I’m just going to jump right back into blogging after a hiatus with some very complicated (or not, I hope?) project-based learning planning.
This is the third time I have lead the English Teaching Area for the MTeach unit EUN121 at my uni. I’m also the unit co-ordinator, and the second assignment in the unit allows me to get the English group planning an “inquiry task”, which in my class means “PBL”.
Students who are becoming secondary English teachers have four weeks (!) to plan their first ever PBL unit of work for English, submitting a project flyer and 2-page project calendar outline.
The first two times I taught this unit, I knew how to teach PBL. I set Bianca & Lee’s book as the textbook, gave students lots of example project flyers and plenty of direction in creating their driving questions. We had peer feedback opportunities, we used a planning template and gallery walk feedback method that I had already had success with in previous undergrad PBL unit. But when it came to making the “English stuff” visible in a project calendar, many struggled to see how a text study and a project could be done alongside each other. Questions persisted and I didn’t always know how to answer:
- Do you study the text completely first, before starting the project?
- How early can you start the Create phase?
- Can the Discover and Create phases overlap? If so, by how much?
- Is the the project product the summative assessment task?
- Can you have more than one summative assessment task?
- How do you assess process?
- Can I get them to write a reflection as well? Should I mark reflective writing? Do I mark it for content only, or also the quality of writing? (i.e. is a written reflection an assessment of writing, or process?)
I can share my knowledge about assessing process, and we look at the related rubrics from PBLworks to get an idea of this. But how to make the English ‘content’ visible? How to plan for text response and text production?
I think I finally have some ideas.
A couple of weeks ago I offered this planning grid to some colleagues on twitter for feedback, explaining that:
The grid that I designed tries to capture two distinctly different (though infuriatingly overlapping) cycles of learning in an English unit – the cycle of responding to texts, and the cycle of producing new texts. I also wanted to draw explicit attention to the need for clear ‘project milestones’, so that got a column too:
It needed a bit of explaining, which I found difficult to do without an example. I was able to show the two MTeach class examples that had lead me down this road – we’d been co-constructing a map of a term-long inquiry into poetry, playing around to answer the question of how to handle multiple assessment tasks, and how to make a text study overlap meaningfully with new text creation. But because the MTeach class example didn’t use the three PBL phases (we weren’t ‘there yet’), it’s explanatory power was limited:
So, there has only been one thing for it, and that is to trial the planning grid with my own MTeach PBL sequence. Here is the project flyer that I launched on Thursday (two days ago):
And here is my first draft of a plan that uses the basic grid design to attend to BOTH:
- text response and text production cycles, aligning to the English curriculum
- three phases of PBL (discover, create, share).
I believe the strength of the planning grid is that it allows a visual map to be formed, showing where the discover, create, share phases may overlap differently for text response and text production. In English, this could contribute a key resource for managing the mushy middle of a project by ensuring a realistic balance of directed learning and product creation can be achieved.
Another strength is the possibility for seeing PBL in English as consisting of two inquiry-driven ‘genre curriculum cycles’, where mastery of the assessment genre is attended to as closely as mastery of the texts studied.
I’ve teased out ‘project milestones’ and ‘assessment of process and product’ into two columns (the yellow and purple) after finding that trying to combine this information didn’t work out. Milestones are for planning, not for feedback.
The real road test will be in class. If the MTeach students find the planning grid useful, then we may finally be on to a winner for explaining the complexity of planning behind a unit of work in English.