PBL – reality check

I know you’re probably thinking ‘oh no, not PBL from her again’ – and in fact I’m stoked you’ve made it so far as to read this – but thinking about my big plans for next term forces me to also reflect on the plans I had for last term.

If you check out my post that lists all of my PBL projects ‘A Year of Experiential Learning’ you’ll see that I had big plans for last term. Now time for the reality check – and something every teacher must do before embarking on another project.

Year 9 did protest poetry – they were my big success and I’ve outlined in a previous post how I struggled to get to the ‘success’ point. The students managed to write some wonderful poetry and presented these to their families at a Performance Poetry Evening at school. You can read their poems here.

Year 10 worked on poetry as well, trying to answer the question ‘Can Cyborgs Write Poetry’. Once again, the students wrote some wonderful poems. I’ll post them on their blog soon here, so check it out in a day or two.  However despite my attempts to organise a presentation (I contacted our local newspaper to try to track down a poet to be in the audience and I also contacted an expert in artificial intelligence) we just didn’t manage to get to the point where the poems were celebrated  with an audience. There are a number of reasons for this, but the big two that I know will be hurdles for other teachers were the reality of formal ‘summative assessment’ (for my class this was an essay on three poems by John Foulcher) and a very crowded school calendar – injections, photos, excursions, test weeks, sporting matches. The dream was for them to transform their poems into digi-narratives. Only two were completed before we had to ‘move on’ to essay-writing. My second project for the term was designing the School Certificate – see the outline on their blog here – but whilst we got through a couple of the investigations and one  product, we swiftly hit the end of term and the reality of their half-yearly examination which is week two of next term. Another incomplete project.

Year 11 were my final project kids. They spent the first seven weeks doing pretty much traditional style lessons – responding to texts relating to a central concept and then writing an essay. Then the fun began (once their formal assessment task – an essay – was over) when I set them a project to create a visual text to help primary aged students learn about conflict (the concept they’d been studying all term). This would be shared with the local primary school (right next door to our school) early next term. They started to make some really great texts – digi-narratives, board games, comics – but now the reality of their half-yearly examination dawns. We need to move on to their next text because this is what they will be assessed on in their exam. It’ll be work at home to finish the project – but of course then there will be the inevitable complaints regarding the difficulty of group-work outside of school hours.

Well, going through this list of projects I realise that the biggest barrier I am facing is time and planning on my part. I need to have a better knowledge of what’s coming up in the school calendar and in what ways this can impact on the viability of the projects being set. I also have to accept that PBL is hard to fit within an assessment schedule that is summative and prescriptive. I need to ensure that each project fits within an appropriate timeline and that each project ensures students will succeed in the formal assessment schedule already in place.

Concluding word: last term was awesome fun – manic at times – and I know my students got a lot out of our projects. In my heart I know PBL is making a difference for me and my students. However, assessments are SUCH powerful determiners of how we teach. My next challenge is to take on the traditional view of  assessment as solely ‘summative’ – this will prohibit ‘teaching to the test’ approaches to T&L. I’ve already had a bit of success with transforming assessment – with a Year 12 Advanced English assessment!

What are some challenges you’ve encountered when trying out a new approach to teaching and learning?


6 thoughts on “PBL – reality check

  1. Oh Bianca, with infinite time you would be so very pleased by now…but in school reality time, I can understand your comments…’then we had to move on’.
    So many wonderful teaching moments, kids ‘ah ha’ moments, and often they are missed because of the relentless rhythm of ‘everything else.’
    I always found I was an over-planner which of course led to disappointment.
    Yet, as you have already determined, some issues relate to matters outside your control.
    The other thing is…it is an ever-evolving process.
    is about

    is about

    I am thrilled to read your posts…yay…but do hope some R&R is happening too.

    • Hi Denyse 🙂

      Yes – it is difficult to find the balance between structured/planned and organic learning experiences. I know my students met many ‘outcomes’ through their involvements in the projects – it’s just setting a realistic (and flexible) timeline that I’m getting the hang of!

      And yes, I’m off to NZ for a break this Saturday. Teacher-brain is still buzzing – hoping to get all planning completed before the plan takes off!

  2. Keep it going! I am in the middle of trying to alter the formal speaking task for HSC from a stand up the front read an essay to a panel debate, with four students representing different audiences from different times, discussing the poems and play set for study. I don’t think I will be successful, but I will try!

    • Sounds like a wonderful task – HT will complain about equity – will they each get equal time to show what they know etc. Put a time limit on each – open then up to Q&A at the end – 2 mins per student etc.
      Last year our year 11 students did a dialogue where they had to show opposing interpretations/readings of King Lear – it was great!!
      Let me know how you go, I think we’ve got a powerful mETAphor article between you, me and Durk – just another thing to do/write 😉

  3. I’m also an over planner, but its weird…it feels like no matter how much I try to cut the task back, we still run out of time! I’ve had 2 classes make digistories that we had no time to present. This is also a function of kids and their crazy, late handing-in ways too though. I was about to suggest that you go more small scale with your ‘sharing with an audience’ phase (ie show another class, or the head tchr, or the principal, in class time?) and I will still.say that, but with.the caveat that the sharing has to be valued enough to motivate them to complete on time.

    I think the sharing phase for essays could be in-house…how often do students get to read EACH OTHERS essays? Could collect them on a class Wiki? Is the exam an essay?

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

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