Year 10 Project Based Learning – reflection

I recently posted about my attempt to initiate a pilot PBL experience with my Year 10 class. I had hoped to use this student-centred approach to School Certificate preparation. I know that seems oxymornic – student-centred learning as preparation for formalised summative assessment in the form of state-wide external examination. My kids thought I was a Class 1 moron too. Bummer.

Yes, they loved circle-time. They enjoyed discussing their perception of education – its failings and its successes. They liked the ‘idea’ of the project and its products. But they didn’t like the idea that it might adversely impact their School Certificate results. They didn’t like the idea that they would need to be active in their learning. They wanted the large ‘exam survival’ packets given to them in other subjects. They wanted to rub their fingers along the warm photocopied black and white paper and imagine themselves studying for hours in preparation for the exam. They wanted to indulge in the dream of exam preparedness that had been sold to them by teachers, school executive, parents and complete strangers with breathless voices and powerpoint slideshows.

They didn’t want to play my game.

The passivity of my students upset me – and I told them so. But I also showed them that I appreciated why they thought the way they did, and told them I was sympathetic to the pressures they felt and to their (seemingly genuine) desire to do well in their exams. Any teacher would be stoked to have students asking for study packs – right?

Trawling through youtube finding inspiring and provocative videos for my English Extension II students, I came across a clip I had seen my Head Teacher watching a week ago. It really does encapsulate my students’ attitude towards their exams and my proposed PBL-style preparation lessons. These kids are products of a system that encourages conformity and discourages independent thought. They are trained to be passive.

Note: I amended the title as per the suggestion of my learning journey guide, Darcy Moore. His comment below resonated with me and reminded me that the word ‘failure’ connotes ‘not doing it again’ or ‘be wary, don’t try this’ to teachers. I am already running PBL experiences with two other classes because I have faith in inquiry-based, problem-based and student-based learning. See my next post on Project Based Learning here.

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6 thoughts on “Year 10 Project Based Learning – reflection

  1. Bianca, your post resonated with me as I just embarked on my project-based program for my 10th and 12th graders. Fortunately, the students were more receptive as we are not quite that “test-prep” focused – but working hard to get there. Like you, I can understand the security students feel with their study packs – which says to them – here is all you have to learn, in one neat package. Far less scary than the “learning is messy” approach of PBL. Thanks for adding food for my though.
    If you want to collaborate or need a student audience let me know. I ma in Sarasota, Fl.

    • Hi Hellen!

      Thanks for your comment! Actually, I’m about to write a post about the PBL experiences I am having with younger students – where the exam pressure is much less intense – and these are wonderfully positive!
      Yep, PBL is messy – but it’s brilliant.
      Thanks for the offer to collaborate – follow me on twitter? @biancah80

  2. Bianca,

    A percentage of students walked away from the experience with some new thoughts after having the opportunity to reflect on exams + ‘the system’.

    I am not so certain that ‘failure’ is how you should describe, or title, the post.

    An anecdote: I had ‘a failure’ with using music in class to stimulate writing activities. An eclectic mix resulted over the course of the year, including classical, heavy metal, rap, hip-hop, opera, techno and other tunes. The kids universally derided certain styles and genres, you can guess which from the list.I told them I liked all of what I played (which amused them greatly – L).

    One morning at a train station a young man approached me who was in this particlar class years before and had since left school. Luke asked me if I still made the kids listen to classical music? I said, not so much any more and he pointed out that it was impossible to say he liked it in front of his peers but he loved it and listened to classical at home, while at school, as a direct result. I taught this boy for a couple of years but what he remembered was writing with classical music.

    I’d never have guessed!

    • Thanks Darcy! I had completely misused the word failure in my title – I have amended it, see my reason above at the end of my post!
      I agree with what you said about encouraging my students to think about their learning and the education game of which they are key players. I may have mentioned this in a post already, but one student has coined the line ‘my education is getting in the way of my learning; as her favourite line. I know next year there will be a moments hesitation (dare I say, resistance?) when those students are confronted with a slab of photocopied notes accompanied by a 50 minute teacher sermon. (And don’t get me wrong, I’m not disparaging my colleagues at all – there is always going to be a need for explicit teacher instruction, just not for 4000 hours a year, lol).
      I love your anecdote – I sometimes find myself receiving text messages and emails from ex-students who have had a ‘Ms Woods/Hewes’ light-bulb moment post-school.

  3. Pingback: PBL + me = why? | Bianca Hewes

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