Posts Tagged PBL
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.
I have cause today to be trawling through the glossary in the new Queensland senior English syllabus, and these two terms caught my eye:
Making a note here, to remind me I have these terms in place to talk with senior English teachers about project based learning.
This semester I am attempting to demonstrate project based learning (PBL) in action by giving both of my classes an extra-curricular project to work on.
(More about whether these projects are in-or-extra to ‘the curriculum’ in an upcoming post…)
Pre-service teachers in my 3rd year English curriculum studies class are themselves focusing on how to use a PBL approach to design learning for junior secondary English. Their final assignment involves working in groups of 3-4 to create a PBL unit of work and assessment task/criteria sheets.
So, while we are learning about PBL, we are also doing PBL. And here is the project flyer:
We’re in Week 6 of a 9-week semester, and I already know that exploring ‘ways of speaking poetry’ is going to get squeezed out. That’s OK. My original goal of using the explore phase to offer a ‘smorgasbord’ of experiences has been usurped by getting to know the students and their needs – and they need to spend time going deeper into ways of reading and writing poetry. That’s cool – one of the things I am proud to model for my PSTs is they way plans have to change once real humans are involved. This need to teach in a responsive, agile way is understandably one of the things that new teachers find confronting, but ultimately it’s what effective teaching requires.
I’m at that critical stage of the project where I’m looking at the number of lessons left vs work that needs to get done to complete the project – eek!
My original plan was to get enough poetry artefacts to fill an entire display cabinet, but thankfully the cabinet has SHELVES, so our new goal is to fill 1-2 shelves only. Not a bad result it turns out, as it gives me space to run this project again next year and fill the cabinet progressively instead of all at once.
The whole project is supposed to take 6 weeks. By the second week I wished I had twice as much time! But that’s how teaching rolls, eh – PBL or no.
Will post pics of the finished cabinet display at the end of semester 🙂
…and I had promised you I would write back. This is probably going to be about my speed. Unless we pick up pace. Time will tell.
I honestly don’t know anyone who has gone to those research coursework seminars and felt differently. The stuff is always too general, but you’ve hit the nail on the head – it’s hard to do otherwise. With adult learners, that is. Though I’m surprised you didn’t get credit for already doing similar courses, that’s a shame. The flipside is though, that you also typically learn something interesting or important at those things, even if you don’t know until way down the track how relevant some tidbit will turn out to be.
Like, that activity you described, where images are used as metaphors to get people talking about their feelings…that’s a cool idea. I plan to steal that. Thank you Sandy Shuck.
So, you seem pretty confident about conceptual frameworks, but can I ask you this – it’s the question I asked at the end of your blog post. Do you know the difference between a theoretical and a conceptual framework, and can you explain it? I had not honestly given enough though to the difference between the two. I looked back on my own thesis and found that I sectioned things out like this:
Chapter: Research Design.
Subheadings: ‘research issue and key questions’, ‘research framework’, ‘theoretical orientation’, ‘methodology’ and ‘methods’.
It got me wondering whether I just used non-standard headings for some things. That sounds like me. But also whether my ‘research framework’ was more or less conceptual or theoretical. One thing I do often wonder is how anyone can have a conceptual framework before having reviewed the relevant research literature. Surely it should go: lit review first, THEN select some research questions based on gaps in the field, THEN choose conceptual/theoretical frameworks and methodologies to best answer those questions, and THEN select methods suitable to collect and analyse data.
I wonder if you would like to share a part of your research proposal. I’m curious how you wrote up the bit about researching in your own school, and glad to hear you were satisfied with the direction you had worked on with Jane. Is it a…practitioner inquiry? case study? …?
Um, tips. You have to write. So write me back. It’s not a kind of writing you can rush. It’s good to have an audience in mind, so write me back.
In the spirit of that, I am also going to tell you in this letter about a thought I’ve had recently, and that I’m presently investigating for a research paper later this year. I’ve been thinking about the specifics of PBL and what the advantages of project-based vs other inquiry approaches (problem-based, challenge-based etc.) might be, in relation to democratic education. I still have no interest in trying to argue that project-based learning is ‘better than’ any other particular type of learning inquiry, but I do suspect it may be more democratic. This is based on the way PBL encourages and provides students with tools to frame their learning in the context of socially and textually authentic, personally relevant driving questions. At a gold standard it also incorporates opportunities for students to exercise choice and voice, and work toward presentation of a public product. Positioning students as knowledge creators, not just knowledge consumers, is vital here.
Here’s where you might take up the Dewey reading sooner rather than later, because that’s what I’m revising and I could use a buddy. What do you think PBL has to do with democratic education, or freedom? A question for another day maybe! I’d also like to attempt reading some of Garth Boomer’s work about English curriculum specifically, but because about to start semester 2, reading time is limited.
This is a TED Talk that had popped up on my feed a few times, and now I’ve watched it, I can see why.
What if more classrooms were habitats in which wonder thrived?
What if classrooms were places that children knew their questions would be heard?
What if it was more exciting in a classroom to not know something, than it was to know something?
Kath Murdoch talks about the power of curiosity in classrooms:
One of my students followed up this investigation with the following juicy question:
Essential fluencies seem to structure skills within select criterion, however I am curious as to whether PBL uses these as guides (depending on the student’s PBL objective) or whether students are meant to meet all of these at different stages of their PBL (to achieve a final product)?
If this is a flexible criteria, would using a feedback grid be the most effective way of communicating the development of an idea (as it focusses less on curriculum goals, more on constructive advice)?
