Anchor tasks are often described as the moment during a Math in Focus lesson when less is more. Through less direct instruction and more problem solving and conversation, Anchor Tasks provide an opportunity to value prior knowledge, encourage productive struggle, differentiate for all students, and lay a foundation for the lesson’s key mathematical idea. (Shelly DuBose, Math in Focus, Singapore Math Institute 2014).
The following information is from the Math in Focus Anchor Task Reference Sheet
1) Zone of Proximal Development: An anchor task should not be easy. it should offer students the right amount of challenge and require them to persevere. Allow students to experience a "productive struggle." Don't be quick to provide answers
2) Group Work: Instead of a teacher showing students how to solve a math problem, students work together to solve it on their own. In groups, students pool knowledge and experiences. They share diverse perspectives, challenge assumptions, give and receive feedback and develop their own voices. As they discuss, debate, compare, and think, they learn.
3) Teach Less, Learn More: This is another Singapore concept and is at the heart of anchor tasks. Teachers are to encourage active and engaged learning, rely less on drill and practice, guide and facilitate rather than tell and talk, and nurture students' curiosity and passion for learning. Something magical starts to happen when teachers get out of the way and stop telling students exactly what to do and how to do it. Students think, problem-solve, question--and learn more.
4) Questioning: Student thinking is not driven by answers, but by questions. To make it work, teachers need to develop questions in advance of the start of the anchor task. Asking open-ended questions encourage students to reflect on their thinking process. Math in Focus Questioning Techniques
Three Elements of an Anchor Task
1) Launch: Present the problem in a way that pulls students in. Think about a context that is relevant and interesting. Students are encouraged to listen and ask questions to demonstrate understanding of and engagement with the task.
2) Explore: Students work in pairs or small groups while teachers monitor and assess student progress. This is where students construct their understanding. Ask students to justify what they are doing.
3) Debrief: The class is brought together for students to explain their thinking and their approaches. These student presentations allow teachers to determine what learning has taken place and address any misconceptions. Sequence student presentations with the most basic method being presented first and each successive presentation increasing in complexity.
Illustrative Math: A great resource for Anchor Tasks. Here is a list of the tasks that align with 6th grade Common Core Standards: https://www.illustrativemathematics.org/search?query=6.
Anchor Task Ideas
1) Prime Factorization
6) Order of Operations
7) Number Lines and Comparing Numbers
8) Negative Numbers
9) Absolute Value
10) Dividing Fractions
11) Multiplying Decimals
12) Dividing Decimals