Presenting on PBL to English Head Teachers Network meeting

Just realised how boring my post title is but since it is 5.43am, I hope you will forgive my lack of creativity.

About 4 weeks ago I was asked via email if I could present my experiences with PBL at my region’s English Head Teacher’s network meeting. Before I get into the guts of this post, let’s just get a couple of things clear first. 1. I am not an English Head Teacher. I am a teacher of English is a medium sized faculty with a brilliant, caring and trusting head teacher. 2. This is my seventh  year teaching English to high school students. 3. In Australia English = Language Arts. 4. I only started experimenting with PBL in Term 4 of last year thanks to the inspiration of Dean Groom.

Being asked to present on PBL was fine. The person asking me to present had seen me present on PBL previously at the NSR DER Innovators Conference late last year. But presenting to Head Teacher of English? Not the same group of people. At all. Having presented a couple of times at the annual English Teacher’s Association conference, I’m familiar with the stomach churning anxiety that English teachers as audience can stir in a person. Head teachers? Let’s just say I was feeling pretty queasy for a number of days leading up to the presentation!

PBL, in my opinion, is essential for the future of English in Australia. Survey results from past HSC students reveal that most of them found their HSC English courses lacking relevance to their future careers, lives and the wider world. This fact distressed me considerably. Something is very wrong in the state of HSC English. There are numerous reasons for these results – but I can’t give them to you yet. What I can tell you is that as a teacher I am uninspired by the HSC and its narrowing of subject English into the essay-writing under examination conditions funnel. I don’t want to spend two years teaching students to ‘spot the technique and reference to concept’ in works of art. If I hadn’t found PBL, I would have lost faith in my subject and myself as a teacher. I know I was close to calling it quits last year. Imagine how other young teacher must feel who don’t have the support, guidance and inspiration of a powerful PLN?

Here is my prezi for yesterday’s presentation. It went SOO well. I was terrified but so excited to be surrounded by such passionate and intelligent teachers. They knew the score when it came to English. Maybe they hadn’t taken the looming National Curriculum with its three strands (language, literacy, literature) as a dire sign for subject English as I have (how do we know they won’t take just one strand – say, um, literacy? – make it compulsory – and relegate the rest to student choice? I bet no one foresaw that Maths would become optional in senior studies?) … but it was great to see them take this idea on board as one worth considering. I made amazing new connections and have been given the title of ‘honourary Head Teacher’ thus being allowed to share in the professional dialogue of this very experienced team.


My PBL journey is just at its very beginning steps but already I am reinvigorated as a teacher and a learner. This approach to learning forces students to engage with their world, not just dead white males on a page. I’m excited that my enthusiasm for PBL has helped my great friend and mentor Kelli McGraw as she begins her journey into the world of teaching teachers.


16 thoughts on “Presenting on PBL to English Head Teachers Network meeting

  1. Wow!Sometimes (in my experience) teachers make the WORST audience! I am glad that everything went so well. I have very little info on PBL but already I see it as instrumental in reinvigorating my own teaching too. Congrats on the Prezi!

    • Yes – head teachers are a tough crowd because they are grounded in reality and thus often unwilling to experiment if it means more work for staff etc. BUT some of my fav people in the whole world are English HTs and they are dynamic, innovative and inspiring. In fact – my audience were all of the adjectives I put on the prezi!
      Good luck with your PBl experiences!

  2. You rock girl! Great Prezi. You always say you are ‘just’ a teacher and no HT etc. But by sharing your experiences you inspire others, eg me. I’ve started PBL with my year 10PDH class, and learning as I go. I’m loving it, but more important the students are getting into it. So thanks for your generosity to share your #fails and #successes!

    • Thanks so much Leonore 🙂 That is very sweet of you to say! Great news on PBL with your Year 10s – would love you to post a longer comment about what you’re doing and how the kids are using their netbooks differently during PBL 🙂

  3. Hi Bianca. I saw your Prezi via a tweet of Kelli’s blog post on Monday. It was fantastic as an overview to PBL and as a matter of fact, your posts and tweets have inspired me to research more over the Christmas holidays. I am a HT (a new one to English) but YOU are a leader and innovator! I have joined the BIE site and have been exploring. You have already influenced me and the directions of my Faculty. I too feel very similar to you re English, its relevance to our students and the possible consequences of the National Curriculum. Thank you for your hard work and the generosity of your sharing which offer opportunities for teachers and students to get the most value out of a subject that IMHO really should be the most relevant, enriching and personal to all.