I decided to post my answer to part of this question here on the blog:
You’ve asked a good question about skills and standards. My understanding of PBL (and other inquiry-based models) is that assessing skills is just as important as assessing content knowledge.
There are two (opposing) axioms that relate to this:
- ‘What gets measured gets done’.
- ‘Not everything that matters can be measured; not everything that can be measured matters’.
At the moment I’m inclined to agree with the PBL movers and shakers – that developing ‘soft skills’ should be seen as a vital curriculum goal, just as important as the acquisition of discipline knowledge and technical skills. The argument here is that if we don’t find a way of measuring/assessing soft skills then teachers will continue to sideline them. Because ‘what gets measured gets done’.
The BIE crowd have developed a range of assessment rubrics for the four skills that they identify as most important to PBL specifically: creativity and innovation, presentation/communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. You can find them here:
Of course, the opposing view is that such assessment rubrics lead people to forget the second axiom ‘not everything that matters can be measured’. I know sometimes I’ve watched presentations for example that are awesome, but their awesomeness can’t be explained using the BIE assessment rubric. It’s like all rubrics actually need a criteria labelled “X factor!” for when a piece of work or project does something amazing that we didn’t plan to (or cannot) measure. And sometimes by focussing students so explicitly on assessment rubrics, they can get obsessed with how to ‘game’ the criteria to reach the highest standard, rather than taking risks in their learning to work toward a big-picture goal.
As there is no ‘Ultimate God of PBL’, we are free to use whatever framework we want to think about “soft skills”. We can take up the Essential Fluencies, we can take up the skills foregrounded by BIE, we can use the 4Cs proposed by p21.org, or we can use the General Capabilities from the Australian Curriculum.
But ultimately I’d argue that yes, whatever framework you choose, you should find a way of explaining to students the standards you are looking for on a range of criteria, for the particular project they’re working on. Assessment rubric sheets should be designed to make the criteria and expected standards transparent to the learner, and to aid the feed-forward process throughout a project as well as the feed-back process at the end of a project.
I know I haven’t answered all of the parts of this student’s juicy question, and we’ll be talking more about it in class. It may generate another blog post. In the meantime…
- How would you answer this student’s question?
- Do you agree that providing assessment rubrics for soft skills is useful for learning in PBL (or otherwise)?
Last week I presented material on using PBL in English at the AATE national conference.
Some English teachers up here in Brisbane gave me permission to show their work there, and I also shared some key links that helped me when I was beginning my PBL journey:
- The bie.org run down of what PBL actually entails
- Andrew Miller’s post on edutopia.org about writing effective ‘driving questions’
- Bianca Hewes’ post about how to ‘manage the mushy middle’ of a project
The big points about PBL that I highlighted by the end of the talk were:
- PBL involves a process of deep learning over time.
- PBL must involve an authentic audience beyond the teacher.
- PBL still involves small bites of teacher-delivered material, timed to support learning and project progress.
- PBL involves students in tackling real world concerns. Relevance is key!
Finally, I offered a range of my own ideas for PBL units for English. This frustrated non-teaching teacher would be very pleased to see others use/adapt/critique these project concepts…please report back if you do!
It’s the end of semester one, which means two things for me:
- It’s time to prepare my ethics application for my funded research on project based learning in secondary English.
- It’s time to finalise preparations for my own project based learning plan for next semester.
I’ve been trying out elements of project based learning (PBL) for a few years now, and this will be the first unit that I feel fully embraces the model to underpin class organisation and one of the two major assignments:
This assignment will no doubt shift a little as I develop marking criteria to align to the unit outcomes. Ah, constructive alignment, don’t you love it?
This blog will largely be used in the forseeable future to record and reflect on my PBL research and teaching.
This semester I modified my unit planning assessment for CLP409 (Secondary English Curriculum Studies 2) based on the outline developed by Bianca Hewes. You can see the 40 fantastic project outlines by her fabulous #EDMT5500 students on her blog.
Bianca developed her ‘Inquire, Create, Share’ model for project-based learning (PBL) units after finding that planning PBL units needed to involve more visible teaching and explicit structure to ensure students learned required knowledge and collaboration skills.
As I see it, this approach is a variation of existing models that suggest units of work be designed around phases of ‘Orientate, Enhance, Synthesise’. These particular verbs are popular in Queensland Schools, and can be found as one of two recommended unit planning frameworks on the QSA website.
The two things that I love about the unit framework that Bianca has developed are:
- It provides a structure for PBL units that takes on the narrative flow I find so natural in teaching – there is a clear beginning, middle and end in these units.
- The shift in verbs used to drive learning activity is important; activities to ‘Orientate, Enhance and Synthesise’ could still be very teacher-centered but ‘Inquire, Create, Share’ and similar verbs deliver an imperative to engage student-centered learning and project sharing.
Following Bianca’s lead I am posting my Assignment Task Sheet here for all to see, and below you will find some of my students’ finished products, reproduced with their permission.
Please notice that I used the same Driving Question as Bianca, ‘How can I create a project for English that will help my students own their learning?’, and that I retained some of the structure of her original project as well. Some things I did a bit differently were: adding an essay writing component where students justified their choices using scholarly and professional literature; requiring students to refer to Australian Curriculum elements rather than ISTE NETS and professional standards; providing models of other assignments.
Of course, I could only provide my class with models of assignments because Bianca’s students had been willing to publicly share their work in the first place. So a big THANK YOU to those fabulous (and generous) #EDMT5500 students, and to the University of Sydney, for making their work available to the world 🙂