may need, etc. That way, I know that the ACT is self sufficient and I wont be needed ..IF I provide everything.

One additional item that is required and it is the key to success is a Rubric. This rubric will outline in its components the parts of the ACT that they will need to do. Find, Record, etc… I use all the verbs in the EXPECTATIONS I chose to ensure that the work is being done according to expectations. And by giving them the 4 levels of quality achievement possible, I assist them in gauging just how well they are doing their ACT. SO A RUBRIC IS A PART OF THE ACT and it is SPECIFIC TO THE ACT itself. (see sample ACT)

Another thing included in the ACT are Teac her Resources. This section is meant to be used only by the teacher. For her/his benefit. To let him/her gain information needed to ensure a quality assessment of the work being done by the students. Usually, these sites/books are too difficult to be read by the students, but the teacher could use them for her own learning.

The last thing is a section where you acknowledge the help you got from your peers, HTs, etc. I find that in our profession, we seldom say thanks to those whose ideas we used as a springboard for our idea or even as a part of our own work. This is a professional thing to do and that is why I put it in the ACT.

Now you are ready to start… go to your Content Expectations and choose ONE ONLY…….go to the Skill Expectations and choose as many as you need…..(two or three) and then choose ONE ONLY Application Expectation and start SCAFFOLDING.