Live and learn
My co-teacher and I learned a lot during this process. Somethings went really right and other things, well, if I am honest went wrong. My stepmom, a 30 + year veteran teacher, once told me that what good teachers do is teach, monitor and then adjust. I am offering up some potential adjustments for my next foray into Project Based Learning. Despite the pitfalls, all in all I believe that Project Based Learning has an important role to play in our students' education.
The not so good stuff
For every group that was on task and collaborating, there were other groups struggling to complete basic tasks. Many of the projects that were turned in were missing components and the presentations for some were lackluster as students read their google slides rather than speaking with passion. We've, of course, tried to troubleshoot in realtime but I also want to lay a stronger foundation for the next time I undertake PBL.
So here's my list of must do's for the next time:
1) In addition to a rubric, provide a group checklist on brightly colored paper for students to complete as they move through the project. This list should always be on the table to foster dialog with the teachers.
2) Create a class visual (this was an idea I talked over with Gretchen today and I really like it). Break the project down into steps and create a visual poster that tracks where each group is in the process with dots. As students complete a portion, they move their dot. This them to see where they are in the process and provides a gauge for progress relative to their peers.
3) Create role lists for the group. My coteacher, Hannah, had this idea. I think I would create a graphic that breaks the entire project into tasks and each task is assigned to role 1, 2, or 3. Each student would be in charge of key components of the project, fostering leadership and cooperation among the group.
4) Make extensions for students that finish the basic components of the project early. This is a great way to build enrichment into the project and to challenge students who soar in these circumstances, while keeping the project more straightforward for students who struggle.
5) Devote an entire day to presentation skills. By this point in time, I expect my 8th grade students to be able to make strong presentations, but some of them really have a difficult time. Show them how to create an effective Google Slides presentation and then model exactly what we are looking for in the presentation. Spending this much time can seem like a sacrifice, but it truly is best practice and will benefit the students not only in your class but also as they work on future class presentations.
There is no perfection in PBL
As a perfectionist, and semi-control freak, it is difficult for me to do PBL because it means letting go and giving the control to my students. These projects are not going to be perfect and its when students hit the road bumps that real learning happens. PBL isn't a comfortable place for me, but it's the right place for teachers who want to make their learning student centered. Next year, I'll be back, trying it again and you might hear my muttering a little mantra under my breath: teach, monitor, adjust, repeat....
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