I’ve been unwilling to write a blog post for a week or so now … and that’s a big deal for me because I love writing my blog. I got a little bit grumpy by a post that I read about PBL and the suggestion that teachers create narrow questions and projects as a means to control student learning. You can read Ewan’s thoughts about PBL and design thinking here. His post hurt me and I found it hard to control my fury, unleashing a rather immature series of tweets about his post, and it made me feel heaps better. Ho hum, I am me.
But then I realised that what he did was awesome, it really challenged my way of thinking about ‘PBL’ (whatever that is) and how I approach being a teacher. This year has been chaos for me – in and out of class, feeling outta my depth with stuff – and I haven’t honed my students’ group-work skills as well as I would have liked. In fact, I’ve been controlling their learning all year. But is that such a bad thing? I really don’t know anymore. This year I’ve watched three year groups participate in a project that wasn’t very well designed and lacked the embedded skill-development, planning and reflection needed to ensure a project’s success. The projects weren’t terrible, they were just very loose and I’m not sure learning outcomes were achieved. Learning outcomes?! Yes – that is something that we teachers are responsible for. Like it or not. I would suggest that we teachers would be rather lax in our roles as education professionals if we just threw outcomes out of the window, tossed kids a problem and then hoped that they learnt something relevant to our subject as they grapple with it.
What people on the ‘circuit’ selling products to educators forget is that we high school teachers are subject specialists. You might wanna kill us, but we won’t die easily. I know I joke and say ‘let’s kill the teacher’ but really I have so much respect for educators who are P.A.S.S.I.O.N.A.T.E about their subject – why not share your expertise and been seen as an expert? Doesn’t mean young people can’t be in control of their learning – the pace, the form, the direction. I know this blog post is crazy untidy and directionless, but I’ll just leave you with this … if the projects that I set for my students are ‘just another boring school project’ well at least I help make their learning visible every day in class. My role is to help them see where the might get to and why it might be worth getting there. So there.
Oh, and here are some ‘narrow’ projects that I have ‘designed’ and will ‘teach’ for the next three weeks. You might see them as heavily teacher-directed, and you’re right – they are. And I like it that way – it’s appropriate for this point in my students’ learning careers.