    • Wow – thanks, I really am humbled by your comment!! It is AWESOME to know that a HT of English is being inspired by all of the great PBL resources and support to take a step outside of the narrow ‘drill and kill’ approach to English that has become (at least from where I sit) endemic of late and will only do so further with a narrowed National Curriculum.
      Of course, English teachers are a creative bunch and lots of wonderful creative things happen in the English classroom that go unacknowledged – I certainly am not suggesting that English isn’t being taught in interesting ways. I just love PBL as it work so perfectly with our subject and the reality of 1-1 and 21st century learners.
      Keep me posted on your progress with PBL in the English classroom!

    • Of course you can – borrow away! Make sure you direct them to edutopia and bie – particularly the latter for all of the important resources! :0) Let me know how they go with it, OK?

  4. What a fabulous prezi! Congrats on the presentation. I so agree with you and I’m so glad you veered away from the precipice of ‘calling it quits’. If you don’t already know their work I think you would love the work of Jeffrey Wilhelm and Michael Smith. Their book titles tell it all, especialy Jeff’s. They include
    ‘Reading Don’t FIx no Chevys’
    ‘Engaging Readers and Writers with Inquiry’
    ‘You Gotta be the book’
    ‘Going with the Flow’

  5. I just saw this great post on the Action-Reaction Blog (
    Pseudoteaching probably explains a lot of what happens in classrooms, not just uni classrooms but high school ones too – and not just physics rooms. I particularly like this quote: ” I planned lessons by answering the question “What am I going to do in class tomorrow?” Now, I plan lessons by answering the questions “What are my students going to do tomorrow? How will it help them progress towards our learning goals?””
    PBL is one method for halting pseudoteaching. As an example of synchronicity of ideas, I also re-discovered my copy of Alfie Kohn’s book “Beyond Discipline” which fits nicely with PBL too, his comment being that we need to reconsider the assumption that “problems in the classroom are always the fault of students who don’t do what they’re told; instead, it may be necessary to reconsider what it is that they’ve been told to do – or to learn.”

  6. And this wonderful quote from Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen Blog: “The ineffective teachers are the ones who have lost their curiosity and sense of wonder for their subject or even for their job. You can’t fake curiosity and wonder. The best teachers are the ones who show their own desire to learn more about their subject and who are not afraid to show mistakes or admit that they don’t know it all. The best teachers guide, coach, inspire, and feed that natural flame of curiosity that lives within every child. The courage to teach, then, is the courage to expose yourself as you demonstrate your curiosity and wonder for your subject. This kind of passion is infectious (and memorable).”

  7. I’m so glad the presentation was a success, though I must say I’m surprised! What I think is so important about how you’ve shared your pbl journey is the very practical focus you have on the way the experience plays out in the classroom. The work you’ve done on learning environments and mythical learning spaces is a key part of this, don’t you think?
    The other element I think in convincing teachers to adopt this pedagogy is showing them how it doesn’t result in ‘children left behind’ so to speak. Showing how curriculum and assessment.goals can indeed be reached by which is, ultimately, an ‘alternative’ pedagogy compared to current practice, is also so important.

    I’m about to put my money where my mouth is and set a pbl task for my English curriculum studies students. I’m toying with this:
    ‘the next big thing’: pitch a proposal for a new topic/concept/area of study to be explicitly added to the English curriculum.
    I want them to present their proposal image kind of one-minute conference set up like the one you found on YouTube. But…will they do it if its not part of their summation assessment? Guess we’ll find out!

  8. Hi

    I am a secondary school English teacher in England and I am currently researching the idea of using PBL in my classroom, particularly for KS3. I am a little confused on how it would work in my classroom. What I really do not seem to understand is the ‘Activities’ part and what it would exactly entail. Are there any sample schemes I could take a look at that are specific to English teaching? Your Prezi was great and as novice I am beginning to grasp the idea of PBL and its effects. Hope you can help me further.

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